“Until recently, music making for me has always been about exploring genres, trying new sounds, new hardware and software, new techniques. I never wanted to make a predictable, or signature sound.”
It is not a secret that the Pacific Northwest has quite a strong techno and electronic music scene which has continually grown within last few years. Part of this scene is originally Czech born and currently Vancouver based artist Tomas Jirku. His musical path started in the golded era of minimal and glitch techno around 00s and shortly after he performed at the inagural edition of MUTEK festival. Initially, Tomas inclined to harder forms of techno, then leaned more towards deep, dub and minimal or electro sounds. In the past few years he has been pulling together all these influences and with releases on labels such as Traum Scallplatten, Klang Electronic or Concrete records he brings back on the table deep and stronger intelligent realms of electronic music.
Besides making music, Tomas is strongly educated in the visual arts and is a devoted photographer of the beautiful Canadian landscapes. In our talk he revealed to us what the process of taking pictures brought to his approach for making music and what he thinks of current state of eletronic club music. And of course, he prepared a new podcast mix for us – a totally perfect warm-up before going out on a Friday night!
Tell us how the music was introduced into your life? Did the music taste of your parents have any influence on you when you were growing up? Any particular memory / artist / record which had a significant impact on you?
The music tastes from my family was a big influence on me growing up. They always played their favourites at home and made mix-tapes for family road-trips, rather than just mindlessly listening to the radio. The synth-pop of 80’s was part of it, but the biggest influence came from my cousin when he gave me his Skinny Puppy and Kraftwerk records when I was at an impressionably young age. My friends who listened to grunge and punk rock at the time dismissed the music as techno, using the term derogatively; but I had a strong realization that electro, industrial and techno was meant for me.
“An artist surely likes to think of themselves in a high power of preaching a gospel to their followers, but I think it’s healthier to look at the relationship between the artist and audience as a collaboration.”
Do you remember when you first felt inclined to make music – what was it that inspired you to do so? Are you still inspired to make music today for the same reasons?
The entry-point to making electronic music has always been accessible to anyone with a computer, and I started with ‘tracker’ software which was popular in the BBS culture that pre-dates the internet. The process of emulating my favourites of the time was loads of fun and I realized how easy it was to explore my tastes in music through production. It gave me a deeper understanding of the music and forever changed how I listen to it. I still draw influence from my favourite music, and whether DJing or producing I try to explore connections between disparate sounds and genres.
Your musical journey has been quite long and we can say a very colorful one. Mostly, you are recognized and labeled as a techno producer, but in your catalogue we can find also hip hop music (released under the project titled The Killaz), also traces of dub music (on the album Entropy) as well as IDM (under the project The Viceroy) or electro and ambient influences. So, tell me, what kind of genre is the favourite one for you (if there is such)? Does the genre even matter when it comes to making music?
Techno is at the core of my music making goals, with electro providing twist to the rhythm, and industrial allowing exploration of noise and grittier sounds. And even when I’ve tried to make something specific to one genre I somehow manage to draw influence from others. That’s where things are most interesting to me anyhow, when you can’t pin it down to one specific place, and it allows much more personal interpretation because it’s not obvious. I hope it becomes a welcome challenge to the mind of the listener.
I have noticed that you used a Czech words for a couple of titles of your work. Is there anything from Czech republic you miss or feel nostagic about?
I have found memories of the imagery in the Czech children’s books I had as a kid, and when I was signed to Traum Records from Cologne their branding and design recalled it for me, so it felt a natural fit to give my tracks Czech names to establish that connection.
I see. When was the last time you performed in Czech? Do you come there often?
Not often enough, last time was 2006. I don’t visit Europe as much as I’d like to be able to, since I moved from Toronto to Vancouver in 2003 the trip is much more expensive. I never took to the travelling DJ lifestyle, so I lost the momentum to pursue regular gigs overseas. I have no major qualms with that, as the Pacific Northwest has a very strong techno and electronic music scene which has continued to grow over the last few years.
Could you talk us through your creative process? Do you make music in a way that you have already a concept on your mind before or do you prefer just jamming with your gear and then working with these results?
I like both approaches. Often I’ll hear something that sparks an idea, which then takes on its own life during the production process, following tangents in a stream-of-consciousness approach. Other times I’ll just sit down with a blank slate and clear head and allow those tangents come from nowhere.
How do you know when track is done?
It used to be a much more difficult thing for me to determine, and I’d often work on tracks for months, or even years, on and off. And just because I enjoyed the process of making music it never bothered me. But more recently I’ve been able to focus on a goal, and particularly with remixes I’ve been able to determine what I want the outcome to be even before starting work. This has allowed me to finish music in as little as three nights of studio time. Until recently, music making for me has always been about exploring genres, trying new sounds, new hardware and software, new techniques. I never wanted to make a predictable, or signature sound. But I’ve learned a lot from all of that exploration, my tastes have narrowed, and I’ve found a certain outcome to be the most rewarding and favourable to me.
Photo of Tomas Jirku at Mutek by Diego Cupolo
“Something I’ve taken away from photography is how fulfilling it can be to make a connection with someone through a specific image (or song, or sound) to which you relate, rather than aiming to make something more populist.”
When I was reading a previous interviews you did, I found one in which you have been asked about your opinion on mp3 phenomenom / CDs burning and generally making copies of music. This is an almost 10 years old interview and at that time, this mp3 phenomenom was presented as a sort of threat. Today, there is another paradox: people are getting back to buying physical formats (records especially). What do you think about that?
It’s good to see support for physical formats coming back in a big way. I love the experience of going to the record store, listening to new releases, getting dusty fingers from the used records, and of course DJing with them. In the era where vinyl sales dwindled you could question whether the music was created to be throw-away, just looking for the next hit and moving-on. But seeing people invest in physical formats reassures us that there is not shortage of potential to make timeless music. My own music purchasing habits have slowed considerably. I have a wall of thousands of records to show how obsessive I used to be, and I am happy to hear how many are truly timeless, even decades later.
Recently I have read an interesting interview with Robert Henke who stated in the talk that “he became very bored by a lot of generic electronic club music these days … this has [according to him] more to do with a lack of vision. Music as a commodity for getting drunk in a club. A certain audience demands a certain “standard” and thats the death of music as a creative process.” I wonder what do you think about this?
I don’t think it’s fair to look down on other forms of electronic music experiences, as if there’s some sort of hierarchy spanning “mindless” EDM to “intellectual” IDM. It’s an experience, and the music is a part of that. An artist surely likes to think of themselves in a high power of preaching a gospel to their followers, but I think it’s healthier to look at the relationship between the artist and audience as a collaboration. I’ve found music so much more rewarding having found a large group of friends that I can share my music with in a way that I know they understand it and can communicate their experience with it to me. I think that part of that process of experiencing electronic music involves letting go of inhibitions and expectations, so “getting drunk in a club” can be part of that.
If I am right then you studied art and design, right? Obviously you are attracted to the arts field — besides making music, you also take a beautiful pictures. What is the perfect picture for you? Does such thing even exist?
I don’t think such a thing exists, as art is subjective, but I think the pursuit of the ideal aesthetic or most effective message, even if it’s only relative to a few concepts, is a part of what defines art. The intersection where the artist’s message meets the audience’s interpretation is where art exists, and the subjectivity of that makes it inherently imperfect.
When you create music or take pictures, what does it mean for you as an artist? Do you approach those two forms of art in the same way or do you chose a different approach for each of them?
Music and photography are so different in their process and outcome, and the way they relate to the audience, but I think that difference has helped me reconcile my goals with each form. Through that contrast I have a better understanding of what I want to create and why I do it, and how to enjoy the process and outcome much more.
Is this connection of visual and musical part important for you when you perform your music live?
I haven’t had any particular interest in creating time-based visual art, such as video, so it has never factored into my live performances as something I would incorporate myself, but I’ve had great experiences with live video artists creating visuals during my performances. It’s a very unique discipline and I’ve always felt more inclined to photography, so I prefer to make the audio-visual connection in the artwork for my music.
Plans for near future? Where can we hear / see you next?
I’m getting back into making new music after a self-imposed, year-long hiatus where I put my creative focus on photography. There are some projects I’ve had in the works for a few years which I’d like to see come to fruition, and some labels I’ve wanted to work with; so hopefully it all comes together as I am hoping, but it’s too early to tell.
Could you tell us the story behind the mix you recorded for C-Heads?
The mix is an edited recording from a live mix I performed last year at an annual private techno party I have with my closest friends. This event has been unexpectedly important in the development of my music recently. Music can sometimes seem guided by a goal of reaching as large an audience as possible. That’s not to say I’ve ever wanted to play stadium shows, but something I’ve taken away from photography is how fulfilling it can be to make a connection with someone through a specific image (or song, or sound) to which you relate, rather than aiming to make something more populist.
Thanks a lot for your time!