Olan!: I’m picky and also a bit of a control freak

Interview with rising talent and modular live act hotshot Olan! following ‘Uplink’ EP release

We sat down with Swiss sound designer and maestro modular synth live act Olan! following the release of his blistering techno EP ‘Uplink’ on his 0x01 Records imprint. Having been hailed by Mixmag as one of the “10 best live modular sets online” he delivers again those hard-hitting innovative techno sounds and grooves. 0x01 Records continues to push the genre’s boundaries and has received support from the likes of I Hate Models and Marcel Dettmann and many more.

Originally, your professional music career didn’t start in the electronic world. You have a masters in jazz piano and composition and then toured with psychedelic rock and jazz bands around Europe. What sparked your hunger for turning to the electronic scene?

The more I was playing Jazz gigs, the more I felt out of touch with youth- and subcultures. European Jazz has a strong elitist vibe. Everyone is sitting in a concert hall or club and the artist has sort of a teaching function. Everyone is looking up to them. I had no feedback from the audience until the end of the piece (in the form of applause), and it is also heavily government-funded in Europe – basically kept alive artificially. It felt more and more out of touch with reality and also out of touch with how Jazz started. I started to strongly dislike this setting. Rock music was a bridge between that Jazz world and the thing I wanted to do: To make people feel stuff. To make them dance! For a while, the Rock setting worked for me, but there were some situations where I was thrown back to that old concert vibe I disliked from my Jazz gigs. In the end, I needed to make a hard cut: I stopped being this figure on stage and started to become the DJ. The person no one cares about but who is responsible for people to have a good time.

Mixmag hailed your improvised modular sets as “first-rate” and worthy of wider recognition. How did you delve into the niche world of modular sets and what progression do you see for the genre?

Practical reasons: First of all, I knew what I was doing, since my 10 years older brother already made modular music when I was a child. So I knew those knobs and signal flows very well from fiddling around with them when I was little. Second, I didn’t really DJ at the beginning of my electronic music career, but I did produce and wanted to play in clubs. So I wanted to have a live set that is able to fit into a DJ booth (in terms of space) and was as flexible as possible in terms of musical style (Techno, House, Electro ..). I wanted to do the same thing a DJ does, just with machines instead of records, I wanted to be able to react to the crowd. If I wouldn’t have gone modular, I would have needed so much more space and devices to accomplish that. Over the years I learned that I also love DJing. So I do both now. My modular system has some limitations that I don’t have as a DJ. But my first ambitions of being able to musically replace a DJ with a live set helped to learn my modular system in and out.

I don’t see modular music as a genre. It’s an instrument like the drums or a piano. You can play any genre you like with it. If modular music is monotonous and interchangeable, someone is not practising their instrument. So I predict people will use modular synths more and more and treat it as an instrument for a multitude of styles.

Your sound is undoubtedly dark and punchy, yet still very diverse. Who do you think has influenced your sound most over the years?

In the beginning, it was definitely the usual suspects: Acts like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher (with their insane programming) and Autechre (with their insane sounds). Over time my taste in electronic music became more diverse and I found a lot of artists that just get the vibe right. I started listening to 90s Detroit techno and Chicago house and was blown away. In general, I dig artists that take risks. But I’m still drawn to artists that have sounds that I can’t easily recreate. Right now my favs are probably SOPHIE and Blawan. That being said, I always listened to loads of different genres.

Your new EP ‘Uplink’ offers four heart-thumping techno tracks, what was your creative process for this EP?

Usually, my starting point is my drum programming. With this EP I took another approach: I started with a synth sound and actually played that thing. I’m a pianist, but I often only program my synths with MIDI. Also, this time instead of using a MIDI keyboard I used a ROLI Seaboard which has continuous pitches instead of fixed pitches. My playing around with it ended up being a whole EP.

Maybe because I experimented more with the synth sounds and melodies, the drums were a bit more conventional in terms of being very repetitive and not being breakbeats.

The EP is being released on your own 0x01 Records imprint. What are the advantages of releasing on your own label?

I can do whatever I want: I don’t have to take into account what the label boss thinks and have full artistic freedom. Also, I hate sending demos to labels. If I like a track, I’m sure there are at least a few other people on the planet who like it. Why not take the middle-man out and just directly release the stuff to the world?

The label has also released music from the likes of DJ Real Madrid and Ghostclusters; what other up and comers should we be looking out for on the label?

I have the feeling that the label is a bit too unknown and the music is a bit too diverse for people to really go for it and send in demos. I’d love for 0x01 to release music that really has that “taking-risks-quality” and needs a release platform, but we haven’t found much yet. I hope that will change soon. We’re especially looking for demos from non-cis-male producers. So please ppl, send in your demos 🙂

Who would you most like to collab with on a track in the future?

I haven’t done many collaborations so far in club music because I’m picky and also a bit of a control freak. But some big name would of course be nice.

What is your go-to piece of hardware kit?

Currently, I can’t live without the Access Virus. I can take a break from my modular system no problem. It’s been around for long enough 🙂

What gigs have you got coming up in the pipeline?

I’m especially looking forward to April: A couple of DJ gigs in my hometown of Zurich, live-electronics at the album release of a friend of mine who plays acoustic music and the live debut of a rap/hyper pop project called ENL (insta: @enl.es.nervt.langsam) with a talented theatre artist who also happens to be my partner.

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