LEON LEDER has released a new tape called “Earth Walk With Me”. Under the stage name ASFAST, the Graz native has been digging through dark niches of the Viennese electronic scene for years. LEDER has released records on VENTIL RECORDS and most recently on the German gloom music label DENOVALI. “Earth Walk With Me” indeed does not step out of line as a 23-minute colossus. Instead of looking into the inferno, one is looking into the abyss, burrowing through the underground, feeling the earth under one’s fingernails. Why Miley Cyrus should be listened to attentively, why gimmickry in music is okay and how your own voice can sound, ASFAST explains it all in a conversation with Christoph Benkeser.
Your latest release is called “Earth Walk With Me.” A title that allows for many connotations from Twin Peaks to climate politics.
Leon Leder: “Fire Walk With Me” has always been a fascinating phrase, yet I’m not a big Twin Peaks fan at all. I also hate heat. So fire doesn’t interest me at all. Still, I’ve never been able to get the phrase “Fire Walk With Me” out of my head. When I think of titles for pieces, I play with things I know, I swap terms and words, I try things out. At some point I came up with the variation “Earth Walk With Me” – that fit my music exactly.
The earthy stuff …
Leon Leder: Exactly, earth brings something cool and mysterious along. Fire also has something magical about it. Regarding earth though, it’s something subtly magical, not so obviously romantic. That coincides with my music. I also like the ambiguity of the sentence. I conceive it as an invitation to the world to follow me on this meditative trip.
Earth is often not perceived in comparison to fire, although it’s permanently around us.
Leon Leder: You have to dig into earth if you want to find something in it. Fire comes to you – at least potentially. The characteristics of earth can be applied to my music in a much better way.
It is digging into music.
Leon Leder: At least the new tape, yes! It won’t grab you immediately and in a song kind of way, but rather in a moody way. As with all my pieces though, you have to contribute a part of it yourself and invest of your own accord if you want to get anything out of it. “Earth Walk With Me” is not music you’d listen to on the side.
“IF I’M NOT LISTENING ATTENTIVELY, I DON’T CARE ABOUT MUSIC”
You have to want to get involved.
Leon Leder: I do consume music almost exclusively in that way. Sure, when friends drop by my place, I turn something on in the background. But in those situations I’m not really interested in what it is. If I’m not listening attentively, I don’t care about music. Therefore, yes: my listening is done in a conscious way. Even when it’s pop music. Whether I’m listening to the new Miley Cyrus single or a Colin Stetson album doesn’t matter, as long as it happens attentively.
By now, one could almost have forgotten to listen to music consciously.
Leon Leder: When I produce music, the starting point is myself and my way of listening – conscious listening.
That’s the opposite of commodity music that runs in the background as ambient muzak. I don’t mean Brian Eno waiting room ambient, but music as ever-present background noise.
Leon Leder: You could even say that every second pop number that is played on the radio is an ambient track – because nobody is listening anyway.
Pop music as the real ambient music.
Leon Leder: It shouldn’t stand out too much at all and rather remain in the background.
That’s why there are still companies around that supply supermarkets with music. Individualized music that is supposed to control purchasing behavior. That may sound a bit pessimistic, but: Nobody is taking time for music anymore.
Leon Leder: To make it or to listen to it?
To listen, I would say. “Earth Walk With Me”, at more than 23 minutes, is also a commitment. You won’t listen to it by chance.
Leon Leder: Politically speaking, my approach of listening attentively opposes other approaches. There is no concept behind it. It just made perfect sense that way.
When are you reaching this point of meaningfulness?
Leon Leder: In actual fact, it’s four to six sketches. I often compose in such a way that I turn on the mic, start a recording and play around with synthesizers or wind instruments. 90 percent of the stuff I never use. Still, sound material accumulates. If I start layering different parts of it, there are ways I can go forward step by step. Different synth tracks can be combined with drum tracks from other sources. The tape is a recording of a live set, somehow. An album that works as a whole but would be interrupted by dissimilar tracks would have no appeal to me. Even with streaming providers, you always get short interruptions between tracks. I didn’t want that.
At a time when pieces are getting shorter and shorter because of the streaming economy, that’s the countercurrent.
Leon Leder: I like it, though. On my last album, “The Prime Same,” I could have started doing that. For my upcoming records I will continue with this concept and push single numbers together. It’s a good compromise for my music. The silence is getting lost.
It’s getting lost?
Leon Leder: I think silence is beautiful – even within a track. However, it has occurred more often in my live sets than on my albums.
Silence creates a break for me that carries something anticipatory in it and irritates at the same time.
Leon Leder: Silence also has something pragmatic. What comes after silence has more power. That’s gimmickry, and I absolutely stick by it.
Not everything has to be so subtle.
Leon Leder: In my music, a lot happens in a subtle way anyway. Sometimes a sensational effect is needed.
But that rarely happens with you!
Leon Leder: If you’re using it in a sparsely manner, the moments can be very strong. Around 2016 though, the same moments of silence appeared in every post-club track. And it was so boring! Using silence as a stylistic device is not the point.
The post-club label was stuck on everything for a while. I don’t know if that did the music any good.
Leon Leder: At a certain point it was off-putting. I never thought that the term was appropriate. Music that was called post-club or deconstructed was actually club music. If the break is repeated in every bar, it’s not deconstructed after all! Post-club is after the club.
Still, it determines the reference to the club.
Leon Leder: Exactly, sound and atmosphere come from the club! From that point of view, the term fits my music.
One will find more deconstruction in it than in the entire 2016 vintage. But the phenomenon of the post-club has disappeared now, hasn’t it?
Leon Leder: You could also look at it the other way round: The deconstructed thing has slipped into the mainstream. Records by Sophie or Charlie XCX have millions of clicks. On the other hand, the sound was always there. I recently revisited M.I.A. – she was producing post-club music before anyone was even shouting the word post-club.
So it’s always been there. In other interpretations.
Leon Leder: Yes, what was new about the post-club designation was the political aspect. Compared to dubstep or drum’n’bass parties, there was a stronger diversity reference. Post-club was deliberately inclusive.
I hadn’t thought about it that way. But you’re right: Post-Club was an intermediate step towards opening up the club to these issues.
Leon Leder: It triggered discussions that are now being thought about. You no longer have to book post-club acts to make diversity an issue.
Post-Club as a gate-opener.
Leon Leder: We’re still talking about a niche. The theory has evolved, but the practice is lagging behind: There was still too much sexualized violence in clubs before the pandemic broke out.
That’s one of the problem areas that the new DJ union in Vienna wants to tackle. Now, however, I wouldn’t want to drift off too far thematically and continue talking about you. After all, at least since you were signed to the German label Denovali, you took a step away from what was called post-club.
Leon Leder: You could draw a curve from the split EP with Peter Kutin, which appeared on Ventil in 2015, to today. The approach was the same – the instrumentation and arrangement have changed. In the beginning, I still worked with the beat pattern, but moved further and further away from it. That catapulted me out of the club realm. As far as the vibe goes, it hasn’t changed that much, though .
“THEY WEREN’T BANGERS IN THE CLASSIC SENSE”
The vibe has always been more about abyss than picking flowers! But letting go of the beat comes along with a dissolution of boundaries, doesn’t it?
Leon Leder: Originally I come from metal-music, but electronically I started in the noise and breakcore scene. Back then I used weird time signatures like 7/8 or 7/4 … That was fun for me as a drummer. Also, I still had the idea that the club was changing in a way so that you could play slow club music. Anyway, that was the idea at the back of my mind for sticking to the beat. With “Altar”, which came out in 2018, I hit the shit head-on for the last time. After that, the straight bars disappeared from my music.
Because the club wasn’t that relevant anymore?
Leon Leder: The tracks on “Altar” were still supposed to work in post-club sets. Interestingly, they were mostly used as intros or outros instead. So they weren’t bangers in the classic sense.
You never produced the peak-time banger.
Leon Leder: I will never produce conventional bangers. That’s not my thing, that’s what others do. My work has always been more slowed down, especially in terms of the vibe.
Which has also always been noisy.
Leon Leder: But I’m singing on “Earth Walk With Me” for the first time. Did you notice that there’s a vocal part in the middle?
No, not at all.
Leon Leder: No one has noticed that yet. While everyone who was into noise before, now is starting to sing, I included it in my way. Not like Arca or Visionist, but Asfast style.
[Leon stands up to play the track]
Now that you mention it, I’m hearing it, of course!
Leon Leder: Yes, there’s something to it, isn’t there? I’m not orienting myself with the voice by any scale, but am trying to sing notes that don’t fit together at all – and yet are notes that fit together all the same.
They are fighting against the rest of the instrumentation.
Leon Leder: Well, to make them harmonize with each other is my goal. You can play five notes à la Stockhausen that obviously don’t fit together. But you can also play five notes that don’t fit together, but play them in such a way that they harmonize after all. To let things take their course is what it’s all about for me.
This course of things comes from the voice?
Leon Leder: I recorded the percussions of the piece in my room – on children’s drums, with extreme compression and guitar effect-devices scattered all over the floor. I jammed with my hands and feet, humming along to it all as I went on. The compression was so strong that the mics picked up the humming.
The acoustic imperfection as harmony of the course of things, so to speak.
Leon Leder: It came out of necessity. I wanted a melody at the same time as these weird sounds. That’s why I sang.
And that’s why your voice fits in so inconspicuously.
Leon Leder: To let disharmony harmonize is my biggest interest in production now. I’m really happy with the tape. It’s almost free: no beat, no particular key … but it harmonizes.
You are cutting through all the composition’s safety nets and still are falling safely.
Leon Leder: I never wanted to be punk against any concept, but aimed for the music to sound aesthetical within the discordant antithesis. If I want to dissolve the beat, the key and the harmony, I want it to take you along and embrace you at the same time. I hardly know this from other music projects, but with “Earth Walk With Me” I succeeded.
That is the tension between movement and non-movement. You can approach it sonically. But it’s also fun to look for theoretical depth in it.
Leon Leder: That is important to many, but I never paid attention to that. Nevertheless, I know it from other areas: When I see paintings or sculptures at an exhibition, I often get more out of them if the artist briefly explains to me what he or she was thinking when creating them.
A work of art rarely speaks for itself. The way one looks at it and reads it not only allows for its meaning to emerge, but also helps to construct it.
Leon Leder: Although I always wanted the music to be able to function in a completely non-cerebral way. That it needs a different approach in its kind of niche, is what I’m becoming aware of, more and more. After all, I don’t want my music to be inaccessible. It should be heard. That’s why I’m moving further and further away from the idea that my music has to be perceived the way I conceived it. That’s an illusion.
Maybe even impossible.
Leon Leder: The way I’m hearing a Miley Cyrus song is different. No one is hearing it the way I do.
Nevertheless, it’s Miley Cyrus who is singing, so she’s conveying a generally understandable content and is acting as a subject – and I’m not claiming that the lyrics in her songs are what it’s all about.
Leon Leder: The thing about the missing subject … that’s the feedback I get from my live shows. It does matter if I’m on stage or not. But what I’m doing there doesn’t matter at all. It would be very different with a voice. People interact with it differently. That’s why I’m thinking about playing wind instruments in my shows in the future.
That’s a step towards the audience.
Leon Leder: On the album “The Prime Same” I already collaborated with Oskar May. Moving away a bit from electronics and more towards analog instruments would still be a challenge for me. That’s why you might hear a French horn in my tracks soon. For the moment, though, that’s still a long way off.
The pure laptop acts are also disappearing again …
Leon Leder: Yes, I can already see a trend towards acoustic sounds, even if I’m not following it. The stronger focus on acoustic sound sources is simply the logical consequence of my work over the last years.
Thanks for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld