When I met Adomaitis in London late last year, it was to discuss Ten Walls, a project he'd begun without his name attached to it. Ten Walls is probably the best manifestation of Adomaitis's past experiences. His arrangements are rich and full of instrumentation, and with tracks like "Gotham," "Walking With Elephants" and "Requiem," he realised the bassoon's unlikely dance floor potential. Ten Walls has brought Adomaitis a huge amount of success, including a chart hit in the UK, but this wasn't an entirely new situation for him. Mario & Vidis, a project he formed with Vidmantas Cepkauskas, had a string of hits between 2008 and 2011, with tracks like "I'll Be Gone" reaching around 2.5 million YouTube plays. It wasn't exactly clear why, but Adomaitis didn't want to discuss Basanov & Vidis, and he felt unwilling to talk too deeply about Mario Basanov, the name he used to produce a raft of house and disco records for labels like Needwant Recordings. With a Ten Walls album on the horizon, a packed touring schedule and a head full of unrealised ideas, perhaps he felt too wrapped up in the present to consider the past.
When you were growing up, did dance music have a place in popular culture in Lithuania?
Lithuania is not as remote as people may think, at least not by the '90s. We had the same opportunities to seek and find what we liked, even without the internet. By the time I was growing up you could hear club music in certain venues, but not everywhere. It definitely wasn't pop music.
Teenagers in Lithuania, like everywhere else in Europe, were paying attention to the club scene and so our own scene developed. But there were only a few artists from Lithuania who made this kind of music so when I was 16 I started to make my own, trialling and playing with dance music rhythms.
What was your entry point into club music?
There were a few of them. The first that I remember was around 2001, when I started to listen and go deep into the music of Towa Tei, Pnau and Fantastic Plastic Machine. They were the ones who inspired me for my biggest attempts in creating dance music at that stage. Later, I was searching and discovering music for myself, trying various different styles like soul, R&B, new jazz, electro, house music. In each of these sounds I found something that was new but at the same time distinctive for me. It was an important period of searching, and I feel it's shaped me as the musician and producer I am today.
The second "specific entry" was when I started working as a DJ and had a few different projects in electronic music. Being a DJ was a new experience for me, having been mainly a producer. Now I was able to watch how a crowd reacted to the music, how I could control them with the music I played. Suddenly I could make sense of what works on the dance floor and what doesn't.
Were people around you interested in the same music style?
I was born into a family of musicians. My father was a violinist and so was my brother. Myself, I chose to play a wind instrument, the bassoon. I played it throughout my time at high school. I also grew up with classical music always being by my side. I played and studied this, and music was a deep part of my childhood. I'm really so glad I got to attend music college, as I got all the essential skills that set me up to make music today.
I also remember that there was always very good jazz or soul playing in our home. My parents always paid close attention to the music we were listening to. As a teenager I started to choose for myself what to listen to, but it was always the quality that mattered the most, not often the style. I think I have my parents to thank for that.
Today, I am surrounded by musicians. My lovely wife is a pianist and has concerts of her own. She is the very first person that I played any of my own compositions to. Her opinion always makes a lot of sense to me.
You mentioned that you and your friends developed your own scene. What did that look like?
Independence for Lithuania from Russia in 1991 meant the borders were open and you could buy music more freely. I mean, my father always managed to get hold of vinyl but it wasn't easy. Then suddenly you could find all these jazz or electronic records. Each year it got bigger, more and more music. By the end of the '90s and early 2000s we had so many DJs visiting.
For me I remember mainly progressive house—Deep Dish, G-Pal, Omid 16B in Kaunas, where I grew up. In 2000 it felt like the peak of that scene. I moved to Vilnius in the mid 2000s and got into the broken-beat scene, people like 4hero, Jazzanova and Gilles Peterson were all key for me.
But I've always been more of a studio guy. It was not like I was going to parties each weekend, but Gravity club in Vilnius at the time was good. I got a lot of my inspiration and music in the early days through online radio or BBC shows.
What did your early productions sound like?
I would call it experimental music. I made some drum & bass at the end of the '90s. I have basically experimented with all styles at some point, just to understand the structure and analyse the music. None were released. I was also working a lot with other DJs and helping them with their studio productions as an engineer, so I learnt a lot in those early days about the studio. But then something inside me wanted to start making my own music. It was like I had been learning up until that point, and then I was ready to work fully on my own productions.
Why didn't you release this music?
I did release some of those tracks. When I say "project," I mean that I produced for some DJs in the past. Some producers, they call themselves producers but actually there is one guy who is making music for them. So later I said, "No, I don't want to do that: to spend my ideas for somebody else. I'm cancelling this thing."
What made you feel ready to release your own music?
Like I said, I had many projects, and one of my really good friends said, "Mario, you should start to play, you should start to grow as an artist because you are all the time a studio guy." So in that period it was very good for me to start. About four or five years ago, nu disco was very big everywhere. It was a good moment for me because I already did that music, and I started to play this music and yeah, Needwant and Future Classic wanted to release my music. It was a good moment.
Would you say that you were producing music with the dance floor in mind?
Of course, all the time. Especially when I do breakdowns in tracks, and how the track develops after the breakdown.
I'm not that producer who is like, "OK, three years ago it was popular to do nu disco but now it's popular to do a more cold sound." I was never a trendy guy. I'm trying to first think of a musical concept and how it's possible to make a personal sound.
It's hard because you know how many producers are out there, and you try to be honest firstly to yourself, but you also can't forget about the crowd, because I do music for them.
I remember when I played the bassoon, my teacher asked me––I never told this story to anybody but it's really big––he said, "Mario, why do you play? For who do you play? What are you thinking about?" I said, "I'm thinking about how to make a better sound for me," and I started to talk about my ego, and he said, "Stop. First thing: think about the crowd, because you play for them, not for yourself." So it's the same in studio: you cannot think only about yourself, you have to think about them, too.
How did your relationship with Needwant begin?
It is not a secret that Needwant's owner, Sean Brosnan, is my manager, and also we have a label together, BOSO. He's also my good friend. So in the beginning he sent me a request to make a remix. Then it was another remix, another remix, and then we started to work together. So Sean––and we've now been working together for five years––is a guy who I trust. We're a team.
Are there certain qualities that you look for when you're deciding to work with a label?
To give you some examples, I thought the best home for "Gotham" would be Innervisions. So we sent it to them and we released it with them. With the next track, "Requiem," we thought, "Ah, this would sound good on Life And Death." And finally we did "Walking With Elephants" on our label, as the first release.
But in the future––I'm big fan of DJ Koze and his Pampa Records sound, so this is one of my dreams, maybe one day to release there. Because with Ten Walls you can see sometimes very dark tracks, underground, some things very uplifting and epic. So maybe one day I'd like to do something with, for example, Cocoon. So yeah, every track is like a different story, and I want to try and find, for that story, the best place.
Do you remember why and when you decided to form this new project?
When I did "Gotham" I decided with my manager, Sean, and the Innervisions guys like Dixon to create a new project that's different. Some people think it's risky to start a new project, because you never know how it will be, but it worked. I released "Gotham" in July 2013, and the first Ten Walls show wasn't until the Amsterdam Dance Event in October. So it was after half a year. Nobody knew who it was, and on Facebook we saw like, "Who are you, Ten Walls?"
Do you remember why Dixon suggested to start a new project?
I don't know why, he didn't explain. Maybe it was because, like I said, I had many projects in the past, so let's do a new project, in this kind of way.
When you wrote the track did it feel like something different for you?
Yeah, the bassline. It was different.
Do you remember the early reactions to the track?
I always try to put my ego in my pocket, but honestly, when I played that track I saw in the crowd––not like it will be but it should be a big tune. Sometimes people ask how I made a track, and I don't know, I just come in the studio and some muse, like a goddess, flies to me. For this one I was just inspired.
Since then you've released two follow-up records and played some very big shows. What has that experience been like for you?
I can answer you like this: Ten Walls is not an underground project. Ten Walls is epic, euphoric, uplifting music. Like I said in the past, in some interviews, I spend time with Hare Krishna people... so I'm always thinking about balance, all the time. With Ten Walls, I don't want to be like cool, underground, you know, hipster guy; I just want to try and make music for people.
The track was the first release on BOSO. Could tell me about the project?
I used to––and still have––many, many emails from friends or whoever who are like, "Mario can you help us to release this track?" So I'm listening to tracks, some good, some bad, and I remember I kept saying to Sean, "Release this track, this is amazing!" So Sean said to me one day, "Mario, it is time for you to create a label," and I said, "Are you crazy? I'm too busy now"––so many gigs, like I did 400 flights this year and last year, it's a lot.
But eventually we thought, "Hey, let's do it together," because he has more experience with labels, how it works, where to send the music, etc., and I know about studios, about sound, about mixing, about mastering, about editing, about producing. So we started, and it worked.
Are there particular types of artists you want to work with?
The first thing is that I have very close friends who are also great producers. The second EP was from Few Nolder, the EP Clouds—he is my very good friend. And he is part of the BOSO team, or family. And the third release was my best friend (we also have a studio together) Gardens Of God.
So now BOSO is like Ten Walls, Few Nolder and Gardens Of God, but let's see in the future. I want to be open-minded, to think about producers who I love a lot—these kinds of names like I:Cube, Pépé Bradock, Peter Kruder, Jon Hopkins, who I really love and would like to release them, not for the family, for great music first. But let's see; maybe in the future we can build something interesting.
There's a certain type of lead synth line or bassline that's a hallmark of Ten Walls tracks. I was interested that you mentioned that you play bassoon because this Ten Walls sound reminded me—
Exactly, and this is the best link, because for me a bassoon is more like a bass instrument. As you said, "Gotham" is all about the hook, this bassline. "Requiem" [hums melody] is like a leitmotif, this bassline. "Walking With Elephants," also the bassline—hums melody. So for me, the bassoon is the biggest link. I played it all the time in the orchestra, as a bass instrument.
I was always a bass guy, like boso guy. This is how we came to the name of the label, BOSO. My wife, Diana, she is also a piano player, classical piano player. Diana named the label, and I can feel that idea. Boso linija, in Lithuania, means bassline. And the bassline in electronic music and classical music is very important. So we just deleted linija––line––and we left boso. Everything links to bass.
It's not easy. I played clarinet in the past, so you play it like this [makes hand gestures] but with bassoon you play like this [makes a more complicated hand gesture]. Sometimes you need to use this finger [gestures], and it's really something very hard. And especially when you play, for example, Vivaldi, because in that epoch when he created music there were many jumps, like octave jumps. When you play allegro it's very fast, it means like pah-pah-pah-pah—so it's hard.
With this project in general are you trying to incorporate orchestral instruments?
Yes, I am working now on an album so it means there are tracks where I play the bassoon—and, by the way, in "Chains And Shackles" I played the bassoon, so when you hear in the beginning the train sound, like "whoooo," that's a bassoon. And in the breakdown, and before the breakdown, you can hear a voice that's like a ghost, like a spooky voice, which is my voice.
Also on the album I'm working with a very good piano player. He has good experience, he is a great musician, he did workshops in Japan, he is a great player, so I did tracks with him. And also my good friend Vytas Sondeckis, he is a cello player. Yeah, so for me it is very, very important to work with people who have been playing their whole life. For example, Vytas Sondeckisi, I don't know, he is maybe 45 years old, and he's played cello all his life. The piano player I mentioned may be more than 50 years old—all his life he played piano. So for me it's not the instrument that's important—it's who is playing.
Would you translate this approach to a live show?
Yes, in the past I did this other project––I have a good friend Wolf Kerschek from Hamburg, he is a conductor and a composer. He did arrangement, for example, for Rammstein, but he did an orchestral arrangement. So we did 30 people on the stage; my music and 30 people. So we're thinking now to do a concert, maybe this year, with a symphony orchestra, which means 75 people onstage. This is hard, it's serious, but so interesting.
The reason I love these things is that for me it's like déjà vu or a flashback. Because until 2001 I just did classical music, and of course, I spent my free time in the studio. Then I took a long break from classical music and only did electronic music, plus some jobs like advertising. Now, with Ten Walls especially, I am coming back to those classical days.
You spoke before about touring heavily. I wondered if there is a context that you have enjoyed to play in the most? Where do you think your sound works best?
For me I think the most important thing is the mood—my mood, the mood of the crowd. I remember a show in Moscow, five years ago, it was only 50 people because it was a very, very small room. It was amazing. The mood, 50, it's enough. This year in France, when I played at a festival, at the start of my set there was 1000 people, and when I finished––I spoke later with Tale Of Us about this––they said there was about 10,000 people. It was also amazing because this was a lovely, beautiful crowd. But sometimes you can play for this kind of crowd, and sometimes, you know, maybe not.
I played in Croatia, at Unknown Festival, and there were 1000 people crouched on the ground. I played a track with a breakdown, so no kick. I got in position over my computer to drop the kick and I just looked at the crowd and, oh my god, 1000 people on the ground, waiting, you know. It was a game, and I was like, "OK, let's play this game." So when I play live it means I can play a track for one minute or ten minutes or 20 minutes. So with the breakdown I was teasing them like, "Does someone want to jam? Oh na na na na." We were building good energy together.
Ten Walls plays this year's DGTL Festival in Amsterdam, which runs April 4th to 5th.