Interview Interstellar Funk / Olf van Elden

Olf van Elden: “A community needs a place and there wasn’t any in the last two years, so it will take some time for it all to recover”

Olf van Elden

With his debut album “Into The Echo” Olf van Elden aka Interstellar Funk succeeds in opening up a sound world of his own; stylistically in the field of tension between dark, nervous electro tracks and ambient, the ten pieces testify to the melancholy that the closed clubs have also triggered in his soul. His “crystal Whispers” are always close to “Psycho Panner” – and the “Northern Winds” (with JASSS) always sweep brutally into your heart. You could also say: The Pandemic Ghosts we never called, they chase us “Into The Echo”. 

The photos to this feature were made by Olf van Elden on his recent Southamerica tour. 

Olf, where to start here? First off: congratulations to your beautiful debut album.
I guess the first question has to be connected with the pandemic. Let me phrase it in two parts: First: how did you experience the pandemic and its waves so far?
And second: to which degree do you feel that „Into The Echo“ is also a dialogue between you and the pandemic and its effects on your personal and artistic life?

I must say that I don’t want to connect this album directly to the pandemic, or want to call it a pandemic album, because its more than that, but its true that due to the lockdown I had more time in the studio than I usually have.
The first few months were hard and I was kinda lost. I had no inspiration or motivation to do anything and was mostly worried about my career, house, financial situation and everything I built up in the past years. After a while I got used to all the free time and I tried to get a structure back in life and I basically went to the studio every day from 10:00 till 18:00 like a normal office day. I tried to create projects for myself so I had something I could focus on. One was the album, the other one was a liveshow. Both were goals I had for a long time and now I finally had the time to work it all out.
So most of the pandemic I worked on these two projects and since both the projects were finished last summer, the pandemic felt like a productive period for me. It’s not that I was fully focussed for two years straight and I definitely had darker periods as well, but I got something out of it, and maybe that’s why it feels for me like a better period that for many others. During the summer when my projects were all finished I started to struggle with my motivation again and didn’t work on any music for months. In the end I decided to escape the neverending lockdown in Amsterdam and travelled to Latin America to play shows there. I went away for two months, I only came back a week ago.

To me the album combines two strands: on one side it is deeply melancholic (which we often see connected with let´s say elder and more experienced minds), on the other side it transports a quite innocent playfulness. By that “Into The Echo“ to me feels like the dialogue between the boy Olf and the grown up Olf van Elden. Do you follow me here? (asked with a smile)

Its interesting you mention this and I totally agree. Some of the tracks are a bit older and I made these before I came up with the idea of creating an album. All the others were made in 2020 and 2021. So I think you can hear the difference, or at least I can. Also in this period I spend most of my time in the studio and I grew as an producer and maybe my direction changed. I started to work more with the computer and used plugins for the very first time. I found a new direction and within this album I started to explore certain sounds more. This might be a new direction in the constant journey of discovering new and interesting music, which only started during the process of making the album and where there is much more still to discover.

One of the outstanding tracks on the album is “Crickets at Night”, a hunting, spooky trip, created together with Amsterdam-based producer Loradeniz. The atmosphere brings up a lot of Giallo movie memories within me. Are you a fan of the Italian Horror and Suspense cinema and the soundtrack to works by the ones like Dario Argento or Mario Bava? If so please roll out films and records of importance to you.

I’m not necessarily an Italian horror movie fan but I’m interested in soundtracks a lot. “Susperia” by Claudio Simonetti is probably one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t really say that I got inspired by Italian horror when making this album. For me electronic music is more than kickdrums and functional club music, and I do like the freedom of soundtracks and experimental music that doesn’t necessarily fit in a box.

With its very dramatic sound narratives „Into the Echo“ in general seems quite fitting to be used for soundtracks. Is this a field you fancy to work for? 

I haven’t really had any serious soundtrack jobs, but this is definitely something I’m interested in. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I made most of the music during the pandemic and I got my inspiration from other stuff than clubs. I do like the idea that songs and albums tell a story and have a certain mysterious feeling around it. Especially music made for an album needs to be more than just a loop, it needs to have an intro, middle and an end.

Olf, what is it you search in music generally speaking?

I’ve been playing club music in clubs for 15 years, but there is so much more electronic music to discover outside this whole club environment. I’ve always been interested in all kinds of music, but especially the last couple of years I gained more interest in experimental and ambient music. Most of my favorite albums are non club, so with creating this album I tried to not think in genres or boxes and go further than only club music without ignoring it completely.

For the track „Northern Winds” you worked together with Spanish producer JASSS. What attracted you to her as a co-producer?

Besides that Silvia is a really good friend, her album “Weightless “is one of my favourite albums of the last few years. She is a very talented producer and she helped me a lot during the process of creating this album. At some point I got stuck and she invited me to Berlin to work on the album together. She helped me with several tracks, but “Northern Winds” was one of her favorites and she turned it into something completely different. It blew my mind what she did with this track in just a few hours.

Why did you choose to release the album on Dekmantel and not your own imprint Artificial Dance?

The main reason why the album comes out on Dekmantel is because before the pandemic I had a 12” planned on Dekmantel and everything was set to go. When the pandemic started I pulled back the 12”. Initially some of the older tracks were supposed to come out on Dekmantel already but in the end only one of the older tracks made it to the album. Besides that I think it’s really important to have a person or a label that you trust where you can discuss ideas with and get feedback from. When I release music on my own album I try to be that person, so in this case it’s also nice to have someone else to lead you through this process.

You recently toured for the first time since the pandemic started in South America. How was that experience? Do you see changes?

I really enjoy traveling and playing in Latin America. I’ve been there many times already and when it seemed the lockdown in Amsterdam wasn’t going to end, I decided to leave. I wasn’t planning to go for this long but I got a lot of gigs and I didn´t really have a reason to be in Amsterdam anyway, so in the end I stayed for two months. The last time I went there was in 2019 and a lot of things changed, two of my favourite clubs had to close or changed owners, but I do still work with a lot of the same people. It’s a small but very inspiring scene and all the parties I played at this time were as amazing as before.

You plan to play, I quote: „hardware based“ live shows. I guess this means you will travel and perform with a set up of synthesizers?

I started with the liveshow last year and performed at Draaimolen festival and Het Muziekgebouw aan t IJ.
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and during the pandemic I finally had the space to work on it. It’s the opposite of club music and focussed on ambient and more abstract electronic music. Since people are seated, it’s not about the energy or reaction, but purely about the music. It’s something that interests me a lot. The liveshow is based on synthesizers and effects and I played extended versions of the album. It’s still very new and there is a lot to discover still, but it’s definitely something I wanna keep doing.

I am generally a person who reads a lot into the titles and also starts creating my own storylines to the music coming from them. Looking at your quite significant list of track titles it seems to me this is an attitude valued by you, right?

Most of the time my titles are based on a certain concept or idea. This can be a sound or only an effect even. It doesn’t always have to have a meaning but it can also give a certain feeling or create a certain mystery. Titles for me are an extension of the track and are very important to tell something about the track, concept or idea. It can give the music more character or push the listener to a certain direction without even knowing the meaning.

The album starts with the track „Moscow Ghost“. Which ghosts did you have in mind when you wrote the track?

The title has nothing to do with Russia and I wouldn’t have mentioned Russia or Moscow if I knew this was happening. The name of the title comes from a certain sound I’ve used throughout my album to create these spooky processed sounds. I liked the story telling feeling of the title, something I’ve been trying to achieve with most of the tracks on the album.

Right now we experience a war between Russia and Ukraine, a war that has the potential to soon be also a war between Russia and the Nato, something we all hoped not to see happening through our lifetimes. Both countries are well known for their vibrant electronic music scenes. I guess you are like many other djs and producers right now in close contact with your friends and colleagues in both countries. I do not want to urge you into larger political statements, I am rather interested to learn about the (sub)cultural dialogue between those two countries and from the perspective of someone with close experiences there.
Is the dialogue between the Russian and Ukrainian friends of yours still existing? Do you have insights there?

Kiev is the city I’ve played the most in the last few years and I’ve some really dear friends that had to escape their houses. I don’t really know if there is any dialogue at the moment and I’m also not sure if that is relevant at this point. We all have much bigger problems to worry about and for now all I care about is their well being and I try to help and support as much as I can.

To me being active in cultural fields always felt very political in the sense that we negate borders and work on an international network of social and cultural exchanges. Even though I have a realistic view on the range and reach of my activities, I felt like we make an impact. But in the light of such huge events one feels a bit powerless. You know what I mean? How does the moderation between the state of the word and your artistic activities feel these days?

I was in Colombia when the invasion started and I had a few more gigs to do. It didn’t feel right to party while this was happening to my friends. I was about to cancel the gigs, but I realised that wouldn’t change anything. I did the gigs and donated all the fees to friends and their families. It still doesn’t feel right and I will keep trying to help as long as needed.

Coming from these questions concerning the cultural cohesion: how important is the local community in Amsterdam for you as an artist; and same asked for the wider Dutch community?

It’s hard to say, it’s been closed for two years and a lot has changed since. I think a local community is very important for a healthy scene, and especially for the upcoming artists, but during the pandemic a lot of things changed and clubs had to close. I play abroad more than I do in Amsterdam, so maybe it’s different for me personally. But a community needs a place and there wasn’t any in the last two years, so it will take some time for it all to recover.

Let me end the interview with two associative questions playing with the track titles:
What is the puzzle you present us the last piece to in “Last Piece of the Puzzle“?

This has a more direct meaning than most of the other titles, but when the album was finished for 90% I struggled with getting it done completely. I had the feeling something was missing still and I kept making tracks and tried to finish other tracks but it didn’t really work out. I took a break for a couple of weeks and went back to the studio and made this track in one day. In the end it felt like this was the last piece of the puzzle.

And what happened to the second Part of Dreamers? (as there is only “Dreamers (Part 1)“ on the record) Do you wait till the first term of Biden is over and we know if he finally gave the Dreams a path into normality? Or am I misinterpreting the title and it is not meant as a comment on the status quo vadis of the second generation of immigrants in the USA?

When I created “Dreamers” it was 45 minutes long and I made an edit of it for the album. Adding a 15 minute long track on the album didn’t feel balanced, so I might release an extended version at some point. This track is also one of the tracks I play in my liveshow and I think the 45 minutes version is even better.

“Into The Echo“ is available through Dekmantel. 

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