The Field of Sublime Dreams
Sweden's The Field in conversation in advance of his Nocturne 4 showcase
Dimitri Nasrallah - May 27, 2008
By Dimitri Nasrallah
THE FIELD performs with his new live band at NOCTURNE 4 (Saturday, May 31, Metropolis) in a North American premiere.
In recent weeks, Axel Willner (aka The Field) has found himself courting music news for reasons he couldn’t have anticipated. The suddenly bankable success-story of 2007 attempts to launch a proper North American tour with a new live band, only to learn on the eve of his departure that his band mates Andreas Söderström and Dan Enqvist wouldn’t be allowed into the United States. The cancellation of an entire West coast tour followed.
Details as to why so many dates had to be canceled and what exactly is going on in The Field’s camp are sketchy and no one’s saying much publicly, but as fortunes would prevail, North America’s losses have provided a coup fro Montrealers and MUTEK attendees. By the time The Field live band hits MUTEK stages this Saturday to headline the NOCTURNE 4 party at the Metropolis, it will be for a North American premiere.
Though, despite this touring hiccup, Sweden’s The Field still holds a very enviable position in a global music community that has the potential these days to be as fragmented as it can be viral. His heavily looped approach to neo-trance has refitted a genre typically embellished by epic narratives, he has the respect of serious followers of niche-driven dance music that often appear to operate independently from the rest of the world, and he also has more populist and rock-oriented audiences in his pocket as well. Furthermore, he has what very few of electronic music’s biggest names want: the critical adulation of a rock-centric North American press and its following.
It’s no easy feat to break North America with an album that’s as heavily reliant on loops, texture, and machinery as “From Here We Go Sublime”. Certainly The Field has been granted a few very lucky breaks along the way, but he has also brought along the talent to make good on new opportunities, not to mention the years of experience that come from the staff at Kompakt, his label, to guide him.
In anticipation of his MUTEK appearance, MUTEKMAG got in touch with this festival highlight to discuss his unexpected career thus far.
You're based in Stockholm, a city has over the years presented a steady stream of musical talent to the international scene. How was it growing up there, and how and when did you find your way into music?
Music has always been around me. Not that I come from a musical family, but I’ve always been interested in music and the people I’ve gotten to know were like-minded. So, we started in our teens using the punk influences of the music we were into at the time. And then it kept on going, new music, new people and music around me influenced new directions.
Your catalogue before From Here We Go Sublime consists of two singles and a few remixes. When did you decide to start making electronic music in this distinct style, and how hard was it getting to a position where you were satisfied with the outcome?
I made music that was slightly electronic before The Field as well, so the new turn for me was very natural and I was pretty much satisfied directly with the outcome. “Sun & Ice” was the third track I ever made as The Field, but then The Field was only a thing I played around with at home by myself and didn’t really play for anyone else. Then an old girlfriend really got hooked on a track, and I decided to make something out of it.
The Field's sound is very particular. Could you describe how tracks begin for you, and what you bring to the production to achieve your goals? When do you know a track is ready? What criteria have to be there?
It begins in my head, often hearing a track and building up a new arrangement in my mind. Then I sit down and chop and stew around it until I have it the way I like. Then I add stuff to it, beats, synths, guitar and other instruments. And I make the different parts kind of separately and, after that, I mix it all live. It is usually the first take and I don’t like getting back to mixes because that usually destroys it all. I like to keep the original feeling that I have from the first time. So that is somewhat the criteria.
Was Kompakt the first label you approached with your demo, or were there others? How hard was it for you to get started with releasing music?
This might sound bad, but Kompakt was the only label I sent music to, and they liked it right away, so I guess it was easy for me. I once sent music to Kranky but under another moniker. Thoose two labels that I’ve ever sent my music to.
What was the general feeling from friends, colleagues, etc about "From Here We Go Sublime" before it was released?
The response was good. It kept the same feeling as the two first 12’s. I was kind of secretive with the album before it was released. A few had heard it all, but not as an album in whole.
Your album was one of the most critically lauded recordings of 2007. What are the advantages and disadvantages of so much attention?
One bad thing is that people do expect more now than they did before, things that I can’t live up to or even should try to live up to. And, of course, there are all the naysayers as well that always have to ventilate their opinions and that goes for the ones that like the music as well, as I said in the beginning. Its good with press, but I try not to read too much of it and not to depend on it.
How has your relationship with Kompakt changed since you've become one of their biggest sellers of all time?
We have the same relationship still. One thing that did change is that they are managing me now as well, and they didn´t do that before.
Why the decision to start a live band for The Field? Who is in it, how long have you known them, and how do you pull off the replication of such loop-based music with instruments?
I’ve had the idea for a while to make the live performances a bit more alive and improvised. It sounds better, and it offers more to both the audience and me. The band is two old friends who are multi-instrumentalists and who I just asked and they were up for it. It’s Andreas Söderström on synth, bass and guitar, and Dan Enqvist on acoustic drums, electronic drums and bass. There’s still a big part of electronics in it. We use samplers instead of laptop and a lot of effects. So its a mix between electronic and acoustic.
You were all ready to start a North American tour last month, only to be denied entry into the U.S. What happened to lead to that decision? Does it change the way you go about the business side of your career?
Sorry, but I’ll pass on this one.
What can we expect next from the Field? Is there a new album in the works?
This summer will be all about touring, but after that in autumn I will start making new music and hopefully do some collaborations with interesting musicians. I’m working on some remixes alongside the touring.