INTERVIEW & EXCLUSIVE Shari Vari ‘Now (Fantastic Twins Remix)’ [Malka Tuti]

She chose music over a PhD – a truly reasonable decision if you’re familiar with Julienne’s discography and some of her releases on labels such as Kompakt, Optimo or Hippie Dance. Since 2012 the Berliner has taken the electronic music scene gradually, has put out her music either with Sascha Funke as Saschienne, The Twins or The Fantastic Twins and has made an ongoing impression with collaborative works like Train of Fantastic, her EPs Lost In Germany, The New You or her Obakodomo LP, to name a few. Julienne dearly has to offer quite some bits when it comes and 2020 does not seem to change that. With more than 70 unfinished demos on her hard disk, two new but not fully her own pieces of music will be released this week. Firstly, the Berliner by choice, Glaswegian by heart and originally French artist teamed up with Juan MacLean for the aromantic track She’s Breaking Up in order to give an intense psychedelic experience a voice and secondly she reworked Shari Vari’s tune Now. While She’s Breaking Up will be out on Correspondant, Julienne’s remix approach of Now will be released on Malka Tuti. Reason enough to chat and get some insights on Julienne’s personal and artistic being, how she turned to a Berliner and much more.

I believe it’s pretty sane to separate your “artist-self” from your “normal-self”.

Torture the Artist: Hello Julienne, tell us something about your day.

Fantastic Twins: I’ll answer that one with music. Look up: Fantastic Twins – Time Science.

Torture the Artist: What made you choose your artist moniker Fantastic Twins since you are a solo-artist– is the “twin“ an inner monologue that you lead with yourself or a different yet similar sides that enter into a dialogue with each other?

Fantastic Twins: The twins are imaginary spirits, my own personal Jesus if you like. We meet through the music I make. It might sound a bit schizophrenic but in fact I believe it’s pretty sane to separate your “artist-self” from your “normal-self”. It gives me the freedom to explore – artistically – without being obsessed with my own image. You know, a bit like when Perseus beheaded Medusa – he looked at her reflection in his shield to avoid turning to stone. Perhaps those twins help me and my music to stay alive and keep moving.

I see creating as an opportunity to look for new paths, rather than just repeating formulas.

Torture the Artist: How emotionally bound are you to your musical approaches from the early days compared to the music you release these days and what would you tell your former self, if you only could?

Fantastic Twins: I see creating as an opportunity to look for new paths, rather than just repeating formulas. You should never get too comfortable. My music changes along my experiments in the studio and I explore clearly further than what people can hear through my releases, only I don’t always feel confident enough to release my music. I guess that also explains why my live show has been well received so far, there’s always an element of surprise even for the people who know my releases. Looking back on my earlier work, I wouldn’t want to do the same nowadays for the reasons I just explained but I’m sometimes envious of the spontaneity I hear in my first releases and which tends to fade away as I move forward. So actually it’s more my former self who often tells my “now-self” : “stop overthinking, bitch”.

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Torture the Artist: As far as we are informed you studied in Lyon and later on in Glasgow before moving to Berlin. What did you major in and what made you decide to go “all in“ with your musical career? Did the Glasgow experience play an important role since some of your music was released on Optimo?

Fantastic Twins: That’s correct. I studied at Lyon’s “Sciences Po” which is what you’d call a higher education institution – I have a masters degree in political sciences and another one focused on European cultural policies, graduated from Glasgow University. Living in Glasgow was a turning point for me – I discovered nightlife, was an intern at The Arches (a venue that sadly no longer exists) and spent every Sunday night at Sub Club for Optimo’s legendary Espacio night. A true “ear-opener”. Then I moved to London and worked at Fabric where I assisted their programmer. It’s only when I moved to Berlin that I started to make music (big cliché I know) and very shortly after I was lucky to make a living out of it. I never planned any of what happened in terms of career. I go with the flow for better or for worse. It’s always a joy to release records on Optimo Music cause that’s where my heart is.

convenanza_2019_CREDIT Adam Roberts
Picture by Adam Roberts

Torture the Artist: Have you ever considered working in this kind of field and maybe even more at the moment?

Fantastic Twins: I always knew I wanted to work in the field of culture. With my degree I intended to work for cultural institutions such as museums, national ballet or theatre. I stupidly turned down a great offer for a fully paid PhD / research program at The Barbican in London just after my graduation in Glasgow, which would probably have led me to a fixed position there eventually. That’s maybe my biggest regret, especially now with the current situation acting as a painful reminder of how fragile the life of an artist can be. And of course tons of things or people in the “scene” make me want to bang my head against the wall every morning so it’s not always blue skies. But I easily get bored so I need to play, create, imagine things. It’s hard to picture my life without it. And definitely pointless to look back.

A part of me ist ein Berliner.

Torture the Artist: What’s the longest you’ve stayed in a place and what is it that ties you to one? On that note, what’s your favorite place in your Berlin apartment, and why?

Fantastic Twins: At the end of May it’s gonna be 10 years exactly that I have been living in Berlin. So except for my childhood in France, it’s the longest I’ve been somewhere. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight with Berlin but my partner was born here and so was our son, so now a part of me ist ein Berliner too. My apartment faces a beautiful park and nothing makes me feel more peaceful than looking at the trees through my studio windows.

Torture the Artist: Ten years at the same place for a person that gets easily bored…

Fantastic Twins: Well, in normal times I travel almost every weekend so no risk to get bored on that front. And I’ve lived in many different cities in the past so I’ve definitely had my share of that.

Torture the Artist: What’s you favorite headgear to cover a bad hair day?

Fantastic Twins: Getting deep. Cap. Hat. Wig? Helmet? Plastic bag? Not environmentally friendly. Recycled paper bag? You can also dig a hole and crawl in it.

Torture the Artist: When was you first date with electronic music and what made you decide to go on a second one?

Fantastic Twins: I discovered electronic music early as a child but it’s only really when I moved to Glasgow and went to the “Optimo Espacio school” that I knew my mind had been shaken from the body. That’s how the song unfolds.

There is always something to learn from working with other artists as long as you carefully choose the projects.

Torture the Artist: Sometimes you appear as a vocalist, sometimes as a producer, for your two upcoming releases, a collaboration with Juan Maclean on Correspondant and a remix for Shari Vari on Malka Tuti, you cover the initially mentioned. How do you balance those two talents out and do you prefer one over another or have you had different stages in your life when you were more into one than the other?

Fantastic Twins: I never considered myself as a vocalist. I use vocals in my own way – I treat them as any other sound input in a track. But the voice is a wonderful instrument, it can be so versatile and as soon as you start playing around with it, sending it through amps, sound processors or a modular, you have a jungle of possibilities at your fingertips. I have a clear preference for working on my own productions but sometimes I go a bit crazy so accepting a remix or a collaboration can be salutary. There is always something to learn from working with other artists as long as you carefully choose the projects.

Torture the Artist: As aforementioned your remix for Shari Vari’s track Now. With Malka Tuti being a constant supporter of your music, what made you decide to take on remix duties?

Fantastic Twins: I briefly met Shari Vari on a Malka Tuti night in Berlin where we played together. Unfortunately they had a very early playtime and I had a very late one so I missed their show. I discovered their music a bit later through their album and I liked it, it’s inspired and very personal, has soulful vocals. It’s not trying to fit into a trend, I appreciate that. Plus I have indeed a solid friendship with Malka Tuti, they’re lovely guys who release great music so all the boxes were ticked for me to accept the remix. I had fun working on it and had the freedom to do what I wanted – no request for a club banger – I lowered down the original tempo and followed the river.

Torture the Artist: Following the question before, did you choose to remix Now while or before the outbreak of Covid-19 and what do you associate with the title at the moment and maybe your current situation?

Fantastic Twins: I did the remix months ago. So totally unrelated with Covid-19. Even if the request had come in while on lockdown, I mean… that virus is omnipresent in our lives, it would be a bit lunatic to give it even more space. The near future isn’t bright for touring artists (and for everyone else obviously) so my survival instinct forces me to concentrate on the present. I find some joy in the now. For now.

It’s a combination of the fact that people identify me with my vocal work and possibly some macho biases coming to the surface, too.

Torture the Artist: Your release with Juan Maclean underlines your preference of working with other artists. What’s been the most challenging collaboration for you and what’s something you emphasize on when working with somebody else?

Fantastic Twins: No, I generally prefer to work on my own music. And I believe my vocals often work best in my own sonic environment. But as I said, collaborations can sometimes be a breeze when I feel I’m hitting walls in my own music. If someone comes up with a great track that inspires me, I enjoy the alchemy. Every collaboration is challenging because the people who ask me for vocals have expectations and I want them to be happy with the result. It’s like if someone lends you his/her favourite book – you read and handle it with care and make sure to not give it back with all its pages ripped off. Juan and I never met personally but the way he approached me was very friendly, he’s talented and knew my music and I felt confident to do my thing, so it went very smoothly. Now, if someone approaches me just to have “female vocals” I tell him (I say him since it’s been 100% males asking so far) to find a singer. I’m just not able nor willing to record vocals in a strictly technical way, I have to feel a connection musically or in spirit. And then there are, less often, the collaborations where I write the whole track with someone else. I can be a bit reluctant sometimes as I’ve come to realise that when people see my name next to a male artist, they automatically think that I only provided the vocals. I guess it’s a combination of the fact that people identify me with my vocal work and possibly some macho biases coming to the surface, too. I don’t care much anymore but it obviously makes me think twice before investing hours of work. Yet every collaboration is different – this week I’ve been making a track together with a friend and artist I love dearly (it will be released by the end of the month), the process is a real joy and that alone is extremely rewarding for me.

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Torture the Artist: What is a typical day of Julienne in the studio like and since your partner, Sascha Funke, is a producer too, do you share a studio space or do you keep things separated?

Fantastic Twins: I spend most of my time in the studio (located in my home), including weekends now that I can’t travel. My studio is about to get refurbished so I’ve taken a reduced set up to the living room and actually enjoy working with limited options. Sascha and I alternate between work and playing with our little boy while the kindergarten is shut down. In normal times, we both share the studio room and learned to work with headphones but keep our music projects strictly separated for our own sanity. We mostly use different machines so there’s never conflict. I doubt we’ll divorce over a pedal effect. Unless he’d steal my Eventide H3500.

In the end you have to trust your guts and go with what feels right.

Torture the Artist: Who is allowed to criticize a track or demo of yours?

Fantastic Twins: Everyone of course. I’m not a tyrant. Criticism is essential when it’s constructive. But I’m already extremely self-critical so usually no one competes with me on that front. I have a very small circle of chosen friends who I trust and sometimes share my demos with… and I often end up with diametrically opposed feedbacks on the same track. So in the end you have to trust your guts and go with what feels right.

Torture the Artist: Does the aforementioned self-critic have an impact on your productive being, like maybe overthinking certain things or does your gut-feeling does the job in the end so you won’t get stuck?

Fantastic Twins: Overthinking has by far become my biggest issue. I’m sitting on 70+ unfinished demos, that’s ridiculous. I’m prone to strong doubt but when I make something good I know it. I’m slowly learning to accept that good things may take time, labour and patience. And letting things rest a bit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is a torrent of music being released every day and let’s be honest 70% of it isn’t worth seeing the daylight. There is huge pressure to release and be productive which only comes from the fear of being forgotten or not visible enough. It’s pretty sad.

The background or skills don’t really matter as long as you trust someone’s ears.

Torture the Artist: Are the people, you mostly show your first drafts to artists or do you enjoy (maybe a less nerdy) opinion from people, who just enjoy music as a listener?

Fantastic Twins: The background or skills don’t really matter as long as you trust someone’s ears. But my own experience taught me that it’s never a good thing to have too many cooks in the kitchen. So as long as a track is in the making, I prefer to have only one or two trusted pair(s) of ears to get advice from. I’m lucky to have found them.

Torture the Artist: What’s an artist you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

Fantastic Twins: Actually the artist I’m collaborating with at the moment is someone I’ve always wanted to work with so it means a lot to me on multiple levels. And for the future, well, there are some things in the pipeline but too early to say. I mainly want to focus on my own music for the moment.

FantasticTwins_ARTE_CREDIT Philippe Levy
Picture by Philippe Levy

Torture the Artist: Where could you imagine to get lost in Germany (in the future) aside from your Berlin apartment with the beautiful view?

Fantastic Twins: I am lost in Germany every day of my life. I speak German fluently but Germans are still a mystery to me. I’m not sure I want to get more lost. Tell me where I can find Germans who are not too German and that’s where I’ll go. Joking aside, you have a beautiful country. I tend to stick with the “Ossis” and usually prefer to explore the eastern part, that’s where I find it most charming.

Torture the Artist: What would be a musical extravagance you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

Fantastic Twins: Completing my modular rack and buying lots of old and new gear. Every producer’s dream I suppose.

Torture the Artist: What was the last thing that deeply touched you?

Fantastic Twins: A couple of days ago, when I caught my little boy into a conversation with his own stomach – he was telling it that he just ate an apple and it had no reason to be hungry again so soon.

Torture the Artist: What super power do you wish you had?

Fantastic Twins: Move to another planet.

Torture the Artist: Since you started this interview so nicely with music. What would be the track of your choice that you could hear over and over again on this journey?

Fantastic Twins: I have a new track coming up on Red Axes’ Garzen Records called Unwanted Guest. Maybe after reading that long interview you’ll realise you’d rather not have invited me. Too late. <smiles>

Interview by Holger Breuer

Title picture by Philippe Levy