STI - Octatanz

Interview with Matas Aerobica and Oscar Olias

Photo by Sima Jundulaitė

Before the Summit of Braillė Satellitė, an interview with festival organisers Matas Aerobica and Oscar Olias on their stories and principles.


Octatanz emerged out of an ongoing friendship between promoters and djs, the Lithuanian Matas Aerobica and the Berlin-based Spaniard Oscar Olias. Their mutual love for forgotten avant/synth treasures, cassette hiss, vinyl crackle and unexplored fringes of experimental music resulted in a kind of scene circling around a few bars and underground venues in Vilnius and Berlin. Their setlists are colorful explorations/celebrations of cassette culture obscurities, synth gems, some darkwave rarities. It is, however, difficult to position their tastes in a single category.

These same patterns are also reflected in the festivals Octatanz organize (with the help of an extended team), which usually take place in abandoned old campsites where the dust still remembers the times past, while the chatter of festival-goers fills it with new contexts and vibes. They balance between punkish DIY and boutique approaches, creating a kind of small gathering of like-minded people to share their ideas and discover new sounds, which might range between musique concrete to more leftfield forms of pop. Among the few highlight moments of the festival one might mention Jozef Van Wissem’s concert after an intense thunder-storm or kraut/post punk outfit Camera playing in a tiny wooden hut. Not to mention the early mornings where sounds of still operating dj stages merge with birdsong and the sounds splash in nearby lakes. The upcoming happening is called Summit of Braillė Satellitė and Matas and Oscar shared some thoughts with us on their activities and the upcoming festival.

You can check out the line-up of this year’s festival edition in this dreamlike podcast that Matas and Oscar recorded for us earlier. Some years ago Matas Aerobica also recorded a mix for us, which you can find here.

Most Lithuanian events have clear boundaries when it comes to music. The people who attend the events are also quite clearly defined in some cases. In this context, when the first STRCamp took place in 2013 it was not clear what kind of festival it will be. What was your initial idea?

M: The beginning was a little dream in my head, but we could not make it. I wanted to have some concerts, where you can sit and listen. And it would not have a defined style of music. Initially the idea was rock music during the days and also one space for “sit-down” music. We wanted a combination of music for listening and dancing. The idea was to have indoor concerts and an open-air vibe in the same event. It is a bit similar what they do in Barcelona with Primavera festival, where they have acoustic chamber spaces and large main stages outside. So we wanted a small version of that. It is not because I knew Primavera. I went there just for one concert. It is a huge festival, but people can go there just for one concert.

All of the festivals that you organized took place in quite peculiar locations - mostly derelict campsites. Is this a part of the concept? Or is it a mere coincidence?

M: For us these surroundings are quite natural, I don’t know how they might look for foreign people.

O: The architecture and vibe of these places is really thrilling. And these festivals are completely different from the rest of Europe, they are more alive. Last time I went to a festival, it was like you are in a forest, out of town, but you can still feel the town. While these places that Matas always finds are really alive and you feel that you are in a proper rural area, it is not just a massive park or something like that. Every year when you see that location will be different, you think that “oh, how will they manage to find a better location than the last one, last location was so awesome”. And suddenly you find something that is equally incredible.

A lot of things are made by hand. It is not that you hire someone and he or she comes and sets everything up for you. It is a mixed thing. For example, last year the speakers were made by one guy.

How did it change from beginning until now? In what way will the upcoming festival be different?

M: We do not have pre-determined plans and the power to fully control how the festival will turn out. We thought about making STRCamp again, which might be even bigger and might be more profitable. But in the normal flow of life, it just goes where it goes. It changed in the way, that we now talk to the bands as to our friends, just simple human beings. It is quite difficult to communicate over e-mail, but we write e-mail and say what we expect from a band. Not in the terms of music they play, but more that they should come as if they were going holiday, to stay with us, to meet us, to go to town with us, to stay in Vilnius a bit and then go to the festival. So we try to familiarize ourselves with the band before they get to make a concert. We cannot avoid agents, but we always try to send this message to people who are behind them. Sometimes there are bands who rarely do live shows and it is hard to send a message via e-mail. But we try our best.

Do you have any personal headliners for this year’s festival?

O: Usually there is a personal headliner. We have our own headliners, but people don’t always know them. We bring some old legends of cassette culture. Now we bring Alvaro Pena-Rojas, who experimented in the 70’s and still plays incredibly with all his keyboards and voice. His songs are really beautiful. He makes palm music, sometimes salsa, but the spirit of this guy is as if he was in the darkness. When people come to my place, I put his records on (I have all Alvaro’s records). I am a huge fan - I found his number and called him. And we spoke about music and life. And now I usually call him instead of writing him and we can chat away the entire afternoon.

M: Sometimes people listen to headliners when they sleep. You ask them: have you been to the concert? And they say: no, I was sleeping at that time.

Over these past few years listening to your sets I came to the conclusion that you’ve been focusing on obscure cassette culture music, and the vaults for that sort of music are very deep indeed - lots of releases, lots of underrated obscure artists - what are your criteria for choosing what to play?

O: There is something in this music that you can recognize. I collect vinyls, but the problem with vinyl artists is that they are all part of labels, which makes it different - these are people who recorded their music in a studio with proper production. It’s an expensive format and you need to sell a bit even if you’re a really outsider artist.

M: Yeah, the fact that the music is on a vinyl already says a lot about the artist - the format says a lot. There are exceptions, of course.

O: Cassette artists were different because more of them were people making music at home, without respecting any labels, which made it purer. They didn’t need to think in parameters of selling the music. It was moreso about sending a cassette to one friend to surprise him, to say “oh look at what I did in my home”. I love both sides, but I think you can find the more interesting music on tapes, because a lot of these people are making it without any notion of what their musical context is, without regard for standards.

So you search for spontaneity and immediacy in music?

O: It depends, basically everything that I do is spontaneous.

M: Cassette culture is a spontaneous and organic thing as there is bad production most of the time, so you need to find other reasons to decide whether to play a song or not. You search for a certain feeling, you look for other reasons. Also there is a lot of humour in cassette culture. You play a track due to its certain sonic qualities, but in the end you play a joke. It widens the possibilities of your sets if you play music like that. Spoken word pieces are also useful in this sense. You add one spoken word or comedy track to your set and it creates a certain effect. It is fun to use a variety of elements of music. Of course, people ask what kind of music you play and it is difficult to answer.

O: There were some movements and revolutions in other countries, e.g. in Spain in the 80’s, in Berlin in the 90’s. I think that the revolution is taking place in Lithuania right now. I fell in love with Vilnius, because it is really revolutionary with all its colonies of djs. Yesterday these guys who were playing in the bar - there would not be many djs like that in other countries. It’s incredible. It is like a revolution here. Of course, you are from here, so you can’t recognise it, you live with this everyday, but I can notice these tendencies. If you live everyday you can’t see something changing here. If you were to come to Lithuania once in three months, you would see it. It is a really beautiful process and I think I am in the right moment, in the right country when I am coming here.

Last time when I was playing in Dresden, I did not know what to expect. They organized a party in some metallic container with two other guys from Dresden. They did not play the same kind of music, but they had the same vibe of playing - very personal. In such cases I’m happy to play with somebody. It is not necessarily that a person would play the same genre as me, but it is important that he/she would have the same philosophy of playing. Then I can meet the person little by little through music.

M: Do what you want and everybody will be interested in you. “Do what you want” sounds like a very obvious and naive phrase as almost everybody says that, but it is the real thing and it creates a good effect.

I think this phrase is overused now in slogans and corporate contexts.

O: Yeah, but nobody does what they want. Nobody wants to sacrifice their careers etc. I do what I want, but you need to sacrifice something for that. I can live from my music and invest more time in that. But I work a lot and I get no income. Even if you did not like the set, you will go home and wonder what you listened yesterday. Even if you don’t like it, you will think about it. I do not suffer because of this - I know what I am, what I do, what I want. People know me, the right people, the nice people, people that I want to know me through the music, because I’m a shy guy. So people can connect to me through music, to feel what I feel.

For me it seems that one of the main aspects for you is the sense of community. Would you say this the most important thing in your vision?

O: Sure, sometimes it is even more important than the music itself. But when we compile the line-up we try to book people we would like to spend our holiday with. And it is more important than the music. When you meet someone, who is really nice and you like his lifestyle and philosophy, probably you will like his music as well. When a musician in the festival says that he or she wants to sleep in a hotel, when they have contracts etc, it is a signal that we are not on the same wavelength. I’m sorry, I know that you are grown up and in a well-known band, but we do not want to spend our holiday with you.

M: But also it is totally normal that they might not want to spend the holiday with us.

O: It is totally normal, but we don’t want these rules. For example, when Matas was doing STRC there were about 1000 people, while last year there were 300. Last year I was a little bit afraid, because it was the first time I was experimenting with the festival. When you are in a festival for 2000 people, you are probably with your friends in a festival and that’s all. But when you are in a festival for 300 people, you are in a very different context, you start to speak. So this year we will also try not to raise the amount of people too much. Maybe there will not be an attendance of 300, but even if we exceed the 300 the vibe might be gone. Of course, you lose money, but we want to offer something different. When somebody asks the musicians about their impressions from last-year’s festival, they will tell you about this wonderful small gathering in the middle of Lithuania, where they met people etc. A lot of people from Berlin speak about it. I don’t like these big electronic music festivals, I want just enjoy the night and dance, be with people, sleep on the grass, feel all the emotions, see the bands. With this soundtrack, there are lots of beautiful moments.

You mentioned that you two met during one of your parties. Is this true? How did you meet and how did your collaboration evolve?

O: Matas and some guys from Lithuania came to a place I was playing. I was so high that day, and they asked if I wanted to come to Lithuania. It was 5 years ago. And then we went on the 16 hour bus trip, me and my friend Laura. And I found in him a part of me, someone really beautiful. And we started our strange relationship. I am from Spain, he is from Lithuania, and there is a wall between us, but in some ways we are very similar. And since then I have not travelled with anyone more than I did with Matas. All the strange places I’ve been was with him.

M: We were drinking beer, we were happy about Berlin, and suddenly we go to this place and we hear them play, and we tell them we already have D.O.S. parties here and we’re thinking maybe we should invite them to play. They came, it was an intense party, and it was very exciting to hear the music they played, which was something unfamiliar and unexpected to me. But it was also the mystique that made me wonder who those people are. Then we started exchanging music -- and, to come back to the point about searching for music, this is one way to do it that works for me, to find it through living, not only through reading. One of the reasons we continued doing things together is inspiration.

O: Yeah and from that time I developed a lot in terms of music, because if you’re not working at home then next time you will not surprise Matas. And sometimes-- What I did yesterday in Yucatan is something I will not do again today. Yesterday I was playing for the audience, but sometimes I get more enjoyment playing music for Matas. This is the best kind of audience for me because he will understand between the lines the music that I play, which is not just like a high audience saying ‘oh this is so good’. He will be able to read the song, he will see inside of the song, and will understand why I like this perverted rhythm or something else.

M: And then you can have no crowd and still party - just like everyone, we get to play in empty spaces sometimes…

So basically, by entertaining each other, you accidentally entertain the audience.

M: Yes, because you create in them the same emotion that you have.

O: Like when we smile at each other, people look and smile as well. If you’re enjoying what you do, if you’re secure with what you do… It’s not so easy - if you want to do something with music, with the audience, and you are not secure, they will feel this and it won’t work. But if you’re secure then they will get it.

M: When we play it’s not about which track by what artist is being played - it’s about enjoying the song that’s playing at the time. It’s not about information - that stays at home when you’re thinking what you will be playing.

Oscar, you also have a gallery in Berlin that you maintain. Could you tell us, briefly, about that?

O: It was a project like 6 years ago. We did concerts, but they were an excuse to get together. It was a group of people, and we were experimenting with ourselves, getting to know each other, going crazy, taking drugs together, trying to get better. And we were doing concerts with some rules, for example I preferred them to be as visual as possible. Because it was all in one cellar, and it was very violent in the way people couldn't go and speak at the bar if they don’t like the concert. It was improvisational music, and, you know, sometimes people don’t care about that. Here it was violent, because it was square and black and there was no way to escape. So the other rule was that the musician can’t play longer than 12 minutes. In 12 minutes you had to do the best you can. And it was very beautiful due to how it changed the concept of a musical performance - these musicians of improvisational music, they would like to play one hour and a half, and I would say “no, you will play 12 minutes”. And then when the concert is finished people come and say “but why don’t they play more?”. And this is the effect I want. It’s my personal thing - even if it’s my favorite band, I can’t stand 1 hour, it’s too much for me. I am an unfocussed guy and to be focused for one hour… I just want something like a little story and then to go with the sensation, which is very elegant, when you go home and say, “oh, 5 minutes more would have been incredible”. Not to always get full of the thing that you like.

Sometimes people were coming to this place without any money, and I was holding something like a concert a week and I was broke. But I tried a psychological experiment - I thought maybe people could start to feel responsible for the upkeep of a place where they spend time. But in the end it was impossible and it was sad to realize this. When you give things for free, people want more and more. Some of them were nice with the project, but others were not. So then I closed it and made something really private. Before, the place was functioning only through e-mail. My job was, if I was in a club or something like that and I would see a guy or a girl who was nice to me, I would ask for their e-mails, and I would tell them I have a place I would like them to come to. And the place was always full, but no one was there randomly - it was really nice as a project, but very expensive. And then it became a private place - we wouldn’t say when we’re having a party. We’d just come in the morning and spend time together, playing music. There were a lot of problems with the neighbors, and in Germany if you fight against Germans you’re going to lose. So it became unsustainable due to a lot of reasons: I didn’t get much money, and I wasn’t paying taxes, whatever I would get I would spend on buying things like alcohol for the place; there were problems with legality… So it was a beautiful thing, but I don’t want to do it anymore - it’s too much. I was exhausted, nervous, under a lot of stress, I got sick.

Matas, as far as I know you used work in IT, did you quit your career to do what you do now and where did your interest in music begin?

M: That was a long time ago and it was part of what parents want their children to do - finish school, go to university, get a job. At the time I didn’t quit my job to play music - that would have been impossible. I had an interest in it, but listening to music was just a hobby, and the music was completely different from now - it was the rap era, then it became funk and disco, and then techno after. I have an interest in technologies and IT as well, I think you have to nowadays.

When was the point when you realized that your interest in music was more serious and more than just a hobby?

M: In terms of time, I was maybe 24. I was always-- I had friends and I was always the person who was playing or giving music to them. And they were playing music in public already. And at that time I was saying that I was never going to play music, but of course I did it once and I liked it. I felt something. It’s always like that - the more you try to press something down, the more it will come up. But it became serious only later, gradually.

Oscar, some of your bio texts say that you’re the son of a record collector. Did you inherit the love of music from your father?

O: I don’t think so… For example, I have a real lack of knowledge of popular music. I remember going to a music quiz and not knowing any songs, and all the people are like “that’s Jefferson Airplane” or “Bob Dylan”. I have a very different understanding of music - with my music I need to hear only one beat - pop! And I know what the band is. But at the quiz I didn’t know anything, only once - The Residents. In my home it was progressive music, rock in opposition and krautrock - I was born with this. People often used to say this music is dark, but for me it’s not, when you’re born into some kind of music, you lose the ability to perceive it as strange or dark. My father was more into guitars, but I crossed over, developed more in electronic music. I can play a set of progressive or rock in opposition, and sometimes I like to, but generally I try to keep changing my style so I don’t get bored. If I play something in the morning, I will play something else at night. Some people are like, if they play techno, they will play the same if they are in a forest, a club, in snow, in California or Canada. And for me it’s about doing a soundtrack for the space I am in - I can’t play the same in Cafe de Paris and Yucatan, because Cafe de Paris has red lighting, there is a bartender to the side and these particular people, whereas in Yucatan all these attributes are different. I also play for the audience and they make me play well or play bad. For example I remember playing in this underground place in Sweden and there was this woman in high heels and lots of make up and… I was like “oh shit what to do, they want me to play one thing, but now this”, and of course I played terrible. Terrible. I can play worse than any DJ. That’s why I enjoy playing in houses in private parties - I play better.

M: Of course the soundtrack thing shouldn’t be understood directly - it’s not a musical recording for a particular environment, it’s an improvisation playing around the environment, full of twists and surprises.

What do you think about Lithuanian scene in general? Do you feel our scene has enough community approach? How do you see the scene in terms of the other promoters?

M: In Lithuania people want to compete rather than to unite. But it is the effect of possibilities and freedom. It is a very normal ongoing process. I might not know the person, but I am trying to get people from suburbs or different scenes of music together and my point is to keep these experimental-minded people together. And I want different people, I don’t want the same people always. The situation is the same with Latvia. When you are close to each other, you don’t want to be the same. We have a similar language, but these countries do not speak to each other.

Community is very important, but communities are not created, they emerge from everyday activities. You have to look after your child, but you also want to have a possibility to go to listen to the music that I or a band in the festival play. This music is for everyone - it does not matter whether you are a housewife or a junkie. So community is of course important, because it is formed by people. Some people are afraid of that, for example my mother would not like that, some people have the impression that it can be harmful. But community helps to do things and it costs nothing.

O: But there is a movement, there are the same people coming to events.

You mentioned some time ago that you plan to open some kind of cultural space in Vilnius? Is it still an ongoing process?

M: It is related to the community issues. We need better self-realisation. It would be great to have our own space, where people could live, where they could attend concerts. We rarely do concerts where bands just come for one night, play and leave. We usually spend about 4 days to hang out with the band when they arrive. So they need a space to live. Then we could put all our things there, have the possibility to make food, listen to music, to talk like we are doing right now, also to make parties, organize cultural events, invite artists. It would be for all kinds of music. It is an ongoing process as we are looking for a place, maybe it will never happen, but I am working on that, just maybe not good enough. I don’t want to lie to people to get space, this is very stupid. You need to find ways how to get it. But this is how society is built - you have to lie or to do something wrong to get something.

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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