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After five years of self-imposed exile Vladislav Delay is ready to return

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For 20 years Sasu Ripatti has been crafting boundary-pushing electronic music at the fringes of the underground.

Most famously as Luomo and Vladislav Delay, his work has influenced the likes of Animal Collective and shaped the sound of ambient music over the last two decades. Famously uncompromising and unafraid to create new aliases and kill them off just as quickly, Ripatti’s musical journey is one that has seen him take on techno, footwork, jazz and even, in his early days as a drummer, black metal.

Later this month he returns as Vladislav Delay. After a five year hiatus, Ripatti will debut a brand new live audiovisual show at Berlin Atonal festival, teaming up with his wife and longterm collaborator AGF to give attendees a taste of his as yet unannounced new record. Both titled Rakka, the show and upcoming release will see Ripatti breaking new ground once again, stepping out of the ambient world and into harsher, more experimental surroundings, inspired by both the bleak rocky plateaus of the Arctic circle and the gloom that hangs over current affairs.

Ahead of his performance at Berlin Atonal, we spoke to Ripatti over Skype to find out about performing without a computer for the first time, spending time in Jamaica with drum’n’bass pioneers Sly and Robbie and what else his return has in store.

Your show at Berlin Atonal is going to be your first for a while right?

Yeah, for I think the first in more than five years.

What prompted the decision to come back to it?

Well, I guess kind of the same thing that lead me to take a break. I had done maybe 20 years of music pretty intensively. I’m not sure if I had lived so much. My daughter is 13, she was eight back then, we moved to Finland, and I kept travelling. I really wanted to spend time with her, be there for her. So I sold a lot of equipment to allow this extensive break and now we are here, 2019.

Now I’m happy to see how I actually feel about music again and to see which way I want to go about the future. I have some new music too; I’m preparing a new album. I usually always play live before I finish it off, so that’s one concrete reason why I’m doing this now. I’ve been in front of maybe seven people, not more, for like five years, so I want to see how I manage to be in front of people. You always play your music differently when there’s an audience there.

How have you been preparing for it?

Well, I’m doing something I’ve never done before. It’s my first time playing without a computer, so it’s been a little bit of work trying to figure out how to go about it.

I’m trying to prepare, but it’s also more improvised than before, so I’m not sure how much I can. I have to be able to react and really be in a creative mind state. I’m combining different hardware pieces, and it’s definitely going to be interesting and challenging. I wanted to bring that extra challenge, although it’s also a relief to be away from the computer. I never really enjoyed being in front of the computer, so a while back I just started figuring out a way to go about playing live without one.

"It's not that it's a nature album and it's not a nature show, but it reflects a little bit how I felt and what being in that very raw and brutal and very extracted landscape has provoked in me"

The show that you’re doing at Atonal is titled Rakka. Is it a standard live performance for you or is it sort of a one-off event?

I’m just trying to play my new music. None of it has ever been heard before, in that way it’s definitely exclusive, and my wife (the composer and multi-media artist AGF) is doing the visuals which also has never been done before.

There’s also a certain concept behind it. For the last five years, I’ve been going hiking extensively, I just came back from one trip, and I’m leaving again tomorrow morning. I probably hiked like hundreds of kilometres last year – up north, above the Arctic and ‘rakka’ is like a stone field, where you have mountains or landscape covered with only rocks.

That’s also going to be my next album. It’s not that it’s a nature album and it’s not a nature show, but it reflects a little bit how I felt and what being in that very raw and brutal landscape has provoked in me. There won’t be any nature sounds or any nature footage or anything; it’s more about my inner feeling.

What can you tell us about the visual side?

We were just hiking together in Norway and we filmed a bunch of stuff, but she’s doing very advanced digital art, so we’re using the footage, but you don’t see any nature there. She is also very much drawn to that landscape, and she knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like you’re using lots of real footage to trigger something else and when I’m making music, I use lots of real things to trigger completely unreal sounds and so forth. So, it’s kind of a dualistic approach to both visuals and music.

Moving on slightly, I read that you had recently been in the studio with Sly and Robbie. That seems like an unlikely pairing from the outside…

I’m originally a drummer and I have a huge love for Jamaican music. I hooked up with Sly and Robbie some years ago and we’ve kept in touch. In January I went to Kingston, I booked a studio there and recorded with them. That’s going to be another album. It’s a pretty crazy, dub, weird, drum’n’bass thing.

Do you think your interest in Jamaican music had fed into the music you’ve created over the years? Or is it a separate thing?

Separate. It’s like, jazz and dub; they are the two music forms I really love most and they have been most influential to me, but I don’t want to imitate that stuff with my production. Maybe there is some conceptual influence or whatever in how you approach music or how you improvise but I always get rid of it if it sounds too much like dub or jazz, it’s not for me to claim that. It’s like my best friend but I don’t bring it home.

I guess that’s almost changed now with this Sly & Robbie drum’n’bass thing? Is that a step towards it?

I don’t know what happened! I would still argue it’s not your typical anything, it’s really my thing. But that’s true I never thought about it actually, that I’m actually now bringing out something in that world. You’re right, now I have brought my best friend home.

You’ve also done a bit of composition work recently for the TV series Arctic Circle?

Yeah, because I took a long break I didn’t want to do anything in public and I’ve been always interested in doing scoring work. It’s a hard business in a way and mostly it’s very limited creatively, the directors and producers want it quite safe; predictable stuff to support the film or TV show. But [for Arctic Circle] they gave me quite an open approach and I really enjoyed that.

I have sometimes even felt like it’s more interesting to do music nowadays for that kind of moving imagery; people stay put and they listen and they watch. You know, consumption of music has gone so crazy now, it’s skipping singles after singles on streaming services and so maybe the film and TV side has more chance to build something up.

How did you find the process of composing for TV versus making your other music?

It’s a big undertaking, but because they let me do what I wanted and what I felt like, it was great. I took half a year and just worked on it, lived and breathed it every day.

It’s also challenging, it’s not something I’ve done before and I wasn’t in my comfort zone so I’m always happy to go there. Even if it fails, at least I have learned and experienced something new. But it is not as heavy as it sounds, because I wrote lots of stuff already when I read the script and I wrote lots of music before they even started filming.

The only other music you’ve released this year was Rakkine (Early Version). Is that the kind of vibe people can expect from the new material at Berlin Atonal?

Well yeah, that’s a little bit of the new direction. It’s definitely not ambient music. It’s pretty rough. Not aggressive necessarily, maybe demanding. Also the times we are living in, it’s not like I live in a wax museum, I’m quite aware of what’s going on and personally I don’t feel it’s time for celebration or easy-going music. That’s just what comes out and I don’t try to censor it.

I guess it’s still experimental music but it’s not on the ambient side right now. I mean, I started with death metal and grindcore when I was young so it’s not that aggressive music is new to me. This could be maybe the hardest stuff I’ve done, but slowly it’s been going in that direction anyway. I’m trying to just find different limits, or not necessarily different limits, but just trying to push it somewhere I haven’t been yet and trying and find new ways to express myself, and it’s been a little bit more on the harder edge lately.

Vladislav Delay performs at Berlin Atonal 30 August.

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