Joe Muggs sits down with Axel Boman and John Talabot to talk about their new collaborative album.
It's different, though, from the average DJ talking about their hijinks. When these two talk about fun they're usually referring to creative processes or to simply taking pleasure in each other's company. They're so emphatic about this that talking to them is easy: they're fans of one another as both musicians and individuals, and express it simply and directly. During our three-way Skype call from opposite sides of Europe, they happily query one another's memories of events, seemingly forgetting they're in an interview at all.
All of this shines through in their music together. Both are among the most accomplished technicians in the international house and techno scene. Boman, who's Swedish, specialises in loose, Balearic funkiness, full of sunshine and dusty soul samples. Talabot, who's Catalonian, deals in altogether more haunted atmospheres, informed heavily by synth pop and Italo disco. Both tend towards relaxed tempos.
As Talaboman, though, they've struck on something new. Their sonic signatures remain distinct, yet flow into one another seamlessly, forming a new musical personality that runs through their first album together, The Night Land. It's dreamlike, dramatic, full of fierce drones that rise out of gentle grooves and take over the tracks. The Night Land is already creating a buzz, and rightly so: it's a complete statement, and its suitability for home listening as well as club play suggests it could become a fixture of the musical landscape this year and beyond.
When were you first aware of each other?
John Talabot: I heard "Arcimboldo," I think?
Axel Boman: On that Barcelona label [Ourvision Recordings], right?
John Talabot: That's it, and the first time I heard it I loved it straight away.
Axel Boman: Yeah it was that label, it was my first release!
John Talabot: Yep, that was the first track I heard from you because someone in Barcelona sent it to me, and I was like, "Wow, this is amazing," then you played at Sónar and we met there. You played one of my tracks in the set, and it was, "Hey, yeah this is the best!" and then we knew each other from that moment.
Axel Boman: I think it was Petter who introduced us, Petter Nordkvist, because he knew John from way back, from when you were resident at The Loft Y Lolita, because he used to play there quite a bit when Border Community did nights there.
John Talabot: That's right, he played live there one night with James Holden and I was supporting them.
Axel Boman: So there you go, he's the instigator!
So from that first link up, did you get a sense that you'd end up working together?
Axel Boman: No! I think I was quite surprised when you contacted me to do something for the DJ-Kicks—which was our first collaboration. You invited people that you liked to do tracks for the mix, and I thought, OK that sounds amazing. So you came here to Stockholm to work with me.
John Talabot: Yep!
Axel Boman: And then obviously we hit it off, it was really fun. I knew we would hit it off, but I wasn't that experienced with collaborations. I mean, I used to be in bands and stuff, but I never really had that vibe... because I was in bad bands, maybe? I was in shit bands with a shit vibe and music! So when we hit it off, I thought, OK this is going to be good.
John Talabot: The thing for me was that I was touring a lot, to make some special tracks, so I asked all these people to work with me on some tunes, which included my favourite two Swedish guys, which was Alex Berg, or Dorisburg, and Axel Boman from Studio Barnhus. So I went to Berlin to work with Alex, then Stockholm to work with Axel, and the track became something more than just a track for the compilation—we released it separately, people really liked it, we started to have joint gigs, and realised we had a lot of fun together.
It was a way to break up our own routines and constantly being on our own, doing our own gigs, being in our own studios. It was funny to be with someone sharing the musical experience. So maybe a year after the release of "Sideral" we started working together again, and again we had a lot of fun, so we continued this and came up with a lot of tracks, from which we selected eight, finished them properly, and now you have them in this... kind of... LP. I'm not sure if we should call it that, but yes, it feels like one... maybe?
Well, I've played it at home a lot as an album, something to listen to in full, and other people in the industry who've had it for a while are reporting the same.
Axel Boman: Wow!
John Talabot: There was no intentional structure—
Axel Boman: —at least not that was spoken. I think we both thought, OK this is a great opportunity to meet and make music, if it works then great, if not then nobody's going to lose that much from this experience as we're going to get along and have a nice time anyway. It felt good. And because of that, it was a nice opportunity to not have any potential release in the back of our minds. I really hate having that shadow of expectation hanging, glooming over things. I don't know what that does to one's creativity. I think it could be a really bad thing to know that any bit you're doing isn't going to work in the bigger project. As soon as you start thinking like that you start shooting yourself in the foot a bit. It was nice for us to have long recording sessions, have fun, discover like, "This works and this doesn't work."
John Talabot: We kept it quite secret, actually.
Axel Boman: Yeah, because we didn't have a goal. It wasn't a project with something that was going to have a result that we had to promise to anyone.
John Talabot: We didn't speak to anyone about releasing an album until it was pretty much done. That made sure we didn't have expectations, except our own decisions. We decided, OK, we are only going to work on Talaboman tracks when we are together in the same room, we are going to mix it together, it's a proper project in that way. We didn't want to be in the distance taking decisions, we wanted to be in the same room and doing it there, because that's where we had fun together. Which was once the only way collaborations could happen, but is kind of the exception now. People are so used to emailing project files back and forth
So did it feel like you were jamming in the way musicians would?
John Talabot: Yeah definitely. For all the ideas we used a lot of hardware, because we wanted to have all the tracks in Axel's studio and mine, so the only way to avoid plug-in problems and that sort of incompatibility was to play live with hardware and record it as audio, all the jams. So we were using a lot of gear and crazy equipment, and ended up buying a load of gear just thinking of the Talaboman project, and that meant the project itself got like an entity, so it was not Axel's music or mine, it was a weird in-between where I'm not sure who's the father and who's the mother.
Axel Boman: I'd always thought he likes darker melodies and I like more hopeful melodies, but each time listening to what we have done it's neither, it's not mine or his, it's shifting between these emotions and even something else.
John Talabot: We'd definitely do ideas that neither one of us would do for our own records. It felt like also a bit of freedom. Axel's side, or my side, were both quite defined before, and it might feel a bit weird to shift to another place, but with the Talaboman project it was really easy to create this kind of universe, a new sonic universe that we could develop and grow in.
There's a funny irony that someone from northern Europe is known for funky, sunshiny tunes, and someone from the Mediterranean has this more gothic sound.
John Talabot: Yeah! I always say Axel is the Mediterranean guy.
Axel Boman: I wonder if people from Spain know what it's like to live under a fascist state, and that's why there is this darkness.
John Talabot: Haha maybe, but no, this is just the music I like, you know? I always liked this dark synthy electronic music, and if I like house, the house that I like is the ones that have the darker melodies, or more jacking and aggressive. But yeah I do feel like Axel is more Mediterranean than me.
Axel Boman: Except when we meet in Spain, then it becomes very clear who the Mediterranean guy is.
John Talabot: Ah no, don't start that!
Axel Boman: It becomes completely obvious. If we're in Stockholm, I say, "Let's start now in the studio, then go to lunch," and we have a nice lunch then do a few more hours then have dinner and drink beer. That's the day for me. With John, it's very rare we get to the studio before four or five in the afternoon. First we have to relax at home, then at two o'clock we have a two-hour lunch.
John Talabot: But you like it!
Axel Boman: Yeah I'm not complaining! I'm just saying it becomes very clear who has the Mediterranean lifestyle!
John Talabot: Sure. It's just the studio doesn't have any daylight, so I want to use the hours of sun to have a nice lunch, to visit the city or whatever—then you can go to the studio late night, when no one is bothering you, no emails, no WhatsApps, whatever. Just you, ringing the bell of the studio, being able to work and be more focused. Of course in Sweden, if it's winter the sun ends at one or two o'clock, so that's pretty much all the light in the day, there's no point trying to enjoy the sun, and you have to work in the morning!
Buying new hardware specifically for these tracks is quite a commitment for what began as something quite casual. Now the album is getting attention, do you think about where you'll go with the project?
Axel Boman: I'm really looking forward to being able to play more with John because of this, and there's also so much more music that we've done, so we're always talking about, "Oh maybe we could do an EP, maybe something with this track or this one." Now I miss working with the setup we had. We spent so much time and we did so much with it, and now I wouldn't mind doing some more!
John Talabot: Yeah we need to! We want to rent some studio and be together there creating some more stuff. I think we have a lot to finish that it'll be cool to release, but we are quite slow, and as we only work together, that means we need to put together the agendas, which is not so easy to do because maybe Axel is travelling around, or in the US, and I'm in Barcelona, or maybe he's in Stockholm but I'm around on tour. So we really need to plan to do music. But then that's good because when you plan it then you're excited two months before, like, [pants] "Oh yeah, I'm gonna... I'm gonna... do music! I'm gonna buy this synthesiser! I'm gonna use it for this Talaboman track! We're gonna record everything with this synth!"
You get properly excited, and sometimes when you are working on your own you miss this part, this excitement that maybe Axel is gonna come with a crazy idea, or maybe he's expecting me to come with something weird. That's just interesting, but when you're on your own it's sometimes hard to get excited about your own ideas.
Do you think about playing live?
John Talabot: Yeah, we have had some ideas about it, but we haven't defined it yet.
Axel Boman: We actually were planning this quite extensively. We were approached by some guys with some ideas for what we could do, and we started to talk about how we would do this, so we have some quite elaborate ideas about how we might do it. But it takes a lot of time to make something like this happen, even if either of us was in a place where we could commit to a month of planning and working and studying. But depending how the record goes, I guess if people like this—and I'm still very sensitive about this and what we've done, it's still very fragile to me.
John Talabot: Yeah, me too. I'm always expecting bad responses.
Axel Boman: I have nightmares about this record. But if it goes good, if DJ shows go good, if it feels like we have something to say and we can both benefit from it in the way we have already pushed ourselves as DJs and musicians when we meet—if this works, then I'm very open to the idea of making it into a live thing.
John Talabot: I would like to do it, too. I feel we can do something interesting, but we need to find a way to do it and people to do it with. It's a long process—just deciding the tracks, mastering, doing the artwork and so on for this album has been long enough, but doing a live show I would say will take a lot more energy. We need to recover from the album first!
There's this trend at the moment for "emotional techno"—do you feel what you're doing fits in there at all?
John Talabot: For me techno has always been emotional! From the first moment I heard a track of Detroit, something just worked in my heart as an emotion. Techno and house is emotional by definition, because of the physical impact, the sounds used, the melodies, everything. Underground Resistance stuff, for example, is super emotional and it touches me every time I listen to one of their tracks. So yeah I guess the music I make with Axel is emotional because the music we like is emotional. Axel does make really emotional tracks too, like ones he made for Family Vacation, some tracks there really touch me and I love them. I'm not sure if that's how you'd define this album, though. We never thought where it would fit, what crate it would go in, what Beatport page. It was more about trying to avoid doing what we'd do on our own.
Axel Boman: If we're talking about whether audiences are ready for other sounds, then maybe. I guess I know the kind of music you're talking about, things like Innervisions, the headliners of the biggest parties are usually some emotional techno, right?
John Talabot: I think the techno audience is being mixed, and the whole idea of what disco was for genres has changed. Techno is something that the younger people like, and luckily girls now are into it, and they see it as something really emotional. It goes by generations, I guess. For some people Innervisions is emotional, but for others a fully Berghain set is the most emotional thing ever because of the intensity of the experience. Emotional music shifts with the years.
Axel Boman: It's hard to define the music we play together, but when I play with you, I think it's at least a good chance to go in with a plan, an idea of what sort of music world you want to be in. Myself, I'm a very impatient DJ, like from moment to moment I want to listen to this or that type of music, so I grab it. I don't see much obstacles to putting anything and everything. But with John's style, it's nice to plan more and create something whole.
John Talabot: Again, we want to create that universe. So we try to find some weird dub tracks, mix it with our own edits, some of our own tracks, and we usually play more than two hours—sometimes three, four, five, six, seven—and at the end we feel like we've created a whole thing. That's one of the great things about playing together, we're more likely to get four hours or more, not the 60 or 90-minute festival slot. And we pick music that not Axel or I would play alone, but we choose it for Talaboman because we feel it has a Talaboman idea behind it.
You have to speak with another personality, which is interesting and funny. Just like the album, it turns into something else, something new, and you're just glad that it happened. When you're in this machinery of touring and playing and selecting tracks for your label, and all the other things we all have to do, then sometimes you have to stop and ask what really makes you happy. And it's hard to know what can make you happy. But this project, and the energy it brings from our combination, it really makes me happy.
Talaboman will play at Caprices Festival in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which runs April 6th to the 9th.