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Vladislav Delay: One Step Ahead

By Richard di Santo
16 July 2000

I met Vladislav Delay in Montreal while he was in town for the MUTEK festival in June. We met with the full intention of doing a typically structured interview. I had come prepared with my list of questions and my tape recorder, eager to meet someone whose recent output I so much admire. But alas, things don't always work out as planned, though this time I think things worked out for the better. We started our interview in the typical fashion, but it became clear that this could not be published in pure form, as we took a very informal tone from the start.

Delay naturally has reservations about doing interviews. Following the accepted structures of things (not to mention all the trappings of media relations) is not something he does with any ease. Going through the motions frustrates him immensely, as it does me, and so here we found our common ground.

His music is no exception to the rule. Trained as a jazz percussionist, Delay's approach to making electronic music is predominately rhythmic: "I've been playing percussion all my life - I am all rhythms." His music is dominated by very complex bass rhythms; but even though they are complex, sometimes uneven and full of anomalies, they still have an immense pull to them. Seeing him perform live, one sees that these incongruities move him too. Creating these complex rhythms, he explains, "is quite natural for me, I don't even have to think about it. I like the fact that you can go into the groove, pick up the things you want and go with it, and if you get bored with it you can find another thing and go with it... it's freestyle, improvisation, things I like". And so, true to his jazz roots, improvisation figures largely in his work, and especially so with live performances.

At MUTEK he performed a 2-hour set at a club called Café Campus, and I asked him how he liked performing at a club. He explained: "I come from a different background. I've never been clubbing, I wasn't exposed to techno until I made a couple of records. So playing in a club is a completely new experience for me."

He was quite satisfied with his performance that night, and was largely impressed and optimistic about the goings-on at MUTEK: "Things in Europe are so much more academic and are not very creative, it seems that people are more open to experiencing new sounds here, maybe because here there is less of a history for this sort of music."

Just a few years ago, steeped in jazz music, he began to get more and more interested in electronic percussion and samplers. He was doing some production work for a group of ten players performing (judging from what little he said about it) a kind of trip hop, doing samples for them. But "it wasn't going anywhere," he explains, "ten brains in one room - it's impossible". So Vlad took a big leap and sold most of his equipment, buying electronic equipment, and with this, he affirms, "I spent a year in the basement not seeing anybody".

Well, when he emerged from his subterranean refuge he took all his listeners by surprise, presenting a most unique sound in his sudden flurry of releases. Most notable of these is Entain (Mille Plateaux), and also Multila (Chain Reaction), both of which were released earlier this year. He's also contributed tracks to Staedtizism (~scape) and Clicks + Cuts (also on Mille Plateaux). He is definitely making waves in the electronic music community. As for his strong interest in jazz, he has recently produced one track for a jazz album in Finland, one that will probably never see international distribution: "Jazz in Finland is very academic, it's all funded, so maybe 500 copies will be pressed in total". For his contribution to the album, he explains that he had "recorded percussions, horns, bass, then recreated it in my studio without any electronic sounds. But it still sounds very much like my music". He describes his jazz music as being "different with a capital D" (I suppose we'd have to hear it ourselves to know what he means). He will also be producing a jazz album next year, as well as collaborating with Stefan Betke (aka Pole) on a 12" for the ~scape label.

It seems that Delay's place in the music industry is pretty much secured. His music has been received very well so far, forming numerous opportunities for him to continue working in these directions. But, strangely, this isn't the future he envisions for himself. When asked about the future, He doesn't see much for himself in the music industry, at least not in the conventional sense: "I'm looking for new ways for people to receive music, looking to get out of the record industry and into an indescribable thing (so far)... No more records! This scene is very 'locked', and I don't like being locked - it's being sterilised and now it's time to move on." No matter what happens, however, I doubt we would have heard the last from him. He's always looking beyond the immediate, always one step ahead of himself and others, but will always be an active creator in one form or another.

Delay's interests are very broad indeed, and are certainly not limited to his musical pursuits. During our conversation that afternoon we talked about fashion and literature, two great passions for him. And so I feel that whatever he turns to next, he will continue to be an innovator. His ideas are creative and inventive, always moving and thinking up new ways of working within established structures while inventing new ones along the way. Keep your eyes open and ears ready for news about the next step, and enjoy the ride.