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Escape Velocity

Towards Escapism: Dasha Rush Interviewed
Theo Darton-Moore , November 23rd, 2016 09:36

Theo Darton-Moore travels to Unsound in Krakow to see Dasha Rush's new collaborative audio-visual exploration of black holes, diving in to discuss why techno is art & her love of language and poetry

It almost feels like there have been two career paths for artist, Dasha Rush. On the one hand, the Moscow-raised artist has become known for producing sweltering early-hours techno, rife with booming low-end and mind-bending atmospherics. As a DJ she has played everywhere from Berghain to Liquid Club, deploying rough-shod, 4/4 drums and twisting alien bleeps to devastating effect.

The other aspect to Dasha's work is less brazen in many ways. Even early releases such as 2004's 'Entitled Hunger' reveal an interest in sounds from the outer-reaches of electronic music – glitch and sound design playing central focus alongside unconventional rhythmic patterns. Last year, she released Sleepstep – Sonar Poems For My Sleepless Friends, via Carsten Nicolai's Raster-Noton. Littered with ethereal electronics, musique-concrete references and downtempo beat-experiments, the LP also saw Dasha's own spoken word poems appearing intermittently through a veil of reverb.

Recently, it would seem Dasha's more leftfield interests are taking precedent. In the last few years, she has worked on several audiovisual pieces: in 2014 she debuted Antarctic Takt, a collaboration with visual artist Stanislav Glazov, taking the audience on a journey through icy glaciers and uninhabited snowscapes. This year she debuted another piece with Stanislav, exploring the mysteries of black holes. Called Dark Hearts Of Space, the project uses multi-layered projections and foreboding synthscapes to mesmerising effect.

Having witnessed a performance of this at Krakow's Unsound, we decided to catch up with Dasha to discuss the project, Russian poetry and the fastest way to artistic death.

Dark Hearts Of Space is a collaboration with Stanislav Glazov. How did you two first meet? I saw you did another project, Antarctic Takt, together...

Dasha Rush: That's how we met! I had the idea for Antarctic Takt and I had already tried working with several people. It just seemed like it would never work out. I was completely desperate and was beginning to think I would never realise the project... Then I was introduced to Stanislav. It worked out instantly after we met.

Where did the concept for Dark Hearts come from in the first place? Do you have an interest in space in general? I noticed there are a few references to Cosmonauts and so on in Sleepstep...

DR: Of course! I guess as any human who's questioning where we are a bit, what's up there, it always comes back to these ideas.

It was a long process of piecing different interests together. It comes from the idea of silence in musical performance, the relation between silence and nothingness, and how this relates to voids. Voids are actually filled with things, which is the same in musical compositions. Silence can be filled with something.

I think I have a tendency towards escapism - like I want to run to Antarctica where there is nobody and nothing - then I have this interest in voids, space and black holes. So it comes from thinking about musical compositions - when nothingness becomes the composition, technically silence. You can leave the listener kind of in suspended space...

At Unsound to you did a DJ set shortly after the black holes, how is it going between these two types of performance so quickly? Does the Dark Hearts Of Space project feel more personal?

DR: Yeah I guess so, but at the same time I wouldn't say that DJ sets are not personal. I think the audience are just involved in a different way. The rough distinction is one is more art-oriented and the other is more entertainment-oriented. On the surface, even though it could be super emotional and great and so on, there is a different energy with DJ sets, where you are maybe questioning less? I guess if you put music in the frame of a club where people are supposed to dance and DJs are supposed to play that kind of music, it has very specific connotations. You must have fun! With Dark Hearts Of Space, you are supposed to be entertained somehow. I have less obligations to make people dance, or feel anything. There's a wider field for them to interpret it how they want to.

Do you see yourself moving more in either direction? Are you looking to do more in terms of A/V shows?

DR: This next project is going to be called Synaesthetic Amoralia, which is obviously related to synaesthesia, colour and sound. I don't want to go too deep into theories of synaesthesia but just a part of it – making something for a performance which can be meditative as well.

I was interested reading about how the idea for Sleepstep came together from a dream you had about Edgar Allen Poe. I wanted to ask about your interest in poetry - what kinds of things do you like reading?

DR: I admire people who can write poems. I cannot say I'm a connoisseur, I read poems but it comes in phases. Maybe during certain emotional phases I need this kind of beauty put into words, but without any logical conclusions. Sometimes I just need this air... Even if it's questioning it's still not defined.

I read women's poetry, Russian poetry. I'm a fan of Marina Tsvetaeva, and Anna Akhmatova. It's mostly because it's in my mother-language, so it's easier for me to understand the nuances. For example with Edgar Allen Poe - I have a book in English and Russian so I can compare them because it's actually difficult sometimes to understand English writing for me.

And the spoken word in Sleepstep - some is in English and some in French.

DR: There are certain nuances to using different languages... Language is a part of culture, so it is defined by that. What I was saying about Poe - there are some parts I just don't get. Not in this defined, logical sense, but I can't kind of capture what it is he's saying even if I understand the words.

That's to do with cultural aspects or even age - having been written in a period of time I didn't live in. People reflect on something like this Russian poet for example - she references revolution. But if you haven't experienced it you only have a notion of revolution from the history books. You understand kind of what she talks about but you don't fully get it.

Tell us about your involvement with arts scenes in Paris outside of playing techno...

DR: It's not exactly correct that I was working just in arts scenes there, it was a case of co-habitation. Techno now is a much more established art form, but there used to be no separation between; this is techno, this is art. It was just me being young, doing things. I was interested in techno, I liked hardcore, I liked gabber. Today it's going to be techno, tomorrow it's Johan Sebastian Bach, the day after it's Aphex Twin. Techno was just another part of the music.

In terms of merging mediums, especially in that environment in Paris and during that time in life where you're young and explore a lot of things, basically the circle that I was with - there were different kinds of artists, not only musicians. There were painters and dancers and so on. We'd all communicate - one would do the music the other would do the choreography and so on. We would put on little performances for 50 or 100 people in a squat somewhere. There was no question of separation of art forms.

When I said nowadays the separation is a little bit bigger, it's because techno is an established form of entertainment these days. People always want to put you in frames - you're a techno DJ, you're a performer and so on, actually it's all an art form. There should be no separation.

Speaking of the crossover of different art forms, I read about your interest in Pierre Henry - I'd only heard the Musique Concrete stuff before seeing that interview, but have been checking out his pop/krautrock experiments recently.

DR: He actually became more famous with Krautrock than the experimental stuff because obviously not everyone can listen to one hour of sampling doors creaking!

[Variations For A Door And A Sigh] is one of those things you like the idea of, but it can be very difficult to actually listen to.

DR: Yeah - I love that piece. I can't say it was a direct influence, but in terms of approach it was. I'm not going to go and do the same thing, sampling doors, but it's still strongly inspirational, the way you approach things.

I actually saw it live in Bologna in an art centre. I came for a gig and the club was next door to this art thing. I didn't know about the gig before, but I saw the poster and had to tell the promoter I can't perform because I need to go to this! It turned out the performance was two days so I could stay an extra day and do both.

It was amazing, Pierre Henry was playing at the back so he could hear what the audience hears. I did an interview with Nicola Ratti and apparently one of the things on his technical spec is that he always wants to be in front of the speakers, so he can hear what the audience hears. 

DR: I think it's a good idea actually. Can I complain a little?

There's a lot of clubs that take care of the sound for the audience, but the DJ is always in this terrible situation where the monitors suck, and why? If you are a mediator between the music and the audience, why are you in a shitty position in terms of hearing what is being played?

I think it's very important that the people who do the sound in clubs should have a mirrored sound for the DJ. Then there is more chance for a DJ or musician to feel the music properly.

I wanted to ask about your labels too, What were the original aims for each of them? What makes the stuff on Fullpanda not appropriate for Hunger To Create or vice-versa?

DR: Fullpanda is more techno-oriented, but I still try to keep it small and personal. I don't force myself to produce ten records a year, I just release when it feels right.

Hunger To Create is more experimental in terms of working with diverse styles or even no styles of music I would say. There's not been that many releases so it's hard, but the best example is the second release. That release is a compilation and the artists on there aren't all musicians. Some of them are painters, sculptors or digital artists.

'Art' sometimes sounds a bit overblown, but a piece of creative work that people can do not in their usual field - that was the idea. The idea was releasing music that has no serious frame - you don't have to be a musician making a strong conceptual album.

It's sometimes the most interesting work, when someone engages with a new art form for the first time without preconceptions of what they should be doing or what people expect. After a certain amount of releases, on some level you are influenced by people's responses to your work. 

DR: We are all subjected to this somehow. You have a certain pressure where your audience can shape you, but you can resist if you still have your inner inspiration.

I had this moment with an album I tried to do - a combination of musique-concrete, pop and techno. It's wasn't perfect but it was an attempt. There was a moment after the first album - everyone loved it, it was techno and so on... When I did this second album some of my colleagues came to me and said "what did you do?! I thought it was going to be a techno album, Hardwax was expecting that!"

My friends and colleagues didn't like it and I can accept that, but it's the fact they were expecting me to do something specific. The image conformity that my first album was techno so the second one must be the same... Why do you have to feel like that? I think that's the straight way to artistic death, trying to fulfil expectations.