Naming himself after one of the biggest sweet water lakes in the world, namely the Baikal Lake in Russia, Berliner by love Mark Bijl refers to his artist name merely at a characteristical level, notably when it comes to his deep productions, while deep in this context means the level of involvement that Baikal contributes to his tracks or musical approaches. Having released several but altogether only few EPs on his co-founded label Maeve, which he runs with The Drifter and Mano Le Tough, over the years, it‘s inevitably to say that Baikal puts quality over quantity. Either the label‘s first release ever, Just You And Me, or the second installment Why Don‘t Ya? remixes, published in 2012 and 2013 were massively supported by scene‘s key-players and allowed the newly founded label as well as Baikal a tremendous start after wiping off his Mark August moniker. His Pelican‘s Flight single, the third release under the belt of Baikal, took the artist quite a moment or three years for various and partly personal reasons. Another three years later, 2019 to be precise, he‘s released his last single, Hear Me, up to date, a tender techno two tracker that stands out due it‘s precise arrangement and the paradox of making deep and dark elements sound warm. The latter basically describes Baikal, the person, the artist, the multi-faceted producer at a personal level, as a person.
Torture the Artist: Hello Baikal, tell us something about your day.
Baikal: Hi and thanks for having me! Today is a nice quiet day at home, I’m doing this interview and finishing up the mix I’m doing for you guys. I’m doing a more housey and relaxed mix than I probably do normally, which I thought would be more fitting for you guys. I have my studio at home, so for me life and work is a very intertwined affair.
Torture the Artist: Do you follow a certain routine for structuring or organizing your day or are you rather the type of person who gives in to whatever is to come and let things happen?
Baikal: Not really a structure per se, and definitely more the latter, like a see what happens kinda approach. But I do have my habits and I’m a slow starter of the day. I like to do my emails and reading of various things at length in the morning, also while I do my sporty bits, and then I’ll get in the studio after midday/afternoon till later in the evening.
Torture the Artist: Your artist moniker, ‘Baikal’, means ‘rich lake’ and it’s also the name of the world’s deepest and oldest freshwater lake, how did you come up with it and what connection do you have to this region of the world, if so at all.
Baikal: I have no personal connection to the location, but I’ve always liked the nerdy specifics of the Baikal lake. it’s the oldest, it’s the deepest, it’s the biggest sweet water reservoir in the world, it’s got its own versions of species, including their own branch of seals, which scientists are still mystified by how they got there. The lake being so far from any ocean that must have been close in a certain timeframe in ancient history for them to be able to have gotten in there and become sweet water seals. And there are many many more little nerdy details like that. I guess it’s partially also an ode to monolake as well, a huge inspiration for me back in the day, of which I didn’t realise for a few years while being a fan that it was actually a real name of a real lake, quite the special lake too if you research it, which maybe made me more susceptible to using a name of a lake as well.
Torture the Artist: What are you ‘rich in’ that you’d like to share with the world, the people, your surrounding?
Baikal: I really like to zoom out and see the bigger picture and investigate multiple angels on everything basically. It’s something that happens very automatically in my brain and that is with music included, which also leads to me loving all kinds of music, if it’s done right. So basically all that is good music to my ears. This probably makes my input of how I process things and as a result make music out of to be of a rich and various character perhaps? Sometimes too rich and I end up with too many sounds and actually really wanting to simplify it, but finding that a struggle sometimes or better said: It’s a constant challenge.
As a beginning artist you need to free up as many days per week as possible to be able to hone your craft, otherwise it just ain’t happening for most of us.
Torture the Artist: You live in Berlin, what’s tied you to the city and what made you move there in the first place?
Baikal: 11 years ago it was the solution for me who wanted to pursue an artist career but also to be able to live somewhere decent in a very vivid city while not having to work insane hours to be able to make that financial construction work. My previous years in Amsterdam till up to that point had made it hard to do so. As a beginning artist you need to free up as many days per week as possible to be able to hone your craft, otherwise it just ain’t happening for most of us. In the end it’s monks work and requires a lot of dedicated hours in the studio before you get any good at it. It’s a work mans craft in that sense, so you need a situation of freedom that is financially sustainable. Berlin was perfect for that 11 years ago. Besides that I’ve also found it to be the most free and leave-you-be big city that I’ve encountered on this planet and I have seen a couple. Also after one year in Berlin I met the love of my life there as well, which has made it so that I have stayed a lot longer than originally planned.
Torture the Artist: How was your first date with electronic music in Berlin?
Baikal: It was a gig in 2007 actually at Watergate and I played the Waterfloor. It was my first time in Berlin and I played there. This was still when I DJed and produced under the name Mark August. About 20 friends came along with me from Amsterdam and the whole thing turned out to be pretty amazing for a first time there, it was a proper gig and big fun.
Torture the Artist: What’s your favorite place to grab a tea/coffee or any beverage of your choice and what is it that you enjoy about this spot?
Baikal: Honestly I’m not much of a cafe/bar/spot hanger, but I do love to go for a stroll in Tempelhof and if the weather allows it, I grab a coffee-to-go. That spot has a really nice abstract effect on you or me and it’s such an open space that it feels a bit like going for a walk on the beach somehow, so it has the same kind of physical and mental cleansing effect than the aforementioned.
As a DJ you sort of get your social/club/music fix already from the work itself.
Torture the Artist: Berlin is rich in opportunities when it comes to its nightlife or subcultural life, do you still participate in either one of the latter and if so, to what extend?
Baikal: Well, I have lived here for almost 11 years now, and I love the city to bits, but my partying heydays are behind me mostly now. I’d say it just has to do with age as well and I have been doing this for a while. As a DJ you sort of get your social/club/music fix already from the work itself every one or two weeks.
I wish I could have been more consistent, but sometimes life has different plans for you.
Torture the Artist: The last pieces of music from your side are summed up under your Hear Me release on Maeve. Three years before you pleased us with Pelican’s Flight and three years before that you released Why Don’t Ya? with including Ripperton’s remix and now comes the exception, your collaboration with The Drifter, namely Just You And Me had been released just a little bit more than a year before. What’s the cycle for your upcoming release but foremost what do you do in-between releases?
Baikal: I wish I could have been more consistent, but sometimes life has different plans for you. There is no cycle or plan to it, just obstacles that needed to be circumvented first, while having a full gigging schedule for most of those years. That is all besides being immensely slow in the studio as a character like myself already, which I’ve always been. But in good years I would at least be able to release 2-3 things per year, which certifies your continuum in the scene too. However, that has not been possible for me because of various external factors over the last six or seven years. My hope is, that those more productive times are here again, finally. Let’s see.
Torture the Artist: In an interview with us Mark, The Drifter, said that “I do find it hard(er) to finish original music. To trust that it’s good enough and is worth releasing.“ To what extend can this be ascribed to you, if so at all and how long did it take you to produce the track with him?
Baikal: Ha! I’m the worst, but that is also a bit of a weird anomaly. Most producer face the situation that when they work longer on a track, they sort of lose the vibe, so they have to work slightly faster because of that. I’m the complete opposite, meaning the longer I work on it, the better it often gets. It becomes quite the challenge then to tell yourself that you are there and it’s finished. Telling myself that it’s really good enough once it’s finished, happens even less. Mark only sang some lines for me one day, which I worked with/on later. He did not produce that track. I think the quickest I’ve ever made a track in is in a month. but sometimes a track can take me more than a year to finish. Of course, then only as a side project you visit sometimes, but that is especially with original work how it tends to go with me. Pelican‘s Flight didn’t really come together till after a year of when I had started with the first bits. With me it really works to sometimes let a track lay for a few weeks to then have a fresher view and not have the attachements to sounds you spent so much time on to make anymore, so I re-evaluate and take the track to the next phase without the wrong emotional attached state. I can way more easily hear after a longer break what actually are the good parts of a track and what are not.
Torture the Artist: Hear Me features a second track, which is called Baby You, are the track names meant to be put and heard together or one after another?
Baikal: No, there is no second thought put into that, those are the vocal samples that happened in the flow process of making them tracks, so that’s how they got their names. But they stem from the same period last year when I finally got back properly in the studio again.
Torture the Artist: How and where do you want to be heard?
Baikal: It’s foremost the accidental title of the track that originated as the track making process developed, but perhaps I personally lay a connection between the title and us living in a new age of super effective propaganda that is spiraling out of control and people don’t seem to be able to judge anymore what is real and what is not. The propaganda is really working in that sense and people are losing their sense of judgement as a result.
Torture the Artist: Regarding the question before, when do you remain silent?
Baikal: As much as possible. I love the silence and it’s big pull for me when I head in nature. I must admit that my dreams consist of not more than a little place in a quiet spot int he mountains.
I’m the opposite of a purist, although I love a good purist DJ.
Torture the Artist: Coming back to your music, just like your name Baikal it covers a certain deepness, sometimes at a more techno-ish level and at times more housey, sometimes it sounds Berghain and sometimes Panorama Bar-ish, what’s a major inspiration for you at an artistical level and do you imagine your music being played at a specific club/ place when you are in the process of producing it?
Baikal: For me everything is an inspiration. I have too many inspirational artists to list really, but if I had to name a couple…. back in the days it was Carl Craig and Isoleé, who were massive producer legends for me. Now there are for example people like Architectural and Map.ache, whose music I really love. This is my burden and my blessing, I love it [music] all, if it’s done well. I mean, I even like Country music, if it’s done well. I’m the opposite of a purist, although I love a good purist DJ, but an eclectic one just as well, if it’s done well of course. Making music is a very intuitive process for me, so I don’t really think of what I’m doing or going to do. I sort of try to follow what my ears are telling me in that moment and where to go and then it happens naturally and somehow on its own, albeit it is taking it’s darn time getting there.
Torture the Artist: Initially we asked if you follow a certain routine to structure/ organize your day, do you follow a certain routine when you are in the studio?
Baikal: Not really, it’s just playing around with whatever, a bit of sample processing, a funky new app on the iPad, a certain sound made on a synth… it can be anything really that triggers the feeling I need to develop something further.
Torture the Artist: How do you overcome being stuck at some point in the production process, like how do you get back on track?
Baikal: Just perseveire. you just need to keep trying new angles and kick yourself in the a** if you think you are stuck. Try another and different angle. It’s like fighting a duel, you keep fighting till you find your way in… your opening to strike, and you never know what sound it might be that solves the puzzle, so try as many varieties as possible and as much as your perseveirance allows till you find the missing puzzle pieces.
Torture the Artist: Your release Just You And Me was produced The Drifter. What’s a working-routine that you appreciate but definitely do not follow when producing music on your own?
Baikal: The collaboration with Mark is him lending his voice one day to a beat I had made, and me eventually coming up with that tune around it. I tell this to explain that I’m just not really a session kind of musician, sometimes I wish I was more like that, but in my case I only really amount to anything if I’m in my own personal universe where I can exceed all control, and I’m not being bothered by perhaps me being too slow for the other party etc.
Torture the Artist: What’s an artist you’d like to work with in the studio?
Baikal: So in that sense, I have no desire to work with anyone one day. It’s a personal processing kind of thing more so for me. Me, the machine, processing my input around me. There are many artists I’d love to have a beer and chat with though, like Moritz von Oswald, or Phillip Glass for example.
Torture the Artist: Since Mark, The Drifter, and you are the Maeve co-founders alongside Mano Le Tough and have known each other for a long time, is it more difficult to work with a friend or someone more random, like not knowing the person too well when it comes to producing music?
Baikal: I wouldn’t know really. I never tried further than a couple of attempts with close friends and those moments or occasions were very revealing for me personally in the way that it was clearly not a road for me to take. I work best alone.
Torture the Artist Imagine you are a fly on the wall. Whose artist studio would you fly into (and spy on)?
Baikal: Recent photos of Vince Clarke’s studio were of such impressive nature, I wouldn’t mind having a look in there one day.
Torture the Artist: Aside from electronic music, what was the music of your childhood/ teenage years and what’s a track you can still sing along?
Baikal: I was a Grunge head in my first half of teenage years, so Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Helmet, Tool all backed up by an undying love for Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Nina Simone, Micheal Jackson and Prince since I was very young. My mum fed me most of that with the babyspoon. I can sing along many still, of course!
Torture the Artist: What was the last track or piece of music that touched you, and why?
Baikal: I was very deeply impressed with the last ambient album of my friend Ripperton on ESP Institute, just because I think he made two of the most beautiful ambient albums of the last ten years. Both are super restrained and deep and perfect for a wondering mind in the train or car or on a walk through town. They both came just after the ambient revival so have not been on everyone’s radar, but they are very much worth the effort of checking out.
For me sci-fi is the perfect quick escape from reality.
Torture the Artist: What movie would you have liked to produce the soundtrack for, and why?
Baikal: Since I’m a big sci-fi nut, and would have loved to do something like Arrival or Blade Runner 2049. For me sci-fi is the perfect quick escape from reality. It’s also one of the professions I can truly fantasise about… directing scifi movies or scoring them, although I guess I probably would really want all control. Directing it is. <wink>
Torture the Artist: Even though we believe in karma, who would you like to be abducted by aliens, and why?
Baikal: I only display a belief in karma, if I want or have to tell myself sh*t will be alright. Part of me knows it’s all wishful thinking like all other mindtricks to calm all the questionmarks in your head. There is one thing Im sure of: The universe is perfect in its indifference. In that light, if there are aliens out there abducting people, I’d sort of be interested to volunteer and to leave you all behind and go check their places out. It be nice if I could take my girlfriend and my cat, if they would allow that, and if they could sort of give me the guarantee that I’m allowed back again one day too, if I wanted that. But that sort of also depends on how good their spot is. Cheers!
Interview by Holger Breuer