Videodrones is a synth duo from Denmark. What they create are the sounds of dread, doom, darkness, and those things that go bump in the night. They summon the spirits of Popol Vuh, Fabio Frizzi, Bobby Beausoleil; as well as countless soundtracks to late night horror films you watched growing up(especially if you grew up in the 80s and with local late night television at your disposal.) There’s a sickly sweet and queasy vibe to Videodrones. There’s the horror and Gothic vibe for sure, but they aren’t creating “spooky” sounds for the hell of it. There’s a purpose to their pulsating, modular madness. There’s also a serious improvisational spirit with the sound band members Jakob Skott and Kristoffer Ovesen create. It’s just the nature of synthesizers to make weird, “far out” sounds. But what these two do is take it to a new level. Obviously inspired by both synth artists and old VHS tapes filled with schlock horror films and exploitation trash(the best kind of trash), these two are taking Komisch and Berlin School noisemaking to new heights here.
For me personally, I listen to both last year’s excellent Mondo Ferox and their brand new(and equally excellent) record Nattens Hævn and I’m pulled into another place and time. I’m reminded of late night viewings with the lights off and everyone else sound asleep. But it’s not what I saw that stayed with me when I finally laid my head down to sleep, but what I heard. The music that accompanied the horror on screen. The synth-driven scores would echo in my head; square wave’s bashing on the walls of my skull as syncopated rhythms became in sync with my own bewildered heartbeat. Videodrones capture that spirit of music for me. They capture those childhood memories and add to them. They create their own sonic world of musical introspection and let you walk into these bubbly landscapes(at your own peril, of course.)
I sat down and talked with Jakob and Kristoffer about Videodrones, their influences, and their love of sonic mayhem.
J. Hubner: So tell me about the idea behind Videodrones. How did this project get started? Have you and Kristoffer Ovesen worked together prior to Videodrones?
Jakob Skott: We started simply by having a long overdue jam-session. Just a fun day of noodling with our synths. That’s where about 90% of the first album was recorded. The day we were working on it, the ideas just got better and better, and we recorded hours and hours, and it became more and more cinematic – which is probably no coincidence, because when we were younger we’d watch movies for hours from Ovesen’s vast VHS-collection. So we edited it in that style sort of reimagining the jams into something more cohesive – but it wasn’t something we’d really talked about ahead of it: “hey, let’s do a tribute album to all the movies we love” – it was way looser than that, without any real starting point and we didn’t figure out the name until we worked on the cover and titles. So the whole thing kind of just fell into place.
Kristoffer Ovesen: We’ve always had very similar film taste, so our friendship was always more about movies, than music. Although we had one or two jam-sessions about ten years ago, the day we got together to record the first album was the first time we ever got serious about making something coherent together. We’ve discussed films, and film-scores so many times before, that we didn’t really need to plan which direction to go. I think we both knew what kind of sound was common ground for us. I could elaborate some kind of grand idea, but it would all be something cooked up afterwards. It just kind of happened, really, without us ever discussing a greater concept. I think we might have discussed a bit more doing the second album, talking about which direction to go, referencing both the first album and other artists. But to say we had a plan beyond jamming might be stretching it….
J. Hubner: You two capture a very unique musical sound on both the debut album ‘Mondo Ferox’ and the newest record Nattens Hævn. Who or what are some key inspirations and influences going into the writing for Videodrones?
Jakob Skott: Like Ovesen says, I think we’ve pondered over these things for so many years that it’s embedded deeply into both of us – so to untangle it seems impossible. However I really do feel that the fascination of genre-movies from the 70s and 80s gets stronger and stronger. Directors like Jess Franco, Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci & John Carpenter – the sheer WILL needed to create their works – under B-movie exploitation standards, they managed to make their movies soar. Furthermore they were all directors working in unison with a composer in a small cluttered home-studio – like Abel Ferrara & Joe Delia or John Carpenter & Alan Howarth. It was one of the things we talked about: Not killing the music in post-production, but rather letting it breathe – as some dude who’s been painstakingly arranging his music to the cues would: just leaving a single stringer note there for suspense…
Kristoffer Ovesen: I was always more into electronic, jazz or rock scores, than orchestral soundtracks. Goblin, Tangerine Dream, Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter etc. The major influence of film-scores was allowing us to make small mood-pieces, instead of just full blown traditional compositions. The freedom to explore a single idea or mood, without the need of letting it go further. I enjoy listening to soundtracks because of those small pieces of psychedelic suspense-inducing freakouts, as much as the more elaborated “theme tracks”.
J. Hubner: Did you grow up gorging your brain on 70s and 80s horror movies? What was a trip to the video store like in Denmark growing up?
Kristoffer Ovesen: I grew up in small town where the local supermarket had a video rental section, just next to the newspapers and cigarettes. My mom used to drop me off in front of the shelves, and I would contemplate what was behind the strange artwork and punchline on the boxes while she was shopping. We never had a TV set during my childhood, so the rental stores were mostly just some weird display of inaccessible wonders for me. I became obsessed with videotapes during my childhood and i bought a television and a VCR and began collecting horror movies as soon as I could afford it. A lot of the classic Eurotrash and exploitation were available on Danish rental tapes in the 80’s and tapes could be rented not only in rental stores, but gas stations and supermarkets often had a small rental section too. You could find stuff like Cannibal Holocaust, Tenebre, City of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre etc. I guess it was the same as in the US or UK, but we did never have censorship like in UK or Germany. Although I did spend some time at university reading about more conventional stuff, I consider fanzine-reading and watching Dutch bootlegs of Jess Franco and Lucio Fulci movies as my real film-education….
J. Hubner: Can you tell me a little about how you two write in Videodrones? Do you get together and just start making sounds, or do you have motifs you work off of?
Jakob Skott: I have one secret weapon, which is a special way of doing live sequencing – I use the same figure at different speeds and in different variations for each voice in the track. So basically every figure is very similar to, say, the bass. It can be reversed or permuted, but it’s the same scale and basic figure that creates all the sounds. It also turns out very massive, and you can jam with 4 different polyphonic voices changing keys at the same time. It allows for vivid improvisation, but also creates a lot of great variation and motifs popping in and out of nowhere – as opposed to most other synth-jams where you usually just run an arpeggiator through chords. That’s one essential thing about this project: it’s born through improvisation – even when it doesn’t sound like it.
Kristoffer Ovesen: I used a two voice modular systems for both albums. Jakob would feed us different sequences, as described above, and the actual “writing” didn’t go much further on my behalf than “could you make that sequence faster” or “could you reverse/transpose that sequence”. I would have three or four sequences that I would feed to different voices, sometimes using a polyphonic sequence that I would split up into two or more monophonic voices. The approach was very minimalistic, allowing a maximum of freedom to improvise, without losing too much structure. The modular system also allows me to split gate and pitch signal, hence use the rhythm of one sequence together with the pitch of another sequence to create a third variation.
J. Hubner: How long does it take usually to build up enough material for an album? Is there an extensive editing process that goes with these records? The albums are so well sequenced, and everything seems to bleed perfectly into the next piece. I imagine the mixing/editing/sequencing is just as big a part of each record as creating the sounds.
Kristoffer Ovesen: Both albums were basically cut from a one-day jam, but on Nattens Hævn we recorded more tracks afterwards, than on the first album. The editing and mixing, all done by Jakob, is essential to the sound. He sends me tracks while he mixes and I sometimes record extra sequences, but all the hard work of listening through hours of endless noodling around is done by him. Both albums were actually completed quite fast, as we talked about not overdoing the post-production.
Jakob Skott: Yeah, I try to keep it fresh. The first one I think I spent no more than a few hours mixing each track. Just really cropping out huge parts and reassembling hours worth of jams – folding the layers on top of each other and immediately sending the highlights to Ovesen – trying to decipher whenever something interesting was happening. For the latest one, I spent a bit more time – and it has more depth simply because it’s mixed better – adding stuff and automating a lot of effects, pitching and tweaking as well. But still with a sketch-like mood in mind. I try to empathise the weird coincidences, sudden shifts and dropouts, rather than edit them out.
J. Hubner: With the albums, from the titles to the names given to the songs, it feels like there’s a definite theme on these albums. Do you go into these with a direction? Are you writing as if you’re composing for a film? Do you go so far as to come up with an idea for an imagined film and write around that idea?
Kristoffer Ovesen: Not really. There was never a real concept behind it, it was more an extension of watching and discussing movies. We did joke around with different fictive titles during coffee-breaks between jams, though. Some too offensive to mention…. Some track titles might be referencing a certain movie, some just a feeling, but as said before, there’s not much of a finished story going on. It’s all just a product of our shared memory bank of psychotronic cinema, I guess.
Jakob Skott: I’m very happy that we didn’t settle on the “lost movie” theme – it’s just everywhere – it’s weird. I remembered we did the first album in May last year, and in June when Stranger Things popped up on Netflix, I watched it and thought “holy shit, this synthwave soundtrack-thing is going to explode – I need to hurry up and finish this album”. Well then it kind of happened ten-fold. But I think our inclination towards more weirded out stuff sets it apart enough to keep it fresh – at least I hope that’s how it works to the listener – maintaining a rougher edge through that whole improv-aspect. I’m as inspired by modern electronic music as by the grand synth-maestros – stuff like Autechre still sounds almost as fresh as when I first heard them 20 years ago, and I try to channel that ethos as well.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me what’s some of the go-to instruments Videodrones uses to make albums? It all has a bubbly analog warmth to it. Do you record to tape or is that aesthetic created in the engineering and mastering side of things?
Kristoffer Ovesen: I use a Eurorack modular system and a Roland HS-60, and some effect pedals. While jamming we record onto separate tracks on Jakobs computer, allowing him to mix and edit the tracks afterwards. I think the “warmth” is partly a result of Jakob not overdoing it in the mixing process, but the mastering Jonas did for us was definitely the final touch. Just like The Dude’s rug, it really ties it all together.
Jakob Skott: We use all kinds of stuff – there’s tons of digital stuff in there as well – we’re not purists, but use the best of all ages. Ovesen’s modular has a lot of really noisy and weird filters – for the stuff he puts out on Interzone Tapes – I used wavetable-synthesizer, as well as the analogues – there’s even an Ipad in there. But usually with some sort of analogue pre-amp or drive boost at the end of the chain to warm things up. I actually tend to make my mixes too dark, so Jonas actually adds some sizzle (which tape will absolutely not do) as well as ties the low-ends together – by using some hardware compressors, etc. So he adds definition to our blurriness – I’m always really happy with that, because in the end it has tons of murky vibe, but still packs a good punch.
J. Hubner: If you could only choose one, who’s a director that had the most influence on you growing up? Was there a film that affected you more than others?
Kristoffer Ovesen: That’s a tough question, different directors through the years, of course, but i think George Romero, David Lynch and Tim Burton were some of the first directors I were into in my early teens. I guess the film(s) that kicked of my interest in horror movies was the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. I watched most of them one summer night when I was 13 and it had a profound impact on me. I think being a horror-buff grew into some kind of identity for me, and to this day I like to see myself as a horror/exploitation collector/expert more than a musician, actually. The first time I remember noticing how different a film score could be done must have been watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Argento’s Profondo Rosso. Especially the pounding prog/synth scores of Goblin still resonates in my brain whenever I turn on my synths.
Jakob Skott: Right now, finishing Twin Peaks: The Return I feel inclined to say Lynch as well. I watched the first Twin Peaks series when I was about 11 or 12 – needless to say, Killer Bob has caused a fair share of night terrors for me. I also remember watching Lost Highway when I was about 17 – yet another crucial turning point: watching a world of cinema you thought you knew and understood just literally go up in smoke in front of your eyes. And of course the outer-worldly role of music in his films. The way they’re not bound to regular structures, but invents their own deeper and more emotional logic – that’s very inspiring. And this new 18 hour opus is just as heavy. I’m blown away – the old weathered faces – and also that he’s not keeping it very clean stylistically – just messing up with poor video-effects, style changes in every scene. Zero fucks given to his own legacy – that’s awesome!
J. Hubner: Can we count on more from Videodrones? If there was a once-a-year release I’d be perfectly happy with that.
Jakob Skott: The first session we had at my apartment – the 2nd was at the Studio where Causa Sui records, so I played all of Jonas Munk’s synth gear. We had a third session a few months ago, but I actually haven’t listened to it yet – that was at Ovesens place in the country side. So sure, we have to finish the trilogy just like any good movie-franchise…
Kristoffer Ovesen: What he said….
J. Hubner: So what’s on the horizon for El Paraiso Records? What musical tricks do you guys have up your sleeve for us? I’m asking so I know just how much money I need to start putting back.
Jakob Skott: Ha, sure – there’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline. I’ll give you the first 3: New Causa Sui studio album, New Mythic Sunship – and Nicklas from Papir is doing a follow-up to his first solo album. All moving up to a new level and all currently being printed. The X-mas LPs are already causing really long delays at the printers, so we’ll probably have to wait til next year. But will be worth the wait! Our best stuff yet to come!
A trilogy of Videodrones, new Causa Sui, Mythic Sunship, and Nicklas Sorensen. The future’s so bright I’ve gotta wear shades. You should wear shades, too. And grab Videodrones’ Nattens Hævn over at El Paraiso Records.