Mooji, the eclectic alter-ego of much-lauded techno producer Kramnik, launched ‘Double Agent’, his debut album under the alias, on March 14th. Bizarre Culture spoke to him about his creative process and the origins of the release, which blends electro with dub, jazz, downtempo and more.
Berlin is famous as the global capital of Techno, did you move there for a reason, while still producing as Kramnik?
I moved there after released ‘Dark Matters’ as Kramnik because I wanted to approach this album with a different mindset. I knew I didn’t want to make another electronic album and was just looking for a different challenge and a change of environment. ‘Double Agent’ also came to life during my travels to Morocco, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. The aim was to try a completely different style of music, more chilled and organic. I had no idea where I was going, but I did know I wanted more improvisation I guess the end result was so different that I needed a new name altogether – Mooji.
‘Dark Matters’ was just something I needed to get out of my system as a debut album, but I never intended to stick to that type of electronic forever. I actually moved to Berlin to get away from techno. I grew up with classic rock, playing drums bands while at school in the US, so my background was never electronic. I got into electronic music through promoting DJ events at a famous art-deco palace in Madrid, and Kramnik was born out of watching the world’s best DJs in action, but I feel like I’m moving on from that.
‘Dark Matters’ was designed as a mix, and the tracks were made for DJs – dark and experimental. This time, instead of another electronic album, I wanted something more improvised and organic which goes beyond the dancefloor. I hired some musicians to play trumpets, guitars, harmonicas, and I play drums on almost all tracks. The result is more chilled, more of a listening album. For the next project I would like to take this to the next level and put together a band.
Was it a case that you had always enjoyed and been familiar with jazz/dub/funk/indie etc. in your personal listening experience but never in your production, or were they genres of music you first explored in Berlin?
I knew genres like jazz and funk quite well before moving to Berlin, so I just wanted to give them a try. That’s why the album is so varied, with dub (‘Medley’), a soundtrack (‘Psilo Symphony’), electro (‘Dont’), and even a remix of a 1935 blues track by Leadbelly that I came across in Cambodia. In this album, I also introduce spoken voices, which is a novelty for me. People like John Lee Hooker, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, or Muddy Waters. I like the effect of spoken voice on music.
‘Medley’ was my first ever attempt at something dubby, and the name comes from some bagpipes I warped for the track, and I put some Lee Perry in there. ‘So Good’ was a similar thing with John Lee Hooker, and it’s one of my favourites because the outcome is very similar to what I had in mind, which never normally happens. I wanted to write a song like Tricky’s ‘Aftermath.’
What attracted you to the analog sound? Did you feel it particularly suited to what are making as Mooji?
I still use mostly software synths because I they do the trick in most cases, but I use a hardware Minitaur for bass sounds, which makes a huge difference. The biggest piece of analogue equipment in making ‘Double Agent’ was the SSL desk we had at The Engine Room in London. The only reason I didn’t use one for ‘Dark Matters’ was the lack of budget! They’re very expensive, but for ‘Double Agent’ I knew it was essential. We recorded everything on tape, which usually adds warmth. I’d love to put ‘Dark Matters’ through the same process if I had the time and money!
I honestly don’t believe in inspiration, it’s all about hard work and dedication. I try millions of combinations until I find the right one, and it can be an exhausting process. I like holding onto tracks for a very long time, sometimes even an entire year if I’m learning new production techniques. You develop a very strong bond with the song, and for me it’s extremely hard to let go, but there’s a fine balance to ensure that you don’t overwork it.
How much of a creative input / vision did you have for the music videos, and who did you work with to make them happen?
We’re actually making six videos for the album, with two different versions for ‘Don’t’. As with the album cover, the directors come through an online contest at Music Radar, so we’re making them all over the world! Sydney, London, Toronto, Stockholm and Taiwan.
Probably as much work goes into the videos as the tracks themselves, and they take a really long time to get right, but I’m extremely happy with the results. I’m extremely involved in the editing progress, and I think these directors have really taken the songs to the next level. We’ve already been having some plays on MTV, so the response has been really good.
I think videos make the songs better because they encourage people to listen through their entirety, which is rare in an age when people are so easily distracted. That’s one of the reasons why I made a big investment in videos. They’re a lot of work, but I think they can definitely improve the experience.
‘Double Agent’ is out now on iTunes.