Behind the Curtains of the Lithuanian Dark Techno Scene
Lithuanian techno promoters DAI (Lith. Didziuju agregatu inzinieriai, Eng. engineers of the great machines) have been polishing their monolithically monochrome event series for 5 years and have already established their positions in Vilnius dark electronic underground. Usually based in “Kablys” venue situated in an old Soviet-built brutalist-classicist building, DAI events have a very distinct feel and sonic pattern. Their line-ups, which are mostly based on solid and dark-fringed techno, always leave some space for more experimental and leftfield sounds including ambient, industrial, noise, etc. Thus these parties are a coherent artistic experience. To illustrate this, we could mention that DAI have organised the gigs by such diverse artists as Peder Mannerfelt, Ascion, SHXCXCHCXSH, SNTS, Polar Inertia, Max_M, Sleeparchive, Abdulla Rashim, Violet Poison, Kobosil etc. And some more exciting names are incoming.
This year DAI are celebrating their 5 year anniversary with Steve Bicknell and some local talent, including another one of the people behind the crew, Inner. Before that, Rokas (aka Rookas), one of the most prominent techno DJs, the founder of DAI, told us about the concept and history behind this abbreviation, the situation in the local scene and possible future tendencies of the genre.
What is DAI? What is the general idea behind DAI and how did everything evolve?
DAI is a collective of DJs and consists of myself, Inner and Split Pulse who started it in 2010 but isn't as active lately. Split Pulse invited me to play my first ever public DJ gig and after a couple of months we brought our first international guest. The evolution was quite natural I would say, but we started very slowly with a smaller crowd and tested the waters first. Little by little everything grew and only in the last couple of years we started to gather a decent crowd, got more comfortable and gained the trust of people. Our message is intended to reach the listener who knows what he is looking for but also those who are willing to go deeper and are open to new sounds and experiences. In a sense it has a become a statement in itself, that it's possible to do things differently and a sign that when there's dedication things can be done. The general idea was to do something in our own way, to be able to play the music we love throughout the whole night and not need to make any compromises when programming our lineups. Doing that monthly keeps it constant and that is what we felt was missing in Lithuania, especially when clubbing season only goes from September till around May. It's very important for us to constantly shape our sound, reinvent ourselves and accept the challenges ahead. Each event is different and formed around the artist we invite and his music but at the same time it's becoming a part of who we are. We are not looking to it as a business, we believe in music of artists who we invite and do it out of the passion for the music itself.
When there is enough time we also run a small website where we publish interviews, mixes, etc. There's so many ideas and plans but never enough time, energy or simply money. At some point in time it's easy to forget that promoting is not Your only activity and it's hard to find the time and energy for producing, focusing on DJing or spending more time thinking about the people who are closest to You.
What are the main challenges in organising events in Lithuania? In his previous interview Arma mentioned that the audience sometimes tends to be split into smaller groups and have an elitist vibe. How do you perceive the situation?
I would say that the main challenge is money, due to the economical situation here, it's not easy to invite artists and not be able to offer them the same fees as in Berlin or other major cities, therefore we have to show them our passion and share our vision so that we can form a certain connection. When we started our events we had a perfect place (club 'The LIFT' located in abandoned bank vault) for them but soon it closed down and we were struggling to find a venue where we can be free and do things the way we wanted. In 2013 we relocated to a club called Kablys which has become a second home for us, we believe that it's the best place in Lithuania at the moment. It has it's shortcomings but there's no better place for us right now. I don't know how much I could call DAI a success story, we never aimed for anything in that sense as we have had our ups and downs. It's never easy to keep the motivation going after something not going as planned. It takes away a lot of fun when You are never sure of how the night will go. You never can plan ahead properly, there's a certain risk when You're doing it all from Your own pocket.
There are many other local factors too, one of them is that the scene is quite small and the divide can be felt, I wouldn't call it elitist per se but some people only follow the hype and are not as open to different sounds or ideas. Competition can also be felt, especially lately almost all the clubs have some kind of Techno night and are trying to use the situation to their advantage by playing it safe and bringing big names which in turn creates a climate where Techno is losing it's meaning and is becoming a marketing gimmick. It's hard to reach the potential listener and convince him to come to a show of the artist who doesn't have a big following locally. However, I'm happy that we have managed to form a certain following and gained the trust of the people so in turn we are able to go deeper and present acts which doesn't necessarily fall under ‘techno’.
For quite a long time techno has been facing quite a strong influence of dark music genres (coldwave, dark wave, minimal, industrial etc). What do you think might be the next turn for the genre? Are there any upcoming trends you have been noticing?
I think it was a healthy change of pace for the genre. Nowadays an influence can be felt coming from the noise and experimental scenes, techno and more experimental sounds are complementing each other perfectly so the fit is natural. There's a lot of great music being released which cannot be categorized nor should it be. I'm not chasing the next big thing and what's going to come next, but I believe that there's still more to explore and experiment by blurring the line between genres even further. The less you care about the genre the more you can experiment and express the emotion more naturally. I'm very happy that there are artists and labels who are brave enough to delve deeper into the unknown or simply do what they believe in. The sound which is prevailing right now is Techno being reduced to it's purest form, frequencies and is more about the feeling and emotion, while the sounds have a certain 'analog' character where You can almost feel the electricity in the air. Personally I can really feel the connection to the Scandinavian scene, and especially Northern Electronics, Posh Isolation labels which are very important to me personally and their presence is really felt in the scene globally.
What do you personally like about techno music and how do you perceive it? How does that relate to other music? Where does techno and other music stand in your life?
It's quite strange for myself but I wouldn't call myself a Techno head as probably many people think I am. Music in general is a very important aspect of my life, it inspires me on many different levels. At home usually I listen to experimental/ambient music and believe that Techno can only be fully experienced in a club. The genre has shifted and twisted itself so much that I don't really care about the label it has attached to it, It's all about what vibe is radiated through the music. It's hard to put it into words but with Techno I feel free and can let go, the state of mind that it puts me into is a big driving force for me. As a vinyl collector it's very important for me to bring something unknown through my DJ sets while fusing it with the new sound of Techno. The only real problem is that I cannot enjoy it as much as I would like to, that's one of the things You realise pretty fast after You start organizing events, when You have to take care of everything throughout the night it's hard to relax and experience the music yourself, you kind of have to rely on other people emotions and energy.
Recently you participated in the Up to Date festival and conference. You also have strong connections with some other promoters and DJs in neighbouring countries. How do you see the Eastern European techno scene and what are its future possibilities?
The festival and the conference were both great experiences for us as DAI and for me personally. It was a great feeling to meet so many like minded people from different countries and cities. We all could openly discuss our issues, share our ideas and were able to inspire each other in one way or another. I really hope that it will continue to grow in the future and I am definitely looking forward to coming back. The festival was my first 'proper' international gig, the lineup was great (with artists like Ulwhednar, SNTS, Steve Bicknell, SHXCXCHCXSH, O/H, etc.) and it definitely gave me a boost of confidence by being a part of that. As far as the Eastern European Techno scene goes there's still a lot of areas which are unexplored and we all suffer from more or less the same issues but if we would compare Baltic states, Lithuanian electronic music scene is definitely in the best state right now in terms of the quantity and quality of events we have. We still have space to improve and we are happy to be a part of that, though it's very important to have young people come in to the scene and be willing to take risks and invest themselves for the future.
What do you think are the major challenges/possibilities for Lithuanian artists and promoters in reaching the global audience? Do you feel that the situation is getting better? Lithuanian activities have been featured in such noted online journals as Electronic Beats or Resident Advisor. Do you think it helps?
It's not easy for Lithuanian artists to get noticed without getting their music released and doing that from your own savings is hardly an option. There's only a couple of labels which are releasing physical products to a global market and the DIY way is not always working in such situations as You cannot focus properly on the music itself. We are lucky that there is a project like S13 that reaches the global audience and in my opinion is one of the leading platforms worldwide, doing it with consistency and passion. Digital Tsunami is also a name that comes up constantly, sadly none of them can focus enough on the local scene. I can see the potential in some local artists but they have their future in their own hands and it's a bit too early to say where that will lead. The situation is definitely getting better and we are getting some bigger media attention but I cannot really say if it helps the scene as much as it mainly focuses on a couple of events and doesn't really show the full picture.
How does DAI differ from other promoters? What distinctive elements would you highlight in your activities?
We focus on music by bringing artists who we believe in and who fits our vision not because of their name but because of their sound, we don't want to play it all safe. It's all about connecting to the artist which is invited. Our main goal is to create an environment where music can be fully experienced without any unnecessary distractions, the only light source in our events is coming from vj su~y's analog abstract b&w visuals, he was the missing piece of puzzle for us. We are in a constant search of a perfect setup, where the listener can be free and experience the music firsthand. For every event we try to do something unique and never go with the default setup. Mostly we bring live shows to our crowd because we feel that it is the best way for artist to express himself while we are responsible for the DJ sets as I believe we are perfectly capable of that. Another thing that we introduced not long ago is the second area which is dedicated to neighboring Techno sounds and is more about experimental/ambient genres where Unheimliche project guys are taking care of the musical duties and in the future we hope that we will be able to present some of the local artists live shows.
You’ve been promoting events for 5 years. What main shifts and trends have you noticed in the scene during these years? Could you compare the time when you started to the present situation? What changed?
It doesn't feel like 5 years went by already, we are not exaggerating the fact itself, we tend to focus on our work and stay in the shadow to let the music speak. We definitely feel stronger, learned a lot of things, met so many amazing people and most importantly got good feedback on our events and the music we play. This gives us more confidence and makes everything a bit easier. I never expected for things to come fast because when we started there were only a couple of irregular Techno events happening, it was a time just after the economical crisis, some clubs had closed down and some of the partygoers slowed down their weekend activities. The scene wasn't healthy and didn't show a lot of signs of getting back. There was a time when people didn't really want to pay for the entrance to a club and to bring an international guest became a very hard task. But around the same time a new generation of people was stepping into the scene who were not happy about the situation and wanted to change it.
The biggest issue we felt was that there was a lack of consistency in the scene and believed that there should be more events where music is the main attraction. We haven't had a place to express or enjoy ourselves so we decided to build something ourselves. Now people are starting to go out more, we can see new and younger faces emerging, though there's not many young promoters who are willing to risk and commit. I can understand their frustration because You never know what's going to happen over the next event, thus cannot plan too much ahead as it requires a certain mindset and approach to things.
How would you define Lithuanian public? How is it different? Do you notice the progression in the scene?
The Lithuanian public probably has all advantages and disadvantages mixed together. We are open and at the same time quite closed people, the post-soviet vibe can still be felt and with that comes not enough self-confidence. For such a small scene the public is a bit spoiled, they want more and bigger names, they only care about the headliner and sometimes don't care to nurture the artists we have here. On the other hand they want new sounds, new experiences, are educated, and I can see a certain progression towards events which are more focused on music than partying or fusing both activities together.
The Lithuanian underground electronic music scene was mostly built upon big raves and some people are just chasing nostalgic moments, which we are all happy to experience but there's more to it than that. One thing is that today people are overlapping in different scenes, this brings new energy and vibe to the events and there's a better understanding of what is Techno.
Is there any specific Lithuanian sound? Would you say that Lithuanians have their own distinctive unique techno sound?
I wouldn't say that we have a specific Lithuanian sound which could be easily put into words. Right now the main key players in the scene are minimal.lt with their constant stream of events and festival Supynes, Intakz makes a huge impact to shaping Lithuanian sound, who is the main person behind Kablys bookings and fuses everything from indie to techno to punk to house. Agharta has helped in many ways to a lot of people to find their sound. There's also a couple of events like Umbra and many other irregular smaller events in bars which help people find their way out of daily routines. While in the past when Vault club and Techstylism was active, we could say that techno was described and presented as harder, more pounding music, while today the horizon has widened and there's no clear line of where to put it. It still maintains that same roughness and coldness from the past but is deeper and more hypnotic today. We don't have many particular techno artists or labels which could shape a truly unique sound to describe our scene. As far as DJs go, we definitely all have our distinctive signature sound but it's much easier to experience it through music not through words. There's a big influence from the guests we invite but we receive a lot of good feedback from our guests about our unique vibe and sound, they are happy to be a part of it, that means a lot for us and keeps us moving forward.
What about the future?
Finishing of this year for our 5 years anniversary we are having Steve Bicknell for a deep techno session which we are very looking forward to. Until now we have managed to do it with consistency and a certain quality but our future is never certain, we just follow our instincts and one way or another are dependent on the situation locally. Our goal is the same as it was in the beginning, to bring the best quality and push the boundaries of not only the local scene but ourselves too. We are comfortable with what we have achieved so far and wish to further maintain it without making any compromises, essentially we don't look to grow but to nurture what we have by slowly finding our way into the murky night of the listener. There never was an expiry date set but all things come to an end at some point, we just hope and will continue to work towards the well being of the scene over here and hopefully it will be even less rigid in terms of people mentality, vibe and expectations. In terms of sound, we have a few things already planned and working to make them happen which will take a slightly different path into less explored territories of techno and experimental music which we are very excited about and cannot wait for 2016.