[Interview] Time Traveling with Clarian at Alley Cat
By Kristin Gray
Photos by Sara Vogt
I return to Alley Cat after a stint of time, and the changes this venue has made in those few weeks are completely transformative. The DJ booth now sports their feline logo, giving it a legitimate, tasteful look. Ramzi opens up the night, his set begins with a transcendent mixture of desert vibes and instrumental tracks that set a beautiful scene for us early birds. As the set transitions, we begin to hear nice bassy notes that get our heads bobbing and feet tapping. The beat picks up, the bass drops. The enthusiastic little crowd swells, enjoying this wonderful beginning to such a fine night.
Tocayo steps up to the decks, ready to keep the party going strong. He keeps up a steady beat and the crowd remains pumped. As the venue packs out, I escape the crowd for a bit to have a chat with Clarian, our headliner for the night. His intelligence, desire to find the deeper meaning in things, and love for sci-fi make this conversation a special experience.
Welcome back to Atlanta! How do you tend to handle the cold winters of snowy Montreal versus your summer getaway city of Berlin?
I think I handle it pretty well (laughs). I’m actually going next week to Berlin. It depends on shows. I try to travel as much as I can to play shows. The world is a big place out there, so it’s hard to jump around all over the place randomly so you try to organize it a bit. But generally speaking, you’re right. I spend most of my summers in Berlin. I like the cold winters though, getting to wear my snow suits.
As a lover of sci-fi, would you say this is a big influence in your music, or is it the other way around?
I like that question. Techno music is like this future dystopian thought of machines, and the sounds of industrialization. I think that they’re intrinsically locked together. I’m really interested in finding the link between the future of sound communication that electronic music seems to have as a platform. Other forms don’t really have as much liberty or freedom to explore future sounds. In my view, and from my experiments, from what’s exciting me in finding the music that I’m finding, a musical sequence can actually open up a portal into another gateway that can create space travel. And as ridiculous and absurd as it sounds, looking for patterns of unlocking the universe, maybe there are connections that we haven't even discovered between music and sound. I like to think about stuff like that.
What first got you into producing your own music, and how did that effect your life at the time?
I started producing music when I was a teenager. My brother had a studio and I used to steal myself into it when he wasn't around. He had a mixer and guitars, I grew up on instruments. I was just trying to figure it out, and I loved recording so I tried to write songs on the guitar and piano and then take it to the studio. Without formal training, I intuitively would notice that if I took a vocal take, and then I doubled it, and took another one, then I played with the timing, I could create interesting phasing. I was doing all these things not knowing that the hell that I was doing. That whole world of producing is its own universe. That’s generally where I'm most happy, when I'm in the studio.
There is an interesting story to your EP Mission to Bars involving an Astronaut, his voyages, and his longing for whiskey. Can you tell us what inspired it?
I was in South Korea for a week, I was touring in Asia. I was by myself and I was pretty broke. I couldn't afford whiskey at one point at this bar and I was trying to write, I write sci-fi stories as a hobby. I was writing this story and then I got into this idea about this space man, and he was in his space suit. He could be on some strange planet but he could also be a delusional regular schizophrenic dude walking around downtown with a space helmet on, you don’t know. But the whole thing with this character is, he's an alcoholic obviously, and he wants to have a whiskey but he can’t have it. He orders it but he can’t drink it, so he doesn't know what to do with it. He can’t take his helmet off because that’s what is keeping him alive in his mind. So he just pours whiskey over his helmet in this sad attempt. It was so ridiculous and pathetic and amazing. I was laughing about it to myself like an idiot in this bar in Korea. Since then, I have been writing more stories about this space man. I have another story I finished recently where he's in a hydrogen depository, or that could all be in his mind, he could just be at a gas station. He's thinking about whiskey and meanwhile holding up the line. He's just pissing off all these strange creatures because he's so lost. The tracks that go with it are very dreamy and trippy. It’s called Ankh.
You gifted us with a special mix, NOCTURAMA, a few months back. What was it like bringing to the surface unreleased productions and collaborations from the past eight years?
Oh yes. It was good (laughs). It’s like digging through your journals or diaries, going through old essays from school. I have tons of that stuff in hard drives and disks, on recorded tapes, on floppy disks. Weird recordings and experiments that I try my best to keep track of because I travel so much and things get lost. I think most producers have tons of music that are these gems but for whatever reason the pieces get lost. Maybe they resurface years later or people find the outtakes, or even the demos but the demos are so good that they become hits. So you're always treasure hunting and I was putting all these together to make a mix. It was kind of cool for me, it tells a story, like sketches. If someone wants to see where my heads at and what I’ve been up to and trying different things and ideas. The last track on there I wrote eight years ago, it’s a ballad I made on a synth in this studio. It was the first track I wrote after Utopia. Each track signifies a point in time, they’re like the shadows of my music.
Your music seeks to explore the edges of space and time in an imaginative way. What have been your biggest challenges and joy with this exploration?
I’m trying to find connections with music as I get older. You know you get into all these scenes when your younger to find yourself, when you have the liberty and freedom to exist in these communities that don't ask to invade upon who you are. That’s what I think is beautiful about electronic music, about the culture of it. This movement that we do, that we've created. It’s a revolution in itself. At my point now as I'm getting a bit older I'm wondering where I'm going with my whole life. If I want to try to keep doing music and traveling, which I like and am so thankful for. Either I have to take some time off and try to make more of a contribution to the world beyond just the fun stuff, or find a way to do something a bit more original that I can provide to this community. It’s a hard question, but it’s a fun question. It’s the shit. I love coming here!
What can we expect from you for 2016?
I made another synth pop album, it’s very spacey. It’s more of a celebration of the style of music that I've been very obsessed with over the past ten years. I've realized it’s kind of like NOCTURAMA. The sound kind of evolves in my mind so when I did this album I did it last summer in Berlin. It’s a lot of Footprintz stuff that I've been doing and it has a lot of newer sounds that I've been patching and working on and creating. It’s very celebratory. Like an ending. Hopefully, I can get it out in a presentable way. That’s what I've been working on to find the right label and find the right way to put it out and make it special. That hasn't been easy yet but hopefully that will come together. Then I have the other Ankh EPs and Tiga’s album, which drops in March. I had the honor and privilege to work for such an amazing legend. That was maybe the most challenging and rewarding experience in the past few years. Working with people on that level. It’s awesome to work with guys like him. His album is called No Fantasy Required and it’s really sick. It’s really amazing.
And as a fellow sci-fi lover, I have to ask - what is your favorite show or movie?
Recently I've been really into the Expanse. I particularly love it because the character’s name is James Holden. I also love Logan’s Run. I love the old classic ones.
We return to the foray and Clarian takes his place behind the booth setting up his Mac and prepping. Tocayo finishes out his set and welcomes our guest of the night. As Clarian begins, the crowd pauses unsure at first what to do. This music is dark and heavy, a complete mind trip in all the good ways. The dancing becomes vigorous, the crowd is humming with energy - bouncing together in a frenzied wave of movement.
Clarian’s music sends us on a galactic journey through the darkest folds of space, time seems to stop. The sound from his deep notes and other worldly synth create a frenzy in the patrons as we seek to entrance ourselves in this exploration. For a moment I completely forget about the world outside. This is a type of music not often heard in Atlanta and I look around to smiling faces of glee and disbelief that music can have such a guttural affect.
This set was as much of a physical experience as it was a mind experience and we relished in it. Though more of an experimental sound. I witnessed tonight that Atlanta is more than ready for this addition of musical pleasure.