The last twelve months have seen something of a marked change in Mullaert's creative focus though. After 17 years with his mind trained on his collaborative Minilogue project with Marcus Henriksson, he decided that he wanted to his solo efforts to be at the forefront of his priorities. With this in mind, ahead of his first solo live set in Room One this Saturday, we hooked up to find out more about what spurred this decision and how his creative process is closely tied to finding balance, meditation and the dance...
So I guess the biggest news for you is that you've put your Minilogue collaboration to bed, for the time being. How have you been finding that?
Sebastian Mullaert: I’ve always had my own projects on the side so the biggest change is that my solo project is my main priority. Working alone and working in collaboration for me are two very different expressions, both in the studio and on stage. When I work with someone else it’s more about communication and finding something special together - you have to accept the other person’s methods and express yourself from within that combination and relationship. When I do something by myself it’s more of a meditative state, folding into what you feel in the moment without needing to compromise or to tune in with anyone else.
I worked alongside Marcus with Minilogue and Son Kite for a total of 17 years. Sometimes it’s good to change and also, sometimes you just want to do different things. When you feel you need to compromise too much I think it’s better to have a break and really go for what you’re feeling. I also really feel that with every person you meet, there is a connection in some way and you have new opportunities to express, influence and stamp your emotions onto something. Each collaboration is different and brings out different aspects of you and the other person.
"I don’t know why I love nature so much but one thing that I feel is that it’s of essential importance for my inspiration."
So I guess you're allowing yourself now to have these opportunities that have the potential to open up new elements in your work? Something I find rather interesting about your approach to production is the contrast between the typically urban origins of techno and your strong ties to nature. Is this something you’ve always had at the centre of your creativity?
I was born and raised in the middle of the forest. I think there’s something special that happens as a child in the place where you experience life for the first 15 years. There’s always something that connects you to that place and you feel at home in a special way. I’ve always longed to move back to it and when my wife and I had children we decided it was time.
I don’t know why I love nature so much but one thing that I feel is that it’s of essential importance for my inspiration. Even in other people, when you experience nature that’s been completely untouched for hundreds of years - like in national parks - there’s a balance and peace. Everything connects with each other. I feel that wherever you are you can be inspired by your surroundings and if you're in a forest that is in a balance, then that's what you get inspired by.
The city is more of a human expression - it can also be in balance and be a beautiful expression of everything belonging together and having its place, but most of the time it’s not. It’s about trying to do too much. If I’m stressed, I walk in the forest for an hour. I find that I connect very quickly to a simplicity which reminds me that all the drama or problems that might have seemed really bad before aren’t so important. Nature reminds us about the simplicity and beauty of just being and I think that’s an important reminder for everyone.
City living definitely comes with its stresses... How do you think this balance translates to the studio?
To find balance in the studio itself I tried to let it grow in a natural way and be part of all the different processes and its maintenance. When you have an analogue studio with lots of gear, cables and stuff, it’s an ongoing process as in it’s not something that is static - everything changes. I change or the equipment gets broken - things happen all the time so you have to be there and take care of it.
Your approach that isn’t so in line with the general hedonistic approach of the wider dance community...
Dance music has become such an enormous entity compared to when I started out - there weren’t so many clubs, it was more underground with more warehouse parties. Now dance music’s in the charts. There are so many forms of dance music today, from the super commercial and mainstream end where you get 100,000 people in arenas, to the trendy VIP dance music that’s for hipsters, all the way down to the super underground, artistic and alternative expressions that’re more connected to art. You also get alcohol and drug free yoga and meditation expressions as well at the opposite end of that scale where people really experiment with taking themselves on deep journeys and finding themselves through these experimentations.
I play in all these different environments and my intention is the same. I also strongly feel that the main intention of everyone present - even though that might not be 100% of everyone - is still to dance. There is something amazing that connects all of this throughout an extended period of hours on the dancefloor - the moving to rhythms, the harmonies of frequencies. I really love that idea that the main intention at the core of dance music is the same wherever I am - that it can inspire people and give people something special. That’s what I always try to focus on.
Do you still get time and opportunities to be a dancer as well as a performer?
It’s something I’d like to do more but I rarely go to a festival or a party without playing so it’s not often that I just go to a place and dance which I think is very important.
I always arrive early at my gigs and dance to the artists before me to really get into it and get myself in tune with the dancefloor where I’m playing. It’s not easy though to let go and just dance as I’ve got to be thinking about my set and keeping an eye on the time, checking everything and making sure it’s all working.
I think it's extremely important that if you want to inspire others in dance and music, you need to have a fresh and strong experience of it yourself to be able to play for that reason, otherwise I think there’s risk that you might start to play for other reasons.
"Whatever name I play under, I still play all the kinds of music that I write. I don’t think you need to be so specific. It’s more that as a performer it makes more sense to have one name to perform under, but when you write music it’s interesting to do it under different aliases."
Can we talk about your new label Wa Wu We? Is this also another production alias as well as being the name of the label?
Wa Wu We is a new label and a new alias of mine, yes – I love to have different projects. It enables me to tune into a certain aspect of something and a way of thinking. I really like to have a project which has boundaries and to express something within these limits. If you have a theme or a label you actually feel liberated to express something more honestly than if you were trying to do everything at the same time. Compared to what I do with Sebastian Mullaert, it’s hard to make a comparison but you could say it’s very raw and basic improvisational cuts made in the studio with the intention of it becoming meditative dance music.
You're performing a live set the next time you're here under your government name, what is that distinction exactly and what can we expect from your set here?
Whatever name I play under, I still play all the kinds of music that I write so Sebatian Mullaert becomes Wa Wu We. I don’t think you need to be so specific. It’s more that as a performer it makes more sense to have one name to perform under, but when you write music it’s interesting to do it under different aliases. When I play I combine everything that I release and make one journey with it, but it depends on how long a slot I get as to what I’ll play. If I have a shorter slot I need to focus on one kind of expression and go for that but when I have a longer slot, say four hours for instance, then it’s possible to go through different emotions and places in the dance.
And can you tell us about the technical side of the live set?
To strip down what I’m doing with the live set, it’s based on improvisations and drum machines as well as the process I have in the studio to get into a meditative state and improvise from there. The live set encompasses both - it has the stripped down and hypnotic aspects of dance music as well as the more melodic, emotional and uplifting aspects. That’s how I try to create the journey, by going through different phases with explosive moments, giving people the chance to open up but also having sections where people can sink in and relax into being in the dance.