Armantas Gečiauskas (born 1982), mostly known as Arma Agharta, is the main figure behind Lithuania based „Agharta“ label. He is an active sound/performance artist and curator interested in various alternative, experimental, avantgarde music. Probably all the Lithuanian experimental underground participants witnessed his extraordinary performances balancing on the verge of surreal happenings, punkish improvisations with weird noise outbursts. Equally interesting are his eclectic and theatrical cassette DJ sets. Moreover, Armantas is a very active event promoter, which organizes not only the upcoming Speigas Festival, but also the Lithuanian editions of SOTU Fest in collaboration with his colleagues from the Netherlands.
In this exclusive interview Arma reveals his insights about the beforementioned subject matters and provides an interesting analysis of small, sometimes a bit congested, but no less interesting world of Lithuanian underground.
Laima Stasiulionytė: You were involved in a bunch of activities before “Agharta” was formed. Could you tell us about your previous work and how it led to the place you are at the moment? How has your point of view changed?
Arma Agharta: “Agharta” label was formed in year 2009, but before that I basically led the same publishing and concert organizing activities under “Perineum” label's umbrella, which was formed in 2003. Beforehand I published zines. The period of “Perineum” was lonely and insane, from one side, I used to sit at home after work dissociated from all the world while folding, cutting and drawing covers for cd's and cassettes, and when the event finally took its place I had a lot of fun, the parties were crazy and there were big afterparties. I think a smile will radiate on faces of a lot of people remembering what used to happen in clubs “New Style”, “XI20”, “El Psycho”. After 5 years of being active I felt that things should get more serious, so I closed “Perineum” and started “Agharta”, which continued the work until from after-school activity it grew into something more constant, substantial and reliable. How has my point of view changed? Of course it's different when activity is secondary and when it becomes the main thing you do. But the idea(concept) is still the same: what you do must be innovative, experimental, a little bit crazy, communal and meaningful.
LS: What could you say about Lithuanian underground scene? How would you describe your place in it and the work you're doing here?
AA: Does it mean that I need to talk about different parts of the scene? Like performers, bands, labels, clubs, events and media, right?
In general my thoughts about Lithuanian experimental scene (on a wider perspective) are changing, because it's alive and changing itself. Speaking of the whole, our scene is quite small, upheld by few enthusiastic people. It's quite individualistic, though sometimes collectives do form, including „Agharta“, which has become a collective this year. Lately I've been seeing the scene split into smaller groups, elitist support groups, trendy, influential spheres, and sometimes it looks quite repulsive, then I don't want to be a part of this. But I guess it's inevitable. And mostly happening in Vilnius. There aren't things such intense in other cities. Kaunas probably resembles Vilnius, how it was a few years ago, but only with that „same big pot “feeling– Kaunas hasn't got a lot of things to offer from itself when speaking of performers and bands; labels don't exist there at all, proportion between consuming and production is negative. But from the other perspective it seems that in Kaunas interesting artistic projects are being born, new places are opening up, for which Vilnius sometimes should be envious. But most of the production goes mainly from Vilnius and is „feeding“ other cities of Lithuania. There is an oasis in Anykščiai, where collective „Moontrix“ is working purposefully and in its own stylistics, in Panevėžys we have you know what (author's note - reference to S13) and it has an internationally weight. There are Mekusas's, Donatas Bieliauskas's and Kristijonas Lučinskas's initiatives in Klaipėda, restless Andrius Vyšniauskas in Ukmergė, and in Utena Audrius Šimkūnas is continuing a journey in environment's sounds and is inciting „Sala“. There's something starting to sow in Raseiniai in the form of events. And that's it. Events I organised in Jonava and Kėdainiai didn't have an effect strong enough for something new to emerge there. And my place in Lithuania's underground scene isn't always clear to me. Sometimes I feel like I'm one leg here and the other one elsewhere. I'm a person who is being absorbed by the activity fully when he really likes something; that means at the moment it isn't enough (guess I'm speaking of Vilnius mostly), and my scene has also spread out and became more global thanks to touring. It used to be like this earlier, in the beginning of „Perineum“, when I was more in touch with foreign countries than Lithuania. However, I still see the meaning of working here, but I'm becoming cramped, because we lack some new streams, new formations which would interest me. I often lack support as well.
LS: How do you see the audience in Lithuania? Does it have enough interest? Has it been changing a lot during the years since you started organizing your first events?
AA: For me it's important to know the audience, it's a community matter after all. This is not a ‘for the sake of quantity’ case. Of course, I want it to grow and I want strong support but it is not for commercial success. I want to see discovery, enlightenment, happiness, tolerance, some kind of improvement among these people, when I see it I start to become like that as well. „Agharta's“ events are oriented towards diverse, thoughtful audience, and that's what we have. It's a place for outsiders as well as „people with status“, but not for arrogant chuffs or brainless trend followers. Some people come, some people go, there's a constant rotation, new and especially younger faces are harder to recognize, but just let them be and let at least a small part of them become not just consumers, but creators as well.
LS: What is your main motivation as an organizer now and in the past? Does your motivation stay at the same level? What keeps you motivated to continue?
AA: Previously I was motivated by the fact that there was a small amount of events like this and every request from a foreign country was a rarity into which I looked without doubt. Now when there's a lot of things happening and Lithuania became a country more and more visited, events have become more everyday, every-weekend occurrence, but less “weighty”. So now I aim for something more special, new in all this stream of events, or for something we miss, so selection, searching for new concepts, places and combinations is needed, also expansion into new cities, new communities, which sometimes also gives a motivational impulse.
LS: You have a wide spectrum of forms, musical styles and genres in the events you organize. How does it establish itself? Can you elaborate on these ideas? How do you come to the conclusion of it?
AA: “Agharta“ offers and invites to experience a wide, rich experimental, alternative, eccentric underground– whatever you want to call it! - world of music and noise. Stylistic diversity, I think, is our strong side. There are people who dislike us for this, but that's their problem. Also there probably are quite a lot who think “I don't know what's going to be there, the names tell me nothing, but I believe it will be interesting” about our events. Curiosity for new forms of music is usually better than constant validation of old things and staying inside the frame. I'd like to broaden the stylistic diversity even more, but it's possible only with injections from foreign countries, because what Lithuanian scene offers is limited.
LS: What kind of criteria do you practice when picking musicians? How do you choose them? How do you establish themes, structures, line-ups of your events?
AA: Being innovative is the main criteria. It must be unheard, unseen, unique, authentic. Of course it does not always result in this, sometimes there's a need to hear, let's say, classic harsh noise-well then you want it to be done adequately. I like to be more and more eclectic when planning line-ups of events, to mix styles and sound extraction methods. At all costs it shouldn’t be a few hour long ‘knob-twiddling seance or laptop party’. Don't get me wrong, knobs and computers are ok, but in small doses. I want to see artistic expression, some action on the stage, liberation, communication. And it doesn't matter if it's a “big name” or an unknown one. First ones, by the way, are not that common in “Agharta's” events, because a “big” thing often prevails a big ego, which cuts off further wish to communicate and contribute in all possible ways, for example mental or financial. There are big names, which stay on a normal level when communicating, for which I respect them even more.
LS: What events would you say, are you focusing on at the moment? Tell us more about them.
AA: Without doubt – festivals “Speigas” and “SOTU Lithuania” (ex. Vilnius Noise Week). These events take minimum 5-6 months of work. “Speigas” was started in February 2010 in Vilnius and Kaunas and has become the main sound happening of winter. Festival's stylistic form has been changing over these years. It had a taste of guitar doom, sludge, drone and witch-house or post-punk, but in general “Speigas” is loyal to noise and ambient music, with which it has started.
Our second festival, SOTU (Sounds of the Underground) is the one which we start working on after “Speigas” is over. In years 2012 and 2013 it was called Vilnius Noise Week. Its form and content in general has stayed the same in current SOTU. This event is a way to introduce a wide range of underground music world, and though a lot of action is about experimental music in a broader sense, the concept of this event has originated in Holland (more about it below) and allows to improvise a lot. A week of concerts, lectures and creative workshops – that's what VNW was like and this format will stay in the future with SOTU. Other appearances I'd like to mention are series of events, which bring vitality to Vilnius and Kaunas cultural life. This year we've launched “Outermost” series in the cultural center of Kirtimai, in year 2015 we're planning a new series, which we're going to present in Vilnius and Kaunas.
LS: You recently started collaborating with SOTU festival. Could you tell us about how it happened? Are you happy with the first series of events of this collaboration and what are your plans for the future?
AA: I found out about SOTU festival a few years ago. It looked very attractive for me, because it had quite a wide, eclectic program of music, films and lectures without any headliners, a real underground action outspread through few places of Amsterdam at the same period of time. In the beginning of this year I suggested to collaborate, to organize a Lithuanian version, and as a result we had the first SOTU festival in Lithuania.
Both us and all of 5 Dutch organizers are pleased with how the first mutual matter has resulted. The organizing was well done, we had halls packed with people in most of the events. What was missing is feedback from musical websites, there were no good reviews, even though there really was what to write about. There were many pleasing discoveries even though the program did not include any big names.
We're planning to continue the collaboration and step by step we are starting to speak with the Dutch scene about how we're going to act. It's clear that we will go to Amsterdam in April, maybe we'll take some Lithuanian performers with us, and we are planning the second SOTU festival in Lithuania in September.
LS: Are you planning to expand more internationally?
AA: We're open to proposals, collaborations from festivals in foreign countries or other international projects, but measuring our own and market's capacity it is important. The other way how we'd like to expand internationally is through web space. We have prepared a project of international music database. Also the export of Lithuanian performers to foreign festivals is in plans. This requires a lot of work and I have already started working on this, so I believe we're going to show the world the good things we have here. Of course, this depends on how much the performers themselves want to be seen in foreign countries. They need to work individually. The more we're going to appear in other European scenes, labels and magazines the more the name of Lithuania is going to be associated with quality and peculiar experimental music. This I think should be very interesting for someone who is not a stranger to eclectic and experimental sounds.
LS: Since you're not only an organizer, but a musician yourself, you tour interesting cities quite a lot. Could you claim that it influences your work with Agharta ? Do you bring new ideas; find unheard bands and useful contacts from your travels?
AA: I am very thankful to everyone who made travelling, playing and this experience available to me. I want to stress that I don't consider myself a typical musician, whose goal is just to play and earn money. My mission is more about knowing new places, people, scenes of experimental music, finding new sources of inspiration, making connections, discovering possibilities of collaboration, gathering a circle of interesting people around me with whom something interesting can be done.
I visited thirteen countries last year, where I had some really strong musical discoveries, though most of them were from beyond the Atlantic Ocean (so Lithuania is harder to reach for those artists), but I already have the connections and now the only thing to do is to wait for an opportunity to make it possible to see them here. At the moment you can check, for example, Bromp Treb and Olivia Neutron-John, to have an understanding of what affected me.
Also I saw how other scenes in other countries function, what are the specifics, how the events are organized, what is the situation with audience and so on. It's an experience which I'm still trying to digest, and of course some of it I'm going to adapt locally for “Agharta”.
LS: Tell us about your tour in USA. Could you compare the underground scenes and their nuances there, in Europe, and in Lithuania?
AA: To be sincere, even though the specifics of my work demand this, I don’t like to compare, judge and generalize.
There are different contexts, different inside rules and tendencies. Every scene is interesting in its own way, and every time I have an opportunity to touch only a small part of it, from which I cannot make conclusions about the whole scene. Yes, the American scene is huge, with its own traditions, great acceleration and a lot of fantastic performers, quality production and it has always fascinated me. Russian scene, it appears (!), isn't that small after all, but the inspiration there came from other things rather than music I heard. Europe, especially the main capitalist countries, are becoming less and less of an interest for me. To cut it short my sight is aiming towards the east, but I also need to experience England more. I have a soft spot for England. I finished the year 2014 symbolically with a tour there. I had eight shows in eight different cities, all of them were really different: from no audience show in a social club to the show in a DIY space with a strong feeling of community and eventually NYE party in a gallery. In general I enjoyed the time, although there were some bad moments, but how else!? Now I've decided to move there for a while - to live, get involved into the cultural life and perform more. So, that's how my activities will expand internationally. Find me in Leeds from the middle of February.
LS: What perspectives do you see in the future?
AA: Perspectives for activity in Lithuania leans only onto education.