‘Click Interview’ with LivingTotem: ‘A Ritual Cyber-Punk Dystopia In Industrial Technology’
LIVINGTOTEM is a Hungarian solo-project driven by András Gulyás. He released his first official album “40K” in 2014 on Advoxya Records. The next album “Raw Effort” got released in 2017 on Ant-Zen and revealed a strong fusion between different music styles like Industrial, Trance, Techno, IDM and Tribal. The newest opus “Surreal Existence” got released by the end of 2020 and clearly sounds as a new masterpiece, but also revealing an artist with a very own sound approach. If you don’t know yet LIVINGTOTEM I can only, but encourage you to discover the great work of András Gulyás.
(Picture credit by infinitbeat.hu / Interview courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: How did you get in touch with Electro/Industrial music and what incited you to set up LIVINGTOTEM?
András: I grew up in the vicinity of a brick factory, so I experienced industrial noises and visual impacts at a young age. However, sometime in the late 80s, getting to know FRONT 242, DAF, TEST DEPT and SKINNY PUPPY gave me the real push towards that direction. At that time it was not easy to get this music here in Hungary, the ‘iron curtain’ was still closed and we were living in the era of cassette copies… but there were also Hungarian bands at that time. These concerts also left a mark on me. We even shot a documentary about it a few years ago, but have not managed to finish it yet due to the lack of time and financial means, so the material is resting on a multi-terabyte external drive at the moment, unfortunately…
In 1992 I started DJ-ing once a month at the legendary Depeche Mode Fan Club events at the PECSA Klub in Budapest, along with DJ Fatman. After a while I was more and more drawn to music that mixed my favorite styles, but there were very few bands that actually did that / Tribal-Industrial-Acid-EBM-Techno. So I started thinking about making my own music. For the sake of this, I was trying to find a compact piece of hardware -but not a laptop, that I could take on stage as a one-man act. This came true in 2006 when I bought my first Electribe groove box. This cost about 730EUR, at a time when my monthly salary in Hungary was around 290EUR!
Q: You’ve been involved with different bands; from QUANTUM COWBOYS to PANORAMIC BARRIER to LIVINGTOTEM and you’re still active as DJ! What means music to you and tell us a bit more about these different projects?
András: For me, music always gets absolute priority. This, of course, poses challenges both in my professional- (I work in the construction industry 8-10 hours a day on weekdays) and in my private life as well. LIVINGTOTEM is my main project. As I have mentioned, this mixing of styles is like a Ritual Cyber-Punk dystopia in Industrial technology.
My other project is PANORAMIC BARRIER, it’s a completely analog stuff fusing EBM, Techno and Experimental. The ‘gear’ is completely CV-controlled just like in the 70s; no MIDI, no USB; including semi-modular synths, drums and effects. This is practically a live-only project. All of these performances are unique and unrepeatable.
The band QUANTUM COWBOYS will never be as it used to be again because BradyO, one of our lead singers, passed away in 2013. I have even recorded a song or two with her as a duo, one of which appeared on a compilation of 4mg Records titled “Little Green Bag”. Of course, I hope to be able to get on with this style as well, but who knows what the future holds.
As a DJ, I usually play within the New-Wave, EBM, Industrial, Rhythm & Noise, Ambient and Psychedelic-Trance styles, not only at party events but also in my bi-weekly radio broadcast on Tilos Radio / FM90.3 Budapest, tilos.hu.
Q: You already mentioned the mix of styles, which is characterizing LIVINGTOTEM. What can you say about your influences and your way of composing/producing music? How does your studio looks like?
András: I pay attention to music of every genre in general. I went to a lot of events, exhibitions for as long as I could and these all served as an inspiration. Work, movies, exhausted moments after parties or when I’m intoxicated by love, all these challenges that swirl in my head help me to find inspiration, culminating in the music I make.
At home I use the same hardware machines as during the performances, Korg Electribe, Korg mixer with a built-in chaos bench, Roland SP-555 sampler, Waldorf Micro Q, Zoom effect and self-made sound generating devices… I make a lot of demo recordings at home, of which about a quarter gets ever released. One day I hope to share these on some platform. I create 90% of the music on these instruments, recorded on multiple tracks before we start mixing. In this process, we can add or even subtract much more effects and sound designs. That’s why the music will surely sound different in a live performance than on a record! It really matters to me that my audience gets more from a live gig than just an exact reproduction of what the release contains! Going to the studio, make recordings and mixing requires a lot of time that I’m usually lack of. So it takes several years for an album to be completed. Usually I just find a couple of hours on the weekends with my friend Péter Buza, with whom I create the final sound of the album at the Astral Escape Studio. He was also actively involved in an album for NOUVELLE PHENOMENE.
I need a studio because of idea ‘more ears, hear more’. I always welcome comments and suggestions from others. These are added values, which I think can add color to existing music. I asked Eric Van Wonterghem for mastering again; I respect him very much and I appreciate his work. Many people insist on doing everything themselves; music, mixing, mastering, cover design… which is why they come up with very similar things after two or three records. I want to blend a bit of the Industrial-EBM world of the ’80s with today’s modern, dark club sound and also draw from the world of early Acid, which can of course get ‘distorted’ in many ways flowing into a tribal sound out of this world. I don’t often make remixes, but I was very happy when TEST DEPT asked me to do a remix for them which I gladly accepted of course. They came out with a very good new album in 2019 and I was able to perform as their support act at their concert here in Budapest which was also a great honor for me.
Q: You’re taking time to work on new material. How do you prepare a new album and how did you achieve “Surreal Existence”?
András: Due to my job the final process of making music, i.e. studio work, is a bit difficult for me. The other thing is that I’m having a hard time picking the tracks that end up on the release from the countless demo recordings. There are still several tracks that I could not include, but they will certainly appear on the next album or in some other form. The equipment of the studio also evolved and changed in the meantime. Therefore, three of the tracks had to be recorded again, but in my opinion and also according to the feedback, it was really worth it. The physical release also encountered some obstacles which we eventually managed to solve. Attila Csihar who is a good old friend of mine also contributed to this record. This acquaintance dates back to 1992 when he played in a band called PLASMAPOOL. We had been planning to make music together for a couple of years, we had a lot of jam sessions, but due to a lack of time we never found time for more. We have now finally managed to collaborate on one single track.
Last but not least I was very happy to be able to release this album at the Ant-Zen records label, just as my previous one. The title of the album refers to all the surreal things that occurred in my home country and in my life.
Q: 2020 has been a dramatic year because of Covid-19! How did it feel at your side and especially as a musician who could no longer play live to present his new work? What do you expect for the further months?
András: The situation is really dramatic, and the whole world has become strange, as if we were part of a huge experiment like in World War III. I have the feeling, unfortunately, that life as we knew it before the end of 2019 will never return. However, I can call myself lucky because I was able to play at the Fekete Zaj Festival with my projects PANORAMIC BARRIER and LIVINGTOTEM featuring my friend Mr. TibaLt KusH known from ROSINFLUX. We called our performance a ‘bound improvisational fusion’. With PANORAMIC BARRIER I had another live gig at “Alkotótábor” which is an artistic camp. These open-air gigs were an amazing boost of energy. At the end of the year I had an online live-gig with LIVINGTOTEM (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkZkYX6A4Is) which was originally planned as an album release party (Industrial Fusion) that had to be cancelled when all clubs were closed in November. Just before that, clubs in Budapest could still operate with a curfew at 11pm. I also played a few DJ-sets, like the International EBM-Day in February and an extended chill-set before and after Carbon Based Lifeform. Even in Autumn I was able to play at some EBM and New-Wave parties. I do hope that 2021 will bring at least some domestic events. Who knows, maybe even a movie will come out with a soundtrack from me…
Q: Tell us a bit more about your live performances? What are you exactly doing on stage and how do transpose the studio tracks into a live performance?
András: For me, the process is exactly the other way around, I test my new compositions live on stage first, sometimes I even play demo versions in DJ-sets at Industrial-Techno parties. I pay attention to the reaction of the audience that helps me with deciding which tracks to include on the record. But there are always 1 or 2 tracks that I have never played live which can only be heard on the album because they do not fit into the live concept. As a result, so to sum it up, I play a lot of new music at live gigs where I’m already testing the material for the upcoming albums. I never play two identical concerts because I always play 2-3 brand new compositions. I keep fine-tuning them at every single performance. In this scene, there is unfortunately practically zero revenue from social media and other online platforms or physical releases. The only way to make money out of music is to play live.
Originally, I have started LIVINGTOTEM as a live act to show how music is created by rolling and turning all those little knobs, instead of looking at a person standing in ‘blue light’ behind a monitor pushing some buttons you can’t even see. I like to put great emphasis on the stage set as well and I don’t only mean the background projection, but a whole design concept that I have in mind.
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