MUSIC IS ALWAY KIND OF IN HARMONY WITH HOW PEOPLE ARE. I THINK THE MUSIC IS ALWAYS A REACTION TO THE WORLD: AN INTERVIEW WITH PHEEK
Kir & Val (CultKitchen), 27.05.2021
Pheek: Hello, everyone! This is Pheek, and I'm really happy to be part of this.
Kirill: It's a great honor to have you here. I've been acquainted with your name for quite a while already. I think we even met some long time ago in ARMA17 when you were performing in Moscow. The first question that we have is a short one. How it all started for you?
Pheek: It's funny because I did another interview yesterday, and they asked the exact same question. And, you know, I have a funny way of relating to that because I feel I'm aging, I feel every day I kind of need to restart. Because there's a moment in a day where I feel as lost, as insecure, as I was when I started making music. So no matter how experienced you are, you often feel that you're starting again. Because you realize that you don't know so much. To answer your question, I think it started in 1990 when I was really into electronic music back then. I had a friend who had a really nice studio, and I wanted to make music because I was not hearing what I wanted to hear. Back then, my friend and I, we were saying that: "Oh, we want ambient music but with beats, but we can't find anything like that". So, we made some stuff but, you know, we were not so good. But the curiosity was there. So, it started because I wanted to hear something that I didn't get, and that's kind of been with me my entire life. My quest is always to make the kind of music that I want to hear.
Val: Who was the first electronic artists who impressed you?
Kirill: Who influenced your music?
Pheek: I think it's in the 70s, my cousin had a lot of electronic music, vinyl back then. And I remember as a kid, I must have been like maybe six or seven. I was always digging in this crate and picking up some records, and we played them. I think I was picking up the weirdest records. Tangerine Dream was someone... not someone... but the band itself was really impressing me and wanting me to make something that was completely different. At the same time, I was really into disco back then. I was really into the Bee Gees and a bunch of different compilations. My babysitter was really into disco. I was really interested in the experimental noise part of Tangerine Dream, which was not sounding like what I was hearing on the radio. But I was also really into beats, I was really into something that would make me dance. As a kid, dancing was a very important part of my life. I loved dancing. It was something I wanted to do all the time. So, yeah, I don't have that answers, but that's kind of where it started.
Val: You know, it's a common thing. And actually that's nice that we always have that friends or brothers or sisters who influence us in this kind of music. It's a rare thing when you meet electronic music by yourself. We always have somebody who shows you this door. You know what I also wanted to ask you about: usually it's a common thing when a DJ is also producing music, and t's a rare thing (it's my personal opinion) when a producer is also a good DJ because you are always better at something. You also do sound engineering. So, how do you combine all of that? What came first, and how did you get into the sound engineering? For me, it's something very, very interesting, but when it comes to working with sounds, I can't imagine even what is going on there.
Pheek: Yeah, I would say I don't consider myself a really good DJ. I'm not really afraid of saying that. When the beat syncs, a lot of people are really ashamed to use the sync button. But in my case, I find it extremely useful because I'm not really good at syncing, honestly. I'm OK doing it. But I better focus on creating a timeline. When I DJ, you know, I have a really specific kind of sound that I want to do. I get really obsessed about how I want to present it and how it's going to be perceived. So, that influenced me to dive into how the sound is working, engineering itself. And that kind of how one need directed me to another one. When I started making electronic music more on the dancefloor side of things in 1998, more or less, I was not even understanding what the sound engineering was, it was just making music. I was just using my ears, and people were telling me: "How did you make it sound good?". And I was like: "I didn't understand your question". I didn't even know what they meant. To me, it just sounded how it's supposed to be sounding. So, it was like a natural thing for my ear to get. Then whenever you think you know something, you realize you don't know. So by digging a bit more about sound engineering, I realized: OK, that’s something really vast and really intimidating. But it felt necessary for me to dive in and get as much information as I could. I can always go towards that sound that I want to have, that would eventually go to my DJ side as well. One thing always leads to another, and it's just kind of starting out of the blue. I was saying that one of the important things is to understand what you love doing, but also what you are being told that is good to do. So, for instance, maybe I love making loops, or maybe I love doing techno, but what I'm really appreciated for is to do editing. So, I think it's worth exploring that skill a bit more and deep. That's where you find your purpose in life.
Kirill: I think everyone knows (who listens to you) that your sound is truly unique. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. Do you remember when you personally realized that your sound is unique and how you decided to dedicate yourself more to the editing, to the sound engineering part and to launch your agency that you're working on?
Pheek: Maybe my answer will make you smile, but a part of my sound is a huge misunderstanding. It's a huge kind of mistake. I remember I would start making a song and be like: “OK, I'm going to make some house”. And then I would just start making music. At the end of it, I would be like: "Oh, I'm so happy about this song that I made, this house!". And I would tell my friends: "I made a house song!", make them listen, and they would be like: "What the fuck is this? This is not house! What have you done?”. Many people wouldn't get it, they were like: "It's really good, but we don't know what it is!". And I was like: "I don't know what it is either. But to me, it's house". They answer: "It's not house". And, you know, that's kind of how I became an original in a way. When I was doing music, it was because I didn't really know what I was doing, but I was always dealing with whatever was happening. So, instead of trying to control my sound to go in a direction, I was trying things. And whatever the outcome of it would be, I'd be like: "OK, I don't know how to make hi-hats. So, I'm going to make my hats this way, and I'm going to try to make them sound as less stupid as possible". By controlling them like halfway they ended up sounding in a specific way. It's weird to say, but many people are like : "Yeah, but it's really complex". Yeah, it is complex because sometimes I complicated my mind... I wanted to do a one simple thing, but I made it so complicated because I didn't know how to do it. In the end, I kept it like that because it was cool, you know what I mean?
Pheek: I teach and coach a lot of young artists. And what I noticed is that people want to sound like that guy, or they want to make music like the Romanians or like the Berlin guys. And I'm like: "OK, well, start there". But then they get depressed because they don't sound like them. I said: "Yeah, but it's cool where you are, you know, this is cool, and some people might actually like it". Then eventually they're like: "OK, well, I can appreciate that, I'm not perfect, but it's nice where I am". And I served my entire career in this way by just experimenting and trying to make my experiments fun, and keep it fun for listening. That was the most important part. It's more important for me that people have a good fun time listening to it than anything else, in a way.
Kirill: That's exactly what our project is all about. In our radio show, we search for interesting sounds. If we take some famous guys like you or some other guys who have already participated in the project, they are famous for dance music, for techno, house music. But when we offer them to record an ambient story, it's always interesting what will become of it. So, yeah, we're always searching for experiments. Before we proceed to the podcast itself, there's another question I would like to ask. Let's speak about the musical scene in general. We have discussed it with my colleague Val already. We see that nowadays, generally in clubs, DJs and artists play, as we think, more fast music. The BPM is rising right now, especially in Moscow. For example, we had parties at ARMA17 like 10 years ago when the BPM was around 121-125. Now it is going up to 140 and more for most of the DJs. Do you think it's somehow connected to the general situation in the world? I mean, the situation in the world somehow influences the music and people, who come to parties, what they want, what they expect from parties.
Pheek: If you look at the history of time it's super interesting that you can even go like one hundred years ago where music and fashion were influencing people. Some people were dancing Charleston in a specific way. People that were designing clothes, they were designing skirts for women that would not limit their leg moves because they wanted to move in a specific way. And yes, music is always kind of in harmony with how people are. I think the music is always a reaction to the world. I agree with you because if you look at the history of how deep the black people were using blues and jazz to express their feelings of repression and all the difficult times, there would be a very incidental link there. Electronic music has always been the music of political positions. Right now, it's very strange about the era of where we are. But I think the intensity of music is rising because of the people’s need to really come out with the expression of their frustration, which the pandemic made them feel. So I don't know, really, the media are not covering so much how it was in Russia. I don't know much how the pandemic went for you, people. But here people are desperate to go out and dance, and it's like starting to be accepted by the government, but it's been a lot of repression. Even though I haven't seen the BPM going up so much, but I do see that the music is getting more intense in a way. We were really comfortable before the pandemic, and this is why the music was kind of slow. It was like cool. You know, everything was OK. Now it's intense. I see a lot of artists doing noise music and ambient music, but really aggressive. So, I think the rising of BPM is also a reaction to the need of intense emotions. I think people need to expel, and they need carcasses in their life. The music is going to be a way of bringing that out of them.
Kirill: Yeah, great, these are exactly my thoughts. OK, final two questions that we asked during the whole history of the radio show. The first one is about the podcast, if you could tell a few words: is there any story behind this podcast, this one hour of the music you presented to us?
Pheek: Yes and no. I have a stack of songs that are unreleased and really weird stuff that my client sent me to master. I was going to play that. I've done that kind of podcast in the past where I would have played all my weirdest shit, playing the game of puzzling the trainspotters. But, you know, those are the podcasts that I don't listen to. I mean, they're great. They're impressive. The heads will love it. But I don't know, it doesn't serve well. The general audience (like a lot of people) will be having a hard time feeling: "When am I going to listen to that?". So instead, I went in the completely different opposite direction. I'm like: "OK, I can play whatever I want. So, I'm just going to play music which plays in my house, and I'm going to fiddle it together. It sounds like a bit of a mix, but without trying to push it so much. I'm just going to play music I want to listen to all the time. Because I'm going to do that podcast for myself, I'm going to be listening to that in my car, and maybe some other people will do the same". And that serves better.
Kirill: I know exactly what you're talking about. When we create a podcast, we also think of what and how much we will listen to it ourselves. Great. Speaking of the final question, where would you recommend listening to this podcast? Maybe it's some specific place on planet Earth, mountains or something?
Pheek: Well, I live in the forest right now. My studio is in the forest. And I would say... listen to this sitting in the grass, wherever you are, on the small portable sound system. I think you can listen to that in the garden with your friends and have it like a presence. From my experience in the last weeks, I find it super, super fun.
Kirill: Yeah, I understand that. OK, great. Thank you so much. That's all from my side. Again, thank you for participating in the project, and we're really happy to have you on our list.
Pheek: Thank you so much. Spasibo!