A chat with Caribou – psychedelic Canadian electro music

von Ron Wilson

How was it to play at a venue like Berghain? Was it your choice to play there?

It was suggested to us and I was just like “Yeah, that is perfect!” because it lines up with what’s going on musically on the album and I have been there before. It is just such a special place with a special sonic environment. I was a bit hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure if it would work as a live venue and if we would be able to hear everything on stage but in the end it was fantastic.

I was surprised about your live setup. I saw laptops on stage and wondered how much is already prearranged for the live show due to the amount of sounds in the tracks and how much is improvised?

The laptops are there for samples which are triggered by drums or my synthesizer for example. We definitely did everything possible to get away from having the idea of playing over top of a backing track. So therefore we do play along spontaneously, making it as we go along and that was the most important thing for me. The album is more electronic and being able to play live in an unpredicatble and spontaneous way has always been a problem for electronic music.

What about the visuals at the show? They seem to be nearly too perfect for your show considering that you improvise a lot.

It is Ryan Smith, the guitarist, who designs it all and we trigger the videos live therefore the visuals are integrated to the music. Most of the time Ryan is playing it live via pedals. The visuals are based on the album artwork of photographer and friend Jason Evans who has been responsible for all of my artworks in the past and also of Four Tet’s artwork.

The press mentions the word “psychedelic” a lot when it comes to describing your productions. What makes your sound psychedelic in your opinion?

I am not always sure what they mean but I associate not so much the drug culture but more like the idea of using effects and the studio itself to create a world of sounds. 60s psychedelic music used the studio as an instrument and obtained that possibility to paint this kind of world of sounds. And it doesn’t matter from when the music is, if it’s 90s rock like Mercury Rev or The Flaming Lips. It is about incorporating this diverse sound and I guess those are the kind of things that I would maybe see as psychedelic in the music that I make.

Did you change your style of making music over the years or even consciously looked at your productions at a different angle?

There were a couple of conscious things I wanted to change. The thing that ties the whole album together for me anyway is this idea of making fluid sounding electronic dance music where all the elements are kind of always behave like a wave going from one ear to another or the pitch or volume go up and down. I like dance music for its repetition but if you have all these different elements repeating but also moving around it gives a sense of liquid movement. That was the whole production idea for the new album “Swim”. The other thing was to make the album sound as much like me and identify able as possible and not to rely on using sounds that I love from the past or other people’s music. I have been excited by lots of dance music in the last couple of years but I consciously didn’t let that influence me. I didn’t want to incorporate these contemporary things and the idea was to push as far possible every sound as being my own in some sense and staking my musical territory.

You studied mathematics. Could you explain what you doctor papers where about?

I am afraid it is impossible to explain. I mean it is not applicable to anything because it is totally abstract. I like it so much because it is so unconnected to the world and it is entirely just a formal but creative and abstract study. I mean it was in some way related to a big theory that was proven in the 90s and it became a very popular piece of mathematics because it brought a whole new area of studies in number theories. Sorry, I just can’t describe it.

Coming from a family of mathematicians and studying the subject that implies rules and numbers is your music therefore a natural result of releasing a different even more organic side of you? How much math is in your songs?

People have the wrong perception of mathematics. It is more creative, imaginative and spontaneous than people think. Traditionally, it has been considered as one of the arts rather than one of the science and that indicates something about it. I don’t know if that is accurate but it is much more imaginative, creative and spontaneous than chemistry or accounting for example. That is the reason both of those things appeal to me. They are not the same. Music is more emotional. But I use the combination of both elements in my music meaning that I use my instincts and emotions in my arrangements but also precise logic and the element of craft meaning the knowledge about frequencies or mixing for example. It is a balance between both that makes my sound what it is.


Interview Ron Wilson

Illustration Steffan Larsson

Ron Wilson

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