"Iceland is a very different place. Many people say it isn't even meant for living—the earth is very thin in places and that affects the electromagnetic fields. Inspiration from nature is important and you can hear that clearly in Icelandic techno." These are the words of Arnvidur Snorrason, AKA Exos, the artist behind this week's RA podcast. For techno heads of a certain vintage, Exos is a name that stirs excitement. He's been putting out classy dub techno since the late '90s on labels like Mosaic and Thule (a crucial hub for Icelandic techno). One of his biggest fans is Nina Kraviz, who in 2014 re-released his 1998 track, "Nuclear Red Guard," on Without A Moment's Notice, An Octopus Appeared And Devoured Everyone In Sight, the first record on her Trip label. Since then Snorrason has returned to prominence, appearing on Trip three more times, and joining Kraviz for a back-to-back at Awakenings Festival in 2016.
Growing up in Reykjavík, Snorrason started making techno at the age of 16, inspired by a weekly radio show called Party Zone and the music of Juan Atkins, Basic Channel and Joey Beltram. His RA podcast begins back where it all started for Snorrason, in 1992, before taking us through a selection of rave and techno that's inspired him in the decades since.
What have you been up to recently?
At the moment I am in my favourite country, Colombia, where I am staying for part of the winter. Playing some gigs in South America and working on music with the Colombian artist Gotshell. Been also planning my new label called Planet X, the first release is coming out in May. But recently I have been working on finishing my next album. It's coming out later this year and it's my first album since 2001.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The mix is made in three different ways. In the very beginning, there are a few tracks recorded and mixed in Traktor, then I spliced a vinyl recording into it. Then I used Traktor again. For the final part I used a live recording from one of my gigs here in Colombia, and the very last tracks I added in Ableton. From there I did the final cuts with all of the parts.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
The main idea was to select special tracks from some of my favourite artists and mix that into some idea which tells a certain story from my past, present and the future. I come from the rave era in 1992, so that's the starting point of the mix. I then head out into the experimental Jeff Mills sound which shaped the techno as we know it today. Then I start the vinyl part with some deep grooves. After that, the rave part takes over again into the techno party. Then the mix ends with a Biosphere classic fused into an unreleased Biogen track.
How did you get into techno in Iceland in the '90s?
The only way to catch up with real techno in Iceland was a weekly radio show called Party Zone. Frequently the two main DJs, DJ Frímann and DJ Hendrik, played techno in this show. I have no idea how they came up with being 100 percent on point but they played each and every techno record that was important at that time. I picked up their style and they taught me everything I know about DJing today, only by listening to their sets in the radio. I never actually met them back them. I only caught them on the radio.
My love and respect is for the DJs back then who sacrificed everything for the music. At this time in Iceland, it was not the coolest thing to be a DJ. Sure, DJs were respected and people liked them but they were never idolised and praised like nowadays. So a lot of people now turn to DJing because they want attention in their lives. Back then it was a nerdy thing, a passion of music collectors who had the burning desire to play music for others and spread the new wave of this energy. A friend of mine who is a big artist in the scene told me he had a conversation with another big DJ colleague. He said to his colleague that in a few years he wanted to retire as he was tired of playing at clubs. His colleague said, "What? Why? Won't you miss all the attention we are getting?" He answered, "Exactly, I hate the attention, but I love the music." And that's it.
Your father, Snorri, AKA Octal, is a musician. You've worked closely on music together for years. Tell us about those collaborations.
My father is a musician and is still active in rock bands, playing mostly guitar. He makes all kinds of freaky sounds with his studio set-up once in a while, but he was experimenting with electronic funk back in the '80s. He was constantly teaching me about all kinds of music, everything from African music, jazz and even early hip-hop when I was only five years old. He bought me my first studio gear when I was 15. And we connected everything and started jamming. He wasn't the typical dad that took me to the football or to go fishing. His focus was all about the music and when I wasn't active making music in the studio he was very disappointed. One time he even said he was going to give my studio equipment to my friends because I wasn't actively using it. But when I showed him a good track that I made, he was thrilled.
He didn't believe so much in the DJ thing, but all the time he was encouraging me to make music. We did some collaborations. I was doing the percussive part and he was doing some modular sounds, using the Nord modular. We did a record together on Mosaic Records, Steve O'Sullivan's label. Then he did a split solo EP on Mosaic. But he didn't care much about releasing music on his own. I was more focused on that. He only wanted to have it as a hobby as he had no connection to the scene. It was just fun for him to do modular recordings and sounds. The "Grow Bigger" track from my album My Home Is Sonic is made by us both, as well the "Grow" track used on the Nina Kraviz DJ-Kicks mix. We are meeting up to finish our EP this summer, the Exos and Octal a collaboration is in the making.
What are you up to next?
I am finishing my stay here in South America this month, coming to Europe in April. Will be great to meet my family and friends in Iceland for the Sónar Reykjavik festival. In May my next release is out on my new label Planet X. It's a solo EP with remixes from my mates Ben Sims and Antigone. The second release is from a very special Icelandic artist called Lafontaine, remixed by the one and only Matrixxman, and the third release is a crazy collaboration with me, Gotshell and Matrixxman. So watch out for Planet X.