“We’re Creating Timeless, ‘Heart’ Music”: Talamanca System Talk
Think of Ibiza and nowadays the most likely scenario that springs to mind is one of boisterous Brits pumped full of ketamine, larily fist-pumping to monotonous tech-house (guys clad in wife-beater vests and the girls tottering about the place in ridiculously high heels and swimming costumes that will most definitely leave some questionable tan-lines) down at the infamous Jet Apartments. The hedonistic days of old when glamorous jet-setters such as Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury and Naomi Campbell would flock to the White Isle have been seemingly consigned to the history books, and along with them the epitomous Balearic sound. The sound that met an untimely demise thanks to the commercialisation of the music, largely in part to certain albums that are adorned with weird, 'sexy', illustrations of women on the front.
But there are still artists out there who are creating and playing Balearic sounds with integrity. Talamanca System- the trio of Mark Barrott, Gerd Janson and Philipp Lauer- are doing just that. Gerd Janson is no stranger to the Ibizan way of life. A regular on the circuit there, he made contact with Mark via their labels- Gerd with Running Back and Mark with International Feel. "About three years ago Gerd came to my house in Ibiza," Mark explains jovially in his cheery, northern twang. "I gave him a synthesiser. I have a whole ethos that if you don't use something for six months, you give it away. Philipp at this point is having a cardiac arrest. He was a little embarrassed by the gift, so he offered me a Tuff City Kids [Lauer and Janson's project] remix of a half finished track on my iPad." This half finished track went on to become 'Balanzat'. And, thanks to the good old German work ethic, Gerd and Philipp produced an ambient version and an acid version as well as the Tuff City Kids and the main version.
Wanting to create more music together, the guys came up against a slight stumbling block- the logistics. Barrott is based out in Ibiza full-time, whilst Janson and Lauer are holed up in Kilianstäden, a small village near Frankfurt in Germany. Couple this with the busywork schedules of the trio- gigs all across Europe and the globe, labels to manage and solo projects- and you've got quite a task on your hands to find a time to get together. It was a trip to the dentist for Barrott that finally permitted them to synchronise. Mark's dentist is based in Nuremburg ("one could argue that the English are to dentistry what Hitler was to racial harmony" Barrott remarks as the other two burst into fits of shocked laughter), so after one particular trip he jumped on a train across Germany to Philipp and Gerd. Mark recalls how when he arrived at Philipp's and stumbled into his attic studio he was "like a kid in a toy shop". Ram packed full with wall-to-wall synths and drum machines, Mark sat down and began to play on the synths. Lauer and Janson recorded Barrott.
"Then Gerd would grab a drum machine, Philipp would grab some percussion and we just kept working and working," Barrott recalls. "We started at midday and by 9pm we'd got 10 very complete ideas. Then we broke for dinner and I collapsed from mental and physical exhaustion." "And we carried on working," Philipp laughs. "You hear about the German work ethic, but, my god it happens!" Mark exclaims. He goes on to explain how, usually, he hates to collaborate with other musicians ("because I'm a complete control freak"), instead preferring to create alone. "We just had this wonderful day where everything worked," he reminisces fondly. "Everyone in that room on that day had a real chemistry. Something special happened that day with the three of us in that room at that time." That chemistry is genuinely apparent as we chat, with the three of them mercilessly teasing each other in a way that only close friends can do, and Mark and Philipp giving Gerd grief for his long hair, which "nearly gave a girl in Utah a nervous breakdown".
The "something special" which Mark refers to is the creation of their self-titled, debut album as Talamanca System. The album was released back in May, perfectly timed to soundtrack the imminent hazy summer days and hedonistic nights on the island. Gerd sequenced the album so that it flows through from day to night. The name for their project was Gerd's doing. He explains: "My hotel is always near Talamanca beach. So I go to the hotel, check in, take my swimming trunks, go to Talamanca beach for a swim, then take a walk to the infamous Fish Shack restaurant eat some seafood. Walk back, go for another swim, back to the hotel and then most of the time I have to DJ." When they needed a name for their 'Balanzat' project, Gerd wanted it to have connections to Ibiza, the place where he met Mark five years ago. And the 'System' part? "That's from Blue System- Deiter Bohlon’s band and a German clothing brand that made denim."
What Barrott, Lauer and Janson aim to do as Talamanca System is to bring back the Balearic beats of the bygone days, when Ibiza was in its hedonistic heyday. The album conveys the freedom and emotion synonymous with the island- from the glistening piano top-line of 'Transatlantique' to the dramatic synths of 'Aurorca'. "What we're doing [with Talamanca] is creating timeless, heart music," Mark ethuses, passionately. Taking the conversation back to the current state of clubbing on the island, I ask Mark whether he thinks the current VIP culture has killed off the essence of the island. "We're fighting back a little bit at a time," he says with conviction. "We might lose a few battles but we’ll win the war. I can assure you of that. At the end of the day, people will look back at this time in history as big government, big pharmaceuticals, big companies- control mechanisms designed to control people- and they will look back in horror. And tech house," he continues with utter disdain, "tech house soundtracking a sunset is another pathetic, banal example of that. People will not look back on a Solomon release or a Luciano release or any of this bullshit that pretends to be music with any joy….So whilst I’m in negative awe of certain things that go on on this island, the Balearic free spirit here will prevail."
La Torre and Pikes are two places that continue to uphold that spirit. La Torre, where Barrott and Pete Gooding programme the music. These places are "key to the resurgence of the original Balearic spirit". Barrott gets rather het up when discussing the "overt, excessive drug and alcohol taking" in some pockets of the island, calling it "insanity". "There’s a beautiful quote in that Guardian piece- Harvey and I were interviewed- and Harvey said San Antonio is [like] crawling around in the glass and the vomit." "But it's fun when you're young," Philipp shouts out. "No it’s not!," Mark retorts. "It’s fun if you’re disconnected from yourself and you’re not aware you’ve got a soul and you’re just a controlled mechanism of the government."
So, what's next on the agenda for the trio? Will it be another dentist trip before they meet again? "I've got another dentist trip in October," Mark states. "I think we should make another album." "I think we should wait and see if people buy this one first," Gerd remarks. "There we go," Mark retorts. "Gerd Janson. Sales Executive."