Out of the woods – A Q&A with Fabian Bruhn from Aniara

>It will be a short trip for Fabian Bruhn to get to the Villa tonight from his home in Gothenburg and yet there’s something strikingly exotic about the DJ and his label, Aniara. Established as an event series around the woods of Gothenburg, when local venues fell to the wayside, Aniara’s story is the stuff of legends, featuring home made sound systems and medical trials, with Fabian Bruhn is one of its leading protagonists. It’s a story that can only be recounted through Fabian’s own words so we caught up with the DJ and label head via email before he makes the journey to baklengs tonight.

I believe you offered your body to science to establish Aniara.

I was studying in the university town of Uppsala at the time and the university hospital there did clinical trials. It was quite common among medical students to part-take in trials as test subjects. It was encouraged and considered beneficial both for the furtherance of science as well as a good learning experience for them. I had some friends who were studying medicine who had done it and that’s how it came about.

It was a mixture of MDMA and amphetamine you were made to trial according to another interview. It seems like quite a fitting start to a house/techno label.

Technically, MDMA is a type of amphetamine, or rather methamphetamine. It stimulates many of the same receptors in the brain but with a different emphasis. So this was an analogue of amphetamine as well, which was being tested as a potential drug for treatment of mental disease. Every morning at 8 we would get a dose and then during the day there would blood tests, heart rate monitoring and so forth, as well as reporting our experience to the resident physician. Everyone was assigned different doses, including some placebos. It wasn’t until after the study that the individual doses were disclosed and apparently I had received one of the higher doses. I could tell the first day though around 9-10am. I was in bed listening to a mix by Eli Verveine in my headphones as I suddenly realised that I was tripping! Kind of an odd experience to have in a hospital. The next two weeks were mainly spent wearing headphones.

Genius of Time’s “Same old Place” was the first release and you had that one in your pocket way before the release. What was it about the track that made you want to start the label?

It was simply that great vibe, it made me want to get up and dance! I also felt that it had something genuine about it. I think originality isn’t so much about doing something new, but about being sincere in what you do. It’s about letting go of your self-awareness, that part of you that looks at yourself from the point of view of others and judges, leading to fear of making mistakes, of what other people will think. Fear is the killer of creativity.

There were the parties that came around the same time too. Were they always meant to be one in the same?

I had already been involved in organising parties for a while, so it was quite a natural development to start doing it together.

Why did you guys opt for hosting the events in the woods?

The woods are a very good place for dancing. It’s a place that is outside of the everyday concerns and structures that we often get caught up in. Doing a party like this means that people approach it in a completely different way, with less rigid expectations, which can lead to more of a playfulness and a sense of community. Also, the environment in which music is heard is very much part of how you experience music. Dancing to music out in nature is both beautiful, inspiring and simply fun.

There was also a custom sound system involved. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

We decided to build horn bass speakers to get that bouncy sound that allows you to float endlessly on a groovy beat. Unfortunately we underestimated the work involved in dragging 90kg bass speakers into the forest… But in the end it was worth it!

With Gothenborg being so small and you guys going off the radar with the events, would you agree that much of Aniara’s foundation is based on a sense of community?

There is definitely a very deep bond between all of us, which has been built up during years of living in different places together, experimenting with music and consciousness. There is a playful vibe.

That community basically cemented itself when you guys took on the form of a production collective. Is that correct?

I’m not sure what came first. I think the sense of community and the form of it are two sides of the same coin.

How has that approached changed over the years, especially since your audiences are now located in places like Berlin and you must surely receive demos from all over the world?

The approach has been continually evolving as we get to know ourselves, and each other more and more. We do receive a lot of demos, but the label is more of a family affair, the music we release finds its way to us quite spontaneously through our friends and the people we meet. Aniara is a platform for expressing ourselves together with the people around us.

Aniara also started at a time when deep house was at its peak and the label slotted quite nicely into that trend, but I’ve noticed through the last two releases from Porn Sword Tobacco and Arkajo, that there’s possibly more of a focus on Techno coming through. Do you feel the label adapting to what’s happening around you like that?

Our interest in music and our curiosity is constantly evolving, as is the world we’re part of. But just like the world, we contain multitudes, and I think that is reflected in the catalogue of releases. If you listen to the second release on the label, “Sinai Hypnosis”, it has quite a different vibe to the first, “Same Old Place”. I thoroughly enjoy both straight-up banging tracks that make you want to dance to the bone and hypnotic, otherworldly grooves that you can lose yourself in, as well as so many other types of music.

I see you guys are playing at places like Villa and Berghain, but what’s happening with the events in the woods recently?

That’s a good question! There’s been a bit of a hiatus from that as we’ve been living abroad, but now that we’re all back in Sweden, there are new opportunities. We would all really love to do more of that kind of thing. There has been some talk about organising a two-day thing outdoors next summer. Plans are in motion, let’s see what happens!

Has moving into venues, away from the woods, affected the label at all? 

As I said earlier, the environment you listen to music in fundamentally changes your experience, so as a performer you become mindful of that. I enjoy exploring and experimenting with how that works. Sometimes you get to a party and you smilingly realise it’s the perfect time to pull out that particular record that only works in that particular setting. In the same way I think each release on the label is consciously or unconsciously inspired by a different setting, actual or imagined.

You’re playing at Villa this weekend. With Oslo being so close to Gothenburg, do you find any musical affinity between the two? 

I’m not sure whether there has been a particularly intimate exchange of ideas between Oslo and Gothenburg. But there are more general cultural experiences we’ve shared growing up in Scandinavia, which means that we to some extent do have a “common language” of musical references. One more thing I think we have in common is having been outside of the big continental dance music scene for the last 20-30 years and not having such a strong one domestically in terms of big night clubs. I think that can lead to a kind of naivety or freshness in the music, when it isn’t created directly with the club in mind, according to what “works”.

Do you ever change your approach to your set for an Oslo audience?

It’s always a meeting between the audience and the performer, a kind of dialogue, and you can never know beforehand how it will play out. I think it’s good to keep an open mind about it and not make too many assumptions about what will or won’t work. If you express something sincerely and with genuine enthusiasm you can reach through and establish a deeper connection than by pulling for the safe bets straight away. On Friday we get to set the scene ourselves from the beginning of the night, which is always great fun, then you get the chance to invite people into your own world and see where that takes you.

I saw you play a couple of months ago at the Duo of Ducks launch and you brought some excellent house tracks with you, but what would be in store for the Villa, considering it will be a much darker context?

As you say, the vibe is quite different at Villa and I do think we’ll be packing a fair bit of techno records in our bags. Alex and I are about to start up a new label called Skulptur, which will be an outlet for some more minimalistic compositions. Looking forward to try some of them out in the basement on Friday!