MDC Interview#41 "Somniac One"
(This interview was taken in 2019)
Somniac One is a Lithuanian DJ and producer whose powerful sound and esthetics have made her one of industrial and alternative hardcore’s most exciting names.
Q.Where are you from? In what kind of environment did you grow up and how did you first encounter music? Please tell me about your memories in Lithuania. What kind of place is your hometown? Are you influenced by Lithuanian music?
Hi there. I was born in Vilnius shortly after Lithuania had regained its independence from the USSR. The resulting political situation and the economic blockade from Russia meant that there was no central heating during the first month of my life (a February). I turned out to be a very healthy child. I was the only child of a young woman of only 18 years old at the time and a young man of 25. They struggled to make ends meet. Therefore, the first years of my life were spent sharing a room with my parents in my grandparents’ apartment in the old center of Vilnius. I have fond memories of that place and grandma was my best friend. She worked at the National Drama Theater back then and would regularly bring me along to work. I knew all the kids’ plays by heart, of course.
Due to my father’s military career, our family moved around a bit. When I was 10 were living in a small American town (Leavenworth, Kansas) for a year, and spent approximately three years in Tartu, Estonia before returning to Lithuania around my 16th birthday. I think I changed schools a total of 7 times. At around 11 or 12 I became very interested in certain types of electronic music. I was an internet kid, so a lot of my spare time–which had plenty of after the move to Tartu–was spent on forums and P2P networks digging for and discovering music. I believe it’s better for music to be downloaded illegally than to go unheard. Soon after I began producing, too. It’s probably also worth mentioning that my elementary school placed a very strong emphasis on musical education.
I’m generally fond of my hometown, Vilnius. It’s big in territory but sparsely populated. There are lots of baroque churches, some brutalist architecture, lots of greenery, a forest in the center of the city (I love taking long, long walks), and tons of gloomy Soviet apartment buildings in less central areas. With the highest male suicide rate in the world, we’ve always had a lively dark underground music scene. Check the Autarkeia and Terror labels, for instance. I used to visit dark ambient, noise, industrial, and dark experimental music shows on a weekly basis, both in dark cellars (like the original Kablys club, not to be confused with the new Kablys club, which is also definitely worth checking out if you’re planning a visit to Vilnius), large halls in monumental buildings (Profsąjungų rūmai and Energetikos ir technikos muziejus), and even actual meteor craters (Mėnuo Juodaragis festival, 2010 at Velnio duobė, Aukštadvaris). There’s also always been some hardcore there, a nice techno scene, and a small but lively drum & bass community. Raves would also often take place at extra cool industrial locations. I must admit I’m not fully up to date on the Lithuanian scene nowadays, but my general impression is that it has not shrunk and there’s always something exciting going on.
Q.You live in Rotterdam now. Since when have you been living in Rotterdam? What is the most attractive part of the Netherlands for you?
I moved to Rotterdam in early 2017, but I’ve been living in the Netherlands since 2014. I moved here for my master’s studies at Utrecht University. I find Dutch culture and society to be very sane, rational and well-organized. This is what I love and hate about it the most. A few other things that I enjoy greatly are the liberalistic spirit and individual freedom, the electronic dance music scene, the Dutch bakeries, and their beer.
Q.When did you go to a club or rave for the first time? What was your favorite club/rave/festival in the old days? What did you get from rave culture?
I must have been around 14 when I visited my first club party. It was some drum & bass night in Estonia. Of course I was still too young to legally attend the night. I had also taken the opportunity to run away from home several times just to attend raves. Once I turned slightly older I used to really enjoy the summer festivals in Lithuania as they provided the perfect combination of beautiful nature, a cozy size, music that I liked, and the presence of many good friends and acquaintances. The Tundra festival used to be one of my summer highlights.
As someone who discovered dance music outside of the party environment, raves never felt like this big, life-changing experience to me that you sometimes hear people describe. Being part of rave culture to me is mostly about being part of a fun community. But then again, my bond with rave culture is based more on things I do outside of the party environment–like music production–and I generally prefer meeting and talking to friends in places where I can actually hear what is being said.
What I still really appreciate about raves is the possibility to disappear in a crowd of friendly strangers, letting go, and simply letting events run where they may. I enjoy attending raves by myself, especially in places or scenes that are less familiar to me. Nowadays I really enjoy visiting gay, queer, fetish or just anything-goes type of nights, I guess. I greatly enjoy the sense of freedom at those parties.
Q.When did you begin listening to hardcore Techno? What did you like before then? What was your first impression?
I must have been about 12 when I heard Noisekick’s Ik Haat Trance. That was my initial exposure to hardcore. I thought it was way too hard and silly so I decided to stick to hardstyle. It turns out I simply hadn’t heard the right type of hardcore yet. Hardstyle was of course much less cheesy and darker back then.
Shortly after I had my second run-in with hardcore. As is probably the case with most people I started out by listening to the more mainstream stuff, like old Traxtorm Records, Angerfist, Tha Playah and Art of Fighters. Around 2007 I discovered Genosha Recordings and seriously fell in love with industrial hardcore. The 14th and 15th releases on Genosha truly got me hooked. There was just something about that mood and atmosphere that resonated with me so much.
Q.When was the first time you made your own music? What kind of music did you make at the time? Why did you decide to make music yourself?
Around the time I was 11 I suddenly felt this strong urge to create. I did not know what form it would take then, but as soon as I discovered electronic music I knew that this was it. In 2005 I got a pirated copy of Reason 2.5 from my cousin and I spent the rest of the night playing with it on my parents’ laptop. I was only 13, but very determined. I wanted to make music so badly that I persisted even though I could not get a single sound out of that piece of software for the next 8 hours. It turns out I just hadn’t selected the right sound card settings.
I’ve made all sorts of things. I’m sure a lot of it wasn’t very good, but I made hard trance, hardstyle, hardcore, ambient, IDM, industrial, techno... Eventually, hardcore became my main focus.
Q.Which hardcore artists/labels have had the most influence on your music?
A few artists that have probably had the biggest impact are Ophidian, The Outside Agency, Mindustries, but also a lot of stuff released on Enzyme Records, The Third Movement, Genosha, and Symp.Tom. I was also really into Mute., Broken Rules, Armageddon Project, N-Vitral, Dither, Fracture 4, Marc Acardipane, Promo and Tymon. There was so much to take in. The French speedcore and flashcore scenes, doomcore, and probably also mainstream hardcore from the millennium era. Basically everything else I got my hands on during my hardcore discovery phase that I liked.
Q.You have been making Industrial hardcore for a long time now. What is the charm of Industrial hardcore? What is the definition of Industrial hardcore for you?
I’m in it for the atmosphere and the groove and I like the dark and dirty aesthetics of this music. Unlike a lot of other dark and dirty music industrial hardcore can also be really fun to dance to. Additionally, as a producer and a DJ, I feel that this genre provides me with a lot of creative freedom. It is a very diverse genre with very few boundaries. For instance, in terms of BPM. There is no real limit to how slow or fast you can make your music, but I’m sure you can find someone on the internet who will fight you over the definition. There are so many possibilities and different ways in which the basic building blocks of this style can be used. Currently, I enjoy blending old school hardcore and techno influences into both my productions and DJ sets.
It can be slow, it can be fast, it can be dark, gloomy or moody, it can be banging, brainless or even funny. It can be deep and atmospheric and clean and it can be crunchy and dirty. Its structure can be straight, it can be broken, or it can be layered with the most insane breakbeats. I love it all, although I am not very good at breakbeats yet. There are people who are much better than I am at working those crazy breakbeats or drum & bass elements into their hardcore productions.
Q.Are you influenced by 80s Industrial Music and 90s Industrial Techno / Rock?
I am neither an expert nor a connoisseur when it comes to these genres but I enjoy listening to Coil and Current 93 from time to time. I like and appreciate industrial techno, as well as less beat-driven forms of music that contain industrial influences, but I am not directly influenced by true industrial.
Q.When did you become Somniac One? What were you doing before that? Please reveal the origin of the name.
My alias Somniac One was born in 2014, just before the Transformational EP came out. Somniac One is that one sleepy guy. I’ve fallen asleep on speakers at raves before, for instance, so that’s totally me. I’ve had a couple of other names, too, all of which were no less silly. I’ve appeared on a couple of VA compilations and I have released a couple of solo EPs as Mother Mary and I have appeared on some compilation with a mainstreamish hardcore track as Dr. Psykko around 2007. I was actually rather partial to Mother Mary because it was impossible to google me.
Before I began DJing, I used to perform live using Ableton and a MIDI controller under my old alias. This required a lot of preparation and I made it impossibly complex for myself–often playing with 8 channels open at the same time–and things rarely went according to plan. That’s why I learned to spin records a few years back. I also enjoy playing other people’s music more than my own. I’ve heard it all too many times.
Q.About "Transformational" that you released in 2014. How did this record come about?
At one point I remember listening to a lot of minimalist electronica and IDM, such as Alva Noto and Murcof, and also quite a lot of flashcore like Neurocore, Lawrencium, La Foudre, Mouse, No Name, and La Peste. Even though the EP took a couple of years to produce, I think this EP drew a lot from that. One important element recurring throughout the whole EP was white noise, which at that time I found to be particularly pleasant.
Q.You had originality from the beginning, but I think it evolved greatly with "Dinner For 1".
What is the theme or concept of this EP? Have you had any changes in your mind before you made this EP?
After I graduated I found myself with a lot of spare time and inspiration. I completed that EP and designed the artwork in a relatively quick two or three months. By contrast the previous EP, Synthetic 4ms (released on Meta4 Recordings), was a collection of tracks produced over the course of approximately 4 years. The Dinner for 1 artwork and track titles were dictated by the general theme of the label, Love Hz (pronounced “love hurts”). The music itself, however, does not have much to do with that theme. Unless I’m feeling particularly emotional for an extended period of time, I’m more likely to draw inspiration from sounds rather than external or internal phenomena. The atmospheric pad you hear from the very start in Estranged is what dictated the course and theme of the track. Forsaken on the other hand, came from a desire to make a breakdown with thick, stabby sounds like that.
Q.You released "Troubled Youth" on PRSPCT in 2017. How did you get in touch with PRSPCT? Has your activity changed with the release of this EP?
One of more memorable initial encounters with PRSPCT was at one of their XL raves in Rotterdam, perhaps around 2013. Although I had attended quite a few big hardcore events in the Netherlands before, the atmosphere of this party really stood out, in the most positive sense. A couple of years later I cornered label boss, Gareth de Wijk (DJ Thrasher) and forced him to listen to some unfinished tracks. He instantly liked them and gave me a release. So, I finished the tracks, designed the artwork, and that’s when my adventures with PRSPCT began.
Gareth and I also ended up being neighbors (in Rotterdam) and we became close friends. I’m not sure what that was exactly. Probably our shared dark sense of humor and our nihilistic yet idealistic attitudes towards life. Or maybe we both just like getting hammered, if you know what I mean. Anyway, it’s been a fun ride so far. I’m super happy to have joined the crew and I greatly appreciate the opportunities it’s awarded me, all the good times, and the many new friends and acquaintances. PRSPCT is much more than just a music organization. It’s a strong and lively passion-fueled community with members spread all across the globe. I’d say it’s one hair shy of being a cult in the best sense of the word.
Q.Please tell me about your process in music production. What equipment do you use (DAW / speakers / headphones, etc.)? What effects or plugins are you using for kicks? How do you make sounds?
As I mentioned I started out in Reason, then moved on to FL Studio but now I use Cubase as my main DAW. I’ve got Sennheiser HD 600 headphones paired with a Subpac for the listening experience and getting my bass right. I have a pair of cheap KRK speakers, but I barely use them due to noise complaints from my neighbors, sound issues in my bedroom studio, but also because you get what you pay for. I also have access to a pair of Adam A77X speakers for reference and mixdowns.
I switch up the kick-making process every once in a while, but one thing is a constant: I always start out with a simple 909 bassdrum as the basis. I currently use Drumazon (a virtual TR-909) as a source and I route it to a few different group channels in Cubase–each of them performing a different function. One of them will only have a clean bass signal, one will have this super distorted tail layer, and a third one often functions as a subtle delay or reverb layer to give the kick a bit more stereo image or make it less dry or give it some movement. Most of the kick’s character is derived using tons of distortion. iZotope Trash 2 is my current go-to distortion plugin, but sometimes I’ll include an instance of D16 Kombinat, FabFilter Saturn, or the now discontinued Camel Phat in the effect chain. Naturally, I’ll also add EQs–usually too many–before the distortion plugin as this does wonders for shaping the sound. If things go according to plan I’ll have something that I can work after approximately three days of tweaking. Then I will also layer in a new punch, or two, or three. Overall, kick making is a painstaking, terrible, terrible process that will make most producers question themselves. Finally, and this is my favorite part, I will record an hour or so of tweaks within my kick chain where I do crazy frequency sweeping and volume boosts in the EQs, either manually or using LFOs. This is a good process that allows you to get lucky very often. In the end I’ll open a new project, take that recording, and pick a few different kick hits that sound the most solid. One of these will hopefully become my main kick or kicks. I will also select some bits for kick edits at the end of four- or eight-bar segments. Sometimes if I’m lucky I might even find some fun screeches, rhythmic bits and other synth-like sounds which I can also use in the new track.
When it comes to synthesis, my current go-to VST plugin is Xfer Records’ Serum, but I’ll sometimes use others for specific sounds. SuperWave’s Performer is great for more trancy elements and rave leads, and Tone2’s Saurus is really nice for arpeggios, and I find it fairly easy to use. I use AudioRealism’s Bassline if I need an acid line. I used to use Native Instrument’s Massive and FM8 quite a lot in the past.
Q.What do you do first when making a song? Beat or melody? How much time do you need for one song on average?
I usually start with the kick, just to be safe. The kick is just so central to this musical genre. Hardcore kicks tend to take up so much space in the frequency spectrum that it would be foolish to start with anything else. All the other sounds need to be wrapped around the kick, not the other way around. I’ve had times where I’d start with a really beautiful atmosphere or melody, but as soon as the kickdrum was introduced, they’d become almost inaudible, or at least be very difficult to get them to sit in the mix right. I might be slightly exaggerating here, but if you have a good kickdrum situation going you can consider 50% of your work done.
It’s difficult to give a fair estimate of how much time it takes for me to finish a single track, but one thing I am sure of is that I spend too much time on it. A single track takes anywhere between 1 and 6 months of interrupted work. I’ll try to give you a better idea of what this means. I try to work on music nearly every day and I prefer to focus on a single project at a time. However, I don’t produce on a schedule, and creativity tends to come in bursts. Usually, I lay down the basic idea and sometimes a third or even half of the structure in a single night or two. Excluding the kick, of course. I’m not quite sure where the rest of the time actually disappears to now that I think of it.
Q.What is the most fun part of music production?
Sound design and synthesis. Making something that sounds really fun. The dopamine rush associated with being in a flow-state and making good progress on a track. Music production is one of the few things that I can concentrate on for long periods of time and out of all the activities I’ve attempted to take up it has sustained my interest for the longest time.
Q.Your music has dark and aggressive (sometimes violent) elements. Do those elements reflect your personal part? Or is it just an image? How much is your personality reflected in your music?
Honestly, my music does not feel aggressive to me, but maybe it’s just what I am used to. You know, like how people can get used to awful smells to the point where they stop noticing them? I also like to put a lot of salt on my food. And hot sauce. Most people would describe me as an honest, soft, social, and even a happy person. There’s probably a difference between things that happen inside my head and what people see. I will never–willingly or consciously–hurt anyone or anything, but I do often avoid people and elect to be left alone. Paradoxically, one of the most pervasive feelings in my life is the feeling of not belonging and I’ve frequently experienced sadness while growing up. Somehow adulthood managed to make me more anxious and neurotic than sad, but it’s still there. I don’t know if that explains my musical decisions. Music production is certainly a great way to keep oneself occupied in solitude for extended periods of time.
I believe that production of this type of music is not the best means to channel aggression. Aggression is a way of acting that is motivated by sudden, intense, and high-energy feelings of anger. Electronic music production is a slow and painstaking process. Dancing to hardcore is probably a much better way to let off some steam. To me aggressive, high-energy music is the sort of music that will make me move in my chair, and I always make sure I hit ‘save’ when I hear something that makes me move in my chair.
Q.Do you think that hardcore techno needs a message or personality? Or should we prioritize its functionality for the club or raves?
When it comes to communication I believe that music is an imperfect, incomplete medium. Words, film, or even still images are a much better means for conveying meaning or expressing the complexity that most worldly phenomena possess. On the other hand, music has the power to convey a certain mood, emotion, or even a range of emotions, which are harder to channel via other means. It is a good tool combined with other media, such as words or images, where it strengthens the message, making it more persuasive or impactful. I recently got the chance to see Sonya Lifschitz perform Stalin’s Piano by Robert Davidson. This was a great example of how music can be utilized to communicate about cultural, political, or social issues.
I’ve seen some examples of hardcore music with a message but these are very rare. I don’t know why it’s not done more frequently, but I can only speculate that this is due to habit, convenience, the limited nature of music as a medium, specialization, and perhaps artists’ fears of alienating a part of their fan base by taking a political stance? I don’t think hardcore is a place where people generally tend to look for messages other than those of harmony, unity and cracking skulls. That is the purvey of writers, the press, social media, and television.
On the other hand, keeping hardcore apolitical may also serve as a way to unite people who come from very different backgrounds, possess very different worldviews, and thus to enable dialogue and understanding to a certain degree. Maybe I’m slightly optimistic, but I certainly believe that the industrial hardcore scene is one of the most open and accepting music scenes out there. I think it’s quite rare and precious, especially given the current polarized state of Western society.
Finally, my personal opinion is that hardcore, or any musical genre, does not need a message. There’s nothing wrong with music existing simply for its own sake, or for the sake of (aesthetic) pleasure. However, if one has something decent to say, and they can do so through or with the help of music, then why should they hold back? As a side-note, I still have trouble thinking about hardcore as purely functional club music. It was not brought to me this way. I guess and I hope that others can appreciate hardcore outside of the club setting, too.
Q.What do you think about gender balance in the hardcore scene? Are female producers / DJs equally valued in the hardcore scene?
That’s a big question. Since I don’t know of any studies done on these issues within our scene, my answer will mostly be based on my own personal experience and observations.
There are obviously fewer women than men who produce, play, or even enjoy industrial hardcore. 85% of my listeners on Spotify are male. As someone with a background in sociology, I would hypothesize that this balance can be traced back to the workings of social networks, and the way social ties and friendships are formed. Homophily–the tendency of individuals to associate with people who are alike, especially in terms of gender–is said to be one of the strongest forces that influences who an individual will become friends with. Meanwhile tastes, preferences and knowledge are commonly transmitted through friendships networks. Observing other producers in my own and proximate social circles, I have noticed that friends tend to sound more alike musically. Friends will share production tips with one another, review each other’s tracks, share music that they think is cool and thus influence and form each other’s tastes. I would even dare to hypothesize that musical subgenre evolution can be traced back to friendship network formation in real life. So, again, why the gender imbalance? I think it’s because men tend to befriend other men, and women tend to befriend other women which resulted in this very specific knowledge, preferences and tastes becoming more prevalent in men’s networks than in women’s.
There is some talk about negative gender discrimination by the music industry at large. I personally don’t think that is a very significant force in our scene. I believe that we see fewer women on festival lineups, or releasing music on big labels, simply because fewer women have historically attempted to produce hardcore. Hardcore is a producer’s scene. This means that people get initially booked for DJ performances because of their musical output, and not their DJ sets. Fewer women than men have invested enough time and effort to become good enough to compete with those who have achieved those positions. It takes long, long years of hard work and practice. I have personally sent quite a number of demos to labels and I have been denied many times in the past. I really believe my gender had nothing to do with this. My production simply wasn’t there yet. I think that in a fair music scene every producer has to travel the same path, regardless of their gender.
In fairness, I have encountered some attitudinal issues towards women in our scene. The source of this has more frequently been fans than industry figures, however. The word on the street is that many women who are active as producers have somebody else make their music for them. This situation, I feel, has created a certain suspicion towards women producers in the hardcore scene in general. Due to such suspicions, I have had at times felt the need to defend or prove myself. In fact, it’s become this sort of a latent process constantly running in the back of my mind when I need to communicate about music to those who do not know what my precise situation is. Fortunately, I have an extremely supportive fan base. Thanks, y’all!
There is another issue that I would like to raise, which seems to be largely overlooked by people debating the role of gender in the electronic music industry. To my knowledge, gender income inequality within the more conventional labor force is largely explained by maternity or caregiving responsibilities among women. Having children or needing to take care of elderly relatives is extremely costly in terms of time and energy. Additionally, the division of household labor within heterosexual couples is still extremely unequal. Women still do the largest share of household work, irrespective of their level of labor force participation. This is the so called the double shift phenomenon. All this means that women are left with fewer resources they can invest in their careers than men. Additionally, a career in hardcore is usually not even lucrative enough to cover basic living expenses. So, imagine working a fulltime job, taking care of children, doing the majority of the household work, traveling to gigs on weekends, and still managing to find time each day for music production. Event promoters can do little to improve the position of women in our scene. Perhaps they could provide child- and elderly care facilities at parties or pay higher fees to women to help them cover babysitter and cleaning gentlemen or cleaning ladies expenses. What was the question again?
Q.You released your first vinyl record "Party in My Head" in 2018. I think this record is very good industrial hardcore. You incorporate techno grooves and sounds / feel into hardcore. Heavy but groovy. And there's the elation of techno. How did you make this groove and sound?
I’m not completely sure, nor was I consciously aware of those influences. I made whatever I felt like making at the time, although I did attempt to make the EP as stylistically and sonically diverse as I could. However, I do enjoy a bit of techno in my day-to-day, I like dancing to techno at raves, and I will incorporate some of it into my DJ sets. This is probably how this sound entered my productions. However, techno influences in hardcore–or vice versa–are far from a novel phenomenon. Among the many, many, many possible examples, take a listen to Ophidian’s Blackbox album, the entire discography of Dep Affect, or the majority of the doomcore genre.
Q.This is my opinion, but you seem to be against the usual industrial hardcore / hardcore. For example, your artwork is different from the regular hardcore image (bones, blood, machoism). Of course the sound is also doing something new. You and the new generation are trying to destroy a traditional hardcore image. The machoism image attracts many people, but I think that it is also a reason to stay away from it. Are these decisions conscious? Or are you just doing what you really like?
I do not purposefully try to go against the grain. I just try to put out things that I like, even if that does not always work out. Because the scene is so small and underground I see little value in following the established path other than convenience, if that’s not really one’s own thing. Selling your soul won’t earn you a lot of money or fame here anyway. Like I said, only a handful of people can make a living off of this music.
Q.Do you want to create any style other than hardcore? Are you planning to start another project in the future?
While I love hardcore, it can feel like a constraint on my freedom of musical expression. This is generally not a bad thing for a musician. But for instance, it can be difficult to pair the hardcore kickdrum with certain types of synth work. I experiment with other styles during my free time and I plan to do some more of that in the future.
Q.Do you live on music alone? If you are working, how do you balance your job and music? Do you feel tired when you return to normal life from an unreality such as a party?
I was just granted a year and three months of sabbatical leave at my current day job. I believe no one should ever work a fulltime job and attempt to have a music career at the same time, but a lot of people in hardcore do and some even manage to have kids on the side. It is a constant struggle with little to no free time. I usually make sure I get my free time, though, but this time is often sullied by feelings of guilt for not being in the studio. Leaving my day job means I can give 120% to music. Of course, what I earn from music is far from enough to make a living. I am unfortunately not yet in the last of people who can make a living off of it, and I do not expect this to change in the foreseeable future. I will be living off of my savings and the goodwill of my partner for a while.
Q.You have also played at large hardcore festivals. The Netherlands has many such big festivals. Is hardcore also available at smaller venues?
Currently the Dutch club scene for hardcore events is very small. I’ve heard that this used to be the opposite. The festival season used to be limited to July and August, but now it runs from April to the end of September and the festivals have completely taken over. There are of course still some club nights and mid-size events, but these have drastically decreased in number. Industrial hardcore has a shockingly low number of club nights, but I really enjoy smaller events and a dark, small club is perfect for industrial hardcore. I also am seeing some interesting developments. Techno promoters are booking industrial hardcore DJs for their nights. Manu Le Malin, The Outside Agency, The DJ Producer and Enzyme X have all recently played at techno nights and the crowds were either none the wiser or very much up for it.
Q. Please tell me your future goals.
I have plenty of goals, but I don’t want to ruin my chances by talking about them. You can expect to hear more music from me, that’s for sure!
Q. Please give a message to the reader.
Don’t do it. It will all end in tears.