Beware: we have a serious Belgian underground all-star coming to TSOBU 2020. Monikers: Yves De Mey, Eavesdropper, Grey Branches, Sendai, Grid Ravage. Genres: abstract electronics, drone, glitch, techno, minimal, conceptual, industrial, idm. On 26 January, he will perform with his newest outfit, Grid Ravage. We met the Antwerp-based electronic wizard to discuss this new band, composing and some seminal releases from his career spanning more than 20 years.
Interview by Dries Robbe
Photo by Tatjana Henderieckx, shot in Antwerp
2019 has been a very productive year for you so far, having released two albums already. What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished a third mini-album, doing some mastering for friends, making a remix, making a track for a compilation album – aaand my day job. I’m doing sound design and mixing for TV series and stuff like that. Besides that, I’m working with the newly formed band; pretty calm times, as you can see [Laughs].
Can you tell us a bit more about this new band?
It’s called Grid Ravage and consists of Louis Evrard on drums, Gino Coomans on cello and me doing the electronics part. We came together after a friend of mine – Koen Vandenhoudt of Sound in Motion, organiser of the Summer Bummer Festival – suggested that we should play together as a band.
Have you done previous collaborations with acoustic instruments?
Yes, I made an album with a cellist in 2003, which was co-produced by Klara, and I did a lot of live improvisations for dance and theatre performances.
So this collab isn’t something new?
Yes and no. In this constellation, I like that way we keep each other sharp; we are growing towards one another. The drummer is, for instance, orienting more towards the electronic part, while I am approaching my devices in a more jazzy way. That’s when it starts getting interesting; otherwise we’re just playing electronic music with live musicians, which is something I absolutely dislike. On my behalf, the music can sound a lot more acoustic than electronic, and I like the combination on the harmonic level. We don’t have fixed songs, but we do have certain patterns we start with, and from that the rest of the music evolves. This process was also the basis for the band’s name: you start with a grid, and end up with a ravage!
The process was also the basis for the band’s name: you start with a grid, and end up with a ravage!
During your career, you’ve covered a loooot of genres. How conscious are you about these genres?
Making music comes to me very organically, I don’t think too much about what music I want to make. I’m less and less genre-bound and create music in a very intuitive way. I just use one technique or sound, which leads towards new ideas and starts living its own life. I don’t want to work in a formalistic or formulistic way – the organic flow is very important to me.
Having made so many records, how do you keep on challenging yourself?
I’m anyhow a very curious person and – this might sound poetic – I’m on an ultimate search for the sound I’ve never heard, to hopefully never find it. So, my music often originates from technical research and experimenting with sounds.
I’m on an ultimate search for the sound I’ve never heard
Starting from sound design, what is the relation with composition?
On my latest album (Exit Strategies), I only used one synth and one sound per track, which I manipulate in all different ways. When I’m in the process of manipulating these sounds, I come to a point where the sound pushes me into a story, a narrative. It starts composing itself. I have to do it this way, because I’m not a trained composer whatsoever. To me, a lot of harmony and structure lies within sound, and it is the sound that makes the narrative – a composition is ultimately nothing more than a narrative, with a structure that doesn’t have to be fixed. The process is in a way comparable to automatic writing.
So you buy a new synth for every new album?
I buy a lot more synths than I make records [Laughs]!
Your first release dates from 1998. Can you give us some essential releases in your discography?
1\. Pragmatic Guidance (1998): My first release ever. In my opinion, barely listenable now, but your first release remains important. The moment people wanted to release my music was special, and this opened a lot of doors.
2\. Aars! (2000): The soundtrack for a theatre performance. Suddenly, there was a lot of interest in electronic music in the theatre scene. I played it live, resulting in a lot of touring.
3\. Lichtung (2009): A soundtrack for a dance performance this time, released under my own name for the first time. I released it on an American label, which led to international exposure for the first time.
4\. Counting Triggers (2011): I released this on Sandwell District, a well-known techno label back then. I met one of the guys at a festival in Japan. They released the album, and the label stopped two months after. Don’t know if there’s a causality [Laughs]. This release opened new doors to a more techno-minded audience.
5\. Late-night Patching (2016): My first release on Entr’Acte, which led to a lot of collaborations, meeting new people…
Final question: how’s the Belgian underground doing?
If I hear the music of friends I got to master over the last months, I think the underground is doing extremely well. I get a very warm feeling from this: Milan W., SKY H1, Mika Oki, Sagat, Hiele… they’re all doing amazing stuff. We don’t have to feel inferior to other countries – on the contrary!