Photography: Martin Schiefer
Bear beats: It’s been a vast and varied year for the man like Akov. Kicking off the year with his U Want It EP, in which he revealed his rap abilities, the Englishman-in-Austria then proceeded to shower us in styles…
His Archaic EP took us deep down the glitch hole by way of many tempos (it was also his first self-release), he’s launched an awesome metal project with his friend Raphael called ÆNIGMA, he’s dropped a liquid nugget on Ram (Troubles), he’s part of The Ancient Radius halftime project and he’s just dropped a massive collaboration EP on Bad Taste.
Entitled The Syndicate and comprising the collab skills of Billain, Maztek, Vegas, Mean Teeth, Zombie Cats and Exposure, it’s an emphatic au revoir for the year and a great snapshot of some of the most innovative protagonists on the neuro side of the D&B sound. Each track capturing that elusive holy grail of sounding like both collaborators, once again it’s a vast and varied experience from Akov and all involved.
With plenty more variety in store for 2020 we called him up to look back over his year and the year in music at large.
Your U Want It EP set the scene this year. You said you had different ideas and sounds to explore this year…
For sure. I just wanted to branch out and keep myself interested. I have tried to be versatile in the way I approach my music. I don’t get writer’s block so much anymore but I do get days when I don’t really feel like making D&B so I overcome that with experimentation.
No one wants parameters tying them down do they? The Archaic EP made that statement didn’t it?
Yeah I realised when I made that EP that there aren’t that many labels doing those type of beats at the moment, Inspected are the main one and they weren’t interested, so I decided to do a self-release on this one. It was received really well, US dubstep Peekaboo played Archaic, which was cool.
Only You is my persy. It’s like every tune wrapped into one…
I’ve always been admirable of artists like KOAN Sound who are celebrated for having an original sound regardless of what genre they turn their skills to, so I’m actively pushing my sound into different directions while my career is still growing. I know I’m associated predominantly with the neuro sound right now, but I want people to expect the unexpected in a way and put myself in a good position for the future.
It’s a marathon not a sprint and this is only the beginning!
For sure. The time goes extremely quickly. I’ve been doing it five years, which to established artists sounds like a short time, To aspiring artists, it might sound like a long time but yeah, but i consider my career to be very much in its infancy.
Early day for your metal side-project ÆNIGMA, too. Give us some reference points…
90s and early 2000s bands basically. I’ve started getting back into it since I started the band but I’m essentially referencing bands I was into at the age of 12. Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down. Some people have said stuff like Franz Ferdinand and Queens Of The Stone Age.
I can hear that, too. Certainly in the drama and the story telling in the vocals…
Wicked. Just like with anything I do as Akov I want it to be fluid in terms of genre. I don’t want to be stuck in that position where I’m making something I don’t want to. I want to make sure I’m doing a mixture of stuff and do that with ÆNIGMA rock stuff. It has to adhere to the rules off rock but it’s fun to see how far you can push things.
The rules of rock!! Who’s the other member of the band, Raphael Caruso?
He’s a lifesaver! He’s one of the first people I lived with in Vienna. He approached me at a gig in Vienna when I was stuck for a place to live and we’ve become mates. He’s a great guitarist and pianist, he’s a great instrumentalist and is determined not to contribute until he’s Mozart but it’s great to bring him into things and get people to hear how fucking good he is! It will only be the two of us, I’ve been the main songwriter in bands before and there’s nothing worse than putting your song to five other people and it’s always the drummer who doesn’t like it. Then when we do it live we’ll get a session drummer in. He can have sex with the groupies and we’ll have all the arguments.
Ha. It will go live at some point though? That’s great.
We’ve only recorded two songs and we’ve never done a rehearsal but yeah, eventually. We want to get about seven tracks and good half hour set ready before we think about it seriously. It’s definitely not ready to be showcased yet.
You’ve definitely taken your new Syndicate EP seriously. Some massive collaborations on here.
It was actually the launch party for the U Want It EP over here in Vienna. I brought Maztek over to Vienna and I suggested a collab. I had one on the go with Billain already and thought ‘okay let’s do a collab ep’ I haven’t done many collabs. Only ones with vocalists and The Clamps.
How come you haven’t done so many until now?
I mainly worked alone because I felt like I needed to prove myself prior to now. I do like working on my own but I’ve found it’s a much more social and nicer process to work with another artist. It’s a lot of fun. I think the tracks all have their own personality because every artist I’ve collaborated with has their sound.
Yeah you can definitely hear both acts in each track. I think on the Vegas collab in particular…
For sure. It’s got that old school flavour. Michael sent me that sample and it inspired the rave vibe you hear in the tune. That Bad Company era was much more focused on the vibe at the rave which I think we miss a little these days.
Were they all done in real time?
The ones with Billain and Maztek were done in person but the others were done on the internet which is not how I’d like to work, but no one uses Ableton Live so it was a case of having to bounce stems to each other anyway. It’s nicer to work in your own environment in lots of way though. I also worked with Exposure in person, he’s a mate from Bristol. He runs AR Records. Half of it was done in person, half on the internet.
Oh cool so this goes back to your Bristol days, before you moved to Vienna?
Yeah man, we started the collab years ago before I moved to Austria. We forgot about it completely until I was staying with him and he reminded me just as I was finalising the EP, so we dug it out and finished it in a night so added it to the EP at the very last minute.
Nice. So what have you learnt from any of these collaborations?
Where do I even begin? You learn a lot from seeing how someone else works. With someone like Billain, I’ve never seen someone with such an autistic work process. He’s got some otherworldly knowledge going on and crazy attention to detail. The track changed a lot from when we were in the studio together to the final version you hear. He seems happiest on his own for ridiculous amounts of hours going into the details. I also learnt there’s a certain magic to tying your sounds together. A collab shouldn’t have one artist’s dominant sound, it needs to be a finer balance. You need to compromise and I think that’s a lesson that can be applied to life in general.
Your Gaelic Singer remix video posted by RAM was a lesson in life.
That was fun. At the time I was finishing off the masters, which is the least enjoyable part of producing for me.. With six different tracks from different people, trying to have a unified sound was quite a hassle mastering-wise. I needed to do something fun and it was either make a silly video or smack my head into the computer screen. It worked though. The thing with the videos, I do them because I enjoy them. It’s a way to put out creative energy but it not being based on how it performs. It’s just fun.
Has 2019 been fun for you musically, though?
It has! Musically it’s been interesting, especially over here in Europe. Neuro has been taking a bit of a backseat I feel. People who’ve booked neuro have been booking jump up shows and deeper artists instead. I think it’s down to extreme saturation. People were into neuro in such a big way here that it was bound to happen. But what’s been really cool is that the people who are surviving in the neuro sound are the people who’ve still got interesting things to bring to the table. So at the start of 2019 it was a very different place to where we are now. But as a reaction to it all there’s so much good music coming out now it’s unbelievable.
It’s good to have a refresh from time to time…
Yeah, the beauty of jump up and foghorn to me is the minimalism so that’s come back into neuro and reminding you not to go too crazy but retain the heavy energy. I’ve tried to keep that in mind with the latest tracks… Except for the tune with Billain which is nothing short of a neuro dick swinging contest.
Which producers have you been feeling the most?
Emperor is just someone I love full stop. His sound is such an English style of neuro. It fits in with everything. Boghorn is just excellent. Fade Black have smashed it this year too. Shyun and Cruk came through with me on the Enter The Grid agency. I remember Shyun shyly showing us some tracks quite sheepishly one time years ago and it was the some of the best neuro I’d ever heard, yet he seemed to not realise just how great. Him and Cruk were always quietly brilliant but didn’t push themselves that much so it’s amazing to see them joining their powers and how much they’re smashing it. I can’t see them releasing a bad song.
Sane is one of my favourite tunes of the year…
Oh yeah, it’s great. It’s what I imagine things would sound like if Disclosure made neurofunk.
Ha! Finally, shout some more people you’ve really rated this year…
Levela has smashed it too. I love his change of direction. All good artists can change with the times and adapt and he’s done it incredibly with his new music.
Kanine’s one worth mentioning. He’s absolutely killing it. He’s venturing into different styles and it’s great because not enough jump up artists who start in jump up venture out into the darker stuff but when they do the results are really interesting.
That’s exactly what you were saying at the start about trying new styles…
Yeah totally. With Levela, he’s a great guy so it’s nice to see success happen to nice people, but I think we’ll be seeing a lot more artists do this as time goes by. It’s the best place you can be creatively and really healthy for the music.