Interview with Lucy: The Beauty of Incompleteness

Stroboscopic Artefacts founder/label head Lucy talks about SA’s latest ambitious project Stellate Series, the process of his worldview being filtered into his music, and why ‘incomplete’ music makes complete sense in the end.

“I’m destroyed,” with a faint smile, Lucy replies to my hello as we sit down. The day after his gig at Sama & Oktave party in Brooklyn, the last leg of his US tour, he seems calm and perhaps slightly dazed from bright afternoon sun, but most of all relieved that the constant travelling is almost over. For now.

Considering it’s barely two and a half years old, Stroboscopic Artefacts has gained a significant recognition in the world of techno. The release of two acclaimed full length albums: ‘Wordplay for Working Bees’ (Lucy) and ‘Sword’ (Xhin) was pivotal in solidifying the label’s identity, in addition to its highly successful Monad series. Behind the success is Lucy, whose role seems to be a lot like a curator for art gallery, who envisions and fine-tunes the concept for an exhibition and commissions artists for the art works that strike a chord with the theme but also can challenge their usual styles and works. The words ‘challenge’ ‘potential’ and ‘possibilities’ consistently knock on your mind when Lucy talks about music production and SA. “Opening up the potential,” he says with a hand gesture of popping up the cork of a Champagne bottle, “it’s like opening a highly pressurized bottle full of potential. I want to see what happens when all that pressure is being released.”

The conceptually charged label has been a breath of fresh air, carefully building the new sound to expand the universe of techno. SA has also managed to keep people excited not only about the releases but the label itself, wondering what’s next. “It’s not like we all gather into a big meeting room and draw a plan saying ok, this is what’s going to happen next, you know?”  He says about the task of spearheading the label’s future. It’s not? Whichever is the case, anyone who has paid a small attention to the details that come with SA’s output can see that it doesn’t just throw darts in the dark either. From the initial concept to the accompanying artwork, everything is carefully coordinated behind its deceivingly minimalistic black & white flower art.

SA’s new series Stellate shares the same experimental core with its sibling Monad. But if Monad played with industrial, techno, IDM & drone Stellate is going into the deeper level where things are broken down to the molecules. The result is a surprisingly ambient and atmospheric album that is reminiscent of a motion film soundtrack – as if each track is designed to capture and preserve the mood of certain scene or state of mind. Among the unexpected are Perc’s ‘Paris’ and ‘Molineux’; both are not only deeply introspective but beautiful, almost romantic – a departure from Perc’s last album ‘Wicker & Steel.’ “It’s about reshaping and rethinking dance music and the way people dance. We’re looking for the kind of sound, mood and inspiration behind the dance music or what we hear on the dance floor.” Lucy says about the concept for Stellate series. “It’s not that we wanted music that’s un-danceable. Our approach was that there are two layers – the outer layer can be the music you can play in the club, then there’s the second inner layer – it’s the lower level that’s consists of the basic palettes of the sound, things you have in deep under to inspire the upper layer. Stellate is focused only on that sub layer and that’s what we asked of the contributing artists – pure inspiration without any limitation.”

Stellate I features four artists – Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman with each contributing two tracks. Unlike the digital-only Monad series, each Stellate is set to be a strictly vinyl limited edition of 300 copies that come with the artwork by Oblivious Artefacts. “We spent around one year to organize and set up the series, it took long because for everything – from the initial concept to packaging, there was an extra step involved. We realized that we wanted a physical product that you can touch – something that allows you to be completely respectful for the music 100%.” He explains the idea behind the vinyl series. “We tried to stick to the concept as much as possible – both graphically and musically. When you transform the concept into something concrete, you have to compromise somewhat, because of the limations of what is possible in a practical, pragmatic sense. With the Stellate series, we tried to have no such compromise at all. And I’m very happy about the result.”

“Ambient and techno…for me they are the same mood of things.” Lucy explains his vision of two genres ‘reuniting’ through the Stellate series. “The way I grew up musically, those two worlds – dance club music on one side and non-danceable kind on the other, whether it’s ambient or experimental – they were never really separated from each other.” He continues. “When I listen to the tracks, the feeling that’s surrounding the entire album is…I don’t feel like I’m in a totally different world, or switching between two completely different worlds, they share the same core, same enzymes…just in different shapes. That’s the essence of the series.” Lucy is very mindful of the state of being chained to something – conventions, forms, rules, styles, what is supposed to be or to be expected; or as he calls it, ‘slavery.’ “As a label, we wanted to give the artists freedom, completely unchained from the idea of being dance floor/club friendly. SA might be identified as a techno label but (with Stellate Series) we wanted to send out the message, what is possible when the two worlds come together. And with that belief, I want to do something useful for the underground scene. I want to bring new perspective and inspiration.”

If self-imposed freedom and experimentation are a big part of SA identity, moderation is not so much. “I try to take things to the extreme, until there’s so much unbearable tension that it’s about to break.” Lucy describes his music production. His idea of making music seems to contain the kind tension and energy level that goes into the birth, the process often chaotic and painful until the moment a new life breathe its first breath. “Maybe I have a bit of masochistic tendency inside of me.” He laughs, slightly abashed. “People say my music is dark or intense, and it could be…a lot of it is coming from not just who I am but where I have been, my past, sometime from painful memories, you know?” If anything, all has served it’s right purpose, as Lucy takes something dark and deeply hidden in his mind and memories and brings life into it. “It’s a kind of urge that you just want to get it all out of yourself.” He says. And why not. For Lucy music is both a therapeutic outlet and a medium for communication – with himself, collaborating partners, and listeners.

Lucy – Bein (Wordplay For Working Bees, 2011)

‘Perfectionism’ can be a bit of cliché when it comes to artistry. You rarely meet an artist who says he is not a perfectionist. To my surprise, Lucy seems to have a slightly different view. “When I listened to the completed tracks for Stellate I for the first time, I felt that ‘this is it.’ It sounded incomplete.” It’s interesting to see someone who comes across as very methodical and thriving to keep the integrity of his ideas and philosophy talks about being incomplete. “Do you know the story of Sisyphus in the ancient Greek mythology?” In the midst of our conversation on Stellate, he asks me about the story of a king of Corinth, who was punished by Zeus for his hubris and destined to roll an immense boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down and to repeat it for the eternity. “It’s actually an acute presentation of human condition.” He says. “We keep on pushing (without ever reaching to the top), but it’s not about the target but the fact that you keep on pushing. The significance and importance of keep on going is not that you reach somewhere. That’s a typical western civilization concept that I don’t share. It’s always much more about the process.”

Lucy – Decad (Monad X, 2011)

Lucy’s collaboration with Xhin recently delivered ‘LX4/LX5′ on Chris Liebing’s CLR, following ‘LX2/LX3′, which was released almost a year ago. To the question of who brings what to the table he gushes, “Ah, that’s a really tough question!” He describes the collaboration with Xhin as a lot of bouncing ideas around, rather than dividing up who does what. “It is a real true collaboration in a sense.” Perhaps due to the years of friendship and mutual understanding of each other’s style, Lucy seems to find Xhin as a production partner who’s most comfortable and enjoyable to work with. As for releasing LX series on CLR, Lucy explains “Chris just really liked the idea and the tracks we presented. That’s what I love about Chris, when he finds something he likes, Chris gives it full support with the most sincere enthusiasm.” (During the interview with NTD last year, Liebing enthusiastically mentioned SA and Lucy and how he found SA inspirational.) Lucy seems to enjoy juggling all three aspects of his work – producing, label running, DJing. To the delight of fans, the busy producer has still found time to work on his own album – no concrete release plan yet – over the past year or so. “It’s actually going to be a collaboration album with another artist.” Clearly an album worth of material has been produced but Lucy wants to keep the details and the future of the album secret for now. “The artist I’m collaborating with also has his own label, so ideally we would like to release the collab album on another, a third label.” ‘An artist who runs his own label’ – if that’s a significant enough clue, let the guessing game begin.

Towards the end of our talk, I ask Lucy about his two tracks ‘Estragon’ and ‘Vladimir’ on Stellate I, apparently named after two characters of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Was he inspired by the play? “Totally. Waiting for Godot has always had an incredibly presence in my mind ever since when I first read it – I think I was 16 or so. Maybe it’s that sense of waiting…” He adds, “But there’s also this relationship between Estragon and Vladimir, that represents the relationship between a master and a slave in a way. I was always intrigued by the dynamic of ‘who gives the orders’ and ‘who just follows the orders.’ And most importantly, the inner reasons of this dynamic. There’s a sense of absurd and nonsense to Waiting for Godot of course, but the genius of Beckett is that he achieves the absurd by pushing the limits of all common logical systems.” You might remember that the eleven titles of his last album ‘Wordplay for Working Bees’ add up to the Latin phrase ‘The art of being a slave is to rule one’s master.’ I jokingly tell Lucy that I think he is fascinated with the master-slave paradigm. “Yes, completely.” He smiles. “I don’t think it would be as much special to think about music without thinking about the society around us and the dynamics within, you know? If you believe music is art, and consequently ‘useful expression of mimesis,’ try to understand what’s going on around you before sitting down in the studio.”

The first installment of the Stellate series SASTE001 is due out in March 15th. Pre-Order

Al di sopra degli stagni, al di sopra delle valli,
delle montagne, dei boschi, delle nubi, dei mari,
oltre il sole e l’etere, al di là dei confini delle sfere stellate,
anima mia tu ti muovi con agilità,
e, come un bravo nuotatore che fende l’ onda,
tu solchi gaiamente, l’immensità profonda
con indicibile e maschia voluttà.
Via da questi miasmi putridi,
va’ a purificarti nell’aria superiore,
e bevi come un puro e divin liquore
il fuoco chiaro che riempie i limpidi spazi.
Alle spalle le noie e i molti dispiaceri
che gravano col loro peso sulla grigia esistenza
felice chi può con un colpo d’ala vigoroso
slanciarsi verso campi luminosi e sereni;
colui i cui pensieri, come allodole,
verso i cieli al mattino spiccano un volo che plana sulla vita.
E comprende senza sforzo
il linguaggio dei fiori e delle cose mute.
(C. Baudelaire, Elevazione, 1857)

Gustave Courbet