A true artist always keeps his cool, especially when you are as focused on what you do as Fort Romeau. The British DJ, producer, co-label head has been a driving force in the fast-moving electronic music scene for years, slowly building up a remarkable reputation with releases on renowned labels such as Ghostly International, Spectral Sounds, Running Back, Live At Robert Johnson, DGTL and, the latest adding to this outstanding roster, Permanent Vacation, which will be followed by his ‘Dada EP’ on Correspondant soon. Aside from various EPs and even two albums, Michael Greene, Fort Romeau’s real name,has taken on remix duties for artists such as RY X, Gold Panda or Tunnelvisions to just name a few. Moreover the Londoner mixed an episode of Radio 1’s Essential Mix last summer, probably the most influental mix-series for electronic music. But Michael Greene’s track-selection skills are not only shown in his mixes or DJ-sets but also the co-label founder of Cin Cin, which he runs alongside Ali Tillett. The label’s speciality are split EPs, mostly four tracks by two different artists, but each of the tracks following the label’s sound philosophy, quality music with a touch of melodic disco-ish flavour. And even though the oustanding idea of split EPs is, according to Fort Romeau, ‘a fun idea’, it is accompanied by a lot of work.
Torture the Artist: Hello Michael, tell us something about your day.
Fort Romeau: Hi there, well I’m fresh back from in Brussels this weekend, so grabbing some breakfast and sitting down to answer your questions… So hit me.
Torture the Artist: After a few remixes in the past you returnedto Permanent Vacation with a full EP, ‘Heaven & Earth’. To what extend does the EP name reveal something about your current state of mind or shall express that your music fills the gap in-between the both, heaven and earth?
Fort Romeau: Well, I’m not sure it reveals much to be honest, the wording was derived from the monologue which features in the title track.
Torture the Artist: Alongside ‘Heaven & Earth’ there are three more tracks on the EP, namely ‘Just’, ‘Eye of Re’ and ‘Visions’. What’s your relationship to Egypt mythology?
Fort Romeau: Really, I’m looking to invoke a sense of mysticism very much filtered through the cultural lens of psychedelia, rather than making any particular inference to mythology directly. It’s more a second hand signifier of the ‘mystical’.
Torture the Artist: When putting the track titles together you have ‘Just Eye of Re Visions’. What’s the enemy that you want to subdue with your music?
Fort Romeau: Ha, again it’s more an appropriation of certain tropes of progressive or psychedelic new age mysticism than a direct reference to the original concepts.
The voice has always been something that I keep coming back to, because it’s just the simplest way to evoke human emotion.
Torture the Artist: Generally speaking your music commonly has a hypnotic touch and almost something spiritual. Of course, these two components or influences are used differently in each of your tracks. Would you say that the aforementioned vocals as well as a preference for darker soundscapes are the common factor to characterize your sound?
Fort Romeau: Well, there’s definitely no overt reference to anything ‘spiritual’ in any meaningful sense. For me it’s merely aesthetic in that I’m trying to reference certain signifiers that are attached to trance, progressive or psychedelic music and use them for their cultural significance in relation to these kinds of music, I guess it’s pastiche in that sense. The voice has always been something that I keep coming back to, because it’s just the simplest way to evoke human emotion, it’s a sound that we all understand and connect to instantly. I like having that grounding in amongst many more abstract sounds whose meaning is largely derived solely from their musical context.
Meaning can only ever exist for the listener in their own mind based on their own perspective and prejudice.
Torture the Artist: Every track is accompanied by a little story. Do you wish your music to be interpreted on its own without giving too many hints and clues and let yourself be surprised how close reviews/ critiques hit to your intended idea or do you rather enjoy it when people can adapt to your idea in the first place and the soundscapes you used to express or highlight certain ideas in the track?
Fort Romeau: I’m not sure that meaning is inserted into a piece of music or art by the author and that it’s the job of the listener to somehow extract it, meaning can only ever exist for the listener in their own mind based on their own perspective and prejudice. I usually have a specific idea or theme when I’m working on a track or record but it’s largely irrelevant to the understanding or enjoyment of it to the listener.
Torture the Artist: When do you decide to put an imagined idea of a track into practice?
Fort Romeau: There isn’t really one answer, sometimes theres a very specific idea , like I want to make a track that mixes X with Y but often it’s more that the process of doing simply gives rise to something that one deems interesting enough to pursue and subsequently release.
Torture the Artist: How would you describe your music to your grandparents?
Fort Romeau: I don’t think they have ever asked and I’m not sure I would have a good answer if they did!
Torture the Artist: Which one of your tracks or releases has been the most forward-thinking one in your opinion, and why?
Fort Romeau: I’m not sure I’d have the audacity to presume that anything I’ve done has been! I think there are very, very few artists who could claim to have made something that falls into that category and I think it’s only with time and hindsight that one could come to such a conclusion. It’s also never been my goal, electronic music has reached the point that rock found itself in during the late 1970s where the novelty of the technology that gave rise to the form has gone and it’s largely eating its own tail in the sense that its obsessed with its own short history and rehashing the past under the guise of searching for ‘authenticity’. I’m really only interested in pursuing a synthesis of the disparate sounds and influences that have been important to me, I think that’s all you can really do anyway, anything else is really just posturing.
Torture the Artist: Every artists has some kind of routine when producing music, what is yours and how do you manage to not get stuck in any routine?
Fort Romeau: It varies quite a lot depending on where I am, I like working in the studio but I’ve changed working spaces so much that I’ve not found one set routine. I’m also quite happy coming up with ideas just using the laptop and a few plugins or samples, I’m not precious about the methodology really, there are many ways to make it work.
Torture the Artist: What kind of track would you love to produce and which musical frontiers would you like to cross?
Fort Romeau: There’s an endless list of things I would like to do! I really like collaborating and working on many different styles of music.
I’m always trying to find a kind of compromised middle ground between musical ideas and the simplicity that the environment demands.
Torture the Artist: As a producer and DJ, how difficult is it to produce forward-thinking and innovative music or remain creative with your productions when you have certain dancefloor-standards in mind and you know what works well in the club? Additionally, how do you overcome possible restrictions when producing?
Fort Romeau: I think there’s always a tension for me between making something musically interesting and effective on a club soundsystem. There’s a reason most dance records sound essentiality the same because if you boil it down really you just need a big kick drum, a snare roll and lots of white noise, that’s what comes across most directly on a large PA in front of a big crowd, but it’s also extremely dull so I’m always trying to find a kind of compromised middle ground between musical ideas and the simplicity that the environment demands.
Torture the Artist: Who’s the first to listen to new music from you?
Fort Romeau: I mostly send demos and new tracks to a couple of people first, usually Gerd, Dixon and DJ Tennis.
Torture the Artist: You co-run Cin Cin alongside Ali Tillett. How come you rather release on other labels than your own, which is quite unusual yet remarkable?
Fort Romeau: The idea for the label was never really to be just an outlet for my own music. I wanted a way to help other artists and collaborate with them in a way other than just making music, and I really like the format of split EPs so it’s just seemed like a fun idea, it’s actually a lot of work .<laughs>
Torture the Artist: What do you find worth fighting for?
Fort Romeau: There’s so much to fight for, the impending collapse of civilisation due to cataclysmic climate change is probably a good place to start!
Interview by Holger Breuer