There is something totally entrancing about Iceland. Both geographically, with its 24/7 sunlight in summer and the natural splendour of geysers and hot springs, but also culturally. Iceland is certainly small but mighty, shown by the electronic music scene they have slowly been nurturing, which now far surpasses others.
When speaking to Icelandic producer Yagya (Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson), however, he rightfully shafts any form of musical categorisation – both within stylistic boundaries as well as geographical. What is surprising is that this was the self-proclaimed “armchair techno” producer’s first ever podcast! Not only did we find Yagya’s honesty refreshing, but he opened our eyes to new philosophies with which to perceive music. Both a producer and a sensei! Listen below to the beautiful hour-long soundscape made for us by Yagya, and have a read of the unusual procedure he used to create it, manually timestretching each track, and adding automated effects and some drums to make it all transition smoothly.
Yagya plays at London’s Oval Space this Friday as part of their first 24 hour party alongside Jeff Mills, KiNK, Radio Slave, James Ruskin, Makam, Steve O’Sullivan, The Persuader, Markus Suckut, Evan Baggs, Fritz Zander and a special guest that is yet to be announced.
Hey Aðalsteinn. How are you? What have you been up to recently?
Living my life, working, dreaming, eating too much chocolate. The usual stuff. Waiting for summer to start, but not actively. How does one wait actively? By doing nothing? I’m not doing nothing, if that’s what you think. Summer has probably started somewhere, I suppose, but not in Iceland. It’s cold here right now. Cold and bright. Cold weather in spring is worse than freezing weather in winter. It has something to do with expectations, probably.
Your recent sound slots in nicely into the ‘dub techno’ category, but you’ve spoken before about not wanting to be defined by a single genre. How would you introduce the Yagya sound to people who haven’t heard your music before?
I think genres are for journalists, maybe DJs also. Genres tend to oversimplify music, and might possibly limit creativity if you take them too seriously. I have followed the dub techno genre through the years, and I enjoy certain aspects of dub techno, but I’d hate to be limited by it.
The best way to introduce my music is to invite people to listen. I make introverted techno music – armchair techno, if you will – and for me, it’s not about energy but to let the music guide you inwards and reflect. So I would tell people to enjoy the sounds, let the mood wash over them and listen to the small, hidden dimensions within their own soul. Maybe that’s not helpful, I don’t know. I guess it’s best just to listen and not be tainted by my words or their expectations. I’d be disappointed if my music would be like a cold wind in spring or a snowless winter. Furthermore, it’s not my place to tell people how to listen to my music. I just create it.
How do emotions and soundscapes play a role in your work?
If I took emotions and soundscapes out of my music, there would hardly be anything left. At least nothing interesting, in my opinion. They are the building blocks of my music, and these two are equally important. The dub sounds and techno kicks are there, but they could be replaced without changing the impact of the music.
Do you ever use your profession as a software developer to enhance your music?
Eh no, sadly I haven’t done any real programming as a musician. I tried Csound and Pd a bit, but gave up since I couldn’t understand how to manipulate emotions through these tools. Perhaps software development has taught me a thing or two about work ethics and how to use iterations to make things better, but who knows how things would have turned out if I were a professional musician?
When we listen to your music, we imagine you holed up in your studio during long, cold nights in an arctic winter, but you’ve also spoken about the Sleepygirls LP reminding you of summer days. With such extreme differences in your Icelandic climate, how has your environment informed your sound?
I think it’s a myth, these extreme climate differences in Iceland. The weather in Canada, for example, is much more extreme than in Iceland, so I don’t think it affects me at all. In my mind, Sleepygirls is accessible and light, and thus it reminds me of summer. It’s probably not like that at all in other people’s ears, and again, I can’t tell people how to listen to my music. I just try to create what I like and hope for the best.
Do you prefer making music in the dark winters or longer, warmer days of summer?
The darkness sucks the life out of me! I prefer the warmer days of summer, but there is a catch! The summer in Iceland isn’t very warm, or as they say here in Iceland: “I hope summer lands on a weekend this year.” But yeah, I prefer the 24/7 daylight in the middle of summer.
What’s Icelandic electronic music like, and are there any significant countrymen/women who have influenced you?
Ruxpin has helped me a lot over the years. He’s wise and honest, tells me if my stuff is crap, so he has definitely influenced me through his tireless helpfulness and honesty. He makes excellent music and I used one track from him in the podcast (as Octal Industries).
Looking forward, are there any young and talented producers from Reykjavik we should be listening to more?
Oh yes, lots of stuff happening over here! Möller Records and Raftónar have been releasing high quality music for some time now, and some of it is absolutely fantastic. But I often wonder if we should really be categorising music geographically? How small portions of land should we split the earth into before we talk about cultural differences? Is one neighbourhood in Reykjavík producing a different kind of music then the neighbourhood adjacent to it? What about the streets in Akureyri? I’m not sure if it’s helpful. I believe good music is without borders. Maybe we should just talk about Earth as a whole and the music that comes from earth? I’m currently listening to Courtney Barnett. I like her music very much. She’s not Icelandic, but she’s from Earth so we share a deep connection, me and her.
It’s been nearly a year since your last album came out. What are your reflections on that release? Do you ever come back to albums after releasing them, or do you prefer to leave it up to your memory?
I try to leave it up to my memory, but I daydream about fixing them with all my newly acquired knowledge. Then again, I would probably just ruin it, to be honest, and I really, really, really want to make new beautiful music. Creating new music is where the fun’s at.
On Sleepygirls, Japanese vocals featured strongly. Are there any other foreign languages that have a resonance with you, that you’d like to use in the future?
Not really. Japanese is very nice, I find it exotic and the words have interesting shapes, plus I don’t understand it, which is an upside. Is Icelandic a foreign language? I’d like to try to use Icelandic. English is also a beautiful language, but I’d only want to work with English if the singer speaks English natively. My view is that language is at it’s best when the speaker/singer has a good feel for the language, pronunciation and words. If I use vocals again, I’d only ask the singer to sing in her/his native language, whatever that might be. But that doesn’t mean that vocals sung in a foreign language can’t be beautiful.
Tell us a bit about the mix you’ve made for us.
It’s my first podcast! Woohoo! It took ages to put together, and since I’m not in any way a DJ, I didn’t have any tracks in stock. So what do I do? I asked Ruxpin of course. He’s a collector and a wizard so he had some nice tracks to send over. I had about ten hours of music but it was still tough to choose the right tracks and splice them all together. I decided to sync it all to 120bpm like a proper amateur. That limited what I could use from the track collection. I used Reaper since that’s what I use to make music (I love that DAW). Fun fact: Reaper doesn’t have any syncing feature, so I had to manually timestretch each track. I tried to make the transitions smooth, EQd and edited the tracks, added sounds FX, automated effects and even some drums over the tracks to make it all glue together. Regarding standout tracks, I really like Voices from the Lake. The Sight Below also sent me a very nice remix he made of Golden Apples for the podcast. Most of the tracks I hadn’t heard before, but I liked that. It’s fun to discover new music by creating a podcast.
What’s on the horizon for you this summer? Do you have any plans for a new album?
I do have plans for a new album, but it’s still in its infancy. It will probably not fit as nicely in the dub techno slot as Sleepygirls, but I’m super excited to continue working on it. As I have mentioned, that’s why I do this: creating new things for the enjoyment of myself and others. So during summer, I’m gonna work on that album as much as I can. Also, there are festivals in Lithuania (Yaga Gathering 2015) and Switzerland (Les Digitales) which I will attend and perform at. I’m looking forward to them as well.
Catch Yagya playing live at Oval Space’s 24 hour party this Friday.