exclusive interview with Lelonek

interview by dimmSummer
date: 7.04.03
transcribed by laura
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
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ET: This is EthnoTechno's interview with Lelonek of Anohka fame, and now paving his own path to his new Asian sound. I was wondering if you could tell us how you came upon your drum-n-bass/Asian sound and why is that the kind of music that you like to produce?

Lelonek: Well I'm not only producing that kind of stuff in terms of just drum-n-bass tunes, but obviously it started a lot for me and a couple of the other guys, those days at Anokha or in London at the Blue Note because there was not just Anokha on a Monday night, there was a whole week of nights. I was also doing sound engineering for the Blue Note in those days anyway so I got to hear all the other nights all the time. That did influence me a lot in wanting to do something at the time which was quite new from the kind of beats and atmospheres, but obviously with that kind of Asian sound or global world beats on top of that.

ET: How do you feel about what's going on now in the scene, especially in the UK with the bhangra exploding and the scene that's developing in New York City and across the states, and also the scene in Germany? How do you feel about where it's going now, and the future?

Lelonek: In the UK at the moment most of what I know is obviously from my friends from those days over there since I moved back to Germany. I hear things are happening in the UK still and obviously one of the flavors of everybody in Europe, including Britain, is Panjabi MC's tune, which kind of brought out again this mixture of getting into this hip-hop territory but with a predominant Asian sound and the whole Bollywood video and everything together. So that was one of the tunes recently, as well in Germany, that has influenced a lot of people, and the magazines are saying "We're gonna write something about Asian Underground coming back again" or, "It's a new thing now," a bit on that tip. For me obviously it's a different thing. As a producer, you have to move into new realms or new territories. I wouldn't want to be pinpointed down in one particular style of sound. For me, the key word in this whole thing is really this global beats music. It's really a global player thing. I feel personally that in a lot of tunes now, you're hearing things like the pipe flutes on a really commercial pop tune. And the bhangra thing with Panjabi sounds and many other British Asians doing the sound, for many many years I've been hearing this, and people who were interested in that kind of music. It was always there. I'm glad that if a push comes globally, that people remember there is music all across the planet and you can mix it all up and make something new out of that. I think that's a really important point to make.

ET: So you have a wider range of music styles, but I think most people, especially outside of Germany, and in the UK and the U.S., probably only know you as a drum-n-bass artist. Maybe they've only heard the tracks off the Reflections compilation and previous Anokha dubs. They probably don't know about other styles that you're producing. Could you let us in on what you're doing?

Lelonek: That's just because I like to do that stuff for myself. Sometimes you have to flip into a different mind, just do a really ambient tune or something, because it's the opposite of always making d-n-b tunes, I like to do ambient tunes as well. But then I'm not wanting to necessarily release them if I get the chance because for me it's more like painting, I have to paint a lot of ambient tunes to make one ambient album altogether. But I have also obviously been doing remixes for people and they have not always been drum-n-bass tunes in any sense. But it's an influence which is there and I'm not denying it. I love drum-n-bass, don't misunderstand me, I think it's great. I just love it with a bit of a different vibe on top of it.

ET: Do you feel that the excitement over drum-n-bass has died down a bit? It's definitely died down a bit in the U.S., people are more obsessed with hip-hop and even now bhangra is actually getting really big. Is that going on there in Germany also?

Lelonek: You're right. It's always been like that. It's like any kind of thing which came out - a group of people did it at the same time, then the media picked it up for them to sell it to the people, and then a style like this comes out, drum-n-bass, Goldie and all the guys who started out doing this kind of stuff in the UK and in America as well, all the others just jumped on the bandwagon. Drum-n-bass is itself a musical style nowadays, it has established itself, but it's never grown out of the underground image to be a kind of commercial pop or rock. Most DJs these days when they're play in a club, they want to push the people, they want to push the crowd, they want all of them to put their hands up and go "Yeaaahhh!" and party party party, you know? So that's why you don't find a lot of clubs in Germany where you can play more middle-of-the-road music or ambient tracks, hence I'm still making drum-n-bass tunes for the bag of the DJ. But for a compilation like "Reflections" was, I used other tracks. When I have a compilation for me, I listened to "Reflections" a million times before I put it together. These tracks, I wanted them to fit with each other. And some are pushier tracks and others more chilled, but I think that's a good way for a compilation to work.

ET: Yeah, one of the chill tracks that was really excellent was the last track on Reflections, "Food for Thought," that's a really good track. It still has an Oriental/Asian-type thing going on with the horns, but overall it's very chill, it's a nice closer for the CD. I was wondering did you have that in mind, that that track was going to be the finisher?

Lelonek: Oh, definitely. I have a totally different version of that track which I did 4 or 5 years ago called "Food of Love" and that track at the time wasn't so chill because it had a really fast beat on it. In those days when I wrote it, I was in the club playing with the boys on the decks and whatever and we wanted to make people dance and people expected it from us. I did a lot of ambient tracks in those days as well, i just put a lot of beats in them. For the compilation, I didn't like that version so much, with the beat on, so I thought 'I'm gonna call a friend,' which was in that case Simbad, and said to him 'Look, let's just redo the track again for the compilation and we'll make it really soft and chilled, but you can have the flute solo.' He's a great flute player, so all the flutes were played live by him on that track.

ET: So what's the flavor of the next "Reflections" compilation? The first one is obviously very drum-and-bass oriented, kind of continuing the Anokha flavor, but your version of it. Are you going to continue that same flavor, or are you gonna explore new territories and present the listening audience with something new that they're gonna accept?

Lelonek: For me it's like the "Reflections" theme itself is a series of sounds which I do want to continue, I'm very strict about that, I wouldn't want to have it now totally different music on that type of compilation, because I think it stands for something, and it also reflects the musicians or the bands on there. If I find a really really good tracks from all these different ones which are fitting well together, then I think it will be a similar thing. But everyone lives now and it's not 4 or 5 years ago, so I'm sure all these influences we talked about earlier, like that drum-n-bass is not so popular, and other things are coming back, I think all this will be reflected in the "Reflections" series. I'm also looking forward to get some of the U.S. acts on there.

ET: Are you a fan of Bollywood music and do you follow the genre?

Lelonek: Yeah, I've always been very much in touch in London in those days, with living in the East End. Guys like Osmani Soundz or Equal-I, these guys as well as Talvin and many others, would play on the bhangra festivals in London. Yes, there are many great loops which you can cut out of Bollywood movies, but I have respect for those people who originally made them. I think I never want to be rinsing some stuff, if you know what I mean, which may be what I'm afraid is coming in the future, because there's an upsurge again for this genre and everybody's trying to get some old Bollywood records and cut some loops out of it and put a hip-hop beat underneath and have a rapper on top of it, and bingo, you've got a chart hit.

ET: A lot of these guys are getting sued now - the PMC/Jay-Z, it was pressed on vinyl and about a week later they were like, "You gotta take that vinyl off the shelves." This has happened over and over now, they were lifting back and forth, Indian producers lift from American artists and vice versa...

Lelonek: I know exactly the problem Dimm, I've myself made many tracks, and I'm ready to admit that, where I've just used a sample from somebody else because I think it's a great sample, and I make the track, but I wouldn't release it, you know-

ET: You'd just play it out at a club?

Lelonek: Yeah, I play it out for myself at a club in my set or something. I have great respect for that person, sometimes it happens that I've met this person, then I'm like, WOW, I want to tell them, I want to say 'I've done this track...' But it's more from a point of respect, I think that's a lot of the time what's missing in the whole music scene nowadays.

ET: How do you feel about mp3s and downloading and the sharing of music?

Lelonek: Great, you know. Let people do it. That for me is the sense of the internet, to be honest. The internet is for me a sharing forum, it's a peer-to-peer thing whatever people say, that you have to pay a dollar for these downloads or whatever. I want people to have this. But it doesn't sound as good. There's a difference - you can play it at home or wherever you want, but if you're a serious DJ or record producer or whatever, you wouldn't be able to use an mp3 as a commercial product. But already it's in the papers, you get mp4 and 5 and so on. In a few years you will have a one-to-one quality. But that's when it comes down to a lot of factors and I think in a few years over the whole DJ thing will disappear. Not saying this against the DJs because I'm one myself, and obviously I don't want that.

ET: So what's going on with your Reflections tour?

Lelonek: We had one 2 years ago when we originally wanted to launch Reflections which then didn't work because of the contract with the record company. We started again with a live project, we played a couple of festivals here in Germany which was really successful. Five different people from different countries all over the world, and I'm very proud of that fact just because it's really hard to find musicians in Germany who like the kind of music I do. We've done three months rehersal and that was very hard time, to be able to play most of the tracks from the Reflections CD. It's quite complex material, a lot of it is programmed on the computer and stuff. So you have to convert everything into a live set, and that took a lot of time.

ET: There's some other people in Germany pushing the sounds - Eastenders and Genetic Drugs... I was wondering if you have contact with those guys, if you guys hang out?

Lelonek: Of course, when I first came to Germany from the UK, I was obviously wanting to make a big impact here because I knew Anokha had sold really well in Germany. But it's still comparitively to the UK really small, and compared to America, even tinier. I think the interesting thing for me is that I'm not Asian. In the 70s I came across a German band called Embryo which went to India and came back and brought a bunch of percussionists with them and made videos over there. That was for us as kids like "Wow, look at that, that's amazing," all these colors and the music and the sounds. So it's been very early on. And it's caught me again in London when I moved there because I loved it for a long time. So I know for myself where I stand, musically speaking, and where my flavors are. So that's why I'm doing this kind of music and not because I have any other connections with that.

ET: What kind of research do you do? Do you listen to a lot of Indian classical music, or do you just have an idea for a sound you look for, or do you just create it? Where does your inspiration come from?

Lelonek: I recorded a lot of concepts with all sorts of tablas, sitars, sarods with Talvin and stuff, I was doing his sound engineering for many years, and obviously he played with a lot of people and I got involved with more and more. There's others as well, like Aref Durvesh, great tabla player, he played with a lot of people... So I recorded a lot of this stuff, I have hundreds of tapes at home of these live recordings I did, and you don't even have to listen to them. After a hundred million times, the sound of a tabla, you know how it should sound. But I'm more excited in the mixture of things, when I hear a really good tune where they use the sitar. Even so there were days, I remember that very well, when it was really a bad score if you put a sitar on your tune, people would say "Oh no, not yet another one, I can't hear it no more." Now again at the moment, currently it's in fashion again, and that's what I mean, it will always change again, that's why I'm using the whole spectrum of sound, whether it's Chinese, Japanese or Korean flute or an Indian one, that doesn't really particularly matter for me so much.

Fade into "Passion" -original composition