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"Even when you're experienced it takes time to come up with a composition and all the sounds and details bit by bit," says Axel Thesleff | Photos: artists' archive
"Even when you're experienced it takes time to come up with a composition and all the sounds and details bit by bit," says Axel Thesleff | Photos: artists' archive
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Axel Thesleff and Bratři: Interview About Live Performance, Music Production and Gear

Two electronic live sets. Two unique approaches. Two concerts that you can enjoy this weekend at the Colours of Ostrava music festival. In this interview, Finnish electronic producer Axel Thesleff and Czech electronic duo Bratři, comprising twins Ondřej Veselý and Jiří Veselý, talk about how they create their music and what they consider most important for their work in the studio and on stage.

BRATŘI: Hello Axel, we would like to start with your foundations. How did you get into electronic music, can you remember any essential or initiatory moment?

AXEL: Hi guys, I think it was when I first heard Kid A by Radiohead that got me into electronica and IDM/Glitch music. From there, I then started getting more into different electronic styles like Future Garage, Dubstep, Techno and many others.

B: What qualities do you believe are necessary to become a good producer?

A: I think you have to be interested in sound production and the tools to create the sound, that’s essential. But you also need patience, because learning everything takes time, and even if you're experienced, it takes time to come up with a composition and all the sounds and details bit by bit. You have to be comfortable with things sounding unfinished before the song starts sounding good. It also helps if you have some knowledge of music theory and if you play an instrument, especially the keyboard.

B: What does a typical studio day look like for you?

A: The studio day depends a lot on what projects I have going on at the moment. In any case, I like to get some yoga or other physical exercise done before sitting in front of the computer for the rest of the day. Usually, I work mostly in the evening or at night, especially if I'm creating something new. I find it easier to concentrate when the rest of the world quiets down. When I'm finishing up projects, I might work more during the day.

B: How do you create your tracks in the studio – which basic set-up do you work with?

A: My setup is very minimal and digital. I use a computer with Ableton Live and a Universal Audio interface, two speakers and a MIDI keyboard. I have quite a sizable library of samples and plugins to work with. I like this setup which is very lightweight, so I can take it anywhere I go. I like to do everything inside the box, so everything is easily recallable and saveable. Also, I like to have my studio space easy to maintain and clutter-free.

B: So you don’t use any synths or drum machines to create your signature sound?

A: Yeah, that’s right, although it might sound that way, I don't actually use any outboard synths or drum machines, I do everything inside the computer. I use Ableton Live and its stock plugins like the samplers and synths a lot. For drums, I use either the Ableton's drum rack or XO by XLN Audio. I also like creating synth sounds with Native Instrument's Massive X, Xfer Records Serum or u-he Diva. I get many of my sounds by layering sample-based sounds and synth-based sounds together.

B: And what plug-ins do you use?

A: Since I do everything inside the computer, I use a vast variety of plugins. I have a big collection of UAD plugins to get me that analogue character that I wouldn't otherwise get with digital tools. I also have all the Soundtoys plugins, which I find very good for creative effects. I like the Oeksound's smoothness and Zynaptiq's Unfilter to get rid of unpleasant resonances. A lot of the time, I find myself working with Ableton's stock plugins and samples for sound design and mixing.

A: I know that you build your sound with analogue synthesizers and live drums. What gear and software do you use for your live gigs?

B: When we play live, we use Ableton as the "brain" of the set, and every sound goes through RME Fireface sound card. As live instruments, we use Dave Smith Instruments Mopho, Behringer TD-3, Makenoise Ocoast, Native Instruments Maschine MK2 as a sampler and 6U Modular rig. Also our precious 15-year-old ROLAND SPD-SX:) Everything is connected via MIDI and it is fun to play with it.

A: How do you prepare and rehearse for the show?

B: We rehearse regularly, and there are two possibilities for how to do it. One of them is the desktop version of our live set. We use it when we make new music or in jamming. The second one is with the live drums. It is the most important part of rehearsing because we use live drums as the main instrument.

B: But you also use relatively many instruments during concerts, including several drums, a xylophone or a keytar synth, how do you think about concerts when you compose music?

A: In the studio, I actually don't really use those instruments much, they are mainly for live performances. When I'm making music, I concentrate 100% on just the music, and I don't think very much about the live shows at that point, because I don't want to put any constraints on the creative process. I always figure out later how to play the music live, and it always works out in one way or another. Finding creative solutions is what makes it fun for me.

B: In your eyes, what are the key elements to creating a successful live set?

A: For me, it's about finding a setlist that flows nicely from one song to the next. I have a lot of different songs with differing styles, keys, and tempos, so fitting everything into one set can sometimes be challenging. But that's also where creative solutions like key modulations can make it even more interesting and special. I work with multitrack stems, which allows me to do complex transitions and even mashups of songs, which makes the live show even more special for the audience. Playing live allows for improvisation to happen at the moment which I think the audience can appreciate.

A: What do you think about building a working live set, how do you approach it and what do you enjoy most about it?

B: We compose our setlist according to the BPM of individual songs from slowest to fastest, so that the concert is heading somewhere. We start at 125 BPM and end up at 132. We really enjoy playing live because we can improvise a lot of parts in the live set. We really love playing synths and doing different effects on them like reverbs and delays or distortion. There is no strict form in our tracks, so it is really fun to build them up and make every show a little bit different.

A: Which of your tracks do you enjoy the most during concerts now?

B: Every track is kinda our favourite, but nowadays we really love to play our latest single "Blocks" that we have released recently and then a track called "Running" where we like the final part of the track, which is pretty acid and we like that very much.

A: OK, that sounds cool, thanks a lot for the questions, guys, I'm looking forward to hearing you live.

B: Same here! Thanks for talking and sharing with us.

AXEL THESLEFF is a rising star of Finnish electronic music. A long-haired introvert musicologist with over half a billion YouTube streams for a single electro song. Axel Thesleff revels in contrasts. He transforms endless hours of searching for different sounds and melodies on the Internet into eclectic compositions that combine electronic music with the world of raw guitars and drums. However, you will definitely not be surprised when a trap composition with rock or metal elements is replaced by an orchestral part or a traditional Eastern melody.

BRATŘI are a new face on the Czech electronic music scene. Twins Jiří and Ondřej conceived the music project, which oscillates around a combination of catchy electronic dance and techno. The central driving forces are Jiří's live percussion/drum beats and the melodic motives and sequences created by Ondřej on analogue and modular synthesizers. Two captivating streams converging on stage in one uncompromising flow of electrifying energy.

Tagy Axel Thesleff Bratři

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