INTERVIEW Robag Wruhme

With a career lasting longer than two decades Robag Wruhme‘s electronic (dance) music is as solid as a rock, even though this simile does not hit the nail on its head for various reasons. First of all, Robag’s the kind of person who’d dismantle this specific rock and arrange the single fragments to something new and secondly ‘rocks prefer not to move’, as a Scandinavian clothing brand propagated a while back, and this simply does not apply to the commuting artist, who’s currently located in Weimar, a city in Thuringia, best known for accomodating Goethe and Schiller but today is the home of quality electronic music made in Germany. What speaks for Robag the Rock or rather the rock-simile is that Gabor Schablitzki, Robag’s real name, has been around for such a long time and delivered several musical pieces with extremely unique names over the years that his music symbolizes something familiar and its listeners have bonded a relationship with. Whether one has got to known him through his ‘Wuzzelbud KK’ album from 2004 or ‘Thora Vukk’ in 2011 or by falling for his fallish – meaning melodic melancholic – tracks or remixes he’s put out. And who does not appreciate his masterpiece remix treatment for Coma’s ‘Lora‘ or his work on WhoMadeWho’s take ‘Heads Above‘? The list could be infinitely continued, probably like ideas sprouting out of Robag’s head when working on music, on his music.

Last week saw the self-proclaimed chaos loving but neatly living artist releasing his new album ‘Venq Tolep‘, the follow-up of ‘Thora Vukk’, on DJ Koze and Marcus Fink’s Pampa label. It took Robag almost one generation or mere six years and 35 minutes to finish it due to circumstances the artist explains further in the following interview. Furthermore, Robag reveals why he’d never attend a music school on Mondays, gives some insights on ‘Nata Alma’, his ‘Domino’-remix and other tracks from the album, But as much as the artist speaks and exposes about his music and views, the more of a picture one can draw of him. And even though it’s one-sided and incomplete it’s inevitable not realize why Robag Wruhme has been part of the electronic music scene for such a long time, it’s his passion for what he loves, his strive for newness evoked by his creativity, sticking to his morals and knowing where he comes from and feels at home, as a musician and as a Gabor.

Torture the Artist: Hello Gabor, how did you spend today’s men’s day?

Robag Wruhme: Hello, today was an ordinary day for me, which is closely linked to the fact that I – as a musician – am on the road most of the time and therefore public holidays barely exist in my life. However, today I was off duties and consequently turned men’s day into a family day and went to a lake with the whole lot of them.

Releasing two albums within a year would have been too much, especially for the listener.

Torture the Artist: After your double EP ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ you just released your album ‘Venq Tolep’. It’s difficult to throw the idea over board that ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ was also an album but ‘Venq Tolep’ is the musical follow-up of ‘Thora Vukk’. Can you bring some light into the darkness and provide us with some first-hand information regarding the aforementioned?

Robag Wruhme: Well, releasing two albums within a year would have been too much, especially for the listener. The latter probably do not know what to make out of all this (musical) input and it would have caused an unwanted irritation. Let’s face it, eight years after ‘Thora Vukk’ comes a techno-album – that would’ve simply not fit into the melodic melancholic context, and additionally ‘Venq Tolep’ just feels right as the ‘Thora Vukk’s follow-up. In the beginning I had had other ideas regarding the releases, but after talking to our distributor I came to the conclusion that they had not been the best. That’s why ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ became a double EP, which is still performing quite well, and with ‘Venq Tolep’ there is the follow-up of ‘Thora Vukk’. Maybe ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ would have also been too tricky or complicated for some people and thus they might not be able to access my music, because a lot of people discovered it through ‘Thora Vukk’ in 2011 and not due to ‘Wuzzelbud KK’ in 2004, ‘Wuzzelbud FF’s predecessor. Furthermore, ‘Thora Vukk’ is this melancholic accompanist and maybe a bit more timeless as ‘Wuzzelbud FF’, even though ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ has never claimed to be all that.

I always give my tracks uniquely created titles in order not to influence or affect the listeners.

Torture the Artist: ‘Wuzzelbud’, ‘Thora Vukk’ or ‘Venq Tolep’, how do these names come about?

Robag Wruhme: I always give my tracks uniquely created titles in order not to influence or affect the listeners with my very own interpretation. The names leave it open for them to discover and experience each piece of music on their own.

Torture the Artist: On your new album, just like on ‘Thora Vukk’, you work with Lysann Zander, as well as Sidsel Endresen and Bugge Wesseltoft once again. How did working with these people come into being in the first place?

Robag Wruhme: I wouldn’t really say that I ‘worked’ with Lysann Zander on my new album, as I just had a folder with her vocal snippets on my computer and integrated them into two tracks. It’s not quite the type of collaboration we imagine between two artists.

The track with Bugge Wesseltoft and Sidsel Endresen, ‘Nata Alma’, is kind of like a revival of the take that was released on Jazzland Records almost 20 years ago. In 2003 I released an edit / remix of that track on my bootleg label WB Rec. and I thought it would be a lovely idea to reissue the track, which was firstly published in 1999. Of course, the copyrights had to be cleared and I remember precisely when I received the commitment. At that time I was on my way to Cotopaxi in Ecuador, the world’s biggest active volcano and Bugge let me know that the track could be released. I celebrated this at 5200m heights with no to less air, legs heavy like lead and Ecuadorian chocolate.

I cannot give these remixes, including the ideas behind it, fully away.

Torture the Artist: Speaking of tracks in your album, what’s the story behind the inclusion of ‘Domino’?

Robag Wruhme: Well, when you do a remix or in this case even two for Oxia’s track ‘Domino’ it may feel like you reveal some of your own ideas and sometimes they get lost. That’s the reason why I cannot give these remixes, including the ideas behind it, fully away.So and in this case I wanted to use the remix for my album, which wasn’t a problem for Oxia and Agoria, who runs Sapiens on which the remix was first released. I believe that my interpretation of the track quite fits the album.

Torture the Artist: Regarding the instruments, do you play them yourself and record them for your music or do you use plug-ins?

Robag Wruhme: Indeed I record the instruments on my own, but I’m self-taught, an autodidact. My plan to attend a music school was withdrawn because it would not have felt right as I would have felt locked up. I’m more the type of person who proceeds rather emotionally. I’m quite good at creating harmonies but I dislike the rational or theoretical part. You know, I need to still be able to surprise myself somehow otherwise the coast is clear. Also music school would have been on Monday, that’s pure poison for someone who enjoys the weekend a lot.

Music belongs together and not spread on countless labels.

Torture the Artist: Back to your album – ‘Venq Tolep’ is released, just like ‘Thora Vukk’, on Pampa. How important is this continuity for you to work with labels you already have a partner- and relationship with, as it’s safe to say that your new album probably could’ve been released on a different label, too?

Robag Wruhme: I’ve never been a label-hopper. I’ve always had a home for my music. At first it was Musik Krause and Freude am Tanzen, and then Kompakt and Pampa. As I said, I do not like to release my music on too many labels and I do not see an overlap between my music and the other music being released on possible other labels. For me music belongs together and not spread on countless labels. In the end one wants to build a continuous and mutual relationship with the label, as well as to see the music and label represented in the best possible way.

I believe that ‘Venq Tolep’ is my last album.

Torture the Artist: Would you say that there is still some kind of stability in this whole music business, which has, just like the society itself, become fast paced and is subject to a perpetual change?

Robag Wruhme: Certainly, because the business is moving quite fast. Altogether a lot has changed over the last years. Recently I asked myself how relevant are CDs or vinyl to me. Of course, I like to hold something like this in my hands, but I own most of my music digitally and if you think in the long term and pay attention to sustainability you will surely come to the conclusion that the concept of producing an album is outdated. An album is probably something older generations or various scenes pay more attention to, but young people listen and discover music differently, e.g. through Spotify playlists. Discovering new tracks on an EP like the b-sides back in the day, is that really happening today? And this is connected to the format music is released on, because mostly you only listen to releases once, pick your favorite and never come back to it again. That’s the reality. I believe that ‘Venq Tolep’ is my last album and after I will most likely only release singles.

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Picture by Katja Ruge

Torture the Artist: How do you discover new music then nowadays?

Robag Wruhme: I go on musical discovery journeys at Beatport. There you can still discover new things despite the lack of stats, on which SoundCloud, otherwise, revolves around. I can approach music in a more free and fair manner and I listen to it straight away, almost like back in the days, when I sometimes asked myself, when discovering or hearing something new: ‘What was that?’ I find it really hard to return to a good track when listening to curated playlists on streaming sites. Maybe the look and feel are missing. I must say that I do not buy an entire EP anymore, accordingly my own behaviour has changed too, if I am to compare it to former times. Additionally, you have to honestly ask yourself, if you are ready or in the mood to discover something new.

Torture the Artist: When did you decide to produce an entire album, was there a crucial point when you were sure to produce another album or was ‘Venq Tolep’ more of an incidental result?

Robag Wruhme: ‘Thora Vukk’ was a rather personal album and I wanted to stick at it and tell more stories. Nonetheless, the final result took longer than expected – eight years to be precise – because meanwhile I’m surrounded by two sweet little creatures who call me ‘daddy’. However, I had never let go of the idea of producing an album, but due to those particular circumstances I couldn’t entirely focus working on the project. Regarding the music, it was sometimes difficult too, because I produced it in different time intervals and consequently used different plug-ins for the music, so the sound of the tracks were not alike. My soundengineer, the person who mastered the tracks from the album, thanked me – as you can imagine. Probably the biggest task was to choose between the 75 tracks I had produced for the album and decide what kind of album I wanted to do, one that’s more calm or rather the opposite.

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Picture by Katja Ruge

Torture the Artist: The press states the following: ‘»Venq Tolep« ventures the biggest possible convergence from a track to a song: Techno pop? Pop techno? Pop ambient? Ambient pop? Well, simply said: ‘Venq Tolep’ is Robag Wruhme writing his name into pop music’s history. To what extend can you agree with the statement and do musical categories play a role for you, your music, your approach and understanding of music?

Robag Wruhme: Generally speaking I don’t like pigeonholing. I’d call my music electronic dance music or when speaking of ‘Venq Tolep’ I’d just say electronic music, because that’s a very broad term to describe the music. I would definitely not consider my music as pop, fairly speaking. When thinking of pop music I recall my schooldays; people who listened to pop music were called ‘Poppers’ and this has to be understood as something that  de-valued the person, which I honestly did not understand. I perceive my music more experimental than pop and I’d rather say that I make ‘niche music’ and that’s where I feel at home the most. But maybe the definition of pop music is something totally different? But you know what? Duh, I really do not care.

I really enjoy this kind of inevitable confusion.

Torture the Artist: In the beginning we already spoke about strange names, what is the stangest track that you have produced or the strangest sound you’ve ever used in a track?

Robag Wruhme: As I produce experimental music I work with sounds that do not necessarily fit a track in the first place or that are easy to use in a track. Let me tell you this little anecdote. When ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ was released I produced a track, ‘Wabb Bodun‘, which contains a sneeze after the break. Concerning this matter the pressing plant reached out to me and asked, if this was done purposely. I really enjoy this kind of inevitable confusion. The interlude ‘Ago Lades’ on the album has made quite some people livid since it’s a 30 second long loop starting right away and then immediately fades out. So much fuss for 51 seconds of music and it puts a smile on my face.

Torture the Artist: What, aside that it puts a smile on our face, is the initial intention to use these sounds?

Robag Wruhme: I use these sounds to sort of let go of a standard formula so that the track becomes a bit more edgy. Paradoxically, I’m such a straight person when I produce music and generally I’d say that I’m quite a neat person, but somehow I want to break free from that and then I’m torn between these two extremes. I also find satisfaction in chaos and that’s how I see these strange sounds, which can add a little extra to a track. So you can say that these sounds initiate something that I have to put together differently or in a new way.

My tracks usually contain so many ideas that I could make four to five tracks out of them.

Torture the Artist: Does vacillating between two extremes play a role when you produce music and what kind of music you produce in the end?

Robag Wruhme: Definitely, my tracks usually contain so many ideas that I could make four to five tracks out of them. I admire colleagues who can arrange a track that emerges from one session only or when the track is developed out of one single loop. I just cannot do that, even though I like the monotony, In fact, I even enjoy playing this music when I DJ. When it comes to my own productions though, it does not work and I rather foster a systematic chaos.

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Picture by Katja Ruge

Torture the Artist: What, except the aforedescribed, matters to you and your music?

Robag Wruhme: Rhythmic and multi-layered tracks are important to me, that’s how I approached ‘Wuzzelbud FF’ at a production level. When working on ‘Venq Tolep’ the melodical-aspect stood in the foreground and definitely plays the most important role.

Torture the Artist: Who’s allowed to listen to your music at what time of the production process?

Robag Wruhme: While working on a track nobody listens to it as I try to clear everything with myself. When the track is finished, I send it to a small circle of friends and expect a feedback from them, Stefan (DJ Koze) and Marcus (Fink) from Pampa belong to this group of people I send the music to since they also have to release the music in the end. When I was working on ‘Nata Alma’ I spoke to Stefan about it and he gave me his thoughts on the break and helped me to move on. Usually I try to keep away from influences when working on an album and do not listen to any music, if possible.

The album was already finished two years ago but then I was told that it was too short.

Torture the Artist: Whatever happens to the tracks that you got stuck with or the ones that do not have a use for the album? ‘Venq Tolep’ for example contains 11 tracks but you produced 75 as you mentioned before.

Robag Wruhme: The 75 tracks I produced for ‘Venq Tolep’ were not all completely finished, some were just ideas or sketches. The unused musical pieces are put aside for now and maybe one day, I might start working on them again. By the way the album was already finished two years ago but then I was told that it was too short.

Torture the Artist: How short was it then?

Robag Wruhme: I believe it was something around 35 minutes long. However, now it’s not much longer, probably 40 minutes or so. I really like it if you do not take notice of how fast something can be over. Albums that last more than an hour can be tiring and you also have to have the time to listen to an album in the first place. 40 minutes though is a good amount of time and some might even be able to listen to the entire album on their way to work or wherever they are heading.

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Picture by Katja Ruge

Torture the Artist: Speaking of a swift end or how fast something can come to an end, we’ve already reached the end of this interview. Here’s one last question. You cook a 3-course-dinner, which tracks from your album do you match with either one of the three courses and what’s the food-dish of your choice for each course?

Robag Wruhme: I’m a huge fan of Japanese cuisine, so here’s my choice:

As a starter we have ‘Hourenso No Goma-Ae’ while listening to ‘Advent‘.

The main course is ‘Maguro No Taru-Taru“ and the track from the album that accompanies this course is ‘Venq Tolep‘.

The desert consists out of 4x ‘Harami Yakiniku’ and ‘ENDE #2‘ is bumping through the speakers.

Robag Wruhme’s album ‘Venq Tolep‘ was released on Pampa Records on June 7th, 2019.

Interview by Holger Breuer