Four years can be a long time in the world of house and techno, but not for Technasia, who finally follow up 2006′s ‘Popsoda’ with a new album, ‘Central’. After all, it took nine years from the birth of Technasia, with 1997′s ‘Themes from a Neon City’ EP, until they got around to releasing their album debut.
Chalk some of it up to distance: for many years, Technasia was split between two continents, with Amil Khan in Hong Kong and Charles Siegling in Paris. But it has more to do with philosophy: as Siegling explains, Technasia only releases an album when the time is right and the music is ready—a refreshing practice, given the accelerated pace of the current electronic-music market.
‘Central’ marks one significant change for Technasia: it’s now exclusively a solo project of Siegling, although Khan remains active in both Technasia Records, the label they set up to release Technasia’s music, and Sino, the Hong Kong-based imprint that has helped introduce the world to artists like John Thomas, Renato Cohen and Joris Voorn, and also counts Steve Rachmad, Christian Smith and John Selway among its signees.
But ‘Central’ is unmistakably Technasia, taking inspiration from Detroit and Chicago but creating its own distinct signature and sound. The CD release, featuring mixed, shortened tracks, is well suited to home listening and long drives, while Beatport’s version features extended edits that DJs will have a field day getting their hands dirty with. Above all, it’s a rich, emotional listen, full of spirit and color, and proof that classic techno—in its broadest possible definition—is very much alive and well.
What made you decide the time was right for a new album?
I like to leave some time between projects, simply because every artist needs time to grow, to evolve. Some complain that it’s a bit of a long time, but I’ve never been a very prolific artist. I’ve only released stuff that I really wanted to release, and I never really made EPs three times a month and an album every six months. I’ve been in this business for quite a long time now, 14 or 15 years, doing a record only when I feel that it’s the right moment and the right release.
The last album was in 2006 or 2005, and about a year and a half ago, I felt that I’d evolved enough in my music to be able to work on such a big project as an album.
So you did the album in one, concentrated effort, then, rather than pulling together material from the last five years.
Yes. Given the situation of the music business right now, I think it’s important to give this kind of major project to the public. And as an artist it’s important too, because it’s kind of a keystone in your career. You need to define where you are going in your career and in your music, and the only way to do that is by doing albums. It’s been like this for 50 years, and there’s basically no other way to evolve and to feel safe in this career. Making EPs or remixes is great, but it’s very short term. It’s not the way you can really develop your skills and your art.
Of course, to play devil’s advocate, you could say that the album format is a historical accident, a form based on what was originally made possible by the particulars of the vinyl format. But you think it’s still important to make these kind of hour-long statements?
Yes, it’s important, because it helps you define what you want to do in your music. The album is the only moment where you have the right to try a totally different style, or an evolution, or a regression, you know? And be actually listened to properly by the people and the media. You can do that in several EPs, and it doesn’t matter, people will pay less attention. Whereas when you do an album, it’s really a moment that’s very important in what an artist wants to do.
I believe that a lot of artists don’t pay enough attention to doing albums simply because they take a lot of time to develop—it takes at least six months, sometimes a year or more, to develop an album. And indeed, given the way the scene is right now, it’s not very rewarding to work on an album—such a long time working in the studio for not the same amount of sales that you would have had 10 or 15 years ago. This is why a lot of artists, I think, aren’t taking the step of making these big album projects. But I do believe that they’re very, very important.
You say that an album is an important step in an artist’s evolution. What would you say are the ways you’ve evolved on the new record—what did you do that you couldn’t have done with the last album?
I basically decided to really show the public all the different kinds of electronic music that I like and can do. In my first two albums, I think I was going too much in a certain direction, which was much more techno, because as a young artist at that time, that’s what I was living and very excited about. But after such a long time, I feel that my capabilities in producing electronic music have become broader, and I think this album has evolved in that way. It’s a much wider sound than Technasia used to be.
Why did you decide to release the record as a mixed version? Was it difficult to put that together, and did you have to make any compromises in order to do that?
Actually the album was conceived first as a CD version. The tracks on the actual CD are very short, about three or four minutes—almost a pop format, where you get straight to the point, you’ve got the main idea, and that’s it, next one.
Of course, I’m a DJ as well, so I like to have 10-minute tracks when I play. But this kind of album is what people will remember in 10 or 20 years. The people who remember it, or discover it at the time, they won’t necessarily be DJs. I think it’s very important to work on this kind of album project not only with DJs and the club scene in mind, but to go a bit further than that.
I designed the whole album by working on short tracks at first, of three or four minutes, where the main idea would pop out quickly. When I had selected most of the tracks for the album, I then made another version, adding beats to make it more DJ friendly. But I actually like albums you can listen to all the way through; I like when they have a flow, when they have a story to tell, and it’s not just a collection of beats.
How many times have you heard someone complain after buying an album that the single is great, but the rest is sh*t, you know? I don’t like that. Each single track in an album must make sense within the whole, or otherwise it should just be released as EPs. I attach a lot of importance to the actual concept, the actual project itself, and its value.
‘Music to Watch the City Lights Late at Night’
This is your first solo project as Technasia—how was it making music without Amil?
In terms of music production, it didn’t change too much. Amil leaving Technasia isn’t a sudden thing, it took many years. Amil lives in Hong Kong and has a family and another business on the side, and he didn’t want to be flying back and forth to Europe all the time.
It’s true that since maybe the last album, Amil was much less involved in production than he used to be with me. I would say it’s not that much of a new process for me to work alone on an album. The main difference would be that I used to discuss a lot of things with Amil about how the track should be, what kind of ideas we should put in, what kind of direction it should go. Whereas on this album, I decided everything from A to Z. It’s a lot more pressure and a lot more responsibility, but at the same time, it’s very challenging.
I felt a few years ago that Amil was really going away from this, in a way. Also, in Hong Kong there’s not really a proper electronic music scene. This scene is mostly based in Western Europe. Of course, you can say that there’s a scene in Japan, Brazil, Colombia, America, whatever, but the heart of it is really Western Europe. I feel that when someone doesn’t live this scene every day, by DJing, going to clubs, record shops, whatever, you start to lose track, little by little. And I think it’s what basically happened to Amil. I felt that over the last couple of years, and that’s why I prepared for the day that Amil might leave Technasia.
I’m interested that you say you need to be living it daily in order to stay connected to the scene, and that the scene is, by definition, Western European. Given that you guys founded Sino as an outpost in Hong Kong, is that an acknowledgement that there is no scene there?
I wouldn’t say that there’s no scene. There’s not a very big scene in Hong Kong anyway, it’s a small city—it’s a country, it’s part of China as well, which is the biggest country in the world—but Hong Kong is kind of a country within a country, and it’s a city of six or seven million people, so you can imagine that it’s all about business. There’s not much electronic music. But when we set it up there, it was more like a challenge for us—this idea of global electronic music, the intercultural field of creatives coming together.
At the same time, it’s true, most everything is based in Western Europe. It’s really a scene that requires people to be involved 100 percent. Or, sooner or later, it kicks people out. There are two ways to approach the scene—one is as a listener, as a clubber, whatever, and that’s fine, it becomes a passion or a hobby. But everybody who is involved in the actual music, there’s no place for anything else.
I was thinking about the international techno scene. As opposed to when you guys started Sino, today every corner of the world has its own scene. But not a lot of local culture trickles in. Whether it’s Mexico or Brazil or Belarus, a lot of it follows a sort of generic, international style. I wondered how you felt about that?
I think that’s what’s great about electronic music—there are few vocals, it’s not a music like pop or rock which is based on local tendencies or individual egos. It’s not a music with a face. It’s only a music with a sound. That’s why it’s global. It’s true, you can have Brazilian artists who don’t sound like traditional music from Rio de Janeiro. I think that what’s great about electronic music is that it gathers together all these people on the planet into that same movement, and I think that’s its power. Even artists like myself, I’m not someone who’s going to dress like crazy or jump around on stage, but I was able to make a career in this business. Maybe if I would have done hip-hop or rock, I could not have done it, because I don’t have the charisma. But this music is completely based on the music.
To tell you the truth, so far, every time I’ve heard a fusion sound of local cultures with electronic music, it’s not really that great. [laughs]
It’s almost like techno is a nation that one chooses to belong to.
These Chicago house or Detroit techno producers, of course they were born and raised in those cities. The thing is, they got really popular because of Western Europe. So even though it’s their own style, it became widely distributed to the people throughout Western Europe. I’ve been to Detroit, Chicago and New York several times, and I don’t think there’s much more happening there than there was 10 or 15 years ago. The music that originated in Detroit is now a part of the globalization of electronic music. Somebody comes with an idea and inputs it, and it’s absorbed, recycled, used by people from all over the planet, without any borders or limits or restrictions.
Of course my influence from Detroit artists is very strong, but I try to take what’s best in it, and recycle it, and to produce my own thing, which maybe one day will be recycled by others. It’s a very globalized field. It’s not attached to one person or to one city or to one machine or anything. In the end, it’s always recycled, taken up by all these kids all over the planet.
It’s funny, I read your piece in Data Transmission from last year, and you sounded very pessimistic, but you sound much more positive today.
I remember going to MIDEM a few years ago, when the music business was starting to go down, and I felt like I was walking through a cemetery. Every time you meet someone these days, you hear, “Oh, business is sh*t, it’s not like it used to be,” whatever, and that’s true. And it’s very easy to go in that very negative mood, and not actually make anything positive. It’s very important to analyze what’s happening today, to try to understand it and try to forecast where it’s going to go. That’s actually the most difficult part now. With technology going so fast, it becomes very difficult to forecast. But it’s important to stay aware and stay positive, and keep the passion for the music, even if there’s no money coming in.
The album itself is a very passionate, emotional album.
It’s true, I try to put a lot of emotion in it, because people have to live what I’m making, what I’m playing. I hope it’s not only nostalgic or sad emotions, I hope that there is also anger or happiness. It’s really the way I perceive electronic music. I like Jeff Mills’ hard, banging stuff from the ‘90s. But I also like electronica, I like Brian Eno, I like deep house. Electronic music has so many diverse faces, I don’t like to restrict everything to one style, one genre, one emotion, one feel. Some people have probably seen me playing really heavy techno sets, and others have seen me playing really funky, housey sets. I don’t have a preference, I like them all. The emotions from all this kind of music, all the records I’ve bought, all the parties I’ve been to, I try to transcribe that into the album. Some people will feel it in a certain way, and others another way, and I’m very happy with that, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
I was reading in your bio that you speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Italian, French, and English. I was wondering if you make any connection between your facility with language and your passion for music?
Yeah, but I wouldn’t say—I mean, I could just say that “Music is my language,” blah blah blah, but I think that would be a bit too easy. The reason why I like to learn languages and practice them is very simple. I came to travel a lot because of my work, and I hated the fact that you go to a country, and you can’t speak with the people who drive you to the party, and you have to spend two hours in the car with somebody and not even be able to communicate with that person. I like to communicate, I like to know what people feel, what they have been living, what they want to do, how is that city, how is that club, how is that food, I like to know all this. I’m a very curious person. I think this is what pushed me to actually try to learn as many languages as possible. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but in most of them, I’m able to have some kind of conversation.
What’s going on with Sino now?
Amir is not part of Technasia any more, but he still runs the labels with me. He’s not as active as he used to be, but he’s still a shareholder and we’re still communicating quite a lot about what to do.
One of my main focuses now is to push a new artist called Dosem, who is a Spanish artist who has been around for a few years, but it’s only in the last one and a half years that he’s started to take off. I’m really motivated by the music he does. The first time I saw him play live I was completely amazed. It’s very difficult for a new artist to convince me—I’ve heard a lot of artists and a lot of music, so whenever I hear a new artist playing live or a DJ set, I always think, where have I heard this before. And Dosem was one of the few people in the last 10 years that surprised me with his live performance. After his live performance I came to speak to him, and we became friends, and I decided to sign him on Sino. So one of my main goals is to push him now, all the way to next year, when we’ll release his debut album.
Sino was made for that, originally. I have my own label Technasia, which is for my own productions, and Sino was a structure I developed with Amir to do whatever we want with the people we want, without caring too much about trends or sales. We just want to put out the music we like.
It’s not a very prolific label; we have done 25 releases in 10 years. If you compare the rate labels go today, it’s nothing—people do 25 releases in a year. But it’s the same concept as with Technasia: we only want to put something out if there is really some kind of connection. Not only that the music is good, but we have to know the artist, we have to be friends, there has to be a story behind it. Electronic music is something you have to share. We use Sino as something we can offer to artists as a springboard for their careers—we did that for Renato Cohen, we did that for Joris Voorn, and I’m very happy that today he’s becoming so successful.