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Escape Velocity

Catching The Groove: Buttechno Interviewed
Christian Eede , June 6th, 2019 09:52

Ahead of his set at Italy's Terraforma festival next month, Moscow-based producer Buttechno discusses his prolific work rate, running cultural spaces in his home city and using his platform to showcase the work of lesser-known artists

Buttechno plays this year's Terraforma festival which takes place near Milan from July 4-7

Pavel Milyakov, the Moscow-based producer better known as Buttechno, has maintained a fairly prolific release rate in recent years, displaying something of a chameleonic talent for producing electronic music in the process.

The four-track Minimal Cuts 12” for Anthony Naples and Jenny Slattery’s New York-based Incienso label, released back in January, saw him explore tripped-out house music on the functional end of the dancefloor spectrum while two tracks for the Happy New Year! We Wish You Happiness! compilation - released on Nina Kraviz’ трип label at the turn of the year - reached loftier tempos, combining squelchy acid with abstract, gabber-adjacent kick drums. La Maison De La Mort, a full album under his birth name, which also dropped at the start of the year - this time on UK label Berceuse Heroique - was a display in more restrained, experimental fare with short, loop-driven, smudged ambient textures making up the bulk of the record. When we connect over Skype one May evening, he also tells me there’s also another full LP to come soon, this time on a label he first connected with in 2017: Will Bankhead’s The Trilogy Tapes.

As well as appearing on numerous other labels - you can count Veronica Vasicka’s Cititrax, the excellent Moscow-based Gost Zvuk, Luca Lozano and Johanna Knutsson’s Zodiac 44, Tokyo’s City 2 St. Giga and the Paris-based Collapsing Market amongst them - Milyakov is involved in his own labels and collectives in his Moscow base. RASSVET Records, founded by Milyakov in 2017, might only be four releases deep, but already its channeling the kind of eclectic energy that goes into his own productions. 2017’s 1984 centred around electro, lo-fi house and a healthy dose of leftfield oddities while 2018’s Eastern Strike - released as Pavel Milyakov - stood out for the particularly arresting, hypnotic trance tones of opening track ‘Main Loop’.

He’s also welcomed other producers on board via RASSVET, giving full 12” debuts to Shadowax and Ihor Okuniev, producers who hail from his native of Russia and Ukraine respectively. The Shadowax record - which features a remix by Milyakov himself - pairs a Russian language vocal with little more than some well-placed drums and a deeply satisfying bassline, while Okuniev’s roots deals in short, wintry ambient pieces.

Alongside his own releases and label, he’s been involved in a punk band called Midnite Cobras, a now-defunct collective called Johns’ Kingdom which was behind various Moscow parties that towed the foggy line in the city between what’s legal and what isn’t, and a recently-closed club in Moscow called Nii. These all formed part of our conversation when we recently connected online ahead of his appearance at next month’s Terraforma festival.

I wanted to start by going back around a decade to the formation of your punk band Midnite Cobras. What was your musical background around then and before then? Were your interests more guitar-focused?

Pavel Milyakov: Yes, I always was, from my teenage years, a skater guy so I listened to a lot of punk and hardcore, psychedelic rock, and got involved in the culture around that. There were a lot of international bands that I was interested in, bands from Sweden, and that started my connection with guitar music. So, I formed my own band from that and played guitar in it - it was a natural thing to do.

And how did that shift into your interest in more electronic-based music?

PM: A lot of it just involved research in what different instruments exist and what I could make music with - what kinds of instruments the bands that I liked were using. We’d been in touch with some other bands, and following what they were doing. Our drummer was a promoter in Moscow, so he brought a lot of bands here for gigs. We met with a lot of them and just discussed how they were making their music. It was like a cultural dialogue between us, so we looked for other ways to do what we wanted to do outside of just guitar, drums and bass.

Looking back through a fair few of your recorded mixes online, like the podcast you did for Resident Advisor for example, they tend to showcase a lot of Russian electronic music past and present. Is that a conscious effort of you viewing your role and the platform you have as some kind of ambassador for more unsung producers from your home country?

PM: Yeah, I think not only to represent the older sounds from Russia but to seek out the newer people and give them an audience, because it’s very hard to get attention here if you’re not living in Moscow or the other big cities. It’s hard to reach the media outside of those places, so I feel responsible in some way for these people and my friends to get it out there in any way I can because they are doing very interesting things. [Milyakov’s label] RASSVET and [collective, label and party series] Johns’ Kingdom are a way to build this community around the people I know making music.

With RASSVET, I just want to find as many good musicians that people don’t know so much as I can. The latest release, by Ihor Okuniev from Kyiv, it was his first record. He’s not too young, like 30-years-old, but I helped him get his first release out and it was important for me to show his music to more people somehow. I don’t want to get too focused on this idea though. The next release could be some kind of collaboration with, I don’t know, more famous artists, so I have a lot of plans and just want to split it between more crazy experiments and some dancefloor-oriented stuff. All that matters is to push forward what’s going on here and work with some interesting people.

Finding old Russian music, we have this website here called VK.com, which is kind of similar to Facebook but made by this guy called Pavel Durov. He moved to the USA because of a misunderstanding with the Russian government, but he created this platform with the capability to upload music. A lot of people have communities on there and they upload really obscure old music, rips from DAT tapes and stuff from underground labels in Russia every day. It’s very interesting to dig for old music on there. You can message the people uploading the music and find the people that made the music, and ask them for other uploads. There are also old radio shows uploaded which are really interesting to listen to for finding old artists.

Looking at your own work and records, you’ve been quite prolific over the last couple of years working with a bunch of labels like Incienso, Cititrax and The Trilogy Tapes, amongst others. How did these connections with so many labels come together? Were you sending out a lot of demos and making contact with the people behind those labels?

PM: I never really sent demos, everything came together naturally. I met most of the people running the labels because we were playing together, so often I just ended up discussing some things with them and I knew I had stuff that might fit with these labels. Together, we picked the tracks that worked, like with Will Bankhead running The Trilogy Tapes. With Nina Kraviz [who released two tracks on a compilation on her трип label earlier this year], I like how she’s releasing very experimental music like the Solar X reissue on her other label Galaxiid. It’s really great that she’s just releasing these strange double-LPs and obscure music, and using that platform she has.

Looking at how you’ve worked with so many labels, your sound has also covered various strains of electronic music, from ambient and more mellow house to harder techno, acid and trance-y melodies. Are you particularly bothered about putting sub-genre classifications on your work though or being known for specific sounds?

PM: Yeah, I just like a lot of electronic music and everything is interesting for me. So, I have a vision of my own world that I want to create and represent, and it can be done with many different tools - through more straightforward dancefloor music or through more abstract, experimental music. It’s all the same world to me. The genre itself that I’m using isn’t really a statement, it’s just a tool for me to express my own world. I have a double-LP coming on The Trilogy Tapes this summer using my own name. That will be very industrial-sounding and have a lot of ambient stuff. It’ll be non-dancefloor [laughs]. I made it throughout last year and spent a lot of time working on it. When I’m producing music, I just tend to work in the studio all day and I have different folders for certain sounds. When I feel like I’ve got a good idea, I’ll save it into the right folder and when things start collecting, I can make connections between those ideas and start to find concepts for a bigger project like an album. That will encourage me to work more on those ideas, and then after that I’ll start thinking about things like the cover.

I came across something you wrote in which you raise an old Mika Vainio quote in which he says, “There’s a lot of techno stuff that somehow, mysteriously, doesn’t catch the groove”. Is that something you often find yourself desperately just trying to latch onto and find when you’re making music?

PM: Yeah, I’m struggling all the time [laughs]. It’s nearly impossible. Maybe only 1 or 2 per cent of music I make feels not bad for me and feels worth working more on. It’s naturally all about how many hours I put into working in the studio for me. I know some people that don’t need to put so much time in, but just need to travel and see new places and channel that inspiration to create something really quickly in the studio. For me though, I just have to spend really long working at my ideas.

Moving a little away from music, I know you’re involved in the visual identify behind the Nii club in Moscow. Could you tell me more about that venue and the work that’s being done there?

PM: We opened around five years ago. Actually, the drummer for Midnite Cobras that I mentioned earlier was a booker and promoter, he dreamed about having his own venue to bring musicians to Moscow and programme everything as we wanted to. He found this really good space, and a community of us started to help in any way we could. I studied as a graphic designer and worked in a magazine for four years, so I used that experience to help with the design and visuals. Other people helped with the bar and the programming, so it was a group project. A couple of months ago it closed because there was a big debt and no money to pay rent which is very high in Moscow. It was a good experiment though, and we hope to find a new space to build something in in the future.

Has that been a frequent difficulty in Moscow, of keeping venues open and running?

PM: Yeah, there’s no support from the government for these kinds of cultural initiatives. It’s very hard to bring some obscure international artist to Moscow because you sometimes have to pay them a large fee and take care of their travel, but maybe only 50 people will come to the party and half of them will be your friends [laughs] who aren’t paying to get into the club. It’s hard. The only way you can really stay alive as a club in Moscow is to use it for other things, like opening a kitchen and serving food there. You need a place where a lot of people will come through though in the very centre. Nii wasn’t in the centre and there weren’t a lot of people just coming through the area so it was hard to keep things going. Ildar, who runs Gost Zvuk, opened a small pizza place there but it just didn’t help our troubles. It wasn’t such a big space, but the rent was very high for the kind of capacity we had. We decided to move out to pay the debts [laughs], and we still have the team together - that’s the main thing. Hopefully it’ll work out soon.

Buttechno's next record, Swamp Tracks, is released on July 18 via Gost Zvuk

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