A long first class flight over the fields and seas of ambient and drone.
#006 / Urbex
Most of the locals who, instead of merely pretending to do so, truly are in love with techno, industrial and ambient music, know this name for sure. Most of those who know a thing or two about our local DJ scene have definitely heard about him as well. One of our personal favourites and one of the most supporting friends, who worked with us on a one-night festival-like affair called “Grandis” (en. “Chain”). The maestro Rookas, helmsman of “Didžiųjų Agregatų Inžinieriai” or just “DAI”. A trademark in Lithuania’s techno scene, pure sound of the aforementioned genre and a straightforward vision.
Rookas is known for his technical excellence and view of DJing as a form of art rather than only an empty clubbing experience. Having started in his early 20s as a vinyl-only DJ, he progressed gradually both as selector and promoter, while mastering his distinctive pure, hypnotic techno and ambient sound. After success at other places “DAI” secured a slot at Vilnius’ dance citadel “Kablys” and Rookas evolved as a promoter too, being the first to book then relatively unknown names like Abdulla Rashim and Varg, then Violet Poison, Acronym, Kobosil, Polar Inertia, Samuel Kerridge, Damien Dubrovnik, etc.
This mix is a reflection of the sounds that I follow closely and one that I have been meaning to record for quite a while but never found the right time to do but there is this other spectrum of sounds that I haven’t had many chances to share. It turned out to be quite a long one but when I started recording it a couple of months ago I wasn’t really sure where it will lead to, so it spans different decades and crosses over different genres but with one idea in mind which in a way could be described as ‘background’ music. Something that guides me through the day and balances out the night sounds, it doesn’t need to be listened loudly and is still something that can make you float in and out of it with no beginning and no end.
Starting off this conversation feels somewhat different than with any other “Urbex” invitee. One the one hand, you’ve always been very close to us at “Ghia”, so we’ve already exchanged our histories over the years, but on the other hand, your distinguished persona prompts many questions into the evolution of your music and worldview. Before everything started, when did you pick up your first record?
The idea of picking up a vinyl record was fueled by curiosity sometime at the end of the high school. Finding out UR, Detroit, Tresor and DJs like Jeff Mills was a definite turning point, the whole Detroit/Berlin connection from the early stages of techno really drew me in. But even before that music has been in my life, I was attracted to sound but wasn’t really sure where exactly it was leading to, even going to cello lessons when I was 5 probably has left a mark. I remember seeing my father’s music collection when visiting him on the weekends, he had vinyl, CDs, tapes and that itself inspired me, seeing that after all those years you can have your own sort of blueprint of your life, memories, influences, stories and what not, it’s not only music alone.
How did the transition into becoming a DJ happen?
In a way the transition is still happening to this day as I have never really aimed to be a DJ, it was more about the experience of sound and sharing it in some form with other people, to be able to chase and create that experience.
But the first time I actually have been behind the decks was in 2010 when Split Pulse invited me to a small techno club/community LIFT, at that time I already had gathered a small collection of techno records and it felt like it was time to share those sounds, DAI formed quickly after that. Since then I have gotten all these different perspectives: from being the listener, then a promoter and djing.
As an artist rooted in the obscure, the dark and the industrial, what is the link between your personality and your art? Do you ever feel the need to break out of the “darkness” stereotype, or perhaps reinvent your sound entirely?
The main link is that I’m the messenger of my own experiences, emotions and I’m trying to express them through sound. I have never associated myself with dark(ness), I gravitate towards deeper spectrum of music but everyone has their own interpretation and I’m fine with that. The stereotype probably comes from the fact that you usually hear this music in a dark environment in the middle of the night with minimal lighting and a smoke machine, so in that way it’s ‘dark’. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s darkness behind it from my side, it’s an environment where you have the ability to take a short escape and have an experience, another state of mind which you can then take on to your daily life and hopefully improve on personal level in some form. It balances out for me naturally, during the day I usually listen to ambient music, you just don’t get many chances to share these experiences with others that often.
Speaking further on obscurity, the current game of electronic music artists seems totally inverse – it heavily involves social media activity, crafting an online presence and an outward persona. Was it a conscious decision for you to reject this striving for popularity?
I would say it’s about trying to reach the listener and making a living out of your craft but the short attention spans of people demand constant activity and I think that’s a trap. It feels like the goal is short term gain rather than leaving a long lasting effect. It’s tough to make a living just out of music production now, so the priority has shifted to get DJ bookings and that requires to build a social media presence for artists, it isn’t enough to just produce to break through. In the end it’s about your ideas and the work the you do that matters, social media is just a tool. As a whole there is a positive side to having this tool, it opened up new ways to find music and artists are able to share their message more easily. But that is becoming harder these days, it feels a bit like the connection is getting a bit lost.
I have never found such a platform that really works for me and I have not been very invested into social media mostly due to that. However, I definitely want to reach people and be able to share ideas, experiences, whatever those may be: an event, a DJ mix or an idea through a post.
Your skills in mixing are highly technical, meticulous and precise. Could you expand on your methods and techniques to DJing? What goes into crafting a flawless mix?
Depends how one would define a flawless mix but I think that flawless mixes don’t really exist and it’s more about the whole experience of the set or the whole night. Details matter but it’s not necessarily something that you can describe, it’s more of a feeling and a lot of things go into the perfect mix: the location, crowd, booth setup, sound system and the whole mood of the night which you aren’t always in control of. I’m never fully satisfied with my mixes but that keeps me interested to explore further and it’s satisfying when things work but to catch those moments you have to be ready to fail and then build from that, it keeps it exciting. You try to challenge the listener and yourself at the same time, by not really giving what they want but in a way what they need.
Recorded mixes are a tough task for me, because it’s hard to share that energy when you are not really in that setting you envision it to be experienced in and usually the listener isn’t either. When I hear a track I almost instantly model how it would sound on a big sound system and where you can take it from there. When you are behind the decks you control the night, the pacing of it, the sound pressure and create the energy in the room. I prefer playing longer sets, that’s when I have the possibility to build up the set, go in more directions and try to catch those ‘perfect’ moments.
“Didžiųjų Agregatų Inžinieriai”, or DAI in short, is perhaps the most prolific and notable name in the history of Lithuania’s involvement in techno. Your achievements seem too many to name – hosting artists that were exploding in popularity at the time, such as Abdulla Rashim, Kobosil, showcasing Northern Electronics and many others. In retrospect, how has DAI evolved over the years?
It was a slow long process but one that happened naturally. It is all about how it feels at a certain point and you just follow that feeling. When DAI started there wasn’t really much happening at that time and we felt that there was a lack of consistency of nights where we could hear such music, we wanted to push things further and one of the ways was to do it ourselves. We were looking into artists that were interesting to us, not only musically but conceptually as well, there had to be a connection and something that we would ourselves would want to experience together. We aimed to create a situation where you would trust us that you would get an experience which would have a long lasting effect which also influence the evolution of DAI itself.
It’s a different situation globally and locally now though, it feels like there is more ‘safeness’ these days and for young and new upcoming artists to have an impact is harder. There are still interesting and exciting things happening all around the world but when audiences only want the biggest names in the game, the clubs have to make ends meet, it only leads to a dead end.
Techno itself has definitely gone through a lot of change over this time. What is your view on the current trends? Is the sound of your own music (and DAI) transforming as well?
Essentially it’s still very similar to the original idea, yet the production quality has improved, there are new ways to express yourself and new ways to experience it. There are constant changes in the sound (trends) but it still keeps the raw energy of it, the imperfectness, almost atonal music. Music is tied to technology as itself it’s a technology though more a mental/spiritual one. There has been a shift in why and how it’s created to some extent, as in the past it has been a lot about ‘future’ and ‘unknown’ but these days it’s more about finding a niche and carving out an individual concept that you create, creating your own world that others interpret and experience. I myself still search for the same ‘characteristics’ in sound but at the same time explore other genres and take inspiration from them, so it leads to new territories in sound, even when you listen to your old records and hear them from a different perspective, time itself changes sound.
Your debut release static motion came out in 2018 on your own personal imprint of the same name. What was your motivation behind self-releasing the cassette instead of proposing it for other labels?
It felt it was time to share those recordings, archive them in physical form and it felt natural for it to be self released, so I didn’t really even think of trying to get it out to other labels. The idea was to release a couple of more tapes in 2018 that would cover the same period but slightly different moods, but that is still in the works.
What is your opinion on the differences between releasing one’s music digitally, on cassette and on vinyl? Does a physical medium hold more prestige than an exclusively digital release?
The difference doesn’t matter to me but there’s a certain magic to being able to actually feel, touch and play a physical release. It requires a certain effort, attention and patience. In some way it demands more of you and that makes music to have a stronger effect, you almost listen closer. As a DJ I am more comfortable playing vinyl records even though I really enjoy playing digital as it opens up much more possibilities, as a DJ you can go further by not sticking to just one format but it’s also good to set some limits. There’s no prestige to it either but it forces the listener in a somewhat more direct contact with the music.
What future do you envision for yourself, for DAI and for the static motion label?
There’s still so much to explore, you take cues where to head depending on how you feel, when the sun sets during the year, your life and people around you, so that keeps it exciting as it changes constantly. It’s also very important to take a step back, evaluate what you do, think of where you are headed and where you want to head. I got to the point where I want to focus more on production as I have been exploring sounds for a long time but there were always other things and it was never a priority. I’m trying to balance the important things to me now, set limits, get enough rest and focus that energy to where I believe it matters most. Recording more music, continuing static motion series, a few mixes and some other projects in my head have been brewing for a while. Summer is usually quiet in terms of events, so that is a good time to reflect back, reset and then take it from there.
DAI has touched not only the local techno scene, but the post-industrial one as well. The walls of “Kablys” have seen your crew presenting artists of modern industrial trends – ones from Posh Isolation, others associated with the revived Berlin Atonal and similar festivals. However, this wider integration of techno is seen skeptically by some of the old-school fans. How do you see the industrial scene evolving over the years?
I think one genre is just a bridge to another genre and even though the influences might be different you still get this connection and it’s sort of a universal language. You find these pockets of sounds where they interact in a way that applying genre limits doesn’t work anymore. For us that’s techno, for someone else coming from a different background it could be a different experience but still one that would be mutually understood.
Forgetting the trends and waves – what you think makes techno music stand out and not die throughout the years? Many electronic music genres have faded away, but techno always seems to have a dedicated base.
Techno is still a young genre (as is the whole electronic music) and I don’t think it has yet reached the tipping point, so I never think of it going away. Techno was able to reinvent itself in many different forms over the years, it constantly evolves but still keeps it essence and is still exciting to experience. Techno can be very simple, repetitive music but the interesting moments happen when after a certain point your mind starts filling in the gaps, you get this physical experience with it and it almost can act as some form of meditation.
About the general concepts – what is techno? The terminology of music is often seen as insufficient and catching different things under same umbrella. Sometimes the term itself seems to fit wildly different sounds. It may not even be based on a 4/4 beat, which is most often considered to be a cornerstone of the genre. What’s your essence of it?
Terminology is insufficient because it’s more of a feeling rather than something you can put into words easily, that’s why you get so many bad interpretations of it as well. In my opinion it doesn’t have to be at a specific tempo or a certain beat structure to be called techno, sound can create mood and space, techno can do that by totally blurring the lines in between the genres, there’s a lot of depth to it. It shows how much you can do with so little. I don’t think one should fixate on sticking terms, the goal should be to expand those terms. It’s beautiful to see how people from all the world can speak this universal language with no need for words.
Nowadays even more hardcore, rave and gabber-ish types of sound seem to be accepted in techno again. Yet the genre was born as an experiment, a truly progressive phenomenon ahead of its time. Is it just about rehashing old stuff and nostalgia at this point? Even nostalgic lo-fi house had its wave recently.
There’s definitely nostalgia but also taking those ideas and you get the opportunity of exploring them further by doing that. One of the reasons is that a lot of people have not had the chance to be when it all started and they still want to experience it in today’s world. Artists and labels which are pushing the sounds forward still are influenced by early sounds even subconsciously.
As an example, the current music trends in Ukraine, with Cxema as a flagship, are often seen as a booming result of war and the revolutionary period. Europe has been through quite some tough times recently. Could this boom be associated with any socio-political events too?
Social and cultural construct is a huge part of electronic music scene, clubs/events are places where people can meet, share their ideas, find friendships, it simply brings people together. It can have a long lasting effect and take on such forms that bring attention to real issues of life. Music can also free you and your mind and I think that it inspires people to chase that freedom. I feel that the power of music still hasn’t fully been explored, I’m interested to see what the future will bring, there are still scenes forming worldwide and everyone has their own way of interpreting it.
We’ve been through enough of big questions. Just name one of your all-time favourite songs you first remember and we’re done.
Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent).
Tracklist unavailable, sorry.