Ross Bicknell fathoms the rich depths of Efdemin’s music and career as he profiles the enigmatic artist ahead of his next visit to Jaeger and Oslo.
Efdemin – Minimal Magic, Harmonic Hypnosis and Utopian Folklore. A Profile.
‘We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds’ – Francis Bacon, New Atlantis, 1627
Berghain resident, Naif label owner and a highly original producer, Berlin based Efdemin is the connoisseur of a brand of minimal, measured and meditative techno which balances on the fringes the esoteric. He has released a series of singles and albums on Dial, Curle and Ostgut Ton and has 4 albums to his name as well as releasing material as part of other projects such as Pigon (with RNDM) and last year’s Panama/Suez EP with Konrad Spengler under his alternative alias, Phillip Sollmann (his real name, as it happens) among others.
Originally Sollmann was a member of alternative rock band ‘Derrick’ in the 1990s in his home town of Wassel, Germany., but he quickly gravitated towards electronic music and was releasing techno by 1999. He moved to Berlin in 2005 and as the 2000s progressed he became a staple at Berghain, Panorama bar, Weekend and Watergate.
As a DJ he is always eclectic and resourceful, introducing voice and atmos samples that pull you in and make you wonder. Like hearing a neighbour’s TV through a wall, the muffled tones and inflections tell you something dramatic, dreadful or vital is happening, but the words remain elusive. Like the hapless protagonist in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 movie ‘The Conversation’, in which a recording is obsessed over to the point of insanity but the noise obscures the message no matter what audio filtering technique is used, leaving the audience in a state of mystery until the final curtain call.
Coming up with surprising blends which are nevertheless always deep and danceable, his sets don’t take the obvious routes to engaging your hypo-campuses, or lower body for that matter. On listening on headphones or at home, his sets could seem as though they are not designed for the floor, until you’re on it, and feeling it, that is.
His works function in a similar way. With an Efdemin track, somehow the frequencies that cut through are always removed, the click is toned down. Like a Norwegian vowel, sounds are swallowed before you get a chance to understand them. So I find myself peering in with my ears, craning for a closer connection. This deeper submersion, however he achieves it, is a definite facet of Efdemin’s oeuvre as a DJ and producer and is one of the things that give his works a refined flavour all of their own.
Listen to his organically minimal masterpiece ‘Chicago’ from 2010. As you absorb his squelch/clunk/clonk/doink percussion palette on tracks such as ‘Secrets of Shoeshine’ you get the feeling he’s a turn the knob left man, preferring to shave off rather than slather on the frequencies. It’s nice to hear the middle range taken care of and getting it’s rightful stint on the club floor as it did when this kind of minimal techno was in the ascendancy with Isolee, Ricardo Villalobos, Dial label owner Lawrence and others such as Jonas Kopp, Curle label owner Mark Houle and of course Richie Hawtin redefining techno and setting the parameters for a new found, popular insurgence as the 2010s progressed.
In Efdemin’s productions, the high and low frequencies are managed with subtlety. There’s a sense that the sound is always twisted until a little unclean, like a rusty car bonnet . Grubbiness is in the ear of the beholder of course and one man’s grubby old garage is another’s Porsche showroom. Screw Porsches, Efdemin comes across as more of a Trabant man. His stuff never feels over polished or over compressed and if it is, perhaps it’ll be as another scumbling effect on a specific motif.
On another level, Efdemin’s contextual explorations and fascinations are concerned with a discussion about utopias. ‘New Atlantis’ is a reference to Francis Bacon’s 1627 vision of one perhaps based on the discovery of America.
As we stride boldly on into the future with various remnants of utopian dreams stuck between our teeth, chomping hungrily on the next promising glitter-ball, its important to take stock now and again. He seems to be engaging with this idea. Efdemin creates musical entities with names such as ‘A World Unknown’, ‘New Atlantis’, ‘Black Sun’, Le Grand Voyage, ‘Wonderland – The Race For Space’ and the eerily malevolent ‘Solaris’, named after the potentially habitable planet in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian sci-fi film epic from 1972. For all the planet’s promise it turns out to have an immensely powerful (and intelligent) psychic consciousness based on water which slowly destroys the minds of the men who are sent from earth to investigate it, leaving them in a tragic, repeating hell.
The references to Gaia/mother earth/whatever you would like to call this planet, as a living conscious entity and it’s increasingly fraught relationship to humans is clear in the film. This has echoes in the contextual thrust of ‘Solaris’ and other techno tracks of the same name by Mind Against and &ME, to name a few. Divinity and death are explored. Song titles such as ‘Angels Round Here Don’t Sing’, ‘Oh, Lovely Appearance of Death’ and ‘Oh My God’ suggest an active interest in the role of the ‘spiritual’ in music. Folkloric references are also entwined with this in many of Sollman’s sonic journeys into inner space.
Techno inadvertently, but not entirely incongruously, floats in the same orbit as new age and esoteric music. A few decades ago you might have heard it at the end of a yoga session or during a meditation. For many years, there would usually be one or two CDs of the same whale noises, drones or ambient synth washes with a cover featuring stars, the cosmos or shamans etc doing the rounds. Now you can sample a huge variety of the stuff (see NTS app ‘Slow Focus’ section).
When an artist from the techno scene engages in these ideas and techniques as Efdemin does in ‘New Atlantis’ for instance, my ears prick up. He uses hurdy-gurdy and steampunk gizmos such as the double siren to create some majestic trances. We know techno is hypnotic, and so are drones. We know you can get lost in it and that it can help you access different states of mind, maybe even achieving greater clarity of it. So is Efdemin just trying to help us meditate, drift into a higher state, but with a soundtrack people with developed musical preferences can actually stomach? (I know I find the whole whale noises thing a little off putting, and I have nothing against whales) At 15 mins long you could argue that the track ‘New Atlantis’ is a meditation. Or is he doing something else? Is he suggesting the utopia that is ‘New Atlantis’ is inside ourselves, or is he critiquing the search for inner utopia just as much as the search for outer new worlds, virtual and actual? I don’t know.
I do know that whatever drives Efdemin’s musical processes, the journey is never boring, and frequently takes you on deep dives to magical places beyond the norm of what you’d expect. All while being funkier than a joss-stick perfumed basement in Haight Ashbury circa 1967. A lot funkier.