Vlimmer is the sonic brainchild of German musician, producer, label owner, visual artist and book author Alexander Leonard Donat. He’s involved with numerous projects, but Vlimmer definitely is a special one. By the end of 2020 he released the final chapter of an impressive eighteen EP-series. It took him five years to achieve this unique concept, which has been released on his own label Blackjack Illuminist Records. The songs are quite diversified, but often influenced by Shoegaze, Dark-Pop, Dark-Wave and related genres.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: Can you briefly tell us how you got involved with music and how did you come to set up Vlimmer? What have been the main influences and references when setting up Vlimmer?
Alexander: I’ve been playing different kinds of instruments since the age of four. I started with classical music and the violin, a little later I went on playing the piano and even tried out handling the trumpet. I’m in the third generation of a musical family, but the first one who makes Rock/Electronic music. Additionally, I’m the first one not doing it on a professional basis. My dad is a classical pianist and a university teacher, my grandfather was one of the most famous pianists in the GDR and didn’t do anything else besides giving concerts all over Germany and the whole planet.
Like them, and like probably every passionate musician at some point I thought about making music for a living. I tried and I failed with my first projects and bands. Vlimmer was a reaction to that very attempt. In 2015 I no longer tried to involve anything in my music that would please an audience, I simply made something that was 100% the music I wanted to make: a dark and bleak version of Shoegaze. Honestly, I didn’t have any clear references, only a few random ones like Dirty Beaches and Belong maybe, rather unknown Lo-Fi and Ambient/Drone-based bands. I started with Vlimmer making this kind of music because I couldn’t find anything like that anywhere. It’s as simple as that.
Q: Back in 2015 you started with a rather ambitious project, which was to release 18 (!) EP’s. How the hell did you get this idea, which is absolutely unique and what did you’ve in mind? Was there a kind of deadline?
Alexander: When I officially released the first two parts of the EP-series I had already recorded five ones. It was an incredibly productive phase where the songs didn’t stop coming, it was as if I just needed a synthesizer, my guitar pedals and a microphone in front of me to create songs that were basically writing themselves. Believe me or not, in the beginning I never planned to release any of the material, but then I thought, ‘What the heck, you have this DIY record label and there are not even a handful of bands on it, just release this. Even if nobody is listening, it will at least look like you have a real record label at hand. You have nothing to lose’.
It was also pretty easy to come up with lyrics, I simply used a book I had written (in German) a couple of years before. Guess how many chapters it has? Announcing an 18-EP series with a completely new project, not knowing if anyone was remotely interested in it may have looked extremely optimistic –and a little stupid, too. But seriously, I absolutely felt capable of doing this, right from the start.
At first I wanted to prove it to myself, but then I did it to shut the people up who thought this series couldn’t be done. The start was marvelous, people were listening immediately; out of nowhere, I suddenly had more listeners than I had in the entire 10 years before that. This, of course, was extremely motivating and gave me an extra push. There was no deadline for when to finish the series, I only knew I didn’t want it to take more than five years, which meant I had two definite release dates per year where I released either one or two EP’s at the same time.
Q: Each EP features 5 different songs, which means a total amount of 90 (!) songs. Was there a specific reason why you released 5 songs for each EP and 18 EP’s? Is there a kind of concept behind this project and what are your favorite songs and releases?
Alexander: There is a very clear concept behind this EP series. It tells the story of a young man getting lost between reality and his increasingly delusional mind. The motif is rather classical: the individual that feels alienated among people, looking for a purpose in life and a place in society. However, furthermore, I involved time travels, disturbing events that blend real life with imagination, murder, and a rather hopeless ending, which leads right back to the start of everything. I like to see it as a Dark-Ambient existential narrative. In order to tell the narrative a certain number of songs was necessary, and 5 felt about right and manageable.
Having thought about this question of a favorite EP before, I still don’t have a definite one I like the most. I honestly enjoy listening to them all and wouldn’t change a thing. For the listeners I would recommend starting with 12, 13, 14 and head on to 18 and 10 to get an impression of ‘the later’, more dark Shoegaze/Dark-Electro/Dark-Pop/Post-Punk Vlimmer. In the beginning it was bleaker, noisier, more Lo-Fi, more Dark-Wave, Krautrock and Shoegaze. Of the ‘early’ Vlimmer I recommend starting with 1, 6 and 8. My top 5 songs are probably “Lebenswert” (from 16), “Leben” (11), “Gesellschaftsrücken” (13), “Sonnenschwarz” (7) and “Krakenkombat” (12), but this constantly changes.
Q: Composing and recording 90 songs in between 2015 and 2020 definitely requests a huge discipline, but still a constant creativity. How did you manage both aspects and what has been your way of working?
Alexander: That’s as mysterious as it is pure coincidence. First of all, I listen to a lot of music from very different genres, from Indie-Rock to Dark-Ambient to Psychedelic Garage-Rock to Black-Metal and Post-Hardcore, you name it. There’s music for every mood and emotion in my life, which means that I also make rather positive and bright music. Sure, they all transport an emotional, melancholic aspect, but there’s a huge difference between Vlimmer and, let’s say, my Dream-Punk/Indie-Rock project Fir Cone Children.
Switching between these moods it’s easy to stay creative because I’m not focused on just one thing. If I only had one project I think wouldn’t be as productive. Luckily, I have a handful of other projects besides Vlimmer and they all help me to balance it out and stay focused. Once I’m ‘back’ from being busy with one project, I’m usually super hungry for one my other projects. Also, I don’t need much sleep, it’s four and a half hours on average, which means I can use half of the night for writing and recording new music.
Q: You’re also running Blackjack Illuminist Records. So I would like to get your opinion about releasing EPs versus albums; especially because I hear label owners affirming albums will progressively disappear because of streaming platforms?
Alexander: I hate to admit it, but it seems like the majority of today’s listeners can only focus on singles, which is something I can see in the Spotify statistics of most of my label’s bands. So, it’s more like albums and EP’s versus singles rather than albums versus EP’s for me. Personally, I will always favor an album, or if necessary an EP over a single. As a label owner focusing on physical releases I will, of course, release singles, but always prior to a full-length on CD, tape or vinyl. This is my number one passion. If I were to focus on digital-only releases, I could as well shut down my label. Not gonna happen, not as long as I have all my senses.
Luckily, so far, the labels I buy records from are still around and don’t seem like disappearing in the next years. But in 20 years of time I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of labels which release physical media were down to 40%. But this would be due to generations of music listeners slowly dying out – listeners who like to put on vinyl records or play CDs and tapes on their stereo. It’s somehow sad, but it’s the natural course of things, and I totally accept this.
Q: Now you’ve finally accomplished the 18 EPs series, what will be the next step and further plans for Vlimmer?
Alexander: Thanks for asking, at the moment I’m finishing up the songs for the first Vlimmer-album, which will be released in Autumn. With the EP-series finished, I made a clear cut and started working on a new sound design and style working with new equipment. All of the synthesizers I used in the past five years are, kind of, banned for me, I didn’t even use them once. It’s still Vlimmer, but it’s less Pop, less Post-Punk, less Indie, and instead more tribal drums, more darkness and density, more distortion, more aggression. Instead of an 80s vibe these new songs have a contemporary aim. And hey, I’m extremely excited as it looks like there will be a vinyl version being released on a label I very much love. On Blackjack Illuminist, of course, I’m going to release the CD and tape version, as usual.