Back home, Sebastian Mullaert’s back door opens up into the Swedish forest. When he’s not performing or working on music, he lives and operates a hotel with his wife in a small hamlet on the southern end of the country, about an hour away from Malmö. He pulls out his phone to show me some of the picturesque views from his back door.
“My studio is 200m from here, next to the forest”, says Sebastian in a faint Swedish accent. He’s just finished a mammoth 3hr live set when we sit down for this interview and yet there’s not a single bead of sweat to be found anywhere on his visage. Making himself comfortable backstage at Sommerøya, he leans forward into the conversation. A salt and pepper cropped scalp shows the only indication of age, but besides that Sebastian appearance says little about his age. With an open, approachable demeanour, eager to talk about anything from the subtle, subconscious nuances of live performance to future projects and his forest home in Sweden, Sebastian Mullaert is clearly experienced in the interview scenario.
Turn back the clock a couple of years, and Sebastian Mullaert is talking to Fact Mag, Fabric and XLR8R about his new home and studio. “I was raised in the forest” he says and “where I am now, we’re returning to that.” Growing up in a rural town not far from where he is located today, Sebastian Mullaert spent his formative years engaged in his surroundings and music.
“My parents were both academics” who “played a lot of music and went for walks in the forest”. They encouraged and nurtured an early musical curiosity in a young Sebastian, who took up music as a student from a young age, playing the organ, violin and piano and even entertaining a short career as a music teacher while still in his teens. When he came of age at 18 his rural roots started itching and the city beckoned. Although it “is still a very small town” Mälmo was his chosen destination and the small, but dedicated clubbing community embraced Sebastian as one of their own immediately.Around the same time, electronic music enthusiast Marcus Henriksson would also find himself in Mälmo and after a chance meeting at a party, the pair hit it off and started making music together, first as Son Kite and Trimatic and then eventually as Minilogue in 1996, the electronic music duo that stands as a landmark in Techno today. Fusing Henriksson’s love for the likes of Kraftwerk and Human League with Sebastian’s formal musical background, the pair eventually found a sound forged in the age of minimal Techno. They took their name from a combination of minimal and dialogue by way of indication to their approach to music, and set off carving out a niche sound that would bring them to the rest of Europe.
“When I started with electronic music it was so new to produce,” Sebastian recalls. There was a distinct “phase of getting to know the technical” aspects that he suggests “made my musical expression more technical.” It was still the nineteen nineties and an age of musical, technological experimentalism still persisted. He and Henriksson would go on to establish a career through to the new millenium that spanned nearly twenty years, a crate full of EPs and 12 inches and two albums on labels like Cocoon Recordings and Wagon Repair.
In 2014 Minilogue amicably disbanded with both artists looking to spend more time on solo projects. Sebastian moved onto recording and performing as WaWuWe and more solo works under the eponymous Sebastian Mullaert alias. He approaches these solo projects from a different perspective compared to his collaborative works.
“I really like to work with different people on different projects. When you connect with someone else in a creative expression, the temporary constellation helps you open doors into your own creativity. When you play with someone else it’s about tuning in to what the other person is doing. To play by myself, is like meditation.”
Earlier through his extensive three hour live set, I noticed he plays barefoot, as if he’s trying to get closer to the earth beneath his pedestal. He’s playing the Techno stage at Oslo’s Sommerøya festival. The setting is idyllic. Ekebergparken looms over the Oslo fjord, which simply shimmers in its deep green after some much needed seasonal rains. The large park moonlights as a contemporary sculpture gallery and in the near distance, Damien Hirst‘s “Anatomy of an Angel” watches over the procession of music enthusiasts moving towards the Techno stage.
There’s a perceptible aura to Sebastian’s music that compels you closer. It’s completely organic and in true minimal form, repetitive loops progress at a snail’s pace, with little desire to evolve, but when it does it’s unexpected. Controlling everything from his extensive control panel, a 101 bass-line comes in, drops out, the splish-splash of hi-hats flicker off the trees, bouncing down the rocks, and the echo snakes its way down to the fjord. It’s all very random and incredibly organic, becoming one with its natural surroundings.
“It’s like I see nature”, says Sebastian when I mention my initial reaction to his set. “It’s a bit like walking in the forest and you can see all these beautiful leaves, but it’s always chaotic.” He likes to keep things “random” like nature, feigning the restrictive formulaic structures of much of electronic music. “There is nothing happening inside of me that is like that”, he explains, “everything is floating.” It stems from his primal desire is “to have it open and just let things happen, instead of planning it and constructing it.” It creates a fluidity through his music that speaks to some natural compulsion in all of us, which we translate in the movement of the dance.
“You can feel the crowd”, says Sebastian. “You can feel the artists and you can feel the parts where you’re searching to find the flow, and then when you find it, it’s like this release.” The arrangements are fluid and there’s a freedom to the music that seems to move with the breeze through the Techno stage. Sebastian likens it to being “fragile”, and he arranges his live set with that singular pursuit, in an effort to follow every whim of the moment from the crowd, to the setting and his own impulses. “I get more connected to myself”, says Sebastian of his creative process. “When you are distant or in your thoughts you are not really there”. It’s the “same with a crowd”, he believes “if you have a crowd tuned in it can be magical.”
Away from the crowd, and in the studio, the setting might be different but the methods is exactly the same. Spending about a week dialling all his equipment into his desired sound, it’s recorded as a live set into two channels with only some stereo editing to get the final arrangements together. With his studio so close to home there’s no need to make music only an impetus. “I don’t have to make music,” he says “I do it because I want to.” And how does that affect the music?
“A lot of things I do is really stripped, and in a way boring. There’s a lot of space for the listener to express themselves. There’s a reason I leave so much out. It’s more of a foundation for something to happen. I give some soil and some water, but the listener is the seed, from which something will flower.”
It’s a slight departure from what he was doing in the nineties, which favoured a more structured approach to production and writing, but Sebastian sees this as two sides to the same coin. “I’m not a static thing,” he says about those early releases. ” Even when I was expressing patterns, it was honest for that time.” Sebastian believes he is constantly on a “weird journey” with music and the next phase of that journey is his new project “Circle of Live“.
Sebastian sits up and leans in when I mention the name. Clearly excited about the project he’s keen to talk about it and plies me with information freely. “Circle of Live” is something that’s been “cooking for many years”, which Sebastian launched this year at Freerotation festival. An extensive improvised live electronic music concert featuring musicians from “different corners of electronic music”, the aim “is to create a space for myself and others to get in touch with the moment.”
Curating every aspect of the event from the venue, the lighting and the musicians, Sebastian hopes to “challenge what we normally do” as individual artists and create something unique for the audience. The events are from beginning to end and at Freerotation they had a stage dedicated to the performance for an entire day. Mathew Jonson, Dorisburg, Johanna Knutsson, Steevio, Suzybee and Neel joined Sebastian on stage for an impromptu music performance that lasted the whole day. With a “vague starting point” they set off with the musicians able to join and feed off each other as they feel.
“When something happens you are not alone, it’s all connected. It’s important to not claim it as your own. When idea passes, it passes by everybody. My wish is to see it more as a Jazz gig. “
Sebastian will be touring the concept from October, extending open invitations to everybody from Jonson to Aurora Halal as it travels to places like The Block in Tel Aviv, Shelter in Amsterdam and Concrete in Paris. Some recorded material is already being pressed for a label and a special retreat is planned for October where musicians could play music together with that great expanse of forest at the back door.
Everything eventually circles back to the forest including our conversation. The pictures he shows me are like something out of Hans Christian Andersen tome without the tragedy. He puts his phone back in his pocket, and we take our leave of the other, Sebastian ambeling off in no particular direction, randomly like he’s following the ghostly echo of some natural vibration.
Pictures by Adam Louli and Alexander Ramstad