Published by Tzar on September 26, 2020
The Sci-Fi themes in contemporary music seem abducted by either the reverence towards 80’s cyberpunk or, unfortunately very often, by watered down experiments scrambled by lazy post-vaporwave artists who don’t care enough to listen to their own music before they release it. Luckily, there is always the opposition, too.
Today, we present you a track from the upcoming Split EP called Among Nights / Feral Laws by Sankt and Lymbs to be released on the Berlin based label Crux Axul in October. While this release taps in the original futurist current of drum & bass, the label’s releases encompass a wider field of intriguing leftfield electronics.
Therefore, let’s get some context through an interview with Lymbs, the owner of the label, with some additional interventions by Sankt.
The name of the label emanates a rather esoteric vibe. Would you care to explain its meaning and the way that meaning is supposed to be reflected throughout the releases?
While I’m the co-founder of Crux Axul, the name wasn’t coined by me, but my friend and the actual founder Matthias, who wanted to create the label to give my music a physical release. The name literally translated means something along the lines of “cross axis” and Matthias chose the name for rather opaque aesthetic and wordplay purposes.
I’ve inherited the label in 2018 and re-started it with the New Anxieties compilation last year as a broader banner for artists in my immediate surroundings, a support structure if you will. In that sense the name reflects that intention too.
Apparently, the contemporary electronic scene is oversaturated, both in its mainstream and “underground” aspects. What made your decision to start a label in such circumstances? Did you have a need to communicate a certain aesthetic / worldview to a particular niche or is it foremost about personal satisfaction?
I guess it’s both, aesthetic and personal.
Music production and (digital) distribution is readily available to everybody, so we get flooded with music everyday, which in turn makes it harder to be seen even in underground and niche circles. At the same time the industry gatekeepers have been replaced by maybe even worse and dubious ones. We can’t escape certain constraints, which in turn makes it all the more necessary to create collectives and platforms to help like-minded people, who aren’t that well connected or feel less comfortable navigating the current system.
The aesthetics of the label are rather implicit I’d say and I’m not consciously driving them into certain directions beyond not trying to be pinned down by certain genre conventions. At the end it’s about each individual release and what the involved people want to express with it.
The first release on Crux Axul is undersigned by your own project Lymbs, and is marked by heavy broken beats, rich textures and delicious crunch peculiar to the industrial techno genre. Was it your intention to deliver club-ready material? Do you find substantiality in this sound, which transcends the stigma of consumer goods?
If Fever Bells is “club-ready” then not because I pushed it in that direction consciously. It’s just playing with all kinds of genre elements / tropes and frameworks, within a limited set of self-imposed constraints. I don’t have any control over the environment of the listener, so I’m not too concerned with that anyway. It’s also less about intention and more about intuition, since I’m not technically versed enough to plan out the music I’m making. I think, though, that I’m leaning towards sounds with a certain physicality and momentum. And that’s harder to pin down.
Do you find that “getting into the zone”, which is particular to techno experiences in clubs, can provide something substantial to the listener / dancer and do you go for such “zone experiences” at all?
I don’t think I’m the adequate person to answer that. My approach while making music is not connected to actual or assumed club experiences or subculture. In that regard I’m pretty agnostic about those musical clichés or the question of commodity, because I’m not doing anything preconceived to follow or evade them. If I try to control what I do too much I usually don’t end up with anything substantial.
That said, Fever Bells is built around constant loops which get overlayed more and more as the tracks progress. I see loops as tools for interesting textures and as a way to get harmonic and rhythmic structures I wouldn’t end up with myself. This approach has been useful to me since I read how DJ Shadow made “Endtroducing…..”, which at the end led to trying my hand at sampling and looping things.
If I get into any kind of zone, then it’s the excitement of having morphed something recognizable into something alien, but ending up with something sublime by accident (at least to me). In that sense I’m trying to push my own buttons.
Let’s move on to the next release, which is a quite different beast. While the textures reveal the cutting edge of contemporary electronics, the “New Anxieties” compilation does not bring any clubbing tropes to the table. All the artists practice significantly different approaches to the sound, yet the overall atmosphere seems to bathe in cyberpunk cinematics and the release is particularly well rounded, implying that it’s meticulously curated. What was you criteria for selecting these artists, and even more important, these particular songs for the compilation?
After the decision to continue Crux Axul I contacted Shō (who’s also on the album) and suggested a compilation that would explore more “ambient” approaches to an overarching theme, with the explicit intention not to make any kind of pleasant or nostalgic background music. I don’t have a lot of contacts in regards to musicians, so Shō was not only instrumental, but his help was essential to be able to reach out to much more possible contributors and later for the release itself.
We asked people we knew directly or indirectly, artists who would probably fit based on their previous output. As far as I can tell, everybody involved could relate to the theme and we were quite happy when we received the first tracks and realized this wouldn’t be all over the place. Luckily we didn’t have to choose tracks, we just had to make some sense of the sequencing and have it mastered properly, which Simon at Sludge Studios did wonderfully.
I don’t think the cohesive nature of the album was pure happenstance, though. We all operate in certain related niches that are overlapping here and there anyway and which are compatible if you care to provide a proper context or through-line.
The title of the compilation and the accompanying press blurb are rather suggestive and self-explanatory, especially after the recent outbreak of the pandemic. Still, I’d like you to get a bit more into the depth of the idea behind the release. Do you perceive it more as a weapon in the fight for a different world or as an immunity supplement for the inevitable dystopian reality?
While, yes, the title is suggestive enough and speaks for itself, we didn’t provide the artists with anything beyond the general theme. Everybody could be as literal or abstract as they liked. Interestingly that led to a broader thematic exploration of things I touched upon with “Fever Bells”, which was also an attempt to wrestle something intangible into concrete, but more accessible sounds.
What I mean by intangible, is the hum of a certain background anxiety, which is caused by the very tangible conditions we are living in. That anxiety can be disquieting, because it often feels like you can’t quite grasp it, so you relegate to the background again, until it reappears (sometimes as more banal and common, but possibly more unpleasant anxieties). Capitalist realism, hypernormalisation, anthropocene and solastalgia are all terms that describe or tap into something similar, but you don’t need to be academic, didactic or even literal about it. I see the compilation as seven different perspectives on grappling with a similar feeling about the state of the world. And it doesn’t need to be more than that.
Every listener is bound to have a particular perception of this release. While some people (myself included) tend to gravitate more to the mythological and fantastic aspects of the music and the mindscapes it depicts, others could as well hear this EP as a realistic collage of contemporary experiences. What I’m interested in is – how do you personally perceive it and in which circumstances do you enjoy it the most?
I’ve listened to the tracks a lot while doing the sequencing of the album. So I probably listened to it quite more advertently then the average listener. If I listen to it now, I prefer to have it as background / ambient music for work or daily activities. Regarding its concept: I think it’s just another layer or context, I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy the music and I think it’s totally fine to reframe your perception of it to your listening habits.
The cover radiates a rather luxurious feel, even if the release is on such a “budget” format as a cassette. What’s the idea behind it – is it supposed to resonate with a particular audience? Also, considering that the anxieties are accumulating, can we expect further installations of the series in the future?
The cover is part of a series of acrylic paintings that were done for Fever Bells by my very talented partner Sarah. I gave her only a few color suggestions, the rest was pure intuition. I wanted to have textural and suggestive pieces that would convey certain moods and a certain depth, without pushing the viewer into anything too literal.
Selecting a painting for “New Anxieties” was easy, since I knew that the particular one worked well with the theme. The layout was also done without any particular genre in mind, if that makes it harder to pigeonhole the release, even better. The paintings are there to create a certain through-line for a period of releases, but I don’t intend to make a dogma out of it. The format of each release is also dictated by our resources and the public interest, I don’t see Crux Axul as a tape label per se.
Further compilations are a possibility, but I’m not sure if those would be continuations. I haven’t thought about it that much, since the more immediate concern is to keep the label going and release self-contained material. I mean, this is hopefully still just the beginning.
The upcoming release on the label seems to differ stylistically from both the first and the second one. While the industrial atmosphere still lingers ominously in the background, the songs are propelled by juicy broken beats.
Lymbs: The way I see it every release should soundwise put a stake in new territory and the upcoming third release will do that but also expand on some hinted tendencies.
Since me and Shō / Sankt liked the process of working together on the compilation he suggested doing a split, with new tracks and complementary remixes, which would refocus on more beat-oriented material.
Sankt: The split-format is an old favourite from my punk and hardcore days and I feel like it’s a bit underrepresented in electronic music. And then I thought we could make it a bit more interactive by remixing each other’s tracks (and I honestly also just really wanted to remix someone else’s music, haha). Stylistically, this will be quite a bit of a detour from what I have released as Shō in the last couple of years. Hence these tracks will be released under the new moniker Sankt.
While it perpetuates the cinematic feel of the earlier releases, it seems that this EP is decidedly nocturnal. Was there a conscious decision to appeal to nightbirds, or a particular aesthetic / emotional direction?
Lymbs: I think the nocturnal feel is kind of a byproduct of us doing club-adjacent material again, but it’s of course also apparent in the track titles. I only got a real feel for it, when I realized that both titles were forming a nicely suggestive sentence and the cover painting is a – maybe implicit – rendition of that. In any case, I think the tracks are mood pieces about the nightly city sprawl and the conflicting emotions it often evokes.
It is somewhat known that a significant portion of industrial techno artists comes from drum’n’bass roots. Crux Axul seems to be taking the opposite direction! While drum’n’bass certainly shook the 90’s with an unconventional approach to rhythm and the exposure of urban tribal tendencies, after a couple of years, its novelty wore off among the kids. What do you find vital about this sound and its potential to speak about contemporary circumstances?
Lymbs: While “Fever Bells” may be somewhere on the techno spectrum, it’s not an indicator of my roots at all (if I have any clearly definable ones). While Drum & Bass was one of my gateways into electronic music, clubs at that time were something totally alien to me (we’re speaking late 90ies and stuff I was drawn to wasn’t played anyway). In that sense the stuff I was interested in was existing in parallel with other musical and cultural interests I was establishing back then. I became obsessed with Science fiction around the same time and it’s focus on utopian / dystopian potential and it’s obviously heavily referenced in Drum & Bass. But also in anything Warp records related, which (beyond something like The Prodigy) was my main vector to find electronic music.
A lot has changed over the decades of course, some things have been codified, others have become commodified nostalgia. Regardless, I think there are still a lot of artists doing genuinely exciting things with it, especially since genre boundaries have fallen. In that sense, even in mangled and mutated forms, it’s still very contemporary to me. I’ve played around with Jungle and Drum & Bass here and there, I just never found a good way to integrate it into what I was doing until now.
Sankt: For me personally, it was basically the other way around, as I arrived at this more ‘unconventional’ use of rhythm via making noise, industrial, and later techno. I’ve come to enjoy club music only in my early twenties, as there wasn’t much of a scene where I’m originally from, really. However, I still fondly remember sitting in front of the TV as a kid, watching MTV (back when they actually played music videos) and seeing Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker and Come To Daddy videos, not really knowing what’s going on, but also really enjoying it, haha. I guess that’s where my love for the weirder side of electronic music stems from.
On a more broader club cultural level, I would argue that we are basically seeing the retro ouroboros in action. After recycling the 80s with industrial techno, new EBM, DJs dropping New Wave tracks in their sets and so on, we’ve come full circle, and are now bringing back all the 90s stuff. So, we suddenly see trance, gabber, jungle and all those styles that were deemed dead or outright uncool for decades. You just have to look at today’s fashion to know that this is true.
It seems to me that the entire EP invokes that sacral feel science fiction seemed to induce when the future seemed ahead of us, and I don’t perceive that strain of inspiration from most of the contemporary “progressive” artists, who appear just – contemporary. Is this music portraying what you believe tomorrow’s got in hold for us, or you just wish for it?
Lymbs: I think the commonplace „the future is now“ is true in a sense. It has become harder and harder to think about possible futures that don’t feel familiar, retro-futuristic or confused about what they want to say about the present. It’s less about what’s possible and more about what futures are lost.
If we talk about my music on the split, musings about „the future“ as in Scifi were not at all my concern. The “now” as a vantage point for the immediate future already gives me enough inspiration to make music. So, from my skewed perspective all my music is at least trying to be contemporary. I can’t switch off my influences and my filter though. If I then tap into something familiar sound wise, I at least try to put it in a context that reframes it in a way that speaks to me.
Sankt: As we said earlier on in the interview, there wasn’t really a concept behind this release. But kind of similar to what Lymbs said, when I realize I’m in the process of making something that sounds a bit too familiar, I try to manipulate it until it sounds fresh to my ears at least. But then again, we are both roughly moving within the constraints of techno or the hardcore continuum and probably won’t be reinventing the wheel anytime soon.
The sound of science fiction that we associate with ideas about the future also hasn’t really changed in some decades.
On the more of a down-to-earth note, what can we expect from Crux Axul in the coming months? Besides the possible releases, will there be a chance of a showcase event?
Lymbs: Showcase wise nothing is planned, since I’m not in the live or DJ business myself and the current situation would make it absurd anyway. We will probably continue our series of mixes though, which we started doing with the compilation and one or two mixes will accompany this release as well. Beyond that nothing is planned really, further releases will appear when they need to appear. In 2021 hopefully.
Sankt: Yeah, now is not the time to be hosting or playing events, even though they’re sorely missed, of course.
I have a track under my other alias coming up on a sampler by Entangled Visions, a new Italian label I would like to encourage everyone to check out.
Among Nights / Feral Laws will be released on 16/10/2020 on tape and digital. You can pre-order the whole release on tape and digital here: https://cruxaxul.bandcamp.com/album/among-nights-feral-laws