In a rare interview SHXCXCHCXSH shed some light on the backstage behind their textured, atmospheric techno sounds, and their relation with anonymity. [social_warfare]
Since their beginning in 2010, SHXCXCHCXSH has maintained a mysterious stance, teaching us to focus on the music and its effects, unburdened by prejudices and external contexts. Anonymity is not particularly new to the scene - some notable examples include Drexciya, Headless Horseman, etc. - but the goal behind each case is different. Shxcxchcxsh have managed to remain obscure despite their relative popularity, and this approach touches on more than just their identity. For example, the duo tend to name their releases and tracks with cryptic sequences of letters or words, electing to not spoil the listener and let him wander without a guide, to come up with unique interpretations, perceptions of sound. The same seems to be true of their music, which is an alien terrain low on familiar references - a newly found planet where everything is open to discovery. We might say Shxcxchcxsh dabble in atmospheric techno sounds wrapped in an organic lo-fi texture which sometimes approach the boundaries of IDM or even ambient, but this would not do it justice.
Aside from having releases on such notable labels as Avian, Semantica etc, SHX have recently introduced their own label, Rösten, which, among other things, is a way of expanding their creative vision further into unknown territories. For their first more detailed public interview we met on the vast Tempelhof Airport grounds on a sunny September evening - a pleasant time for a talk about texture, hip-hop influenced forthcoming releases, abstract art and other such things.
Listen to their Secret Thirteen mix here.
Paulius Ilius: One of the main aspects of your artistic vision is anonymity - both in terms of identity and artwork aspects, track titles, etc. What is the idea behind this for you personally? Are you trying to dissociate your music from familiar references?
SHX: Most of the things we do are based on the same idea: the experience of music should be equal to everyone and there is nothing you have to know in advance. There is no message or specific idea that we want to communicate. There is no symbolic content at all. It is just what it is. It is completely subjective - we want people to approach our music in their own way. We don’t have any guidelines on how to do it. Everything is concentrated on the music. This is a very simple idea, we just try to enhance it with that feeling that we trying to eliminate ourselves.
Was is difficult to preserve this public image in a web-dominated world?
People respected it so much more than I thought they would. I don’t think it is difficult at all.
Do you have moments when you would like to be visible?
It would be nice to do some kind of transformation, but still maintain this anonymity. Just play around with the idea more, take it to another level.
Was it the initial idea to position yourselves this way?
It’s something that came up half a year or a year after we started, when we began thinking how to play live. Then we looked for the way to do it, to be consistent and to maintain the same idea through the live sets. It happened organically and very quickly, not that we talked about it a lot. It was a very natural and good step in the process.
Being anonymous, do you have the need to build a more direct relation with the audience or see how they react to your music? What is your approach to the audience? Do you have to see what the audience does?
We usually plan our sets in advance, so in most cases we will play in a certain way no matter how the audience would react to this. It is not like a DJ-set, when you can more react to crowds. We usually just play one hour or 90 minutes, so it is not that we can do those big swings to either side - we have a set that we are playing. There will be a little bit of adjusting depending on how it feels. We’ll normally talk a little bit about it before we start, maybe five minutes before something, to discuss where we should start and where we end.
Do you improvise a lot during your live sets?
We know the structure, but then on that structure we can build very different things, so there is a red line. I think the most boring thing for us is to do the same thing again and again, where you know every moment. There is no excitement in that. What we do and how is different every time. So you can say it is structured, but also improvised over that.
And how much improvisation does your creative process involve? Which comes first - the music or the concept?
When we create an album nowadays, we usually have a pretty clear idea or feeling what we want to do before we start. Maybe we already have something that fits in, but usually we have some sort of predetermined direction - like whether the album will be more abstract or danceable. Then we will see what will turn up. Many times the things we create are more than we expected. In the beginning we just made stuff without any plan, but now we got to know the sound of ourselves better. I would say we are more mature in the process. We can say more in advance what we want, what kind of material it is going to be. For example, our following EP will have more hip-hop influences. It is always fun to do something new with each release. Otherwise we would just be bored from not-developing.
The hip-hop influences are quite an interesting turn. Was it a natural thing?
Since we started we kept wanting more and more slower stuff. This track that was released on Semantica Records is more on this slower, darker side. Also, I have listened to stuff like 90’s hip-hop a lot. I like the direction we are heading in now. It is a good concept and we really like it. Hip-hop puts me into a good mood and when you go to a studio you are not filled with techno up to your head. I haven’t been listening to techno on a daily basis for many years now, so it is kind of natural to try different styles and BPMs. We have been in the same BPM since we started - now we want to do some slower stuff. And who knows maybe it could go other ways. It is just fun to try new stuff, to do what we have done before would not relate that much in our heads.
Even though you mentioned that you don’t listen to techno much, you are still labeled under the techno tag. But for me your sound has a lot more ambient/IDM/lo-fi sensibilities than techno. What is your personal relation to today’s techno scene and this movement in terms of influences and things that you do now?
When we met in 2010, we were both into techno in extreme amounts. We did that for a couple of years and have been into it in so many ways. This influence is still very strong and the starting point for our new label Rösten. But techno, in its dance floor format is not what we put on at home usually, we mostly listen to other stuff, like what you mentioned, ambient/IDM, but a lot of indie and hip-hop as well.
You have just started your own record label Rösten. As you have had releases on so any other labels what was the idea behind starting this label and how the material released on this label differs from your releases on other labels? Is this a space to have some more creative freedom?
Yes and at the same time to have some other projects released. We will for sure have other artists on there. Next out is SSTROM and our long time friend Sissel Wincent is recording one for us.
Our intention with Rösten is to broaden the scope to whatever we feel like, so it will somehow represent what we listen to. There is no certain pre-determined plan for it. Mostly, we are doing it because it is very fun to do, including things like making artworks and thinking about ideas how to present releases. Also, sometimes you get into all these procedures with other labels - sending material, waiting for answers... it is better to do some things on your own. But of course we still like to put out things on other labels, which will go in parallel to Rösten releases.
The artwork-music connection on these EPs that you released on Rösten make them feel like little postcards, whereas the music seems to have a kind of alien, sci-fi feel. Is this a genre you are interested in and what is your relation to other art forms in general?
I really enjoy watching movies. Not specifically science fiction, rather more generally - moving images with sound. It is a format of how to look at things. When you look at the movie, you get so much information like the surroundings in the movie, personalities, sounds, emotions. I think it is very interesting. We are big fans of it. Movies are the main thing after the music - different styles and periods. I really like everything from early stuff like Fritz Lang up until now.
But I like other stuff as well. I am not an art freak, but I try to be up-to-date on what is happening. We work with very abstract textures, patterns and structures, ways of experiencing. I am doing architecture as well and I am very interested in the close-up of the material itself. So it comes down to the very texture of what you are doing, not just the idea of it or a certain perspective, but actually going into something for a very close-up view. And I think this is very much related to what we do in music also. The music is more like a wall of sound. It is not so much about the rhythm itself, it is more about going into something very closely. It’s as in abstract or general photography, something like Agnes Martin and that type of very abstract painting is very close to what we are doing.
So you channel the emotion via texture? What do you use to create it?
Yeah, that’s more and more how we work with the sound. At the beginning we worked with drum machines and normal synths and stuff, but it has more and more become a work with just sounds. A kick drum is always a kick drum. But a sample could be anything. And a sample is always more of a texture. A sample has more texture in it than an analog drum machine.
There is no specific production technique, it just happens that we turn on this whole amount of frequencies. In every sound we have this. We do it in many many different ways. Most stuff goes through some analog machines at some point, but generally it is very mixed [between analog and digital]. It is good to have them both.
Have you ever tried or considered combining your music with some other artworks, like scoring a movie, providing sound for some art installation, dance performance etc?
We never tried no. We really would want to score a film, it would be so much fun. Doing it for something else could also be cool, but it’s not something we thought much about. We tend to think mostly about the music.
You are from the small city of Norrköping - what is the relationship between it and your work?
Yeah, Norrköping is a very industrial city. We liked to live there and it has influenced us in many emotional ways. There was no scene there, so all that we did and created was made at home. It was a non-techno environment, but it has influenced us in a very good way. Actually we didn’t know each other until we were about 26 and lived together 6-7 people in a big house in Stockholm. We had some good and intensive years there and often went to some illegal techno parties. After that we moved back to Norrköping for a few years. You can think clearly in that city. We did our first two albums there and the third in Stockholm. It has a nice atmosphere and you just enjoy other stuff because if you want to go out there is no clubs to go to, you can just go to bars, but of course you can go to clubs that play other kinds of music like rock, pop, hip-hop, the normal ones. We played techno music only in the studio or in our home. That was a good way to focus as there was nothing else going on.
The last time is saw you was at the Unsound festival back in 2015. I was impressed by the visuals of Pedro Maia. Do you have a specific idea of the kind of visuals should accompany your music? What is the role of the visuals in your project and what are your plans towards this side of your music?
In the case of Pedro Maia, he had his own style and we trusted him. He had his freedom, we had our freedom. He sent us some pictures and we developed a connection very early. It was an easy process.
I think it is the way to create an immersive experience of the music. It is easier to get into it when you have all this other stuff. We have quite a lot of things in mind.
How do you see the current electronic music scene and how do you imagine the short-term future of music in general?
This is the thing we talked before, because techno was extremely exciting for us, but now it is not as exciting anymore. I don’t know if it’s completely subjective or if techno is not as exciting for everyone. But I am expecting things to go like that pretty much. There has been quite a number of experimental stuff lately.
But techno also morphs with such acts as yours, Yves De Mey or Sendai, which are still sometimes tagged under techno, but are really something in-between genres.
It is not the same formula, but we like it that way, because it gets boring when you do the same thing, while there are also many other things to discover. We have been doing a lot of stuff, which is not techno over time, and when we made the Rösten EPs, I think it was an attempt to make techno exciting for us again. Because we love techno and 4/4 drum can never go out of time. But it’s a matter of how to find it exciting as sometimes you get really bored of it.
Do you make music in advance specifically for a certain label or do you just make music - the label asks you for some stuff and you provide it?
We do music specifically for the label. It is fun to design it for different kinds of labels and then to do what we want on our Rösten label. We have also many tracks that can be released on their own, but there is also a lot of music we create that is addressed to certain labels.