Ivan Smagghe is a man of many talents and many interests, wether producing all manner of off kilter music over the years or running a book on blogs, djing in sweatboxes or expansive lofts or holding forth on politics and cultural history – there's a lot to the man. We caught up with him for a chat to talk everything from the information revolution to Sartre's views on politics…
Hi Ivan, reading various bits and pieces from around the web it’s clear you are quite overtly political, this being the case, do you feel that the current social and economic situation effecting the western world is manifesting itself in the new music you come across?
I would tweak a bit (though the original version still cuts it for me) Sartre's words : 'anybody who is not political is a dog'. Sadly, Politics have let Economics rule the world, Capitalism is integrating its own resistance into 'subversive cool' etc… After that, I am not sure you can make links between political climate and the texture of club music, by essence functional (forgetting at the weekend how hard your life is) and 'house with a message' is ludicrous. It may well put me in an awkward position sometimes, that of the entertainer. That is why I read, and work around books too, it keeps my head on the ground and my anger focused. As far as KTDJ is concerned, there has always been, and always will be, a political intent at the core of our work.
You’re bringing ‘It’s a Fine Line’ to Loft Studios in London on January 25th, how would you define the ‘IAFL’ project and how does it differ to your previous projects?
We are really looking forward the Loft party, this a very special space. Tim and I will also have a lot of space to play, it is rarer and rarer to be able to take it from start to finish, the full roller-coaster… Expect quite a lot of unexpected I suppose, with a tendency towards slightly stranger than usual dance music.
In a way, we are trying not to define IAFL too much, trying to find our niche sound of course but not locking doors. I feel very comfortable in this, much more than in other projects I had before. I could do the old trick of 'krautpsychediscoleatherspaceblahblah' but who cares? The album we are working on will not be a collection of club singles, certainly not but after that… Just come and see what we are about, that would be the best way.
How did you and Tim Paris come to work together, and how did you initially meet?
We have know each other for years, from Paris, partying together, common friends. Tim moved to London a month after me. Two exiled, it was only natural. But I am very well placed to know how musical partnerships can go totally wrong… It all comes down to leave your ego outside the studio first, and outside generally… None of this is b*%^#^#*# is going about this time and I can safely say we complement each other.
What have you got planned for the year ahead, both with IAFL and any other projects you’re involved with?
We have quite a few IAFL remixes coming out, for FAIRMONT, GEORGE ISSAKIDIS, ABSTRAXION… Then we will focus on the album. This is a major step and always a scary/exciting one. There is a lot we wanna put, you just have to make that bubbling coherent, it is a constant game between blur and focus if you like. There will be a few surprises that I can not talk about but do not expect a plethora of featurings, we do not really like that… Once again, defining the record before it is made (and probably after) will be the job of others…
I am trying to do a few solo remixes including some for ASPHODELS, LE CARROUSEL and SUUNS. I have a fairly special cold wave compilation (with a different angle) in the making. KILL THE DJ my label has loads of music in the pipeline (MARGOT, C.A.R., ISSAKIDIS and more). This night in Dalston Will hopefully become a window for the label's work, in all its wonkyness. Time to get KTDJ a bit more present this side of the pond…
Hopefully, DISCIPLINE IN DISORDER (the book blog I co-run) will start publishing books by the end of the year. In French for now but who knows… That is not another thing close to my heart.
Watching your interview with Tubbs, you mention your approach to production is centred around, even aided by, not being especially technically aware or able to play an instrument. Do you feel that, as you produce more music and, inevitably, learn more about production through the process, your growing proficiency is getting in the way?
In playing instruments? Nope. I wish but you can not have everything… Tim is the 'real musician' (he will laugh reading that). What gets clearer is how I want things to sound, though I am far little of a technician to lose my 'spontaneity' if that is what you mean… Knowing a bit more helps but what we after is also the ever important 'bancal' (wonky would be the best translation), that accident. Something that obviously sounds good but that is not pushed in its intentions.
You’ve said previously that being a DJ is a good job for ‘introvert exhibitionists’, with that in mind do you feel there will ever be a time when you move away from performing as a DJ and focus solely on production work, or is there something in the thrill of ‘performance’ that you would miss too much?
If I would make the decision to quit djing, I would not miss it. That is not saying I am thinking about it- but if you move on, why regret what you have left behind? I would need more than production though… Writing could come in the game probably. Well hopefully…
I know you’ve said you didn’t enjoy playing live with Black Strobe, but do you think playing live with IAFL is something you’d consider in the future?
There will be something that we could consider a 'live show' but not a band formation. Something more malleable, non-repetitive, with probably a strong focus on visuals. I really think videos/projections done in a 'different way' can be as effective as the music itself when you come to live shows. Playing our own tracks but not only. Formula in process at the moment.
Looking at the imagery associated with IAFL, you appear to have a real interest in old drawings and etchings (that look to be 18th century?), is this interest rooted in a broader historical fascination with times past? Are you a closet historian?
Ah ah… I studied cultural history for six years so am a bit out of the closet… But I do not think I am a nostalgic or an antiquarian… What is pretty sure is that our imagery is not futuristic. But with the retro invasion, we may get into heavy CGIs (not)… Any visual would be related to the music I suppose, a lo-if intent (that can mean a lot of work of actually) and a intended digestion a of clichés and of our own influences. What I mean is that it will go further than moustaches, 1920s fonts and tattoo ink.
Going back to your upcoming show at Loft Studios, the space itself is quite something – a series of interconnecting studios which has been lauded as one of the best venues in London. In terms of a space assisting the atmosphere, what are some of your favourite venues to play in? Do you have a standout favourite?
I know, Derren has found his best home yet…Venues…hmmm… It really depends, of course sweat boxes are always a fave but I know some great big venues. Sounds like a cliche but a tip with a good sound system, a good, gurning but musically educated, crowd and shitty lights (or no lights) would do. At the Loft, we will have, and hopefully go, that extra mile. Exciting.
Finally, a non musical question to finish off – do you think that people are becoming more or less intelligent and clued up on the back of what’s been hailed the ‘information revolution’? You can find everything on the internet, but it seems most people just want to look at cat pictures or animated gifs of people falling over….as a species, are we dumbing down?
The big question… I definitely feel from another generation that the all-Internet one so… Yes , I have heard myself say 'civilisation is ending' more and more, that whole 'instant' thing often promotes shallowness. I get pissed off when people are texting at dinner table and no one reads a book in the tube but, hey, it may just be me getting old.