Techno is a thread in Europe that can bring people together, and be a lingua franca. That phenomenon can earn detractors and champions alike; the common currency threatens to devolve into sameness. But one thing I’ve found looking beyond centers like Berlin: there’s extraordinary talent on the horizon, answering to the beacon capital techno cities. If techno is giving people musical commonality, it’s also encouraging people to push their music such that they can extend beyond a hometown or home residency.
In this new landscape, Poland can be an emerging hotbed right alongside western centers. (It makes sense: long before the fall of Communism, Poland had a rich cultural output.) There’s a lot to say about that, but today we’ll look at the scene – and techno and live playing – through the eyes of Michal Jablonski.
To me, Poland’s techno world is at its best when it expresses collective energy, when artists support each other. SLAP is one of the better examples of that, mixing some of the finest artists with warm vibes and a dedication to bringing the best sound systems. (One of the first points the SLAP crew made when I joined them last summer was to point to their discriminating taste in PAs – and yes, that’s always welcome as an artist.)
The connection to Germany is unmistakable, too. Walk into Wroclaw’s venue Das Lokal, and you’ll see German and Berlin street names on the walls (also a nod to Wroclaw’s German past). But there’s a balance between big names from abroad and a consistent drumbeat for the local scene.
I got to experience this firsthand last summer, joining SLAP artists at parties in Wroclaw (on a boat) and Warszawa (on a beach). (Also representing the Berlin contingent at the latter was my neighbor, Polish-born Sylwia.) And that also meant a chance to meet Michal Jablonski, a rising star in live techno.
Since the summer, Michal has been intensely prolific. We join him this week just before his debut at Tresor — the mid-week New Faces, which is worth a bleary-eyed Thursday workday to get to hear some different artists. Michal is also a good fit for CDM in that he’s dedicated to live sets. Here’s a bit of what he has been up to, and a glimpse of what the SLAP parties are like. Poland’s increasingly deep talent pool extends far beyond this window, so I hope this is the first glimpse of our friends across the border (and a short Polski Bus ride away from where I live). But it’s as decent as anywhere to begin. I asked Michal to talk a bit about his experience.
Before we get to that, though, I want to share a couple of tracks Michal has coming out this week on Somewhere Rec. These are the ones I think will make him a real name in techno – some heavy, heavy stuff. My favorite cuts, #1 and #4:
Now, lots of producers make interesting tracks; I also like that Michal can deliver a convincing live performance. Here’s his latest live set, out this month on Spectral Rebel – going deeper and more hypnotic live:
Various live sets below – sort of more impressionistic documentation.
Here’s our conversation with Michal, as he gets ready to head literally underground in Berlin to debut in the vaults of Tresor.
First, I want to say, I really appreciated getting to come to Warsaw and be part of this series – this series is really to me about the things I’m passionate about, personally, and so it was a real highlight! Can you tell our readers a little bit about your mission, and who you’ve invited to be part of it?
This summer we actually held the second edition of a series of parties called “Niedorzeczne Techno”. It’s a series I created last year that takes place at an open air venue along the Vistula river’s bank in Warsaw. During the first edition I was more focused on acquainting the pubic with representatives of our local scene, because I believe that Poland’s got some great producers and DJ’s.
This year was very similar in that respect, though I was also able to invite guests from Germany through the help of Lost In Ether [concert series and accompanying podcasts]. You were here, Peter, for which I thank you. We also hosted Głós and, through the help of a friend from Warsaw Torture Boys, we were able to have DJ T.A.G. over, a resident of Berlin’s legendary club Tresor. This series of events was created because I was irritated by the fact that during the summer in Warsaw I couldn’t just go out to meet with my friends, have a beer and listen to techno, because summer events involve house music. These events served as a great excuse to invite over friends from other cities whom I don’t get to see very often, as well as meet new people and get others interested in this music.
How would you describe the musical community around techno and electronic music in Poland? I know it’s home to some of my favorite artists at the moment – what is it that defines the Polish scene? How has it changed? Where do you see it going?
Electronic music has changed a lot since I was introduced to it. To use techno as an example, since I feel the most connected to it, it used to be a lot more raw, more dynamic, with productions being more varied. The same goes for mixes at parties.
Over the past few years in Poland, music with a tempo below 130BPM and dark vibes have been popular. I’m not saying this is bad, only that it lacks a dynamism that I expect to hear when out at a club. [Ed.: okay, one of these days, we can have an all-out bpm throwdown on CDM and try to answer that controversy. -PK]
I believe that when people go out clubbing, they want to have fun, dance and free themselves of the burden of the previous week. There was a time in Poland, mainly in Warsaw, where you didn’t actually have any place to go to listen to techno. This has definitely improved. There are a bunch of clubs you can now go to, where you can participate in large, world-class events, that feature more and more renowned figures, and promoters have more interesting ideas. Poland is just starting to develop in the right direction. Labels that release vinyl records have started popping up, as well as young people that create great music which they play and even occasionally release abroad. Where is this all heading? Only time will tell 🙂
As enthusiastic as I am, I know from all my friends and colleagues there that you’ve faced challenges supporting that underground scene. What are some of the obstacles as this community works to flourish?
Events used to be organized by a only a handful of people/collectives. I recall that not everyone could show off their creativity by organizing an event, let alone by actually playing at a more serious one. I used to be under the impression that more people used to come to these parties to have fun and listen to music. It’s still the greatest challenge we have to try to reach a new audience and get them hooked on what I’ve come to love a long time ago. Even now, with social media available, it doesn’t seem to be easy. Polish sites about electronic music tend to write about what’s going on abroad more often than they write about what’s going on in their own backyard, which isn’t helpful.
Who are some of the artists you’re listening to – who would you like the rest of the world to discover?
Last year I closed myself off to listening to other artists, choosing to focus on my own music – its sound and style. I’ve spent this year trying to catch up on what I’ve missed out on. I often listen to production and mixes by UVB, Jonas Koop, SNTS, Phase, Jose Pouj, Synthtek, Truncate, Robert Hood, Staffan Linzatti and others.
There are a lot of figures out there I have yet to find out about, some of which I get to know through a series of Lost In Éther and Invite podcasts.
Sometimes, when my girlfriend’s out of the house, I listen to Limp Bizkit 🙂
You’ve come to electronic music reasonably recently, yes? What made you decide to get into producing and DJing?
I first starting by producing hip hop, putting beats together at home using Fruity Loops [FL Studio], but the first time I came in touch with electronic music (specifically techno), was when my friends took me out to a club for my birthday, May 23rd, 2003. The event was 100 % Techno From London, with Chris Liberator headlining. I still listen to that mix from time to time.
I can honestly say this was a deciding moment in my life. I was very fascinated by all this, and it didn’t take long for me to get up behind turntables with my first pair of vinyls.
Ade Fenton – Burn Bitch was the first record I bought, alongside some Schranz record. I collected and played Schranz and Hard Techno for quite a while.
I was more fascinated by creating my own music, which Fruity Loops turned out to be the perfect tool for. I still collected records, and played at small venues, but my I had already turned my focus towards playing live. At the time I was fascinated by Tomash Gee, who played live using two [computers running] Fruity Loops simultaneously.
What were some of your musical touch points, as far as your influences? How did you go about learning technique?
My further development was heavily influenced by a shortage of cash. In order to practice DJ sets, I had to have some equipment at home – turntables, systems, a mixer — records were a large expense that I couldn’t afford. I bought records with all the spare money I had. My friends had equipment that I could use, however, not having my own set at home caused me to focus more on production and finding my own way to play live using programs.
When I was starting off, there was no one that I could turn to for answers or advice, or to ask about how to improve what I was doing. I knew that playing my own music was possible, so I spent many years trying to find a way to do so. I read, listened and experimented a lot. I accidentally came across ReBirth, a program by Propellerhead, and Reason, which is still one of my favorites.
ReBirth became a constant in my setup during productions and rehearsals. It was simple, and contained what I needed, including 2 x 303, 909 and 808. Reason was too much to handle at that time, and it didn’t suit me as a DAW. I still don’t use Reason that way. Using VST plugins made me realize the power of programming, and how much you could do with it to completely express yourself, so I searched on for new ways to play LIVE and produce. Although Fruity Loops was easy and pleasant to work with, it wasn’t what I was looking for.
I had two goes at Ableton Live, and it turned out to be perfect. After I switched from one DAW to another, I realized that I would be working with this program for a long time to come. I spent many sleepless nights and hot, summer days researching articles and testing new plugins and solutions that I had learned to find on the web. My first EP, Bukowe, was released by the Polish label Minicromusic Rec. It was Dub Techno with a dark vibe, a genre that had fascinated me from when I had first come across Basic Channel and Substance & Vainqueur.
Dub techno still sometimes finds its way into my music during gigs and in my productions. I find it to be quite magical, and sophisticated. Not much of what is currently being released appeals to me. I often return to a piece by Substance & Vainqueur – libration.
It’s really nice to see you as part of the SLAP project. Can you talk about what your role has been in terms of events, and how that has led to a release on this label?
I’m glad to be a part of SLAP – it seems to approach the subject the most professionally. It gives me new opportunities, as well as a certain peace and comfort. I try to represent SLAP well, and I share my ideas, hoping they will influence the further development of this project. We plan events with well-known artists, there are podcasts which we hope to constantly enrich with new figures. We are also planning on starting a label, but for now that’s still in the planning phase. Looking at labels in Poland that have decided to release vinyl, I have to admit that it’s not easy to make everything work, keep afloat, and still have a good time doing this – it takes time. Everything will come with time, so we approach all this with patience, just like everything else.
I appreciate that your live PA set wasn’t just tracks chopped up and pressing play. How are you working with Ableton; how do you structure and perform your live sets?
Unfortunately, I’m a very curious person, and when someone plays live, I often take a peek at how they prepared their material. Regrettably, I often seen whole pieces put on Ableton, or just played using four-deck Traktor. I don’t get this, or what’s the point in playing pre-prepared pieces that you can barely change. I’ve been following artists who perform live for a long time now, and I keep searching for new ones, but what I find is often boring – it’s slow to develop and lacks dynamic transitions. I’m a fan of dynamics in music, and try to make my own live performances sound like DJ sets.
I currently use Ableton Live and Reason, and a few VST plugins. During my performances, I only use Ableton Live. Every piece is prepared so that I have utter control over what’s going on, over phrases, over every sound separately; it doesn’t take much to transform something from what I produce into something I can play, which I find to be a great feature of this program.
Cassette tape emulators are a constant in my setup, as well as modulation effects. Certain tracks don’t have to be generated in real time, such as percussion or a backdrop, so they’re exported as WAV, after which I overlay effects, which I additionally modulate in real time, although I still modify certain sound live through Drum Racks. I used to use the Korg Electribe SX for performances, mostly for the percussion that I could add live, as well as Rolands, especially Roland MC-808, which turned out to be a great MIDI controller with automatic faders. I even had a phase during which I would leave my computer at home and just take the hardware, though I would always feel somehow hindered by this. I no longer feel that playing without a computer is in some way better, though I recently heard from someone that creating music and playing live from a computer is taking the easy way out. Maybe some people get off on having spent a few thousand zloty [Polish currency] on equipment, on having everything available to them, or that they’ve created everything on their own. I have no idea. I’m neither in awe of this, nor do I criticize it, but some Grooveboxes are currently limited to DAWs, and I don’t like to feel limited.
When I play, I additionally use Distortion guitar effects, DSP effects that are built into my TC Electronic Konnekt Live audio interface, which I can control using Ableton as VST plugins, and the popular UC-33 controller, which is one of the best I’ve had that opportunity to use.
I actually haven’t seen you DJ, only live, but how does that change if you do a DJ set?
As, I’ve mentioned, I’ve been focused on playing live for quite a while. I feel more at ease doing this and have a great time doing it. I can express myself completely while presenting music that others wouldn’t play. I’ve got many pet projects that probably won’t see the light of day. I’ve played many DJ sets over the years, but after all those gigs, I have to admit that I’m not a great DJ [laugh]. I understand that I don’t have enough time to follow up on other’s releases that I could potentially use to play. I still don’t have the equipment at home that I would need to play DJ sets, and either way, I rather spend my free time releasing my own music and playing it at clubs.
Lastly, you’re working on Dorota with this podcast series – can you talk about how she’s involved, and how this series works?
The Lost In Éther podcast series is not my baby. My girlfriend, Dorota ( who supports me in all that I do, helping with my current releases and gigs, taking on the role of my agent) and my friend Concept of Thrill (with whom I often play live as “>RØOM 23), are the ones responsible for the whole thing. It had a rough start, but they had a plan which they implemented quickly and efficiently. It’s going really well, and I firmly believe that these are the best podcasts in my country, offering better artists and a varied selection of music all the time. They have just started up a label that goes by the same name, which has some interesting releases planned.
More of Michal:
Meanwhile, back on the Polish side of the border, SLAP returns 8 April with Michal alongside SLAP’s own excellent Spectribe and SIENN, plus guest Donor [Stroboscopic Artefacts / Semantica Records], enroute to Berghain:
SLAP at Das Lokal, Wroclaw [Facebook event]
Get a taste for those SLAP events in videos: