Matias Aguayo believes in magic. In fact, he sees it everywhere. It’s in the skyline view from the terrace of the building that houses his studio. It’s in the solitary tree growing on a lone patch of grass on the rooftop. It’s in the cobblestone streets that line his familiar corner of Schöneberg. Most of all, though, magic is music.
Maybe that all sounds too poetic to be true, but standing on the roof with Aguayo, the verses practically write themselves. The Brothers Grimm are buried in the graveyard visible from Aguayo’s studio window. David Bowie’s former flat is just around the corner. And on clear days like today, you can see all of Berlin from Aguayo’s rooftop. It all seems to be intertwined in Aguayo’s understanding of the world. It’s no wonder that the Chilean DJ/producer seems so creatively energized all the time; something is always sparking inspiration – or, perhaps more accurately, he is always setting inspiration in motion.
“I like to create these magic moments,” Aguayo muses when we sit down in his studio to talk about his new band project, the Desdemonas. “It’s about the situations that you create. I like very much to create nice atmospheres, nice ambiances; situations in which inevitably something will happen. I believe in that. I believe in finding things that are already there.” For Aguayo, music is as much about discovery as it is about creation; or rather, the two are one and the same.
Matias Aguayo and the Desdemonas is a new venture for him. Although it’s not his first foray into vocals and instrumentals, it’s probably his most ambitious project yet. Don’t let the set-up fool you: despite a relatively simple arrangement of looper, field recorder, microphone and three piece band (drums, keys, guitar), the Desdemonas’ sound is haunting, rich and satiating. With an album already complete and a European tour getting underway, those magic moments seem to be right within Aguayo’s grasp.
You seem to have quite an active imagination. Has storytelling always been of interest to you?
Always. I was really dedicated to working in theater when I was growing up, for many, many years, almost as long as I was doing music! That moment when the lights go down and the performance starts... That was a very important part of my life. Presenting something very narrative was always of deep interest for me.
I’m thinking in particular about the press notes for the Desdemonas: “This turn of sonic events will transport you towards ominous encounters with a parallel life: a night trip on lost highways, feverish dreams under cold, crystal clear desert skies giving way to hot slow motion, snake dances to voodoo drums.” I love that, it’s like poetry.
I think it’s the whole vibe. I’ve always been intrigued by film noir, Double Indemnity, Raw Deal, the imagination around these dark stories told in black-and-white, this link to something fantastic, the parallel logic of dreams. I think that what happens in some of those movies, it follows a narrative of dreams. And that’s something that I’m super interested in. There’s a strange connection between these noir films, and my own experience growing up in the woods, sort of in isolation.
That’s something you drew from for the project, right?
Yeah, the Desdemonas project all started last year with me going back to Cologne, where I grew up, because I wanted to just focus for two weeks on composing music; no computer, no screen, no distractions, alone. This was a situation similar to when I was 15 years old. I kind of re-encountered myself because I started out so limited, doing recordings with four-track tapes and what little bit of equipment I could buy or borrow.
Was Cologne quite a conservative place at the time? What was it like making music in that kind of environment?
Well, I was an immigrant’s child living in a small town about 40 kilometers from Cologne... Like you said, this was a very conservative place with very little music culture. I developed a kind of courage and self-confidence being surrounded by so many people who found me super weird because I listened to strange music or dressed in black. [laughs] This somehow strengthens you. It gives you the power to think. Music was always a place where I could go and forget about everything. Music gave me a lot of freedom, actually. It was a big pleasure for me to return back to that place and do music in a very free way.
It seems like your process is more emotional and intuitive than necessarily technical or intellectual.
Exactly. When I was working on writing the lyrics for this project, I used this technique that I originally developed with Scott Monteith [Deadbeat], where I would sing in kind of this made up language and improvise until the words slowly emerged. With the Desdemonas, I applied this technique very radically because it allowed me to discover things that I didn’t expect. If I work too conceptually or too perfectly, I probably won’t get to this magic point. This technique allows me to kind of visually imagine the song. It’s like a discovery; like working with dreams. So, the first recordings I did for the Desdemonas very much defined the sound of the project. Although there were no guitars in there yet, I already heard them there.
When did you start to add in the other instrumental elements?
When we sat down with Gregorio Gomez, the guitarist for the Desdemonas. He’s been there almost from the beginning of the process. Since we already had a foundation laid down with the lyrics and general concept, I didn’t invite musicians to just improvise on top of that. Instead, they somehow knew how to play and enhance what is already there. They are all very skilled musicians, not only on a technical level, but knowing how to contribute. They were very much into keeping this atmosphere of the original take and the story I wanted to tell with the project.
What story is that, exactly?
Obviously, for good story telling, the story has to tell it itself, but I would say that it’s about love. It’s about dreams and nightmares and mysteries and doppelgängers and aliens. It’s about the temptations in life. I can say that, but not more. [laughs]
In theater you have this magic: it’s really happening and you’re experiencing it now.
Is it easier to tell a story with lyrics, than, say, through a DJ set or with an album you’ve produced?
Well, when I DJ in a club, I’m a DJ; there’s some moments when I become the performer, and then I go back to my set again. But with the Desdemonas, the music and the dancing and the sequence of the songs and anecdotes that I’m going to share, a story will be told. I think with time the story will develop even more, and I don’t think that would be possible in a traditional club setting.
No? Why not?
This is something that, again, theater has in common with the club experience. It’s really being there when something is happening. Not seeing the reproduction in cinema or on the computer or on SoundCloud but really being there in the moment. We’re kind of losing touch with this moment, no? In theater you have this magic: it’s really happening and you’re experiencing it now. It works. It’s quite a nice situation, but being on stage can also be intimidating!
Intimidating? You mean like in terms of stage fright?
Not because I feel intimidated by the camera, but because the people who record you. They record and they put it on YouTube and anyone can go and watch it. [laughs] I think this should be a moment only between us, like a secret. Sometimes I sing during my DJ sets, for example, but I want that to be special for the people who are there. Like it’s our little thing, no?
Of course. Have you been singing a long time?
Yes, I was singing in the school choir! I see a lot of continuity in my early days! It was like, “Okay, I don’t have this instrument, I’ll sing this instrument.” So it’s quite natural for me, the use of the voice. And this gives you a lot. It’s also, I think, what I’m best at.
I saw on your social channels that you’re also creating illustrations to go along with the project. Have you always been interested in expressing yourself in so many different ways?
[laughs] Yes, definitely. I learned never to be bored. Boredom is something that I don’t know in my life, and I’m very happy for that. So maybe that was also a good side of growing up in isolation because you only have yourself! There was not so much stimulation coming from outside, you had to create it yourself.
It goes back to what you were saying about creating moments instead of waiting for inspiration, I guess.
Right, exactly. When I hear people say that music today is boring or that there’s nothing new happening, I get the impression they’re talking more about themselves than music. [laughs] It wasn’t easy to access all information the same way we do today, so I had to draw myself what I wanted to see and I had to sing myself what I wanted to hear. I think in that way, this project, this form of expression was kind of inevitable.
Although you’re working with illustration, is music still your most effective form of expression? Is it easier to say things through music?
Yes, of course. It’s so crazy to have something that is so abstract and so direct at the same time. It transports you immediately to a specific place: if a song comes on that reminds you of a place or a moment, you suddenly relive it like you’re there again. Music can really be a relief for a life that sometimes is maybe not so funny or not so joyful. So, yes, I think with music one can create this magic. I believe in music more than anything else.
The Desdemonas’ debut live shows take place in France on the following dates:
April 14, 2016 – Les Printemps de Bourges – Bourges
April 16, 2016 – Badaboum – Paris
April 18, 2016 – Peniche – Lille
April 19, 2016 – L’Autre Canal – Nancy