Author: Kätlin Õun
Having played a pivotal role in the recent electro-revival, The Exaltics gut has always been at the forefront of what electronic music stands for. He has shaken the classic electro-structures and transforms them into a complex personal style that has become his hallmark.
Based in the city of Jena in central Germany, The Exaltics aka Robert Witschakowski-Jockel has been in the scene for over 20 years. Acid-influenced project The Exaltics was founded in 2006. Since its inception, the project has released music from several labels like Clone, Crème Organization, TRUST, Bunker or his own label SolarOneMusic which he manages with Crotaphytus collaborator and long term friend Nico Jagiella. His discography also includes exclusive collaborations with electro predecessors Heinrich Mueller (Gerald Donald) and Egyptian Lover. Every production is imbued with his distinctive and prolific musical viewpoint.
I think I truly noticed The Exaltics’ music in Helena Hauff Boiler Room set at Dekmantel Festival. Track 0998.0989.12 from Das Heise Experiment 2 [The Prequel] that was released on Solar One Music really caught my ear and invaded my soul with its strange artistic mystique. I never knew how much art is behind all of his releases. One of his latest – “Das Heise Experiment 2″ is presented on double 10” with full cover artwork and a super rare comic book.
The Exaltics’ newest album “II Worlds” from Clone West Coast Series showcases the artist’s most enigmatic set of rhythms yet. Further listening reveals an uncompromising work with almost every track featuring obscure signatures and more complicated and layered arrangements.
One of the most dedicated producers of modern electro music takes us on a personal journey across alien lands of cinematic electro and dark driven acid techno. There might be no better way of framing what the German artist does when he steps into the booth.
We spoke to The Exaltics shortly after his Dekmantel Festival appearance earlier this month.
Hello Robert! To start off, I must say that you brought such hypnotic vibrations and uplifting energy to the UFO II stage. People went literally nuts. Sometimes it is hard to put it into words… I loved the freedom in this hall!
I was full of energy, and I thought, man, be focused and follow your vision. Then from the first minute on, I got so much energy from the crowd. I looked into happy faces, and this gave me the ultimate push. People were jumping over the barrier and push even more the whole room with their dancing action. I was overwhelmed, and I think we had all together a crazy and intense hour. I would love to return one day to feel this energy again! I was never expecting such a resonance.
In one interview, back in 2012, you pointed out that you are still in the planning stage because you haven’t come up with the perfect idea for a good live set for your taste and compulsive perfections. I’m happy it worked out for you! But when did it happen? By that, I mean the moment when you thought, “that’s it, I’m ready.”
Around 2014 I met Emika, a singer who lives in Berlin. We became friends, and we produced her last album together. She always said, “Rob, you must play live!” I was too excited and didn’t have any idea how I could realize it. She helped me a lot and was also by my side during the first gigs, so we were, at first, a duo. After some gigs, I started playing alone. I’m very thankful that she pushed me to do it. Now I really love to play and visit all those beautiful cities and meet nice people!
Could you tell us something about your last release “II Worlds” from Clone West Coast series? Can you point out a single track that has become especially important for you throughout the process of making the album?
The first idea for some of the tracks was to continue the collaboration with Egyptian Lover after our EP we did early this year. I was so flashed from his vocals over my music. But in the end, I thought let’s do a solo Exaltics album because I had so much unfinished material and ideas. To point out one track, I would choose “Fallen Star” because, for me, it has the most power and a right balance between danceable stuff and deep melodies, which for me is always important. I need melodies for diving in a track, to feel the story of it. Through the process of making the album, I spoke a lot with Serge (Clone Records Label head), and he provided me with his ideas after he listened to it. This also gives an extra impulse to my final working flow and the finishing process of each track. In the end, I think it is my most complete album and a good overview of my vision of electro-techno music. All my influences and feelings meet there at one point.
It also marks the 7th album of The Exaltics. How does that make you feel?
That I work too much! (laughs) No, I really love to do this. Making music, thinking about the artwork, or doing collaborations. Simply, this is my life! I’m a maniac when it comes to music, and I cannot stop myself.
Your tracks are built on atmospheres, sensations, and structures. They have a tendency to trigger strong emotion. I’ve noticed that depending on the type of your music, my brain will conjure up adrenaline-pumping images, or on the contrary – organic experiences which transfer me into a deeper state of mind. I wonder what the essence of The Exaltics and its metaphysical reality is?
I’m delighted to hear that this is the case while listening to my stuff. I’m a deep and emotional person, and I really can’t make music what only sounds good or sells well. This was never my intention, and this will never be my intention. My music sounds the way I am. I never wanted to be limited to one genre. I love electro, I like techno or ambient or experimental stuff. Electro is definitely my main thing, but there are no rules, and it all comes from my soul. That is the essence of this project from beginning to end.
Where does your fascination with dark driven electronic music stem from? Are there some early memories you could share?
As a little boy, I heard the music my big brother was listening to. LL Cool J, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and all this stuff. In my teenage days, I fell in love with punk rock and then got into early hard techno records from UR, Neil Landstrumm and others like it. I was never into happy music. Also, in my early DJ days, I always preferred to play the harder Detroit, Jeff Mills stuff, for example. I loved the power, the energy of the darkness, and this intense feeling when you heard them on a loud sound system. It fascinates me, and the feelings were much stronger than listening to easy, happy music. My passion for this was always there, and it has not changed to this day.
I generally find that electro is a springboard into more experimental music. How far do you like to push the limit from the danceable to the totally opaque?
I like to do that but not into the extreme. Only noise means nothing to me. But a dark synth with strange noises that proffers a unique ambiance – I’m totally into.
I tried to push the boundaries on my “Das Heise Experiment 2” album. This is my weirdest album to date. It’s a soundtrack for a comic novel about The Exaltics. So, I had the freedom to have this strange sci-fi story in my head and go from there. It was a great process, and we can share our ideas with our listeners with the help of the comic. These are the kind of projects I really love!
It seems like you don’t have any borders in the way you express yourself as an artist. When conceptualizing an album, how much does the stage persona that you have created come into play?
I’m a shy person, but my stage persona is really wild and expressive. This works perfectly with the music I play live and that I produce. Intense, dark, and uncompromising.
Before a gig, when I put the mask on, I completely dive into this world. It’s a great thing and happens automatically. I totally love this process. It’s a little bit schizophrenic because I don’t feel like me when I play.
The story about The Exaltics, the alien race from deep space is always around – when I make music when I think of titles when I think about artworks and concepts. I was always fascinated with space and all those mysteries. It is so endless, and I wish that someday a big spaceship will visit the Earth! This fascination has followed me since I was a child. I guess I’ve seen every sci-fi film on the planet…
You have said that you are a passionate 12″ collector. Album art is a massive part of what people love about vinyl, and music fans have always taken pleasure from looking at old album covers again and again.
For me, it’s so important! I simply love to stare at a cover and listen to music. Especially soundtracks. I got an old soundtrack from Silvester Stallone “First Blood” today. Oh god, I feel like a child when I listen to music while watching the cover. It’s so expressive, especially when you’ve seen the film. I’m transfixed. Music and artwork are a must together. I don’t like run-of-the-mill records because they are anonymous and uninspiring. That’s only my opinion for sure, but with a cover, the record gets a face, a direction.
You even made your own comic book! What are the ideas, and concepts behind “Das Heise Experiment 2” and “Das Heise Experiment 2 – The Prequel”? The first part from Abstract Acid was released 6 years ago in 2013. How does the story evolve? How did you and Godspill approach the visual collaborative process?
Heise is my birth name, which sounds a little weird, so Nico (my label partner SolarOneMusic) always says this is the name for a scientist. We came up with the story concept over many sessions, and the idea took a few years to grow. The collaboration track between Drexciya’s Gerald Donald and me was ready and the album complete. Gerald Donald uses his Rudolf Klorzeiger pseudonym so we could put him into the story as a scientist as well. After that, we talked to Godspill, who we had worked with on some projects before.
He always wanted to do a comic, so he really liked the concept. After we agreed on everything, Nico wrote the storyline, and I photoshopped the first storyboards based on old comics. I don’t know how many hours I chatted with Mehdi (Godspill). At times we were really desperate because of the amount of work. But we did an excellent job in the end, especially Mehdi! I love his painting style. The comic was a dream we wanted to realize because Nico and I are big comic fans from back in the day. I simply liked the idea to look at a comic and listen to strange music. A film would be even better but maybe in the future!
Let’s talk a bit about your label Solar One Music and lifelong friend Nico Jagiella. You started the label together in 2006. How does the creative dynamic work between you guys?
I’ve known Nico for 34 years. We met in school in the first grade. We are on the same frequency even though we have completely different characters. We always have the right combination for finding new concepts and projects. He has a good ear and great ideas for release presentations like the cool limited Box Sets and so on.
Neither of us overthinks things, we make decisions based on our feelings. He is really realistic and patient, which is good. I’m always impatient, and I have too many ideas at the same time, which gets on Nico’s nerves. It’s often hilarious, we argue like an old married couple sometimes. But I could not wish for a better label partner! We always need something new to do. This is compulsive, I think, but it pushes us forward from project to project, even when there are problems like delays, we never lose our vision to get a project done.
How would you describe the artists you curate on Solar One Music? Do you strictly look at the quality of the music, or is there a more comprehensive philosophy?
The quality is the main thing and then also the personal component. We could never do something with people we have no connection with, even when we like their music. It’s an automatic process without too much thinking on it. A feeling kind of thing. It must feel good!
Who is currently bubbling under on your musical radar?
I’m also curious: Does the current global political climate somehow motivate or influence you to create? Is it essential in electro or dance music at all?
I can’t watch the news today, so much shit is happening. We destroy our beautiful planet, rip off each other and so on and on. I’m done with all this. The slogan from The Exaltics is “WE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS….” for a reason. The Universe and the stupidity of man are infinite. This means not all people but many!
People are saying that the electronic music scene has changed a lot. How do you view the atmosphere of the scene toward its creative crowd today? Is it alive and innovative, or is it simply trying to find new variations on the past?
Good question, I haven’t gotten the same feeling again since I bought my first records after the reunion of Germany. But a lot of details influenced that time. Life, situations… So, it’s not only the music that was really new and fresh to me. It was all new. I feel a little stopped in progress at the moment. Today’s music feels to me more like developments of stuff that was already there.
My music is nothing really new either, it’s only what I love most from the past and adding my touch to it. But there’s nothing terrible about this. I love this style, and I don’t need something new every day. I like continuity.
You have mentioned that your day job is completely opposite from your musical activity. How do you combine the two? How do they coexist and balance each other?
Yes, it is. I’m a precision optician. A factory job with a lot of programming and precision. I do, for example, lenses for space telescopes. I always stay up until 5 in the morning to do my job, then go home and make music or go to the office and mail out packages with records or speak with Nico about future stuff. Sometimes I hate how it is because I would love to make only music, but I’m a person who needs continuity and safety, so it’s difficult to break out of the routine. Let’s see…This is a permanent theme on my list.
What gear do you use for your live set these days?
I use Ableton Live, Ableton Push, and a mixer. I have all the possibilities with this compact setup.
What does the rest of 2019 have in store for you?
After the EP with Egyptian Lover and the album for Clone, there will be a remix record from the “2 Worlds” album with some great artists on there. Also, I will work on 2 collaborations the next year… I will also be playing live here and there and enjoying life!