On a rainy and cloudy Friday night, traveling on a highway where only the lights from distant cities and cars were making the cloudy skies glow, I turned on my iPod, and took a listen to a new album I had received. The environment around me suddenly glimmered and shined, almost dancing to the music that I was listening to. The pulsating bass-lines, the warm, sunny synthesizers, and the soft beats of a drum machine complete with all sorts of different sound effects started to buzz around in my ears. Even at one point, I saw a low-flying airplane pass over me right as the music was building to a climax, and saw the plane for one last time before the next track began. It was an experience I will never forget. The album, in question, was DJ Future Sphere’s “Teenage Ignoreland”.
Sergey Konovalov, the producer behind the project, is not new to The Death of CDs. I previously reviewed both his albums “Desolate and Stardust” and “Corally Fixated”, which was released under the alias Coral Orange. If that isn’t enough, he runs his own WordPress blog, love songs on the radio, as well as has provided from time to time music reviews on this very site, such as the recent guest review of Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures“. His music is a wondrous mix of ambient and house music, harkening back to Orbital and other ambient house artists of the time, as well as incorporating other influences such as indie rock and shoegaze at times. The simplistically beautiful ambient interludes of “Event Horizon”, “A Drop of Grass (in a Big City”, “Untitled”, and the closer “Let There Be Another Day”, the progressive deep house of “Tender Is the Night”, “Remember”, Inbetween Heartbeats”, “The Big Relay”, and the epic “Forward Voyager”, as well as the long-form acid house composition “Crime of Emotion” are what you can expect from this album, and truthfully, though at times the mixing of the album does seem a bit awkward, this has to be one of the biggest indie ambient house releases of the year. The music sounds very minimal, but is actually packed with a lot of depth and meaning behind the tracks, and though you can dance to it, it never seems to be suited for a club setting. This is music for the at-home post-club listeners who want to both feel the rhythms of the night, as well as chill out at the same time. The bass is grooving, the beats are smooth, and the ambient synths and textures throughout the album are just heavenly. However, there are many other elements of this album that I couldn’t possibly tell you myself. Therefore, in a first for The Death of CDs, I sat down (or rather sent messages back and forth while sitting down in the comforts of my desk, armed with a laptop) for an interview with the mastermind behind this album, Sergey Konovalov himself. Also, before I reveal this interview, I do have to note that this is not only the first time I’ve ever interviewed an artist, but that this is perhaps the first time I’ve ever interviewed anyone. Sure, you can ask your family and friends questions, but obviously, it’s more natural to strike up a conversation with them. However, this sure was a different yet enjoyable experience for me, and I hope that I can continue to interview artists in the future. Henceforth, the interview:
Photo by Mikhail Vovk
Ian Felpel: First of all, since most of our readers probably aren’t familiar with your work, which ranges from acid techno to house to even ambient shoegaze soundscapes, can you sort of describe what it is that you do?
Sergey Konovalov: I’d say that what I do is mix all of the influences I’ve had over the years together into one big pile – that would define the DJ Future Sphere pseudonym. Die Struktur is pure acid techno, and Coral Orange is what Gas would sound like were the rave taken out of the forest underwater, but that just adds to the explanation I posted when I was summarizing the last year so there you are.
IF: How were you inspired to make this album? What influences can we perhaps hear on this album? I thought I could pick up a little bit of Daft Punk at times…
SK: A little bit of everything, just like with all of my work. The main influence for “Teenage Ignoreland” was autumn, though, and my surroundings – to be more precise, my daily routine like subway and going home from school and all that stuff – and the crucial element would be the pervasive feeling of loneliness that I experienced, I mean, the alienation, lack of common interests with your peers, common reference points. I kinda mentioned it in the booklet for the album, I had a feeling as if I’m stuck in the titular teenage Ignoreland. Musically… yes, there is a certain Daft Punk influence – on “Forward Voyager” to be more exact, but mostly I was influenced by deep house and the aforementioned shoegaze, like Larry Heard, Moodymann, Slowdive, and the more melodic stuff in the vein of Saint Etienne, Annie, Deadmau5 and the like. Though, even that would be too limited a reference pool, so just as I’ve said – a little bit of everything.
IF: As you’ve mentioned a little already, there is a 16-page booklet that comes with the album, which contains some of the topics we’ve touched a little on, but it also includes imagery that you took around Kharkov, Ukraine. In trying to create a visual entity for the album, in which I can see the autumnal moods, what did you try to focus on?
SK: Well…there wasn’t a particular focus or anything. [pause] As a matter of fact, I’ve just tried to capture whatever was before my eyes at the time since I’ve received a new cellphone then and wanted to experiment. There was also an element of what to me is something like ‘accidental beauty’, when you try to seize the moment before it’s gone, and downtown where I live in there were plenty of such moments.
IF: So it was an urge to take images of your surroundings, and experiment with them to fit the mood of the album?
SK: Not really, seeing as it’s the music fitting the imagery in the booklet rather than the other way around. Especially with the front cover, that captures a flock of pigeons on the stadium a couple of minutes away from my house that were frightened by the local folk and were flying away. It’s probably the shot that I’m really proud of that captures the mood I was going after perfectly.
IF: In your previous works, such as “Corally Fixated” and “Desolate and Stardust”, you were sampling other artists either by manipulating the samples beyond recognition or by implementing them into the world of your music, which has worked perfectly. However, I can’t detect any samples in this album. Am I wrong on this?
SK: No, you’re not – I didn’t want the album to contain any samples or contributions by other people, since it’s pretty much a deeply personal affair, and I wanted to fight this battle all alone.
IF: To continue with sampling, what are your thoughts on sample-based music, and do you believe that the music industry is perhaps taking the legalities of sampled music too seriously?
SK: Seeing as I love French house and alternative hip-hop that are reliant on samples, I approve of it wholeheartedly. I guess that music industry is really taking it way too seriously, as such, my opinion is that the people in the industry are more concerned with getting money from the songs than hearing what can people make out of them. I’d rather be more concerned with the note-for-note knockoffs of some songs masquerading as completely original ones, as if talent really borrowed and genius really stole – you can’t really call sampled songs that since they only use portions of the original to make something completely new. Though, granted, I might be wrong, but yet again, plagiarism is more worrying than sampling to me, and equating them is not the right thing to do.
IF: On “Teenage Ignoreland”, the album showcases genres from ambient and deep house to progressive and acid house (such as in the track “Crime of Emotion”, where a 303 bassline is used). However, I also understand that there is an anime influence (and perhaps this was mentioned earlier). Can you perhaps elaborate a bit on this influence?
Photo by Mikhail Vovk
SK: I was mostly influenced by the background music in anime – the first thing I notice about anime is usually its soundtrack. In that regard, the Key Visual Art’s series produced by Kyoto Animation really stick out – by that, I mean Kanon, AIR and Clannad – because as well as staggering stories they have really evocative music to go with them, symbolic of the seasons they are set in. To my knowledge, Key never produced a visual novel based around autumnal imagery, so you can basically call the album a soundtrack to an imaginary something set in autumn, however corny or cumbersome that sounds
Having mentioned those series, I guess I could pull most of the other Kyoto Animation series I’ve watched so far into the equation – that would include Lucky Star, K-On!, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya which is my favorite out of them all, and also Hanamaru Kindergarten by Gainax. As you might’ve probably guessed, music would be the main draw for them all for me personally, because they would be considered as guilty pleasures by more seasoned anime aficionados – but hey, I’ve only just begun, you could forgive me that. And I also guess that it really lightened the recording process up, because making “Teenage Ignoreland” was really hard, and I needed something to lose myself in, satiate my escapism urges.
IF: The album is gapless, flowing from one song to the next. Is the album meant to be listened to fully as an experience, or can any one of the tracks be taken out of context, and used in, say, a club atmosphere?
SK: It is supposed to be an experience. Besides, I don’t really think that any of the tracks in their iteration on the album can be used in a club atmosphere, just like with most of my later music – however, they are pretty much reworkable and remixable which means that they could be adapted for the dancefloor, if there’s anyone interested in that kind of stuff. Take this last statement as the unsubtle call for remixers.
IF: Since your music is different than most music out there, is the music scene in Kharkov, Ukraine more towards electronic music, or is it something completely different?
SK: It’s something completely different I guess. The music scene in Kharkov – at least as I know it – is still more geared towards what was prevalent during the times there was the USSR. But still, there are some interesting developments, like Liquid Break and 99INJECTIONS that are playing live electronic stuff – the former are live drum’n’bass and the latter are more, well, heavy in their music. I would also point out The Hustlers since they are quite eclectic and their style is sort of J Dilla-esque hip hop meets bluesy arrangements… but I can’t really describe their sound adequately. Either way, they’re still as far from the mainstream as it gets.
IF: Well, at least there are some interesting developments. I will definitely have to check those out. I’m guessing that there are currently no shoegaze bands in Kharkiv as well, since your music has that similar sound?
SK: Alas, there are no shoegaze bands in Ukraine in general… again, so I know – just as with slowcore, I get the feeling they were slept on unlike Britpop and garage in Ukraine, seeing as there are much more bands that are influenced by, say, Oasis, Blur, recent indie bands and Radiohead before they released Kid A than Low, My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive. Well, it’s my intention to learn how to play guitar in order to – quite possibly – be one of the first people in Ukraine to write and play music in the vein of the aforementioned bands. But yet again, there’s still the question of finding people who have to be in the know about shoegaze, slowcore and just all the music movements of the late 80’s – early 90’s in general… that might go unanswered since teens of my age are more likely to listen to (terrible) Russian rap and/or nu-metal than whatever I listen to.
IF: Speaking of live music, is there a possibility that we may see DJ Future Sphere and/or Coral Orange play live in the future?
Photo by Mikhail Vovk
SK: I guess there is such a possibility. I’ll be investing in a laptop and a guitar pretty soon, so I might find some software in order to perform live, or buy some additional hardware in order to control whatever I’m going to play – but still, Coral Orange is more likely to perform than DJ Future Sphere. Not least because Coral Orange is simpler to reproduce in live setting – I often feel like the DJ Future Sphere material could only be adequately reproduced live if it were played by a full band – with drummers, percussionists, keyboardists, whatever – since it’s so dense-sounding.
IF: When I think of Coral Orange performing live, I almost have an image of Gas’s live performances, where he uses Ableton Live with only one audio track and a few tweaks of a MIDI controller. However, I could also imagine DJ Future Sphere material being performed with a live band, maybe like how Ariel Pink has his band Haunted Graffiti perform his older solo efforts.
SK: Yeah, sort of like Gas – but still, I’d have to move more unlike Gas because I’d have to change up the songs I’ve sampled. Quite possibly, making new ones in the process. And I don’t really know about Ariel Pink, but I’m rather getting the idea of Moritz von Oswald Trio, except that the trio would have to be bigger and the guitars would be more relying on textural pad-like sounds just like shoegaze. I’d also love to cover songs I like while playing as DJ Future Sphere, but I guess that would be the privilege of a rock band that I’m going to form anyway, so I guess the DJFS show will be DJFS-centered.
IF: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
SK: Not really, just your generic stuff like “stay positive, don’t believe the hype” and – more importantly – spread the word and keep circulating the tapes, if you’re pondering what I’m pondering.
Sergey has also provided a list of favorite tracks that he believes you should listen to before listening to “Teenage Ignoreland”, as well as I have provided a list of tracks known as “Points of Entry”, which are some of my favorite tracks of his.
Daft Punk – Voyager
Saint Etienne – Heart Failed (in the Back of a Taxi)
Shinji Orito – Pure Snows (Anemoscope version)
Points of Entry:
DJFS – Hold Me (feat. The daunting)
DJFS – Tender Is the Night
Die Struktur – In Den Kosmos (direct from Acidplanet)
The Daunting & H4N – You and Me (Coral Orange Remix) [Another direct from Acidplanet]
In conclusion, there is not much more I can say about DJ Future Sphere’s “Teenage Ignoreland”. I could describe the sound, but it is very difficult to describe just how it affects me. The album is gapless, and as said previously, not really meant to have any one track taken out of context for the clubs. The album is more or less meant to be taken in as an experience, and due to this, each listener will have his or her own interpretation of the music, and what it means to them. I did say that there are a few awkward spots in the mixing here and there, but obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect album. Sure, every human on the face of this planet have their own opinion of what a perfect album is, but even if someone rates an album a 10 out of 10, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best album of all-time, nor does it mean that everyone will enjoy it. It just means that it’s something that the listener really enjoyed, and wants everyone else to take a chance on it. I can tell you that for myself, I really did enjoy this album, and the score is pretty darn close to a perfect 10. Not everyone will enjoy this album, but I highly recommend taking a chance on it. It’s certainly one of the greatest indie ambient house albums in a while, and deserves to be heard. 9.7 out of 10 stars.
Title: Teenage Ignoreland
Artist: DJ Future Sphere
You can buy the album here!: http://anclearrecords.bandcamp.com/album/teenage-ignoreland
Also, I have decided from now on to show you all the reasoning for my scores, because let’s face it: how can we truly know whether an album is good or not when there is such an ambiguous score? Here’s my reasoning:
- Production values – 9
- Songwriting and Arrangement – 10
- Enjoyment – 10
If you take the average of these numbers, and round it, it should be 9.7, which is exactly what I am feeling on this release. The production was great despite the awkward mixing here and there (the reason why I took off one point), the songwriting and arrangement was on par with much of today’s house and ambient tracks, yet keeps its own unique and diverse style, and I thoroughly enjoyed the album as a whole. Not much more I can say besides that.