As another year is slowly reaching its end, we are delighted to share with you the traditional midwinter mix contribution by Ntogn. For as long as ten consecutive years, winter solstices have unexpectedly earned their celebratory soundtrack from the mind behind Hypnus Records, which is something we, at this point, are patiently awaiting for.
Generally, when the next year is about to begin, everyone – or most of us – is accustomed to reflecting on what has passed and what will or plans to come. In a similar fashion, the beloved producer yet ever-so-curious spiritual wanderer warms us up on this longest night, not only with his mix but also with some thoughts that carry over ten years of activity, explorations, and growth. Besides that, Ntogn explains his bond with the psychedelic sound, culture, and scene and the influences that played a significant role in the person he became.
Thus, we invite you all to rejoice as one through the tenth midwinter selection and celebrate in your comfort and fashion the new beginning – or rebirth – the winter solstice symbolizes.
How did you decide to pay tribute to winter’s solstice? How does that connect with who you are and your sound?
My tributes to the winter solstice started in 2004, when I was sixteen, after interviewing Jehova’s Witnesses for a school project. I learned they only celebrate the holidays that their doctrine explicitly tells them to. Not even birthdays. This fascinated and inspired me to ask myself what holidays I would celebrate if I could choose. The solstices came as obvious annual events, along with the equinoxes and moon cycles.
Since then, I’ve ascribed various meanings to them that help me reflect on life regularly to stay mindful and appreciative. I leave what it says about me for others to say and hope this interview can make sense of it. I am not sure it has an intrinsic connection to my sound other than emanating from the same mind. In the same way that I ascribe meaning to the universe, I ascribe meaning to my music and what I do in life.
Looking back to the start of this tradition, and this tenth year mix, what would you say has changed or rather established? What is still inspiring to you?
Deep techno has matured greatly since then, both stylistically and in growth. At that time, no festivals focused on it, and the music was played more sparsely at clubs. Monument was one of the earliest adopters who remain, so it’s a pleasure to have this tradition. Generally, this is the only mix I share publicly during the year. What still inspires me is to imagine things and tinker. So, apart from being curious about the universe and exploring my senses, I’m also inspired by what bothers me. When I care about something and see how it could be better, I try to apply myself to do what I can to improve it or create something new. It’s usually an unwavering feeling of necessity and discontent—a craving.
You mentioned that you have a strong bond with the psychedelic music scene and culture. How has this shaped your identity, and what would you consider a strong point(s) of it regarding your sonic explorations and creative paths in general?
I feel a bond to psychedelic culture in general, which I define as a movement that explores how spirituality and science relate to consciousness and our human experience. As to my identity, I see it the other way around. I grew up in a family of immigrants, I had foreign names, our household spoke several languages, and my mother left when I was very young. Meanwhile, I lived by the Swedish forests without any emotional connection to my heritage but with a deep love for my native environment. From about six years old, I felt uncomfortable with what others thought I was or was supposed to be. Other kids teased me for speaking Spanish, so I refused to speak it at home. In doing so, I realized that I could decide who to be and that my identity was a construct I could iterate on, like a drawing.
I vividly remember playing with toy cars with my friends at daycare when one kid flew his car through the air up to a table. I told him that cars can’t fly, and he replied that with imagination, they can. Since that day, I’ve been obsessed with the power of the mind. Three years later, we were taught about religion in school, and I was mesmerized by the epic proportions of the stories. There, I saw a new level of potential in the imagination. Every day I would run into the forests, pretending that modern society did not exist, choose what world I was in, then lose myself in building huts, spying on people who walked by with their dogs, climbing trees, and living my best life.
As a teenager, I found the psychoactive substance database Erowid and an online community that, like me, was exploring their minds and the meaning of life. I learned about shamans, ancient herbal medicine practices, visionary art, and more which I was already curious about. That’s when I realized that magic wasn’t just fantasy but an academic field studying the potency of the psyche. I started studying mythology and psychology more seriously, developing a bewildering fascination for metaphysics and how our forefathers viewed the cosmos through centuries of observations, introspection, imagination, and practice.
My road from there to electronic music stretched through years of emotional distress. I drank a lot of alcohol daily until I went into delirium by age 20, and things were generally bad. I tried to numb the pain of being trapped in my environment, which felt shallow and uninteresting. Then, I started DJ’ing and randomly met ravers from the techno scene in 2009, who gave me a place to stay when I was drifting, and a lot of drugs. A destructive and hedonistic lifestyle followed until I ended up serving three years in prison on a drug charge. At that point, I had just discovered psychill music such as Shpongle and Ott, still unaware of any culture behind it. But I spent those isolated years listening to Shpongle records on repeat daily, shaping my own ideas of it.
When I was released, at the summer solstice of 2013, I saw that Shpongle was playing live at some place called Ozora. I still knew nothing about the festival or the psychedelic music scene, only that Shpongle played in some beautiful natural setting and that I had to go there. Also, during my incarceration, I read hundreds of books on esoterica, psychedelic science, philosophy, and history. So my mind was buzzing with thoughts and desires. There I had my first encounter with the psychedelic music scene. I saw a free society of naked and colorful people listening to amazing music in nature and exploring art, consciousness, and life. It was beautiful and unlike anything I had experienced before. I saw one of my favorite bands, Carbon Based Lifeforms, perform with Alex Grey, painting live on stage.
For the first time since my days of climbing trees, I felt at home and saw how the emergent deep techno sound would fit well in the setting and that it could be interesting if the cultures cross-pollinated. That is when and where the seed of Hypnus was planted. So, it is not so much that it has shaped my identity but that it is a culture I feel I belong to. I am psychedelic. In such environments, I feel like a raven in the wind.
From your perspective, I am getting the impression that there’s a “conflict” between deep techno whereabouts and those coming from the psychedelic scene, both on producers and experiences. Would you like to share your approach to that and describe the dynamic behind each? Where’s your work leaning to, and which reasons have made it feel real or impactful to you?
I haven’t seen a conflict, but perhaps a lack of curiosity from either culture toward the other. One reason, I think, was at least partly because they only saw the extremes of each side when glancing over. But in the middle, I’ve seen a significant cultural and aesthetic overlap with a curtain in between.
That said, other label members bring their unique inspirations to the group. The diversity of opinions and influences in Hypnus, paired with reciprocal care for each other, honesty, and a shared passion for diligent creativity and innovation, is what the label is truly about. So I can’t say we lean in a specific direction. It’s an underground mindset with certain aesthetic affinities found within various genres. By answering these questions and communicating through the label on a personal level, some might cringe, while others appreciate. The impact I’ve noticed from staying devoted to this over the past decade is a slowly compounding, diverse, closely connected community.
I grew up in a family restaurant, working with my grandmother since my early teens. She has been a mother to me and has worked 80 hours per week for 30 years. If I did not clean the floors properly, she wouldn’t say a word, just redo it herself. That taught me from a young age that bullshit leads nowhere. The way to do something is to do it right, with humility.
Based on your opinion, is it possible to implement core values of deep techno to the psychedelic side and vice-versa? Will that happen while maintaining the purity of their cores, and what will then be a real step forward?
I don’t know if they are necessarily congruent, but I see an overlap of people within each culture who would enjoy each other’s company and share some music over a few beers. I know this from experiences such as Modem, one of my favorite places, where deep techno and psytrance fans are having a blast together. So, I don’t know if the cores can or should implement anything from the other. It can be enough to sniff around and notice if you find something already there that smells good. It will be interesting to follow the continued growth of the vibrant deep techno scene. There must be over a hundred labels in the genre now, with new events mushrooming worldwide. It has a naive authenticity to it that I appreciate and relate to.
You label your music as psychedelic deep techno. Does it have anything to do with the stimuli that your sound brings? Is there any significant connection between human behavior, mentality, and your musical patterns?
I try not to presume or suggest what stimuli our music will bring. All I can say is why I do what I do. Labeling our genre as psychedelic deep techno has been a way to highlight the thoughts shared in this article. We have our creative and cultural core in deep techno, which I consider to be psychedelic. Each record then has its unique bouquet of influences. I should also make clear that when I say psychedelic, I mean it in the philosophical sense. It doesn’t have much to do with Goa, for me. That’s one psychedelic culture doing one thing. The psychedelic mindset can encompass all sorts of expressions, unified by a curiosity for the inseparable connection between the universe (reality) and consciousness (imagination).
The mentality is important to me. I have many interests, but I choose to devote my life to this one because I love the culture. Hypnus gathers a fine bunch of calm, dreamy unicorns who like weird sounds. I contrast those soft qualities with a seemingly contradicting gothic and existentially challenging narrative to capture the grim nature of reality.
“Truth is ugly: We have art so we do not perish from the truth.” — Friedrich Nietzsche.
Meaning that even if life is inherently meaningless, that can be an opportunity. Rather than being born into a railway universe, we are blessed with the option to choose our purpose. In that way, the snake’s venom is either poison or cure. Our symbol weaves this archetype into a vortexing process that aspires to spiral deeper and deeper, higher and higher.
What are your highlights from these ten years of activity as a label? How have your labours and involvement been shaped through those years, and how would you describe the state you find yourself in now?
The highlight is all the great people I’ve been connected with. Seeing the same names order records throughout the years, packing those with care, sending them to new homes, and seeing how appreciated they are when arriving. I rarely zoom out from that but stay in the one-to-one connection. Tens of thousands of likes or plays can be exciting but quickly become pedestrian digits on a screen. Meeting a person in real life who expresses their genuine appreciation, hugging them, and sharing some laughs; that I can absorb. It wasn’t until I visited the Modem festival this summer that I truly experienced some notion of how big the impact our music has had. There, I spent a week with nonstop encounters with fans. Seeing how approachable, happy and inclusive they were. It was deeply moving.
Living in Stockholm for two years now has made me miss the countryside. Listening to the wind, warming myself by the fire, playing loud music in the middle of the night, talking to the wild animals, and living with the seasons. I miss that.
Bringing visual artist and close friend Bella into the label also sparks joy. Seeing her talent adorn both records and memoirs warms my heart. She now helps me with practical aspects of the label, freeing up time to focus on more things, such as Slink with Alex, increased output on The Memoir, going to school again, making music, and building a music app we’re hoping to launch next year. So I will continue what I am doing, perhaps accepting a few more bookings next year, taking some vacation, maybe moving back to a serene place, and hoping that the fruits of our labor continue to bring joy and connect curious individuals.
Reading my interview with you from 2013, you asked:
Who do you look up to?
I look up to creative, independent, and forgiving people—those who let their passions guide their life and shine on those who dare not.
A few days later, I created Hypnus. And, today, I feel proud and thankful for the effort I have put into being that person. Now I wish we will leave a lasting legacy that continues to celebrate compassion, reason, and each other—one that stays in touch with that which is above and below.