Interview by Helena Markos
Born in the Netherlands and based in Finland, Samuel van Dijk has been responsible for delivering high quality productions, under his monikers Mohlao, VC-118A and Multicast Dynamics. Samuel is fascinated by contrasts. He explores the tension that comes from carefully constructed atmospheres and rough riding rhythms, like gentle waves crashing up against angular rock faces or jagged drum patterns softened by blooming pads. He will explore both the rough and the smooth, the loud and the quiet, the cerebral and the visceral in unique soundscapes where electro, techno, dub and ambient are blurred into one.
Just after his latest release on Delsin records, Samuel is sharing with us his views on the current situation and the post-virus era. He explains the concept and philosophy behind his different projects; all marked by his introspective, signature sound. Samuel is definitely one of the few contemporary producers with an incredible musical knowledge, reflected on his work. He is consistently devoted to creating meaningful and avant-garde music with his sonic journeys, designed with care and an intention to take the listener into deeper states, in which the music becomes a vehicle for endless meandering. Not to mention his DJ sets, that are characterised by technical proficiency and an excellent transcendental flow. We feel honoured hosting the words of this artist, in what is the first interview of this year; a great content with some dope announcements and…a pretty cat, chilling on Mohlao’s gear.
T.O.P: First of all, thanks for accepting the invitation. I want to ask you how are the pandemic and current events in the world affecting you?
Mohlao: It’s really tough time for all of us. Unfortunately politicians have proven once again that they are not prepared, taking advantage of the situation and quickly implementing laws that make the lives of people difficult. Capitalism strikes again with branded face-masks, assuring marketing campaigns. For a moment things cooled down a bit here, clubs opened with limited capacity and I got actually some bookings coming in that unfortunately got canceled. I do miss family, friends and travelling abroad. The new situation did give a chance to study new production techniques and focus on a topic that almost became obsessive: the mixing stage. Making new connections, collaborations, hunger for making music together. Developing ideas, more open!
T.O.P: Who is Mohlao/VC- 118A/Multicast Dynamics? What are the different aliases?
Mohlao: When I started out with the project Mohlao and released my first record in 2009 I was inspired by the works of Basic Channel, Drexciya, Convextion, also influenced by Detroit and dub techno. The project grew into a more deep techno sound, with dusty noise textures, ambient synth pads, and dance floor rhythm structures. Dub music is very much a foundation for the project to this day.
VC-118A was originally inspired by and designed to fit the idea of a retro-futuristic airplane travel, and mainly in the way it was marketed in the early 50s and 60s: a new experience, comfort, fast travel and exploring new places. Many of these ideas ended up on the debut album ‘International Airlines’ on Lunar Disko, where the sound was still developing into more broken beats. In retrospect, this was a transition album, whilst I was trying to find the sound of the project. With the following EP Information System on TRUST it became clear that the project found the beginning of its sound, leaving the aviation concept behind. VC-118A is all about forward thinking sound design structures, driven by broken beats, heavy bass, and thick layer of atmosphere.
While there exists one techno track as Multicast Dynamics, at the centre of the project’s sound is a nautical vehicle for introspective soundscapes, drones, sound design and abstract stripped down rhythms. All projects manifest their own sound, space, and ideas that often cross-pollinate in the studio. Making music with these parameters also functions as a headspace for focusing and challenging myself. Quite often, projects that started in a MD project context end up having the leading role in a VC or MO track. Its all a very fluid process and I quite enjoy working like this.
T.O.P: How has your journey into the music been so far?
Mohlao: Like much things in life: ups and downs. Before making any tracks I’ve done a lot of listening to other people’s music. This taught me a lot in the very beginning to develop some sort of taste and emotional connection to what feels right in a track. Late-night listening session closely analysing every detail, change in sound, structure, and idea. For a while I was exploring what hard and software kit would fit best to my workflow and style of music that I wanted to make. I would say an interesting exploration period, discovering that certain instruments bring make ideas flow, and others not so much.
At some point, I had a room full of synthesizers, hardware effects, drum-machines, but discovered that limiting myself using only a few machines actually brought more interesting results. Shift Register, Landforms and Ancient Circuits are all results of reducing options and focusing on a few instruments. In recent years I’ve been gradually selling equipment to make more room in my head and filter out the noise. For my own work it seems that less options actually give more time to create, and a focus point for making something (hopefully interesting) to listen to.
T.O.P: Is there any person, moment or experience that has influenced your production?
Mohlao: Collaborations are very interesting! They keep giving new perspectives, learnings, and approaches to making music. I like making, listening, and sharing music with others a lot! Playing live sets influence constantly, too: a direct connecting with the crowd, and the sounds become physical by volume and the energy in the space. Often I tweak and finalise ideas that I’ve played a live set. It’s the different dynamics, and perspective it gives.
T.O.P: You have recently released the exceptionally beautiful record on Delsin records Crunch/ Plock. What is the story behind it?
Mohlao: The tracks emerged from jam-sessions when developing my new VC-118A live-set last year. An early sketch version of Plonk can be heard in the latest published live-set recorded at Blank St. Petersburg. Even before that, the audience response was great when I played these tracks live. Both tracks are also exercises in trying out a faster pace, work on mixing techniques, and include 3 locked grooves on the final record. I’ve always liked records that cut infinite loops that can be used to spice up a DJ mix, and can be used in different pitches. The extended digital versions are on my Bandcamp. The record also is a warmup to my forthcoming album on Delsin, to be released early next year. The track-titles come from the main noises they provoke, something simple by design.
T.O.P: How would you describe your creative process? What inspires you most?
Mohlao: I like to record and build custom sample packs. I’ve been building quite a large library over the years with soundscapes, rhythms, and textures. These packs continue to give a lot of creative freedom for sequencing, mood, and even structure for tracks. I would say 85% of my tracks emerge from a melody, mood, or mental image they evoke at the start. Layering sound, carving out a rhythm, and creating a 3-dimensional space are part of this process. I particularly like when sounds slide to fit, it is often like pieces of a large puzzle that suddenly fit perfectly. That specific moment defines directly the track’s foundation.
T.O.P: How do you think the electronic music world will emerge in a post-pandemic era?
Mohlao: The electronic music world as I know it is full of passionate, ambitious people who invest all their spare time, money, and energy burning their emotions in tracks, events, mixes, podcast, labels etc. Many artists, labels, clubs, and their crews have moved their profile and work to a broader field by starting online events, virtual concerts, and utilising the already flooded social and media channels with more content. This is a good thing!
However, I do have a suspicion people will try to continue where they left off before the pandemic started. Many aspects of the industry don’t seem sustainable to me, and rooted in egoistic, narcissistic motives. I’m definitely aiming for more collaboration, less division, and a less competitive world altogether.
What I hope is that people will start to realise that major cooperations have basically claimed how the majority of people consume music nowadays, at the cost of artists’ work. While streaming became the new norm, bizarre low payments seem to be accepted by the artists, that perhaps feel that it’s a small price to pay for having the music available. Luckily, one download, merch sale, or subscription ordered directly from the artists Bandcamp page has already 10x more revenue than any streaming platform will pay to artists.
T.O.P: What do you think are the major challenges that artists face today?
Mohlao: Having no backup plan. Discovering that art is defunded, underpaid, and hard to sell without being very active online. The continuing pressure to self-promote, and have a voice on all the major social media networks. Disconnecting from what others do, and focus on creating their own sound.
T.O.P: Any upcoming projects/collaborations to announce?
Mohlao: VC-118A featured track for Exit Planet Earth vinyl series. Out now on 20/20 vision.
Mohlao EP on Hypnus with a lengthy remix
VC-118A album on Delsin. Double vinyl pack out in early 2021.
Two Multicast Dynamics collaboration albums on Astral Industries.
The start of my own label, more info soon!
T.O.P: Which piece of music or album would you suggest as a mind/soul healer?
Mohlao: Vault – ‘Up Through The Concrete’ from the Monsters EP, by Chris Mitchell, Retrograde Youth, DJ Nephil, Vault
Note: Few words in the intro paragraph are taken by RA