Euphoric trance delights and proggy house tunes by Love On The Rocks member Alex Kassian.
For those unfamiliar with Alex Kassian, you’re in for a treat. Same goes for the people already acquainted to the Berlin-based DJ and producer, really.. Carrying a firm nod to the early trance and dream house heydays, the Love On The Rocks favourite just clocked in two seriously good releases on the Paramida run label. Doing 90s-inspired, contemporary music the right way. We love to see it. With new material in the pipeline, waiting to be released on Pinchy & Friends, and a new record coming up on his Planet Sundae label, we caught up to hear the latest and asked him to contribute to the mix series. A homage to the dance floor in his usual on point fashion.
Hey Alex, good to have you on! What’s been happening over your way?
Hey Joe! It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me! I’ve been busy working on quite a few projects at the moment. Looking forward to diving in for the interview!
It seems you’ve been spending your time productively these months. One of the new ventures you recently embarked on is your monthly radio show on Refuge Worldwide, alongside Paramida and Samuel Gieben. How are you three approaching the monthly residency and what can we expect from the show in the coming months?
I’m very excited about the radio show! It’s my first radio show, and what better company than Para and Sam to do it with. We’re all open to new things, but we share a common foundation when it comes to the sound and it’s been great fun so far. We initially wanted to do each show as a trio, where we share the 2 hour slot, but now we will be taking turns doing it monthly with special guest appearances, and then all together again after that.
In the wake of your ‘Oolong Trance’ EP on Love On The Rocks, you will be returning to Paramida’s label as part of a very special ‘90s proto-trance reissue, including remixes by Roza Terenzi and your good self. Being closely involved with LOTR, what can you tell us about the coming together of the record, and how did you approach working on your remix contribution? We’ve heard it’s been a long road to bring this record into orbit..
I remember the first time Paramida sent me ‘Peyote Dreams (Slack Mix)’ and had the idea of having it reissued with a remix from me. That was a few years ago already, and I remember thinking “really!!?? It’s so fast! Who’s gonna play it out?” But the more I listened to it the more I got into the track and so I decided to give it a go. The original stems had been lost so we had to work with the master file and find parts to work with, so that was a first! I originally finished a version which had been more euphoric, but a lot of the music I make has that approach, so I scrapped that version and started again with the approach of making it more “dance floor.” The original is something like 138bpm so I wanted to make it into a more accessible version, with a balearic touch, and no euphoric pads. I’d always thought of myself as someone who struggles to make dance floor tracks, but I think this one came out alright! I remember Paramida played my remix twice during her closing set at Panorama Bar, and we were both hyped at the energy it brought to the floor, so that was when we both figured the remix was done!
When we spoke earlier you mentioned that you find this period a really potent time in terms of everything. Can you elaborate further on that?
While it’s been a really tough time for many, I also think that it’s been a potent time for a lot of us. I see friends diving deep into political situations, and while it’s good to inform ourselves, consuming too much information related to this gargantuan uncertainty really has an affect on one’s life; usually negative. I saw that and I intentionally distanced myself from it all. I did lose my job, and was down for a while, but in many ways I realised that I was still privileged enough to be in a situation to continue my work. While it affected me mentally, I eventually managed to create an environment that works for me. We’ve never really had a time like this before, and I took it as a chance to explore territories which I wouldn’t otherwise. While the notion of ‘uncertainty’ can bring chaos and disruption, it can also be a great source of inspiration, as long as we ask the right questions. ‘How do we navigate in times of uncertainty?’ is a question at large in my life. How do we step into the future? What tools do we use to pave the way? These questions have helped me ground myself during these times.
Musically, I’ve opened up a lot by being honest to what I want to work on by trying to remember my earliest memories of music. I recently realised what my stepfather played when we were living in Sheffield (‘92-’97) had a huge impact on me. The chord progressions that I love to work with, the components that helped add up to me becoming who I am as a DJ and producer have been heavily influenced by that time. From now on I think it’s about imagining the future by accessing memories of the past, and using that as a tool to move forward. This is how I aim to unravel the uncertainty that lies ahead.
While the dance floor oriented projects (Alex Kassian & Opal Sunn) remain active, I bought an upright piano and I’m diving deeper into the soft sounds of the felt piano. Picking up the instrument again after leaving it behind a couple of decades ago feels great. I’m taking cello lessons as I want to understand string arrangement better. Hiro, my studio and Opal Sunn partner picked up his bass guitar again, first time since years. I started working on a collaborative project with Nick Höppner around the beginning of the pandemic which focuses on what we enjoy listening to; A krauty, psychedelic, and balearic vibe. I think we will have something to show at some point, but for now, we’re still exploring new waters. I see many friends around me taking on new challenges, learning new things, and exploring new territories they might have not if the pandemic hadn’t arrived. Seeing that has definitely been an encouragement for me. This is what I mean by “potent times”, finding new opportunities in times of crisis’.
You also mentioned that you’re reviving your Planet Sundae label after a 2-year hiatus with a special record from Florence-based artist DJ Blasy. What can you tell us about all that? And what do you’ve in store for the label in the coming months?
We’re very excited to be back after so long and to share this record! The music was produced by the most special of friends, Filippo Blasi-Foglietti aka DJ Blasy. He moved back to Florence from Berlin a few years ago and has since explored many avenues of music, firstly as a DJ and now as a producer. I really think he has a voice. The record was inspired by ‘The Drowned World’ by J.G. Ballard. Set in a future where the ice caps have melted and the rising oceans have submerged so much of the inhabited world. A new nature forms, and cities become primeval swamps. Humans are now in rapid decline as giant lizards, dragon flies, and insects thrive.
The music on this record looks to describe this new world, and unlike the book where the story is told from a human perspective, the point of view here is shifted to the eyes of nature. What for humans is a dystopian future, for the natural world it is an insignificant change. It was meant to be released in spring 2020, but with everything on hold, we decided to wait and see how things unfolded. The record will finally be out mid-April.
You’ve a new EP coming out on Pinchy & Friends soon. Given the label’s usual downtempo and laidback output, tell us about the direction that you’re taking on that one and how the record came to be..
‘Leave Your Life EP’ will be released on Pinchy & Friends in April, and is something that’s close to my heart. All tracks were written around 2016 and had been sleeping on my hard drive for years now. I was going to leave it all for an album if I’d ever come to write one, but it looked like that wasn’t ever going to happen anytime soon, so I’m happy it’s finally seeing the light of day. ‘Leave Your Life’ comes on the A side and is a homage to the band that I always wished I was a part of as a teenager. The B side ‘Spirit of Eden’ is something that I feel particularly close to; something that represents me the best musically.
Both tracks come with alternative versions, and ‘Spirit of Eden’ comes with a reconstructed dub version from one of my heroes, Bill Laswell, where he features jazz flute player Peter Apfelbaum. Working with Thomas Kuntz from the label has been a real pleasure as he’s so excited about the record. I’m super grateful that he gave the green light for a Laswell mix. Parisian illustrator Alexis Jamet did the artwork and I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting one. I’m looking forward to sharing this one with the world.
I know that you’ve expended your studio recently, as well as started mentoring students who are keen to brush up their production skills via Zoom. Tell us about your new studio setup and what students can expect from the course.
Right around the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020, Hiro and I decided to expand our studio. Up until then we were always setting up and down in my living room, and now we have a designated space just to make noise. That’s been one of the biggest changes in my life as of recent. It’s definitely helped keep my screws on my head and stay focused. As I mentioned before, we got an upright piano, a bass guitar, a lap steel guitar and a bunch of pedals. And because of all of this, I’m more excited about making music than ever before.
Since last year, I’ve been working with several students and mentoring them through a creative process. This process focuses on developing a concept for a project; finding the intention of the artist, asking the right questions in order to define the backbone of the project at first. In my own process, I only start projects if I have an idea. I usually think of what kind of sound I want to achieve, by imagining the sound palette, and developing it in my head as much as possible before I sit down and write the music. Once I have a rough idea, I start collecting sounds by getting drum samples ready and line up synths for melodic elements and basslines, etc. My friend George (Commix) always said “prepare for 2 days, write the music in 2 hours” and I really think that’s a solid philosophy to live by. Preparation is everything. Going into the studio and jamming can give you great results, but it’s always good to have a vision of what you want to do. This is what I try to convey when mentoring my students. At the end of the day, it’s always a lot of work! But it makes me so happy that I can be in a position to help someone finish their music. There’s definitely something special about seeing my students grow and reach their personal milestones.
What kind of energy are you bringing us with this mix today?
Today we’re paying homage to the dance floor that I look forward to being on (hopefully not too far in the distant future). I put together a mix of records that I love to play out, some old, some new, some classics and a special edit that I made especially for this mix. I hope you enjoy the mix and hope to see some of you on a dance floor soon. And don’t forget to look after yourselves!