After over two decades of friendship, South African duo Jas Miszewski and Alexander Inggs have found the right words, rhythm and melodies that capture the unique energy between them best. A year after the release of their debut EP, Atelier returns on Mathias Schober’s and Thomas Herb’s Lossless label with an album consisting of ten emotionally-dense and both visually and aurally vivid, timeless chapters. While ‘Varsam Court‘ comes back home to Lossless, picking up from where ‘Something to Fill the Hour’ left off, we find the childhood friends on the opposite end of the world this time around, far away from the edge of the African continent. Newly transplanted in Berlin, there were plenty of emotions, memories, triumphs and fallbacks for the duo to process after the completion of their first album, and they don’t mind sparing the details here.
Torture the Artist: Hello Jas and Alexander! Where about in the world will we find you today? How far apart in distance are you at the exact moment? How did you spend your morning and what’s your agenda for the rest of the day?
Jas: Currently we are based in Berlin – Alex lives in Kreuzberg and I just moved to Friedrichshain, so the rest of the day is mostly carrying music gear up 5 flights of stairs.
Alex: For me, it was a quick breakfast at home then off to Mitte on the bike to work on pre-masters with a colleague.
Torture the Artist: What were the last words you had said to each other? Do you typically speak to each other on a daily basis?
Atelier: ‘Aweh, chat soon’. We are always in contact. Mostly we’re sending wetransfer files to each other of tracks we’re working on at the moment and a lot of random things that make us laugh. We have a pretty similar humor. But we have writing/recording sessions together every Friday.
Mostly drinking Club Mate at the Späti below Alex’s apartment.
Torture the Artist: We know you have been friends for quite some time, has partnering up as Atelier taken up most of your energy when spending time together? Besides music, what are some things you enjoy doing together?
Atelier: Mostly drinking Club Mate at the Späti below Alex’s apartment. Going to listen to loud music is something we’ve always enjoyed doing together. But making music is our favorite thing to do together – it never feels like work, just hanging out with a friend who happens to share your taste in music production. We also enjoy having a game of pool/billiards to take our minds off things.
Torture the Artist: By the way, what’s behind the moniker?
Atelier: In the house that Alex grew up, his father had a studio for photography in the attic. We started focusing on making the album in this studio and one day, walking up the stairs with cups of coffee in our hands, we noticed a white sign with black block lettering on the door reading ‘ATELIER’.
Jas: I think the starkness of it and it’s strength spoke to me personally. When we started to develop our production style, recording my guitar and vocals in different spaces for example, we started to like the idea that our music felt more like‚ ‘stepping into a room’ than just airwaves.
Alex: For me the term ‘ATELIER’ describes a place where we can create.
Torture the Artist: The summer has just ended, or in the Northern Hemisphere at least, how did you spend the season? Can you share some of the most memorable trips or experiences you had over the past few months. Did you get to spend time at home?
Atelier: We played Lighthouse Festival in Croatia at the beginning of the summer and it was a really special moment for us. Being surrounded by friends in a beautiful location and playing our music to an open-minded crowd really meant a lot to us.
Jas: It’ll be a long time before I return home. I’ve started this new chapter and I want to ride it out. But the travel benefits in Europe are bizarre to me – the fact that I can fly to France in 1 hour 30 minutes and not 14 hours from Cape Town.
Alex: No time at home this summer for me (or winter in Cape Town – which is actually my favourite time of year there). There is no particular experience that I would single out, but rather the entire feeling of summer here was great. People smiling, good open air parties and the warmth of the sun.
Torture the Artist: With the conclusion of the season comes the conclusion of your recent production stage and the release of your new album on Lossless. This is sort of perfect timing. What will you miss most about the summer and what are you most looking forward to start doing?
Atelier: Producing never stops for us. There’s no timeline or manual to creating. We do it because we’re in love with it. Winter sure does bring a lot of challenges, but holding a small crowd of people in a deep mood in a club is something we really look forward to. Also, working with the comfort of the cold outside is something particularly enjoyable about the winter months.
Torture the Artist: You recently moved to Berlin from South Africa, how is the transition into your new city going so far? Did you both move together, at once? What are some of your favorite hangout spots in the electronic music capital?
Jas: We both moved at separate times but it’s been a long love affair with Berlin. I’ve been coming back and forth for the past four years. Panorama Bar is usually the best for me, it’s nice to just be able to dance without much interruption.
Alex: I’ve been backwards and forwards over the last six years, but never for a period longer than six months at a time with it always being an idea of visiting rather than living. Making the move is totally exciting and it has been great to integrate with inspiring people and places here. As for a favourite hangout spot – there’s a lowkey bar around the corner from where I live that has a pool table and darts. Otherwise, I enjoy going to any club or event where I have friends who are DJing or performing live.
Torture the Artist: Do you get homesick from time to time? Does homesickness play a major role in the mood and emotion of your upcoming album?
Jas: It is something I can’t shake – I have a very ambiguous relationship with my home country. But I don’t think the album is limited to one kind of sickness – it’s all of them.
Alex: There are definitely things that I miss from back home – family, friends, surfing, all my synths and drum machines currently sitting in bubble wrap. As the album was written in SA, it didn’t directly affect the mood of the album – but I think Jas put it best.
We’ve always measured ourselves against international standards which I think birthed this lack of identity so many South African artists deal with. (Jas)
Torture the Artist: Before we dig into your recent project, can you take us back to the start for a little while. Tell us about your hometown. How is it like growing up in South Africa? What were some of your greatest musical inspirations and what led you to realize a passion for music, and to eventually pursue a career within it?
Jas: My father always said about popular youth culture in South Africa during the 80’s, ‘Our arses were here but our heads were oversees.’ We’ve always measured ourselves against international standards which I think birthed this lack of identity so many South African artists deal with. Nowadays it’s a lot better – we trust ourselves more – in the arts at least. Personally, with regards to our music, both Alex and I grew up with a strong bond with nature. Whether it be surfing, hiking, road trips – we found our South African identity in the vastness of our countries geographical beauty. I’m still questioning the whole ‚career in music’ thing. All I know is that this is what I can do and if people don’t want to listen to it, then so be it – you’ll have to kill me to put down the guitar.
From an early age the infinite joy of listening to music and the thrill of discovering new music was probably the catalyst for wanting to create it.
Alex: From an early age the infinite joy of listening to music and the thrill of discovering new music was probably the catalyst for wanting to create it. Pursuing a career was not necessarily an active decision – I was doing music everyday, even throughout my time at university, and slowly became exposed to different avenues within it that were not only interesting but could be tied into other creative industries.
Torture the Artist: How did the two of you meet? Can you name a track that best sets the mood for this first encounter? Looking at your friendship now, does this song still resonate?
Atelier: We met for the first time in Grade 1, so age 6 or so. Our parents became close through shared interests so we started spending more time together. I would say ‘Stages’ because we’ve been through so many together, and there is still more to come.
Torture the Artist: We had talked about your previous release on Lossless, Something to Fill the Hour in the past. The project was produced in your home continent, and it seems like you had plenty of inspiration and momentum there. What made you decide to leave home and move to Europe? Did you feel as though the geographic relocation was necessary for your career (or personal) growth?
Jas: For sure you feel a bit geographically challenged in South Africa, and promoters are not too keen to fly you out from there when you’re still starting out. Also love brought me here.
Alex: The geographical challenge of South Africa is totally real. Here in Berlin, being able to go out on the weekends and hear the artists that you’ve always listened to, but never got the opportunity to see back home is really inspiring. It really is a hub for things that interest and inspire me.
Torture the Artist: The success of Something to Fill the Hour opened many doors for you, for sure, but to what extent? Did you take a break after your first release or did many opportunities arise, requiring you to jump right in?
Atelier: Well, people weren’t necessarily trying to break our door down but we’re happy with the way it was received. The energy inside both of us that gets us out of bed in the morning, that makes us want to write a new melody or lyric or percussive pattern has no off switch.
Jas: It’s all a very slow process and I’ve become a buddhist monk in practicing patience.
Alex: It was the first step – the next is coming soon.
Torture the Artist: Speaking of opportunities, you were recently featured in Keinemusik’s latest release, collaborating with one of the label heads and a crowd favorite, &ME. How did that project come to life? Was it expected, what was your initial reaction?
Atelier: A year ago when we released ‘Something To Fill An Hour’ a friend of ours called us in a fury telling us &ME had just opened up his Keinemusik radio show with our track. It was a great feeling, to get recognition from your peers.
Jas: Andrè and I started chatting on Instagram and he said he’d like to do more with my voice, so we exchanged emails and left it at that. I think one night I was pretty drunk on my balcony in Cape Town, I emailed him telling him that I was blasting Solaris and dancing by myself – the next day he sent through three ideas for me to record vocals to. It was pretty easy for me to find the melodies, I think he has a beautiful way of setting a mood and a solid foundation to work off of. The real moment happened when I arrived in Berlin at the start of the summer and we got into the studio together to put on the final touches and lay down some guitar ambience and riffs. This session was where I kept saying ‚Starting Again’ – because that’s what I was doing in this new country – starting again. I’m incredibly grateful for the positive response it has received from artists I look up to and all the lovers on the dancefloors.
At first it was two friends enjoying the fact that we had separate talents.
Torture the Artist: Let’s jump right into the topic we’ve been dying to talk about. You’re back on Lossless next week, with a debut album this time. When did you start working on this 10 track journey? Did you intend to create an album from the very start or did it just flow and turned out to be one?
Atelier: At first it was two friends enjoying the fact that we had separate talents – we filled in the gaps for one another. We love performing so the album came on by proxy, we wanted to perform at least an hours worth of music so we got to work. It’s been about a three year journey.
Torture the Artist: During the production process, what were some of the challenges, inspirations, setbacks and motivation that came your way? How did you manage to keep the momentum going and create distinctive tracks that are full of character and stand out on their own?
Atelier: Something I think people would find interesting is where the reverb that sits over the album, comes from. After we finished recording and Alex did a solid mix of the tracks, we took two omnidirectional microphones and two condenser microphones into an eight hundred seater chapel and played out the entire album from speakers at the front of the church whilst the four microphones recorded the ambience from the center and back of the church. This was then layered under the whole album at around 5%, further adding to our concept of our music that feels like it’s coming from a certain space.
Torture the Artist: Do the tracks unravel in chronological order, unfolding a narrative from chapter to chapter in a linear motion? How important is sequence in this particular story?
Atelier: There is somewhat of an ebb & flow to the album, however it was not necessarily written that way, to be chronological. We feel each track stands up on its own – but also has a relationship with what comes before and after it.
Torture the Artist: Can you pick a favorite track off the album, or at least one for this moment!
Jas: ‘Distrust’ – because it almost broke me mentally and physically.
Alexander: ‘Eleven’ – I simply enjoy the ambience, mood and pace of it.
Torture the Artist: After the release, what will you shift your focus into? Taking a break, from music, maybe each other? Do you plan to exert more energy towards DJing in the nearer future?
Jas: I have lukewarm DJ aspirations but only because I love house music and I want to share what I find. It also keeps me really happy. But we have a session scheduled for tomorrow, same as every Friday, and we’re already putting together a new EP which I’m really in love with – I think it’s a perfect progression from where we started. There is still a lot more to come from us.
Alex: I don’t particularly like making plans or definite statements about the future as I’m never certain what will or won’t happen. What I do know is that there is more Atelier music from us that needs to be finished and that we are yet to create.
Interview by Marie J. Floro
Atelier’s album ‘Varsam Court‘ will be released on Lossless on October 11th, 2019.