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Nikita Zabelin: Underground is sincerity

Interview by @ewa_nomad
Apr 14, 2021

Nikita Zabelin - dj & music producer from Moscow, who is known for his conceptual approach to the music, Tesla coils show, “Trans Siberian Express” EP on X/OZ, released on Nina Kraviz's трип and a host of Resonance weekly radio program, where he searches for the character of Russian local electronic music. One of his main works is the album “Rhizome” that conceived as audio-installation, which reveals a room without emotional context and consists of 10 years of research about non-linear properties of time, metamorphosizes, and meanings that were generated by his consciousness during that time.



What your sound is inspired by and how could you define it at the moment?

I have always liked the sound of distortion. In general what attracts me is fire, water, apocalyptic moments. The sound I make is based on that. Images of an erupting volcano and current magma appear in my head, which burns everything in its path, but it is also a part of this world and a part of nature. On the one hand - beauty, and on the other - danger. It is a collision. The moment of death. We relate to it emotionally, and magma has nothing to do with it. I like this question because it creates contrast in me. I like mountains. You look at the mountains and they are majestic, they attract you ultimately. I see the same in my new patch, which I have been collecting for 2 years. The sound itself is powerful, grandiose, with great depth, with completely different details. Why am I talking about magma and mountains? Because this is something organic that regenerates itself and does not depend on anything, that is what I'm searching for.

Nikita transfers various mental processes to the plane of music and explores them through using modular synthesis. He says modular synthesis provides more opportunities to unleash potential and improve the special handwriting, which is the most important thing for a musician.

The principle of sound synthesis when you use a modular gives you many possibilities. I like to use modular synthesis because there is a lot of control on your part, you can make edits in those moments that interest you. A synthesizer is a ready-made solution when you have only those buttons and knobs that the manufacturer considered the most useful. Basically, all synthesizers have a noise parameter (add, remove), but I need it to be not just added, but added in a special way. To do this, I have a certain set of modules that I can connect in different ways and achieve a certain sound. An ordinary synthesizer won't give you that. Such small details are fundamentally important to me because they create the handwriting that every artist should have, this is his value.

We immediately recognize Oneohtrix Point Never, Trentemoller or even Moby. Even when we listen to music from the 2000s, we understand where Timbaland wrote the music, and where Pharell Williams is. The modular synthesizer allows the electronic artist to experience this deep dive.

This is the artist's handwriting and this is important, in my opinion, very strongly.




“Music geek should lead an ascetic life” is your quote from the interview on the Resident Advisor. Can you comment on why?

It's not about an ascetic lifestyle, but about what state you need to be kept in. If you become greedy, start going to parties, not achieving your creative goals, then, of course, this is important to take steps to get back to your productive condition.

Also, I can say that without cardinal changes in life, traumatic enough - growth is impossible. You can't go in the same water twice - either. This means that without overcoming some events in your life, you will not be filled with new experience. Otherwise, you will turn into a techno producer who does the same thing throughout his life. I mean not to use the same form for your works, but to be frozen in the same condition and try to sell it again and again. When this copy-paste begins, then this is an indicator for me that you should stop or change direction, and it doesn't matter which way. The ascetic approach needs to be supported if it leads to the realization of creativity, which for me is the most important thing.

After this moment I was curious what Nikita thought about underground.

I realized that the underground is associated with sincerity, with sincere motives to convey a message, no matter in what form. If we are specifically talking about such things, then take the PC Music label and A.G. Cook. Here you are, this is an example of how a person made pop in form, but this is the most underground music. Even Morgenstern is underground for me. I understand the artistic beginning of this man. It's clear to me that he is an artist. He does what he believes in. If you believe in it and it's tastefully done – pop it or hip hop – it's cool.

Underground is a sincerity



The opposite of "underground" is commerce. Such things are motivated by profit-seeking and the organization of corrupt ties. As a result, it is the so-called gatekeeping. It is death for me, something spiritless, empty.


There is the concept of "death" – it is a romanticized image of something dark. I agree, but death is beautiful when it is expressed in some kind of desire for death. If you move in the direction of death or the direction after death, already in an immaterial form – this is all great and cool, because it is such gothic, dark stuff. But for me, there is another understanding of death – the absence of movement, the absence of meaning in it. When something stops and life is lost in it, it begins to rot and decay.

As I know underground appears when creating is prohibited and this is such a protest.

I also thought so before. There is the 80s pop music, which I did not like cuz of the lack of protest in it. Kind of artificial and superficial. Once I was prompted by the artist from Russia Andrei Oid.  He told me as a person who grew up in the 80s  “the protest of 80s music is that there is no protest in it”. Protest against the protest. Then everything falls into place for you. When you lived in the 50s, 60s, 70s in protest, around the war, and you have been fucking protesting for years and just want to live, then there is a protest against the protest. This is superficial reasoning because underground is always: Molotov cocktails, Rage Against the Machine, politics. No, that's not the point, for me, sincerity is an underground feeling. Capitalism built a social cage around us, and we cannot simply remain sincere.


The main factor and engine of art is sincerity, not protest. The protest is the result of a desire to be honest to yourself.


If you sincerely want to write music about love, as the singer Luna does. Isn't singer Luna underground music? Russian music can only sincerely envy Ukrainian underground music. Ukrainian music has a certain musicality that Russian music lacks. This is how I feel it.

Many creative people feel life more real through their decadent states, do you have such vices?

I am grateful to Moscow - Moscow does not forgive such things, because here you need to do in spite of your emotional ups and downs. It's called professionalism. I respect and understand when people are depressed, but this should not interact with work in any way. Even if you don't want to do something, you need to understand that it needs to be done. My talent does not belong to me and I am obliged to share it with people around me, regardless of my mood, desire to work, and so on. If you cannot do it for yourself, do it for others. If I lived only for myself, I wouldn't just fucking do anything. I love myself, I am quite comfortable with myself, but other people, I would like to make them a little bit happier with what I do. It will make my life better. More of that being depressed is also you and you should admit it and accept yourself.

If you have some talent or do something better than others, you have to do it.



One of the questions that disturb Nikita is a question of heritage. When the older generation passes the knowledge to the younger one. From this position, he explains and shares things that somehow could influence the mindsets of people in a good way.

It's cool when what you do brings pleasure not only to you, but also to other people, who consume the result of your creativity. Things that you like not alway become massive in consumption, but sometimes, on the contrary, even very much. It all depends on many factors, BUT it is necessary to look for the middle.
Some people became simply disappointed and quit ahead of time when it was necessary to continue a little. It happens, and, vice versa, many people are engaged in nonsense. Most often the problem is that they look at things shallowly and do not try to reveal the topic.

2020 turned out to be a very tough year, almost like an apocalypse. How is your life going at this time and do you think an artist should react to what is happening?


Of course, the artist's work is to react. An emotional attitude to the situation and implementation. 3BAMBI, from my point of view, appeared thanks to these changes because it is impossible to be silent, impossible to sit, I already want to yell at what is happening. Our world is going to the bottom, wars, people die, and general hysteria from a pandemic. In my case, I want to scream because are you all fucking nuts? Look at what you listen to, what you believe in, what you eat? This is simply impossible. What do you think of the classic Bulgakov book “Dog’s heart”, should it be banned?

Can you say more about 3BAMBI project?


The only thing I can say: it is a creative union in which IXXF and I are responsible for the music and Ksti Hu for the visual. 3BAMBI is a reaction to the modern world. It was a big step to start using the voice as a tool. Singing is a kind of psychotherapy and I wish everyone to experience this feeling and try. Our time fits the best to realize this dream to engage in a riot and carry out this kind of emotional mood. This is important for people, in fact, for anyone, because it releases a lot of hidden emotions. When you open the tap and it flows brown - that's my vocals, yes. It’s terrible, bad, but anyway - this is water, which was not there before and this is wonderful.

“Rhizome is the attempt to musically grasp and visualize the unseizable: The invisible and absolute absence of the self. “Emptiness.” How did you get this idea?

When I wrote the first track I wondered what was that? I got an idea of my alter-ego, which I can understand from the point of view of the constructivist approach. Because it is a project dedicated to volume – the volume of auditory space. This is a dimensional audio-installation. You sit down, close the door and imagine a picture with a lot of moving details, such a show. People listen to music as a whole, I listen to music in detail. For me it's all such a spread. Here is the hat on your right playing, here someone shouted behind and you can remotely imagine it. The goal was to remove the narrative context from it and everything that makes the listener follow the author's lead.
It's all just a frame, it's all just a form. You can fill it with content yourself, because it doesn't need it there. This is a philosophical explanation of the sound design, your personality, thoughts that will sound inside the composition, replacing the emptiness. This is the Rhizome concept. Such a little postmodern.

In the album Rhizome, I heard Richie Hawtin (EP Closer), Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Cio D’or.
It is very good that such associations came to your mind, I take it as a compliment. You have listed one the most important artists of the last 30 years in music, for me personally.

Cio D’or is the first person who believed in me in techno. When I wrote my first techno track, I did not understand that it was techno. I sent it to Cio, she told me “supercool, I will play it, finally, my Japanese tour set is done” and since then Cio D’or opened the door for me to the world of techno. This track was called Tranquility. I still think this is my best track and I will release it on a separate record. It will be a prologue to Rhizome, because it all started with it.

Is Resonance a good way to promote musicians?

I wish I could do that. But my chief goal is to find out what is to be an artist and why. To find a solution to the issue of the artist's respect for himself. Also my task is to determine the nature of Russian electronic music. I would like to create a communicative environment within which people will exchange experiences and develop. There are a number of needs to build up functionable platform. Resonance is a result of search for certain solutions for further general development, because Resonance is not my personal instrument, it is still a common structure.

Analyzing your activities and social networks, I can say that you have a close-knit team of guys with a similar taste and friendship means a lot to you. Do you easily accept new people into this closed society?

I believe that any kind of isolation is a matter of decay and death. This is the funniest way to create value for yourself through inaccessibility. It's a cheap chicky trick: “We are a closed community, it’s not easy to join us.” This is usually done by people who have not much and they need to stay inaccessible to remain attractive. Yes, of course, relationships, yes, of course - integration, and this is the path to development. This is clear to everyone, except those who cannot get their integrity. Any kind of snobbish behavior is due to weakness, incompetence and the inability to change the situation, fear, to be honest.

As an information holder, you are obliged to share this information. Only in this way we can overcome ignorance - the main scourge of our capitalistic society.



If you would like to share with us a label whose artists you have listened many times, that would be cool.

I follow artists more. I like Pan, PCMusic, Posh Isolation. For example, a great UNCIA album came out on PEER ПИР label, this is a cool label of Moa Pillar. I also like russian rapper i61 when it comes to conceptual thinking. I like Husky because it's fucking deep. New artist Kim Dracula is cool. Salem has a good album just out. Tricky is one of the few people who still inspire me. The dude publishes a new album and it’s cool again. And he said one important thing:

“Your success doesn't depend on how much money and listening you have, your success depends on whether you can do a new album or not. Every time I release a new album, I consider myself a successful musician.”

(KEXP interview)

Will the DJ profession be in 10 years?

Of course, it will be even more popular. A DJ is a stylist, a compiler, an applied profession that creates context.

Now there is artificial intelligence, which can make selections itself.

That's right, but what is the difference between artificial intelligence and humans? Nick Cave said such thing in the Vice interview:

“What we are actually listening to is human limitation and the audacity to transcend it. AI would have the capacity to write a good song, but not a great one. It lacks the nerve.”



What are your favorite films?

Riaba ma poule, Dog’s heart, Taxi-Blues. Three wonderful films that show the relationship between creativity and everyday life, ideological people and people who look after their refrigerator.

Artists / musicians who impressed you?

Musicians Elvin Brandhi, Zavet, Knigi, IC3PEAK. I like the painter Jolie Alien. This is a girl from Moscow, she is now 18 years old and she paints awesome pictures. Until now, my inspiration is Marianna Berezovska, who makes the Borshch magazine. Borshch magazine is gold. Also, my friends - Heimer (IXXF) and Kristina (Ksti Hu).

Why do you keep making music?

Because for me this is my balance. If Resonance Moscow justifies my existence as a person in society, music explains to me the rules of existence. Kinda my religion.

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