Raw Emotion, Poignant Soundscapes, and Genuine Moments: Everyday Life with DJ Seinfeld
It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,
Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses;
Where the sun shines from the proud mountain:
It is a little valley bubbling over with light.
A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue cresses,
Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under the sky,
Pale on his green bed where the light falls like rain.
His feet in the yellow flags, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child might smile, he is having a nap:
Cradle him warmly, Nature: he is cold.
No odour makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.
DJ Seinfeld is one of the most respected creatives in house music today. He is known for his deliciously gritty production, surprise-filled DJ-bumps, and conscientious collaborations. Furthering the legacy of house music's trailblazing founders, DJ Seinfeld continually pushes the limits of his own musical equipment, challenging the hardware and software we use to emulate, cope with, and communicate our experience with the electrifying leaps and bounds of emotion that our own human capacities are able to undergo, sense, and endure.
Following his epic DJ-Kicks release, WHRB’s Lana Harris chatted with Armand Jakobsson (DJ Seinfeld, Rimbaudian) to gain more insight on how his how musical, geographical, and emotional background may have resulted in his current (and still progressing) sound, as well as to take a holistic look at the proverbial “lo-fi” that has come to describe his own musical practice.
Transcript excerpts below, minimally edited for clarity & style.
My main sense of influence and inspiration comes from everyday life.
Emotions in everyday life do not come cleanly, they do not come conspicuously clear; they are always muddled in some shape or form. The more profound experiences of going through a breakup, or hearing that someone close to you is sick, are incredibly raw and unfiltered experiences. So, I thought, the only criterion that I’ll hold my music up against is the degree to which it’s honest. It sounds a bit cliche to say the music is honest, but I mean it in terms of being true to whatever I’m trying to express, making sure that it comes directly from something that I’ve experienced before.
When you listen to something like a rock star or a heavy metal singer screaming through a microphone, and it goes through amplifiers only to pop out distorted, it’s because that technical equipment is not able to handle the voice—neither its volume nor its intensity. That’s what I do with my music as well. I take the melodies and inspirations that I have in my mind for a song; I send them through the equipment & programs that I have, and I let it create a different palette of sounds, where the rawness and the directness of the music and its inspiration is both visceral and clear.
My primary objective is to transmit something—to showcase what I believe in at the current time, and to make people dance, to make people experience.
When I first started discovering electronic music, I was living in Edinburgh. I was studying sociology, and how we experience music in everyday life. During this time, I was heavily withdrawn from the outside world. I was taking life too seriously—I thought that everything was either amazing or pointless. I would walk down the street in Edinburgh and be listening to a particular track; it would have such an overwhelmingly profound impact on me that I would become physically ill and have to throw up.
There are moments nowadays where I listen to music that used to make me feel this way, and it draws me back to this very emotional state—one where I was ultimately not happy. Yet, this type of nostalgia—where certain places or certain sounds reignite some kind of emotional state—can now be extremely inspiring. When I listen to this sort of poignant music nowadays, I remember how I felt, but it’s no longer in this same detrimental sense. On the contrary, this music, with its slightly sad undertones, is extremely rewarding for me & my creative process alike. Sure, I’ve had plenty of happy times in my life, and I do get nostalgic for them as well, but not necessarily to the same extent; rather, somber-tinged nostalgia is pure inspiration.
I grew up in a family where classical music tradition was supreme.
My father used to be an opera singer, my mom is a music teacher, and my sister is a cellist & opera singer as well. We used to live in a very small apartment and rehearse, but it would always be starkly classical decorum.
When I first discovered electronic music, it was very much a shock to the system. It was something completely different. It pushed me even further that my own technical bounds; it made me consider what music was, and the types of experiences it could induce. Breaking free from classical music was, in a way, the best thing that could have happened to me. Listening to people who my parents hated (e.g. Iannis Xenakis) started to open up my horizon quite a lot.
I like to draw from a wide set of influences and a diverse sound palette that doesn’t always scream cohesion.
One of my favorite short story collections is one by an Argentinian author, Julio Cortázar. It’s a collection of short stories that explores a wide variety of topics. The one thing that they have in common is that the same voice is telling the stories, such that you can actually notice the consistency in the author behind it. That’s what I aspire to do with my music—to create completely different worlds and stories, but to make sure that they all fall under the same umbrella of a common storyteller. As time moves on, as one work ebbs and another work flows, I, the narrator, will also change. As such, my beliefs and attitude towards my music are undoubtedly going to change as well. It’s a nice thing because it means I’m still growing. It’s still alive & moving, it’s a process.
The things you create in a certain place become the context of your experience there.
When I initially made my album, I was living in Barcelona. Yet, I didn’t really feel at home there. In the few months following this album, I retrospectively realized that making it had helped me better relate to the city and to my being there. The music that I was making & experiencing in Barcelona likewise became my soundscape to the city. It’s quite nice—it made me realize that no matter where I choose to live now or in the future, it will have a major impact on the music that I make. I find that to be really encouraging.
Every time I think I get remotely close to the musical fantasy I’m chasing, it eludes me.
Anyone who’s doing music is constantly building up a mental “library” of sounds that encompasses what they’ve made, what they relate to, what they’ve experienced. Then there are the moments where you’re able to draw connections, or patterns, between different instances within this library. I think this is one of the most exciting experiences or realizations that you can have as a musician—times when you tie in something vastly different, from a completely different side of the spectrum, into something that you’re currently working on. It’s not often that those moments happen, but when they do, they’re so incredibly rewarding.
Thank you dearly to Isis O'Regan, Graeme Stewart, and Armand Jakobsson for making this interview possible.
Interview conduction, editing, and production by Lana Harris.
Lana Harris DJs/writes/beyond for The Darker Side. The Darker Side has air every Saturday night 10pm-6am and Sunday night 10pm-5am.