A Conversation with clang’s Lars from Mars

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Lars Graugaard, whose artistic alias is Lars from Mars, is a composer, producer, label owner, and performer to boot, working in genres ranging from electronica to contemporary classical, jazz, and interactive music.

Graugaard’s label, clang, was originally established in his home country of Denmark, though he spends the year working and residing in various parts of the world, including Chile, New York, and Spain. While clang’s business model is experimental, its music is not always; the label’s 40+ releases run the gamut from electro-pop to electro-acoustic. With the philosophy of “trying to create something consistent and sensuous in this saturated world that we live in,” clang’s focus is on commitment and quality, eschewing “typical marketing mechanisms,” and obvious genre classifications. The label’s open curatorial approach and inclusive, collaborative structure helps new and seasoned artists alike to realize their more adventurous, perhaps riskier musical endeavors.

As an artist himself, Graugaard keeps up a hefty creative and performance schedule including a variety of collaborative interactive works and a role as Visiting Faculty Artist at New York University. I caught up with Lars during his last few days in Chile for the year, to discuss the ins and outs of running an intimate, international record label.

 

Discobres: Is it clang (klăng) or clang (kläng)? 

Lars Graugaard: It’s “clang” like the English word. It’s neither Hispanic nor Danish in origin. It means timbre, or sound. It’s like energy of the “clang!”, but there’s no particular genre connected to it. And the “cl” and the clang.cl work together as well.

You’re operating clang between Denmark and Chile?

Yeah, it’s a Danish label but we have Chilean, American, European artists. The label started when I began doing recordings at the Steinhardt School of Music at NYU. I was doing jam sessions in which I’d invite six or seven jazz musicians into the studio while I was in the control room jamming on my computer. I recorded it, and edited it, and I had a couple of these recordings. I tried starting a label with some Danish friends, but it didn’t work out.

So I decided to set up my own label, like a commercial label with promotion and production, except that the releases are co-produced. So artists give me their material and they have to pay ta bit for promotion, but it’s not much. In exchange, they get real reviews, airtime, and information that they can use as promotional material.

Now that there are so many artists involved, the label is beginning to become known. In three years, I’ve have more than 40 releases.

I noticed that you’ve had a ton of releases and they’re all quite different stylistically. Is there a common thread between the artists or releases?

Yes, but it’s not genre and that’s clear. It’s more about an artist that’s looking for something, and that there’s a commitment to what they’re doing.

So it’s more about the process than the product.

Well it’s also about the product, because the process should lead to a product that reflects it. So you may have somebody that has very good intentions but it doesn’t show in the product.

So I often end up in dialogue…one artist sent me a master and I told them, “This is great music but the master and the mix doesn’t do it justice.” As you know some artists are very proud of their work, so I have to be careful to explain in exactly the right way how it could be better. And I have to do so with a very specific argument, with a fortified opinion that will lead to a better sound.

That makes you kind of like the executive producer then. 

Yes, in a way. But to me it’s just like a dialogue with a friend. So if a friend wants an opinion, I’m happy to give it on the condition that in the end they do what they want.

It’s a balance as the label owner and friend, telling people that it’s good and could be better, but that it’s not yet viable as a release. I think part of becoming a good producer is being able to say those things to an artist. And being an artist yourself must help as well. 

It helps to have a vocabulary, because some people know what they like, but can’t take the idea from what they like or what they feel to expressing it vocally.

Have you noticed that as electronic music has proliferated, there are increasing opportunities to bring these sounds into a public consciousness?

I think the shows are attracting more audiences each time. When I’m here doing more or less the same stuff, there’s a larger crowd and in better venues. And it’s easier now to go into a dance floor setting and do some crazy stuff, and people don’t leave you.

Sometimes you have to start with something familiar in order to push people out their comfort zones. Or just play lots of noise.

To me, music is an ecosystem. It’s a situation of someone performing this thing, in that context, in that city, on that day of the week, to these people, at that time, in these moods, in this space. So there are many things that go into inviting people into something. When performing I try to adapt to the space and the boundaries, to invite people in, and then to play with them a bit.

When I played in Valparaíso, there was a DJ playing records before me. I immediately felt that there was quite a step from what he was doing to what I was doing, and people are thinking, “What’s going to happen now?” But they stayed, and they were patient, and didn’t worry. Once the room warms up, people forget what they heard before and begin to pay attention. And then you begin to take them places and they follow the trips.

“When performing, I try to adapt to the space and the boundaries, to invite people in, and then to play with them a bit.”

You can’t be self-conscious in that moment. You have to be confident in your ability to perceive the reactions that people have to music. Otherwise you end up alienating the audience while trying to recover from the shift in energy. 

And you need to know what goes into dance floor music, you need to know how it works, and then you can begin to change it from the inside. There are some rules that you need to follow. So maybe you don’t want to use a big kick [drum], but you have to use something else in its absence. And then you begin to do something valuable for the genre without even thinking about it, while you’re playing with the rules.

What do you think of the Chilean electronic music scene?

I think it’s quite rich, and very interesting. And it’s also very fragile, because there is little money and the venues are not very caring, which means that there is change all the time. You see things coming up and going away all the time.

Artists are very focused on what’s going on in the United States, in Berlin, in Argentina, without always having an appreciation for what they have here. And that’s in part why I’m doing clang, because I don’t agree with that at all.

I actually think the Chilean scene is more interesting than the Danish scene. The Danish scene is weak because it’s so close to Berlin and doesn’t have much room for experimentation. Yes, there’s the hype, but if you take the hype away and listen to what’s happening, I think the Chilean scene is much richer.

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“I’m not Danish. I’m half Danish, half Chilean, and half New Yorker.”

How long have you been coming to Chile? 

The first time I came here was ’84, so during the dictatorship. I was here in ’89 a week after they voted “no” for the continuation of the dictatorship, and since the early 90s I’ve been coming every year.

So I’m not Danish. I’m half Danish, half Chilean, and I’m half New Yorker. I’m in New York for a few weeks twice a year, but when I’m there it immediately feels like my place. There are so many people there from so many different countries that nobody really tries to become something local, but can retain their own culture.

You’re a global citizen.

I never thought it would come about like this. I’m happy to be doing something useful for Chilean artists, but it’s not just for Chile. For that layer of musicians there’s a…I wouldn’t say a “need,” but when you approach people, they say, “Oh, I actually have these things that I never found an opportunity to release.”

I’m actually releasing Miguel Frasconi from New York, who works with glass as a sound source. He’s been working for many years and has worked with John Cage, so he has a particularly North American approach to contemporary classical music.  And Hans Tammen who’s a German artist and Satoshi Takeishi from Japan, and they had a joint piece last year. It’s great music but they need a place to release their stuff. And Gregory Taylor as well, who’s connected to Cycling ’74. It’s all different people with different personalities and sensibilities, so it’s really interesting.

What are the difficulties of running clang?

Getting a good distributor in the U.S.[laughs]

Speaking of distribution, there’s no vinyl plant here in Chile, and I wonder how a national plant could have an effect on the music culture. But then again, the netlabel culture here is huge.

Yeah, I think [vinyl] would be good for Chilean artists to be able to look at themselves and not look to labels outside of the country.

But [netlabels] are how I started here. Equipo told me about Pueblo Nuevo, and I hadn’t done any electronic music at that point. I spoke with Mika Martini in 2009, and we decided to release something.

I always say that I owe everything to Pueblo Nuevo, clang is like a subsidiary of Pueblo Nuevo [laughs]. The thing about Pueblo Nuevo and clang is that we have the same vision in content, but we do it in very different ways. Mika keeps it creative commons, and I use the commercial channels.

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Well, there’s something to be said of an entire community that offers music for free. It’s obviously not the most profitable model, but it is democratizing art in a way.

It is, and I think it serves a real purpose up to a certain point, and when you get to that point, you need to go for something else.

Do you intend on trying this model in other countries?

It really depends on who I bump into. Every now and then I get someone that asks me about a release–it’s natural growth. But I can’t see that it will change. I can’t see the label becoming a commercial success, but that also isn’t the intention.

And it would change the way you approach the releases.

I’d require people to do certain things, and that’s not what it’s about. And that’s why clang releases are co-production ventures, because people put in their money and may not get it back. But they do it because the content is important, and they can use the results to get exposure somewhere else in their careers.

And these artists have other projects going on. It seems like clang is an opportunity to release perhaps less accessible records by artists who work in other domains. And there’s also less pressure to make it into something particular from the outset.

I don’t think the artists have much pressure since they have an artistic vision they want to fulfill. They need space to do it, but they don’t have the pressure of someone telling them to what to do.✌

The next Lars from Mars album, Presectwill be released on June 17, 2016.

2 comments

  1. KAT says:

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