80sObscurities presents: In Trance 95 - 'Desire to Desire' + interviewPosted on 05/02/13
This 80sObscurities was founded by DJ Rexx Arkana to showcase old, often unknown or forgotten acts and tracks from the decade when electronic music was truly the new wave. Rexx Arkana has been a club/radio DJ and promoter since the mid-80s and headlined festivals on several continents and currently holds a residency at DEFCON, NYC's current longest-running weekly scene party. He is also the founder and lyricist of Brudershaft and one half of harsh electro act FGFC820.
Welcome to another special edition of 80sObscurities. Athens’ In Trance 95, today’s artist, comes from a land more commonly referenced for its culture, mythology and architecture than for its electronic music. As such, 18 year olds Alex Machairas and Nik Veliotis took inspiration not so much from Greece’s beautiful beaches, but instead from the minimal cold wave sounds which filtered to them from the North and West.
Founded in 1988, IT95 used primitive portable analogue synthesizers and drum machines to craft sparse compositions of urban angst and youthful uncertainty. Underpinned by simple melodies and wafting synth pads, their music was both ambitious and restrained. Their technology and recording capabilities may have been limited, but as artists they expanded vast visions of the kind of optimistic and all-is-possible future that only those too young to have become jaded by the realities of earthly existence can possess.
Read the interview with the band after the jump.
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“Music was the most important thing in my life growing up as a teenager,” Machairas announces. “There were certain songs on the radio that sounded completely different than anything I had heard before. I felt I had to find out more about it. So I started making tapes of my favorite programs and buying my first magazines. In November of 1982, I bought my first two 7inch singles: ‘Souvenir’ by OMD and ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by Bauhaus. My older cousin gave me a mix tape that included tracks by Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, Siouxsie and even a track by a Greek band, The Reporters. I was only twelve.”
As a teen, Machairas’ fascination with music morphed into a veritable obsession. Like many of us who grew up in the 80s, he spent endless hours hanging out at the local record stores, basking in the bounty of new releases, white labels and promos. Specialty radio and television programming offered up sparse gems, while the foreign music press like NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror offered tantalizing teases of the new wave’s conquest of the UK and Western Europe. Mahairas eschewed the typical trappings of teen manhood – alcohol, tobacco and porn – and instead spent all his pocket money on music, buying seven or eight records per week, sometimes more.
“What drew me to that style of music,” he explains, “was the fact it was speaking to my heart. It is as simple as that. It was how it made me feel as well as the sound itself: fresh and different, mysterious and dark. I also loved the aesthetic of (post-punk and new wave). It was the whole package, from the music to the iconic sleeves. The image was not as important, but it played its own part in influencing my personal style - wearing black for instance - which I still do now.”
By the middle of the decade, Machairas had decided that merely listening to music wasn’t enough. He wanted to learn to create it for himself. He fantasized about being part of an electronic music duo, but he was much younger than everyone in his circle and didn’t own any instruments. Worse, the synth market in Greece was nearly non-existent. It wasn’t easy to find gear, as electronic “toys” were not so popular, and only rich kids could afford such an expensive hobby.
Still, Machairas’ dream would not die easily. In 1986, with perseverance and persistence, he collected enough money to buy his first synth, a Portasound. A few weeks later, he picked up a cheap Synsonics drum machine that, he laughs: “many would call a toy, but for me was the closest thing to Kraftwerk!” It was on this primitive machinery that Machairas would compose and record his first demos, including an early version of IT95’s debut single "Desire To Desire", today’s featured song. Band mate Veliotis still has that original synth. In fact, all of the gear critical in defining and shaping their sound (the Yamaha CS01 synthesizer, the Roland TR606 Drum machine and the Boss DD2 Delay pedal) are still in their possession. Apart from the TR606, they all still function perfectly.
“I had this early big crush on synthesizers,” Machairas says. “This goes way back even before my teen years, when I was trying to identify which instrument made those electronic sounds I’d heard. There was this mystery about them. It wasn't as clear…what they do…as it was with conventional instruments like guitar. I heard ‘Electricity’ by OMD and I fell in love with the sound of their first four albums. They played a significant role. I bought ‘Dazzle Ships’ as an import the day it came out and through them I discovered Kraftwerk's ‘Radioactivity’ and ‘Trans Europe Express’…and also who Velvet Underground and Neu! were.”
“Also very important were compilation albums, because through those you would discover more names and continue the search. This is how I got to know DAF, Cabaret Voltaire, Soft Cell, early Human League, John Foxx etc. That same year I bought through mail order two very important tapes, ‘Space Museum’ by Solid Space (their only release) and a local compilation entitled ‘I Love To Play With Noise’ that included Kas Product, Bene Geserit, Legendary Pink Dots & SPK amongst others. Those were catalysts, too, because I got introduced to the other side of electronics, the experimental or, in the case of Solid Space, low fi. It didn't have the clarity of albums such as ‘Metamatic’ by Foxx or ‘Organisation’ by OMD, but ‘Space Museum’ was still electronic, sentimental, dark and beautiful.”
Armed with a passion for electronic music and a deep desire to learn and experiment within the medium, all it took next was a chance encounter at a Blaine Reininger (ex-Tuxedomoon) concert in Athens to provide the final necessary catalyst for the creation of IT95. It was there that Machairas and Veliotis met as two complete strangers at the bar. In conversation, the two would discover a shared interest and enthusiasm for electronic music. As it turns out, Veliotis had already managed to build his own home studio, in the basement of the building in which he lived, equipped with a four track Fostex, a borrowed TR909, a Dr. Rhythm machine and assorted microphones and wires. It was an ideal environment for the young artists to start experimenting and eventually create their own personal sound.
“There were no ‘growing pains’ at all between us,” Machairas recalls. “Actually, it was the exact opposite; one completing the other's ideas. We were writing and recording constantly for endless hours for the first two years that we used this equipment and this space. We named the studio Airdawn because we would usually finish at five in the morning and you could feel that cool breeze of the early morning air walking out of our basement each time…the air of the dawn.”
“The studio was located on a street named Lykourgou at No 95. The ‘95’ part of our name comes from that. The ‘In Trance’ part had to do with a book of literature that was at the studio at the time. It had nothing to do with the music genre that came out later. We liked the sound of it.
Plus, there were also a few bands with a number in their name, such as Section 25, Current 93, Front 242 and Trisomie 21, all of whom we liked. If we’d given it more thought, we probably would’ve chosen something different. But we were very impulsive and instinctive those days.”
While the band was busy writing and creating, that future they once found so wide open and full of possibilities threatened to stifle them before they even began. The local atmosphere seemed to reflect little interest in electronic music as a genre. Instead, the band found themselves lumped in with the greater alternative music scene, opening for such bands as Greece’s dark wave icons South of No North. Still, this cross-pollination of styles yielded larger and more diverse audiences at gigs, which meant more opportunities to impress new crowds. Eventually, as the 80s became the 90s, the club scene exploded, though IT95 fell outside of the popular surge of DJ culture.
It may have been tempting for the band to modify their sound to appease the “electronica” masses, but they stayed the course, stayed true to their mandate to find expression through experimentation. “When we started In Trance 95, we both knew we wanted to create our music based on electronics and express ourselves through our art. We had our concepts, ideas and ideals, while at the same time we were still seeking out our own personal sound. It’s hard to say exactly what our original vision was as this kept on changing. We were growing and ourselves were changing too, being as young as we were when we started. It's a bit blurry now.”
Machairas reflects that the band’s biggest achievement was the simple fact that they managed to release four records at a time when there was no noticeable synth scene at all around them. Their debut single, “Desire to Desire” (b/w “Brazilia”), first appeared in 1988 on local label Wipe Out! A moody, understated piece of primitive drum rhythms, sweeping synths and Machairas’ Marc Almond-esque eccentric vocal delivery, the song is a prototypical 80s obscurity.
“Those were our very first recordings on a 24 track professional studio using an outside engineer,” Machairas remembers. “We even used different equipment than our own, stuff that was available there in the studio. That song is one of our synth pop moments, a bit more straight-forward. Although if you listen to it, the original version is less polished; it's dirtier. The demo versions of ‘Desire’ and the track ‘Presidente’ always make me think of Cabaret Voltaire a bit. Probably because those were two of our very early tracks and I felt more comfortable doing those half whispery vocals like Stephen Mallinder. In our early days, our nature was to lean more towards the experimental side, but we always had that pop sensibility too.”
Thankfully for 80sObscurities listeners, the song was accompanied by an independent video shot, directed and edited by Roger Cook (a crew member on the production of Nicolas Roeg’s classic David Bowie-starring film “The Man Who Fell To Earth”). “It was a long, painful procedure that took almost a month,” Machairas says. “The whole thing was shot on 16mm film. Roger was a genius, but always blind drunk by the end of the day. We paid him with a nice amount of money and endless beers.”
Despite these accomplishments, by the mid-90s there was a sense of things left unfinished for the band due to a bulk of unreleased material that never made it to the public. Yet, even this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When the band reformed in 2010 to open up for Alan Wilder’s Recoil concert in Athens, they found support amongst audiences new and old. Demand for their material, long vanished into the hands of collectors, was renewed. Thanks to their reserve of unissued tracks, the band had more than enough material to fill up the recent "Cities Of Steel And Neon" compilation album released by NYC cult favorite Minimal Wave Records in 2010.
Luckily for the band’s faithful followers, this release would only be a precursor of things to come for IT95. Last year, Minimal Wave issued the band’s first new album since 1992’s promo “Warm Nights Driving On Wet Streets”, the eclectic sold-out cassette-only “Shapes in a New Geometry.” (The digital version of “Shapes…” arrives today via www.minimalwave.com)
Machairas explains how the release came about: “Our original intention was to release a 4-track EP. But once again we were in a hyper-productive period and we came up with more material, enough to release a whole album. The sound of it is a bit rough and dark, but that was our mood at the time we were writing it. Sonic-wise it continues on the path of ‘Cities Of Steel And Neon.’ The pop moment of the album is the track "In God's Heaven", although it is not at all a happy song lyrically. The rest of the album leans more towards our experimental side. We even used an electric guitar on three tracks, cello on the opener "P.O.S.T." And that very first Porta-sound synth…you can hear it on ‘Invisible Industry Of Solitude.’”
For now, it seems that the future is again a blank state for IT95. There is more unreleased material written recently by the band that may yet find itself onto another new album. It’s something that not only fans of minimal synth music eagerly anticipate, but also something that has the band itself excited again. “For now, we are happy to be back these past three years,” Machairas smiles. “We’ll see where it takes us. We know we have more things to let out through In Trance 95.”
From the past perhaps far into the future, IT95 is once again a band to watch out for.
If you've got a favorite musical memory from the 80s that you'd like to share, email Rexx your requests at firstname.lastname@example.org . Rexx Arkana's 80sObscurities previous playlists are also available on Facebook and YouTube.
Posted by B. Van Isacker
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