T.O.P Interview: Marc Ash (Blacksilk)

Interview by Helena Markos

Photography by Spyros Droussiotis

During my journey in Berlin couple of months ago, I unexpectedly come across the stunning Blacksilk releases, featuring on the shelves of a vintage store, somewhere amongst the streets of the Neukölln district. I was already aiming to buy “Litanies to the Self” EP, but I did not expect to find it in front of me, at that specific shop. I kind of liked the idea of those beautifully curated records appearing amongst unique vintage items.

Blacksilk is the record label of Marc Ash, a Berlin-based artist who carefully crafts releases filled with obscure, avant-guard electronic music. A world of synth-melancolia and solid baselines, producing the imagery of an acoustic novel, where its hero scuffles with his agony, trying to redefine his own self.

It was inevitable for me to not get the chance and message Marc for an interview. Marc sounded extremely friendly and approachable, the type of artists I love interviewing. And here we are; I am very pleased to share with you Marc’s interesting and insightful words about the scene today, the world, the life in Berlin, his label, his friendship with Juan Mendez (Silent Servant) and his deep admiration for Helena Hauff. Marc’s profound and inspiring words are of those you want to read.

 

T.O.P: Marc, first of all thank you for dedicating time to answer to my questions! I want to ask you how has your journey into the music production started?

M.A.: My pleasure. I’ve been into music since a very young age, I studied classical piano until my teenage years and started “producing” and playing around with music software at around the same time. My childhood background is not really something I’d be proud of, I used to listen to a lot of shitty mainstream music (Italian pop-rock and hip-hop) but thankfully my father introduced me to things like things like Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, that’s what probably saved my ass in a way.

grew up in a small town in the countryside of Northern Italy, at the time internet was still something very slow and unreliable, so my only sources of “music” (aka CDs), besides commercial radio, were the local record shops – or better, the record sections of supermarkets – you can only imagine what kind of music I could find there.
Things started to change when I turned 16, thanks also to tv channels like MTV Brand New and alternative music magazines I started discovering punk, new wave and indie music, from Velvet Underground to Fugazi, then turning to darkwave, despising everything electronic, particularly gabber and eurotrance – genres that were popular where I come from and that I used to associate with the word “techno” – from my particular perspective these things looked gross, mainstream and unappealing.

I was overwhelmed by all these various influences and even started a couple of indie rock band projects that I won’t name over here, but that resulted in my first LP (then a CD) that came out in 2010 on an Italian indie rock label. My turning point to electronic music was a big festival which I attended in 2009, where Italian and international big indie rock bands were billed alongside Aphex Twin and Kraftwerk, both playing live sets. That opened me to a whole new world, and since then my vision of music itself changed radically.

T.O.P: What is Blacksilk for you and is there any particular concept or symbolism behind your label?

M.A.: The name “Blacksilk” comes from a citation of the song “Black Silk Stocking” by Krisma (formerly known as Chrisma), an Italian proto-electro punk band from late ‘70s and 80s that were extremely ahead of their time and a big influence for me. I had the pleasure to meet Cristina and Maurizio, a lovely couple with a lot of energy and a huge musical culture, during one of my first gigs as a DJ in Milan at a new wave party, around 10 years ago.The main idea behind Blacksilk is essentially to combine my passion for electronic music with a well defined aesthetic imprint, trying to use art excerpts into release-specific imageries. This comes from my broad interests in figurative arts, having studied History of Art.

I would dare to say that artworks in Blacksilk’s releases are almost as important as the music itself. There is always a strong connection between these two elements, even though is perhaps not an easy-to-catch one. I’m aware that this statement may sound unpleasant or weird to some fellow djs, but when I’m record digging artwork definitely plays a role in what I pick out the shelves. I think quality music – even the “club-oriented” electronic one – should always deliver a message, a story, or something, and the visual part of this message must not be overlooked.

 

T.O.P: Is there any specific person, moment or experience that you feel they have played a significant role for you and your work as producer, so far?

M.A.: I had the pleasure to meet Ghedalia Tazartes some years ago, at a festival in Holland where I was playing with my old industrial band Cyndies. He’s one of the most inspiring persons I’ve ever met in my whole life, his extraordinary music was unknown to me before then, he opened up whole new horizons and just his physical presence is something absolutely remarkable.

T.O.P: Would you say that you are inspired by relationships and other people or you are a more introvert type that you get inspired by your own personal quest?

M.A.: I am an extremely introverted individual. I hope not to sound pretentious by saying that what inspires me the most are my deepest thoughts and my complex psychic universe.

I lost faith in humankind and politics long ago, sometimes unfortunately I cannot resist reading the news and getting frustrated by seeing what’s going on in the world right now. Knowing history I think we are going through very scary times, ignorance is taking over at every level (political, cultural) and the winning ideas are always the ones that look – and sound – easier and scream louder.

I’ve been living in Berlin for more than 3 years now, and what I love the most about this city is the possibility of creating your own private bubble of close friends and people you really like and almost forget about the rest of the world. People don’t judge you on the streets and respect your decisions, letting you live in peace with your own choices and life rhythms without invading your space. You know you’re living in a huge city, and you have all the entertainment and cultural options (nightlife, museums, shops…) at your doorstep anytime you want, IF you want. Despite many things going wrong, Berlin is still an island where to meet people from all over the world and where rising dumb nationalistic, populist and anti-progressive ideas are still not very popular.

I often travel around Europe and when I happen to stay somewhere else for more than three days I start feeling deeply uncomfortable. There’s no place like Berlin for me, right now.

 

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T.O.P: Do you want to share with us the story behind your stunning EP, “Litanies For the Self”? It also contains a wicked remix by Silent Servant. How did this collaboration occur?

M.A.: My last EP, as the title suggests, is totally focused on me. It has been conceived during a very difficult period of my life, the past two years during which I had to deal with serious and debilitating health issues. Each track is an invocation, almost a secular prayer in form of a story. It is actually a very private thing, and making music is often therapeutic for me, helping me to overcome many insecurities that come with my condition. Same thing can be said about the djing activity, that became almost a socially cathartic act for me.

Juan (aka Silent Servant) is a close friend of mine, we met five years ago when I was still living in Italy and I opened for one of his sets. I soon realised I had many things in common with him, we share a common taste in music and aesthetics. He’s a wonderful human being with broad interests, not only a great artist. He strongly encouraged me to pursue my own musical projects; his music and what he’s done in the past with labels he was strongly involved in, Sandwell District and Jealous God , still stands as an example for me. I don’t like the word “mentor”, but he’s definitely a very influential figure. It was natural for me to ask him to collaborate musically at this point – after having crafted some artwork for a Blacksilk release two years ago – and he gladly accepted. I hope we’ll have the chance to cooperate again in the future.

Another artist that I admire is Helena Hauff. She supported my music and my label since the very beginning, and I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to release a track on her label “Return to Disorder”, which is currently putting out amazing releases by emerging artists. I like the way she’s basically (not) dealing with any social media or self promotion bullshit, I wish I could do the same but, by her own admission, she’s been very lucky (besides very talented), more one of a kind case. She keeps her head straight without giving too much space to compromises, despite having reached a great fame and her sets are always a polyhedric trip between genres, every time is a surprise.

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T.O.P: The EP is also accompanied by a beautiful artwork, which we were amazed to find out that it by you?! Do you want to tell us about this side of yours?

M.A.: The artwork is not mine. It is a detail of a painting by Mario Sironi, a controversial Italian painter from the 1920s, specifically from his “magic realism” period. Strongly undervalued because of his collaboration with the fascist regime, Sironi had actually more to offer than the dull propaganda mural paintings he started working in the mid-30s. His earlier canvas paintings have the power of making my blood chill instantly, the austerity of his monumental figures is indeed stunning and unique. This particular portrait is not exhibited anywhere but stands in a private collection, I found it while working on my thesis and struck me immediately, not only for its resemblance with me but for the intensity of the composition and the somber palette of colours.

T.O.P: In a post-rave era and within the contemporary electronic music scene, what do you think are the biggest challenges?

M.A.: For me the biggest challenge is always to reinvent yourself in new, interesting ways. Who says that everything has been done in music (ok, let’s narrow down the field to electronic music) is basically right. It’s been a while since we have reached the degree zero of music, something that figurative art had reached even earlier, at the beginning of the last century with Malevic.

To me artists like Maurizio Bianchi, Atrax Morgue and, more recently, Wolf Eyes, are the degree zero of music. It’s not about creating something completely new but finding new ways to elaborate and metabolise what has been done, reshaping what is known – the content: sounds, rhythm, sequences, modes and scales – into new forms. This is the real artistic challenge for me.

T.O.P: Any plans and collaborations for the near future?

M.A. No collaborations in sight for the time being. I am too much of a lone wolf to co-produce music with someone else, but I hope I will change my view on this cause I’m aware I’m missing out a lot. It’s different for Blacksilk though, as a label curator I’m way more open and I’m considering some demos I’ve received from different producers for future releases in the current year. I don’t have long-term plans for Blacksilk, I live for today and mostly plan only one release at a time.

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T.O.P: Finally, is there any album or tune that you would suggest as mind/soul healer?

M.A.: For the rainy days:
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Folklore Venom (2013, Hospital Productions)

For the grim days:
Violet Poison – Non Sequitur (2014, Haunted Air)

For the sunny days:
Chris & Cosey ‎– Techno Primitiv (1985, Rough Trade)

Thank you for having me and see you soon in Bristol, hopefully! x