Interview: 3.14 (Pi electronics, Modal Analysis)

Interview by Helena Markos

Hailing from Athens but based in Berlin, Alex, working under the alias 3.14, has built a reputation for himself as a DJ and producer. He is also the founder of the record label, Pi Electronics and a co-curator of Modal Analysis, together with ANFS and Kondaktor. Over the years, these labels have presented the work of brilliant artists such as, ANFS, Stave, JK Flesh and Delta Funktionen, to name but a few.

Pre-covid, Alex and his Greek music gang created a beautiful connection between Berlin and Athens in a very unique way. They marked a musical territory and cultivated a very special community within the techno/industrial and EBM culture. The Pi nights at the legendary about:blank will be remembered for their dark, distorted and teasing sounds, heating the dance-floor in cold winter nights. 3.14 also holds a residency at Berlin’s HÖR radio, where listeners have the chance to indulge in his eclectic and daring DJ sets. Alex has also contributed with a beautiful remix to our first Tales of Psychofonia release Dementia by Secondary Drive, coming out on the 28th of February.

In this Q & A, Alex talks about the current status-quo and how the virus has coincided with the change of his direction. In the post-pandemic era, he sees a massive filtering out; on many different levels. Finally, he reflects on his tendency to go against the norm and he suggests some timeless, ‘healing’ tunes.

T.O.P: How are the pandemic and the subsequent sociopolitical events in the world affecting you, both as a human being and as an artist?

At first, I thought that my life was not about to change so much. I kept on my mid-week routine with going to the studio, running the labels from my living room couch, going to the super market and cleaning the apartment with my girlfriend once per week, as usual. The weekend routine was the one that changed though. No club activity since March, while it was only in November, when bars and restaurants shut down completely in Berlin. So, it’s been almost 4 months I have experienced the true lockdown.

But in these past months I have come to realise that the way our lives have changed, has come to stay… maybe for long, or even forever? This wouldn’t mean that the public music gatherings will never happen again, but maybe some of them will not be able to offer the same experience to the guest as before. That was a difficult one to digest. Then, If you think about it the other way round, the fact that the live performing part of music is not allowed any presence at the moment, also blocks the creative output that so many artists need in order to express themselves, no matter how well established they are. Personally, the lack of having the option to DJ at clubs, has helped me focus only on music making. Maybe for the first time in my life, I only fed the creative side of my involvement with music. And it feels great! But it started already a year before corona broke out, as in the spring of 2019 I decided to officially take a break from organising events, have some life out of the music bubble and spend quality time with my machines. So, in a way the corona situation played along with my decision.

The label has been a pillar that never stopped being there though and that’s because my role of looking after the labels has always been taken as my main duty. The label activity has actually been seeing some good days with the pandemic (Bandcamp Fridays, etc). Both Pi Electronics and Modal Analysis have been producing and selling more than prior to March 2020, which on the one hand is encouraging to keep us going, but also it feels like it makes the scene a little more music focused. If the attention before was mostly concentrated on the gigs of super star artists, or festival line ups bringing the biggest figures together, maybe now it can be more focused on a standing out release, or repress, a label that is having a great year of releases, etc.

T.O.P: How do you feel the electronic music world will emerge in the post- pandemic era?

In my view, in the past years before the pandemic, the electronic music market had been becoming so superficial, to an extend that it was not serving its initial purpose anymore. There were more parties and DJs, than actual people to attend or listen to them. Strictly career driven music professionals, ready to sacrifice everything aiming to achieve their career goals, which is great…but I don’t always understand its relation to the concept of artistic expression and people who need an alternative output to voice themselves. Some people’s approach could exist in a corporate, business environment too. In a way, I believe that we needed to ‘reboot’, we were in need of a pause, in order to restart, evaluate what is to be thrown away from the previous era and move forward with an improved version of our culture. That is why I had to freeze the π events in 2019 and as a result of the reflecting I went through during the pandemic, I hope to return in organising events again in the new, post-pandemic era.

So, I see the post pandemic era in electronic music as a new beginning, hopefully with a more conscious approach among people who attend such parties. The loyal audience could very likely be split further in sub-genres and niches, being more aware of why they want to go to a specific event. The rest, will probably save themselves for one, or two special events per year. In the artists’ market and as it will happen in all aspects of social life: I could see the (popularity-wise) ‘big’ ones getting ‘bigger’ and the small, ‘smaller’. There will be fewer options when it comes to music venues, but also less people taking the risk of a professional career in electronic music. Like a massive filtering out; on many different levels, which is not essentially a negative thing. I see some positive change coming from the pandemic situation, if one is able to overcome the lack of performing income.

T.O.P: You are the guy behind two well established labels; Pi Electronics and Modal Analysis, how is it to manage these labels and what is the main aspiration ? What are the challenges nowadays?

Well, I just do what I have been doing the past 10 years without losing passion and discipline. Time went by really fast and by trying not to look back every time a goal is being achieved, you find yourself in a position that you don’t even realize you have arrived to. The main aspiration is the same as in the beginning: to create a safe space (these days, both online and in the real world), where likeminded people of the music can feel free to express themselves, in a way that they cannot elsewhere. Either, on the one hand, the artists with their performances and music creations, or the audience through dancing and listening.

Being a Greek living abroad for the past 10 years, I have seen the labels and the attention they attracted over time, as platforms to also promote Greek artists and reflect the vibrant Athens music community. Since 2014, the π parties have served the latter both ways: by debuting a lot of international acts in Athens and by booking Greek artists their first gigs in Berlin. Furthermore, both labels have since the beginning been serving the scope of releasing Greek artists.

As I said, the current situation of the lockdown maybe makes labels get a better flow with sales. People are stuck at home and if there is a budget for music purposes, then it might entirely go into buying new music, or supporting the work of artists one may appreciates. The new rules and life structure we have entered will sooner or later reveal the new challenges independent record labels will have to face. Two weeks ago, I got informed by the pressing plant I usually work with in Holland, that from the 12 weeks of normal production time for a 12” vinyl, we’ll now need 18 – as a result of high number of orders. So, time will tell what other odds will have to go against. Though, in my journey, the most challenging part that comes to mind first is definitely the one that involves human relations – to be more precise: communication / collaboration with artistic souls.

T.O.P: Tell us a few things about yourself and your journey into music?

I initially got involved in electronic music, in order to escape a reality I wouldn’t fully agree with. Music is kultur and kultur affects how we behave, what we actually say, which specific words or mottos we might use in our everyday life. Not to start about the mentality, or even the style one may pick. So, it was my disagreement with the mainstream aesthetics and the generic world, that made me feel very comfortable in the music cycles. It’s not that I didn’t know what to do with my life and just jumped on a wagon. It was very much of a conscious decision to live in that bubble. That is exactly why I do not cope so well with the standards of what is currently considered to be the life of a ‘professional’ artist.

Finally living in the music bubble you always wanted, only to realise that the same patterns of the conventional world you had been running away from, appear here again. And indeed, in our era, it might be difficult to define what is “non-compromising”, as it can’t be the same concept like Throbbing Gristle, or Underground Resistance in the 80s, since life has changed so much. But I think the contribution of an artistic community in social life should be to address “non-conventional” ways, in critique of stereotypes and conservative approaches rooting to the past. Nowadays, I would stand for the concept of “the wronger”, as I name it. What is expected from you to do as an artist, or a label to develop yourself? Just do the opposite! If the system tells you to go from A to B, just go to C first. I have always been applying such ideas in the way I make decisions. Maybe if I wouldn’t, things would have come differently. I’m happy to sometimes stand against the norm though. After all, I think it needs some irrationality in a world that requires reasoning in almost every move.

T.O.P: What are your main influences in terms of production and live acts?

When it comes to influences, I think we all are the sum of music that was let through our ears over the course of our lives. Starting from the oriental and folk- ish radio music one is exposed to while growing up in Greece, to the Greek rap a rebellious teenager in Athens would stick with or the first rave parties I was taken to in late high school times: I think a man’s taste is influenced by also the opposing music cultures, as an over reaction to them.
The producer, who for sure changed my understanding about electronic music when I first met him in Athens in the late ‘00s, is Sawf. Also, my label collaborators in Modal Analysis, Kondaktor and ANFS have been always triggering the best ideas out of me. Then, in the period after I left from Greece, an artist that influenced me a lot with his music aesthetics but also his over all, non-compromising approach, is Regis. It was the time that the Sandwell District project was taking off and I had just moved to London. Looking back, sometimes I see Regis as the hero of my youth.

T.O.P: How would you describe your creative process?

I am not so much of a nerdy, engineering head when it comes to my creative process. I rather try to capture certain vibes I get to feel with music and re- interpret them in my own way: A little bit of a DJ thinking. But indeed, DJing for me came 7 years earlier than any disciplined attempt to make my own stuff.

T.O.P: Any upcoming collaborations / releases to announce?

Actually, there have been a couple of collaborative tracks I have been working on during the corona time: sending stems back and forth with some friends and people I respect in music. Though, nothing really to officially announce yet. Also, there are some tracks of my side-project, ‘Amphibion’, to be released soon. That is the side of mine, which aims to be less club oriented, with the use of vocals and sometimes involving more melodic themes in the noisy base I usually begin from.

T.O.P: Which pieces of music / albums would you suggest as a mind/soul healer?

There have been a lot of pieces, from different genres that have accompanied my healing times over the years. I list some fundamental ones below:

  • 1991 – 1991
  • Coil – Musick to play in the Dark
  • Donato Dozzy plays Bee Mask
  • Tangerine Dream – Zeit
  • David Toop – Hot Pants Idol
  • Biosphere – Substrata
  • The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
  • Mika Vainio – Kilo