Stockholm native and “electronic futurist” Axel Willner a.k.a. The Field will be heading to Yuyintang on Saturday and is one of this month’s must catch acts. Not only has he toured with !!!, LCD Soundsystem and Juan Maclean, he’s also built up quite a name of his own.
Where: Yuyintang, 851 Kaixuan Lu (near Yan’an Xi Lu)
Time: Saturday, December 4, 9pm onwards
The Field’s debut album From Here We Go Sublime, was one of 2007’s most universally praised releases – it received a 9.0 rating on Pitchfork.com and the BBC called it “one of those rare albums that makes you wonder how you ever got by without it.”
Geoff Lokke of Wooozy talks to Axel about his China tour, his future plans, lingonberries and a bunch of other things besides.
If you could give us a cryptic three word teaser about your upcoming Chinese tour, what would it be?
Axel: It would be heavy drums, sequences, and drunkenness.
In the past, you’ve just worked with laptop mostly, right? And now you’re touring with a band. What’s the biggest difference for you when it comes to translating what you’ve recorded into your live presence and your live show?
Axel: The biggest difference is of course, how it sounds and also the possibility to take it somewhere else which I felt I could not really do with only a laptop, so with a live band, it’s more communicating between the musicians and the people and stuff you never really know where it goes and that’s what I’ve been looking for when I play live.
So, what’s the set-up in your band?
Axel: We’ve got Jesper on drums, and Don who plays bass and synthesizer, and then our VJ, Victor, who also plays guitar, and then me on a lot of electronic stuff and also bass.
Are the guys you’re touring with the same guys who played on your record?
Axel: More or less, yeah. Victor, he actually sings in one song on the album, and then Don who plays the bass, he also played a little bit of drums and bass and vibraphone and some other things on the album, but our drummer Jesper, he was not involved at all in the album.
What do you use to compose your songs?
For the last album, it was lots of different things, but mostly the loops are made in a computer in program that processes the samples into loops and the actual skeleton of the song and then add-ons, which can be whatever from acoustic drums to synthesizers to bass to guitars to a steel pan, vibraphone, vocals, you name it. What’s around, what sounds good.
Many people first heard about you through a remix you did of Annie back in 2005, back when Swedish electro-pop was catching on around the world. Have you ever felt that you were a part of the Swedish electronic scene or do you feel like that’s something you operated outside of?
Axel: I think I’ve never really been part of it. I got into it when this happened of course, but I never really stayed there. Also, two and a half years ago I moved away from Sweden, to Berlin, so it seems I’m not really connected with the Swedish music scene at all.
Your new album is out on Kompakt and your record label called it more “organic” than your first. Was that a fair statement? What would you say is so different today from what you’ve done in the past?
Axel: Yeah, it is more organic, more human. Less computer, and more instruments. From steel pans to drum machine and anything in between, so not only played by me but by other people too. It was more like a jam, a live jam thing and the first album was mostly me in the studio with a computer and some instruments, so it’s a big difference.
In a time when bands can easily distribute their own work digitally, what do you think is the role of a good record label?
Axel: I think it’s to take care of the artist and make things happen, and also help the artist have the possibility to have not just digital music, but an artwork and a physical thing, and for me it’s always been about the physical thing, to have like a vinyl. I’ve never been so excited for digital things, and so that’s what my label does for me.
Yeah, in an interview Brian Eno did not too long ago, he said a good record label is like a good art gallery. You go to them for something specific if they’re doing their job right. What does Kompakt do? What would you say is their niche?
Axel: I think right now Kompakt is trying out new things. When other people, they stopped completely or they don’t really dare to take a chance on something new, if it’s a new form or a new group, new direction, I think Kompakt is pretty brave and they want to try out new things and I think that’s very needed in this climate, in the whole music industry right now. That’s what makes them very good.
How long did it take to put together the last record?
Axel: The sketches took some time. I think it was between August and November, but the recording process took only a week to arrange the songs and record with all the musicians, but it was very concentrated and focused. We were at this house in the countryside, with nothing around us except our gear, so it was really recording whenever we liked for a week.
Did you go into the record already having arranged the songs or was that all ad hoc, when you had the musicians and the studio?
Axel: It was mostly arranged, but until we got into the studio I didn’t really know what we could do with it. It was a lot of playing around that week with the musicians and just being very spontaneous and that’s how I like it. I don’t like to be too structured. You should have a certain goal that can be a bit more open and free. That’s what I like.
Sweden is really known for its cuisine. What are some classic dishes?
Axel: One of the most classic is probably meatballs. Meatballs with lingonberry and potatoes and a brown sauce. But it is very traditional and also known-worldwide because of Ikea. And, then you have the really really strange things like fermented herring which you have in a can and it smells like death more or less so it’s not so tasty, but you eat that when its in season. And then you also have crayfish that you eat around a big table where people drink a lot of schnapps. That one’s also very seasonal, like late-August. It’s a lot of fish and meat, pretty simple food, but really tasty I think.
A friend of mine got to interview Dan Snaith from Caribou a few months ago when they came to China, and during the interview he thanked Dan for winking at him when he saw him live. How good are you at making eye contact with those in the first few rows at your shows?
Axel: I think I’m the opposite. I’m pretty into what I’m doing and I’m keeping myself pretty busy, but now I’m trying to communicate with the audience a bit more too.