If you’re a regular here, or even just an occasional reader then you are probably aware of the massive love I have for record label El Paraiso Records. In my opinion they’re as important a label as giants like Blue Note, ECM, Sub Pop, Verve!, and SST when it comes to offering up brain re-wiring musical content. Since I first discovered the Danish label, co-run by Jonas Munk and Jakob Skøtt of label luminaries Causa Sui, it’s been this amazing journey through psych, ambient, electronic, astral jazz, heavy synth, and stoner rock with artists that span the globe. Next to Blue Note, I’d have to say the next biggest collection of a label catalog I have would have to be El Paraiso Records.
One of the many projects the label has offered up is Skøtt and modular synth wizard Kristoffer Ovesen’s VHS horror-inspired Videodrones. It’s a project I love dearly because they lock into those late night rentals of my youth, bringing back the feeling I had watching Italian horror, queasy dystopian, and schlocky slashers of the 70s and 80s in grainy, gory detail. The modular synth duo made three amazing records in the course of three years. The last release was 2019 Atavistic Future, a bit of a departure from Mondo Ferox and Natten Haevn from 2016 and 2017 respectively.
On 4/29 Videodrones will be dropping their fourth LP called After The Fall. It’s a whole new vibe, yet still captures that magic of those VHS nightmares that the band locked into for inspiration from the beginning. With the addition of drums and guitar the sound of Videodrones expands to almost post-rock grandeur. I spoke to Jakob about the album, the shift in vibes, and we also talk about ten years of El Paraiso Records. Check out our talk below.
J Hubner: It’s been three years since Videodrones last album Atavistic Future. It seems we’re not living in the same world now as we were back then. Listening to the new album After The Fall the sonic world of Videodrones has changed, evolved, as well.
First, tell me how long have you and Kristoffer been working on the new record? Were you able to work together in the same room? Or was this done sharing files and adding to one another’s tracks over the internet?
Jakob Skøtt: Same as the other records, we got together and did all the basic tracks in Jonas Munk’s studio in one day, just jamming various ideas. Afterwards I edited the best parts together and sent them to Kristoffer, who did a lot of synth overdubs. Since I was playing drums in the session, I focused more on atmospheres and sound creation than making sequences afterwards, other than a simple bass line here and there. So all the shorter synth sounds are his and I did the longer ones, haha. And indeed, the world is in a different place than when we did Atavistic Future – which was sort of this pro-active concept about reimagining our ideal future, in some sort of retro-futuristic vibe. After the Fall is conceptually a nod to the idea of just observing something drifting into the void. But it comes down to the same thing – you can’t control most of the events around you, but you can control your own reaction to it.
J Hubner: The foundation of Videodrones sound from the beginning was woozy VHS horror scores, but it seems you guys started expanding that early on. After The Fall really opens the doors with the addition of your live drumming and guitar.
What were the conversations like between you and Kristoffer regarding how you two wanted the new album to sound and feel? From Mondo Ferox to Nattens Haevn to Atavistic Future there were shifts and evolutions of sound, the biggest shift being between Nattens Haevn and Atavistic Future.
Jakob Skøtt: I think we’d achieved what we wanted with the first two records, being a homage to the synth scores we love, and then the project needed to develop in one way or another. But we didn’t talk about it, besides “hey I got this new sequencer” and “hey, maybe I should play the drums, now that we’re going into the studio”. With the new album we started trying to dub it separately, with first a synth bass part, then the drums, then additional synths – but Jonas suggested that we just do it as a jam, and of course that was much more easy flowing and organic sounding. Rather than think of it as a linear evolution, I think of it as exploring different angles of the same thing.
J Hubner: “Scorpio” lets you know right out of the gate you two are adding new vibes to the Videodrones canon with an almost upbeat feel. Lighter in mood. But then something like “Frygtens Time” really locks into the dark and eerie vibes of the early days. There’s almost a pop sensibility. I absolutely love it. “Irgendwo-Irgendwann” locks into some folk horror moods with flute, vibes, and an almost dream-like feel. And “Inferno Verde”? Man, it’s like acid-burnt Miles, Mwandishi-era Hancock,and Popol Vuh. Seriously far out stuff. What were some influences going into the writing sessions?
Jakob Skøtt: Thanks! I think it was pretty important to not just have a whole record of synth arpeggios and drums going on forever, so we sort of dove into the varied palette that combo can cover – sort of like a soundtrack that jumps back and forth between genres has it’s own charm. But yeah, all these influences you mention are in there – it feels like the first Videodrones record not subscribing to mainly just one genre.
J Hubner: I got the feeling that with Atavistic Future Videodrones was really stepping further away from the creepy vibes. It felt more like a straight up Berlin School outing. But After The Fall sounds, to my ears, like a more natural progression. The sound is expanding with added instrumentation and a lighter mood, but there’s still that feeling of wobbly electronics that sort of put you off balance. Was there an intention between you two to sort of go a different direction with album number three?
Jakob Skøtt: The main thing with Atavistic Future came down to 2 things: We used a different sequencer and I used some synth I hadn’t played with before from Jonas’s studio: A Korg Monologue and a Moog Opus 3. So that gave some distinctly different sounds other than my preferred synth at home. So it’s always like we’re throwing all these things up in the air while improvising, and you have to catch them afterwards, and that’s just how the pieces fell. But with the new one, I just had the drums and Kristoffer’s synths, so it was easier to throw my arsenal at home on top. And then afterwards also adding some guitars and samples we havn’t used before. I tried to use as little synth as possible, also using mallets, shakers and other stuff for the sequences, as well as treatments of various sources. I would sample a guitar and change it into a drone, change the pitch, etc. Also, I had a few ideas with mallets already recorded, which I envisioned to turn into a whole album (with the working title “Euclidean Ensemble”, because they were based on the forever intertwining Euclidean sequences in different time signatures) but it never happened, so they could be added as shorter interludes. So we had to record fewer ideas the day we were tracking the drums, just focusing on the stuff that worked, and throwing away the stuff that didn’t.
J Hubner: Speaking of added instrumentation, I was honestly pretty thrilled with hearing your drums show up for this record. I can’t help but get that feeling I got listening to your solo work, like Amor Fati, Taurus Rising, and All The Colours Of The Dust. That combination of bubbly synth and live drums checks all the boxes for me. They are a perfect fit for Videodrones’ musical world. The shimmering guitars are also a great addition. Going in did you know you wanted to expand the instrumentation this time around?
Jakob Skøtt: Yes! I hadn’t done stuff like that for a few years, instead I’ve been focusing on more of an astral jazz vibe with Causa Sui as well as my work in my duo and trio work with Martin Rude and the London Odense Ensemble record we’ve got coming up. The main difference here being that with the synths you’re playing to a click, so you can’t drag or increase the tempo just because there’s a big climax. So it’s much more disciplined, at least for me, and much harder, because I never really practised with a click. But it’s fun to try it, because it informs a different kind of playing. More muscular in some way, but also the way you can drift around the tempo that’s a constant. Sort of going in and out of the sequences.
J Hubner: Going back and listening to the first three Videodrones records and then deep diving into After The Fall I feel like you and Kristoffer have successfully transcended your sound. As you stated, you did what you set out to do with the first two records regarding capturing the vibe of those old horror scores. You changed things up a bit with album three, then with album four it’s a perfect mixture of everything while paving a new direction and future for Videodrones. Where do you see the project evolving to next? Or is it less thought out than that? It just goes where it goes?
Jakob Skøtt: I always get really excited when starting a project and then when it’s over, I’ve worn it out: “never again!”. Right now I feel like Videodrones is in a good place with this album – we even talked about playing some more improved live shows, so I think it would be something more casual than making a new album next. Or we’ll just dwell for a year or two and then make another album I guess.
J Hubner: So last year was El Paraiso Records ten year anniversary as a label. Given we were still in the midst of the chaos that was Covid, there wasn’t much fanfare made of that milestone. Pressing plants were months behind and live shows were still few and far between. Had you and Jonas considered some kind of celebration for the label that was sidelined thanks to the pandemic? I feel the label is more than worthy of a celebration, especially given what El Paraiso Records has meant to me since I stumbled upon its universe back in 2013.
Looking back, how do you feel about what the label has accomplished in its first decade?
Jakob Skøtt: We had talked about some plans, and I had sketched sort of a list of outtakes and live recordings that we could use, but I’m not sure it happening or not had anything to do with Covid. The label was always meant to spark new creative collaborations. We want to be active, putting together a recording or concept, getting the artwork and master done, etc. We parted with Kanaan and Mythic Sunship, the same way we parted with Papir once they started taking more creative control of their own bands – we didn’t really add anything to the party any longer. So it would have been a kind of shallow compilation if we had to leave the bands that left out. Plus I think we’re finding our way back to the roots of the label. We did the session with London Odense Ensemble, the first volume of which is coming out this summer, which are sort of an echo of the Chicago Odense Ensemble and Causa Sui: Pewt’r Sessions days which started the label. And that feels like the right direction to take. We’re lucky in the sense that we don’t NEED to put out a certain number of new records – so 2021 ended up being just a handful of reissues, and that’s perfectly fine. Also, I think it’s a bit self indulgent to have a birthday for your record label. Our heads are swollen enough as it is by all your praise, John. But yeah, we’ll probably do a cloth bound book at 20 years!
You’re hearing it here first, Complex Distractions will be celebrating the first
10 11 years of El Paraiso Records with a week’s worth of revisiting some of my favorite albums the label has bestowed upon us. This will be happening sometime in April, so don’t touch that dial.
Videodrones’ ‘After The Fall’ will arrive 4/29 on El Paraiso Records. It’ll be available directly from El Paraiso Records, Cargo Records(UK), and Forced Exposure(US). Look for preorders over at El Paraiso first week or April.