rik Møller has been lighting up dancefloors since the turn of the century with his love-themed releases under the name Unai. The concept came to a glorious apotheosis earlier in 2006 with the release of A Love Moderne on the recently reopened Force Tracks imprint. The album is chock-full of enveloping dub flecked with disco and soul and topped with a frequent dose of Møller’s vocoded vocals. After being won over by its charms, Stylus editor Todd Burns tracked down Møller via e-mail to talk about his musical transformation from the abstract minimalism of his earlier work to the sultry sounds of A Love Moderne, his work under the name Spinform, and what’s next for the producer.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into music.
I was born and raised in a very small village in the Swedish countryside where the input of music almost only came from the radio. Everybody back in those days listened to hard rock at the school that I went to. Since I didn't like that, I wasn't that into music until about the age of 10. People were more into motorbikes generally; I was more into books about World War II.
It was synthetic stuff that got me hooked on music. A friend that came from a bigger city played some breakdance stuff and I also got to know some people at my school that were into Kraftwerk and other electronic bands. It was like a stroke of lightning. The first few years I just listened to music, I think I was about 13 years old when I bought my first synthesizer and started to make my own songs. Three other guys at my school and myself had a band. The reason we got together was that we were the only people listening to electronic music at that school...
Is there a Swedish sound? Your website's page is hosted from Audionaut.com, which claims to be the "Electronic Sound of Uppsala."
No, I don't think there's a "Swedish sound." There has been a lot of electronic music coming from Sweden lately, but there's no coherent "sound." The Audionaut thing is something different. The Audionaut Clan are a group of friends and artists that has a common history which stretches way back. We all come from the same small town: Uppsala. Some of us have moved to other parts of the world like Rome and Berlin, but we still keep in touch and share the same musical ideas. Other acts that are in the inner circle of the Audionaut Clan are, for example, Boy Robot and Crystal Fake. Believe me, the Audionaut Clan and our friends ARE the electronic sound of our town. It's a very, very small town.
Do you still have some of the music that you made while in high school? Do you ever revisit it? Are some of those people from the Audionaut crew?
I have a box full of old tapes. Back in those days I was very prolific, very unlike the Unai of today. I guess that I have around 30 tapes with music lying in that box, which amounts to God knows how many hours of music. The oldest tapes date back to 1986 or something like that. To be honest, I must say that quantity and quality is something that seldom goes well together. It was true back then, and it's as true today, so I very seldom listen to these tapes. Some of the people from back then are a part of the Audionaut crew. Among them are, for example, my brother Hans, who's mostly famous as one part of the duo Boy Robot (together with Michael Zorn from Germany).
Do you have any plans to work with your brother in the future?
Maybe. It would be fun, but he's been more into programming lately than making music. I hope he gets back more into making music again, he's a very talented producer!
Tell us a little bit about your studio. What do you have in there? What programs do you like working with?
A few years back I used to share a studio with the other guys in Audionaut. It was almost like a synthesizer museum. Then we split and, at the same time, the "studio in the computer" seemed like the way forward, so I sold most of my old stuff. Now I regret that, since I think that only using a computer is a bit boring. So I've started purchasing old stuff again. Some of the machinery that is worth mentioning (since it is used on almost every Unai track) is my Roland JX8P, a spring-reverb that used to sit in an old Hammond organ, and also the Roland Re-501 tape delay. I love to put these things on top of all the digital stuff to give it a nice rough edge.
There's a world of difference between 2001’s Rebel Swing and this year’s A Love Moderne. Can you explain what happened in between this time?
Up until around 2000, I was convinced that the future was abstract (and I have always been into making futuristic music). I was (and still am) in love with the whole minimal techno/dub house-thing. But after Rebel Swing I felt that the genre had become too generic, too much DJ fodder of clickety-clack that sounded the same. I also felt that I put too many restrictions on myself just because I so badly wanted to do that "minimal" thing. In short: I got bored.
So I decided to at least try to let go of my own restrictions and open Unai for the other stuff that I love, like disco and soul. I didn't want to leave the minimal sound though, I just wanted to open it for a broader palette. What I, above all, wanted was to put more overt emotion into techno. I think that the change occurred somewhere around "Loving That Lost Feeling" (the second 12" on Sub Static) and was in full bloom on "I Like Your Style." On A Love Moderne I think I have come a bit closer to my original vision of writing traditional songs in a techno context. The songs on the album were made both for home listening and for dancefloors. Some people have judged this album only from a dancefloor angle, which is to miss the point entirely.
Why the name A Love Moderne?
I am heavily into concepts. I have concepts for everything I do. I always put up a frame for every record I do even before I start recording. Rebel Swing and the three EP's before that were part of a rebellious concept. No one got that, even though I thought I was being bleeding obvious. When I got bored with the hordes of faceless minimal techno that I was a part of I wanted to do something that was the direct opposite. The first EP I released at that time was "Loving That Lost Feeling" so I decided to make a couple of EP's and maybe an album on the theme of love. This time I wanted the concept to be even more obvious than on Rebel Swing. I knew it would piss some people off, maybe also some of my old fans, but you can't please everyone so I started pleasing myself at least. I wanted techno to become a lover instead of an abstract painting. A Love Moderne is the height and end of this concept
So, what's the next concept?
If I told you that it wouldn't be a secret anymore... Hehe.
How long had A Love Moderne been finished before it saw release? Did the Force Tracks distribution problems push it back?
Actually the last recorded tracks on A Love Moderne were put to tape about ten months before the album was released, and many of them were recorded just last year. There was an album planned back in 2003, after the release of "I Like Your Style," and that one was pushed back by the downfall of EFA and the subsequent problems for Force Tracks. The only track left from that planned album is "I Like Your Style."
What has happened to the tracks that made up the lost album? Will they ever see release?
Most of the tracks were never finished. Some of the ideas were used for songs that eventually ended up on A Love Moderne. The scraps that still lie around will never be released.
Do you need the right atmosphere to create music or is it something that seems to strike at any time?
I don't feel that I "need" the right atmosphere, but some things make it easier. Nowadays I make sure that I am free at least some months in a row when I am about to record an album. I need that continuous flow to get into a special mood, and also to become a little bit faster (since I am a very slow producer normally). Most of the time I record in my studio, but when I have moved my equipment to other (in some cases strange) places it have proved to be very fruitful. The most obvious example is the new Spinform album, where the ambience had a deep impact on the sound of the record.
Tell me a little bit about the Spinform project and your new release this year, Bryter Tystnaden.
Unai kind of stands for my whole musical idea. In Unai everything I love comes together: my love for disco and minimal techno, avantgardism/futurism, pop and soul. Spinform is an outlet for my eccentric side, the more "out there" visions I have, which I feel don’t work well as Unai.
Bryter Tystnaden came about because, in the last few years, I had the idea to do something that has a timeless quality to it, in the sense that it could just as well be made 100 years ago as today. I wanted to escape from the ocean of clinical abstract electronica that is around today and do an album full of songs instead of tracks—something with a lot of atmosphere and emotion. So I moved my studio to a big deserted house in the middle of the forest close to where my parents live, and I stayed there for two months.
The house is over 100 years old and the atmosphere there was perfect for this album. Since it's abandoned there was a quite creepy feeling there which, in the end, influenced the sound of the album. I also used a lot of stuff that was around the house for the recordings. I put up microphones and recorded the atmosphere in a lot of the rooms, and I used the old piano on a lot of songs both for harmonies but actually also for some of the rhythms. It's a bit of a cliché, but I love albums that are like films for an inner eye, and I think I at least came quite close to that on this album. If you listen really careful you can hear the ghosts in that house in the background on some of the songs...
You've been releasing music as Spinform since 1998, how has that music changed?
I've actually created music under the alias Spinform a few years longer than that, but in 1998 my first Spinform album To Hear Is Not to Listen was released. A couple of things have changed. In 1998 I focused entirely on making futuristic music—and, for me, the future was abstract. I was also extremely pedantic about my productions. This led to me working every day for two or three months just to make one track. It took weeks just to program the very unusual rhythms I was into back then. After that first album was released I got bored of the whole abstract thing. Today I am much more into creating songs that, in some sense, are more for the heart than the brain. And songs that doesn't take months to record.
What does the future sound like to you now?
As I mentioned before I used to think that the future was abstract. But now, at least for me personally, the future has more to do with doing something unique and moving. There's too much generic "experimental" music out there sound-wise, so I think that it's more interesting to do something that sticks out and has an ability to set one's emotions in swing. I think there was a huge wave forwards in terms of evolution during the nineties/beginning of the new millennium, both when it comes to new styles and the music technology in itself. That wave has slowed down, and today I feel that there are other things than sounds or technology pushing the evolution forward. But that will also change surely...
What current artists are inspiring you right now?
Of course I obviously listen to a lot of techno, especially the minimal kind that I have been into the last ten years. But when it comes to inspiration I tend to listen to music outside the electronic sphere. Especially older stuff. A few names of current inspiration that pops up in my mind are Sebastien Tellier, Sigur Rós, and I still find anything that Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus puts their hands on brilliant.
Do you do music full-time? Is minimal techno a viable career choice for you?
Music is a part-time occupation for me. I work as a news anchor at a local radio station the rest of the time. I have very strange working hours—which is good for the music making. I get up before the sun rises and take care of the morning news, and then I sit in the studio in the afternoons. Usually I take a few months off from work every year to make music. These months I mostly use to record albums, since I want to have a continuous flow during sessions like that. The afternoons I use to record 12"'s, EP's and remixes. I only play gigs on weekends and during my free months.
For some people minimal techno can definitely be a career and I guess that I have come to a point where I could survive solely as being Unai. But I am not sure if that is what I want. To survive you have to be out and play a lot. I like playing out, but it is not my first priority. Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra once said something like “One day on the road is one day less in the studio.” So the difference between having a day job and being out on the road isn't that big for me. I have chosen this life for another reason too: I can do whatever I want musically. I don't have to think about how my records are selling. I will survive anyway. But of course, if I would make enough money just by making records, I'd definitely change careers...
Do you think that you bring any of those radio skills to your musical work? How did you get involved with the broadcast world?
No. Apart from a few tips that I have learned from the sound technicians at the radio, these are two separate worlds for me that seldom, if ever, touch one another. I consider one like a good friend and the other as my lover. You can probably guess who's who. I was young and needed a job (my music wasn't that appreciated back then...).
Tell me a little bit about the Digital Disco 3 mix. Did you want to do a mix for the series, or were you asked?
No, Digital Disco 3 should not to be considered as a mix-CD from Unai. This is a mix from Force Tracks and I was the one who did the "handcraft" of mixing the tracks together. The tracks were almost entirely chosen by Force Tracks head Achim Szepanski, I just bounced back which tracks I thought would work together the best. It's his concept and idea, and he asked me if I wanted to do it—which I considered an honor.
Is doing more mixes something you're interested in?
Yes, maybe. But then I'd like to be in charge of the whole process. This time it was mostly Achim that took care of the choice of songs and I just did the practical work of putting it together. If I was to make a new mix it would probably be quite different from Digital Disco 3.
How do you feel about P2P networks sharing your music?
Oh, I have a very ambivalent view on that. On one hand I think it's fantastic that music that once was very hard to find becomes easily accessible to all. From personal experience I can say that for an independent artist like myself, P2P has generated loads of new listeners and fans. But on the other hand I feel that it's sad that people aren't prepared to buy records (or the digital version). I myself buy enormous amounts of records. People seem to be more into spending their money on internet poker.
What’s up next for you? Are you in working mode right now or are you at the radio station?
The last few months—since the release of the album—have been very hectic. I am still working at the radio, but the weekends and all of my other free time I have spent on doing remixes and playing in different parts of Europe. I have not done a new Unai track in many, many months. I hope there will be more time for that soon...
Unai on MySpace
Audionaut: The electronic sound of Uppsala