ART:CAST SPECIAL & INTERVIEW Uncanny Valley

Dresden-based label Uncanny Valley has been a purveyor of high quality, forward-thinking releases over the past decade, propped up by a four-piece, or four-man rather, Soundsystem that is just as enterprising when governing dancefloors in various b2/3/4b conjunctions. Since coming together back in 2009, Albrecht Wassersleben, Carl Suspect, Conrad Kaden and Philipp Demankowski have kept their label and DJ quartet in tact, juggling regular lives by day, running everything UV at night, treading the waves of electronic music over the years and always figuring out a way to move forward, together. Whether as Uncanny Valley Soundsystem or as individual artists, Albrecht, Carl, Conrad and Philipp are full of knowledge and ideas, and when asked about clubbing, AI, Dresden, human interaction among other topics, the boys have plenty of interesting things to say. 

Torture the Artist: Hallo Albrecht, Carl, Conrad and Philipp. How are you gentlemen doing today? Where can we find each of you as we speak?

Philipp: I’m at my workplace, allowing myself to take a short break to answer your questions while listening to the new album by Thurston Moore.

Conrad: I’m at my workplace, allowing myself to take a short break to answer your questions while trying to ignore my colleagues talking about our new camera.

Carl: I’m in the workshop trying to fix the damn cinch cable of my 1210.

Albrecht: I am currently at home relaxing from a long work week.

What I maybe love most is that moment when strangers smile at each other, powered by the fuel of good and well compiled music. (Philipp)

Torture the Artist: Amidst these ab/sub-normal circumstances, when was the last time the four of you got together and at what ratio was it about work vs. Play?

Carl: We’ve been meeting every week for more than 10 years. It’s like a weekly rehearsal of a band that started with punk rock and now plays jazz. Exciting, glowing and sometimes not in the same tune but always with the right groove. We have experienced a lot together and even in strange situations there is always a way into the future.

_MG_3922_ps

Torture the Artist: How has the pandemic affected your day to day lives, relationships and art? It has certainly hit artists differently, inspiring some to create while stumbling creative blocks for others – how has it impacted your creative process?

Albrecht: All of us are working full time for different companies. Conrad is an engineer, Philipp is working as a journalist and PR agent, Carl is a creative project manager and I am working as an account manager. When the lockdown in Germany started, most of us had the option to work from home. I think for Conrad and Philipp who both have two kids it was a new challenge managing family and work side by side. Since we started the label in 2010 we always worked from home in the evening, after our full time jobs. Therefore we had to set up a fully digital work environment with cloud storage and using collaborative tools. For more than 10 years we meet once a week to discuss all tasks in person and connect with our artists for listening and feedback sessions. Therefore the pandemic hasn’t affected the way we work. Only our weekly meeting had to be put online. While being on lockdown and pausing our release schedule for a few months to see where everything is going, we used the time to start working on our new website which has long been in our minds.

skype label meeting

Torture the Artist: Human interaction is currently curtailed, we’re sure you miss playing. Teleport to your favorite dancefloor memory, tell us about it. 

Philipp: Too many to mention but what I maybe love most is that moment when strangers smile at each other, powered by the fuel of good and well compiled music.

Conrad: I totally agree with what Philipp said. And on a more personal level, one of the most magical moments I was lucky to witness is from some years ago – Berghain on a Sunday afternoon, Luke Slater playing an intense and pretty diverse set and at some point “Baby Baby” by Floorplan comes on.

Carl: Philipp, that’s how I met my girlfriend while I played b2b with you. <laughs>

Albrecht: For me, it’s spending time in my second home objekt klein a, a club in Dresden. Whether it’s spending way too many hours with my friends there, talking all night with new people or playing as a resident DJ.

Torture the Artist: Let’s talk about your label named, Uncanny Valley. How did the idea come about and materialize eventually? They say too many cooks spoil the broth, and three is definitely a crowd, how does putting up a label and running it work with four individuals? 

Conrad: We came up with the idea in late 2009 when we heard a lot of good music by producers like Jacob Korn, Credit 00, Break SL and Cuthead which were still unreleased and unknown to the wider public. When we got invited to host a Dresden-themed floor on Nachtdigital 2010 we took the chance to produce our first record before the festival to present there. Running the label with four people is great. There’s always energy and ideas to move forward.

Torture the Artist: Do each person play a particular role?

Philipp: We share the key tasks when running a label. That’s listening and deciding which music will be released. Also what the final artwork will look like. I guess we make all important decisions together after discussing it in our meetings. Apart from that, there are certain areas that we take care of separately that suit our respective strengths. Carl is doing all artwork related stuff, Albi is great at networking and connecting people. There is nobody better in administration and distribution than Conrad. And I’m the guy putting all editorial content together. 

Torture the Artist: “Uncanny Valley” but we’re not dealing with human-like robots here. Do you suggest there’s an “Uncanny Valley” in music? What’s the real story behind the moniker?

Conrad: Jacob Korn came up with the name after he heard it during a media art workshop. It sounded good and also has this cheeky meta connection to the “Tal der Ahnungslosen” (valley of the clueless) which Dresden and surroundings were referred to during the GDR times. So it stuck with us.

We’re transitioning from the anthropocene to the novocene. (Albrecht)

Torture the Artist: On the topic, how human would you prefer your digital self? 

Albrecht: According to the British philosopher James Lovelock, we’re transitioning from the anthropocene to the novocene. He describes how man, as the penultimate evolutionary instance of Gaia, paves the way for an “IT Gaia” – an earth on which man and all other organic life will be tolerated, but have long been hopelessly inferior to electronic life. The rule of hyper-intelligent machines is inevitable for Lovelock. The deficits and limits of organic evolution are too great compared to the potential of technology. “We have done our part. We are the parents and obstetricians, but we cannot possibly be the same.” They, the electronic successors as the most powerful, reproducing life form on the planet, will probably see us as we see plants today – as beings that are incomprehensible with theirs slow processes of perception and action have become prisoners of themselves.”

uv

Torture the Artist: The music/events industry have suffered due to the pandemic and though things have started to open up in some countries, we just can’t tell where we’ll stand in a few months or so. Virtual reality might just be the answer to our real world problems, what do you think? Are you open to the integration of AI in virtual partying?

Albrecht: Grab your phone, unlock your screen, go into your settings and let your device tell you how many hours you spent on social media and video apps, then add the hours per week you are playing with your video game consoles. That’s how many hours per day or per week you are already spending time in a “virtual reality”.

In 2018 DJs like Dixon, Black Madonna and other people appeared in Grand Theft Auto 5 where you could go with your character and spend time in a virtual club. In the last months we have seen an acceleration of live streams. And again: the game industry was already there with their gaming streams on platforms like Twitch. With million subscribers to services like Spotify with their algorithmic music selection people are used to discovering music with the help of AI. I think it is a logical step towards a world where it’s going to be super normal to make a decision whether you are  going to spend your time this weekend in the real world or choose to login into a virtual reality. Aren’t we already there? <winks>

Torture the Artist: Going back to the start, how did you meet? Describe the first time all four of you were together in the same room.

Philipp: I think our Sunday open-air dance Still Going, which Albi, Conrad and I have organized for two seasons and at which Carl was a regular guest, played a decisive role. The first time we were together in a room outside of a club might have been one of the founding meetings for Uncanny Valley. Back then in 2009, we had gathered many artists and DJs from Dresden to plan the label. People like Jacob Korn and Cuthead were already there. In the end, we four label owners remained from this circle.

You are angry about everything here and in love with the city at the same time. (Carl)

Torture the Artist: I love Dresden because… Bred/based in Dresden, the city plays a key role in your lives. But how heavily has it influenced your artistic direction and taste? Did you reach the underground electronic music world by way of Dresden?

Carl: Dresden with its bright and dark sides has always influenced us a lot. Especially the active scene or the political discourses in the city. You get in contact with like-minded people relatively quickly and there were always opportunities to perform and learn. On the other hand, the city can also be very cold and not open minded. The contrasts have always driven us. You are angry about everything here and in love with the city at the same time.

Torture the Artist: Longtime DJs, great diggers, effective sets – by now you’ve all aced the dynamics of the dancefloor. But as label heads you’re also master selectors, understanding the processes that go into putting out a single piece of music. How does DJing translate to running a label and vice versa? Has one skill been useful in implementing the other?

Philipp: It would certainly be dishonest to claim that our experience as DJs would not play a role in the selection of the tracks. After all, DJs are our main customers. Most of the time our artists also have a personal interest in playing their music themselves. And the question “Would you play the track?” is always asked when discussing music. Apart from that, we primarily focus on making sure that the selection makes a coherent overall package. We always carry out projects that we are passionate about, even if there is no explicit DJ fodder associated with them. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily see an influence of label making on DJing, except maybe testing demos.

Gruppenbild mit Farbe by Felix Adler 2

Torture the Artist: You’ve released some carefully selected knockout tracks on UV from friends near and far, do you plan on switching gears to focus on producing your own music? 

Carl: I have been producing my own music for a long time but this has not always been my focus. But I have several projects with other musicians and there will certainly be releases. But what I like most about making music is to play it live somewhere. It is no fun to destroy guitars at home alone. I hope one day Albrecht, Conrad and Philipp will join me in forming a synthesizer Kraut supergroup.

Both are on a mission and work relentlessly to translate their visions into music and live performances. (Conrad)

Torture the Artist: UV has had a revolving door of some insanely gifted talents, is there a particular artist whose talent and/or growth you find particularly impressive?

Conrad: Personally, the artistic evolutions of Credit 00 and Sneaker impress me and make me happy. We have been working with them from the beginning and both are on a mission and work relentlessly to translate their visions into music and live performances. But this is just an example. Also artists like Avalon Emerson (we released an EP on our sub label shtum in the early stages of her career in 2015) and Chino (watch out for his upcoming EP) impress and motivate us to watch out for new talents.

Torture the Artist: You’ve been quoted to say fuck genres but at the same time, you guys have been really good at  exploring the wide gambit of electronic music and beyond, integrating, sorry to say, genres across generations and cultures. How do you approach the existence of genres and manage to work around it?

Philipp: To be honest, we don’t care about genres at all. Particularly offbeat music beyond the dancefloors may be emphasized by the artwork or catalogue number, but in general there is no taboo or knock out criterium for music on Uncanny Valley. Needless to say, we like and listen to many types of music. So it’s only natural that these preferences also influence the way the music on Uncanny Valley is put together.

_MG_4156_ps

Torture the Artist: Name two totally polar opposite/unrelated tracks you were able to bring together in one set.  And while we’re at it, how do you gear up for sets anyway? Seems like a well thought out process.

Albrecht: When I used to play vinyl I didn’t spend much time packing my records. I just grabbed into my shelf and played whatever came into my hands. I kind of do it the same way when I play with digital files. I packed my playlists like I packed my record bags: mostly random and I just go with it. I remember playing a closing set with Philipp at Institut fuer Zukunft in Leipzig. It was a vibing house set but naturally went kinda cosmic towards the end. The floor was packed and the sun fell into the room and for the last record I just picked Rodriguez’ Sugar Man out of my record bag and people were screaming and some were crying because it was a huge emotional relief:

Torture the Artist: If I were an aspiring new producer, how do I get your attention?

Carl: This is not easy to answer, but in the end it is the quality of the music and a spirit that is on the same wavelength with us. It is always like the feeling of love when you meet a new artist. You notice relatively quickly at the beginning whether you are made for each other.

Interview by Marie J Floro

© Picture 4 by Felix Adler