An Interview with Oleg Poliakov
“Some people may still know Fred Aubourg under his former pseudonym of Skat. Today however, Aubourg goes by the name of Oleg Poliakov – and his main mission is spreading the gospel of house.” After a string of 12inches mainly geared towards the dancefloor, Random is a Pattern, the first Poliakov-full-length, conversely leads listeners into a space where beats seem to be locking the audience in, carving out a vast canyon for Aubourg’s meticulously crafted soundscapes to flow through. If there’s a sense of otherworldiness to these pieces, then this is entirely intentional – isolation is as much part of his creative process as ‘feeling the crowd’, after all.
If I understood correctly, your musical biography started behind the mixing desk of your father.
My dad had this radio show in the 80’s on student radio and my uncle at that time was responsible for the technical part of things. He used to play records and tapes on an old Revox live, in real time. I was nine or ten years old at the time and the intro of the show, a record by Brian Eno and Jon Hassel, scared me to death. The strange cover attracted me, however, so I started listening to the music and many other albums even if my dad didn’t want me to touch the equipment.
How did you go from there to being a DJ?
After those early childhood days, I used to collect tapes and recorded my own top 50 on the radio. The first cassette I bought with my own money was The Story of House and New Beat at the age of fourteen. Then another house music compilation, which made me discover the Trax sound with Jamie Principle for example – I still own that vinyl. I started creating loops with a double tape player, which I loved doing. I would produce some three-minute-loops and my friends started to write lyrics and rapping on top of that. That was the starting point. I still have this strong relation with vinyl and tapes. And when I started to work at the radio, I was still editing the tapes with scissors! I’m classic and old school, you see.
So you still like the physical touch of records.
I don’t find a technique like scratching extremely relevant in a house- or techno mix, although I will sometimes – rarely admittedly – create effects by scratching slowly on isolated sound, adding some FX depending on the mixer. But yes, the tactile approach with regards to vinyl or sometimes even CDs is essential to me. I can’t stand software for playing music, even if I respect it in principle. Although the creators of these tools probably had creativity on their mind when developing them, the truth ist hat 95% of the DJs I saw playing with that kind of equipment are lazy. I’m happy with my heavy records myself!
So you keep working with them for personal reasons?
Well, I grew up with vinyl. And I really hate the idea of a dematerialization of art such as music, books, paintings and movies. People will do what they want, but I know what suits me. So I keep buying and playing vinyl, although I will sometimes use CDs, because I obviously can’t buy everything for economic reasons. I continue to love and I’m still amazed by technology, but don’t want it to rule my entire life. What’s more, I like the idea of playing tracks exactly the way they were produced – with the same length and without editing them.
What was the club scene like at the time you started out producing yourself?
There was definitely a different spirit. I started to play house a little more than ten years ago, but I’ve been going to clubs since my twenties in the early 1990s. From my point of view, the dance aspect has disappeared and that’s a shame because that was, among other things, the main goal of this music. Now people come to a club to talk and take photos oft he DJ, requesting him / her to play the tracks they have stored on their Iphone. I guess you have to move with the times, though. When the music is good, the sound loud enough and the bass powerful, you can still really move the crowd. This is a timeless feeling to me.
Your debut album Random is a Pattern was one of my favourite house releases of 2013. It made me wonder how DJing and producing relate from your point of view.
I think being a DJ and a producer is an asset, because you already know from personal experience how to please people in a club and eventually make them dance. The 12’’ format is good for that, but in my case, I didn’t just want to make a DJ-focused album. I spend a lot of time in my life listening to music and I listen to it at home or, when I travel, on my iPod. So it was and it still is really important for me to enjoy an album in every situation. That’s why Random Is A Pattern seems to be a calm – but also nervous – album.
The common point with a good DJ set to me would be the importance of the order of the tracks as well as the construction and the cohesion of the sounds. Otherwise there would be no story to tell.
How did the pieces of the puzzle come together during the production process?
Already for a while, I knew exactly what kind of moods and colors I wanted. I chose the tracks which I felt would fit these color variations, like a puzzle indeed or a painting. In fact, the way I produced this album is related to a conversation I had with Martyn from the 3024 label in Munich a few years ago. He’d just released his first album at that time and we were talking about creativity and the creative process. We shared the idea that you have to disconnect yourself a bit from reality for a while when you’re making music to escape too many influences. You have to sit alone in your studio and do something that really connects with who you are.
How would you describe your concept of space and its general importance in club music?
When I’m producing, I feel depth and space with my headphones … I really have this close relationship with sounds and textures. It has to this close, I need to almost physically feel them. Space and depth are represented by the use of continuous and repeated sounds. I use spatialization, reverb and delay as though they were proper music instruments. I have always been a fan of soundtracks and maybe this has influenced me a lot. When you’re working on club music, however, you have to be aware of the fact that not all the clubs have nice soundsystem to reproduce these spatial dimensions. To me, it is more about energy.
The album title – Random is a pattern – seems to suggest that there may be correlations between processes which look structureless at first sight. Do you believe that producing and DJing are processes which are conscious and subconscious at the same time?
The creative process always starts with a blank sheet of paper, without any structures but the paper itself. I think both producing and DJing have their conscious and subconscious aspects. On the one hand, you have to let go of yourself, looking for sounds, textures and atmospheres (which is my favorite part). On the other hand, you have to start an ordered process, a sequence with this. And I like the randomness of that process because basically, everything can be turned into a loop, even a rythmic loop, if you repeat it. In a club, too, you have to be aware of what is happening around you, and you have to be aware of which effect you going to create with this record or another one. But personally I’d rather prefer to take some distance in real time with what I’m doing, so I can imagine the whole mix in my mind. Once again, nothing can be done without feeling the people. And that is quite complicated and requires a lot of senses at the same time.