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A talk with Subheim about "Foray", electronic music and the life in Berlin

We met Subheim at this year’s Denovali festival in Essen and he kindly accepted to answer our many questions expecting the official release of his third album.
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Berlin-based musician Subheim composes deep electronic music with acoustic elements. His work is a collage of field recordings, slow evolving drum beats, hypnotic melodies and echoing voices. Drawing from a wide spectrum of genres and influences, from ambient, drone and post-rock to downtempo, lofi, trip hop and even techno, his sonic journeys are there for cold nights, for long train rides, for one to sink into during or after the storm, for the sleepless and the loners.

After "Approach" (2008) and "No Land Called Home" (2010), Subheim's third album called "Foray" will be released by Denovali Records on November 27th. To celebrate it he hosts an event in Berlin with an eclectic lineup (see here). We met Subheim at this year’s Denovali festival in Essen and he kindly accepted to answer our many questions.

Your third album just will just come up this week. Feeling excited?

I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. As it’s been in the works for such a long time, it already feels kinda distant. But certainly excited to see how people will respond to it. I’m happy it’s scheduled for release in just a few weeks and that all details around it have been worked out, that’s certainly a relief.

How would you describe the trip for the composition and production of "Foray"? What differentiates it from your previous albums? Is it an outcome of maturity, change of city, change of musical taste and/or influences?

I’d say it’s a combination of everything else you mentioned… but for maturity. I don’t really feel artistically mature, every tune or record I make feels like I’m starting all over again, as if I know nothing. I’m trying different things, some work and some fail miserably. There was no clear intention behind “Foray” other than to stay away from all things majestic and complex, and instead focus on minimalism, atmosphere and on creating a cohesive whole as opposed to cramming together a bunch of random pieces. I wanted the album to sound darker, muddier and less polished than anything else I’ve done. Even though melodies are there, I also feel there’s an underlying sinister side to the whole.

subheim foray

I read in one of your past interview about the inspiration for "No Land Called Home" (the shot of the 16-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens). What is hidden behind "Foray"? Is there a story you wanted to narrate?

There’s no single story behind. There wasn’t a single story behind “No Land Called Home” either, Alexandros’ murder functioned as a trigger for certain emotions that led to shaping things in a certain direction back then. Foray” is more an audible diary of personal experiences and self-exploration in the last three years. Berlin played a key role to that, I’ve developed a love/hate thing about this city, which seems to be leaning more towards the love side as years go by.

I swear I have heard a bit of Massive Attack in "Foray". Can you name some of your musical influences?

Good guess. I love Massive Attack, they’re one of the cornerstones of slow, downbeat dark music. There are loads of influences really, from ambient and folk to even goth rock and hardcore music. They’re all there in smaller or larger bits; all seem to have their place in "Foray" somehow.

Is composition of electronic music as lonely as it seems from the outside?

Yes, at least for me it is. I do jam sessions every now and then but very rarely. I think the more introverted you are the lonelier the path you’re walking when it comes to music making. It’s also a matter of ego. I’m not complaining about the creative solitude, it just happens to be like this for some people and that’s all fine.

You spent quite some time in London and are currently living in Berlin. Why did you decide to leave Greece and continue living abroad? Was it the quest of inspiration, or more practical reasons?

I moved abroad in order to study sound design in London. From there, moving to Berlin was more a financial decision rather than anything else at the time. It was a bit risky in the sense that I hadn’t sorted out a source of income beforehand but things thankfully worked out OK quite early. Looking back, I don’t regret the move at all. Berlin is a city of wonders.

Which differences do you experience between Berlin, on the one hand, and London and Athens, on the other? Do you still have musical bonds with Athens and London?

I was never a big fan of Athens. It always made me think of it as a monster city made of cement that gets people to suffocate under its gigantic mass made of concrete and bad air. I didn’t experience London as I would have liked to, as I was spending a lot of time in the studio or at home working on tunes. As for Berlin, I’ve been living here for about four years now and I can safely say it feels like home. I do retain strong bonds with a handful of people I met in Greece or in the UK, most importantly with my friend and co-producer John Valasis (Poordream) who helped a great deal bringing “Foray” into good shape.


What do you enjoy more: composing music or acting live? Or do you simply prefer listening to the music you have composed?

I enjoy both in different ways. Composing feels like an activity that satisfies a very personal purpose, a mission one sets out to without companionship. Gigs on the other hand are a way to share things you explored during your journeys into music making, an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and let people decide how much you succeed or suck.
πους να αποφασίσουν κατά πόσο πέτυχες ή όχι.

Most of your tracks don't have lyrics. Why is that?

I guess I’m a little too lazy to write lyrics. But also, I suppose care more about the emotional impact melody and voices combined can have, as opposed to conveying a very specific message. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against lyrics, in fact I am working on a new tune that contains a spoken narrative at the moment. I just don’t feel like there’s always a need for clear context; text somewhat frames music conceptually and usually I prefer leaving things a little more open to interpretation.

You used to run your own record label (Spectraliquid). How did your cooperation with Denovali start?

We had to pull the plug on the label as there was simply not enough time and resources for us to focus on the single most important thing of running a label: doing everything you can to promote your roster to a wider audience. I don’t look back with bitterness; I think we did the right thing. Denovali re-released one of my former label’s very first releases, an album by a guy called Blackfilm. Initially it was a label-to-label thing interaction. They knew my music and liked my first album, so they offered to put it out on vinyl back in 2011. We have loosely kept in touch since then and, eventually, we were both interested in working together on “Foray”. I think my stuff fits well with the aesthetics they’re after.

How important is for an artist to have a shelter (a "heim")?

Can’t speak for all creators out there but for me it’s of paramount importance. I need to be in a place that feels like home, where I can isolate myself and sink into my music writing. I know there are people out there who write tunes while commuting to work, flying to another country or travelling by train. For some reason, I would never be able to do that, I’m too insecure starting something new without access to all my gadgets and sound stuff.

Is there anything that you always have with you while creating music (gadget, instrument, thought etc.)?

As I write music exclusively at home, I’ve got pretty much everything I need in reachable distance. I bought a Korg Polysix recently and currently that’s my go-to instrument but there are guitars, mics, a double bass and a piano in there too, all set up and ready. I think above all music things I own, I love my charango the most (just remembered I need to go and pick it up from Ben Lukas Boysen’s place, been lying there for months.)


Do you enjoy attending concerts, apart from your own ones? Which act of the last months do you remember most?

I enjoy other people’s concerts a lot more than mine, as they don’t stress me and I can just sit back and enjoy the music. I saw Fink recently and I really liked their show. I also saw a guy called Orson Hentschel at this year’s Denovali festival in Essen. I didn’t know his stuff and was very impressed listening to his set.

I also live in Germany, however several hundred kilometers away from Berlin. Every now and then, I catch myself picturing my return to Greece. Do you consider returning back at some point in the future?

Not really. I do feel nostalgic of the good weather and the landscape but overall I never catch myself making such future plans. I’m ok where I am now and if one day my steps bring me back to my home country, I’ll welcome the change. For now, I’m happy to keep exploring the city I live in and its people and focus on building a stronger, more efficient workflow for doing what I love the most: writing tunes.

Which are your future plans and aspirations? Touring, new albums, collaborations etc.

I’m taking a break from writing music right now. I’m happy to play more shows, bring this material to the stage and focus on the audiovisual aspect of presenting my new music to people.

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