Fascinating Sounds Become Iconic Objects: Justin Robertson Chats To El Paraiso
It's always a joy when a record label can transform a bold musical statement into an important artefact; Factory did it for me as a furrowed browed youth, Blue Note did it, ECM are handy at it too. Over the past few years I’ve had my head turned by Denmark’s El Paraiso records, home to some high calibre psych/jazz/electronica fusions, all wrapped up in some startling art work. The label’s strong visual appeal is lovingly directed by Jakob Skøtt, who along with Jonas Munk is responsible for running El Paraiso. Initially created as an outlet for Skøtt and Munks Causa Sui project, it has since expanded to provide a home for, amongst others: Papir, Brian Ellis, Psicomagia, and Sun River, as well as solo work from both Jakob and Jonas.
The musical pallet is decidedly kaleidoscopic , from metronomic cosmic electronics to wigged out space rock, delicate etherial acoustic drones to frequency bending lysergic foot stompers, heavy on the quality, delivered with love and consideration. so we dropped the chaps a line to find out what makes them tick… this is what they said…
Considering the unique vibe of the place it’s surprising that San Diego County, unlike it’s northern neighbours, has never had a distinct music scene – well until now that is! Cos these days the place is blooming with inspiring free music: acid rock, fusion and psychedelia influenced heaviness. Bands such as Astra, Brian Ellis Group, Earthless, Harsh Toke, Sacri Monti, Psicomagia, Joy and Monarch are all testament to the fact that San Diego finally has its own distinctive sound – a sound that’s as warm and abundant as the natural scenery in So Cal. We’re proud to be able to support this scene by releasing records from some of the finest SD acts such as Brian Ellis and Psicomagia these days – and maybe there’s more to come in 2016!
Ten years ago I hung around San Diego County for a couple of months and some of my fondest memories ever are from surfing La Jolla or Encinitas in twilight, or boozing it up in Ocean Beach with local characters. Once the sun sets in San Diego the sky turns into an engulfing sea of orange that makes you feel like something great is about to happen. San Diego is just a beautiful area. The most inspiring place I can think of. -Jonas
I love most art that has a deep personal tone to it. It seems like there was a period around 68-73 where artists every way was channelling their own vision in a very potent way. It's always exhilarating to see stuff that's transgressing the norms of the medium. Franco is like nothing else, even the camera movements are his own unique trademark: constantly zooming in and exploring the weird sensual nature of his subjects – I dive right into that every time – the swelling jazz-nature of his best films. -Jakob
India Pale Ale:
Without plenty of cold brew none of this would be possible. After a Causa Sui recording session we like to go out for for a good IPA or two. To be honest we actually indulge in that tasty stuff before and during as well. These days there’s a number of world class breweries in Denmark and the finest of them are situated on the island of Funen where Causa Sui is based. -Jonas
photo (local brew):
1972 Olympics visual identity:
Visuals today serves mostly as a consumer-segmented way of getting you to buy more stuff – I'm sick of crappy fonts and logos, which seems deliberately aimed at making the consumer feel at ease, mostly be looking like something the person buying the product could have done themselves. The Olympics used to be up there with Penguin Books and American Airlines! Münich was a high watermark and the colours and layouts still feels innovative today.-Jakob
The graphics style of the 1972 Munich Olympics
We first became fascinated with the vibrant experimental music scene in Chicago after seeing Tortoise live all the way back in 1998. The following year there was a Thrill Jockey label night in our hometown of Odense, with Chicago Underground Duo, Joshua Abrams and Sam Prekop and others and we became pretty obsessed with everything these guys touched. The way they fused everything together – jazz, electronics, krautrock, improvisation – is still a guiding torch for our own creations. We’ve always followed whatever people such as Rob Mazurek, Jeff Parker, Joshua Abrams, John McEntire and Jim O’Rourke have been up to and it’s a continuous source of inspiration. Whenever I feel like whatever we’re working on is reducing itself to being a mere celebration of yesteryear – becoming too much of a museum artefact glorifying a certain period of the past – I think of these guys, and the fact that there’s more to explore, that we’re working on art that’s supposed to be relevant to the world surrounding it. And in that regard these guys really set the bar incredibly high. I always try to keep in mind that best way to pay tribute to one’s heroes of the past, is not by replicating them – cos what they did back then was to challenge and change prevalent convention – but to create in the same spirit.
We’ve visited the city a few times and back in 2008 we had the chance to record with some of those guys, which eventually resulted in an album under the name Chicago Odense Ensemble. -Jonas
Rob Mazurek Octet:
What to say? The sun and the way everything sores and shimmer in the summertime is a prime driver in El Paraiso. Sure, it’s pretty idealised (I actually can’t stand the heat and sun), so it’s more what summer represents – which is probably a good thing, because Denmark only has about a week each year of full-on blazing summertime. -Jakob
Henry Miller’s novels, and general philosophy, has definitely influenced the El Paraiso Records vision. Few others throughout history has managed to capture the vibrancy of life on paper as well as Miller. And his thoughts on art, values and existence are enlightening and something I keep coming back to for inspiration. From his book “The Cosmological Eye” I quote:
“One needs either a heaven or hell in which to flourish – until one arrives at that Paradise of his own creation, that middle realm which is not a bread-and-butter Utopia of which the masses dream but an interstellar realm in which one rolls along his orbit with sublime indifference” -Jonas
Henry Miller at Big Sur:
For the past 20 years it seems to me like there’s been a very cold approach to minimalism in any artform. Everything is just about stripping things down, repeating exactly the same thing endlessly and thus removing what’s vibrant somehow. The stylised artform. But I think many people when thinking about minimalism that way are getting it wrong – to me, at least, it always seems more like a way to let the emotion shine thru – to let the organic evolve, through the use of space and patterns. Not to limit things, but to let them breathe – watching something slowly unfold. I think the whole El Paraiso motive is somehow embedded in that idea. – Jakob
Impulse! really set standard for all following niche-labels: those beautifully laid out , orange spined gatefold sleeves, and at least a decade of totally game-changing, innovative records by the likes of Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Gabor Szabo and of course Mr. and Ms. Coltrane – many of them engineered by the peerless recording legend Rudy Van Gelder in his studio in Englewood Cliffs. The whole catalog truly is a gift for all following generations. John Coltrane is the kind of person whose importance cannot be overestimated – it’s pretty impressive when considering the ripples he created – not only through jazz music while he was alive – but way into the spiritual jazz and new age music of the 1970s. Besides, all our favourite psych rock bands also leads back to Coltrane one way or another – considering the fact that Grateful Dead, Doors and Santana took pivotal cues from his music to create what they did. It’s hard to choose favourites among the vast catalog but a figure who perfectly captures the spirituality and the vigour of the scene, and went on to channel the heart and energy of Coltrane, is Pharoah Sanders, whose records we keep coming back to. There’s something extremely rare about his harmonic sensibility and the way he blends a multitude of sonic colours into something remarkably timeless. Listening to Pharoah Sanders is refreshing and encouraging. His collaborations with Alice Coltrane from the late 1960s and early 1970s are essential as well. -Jonas
Pharoah Sanders: “Morning Prayer”:
Don Blanding was an artist and poet from USA, born in 1892, who dedicated his life to portraying the culture of Hawaii, where he lived several times throughout his life. His über-romantic verses – depicting his bohemian life as a drifter, the enchantment of tropical nights, palm trees swaying in fragrant sea breezes, the curves of the native girls…and so on – is certainly very enjoyable, but it’s his illustrations, paintings and woodcuts that are truly inspiring. Books such as The Rest Of The Road or Vagabond’s House are works of true beauty, packed with his unique illustrations. -Jonas
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