Home // Music // Electronica // Classic Chats: The Field

Classic Chats: The Field

Berlin – a city for the modern dance music lover more than any other nowadays. Behind its walls of history and modern balance between cultural heroism and strife, its nocturnal life has grown beyond just the ways of hedonism for The Jetset Pack. The superclubs of Berghain and Watergate may line the streets for their arrival, hidden though they may be from the daily humdrum, but Axel Willner’s reasoning for moving there from his native Stockholm – despite his output as electronic maestro The Field – is not as cynical as it may seem on the face of it.

“It was kind of an anticlimax moving there. When everything’s all around you, all the time, you just end up staying at home. I moved here for other reasons – my girlfriend and so on. The scene thing wasn’t what I moved for. It was her, and then we were just like ‘Oh shit, it’s Berlin. That’s a bonus’. I think I’ve actually been out more in Berlin when I wasn’t living here. Also, when you end up playing clubs almost every weekend, you don’t really want to do that in your free time. Obviously there are other reasons for being here as well, it’s not just the partying and the clubs. It’s just a very, very special town. This city has so much history in every sense of the word. I love the old German electronic sounds –  late 60’s, 70’s, 80’s stuff, like Tangerine Dream and stuff. It’s inspiring to be in the city where all of that happened. It has an impact, definitely. But also just being in a new city can be inspiring for you as well.”

His attitude towards the club scene may seem somewhat muted on the September afternoon I find him, but that is most likely to be down to how his evolution as both man and musician has occurred. Turning from a sleeper hit with his debut album ‘From Here We Go Sublime’ into an electronic success story of the past decade, Willner’s third album ‘Looping State of Mind’, despite its predicated sample-based ambience, found him taking a concerted move away from the stigma of dance music.

Incorporating acoustic instrumentation to bring new life to his digital guise – a technique he experimented with on sophomore effort ‘Yesterday and Today’ – seems to have given a new lease of life to Willner’s output. ‘Looping State of Mind’ is an album that sounds liberated as much as urgent, and is one of the musical highlights of the year. But the man himself seems unperturbed by the hyperbole around his work. Describing his writing method as taking ‘sketches’ to new levels, he strikes as much as a pure romantic as the pensive artist. Balancing his art with the relationships around him, musical and personal, has certainly given a versatility he seemed to be desperately seeking.

“With the first album, I would come up with the actual idea of the song and would take them down and play around with those sketches and that would take them to the next level. It would take a long time – sometimes I would come up with a whole new track based on those sketches. But this time around, we (Willner and duo Dan Enqvist and Jespar Skarin) had quite a lot of time to jam a bit and play around in the studio and play around. It goes both ways.  There would be the jamming, in-the-moment stuff – kind of like the first album, but with a bit more structure. But I think this formula has been the best so far, actually. It’s still very open – you never know what turn the tracks might take when you’re actually with other people, other wills. It’s the most satisfying way of working I’ve found so far.”

Boiling it down to the simplicity of human additions would negate the emotional brevity behind The Field, especially on this latest album. As he has branched out from laptops into full band sets (apart from his forthcoming debut ambient album,  ‘Loops Of Your Heart’, which he aims to perform live with as much as The Field) his effort to consistently reappraise and realise his musical thought processes has found most solace in ‘Looping State of Mind’. Despite its essentially instrumental approach, Willner’s conscious efforts to bring in those thoughts, those feelings, give the album its real emotional resonance.

“It’s beyond just a sonic thing, even though that’s the first thing that draws my attention when I hear something I think I can use. Most of the time it’s that I have a relationship to the song or to the sample I use. It could be whatever, like a memory. It’s not just the production I do that sounds really good. It’s how I like to take these chunks, small chunks, because then you get all the production in there from that track as well, like an old reverb or whatever. That just gives this pretty special atmosphere in those moments. Of course, it doesn’t work with everything, but in a lot of them it does. Yeah and that was very much the state of mind I was in when making this album. There was a lot of heavy thinking going on – not just musical things but personal things. So it felt like going back to making music in a therapeutic way. So of course the music then turns out to be pretty emotional and the sounds that you use are some that mean that something to someone.”

It’s a talent that is wonderfully rare, and incredibly hard to replicate – finding such depth within something that is ostensibly dance music to the untuned ear. But upon talking to Willner about his EP written at the Nordic Light Hotel – a series of pieces commissioned and centred around the hotel’s modernist environs – he is aware that the idea of having those processes fabricated or forced makes his craft difficult.

“It was very hard to do it. I’m satisfied with one track on there, but it’s kind of in the past now. It was a momentary thing and it’s pretty hard to make music when people are ordering it from you. With remixes, it’s kind of different. It’s one track that you can do. But to make an EP out of nothing and having a deadline, that wasn’t the easiest thing. It was weird in many ways. As for remixes, I still enjoy doing them. I haven’t done that many this year – which has been pretty nice, I have to say. I’m feeling more like I want to go back to the classic b-side – like an alternative outtake of a track more than someone doing a remix. It’s getting a little bit too much with that now.”

Seeming so aware of his surroundings could have left Willner falling into an awkward trap. But it’s his self-awareness and muted confidence that will keep his ideas and evolution going. His are emotions that cannot be forced. Leaving him to his state of mind may just be the best thing for him, as it seems inevitable that he will always do right by both he and his ever-growing fan base.

Leave a Reply