Reflection on the State of the Art: Interview with Alland Byallo
Sure. There is an uncountable amount of music out there, be it good or bad. Sure. Time is a valuable good and you need to select what is worth spending it. We will tell you: Alland Byallo, born in L. A. and now living in Berlin, is a DJ, producer, graphic designer, label owner and event organizer who knows what he does. And we mean that! Having that much insight into the electronic music scene Alland Byallo is fully aware of how things work. His album Bones, Flesh will be released on the 29th of January on Third Ear Recordings and we advice you to give it a listen. Not just en passant. Do listen to it closely. He is worth it. Why? You will understand, when reading our interview with him:
trndmusik: First of all, I want to admit my deepest respect for your album – it’s really beautiful!
Byallo: Thanks so much! I really appreciate that. Really happy to hear you enjoy it. I’m so nervous about the reception of this above all other works I’ve ever released. I keep reminding myself not to think that way, but I can’t help it. I guess because it’s so personal and I’m letting the world hear something from so deep within me.
trndmusik: Your album artwork appears to be very abstract. In what way is it connected to your musical content on the album?
Byallo: The artwork was created in a similar fashion as the music. I work with visual “sampling,” if you will. Most of my graphic art is like that. I gather the bits and pieces, go from the gut and let things flow. I tried to make the music stand out from both my previous album and my discography in general. I tried harder than ever to find my musical essence. It had to be special, unique and stand to the left of the rest of my work, yet still somehow represent everything I was raised with and love today. The artwork had pretty much the same inspiration behind it. I was lucky to have beautiful paintings to work with, made by my dear friend Krescent Carasso. We had a photo shoot during my last North American tour while I was in San Francisco. She then made paintings based on those photos and sent them over for me to incorporate in the album artwork. I am so happy she could be involved. She’s a brilliant artist and a dear friend.
trndmusik: Your track Bottom Feeder, for instance, is a bomb which is perfect to be dropped on the dance floor. Do you produce your tracks for specific listening contexts? Do you think electronic music is biased contextually as such a great amount of tracks are produced to function on the dance floor?
Byallo: Frankly, that’s my favorite cut on the album, but I really don’t see it as a dance floor track. I guess if one is adventurous enough or has a crowd that’s open minded enough, anything is possible. I really don’t produce for any specific context. Well, okay maybe that’s not entirely true. Sometimes I sit down with the intention of creating some darker techno, for instance, but things hardly ever work out that way. If I’m working with a weird sampled loop or something like that, I just kind of let go, experiment and see what happens. Things just kind of evolve on their own, and the track takes on a life of it’s own. “Four to the Floor” dance music is definitely biased in that regard. It can even be a bit restrictive, but it is what it is and I definitely value those producers and artists that dare to step outside of context, think outside of the box, yet keep it relevant. It ain’t easy and the daring out there number few, but they’re the real champions and inspire me.
trndmusik: Which music are you listening to when you’re at home?
Byallo: Mornings are for dub and reggae. When working on my graphic design at work it’s house, techno or hip hop (usually some 90s East Coast classics). Evenings, especially when cooking, it’s all about the hard bop or some Rat Pack crooner stuff. Sometimes when I’m working on some particularly dark graphic design, I’ll listen to some weird, apocalyptic, experimental, dark noise to get in the right mood.
trndmusik: On your new album you make use of complex drum armadas combined with sparse but widespread melodies. As a producer, how do you employ drums or melodies? What effects on the listener do you appreciate for each of them?
Byallo: That’s a difficult question to answer. I’m not sure I even have an answer. I guess the older I get, the more skilled I get, the more slightly over it and jaded I get with certain aspects of popular dance music, et al, I try harder and harder to be more unique and daring. I always get the biggest thrills listening to artists and tracks that make me wonder “how the hell did they do that?”. I guess I put a lot of energy into providing that experience, myself. I want there to be some mystery, I want all the sounds to feel like my own, I want the drums to sing as much as they bump, and I want the musical elements to connect emotionally with people, whether it’s simply a hypnotic drone we’re talking about or elaborate chord progressions. I don’t believe tracks need to be musically complex to be emotive, but they should always be engaging, interesting and layered. I like that feeling of discovering something new with every listen. On Bones, Flesh I definitely tried to use sounds and methods that weren’t familiar. I pushed myself. Very rarely will you hear something that’s stock, if you catch my drift. That goes for the rhythmic patterns as well. Sure some of it’s a bit straight-up, but I really did my best to mangle things up a bit, throw some curve balls at myself and the listener.
trndmusik: In tracks like Fool Me Twice you build up extremely complex constructs composed of numerous layers of sounds. Do you have certain images in your mind which correspond to these constructions when producing?
Byallo: Ah yes. Well, simply put that one was born of pure sadness, confusion, and being well over feeling that way for so long; hence the name. It was about being fooled, wanting to be fooled again, and as the famous proverb ends, “shame on me” for allowing it; some kind of contradicting, romantic duality, if you will. My life is about visual and musical art. I’m a very visual person. I do have these images floating through my head, and I do try to present that in my music, but I think most of my music comes from a different place, oddly enough.
trndmusik: Now, a basic issue: Analog or digital?
Byallo: Well I’m all digital, if you don’t count sampling, recording found sounds, my singing and trumpet playing. I’m not really interested in claiming either or to define myself. It’s possible to use a wooden stick, a bucket, a set of house keys and a mic to make music more soulful, more profound than with a room full of synths. I’ve heard both purely digital and purely analog sound both amazing or awful. A vintage synth collection doesn’t come with talent or a unique message.
trndmusik: How do you feel about the popularization of electronic music at the moment? Do you see it as a danger to the genre?
Byallo: That’s another hard one to answer. We used to want this music to be accepted. You couldn’t hear it in many clubs, you could get arrested going to the illegal events that showcased it, it wasn’t on magazine covers, there were no superstars, you’d stay up late to hear it on college radio stations. We adored it being underground but dreamt of the culture being understood. Now that big money’s involved things are well different. There’s cover boys and girls, there’s people making shallow, temporary music buying their way into becoming stars of the “underground”.
I love that people know about this music and the movement that’s the most important thing in my life, but as with any form of music that gains acceptance, quantity grows, quality suffers, but the real underground keeps developing and even benefitting from all of that.
I always look to Hip Hop as an example. It was totally disrespected as a cultural voice, then considered a fad once the voice spread. But as soon as it gained popularity through underground channels, it was ravaged by commercialism and that shadowy presence that we call “the man”. It went on to become a standard, a permanent fixture. Unfortunately, these days the loudest voices in that genre are the most shallow, the most harmful; spreading the message of greed, materialism, sexism and violence. Yet the whole time, the real heads, the underground, gets wiser, stronger and more meaningful to the people that deny the dark side. Can’t define light without the presence of dark, I suppose.
I’m glad people are understanding this musical language, I’m just not happy to see it used to line greedy people’s pockets at the expense of the artists making it and the culture around it. Artists are getting exploited, chewed up and spit out left and right. It’s the same ol’ tune, man. It’s rock & roll now, for better and for worse. Really. I’m also not happy that the dark side is so damn present that “artists” pay to have their music made for them, pay to make it look like a lot of people love and follow them on social networks, just to see their name in lights through those dollar sign goggles. I know people doing this, and, truth be told, I have a hard time looking at them in the eyes. Pretty sure they don’t care what I think, but there’s truth out there, and I do my best to block out the dark and find the light, surrounding myself with soulful, creative, hard-working “music people”.
trndmusik: Recently, you’re occupied with your own label called Bad Animal. You know, lots of label owners describe their label philosophy in the same way, like „I want to publish good music and I don’t care about genre limitations“ or so. Now, tell us, what’s your philosophy behind Bad Animal and, if so, what do you do differently?
Byallo: Truth be told, that’s pretty much it right there. We’re not so much worried about genre limitations, it’s still generally somewhere between house and techno. It’s more about having a place to feel free and happy releasing music without sending demos, without some A&R or label boss validating it’s worth. We know music, we love music, and if we think it’s gold we want to release it how we see fit. My partners Kenneth Scott, Marc Smith and I generally have the same views on our music and our culture, we believe in each other and each other’s opinions, so it works out nicely. It’s a sort of ongoing pow-wow with everybody being open to learn, change, grow. It’s nice to build something on your own, learn from the mistakes, put yourself out there and see what happens.
trndmusik: Originally you’re from California but you live in Berlin. What factors persuaded you of going to Europe (in contrast to America) and especially establishing yourself in Berlin? Is Berlin really the creative metropole it is said to be? Or do you encounter creative wannabes very often?
Byallo: Pretty typical story: I got dumped by my girl, I was gigging more than ever, yet spending all of my money on rent in an increasingly expensive city. I was treading water, and felt like I needed change to grow. I’d already visited Berlin a few times for gigs at Panorama and Bar25, and I quickly fell in love. It was just my time to throw caution to the wind and just do it. Time to be more me. It was just one of those things that had to happen.
I felt really disenchanted with The States, politically, economically, the quality of life in general, so forth. Seeing that my favorite city was becoming an unrealistic place to live as an artist, I looked to Berlin. It wasn’t easy. I love San Francisco, I adore California. I just didn’t feel at home there anymore. I had to get out of that country and start writing my next chapter elsewhere. I was homesick for a year or so, sure, but I never looked back and I don’t regret my decision. I love it here.
Berlin is a creative hub, no doubt. There’s a lot of artists, a lot of ideas, a lot of new projects, new energy. Of course that comes with creative wannabes, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody wants to be something. It’s more the something they want to be that’s the issue. Some people move here to play the fame game, schmooze it up with “hot” labels and “cool” friends. Some people move here to learn, to experiment, develop, to collaborate, to live and breathe art. This city is magical and free. I don’t know anybody here that’s uncomfortable being themselves. There’s real freedom here, as long as you dot your I’s and cross your T’s.
trndmusik: What are your personal and professional plans for the future?
Byallo: I’m currently developing the concept for my next album, my most ambitious. It’s a huge multimedia project and will come with a heavy price tag of blood, sweat, tears, time and money. But it’s going to be my life’s ultimate work… until the next one! I won’t really talk about it too much, only a handful of friends know what I’m scheming. But it’s going to be the essence of Byallo, I’ll tell you that. Otherwise I’m working on a couple of new house and techno aliases, an amazing band project with my friends Dave Aju, Kenneth Scott and Marc Smith called KAMM, a DJ trio called Something Something Something with the former two of those guys, and developing the Bad Animal label and our events. I’m also working full time again as a graphic designer; easily the best job I’ve ever had. A real perfect fit after all these years of searching. What I’m NOT doing is sleeping all that much, but I’m a man on a self-realization, self-actualization mission. I’ve got my reality to weave. Sleep will come later.
Interview by Vitus Bachhausen.