JASSS: “Those things exist in me and bother me.”
With her three 12-Inches on Mannequin Records (“Mother”, “Es Complicado”) and Anunnaki Cartel (“Caja Negra”) and her debut album “Weightless” on iDEA, Spain born artist Silvia Jiménez Alvarez already set some significant marks in the world of dark electronic music. Her music manages the trick to (seemingly) combine influences and elements from Noise, Drone and Industrial music with Dance Music and Jazz in a natural stream of awareness.
Thomas Venker met Silvia Jiménez Alvarez during the CTM festival in Berlin.
Silvia, I saw you for the first time live at last year Atonal festival – I liked very much what I saw, even so it seemed you struggled a bit. You have been very nervous that particular night, right?
Silvia Jiménez Alvarez: It was the third live show for me. And yes, it was not perfectly working the way I intended it, but it worked! That show was psychological stressful as I over anticipated things.
Everybody I know who plays live shows has those stories to tell of things breaking on stage. I remember that Atonal was running half an hour late that night – that´s half an hour to start thinking about those things that could go wrong. I wish people would realize what this makes to artists. I started looking at my gear and making sure all works. But all in all I had a good time.
Playing one of the first live sets ever at such an important festival must feel like jumping in the cold water.
Ja – but that’s how it is in general. The two sets before I played at Norberg Festival and at Säule floor at Berghain.
At the time of Atonal your album “Weightless” was pretty freshly released. Do you feel well treated by the world out there since then? Are you happy with the reactions?
The feedback on the album was amazing. I was surprised how much feedback came out and how well received the album was. It went as good as possible.
Preparing for this interview I realized the high quality standard of writing about your music. A lot of authors went quite deep into the music.
That´s right. Someone was almost imaging a story alongside to my music. Are you thinking about a specific review?
The Boomkat one for example was really detailed.
I think Boomkat has always really good texts. They make an effort and the persons know how to write.
Of course nobody will exactly say what I like about my record cause that’s my personal feelings towards what I did. But in general all the writings were accurat.
What I love about the record and your music in general is this mix of noisy, industrial components with the sensitivity of club culture and let’s call it weird music influences between experimental and world music paths. I am curious how this very special narrative and texture came together.
I always feel rejection towards the labeling of things: Industrial, Noise, IDM, atmospheric … But I understand: you have to name it somehow. That said: I am influenced by African rhythms and Jazz, but I am also heavily influenced by popculture in general.
Its all about orientation. Not about Ghettorisation.
But let me come back to your personal thoughts about your music – those you ain´t wanna share, right?
That’s not the point. I could talk about the context where I was when I produced my music. But is it necessary to talk about it just for the sake of it? The music is done and there is nothing that speaks better for it, there is nothing I could add verbally.
Making music is a natural approach to me. You always start somewhere different. Sometimes with a certain mood, a feeling you want to talk about – and as I am not that good with words, music is my chosen format to express. Those things exist in me and bother me. I don’t really know how to describe this with words to be honest. I can’t put into words what I feel when I am alone in the studio, but I know it when I hear it. Then one thing comes to the next. You start and then get in the mood and act. The same: When do you know a track is finished? When it is finished!
Are you an obsessed worker?
I used to work all the time on music. Now I don’t have that much time. I learned that periods of personal transition are brilliant for making music. It does not have to be drama, just a transition when one thing is becoming something else and you are as confused about that fact, as that you are still there. This confusion happens constantly in life to me – and then I try to figure it out.
In that way the tracks speak to you as a kind of storyline in the sense that you know where you have been back then when you produced them and what was happening to you?
With some pieces yes, with some not. Sometimes I know where I’ve been when I recorded it, with others I don’t that – but I know how I felt when it was finished. There is one specific track that is not on the album, not even out yet, I produced it in half an hour. The first time I was listening to the tape later on I had to think of my father’s child hood. I have no idea how it looked in real life, but that’s how I imagined it as a kid. Ever since then I had that in mind. It is not where I was, it is about the thought.
That´s the magic of creation. You put something in a stone forever.
It comes out of you – but you don’t matter at all. You are not important in the process. You are something it simply goes through. You are there and somehow it comes effortless to you. You realize only afterwards what you’ve been processing here, what abstractly came out of you. I don´t know. It is almost creepy.
There is so much in us we do not understand, right? Sometimes we try so hard and it does not work and then it seems to come so easy to us. How does this relate to your experiences with working on film soundtracks?
Well, I only worked so far on two films, about five years ago, that were really not that remarkable and didn’t go anywhere.
If I would do it now, it would be a different process. It felt interesting. The thing was: I did not have that much time as the deadline was really short notice. At the time I was struggling much more than today with technical skills. So everything took a bit longer. I remember it as a good room for experimentation. But I had to do all the sounds for the 20 minute short film myself as it was completely mute. That was a very interesting training.
Working on film is something I would like to do in the future.
How was the Berghain show during CTM Festival for you?
Fun. I went straight from home to play. It felt like a different kind of show by that. I was not sure if I was gonna have a panic attack as it still felt like waking up when the strobe lights started in my face.
Are you in general a nervous person before your shows?
I have in general ten minutes of worry and then I am fine.
Who not. Most people feel so and then on stage they are fine.
It’s a bit different when I am playing a show in opposite to djing as you are on a stage. Anyway, it is the fun part of the life of an artist.
People give mistakes too much attention anyway.
Focusing on the technical side of a dj set is… While trying to beatmatch two tracks sometimes the drums are a little bit too complicated – so you can’t actually do the trick of listening to the kick drum or the snare, you actually have to concentrate and sense the groove of the track to be able to cure it with the other. But that’s much better. That means that you are into what you are doing for real. You are in the moment of the groove. You enjoy doing so. There is no such thing as space for mistakes. You are discharged if you think like that.
I think djing means a lot of different things for different people. For some djs it is very technical and flat – for some people in the public as well. For them the music is a scenario, they get lost in music in a different way. Music is the mood for drug taking or drinking or having a good time with your friends. It´s just the scenario, in that case I understand that the music is more repetitive and not so colorful. In some context it does not matter. But this does not work for me.
Anyway, there is room for everyone. I am so tolerant now.
Where does that come from?
From a lot of years of hating. Not really hating. I was… I don’t want to struggle with anger so much anymore. And with judgment.
People invest much too much time in negativity instead of concentrating on creating their own stuff.
I think it is really easy to do so when you are not stimulated and you don’t get any feedback and positive input on what you do. Then you fall into it. Just do what you think you have to do! You’re gonna be dead some day. There is a good chance you’re gonna be dead some day. We all should try to concentrate to do what is best for us before.
Silvia, are there other artists you are in love with and see as path enlighteners?
Not for my career. In an artistic way: it is either a lot or no one. It could be anyone. I don’t think I have a mentor. But on a personal level, that is obviously also related to my artistic approach, there are a lot of people that are important for me and without whom i would not be who I am. We all have those key people. They change you. Some of them are more related to your artistic practice than others. My parents bigtime.
Are your parents also artists?
No. They are working class. My dad has retired, he used to work at a train station. And my mum works for the government in a department I don’t know the English word for.
How did they react on you decision to be an artist.
I don’t know if I ever made such a decision. When they realized that I take it seriously… You have to imagine: they knew I am obsessed with music before I even knew. They were always very supportive. Go for it! Not in a cheerleader way. They thought I could do it. That is a lot for somebody who is not so familiar how this all works. For them in their head it is a difficult thing to achieve – and it is.
Are you sharing moments of concern with them when coming home?
I have the luxury that I could have a breakdown in front of them.
Silvia, you are originally from Spain. Where were you born? Could you tell us a bit more about the background?
I come from a tiny village named El Berron – two roads crossing and houses on the side.
That’s a really big question…
From there I moved to Pola de Siero which was already a little bit bigger. So from there it felt easier to go to the town of Oviedo, the capital of the area.
When I was growing up as a kid in the village there was nothing… let´s say one had to try hard to find the stimulating activities. When I was a teenager of 16 and started to go out in this other city, Oviedo, there was this bar Caja Negra I started to work at and also playing tracks there. There I met people. They were showing a film every day and had a dj every day, something unthinkable in my old village.
So until the age of 16 your cultural experiences were mainly made alone and not shared with other people.
How much of a difference that this make?
A lot of difference. In order to define how much of a difference it makes, I would need to compare myself with someone who grow up surrounded by it. But sometimes I spot comments of people and realize that this is the result of them growing up in a different cultural setting. For me this all came much later. Or in another way. Imagine the stuff you have access to is much more mainstream. And you take the juice out of it. You make your own interpretation of all these elements, all the time, you do not know what is right and what is wrong. You learn it later. You learn cool later. Cool came late to me. I didn’t know what cool was. I was fascinated with different kind of coolness. Why was that cool? The whole phenomena of coolness. And then you get fed with it and start getting interested in other things.
That what was cool for you might have been totally uncool for others.
It is interesting to recycle that coolness. The fact that you thought it was cool, even if you discover later on that it is not cool to the world, you still include this as cool in your perspective on the world.
You could break coolness with being a stubborn.
Yeah, this is cool! I don’t think the ultimative coolness is the measuring for anything.
Did you feel like an outsider at school in the village?
Don’t imagine me as the cool kid. No, no. I was really an idiot. I was not cool. I was not the cool secret weirdo – I could not have been played by Winona Ryder. I was just confused.
Only much later when I went to high school life became different for me. There was suddenly music – I got quickly into Metal and Hardcore.
Straight Edge Hardcore?
I was not straight edge. I was drinking.
I come from straight edge hard but I did not make it long.
It means to compromise a lot.
Well, if you are 14 or 15, it is not that hard. Also I hate beer, so it did not feel hard at all to me as all my friends were only drinking this ugly stuff anyway. Did you ever feel like running away from home?
I never felt like I have to run away – but I had to run away! I was never having panic attacks as I had at that stage some friends that were also different.
What kind of life do your friends from back then live today?
Depends who. Some of them are unemployed and very anxious. Some of them started companies and projects that came out of being unemployed an anxious and they are doing very well. It is so beautiful to see how they drive, they do something they believe in. Some of them are not in that region anymore which is very logical – even if the region is very beautiful.
Could your friends relate to what you do?
My best friend from high school days can’t relate to what I do but we understand each other somehow.
Silvia, would you say that there is a Spanish heritage in what you do?
Maybe. It’s like a chain reaction – in my sensibility to feel things there must be something Spanish. Depends on what Spanish we talk about. Where I grew up there is a lot of folk in a cheltic way. I have a tendency to, a weakness for certain chords and habits of doing things that are maybe related to that – but the ole ole is totally out of my life, because I did not grew up with that.
Some folk music of the region I am from and the way people sing there, I still get goosebumps from. So for sure there is something of this inside of me. Do I sound like that? Do I translate that in my music? I don’t think so. But who knows.
Are there artists from Spain who had a big influence on you?
There is one person that is one of the most talented people I ever met – and he is one of the most underrated people out there. His name is Xel, a multiinstrumentalist who makes folk and electronic music undert the name of Da Robotz. He is so brilliant. His studio was possible the first studio I ever stepped in. I did not even know what he was doin there back then. He is not playing a lot. He is from Oviedo.
Silvia, too come back to „Weightless“, quite a great title for such a heavy album.
There is a deeper meaning. It´s absolutely related to the music. This was again a transission period for me. I was overthinking a lot at the time, I was feeling very anxious, not really understanding things yet – not that I do now, but I don´t struggle with some certain topics anymore. At that time I felt very heavy. This period in time and space is definitely the album to me. It was almost like: I hope that I am weightless after that process. I hope to loose all this weight.
Do you have a peergroup of friends who help you losing the weight in Berlin?
Yeah. Definitely yeah. I believe in people helping each other, listening to each other, supporting each other.
Do you feel that the world around you thinks so too?
I don´t think that the people in our society are that friendly. Only your friends help you without any kind of limit. It´s the most natural thing to dtalk to your friends, you learn a lot from them.
Let´s talk about that cover image. A weird mix of melancholy, someone who got hurt…
I remember very well when it was made. It was a personal picture and I was thinking that I should use it as a cover. It is a quite intimate picture.
When did you move to Berlin?
About six years ago. I didn´t expect anything at that time, I was just curious what all that Berlin fuzz was about. It changed a lot for me. Now I am feeling at home here.
In the beginning you did not feel at home?
Of course not. I was an excited puppy looking at things. I was struggeling. I was very lucky with the first crew of people I met back then – which are still part of my life. They are Germans, some are from Berlin, and they are really warm and welcoming. But the city is very fast – there are faster cities, but still, Berlin is very fast. For me it was a contrast, I come from the opposit of a city.
Which meal and eating set up made you compose “To Eat With Dirty Hands”?
There is an idiom in Spain you use for a person you like a lot: „I like you more than eating with my hands.“ Because eating with your hands is a pleasureful thing. It is a childish thing to do.
I think it is a piece of the bible: „To eat with dirty hands doesn´t corrupt the man.“ Nothing attached to the bible here, I‘m not even baptiste. But I thought that was genius.
Are you a cooking person?
Very much. It is meditation.
What kind of kitchen?
You could guess. Definitely not asian dishes, I‘m not good with them.
Silvia, are you able to define what you are looking for in your music?
That is a good question. I dont know. When I hear it I know it. I guess honesty. At least something that goes beyond if I like or I don´t like it. It happens that I dislike something but I listen to it several times because I think is brilliant. If I only listen to something with the thought I could have done it myself or this suits me well in that moment, that means I am just entertaining myself. But if I don´t know what I am feeling, that´s the nice part. I just want to hear something that feels like saying something for real and not pretenting to do so. Music should not please me.
That´s good. But do you also hear music to please you sometimes?
Absolutely. You know how many times a day I listen to Cocteau Twins.
Do you remember the first music that touched your heart and made you want to produce music yourself?
No, I don´t remember that.
And what was the last?
I am listening a lot to Scorn lately, I agree aesthetically with them. And again, I am repeating myself: Cocteau Twins. That´s a constant. There have been a lot of good music in 2017, but I am terrible with names.
Silvia, thanks so much for your time. Highly appreciated.