Jurij DOBRIAKOV | Archaic Industry

Although folk music in Lithuania is occasionally equated with a certain conservatism and retrograde provincialism, it holds a very strong position – perhaps stronger than in many other countries, where the archaic ethnic tradition has become merely a decorative accessory or a museum asset. Here, it is the basis of national cultural identity which provides continuity, uniqueness, and tenacity. Excessive and restrictive attachment to monolithic homogeneous identities and images can indeed become a hindrance rather than an engine in today’s world, but there is no denying that the kind of vitality echoing from the depths of ages in Lithuania is hard to come by in most other places. Especially having in mind that this vitality does not necessarily have to acquire a simulative, reconstructionist, or decorative form, in an attempt to anachronistically revive something of the past, a pastoral pagan Baltic idyl or an abandoned homestead.

The several recent decades have seen a thriving somewhat secretive and small, yet strong and close-knit musical scene whose members invent their own ritualistic methods of weaving together an evasive archaic sensibility with an industrial or post-industrial electronic sound aesthetic. This scene inhabits small underground events, self-released limited edition records, and festivals dedicated to contemporary Baltic culture. While the ‘electronic music + folk’ scheme and the mixing of an electronic base with samples of traditional singing seems commonplace, these artists do something quite different. Their work contains almost no direct appropriations of folk music, but ephemeral ties with the place and its timeless spirit are ample. A profound feeling for the place they breathe in (and that includes places other than the Lithuanian capital or other big cities) is a necessary condition of their music, just as it was for their ancestors since times immemorial. Hence, their sound is nothing other than true contemporary Lithuanian electric folk music, which celebrates the world of today where old groves coexist with archipelagos of reinforced concrete modernist ruins, and electric currents feed a new tribal affinity. The most active part of this scene is showcased in the compilation Note Lithuania: Beyond Folk, released by Music Lithuania in autumn 2016. Here you can read a conversation with some of the most prolific purveyors of archaically industrial sound: Daina Pupkevičiūtė (Daina Dieva), Vytenis Eitminavičius (Skeldos), Povilas Vaitkevičius (Vilkduja, Oorchach), Audrius Šimkūnas (Sala), Laurynas Jukonis (Girnų Giesmės, NULIS:S:S:S), and Mindaugas Suchockas (Sovijus).

Jurij Dobriakov: In Lithuania we often hear that the surviving local ethnic tradition is very archaic – e. g. we have supposedly the oldest Indo-European language, well-documented old songs and rituals, a preserved pagan Baltic pantheon, nominally Christian festivals which nevertheless have a solid pagan core, and in general a continuous (Baltic) ethnic identity that has not been lost in spite of all the cultural occupations. Does this persistence of the ancient past in the present help today’s artists evolve, or does it constrain and shackle them to entrenched forms and a kind of ‘legitimised’ notion of folklore?

Daina Pupkevičiūtė: The archaic past is not really my theme, guide, or anchor, thus it does not constrain, direct, or oppress me. I am not interested in reconstructed traditions, and a lot of what falls under the umbrella of folk and neofolk seems artificial to me, perhaps because those things belong to a different time and space, and they look out of place when implanted in the present.

Still, when I read some of my texts, I realise that they grow out of this – so-called Baltic – worldview, and contain its recognisable symbols, motifs, narratives. This is inevitable, because I am here, and my texts and sounds are an amalgam of various nations’ folktales, sagas, myths and legends I have read, songs and chants I have heard and sung, images I have seen, things I have thought and felt, dreams, fears, presentiments, hopes and experiences I have had. Everything that has ever touched my senses finds its place and form in my sound. It is interesting how even without a conscious affiliation with a certain tradition it still unfolds itself naturally in the work, because it is part of my identity, my history, and the history I was born into. Perhaps it is the genius loci seeping through the pores.

Vytenis Eitminavičius: I had felt a connection with nature long before I found out about paganism. Wading through the multi-coloured autumn leaves in my childhood, drinking from an old farmstead well, or burning bent grass under the balcony of an apartment block. I suspect this connection and sensibility was more important than the ethnic traditions I learned later. Of course, it is good to know that Lithuania has preserved its Baltic language, music and rituals against all odds. As if someone had intentionally wanted to pass on the essential, primeval, fundamental things to us. Therefore, I don’t think that the archaic past can somehow constrain us. Yet it is hard to say how much the ethnic tradition influences my music. I think the pervasive affinity with nature is the greatest necessity. It is this affinity that I seek to speak about through my sounds.

Povilas Vaitkevičius: This persistence of the past can be understood differently. For some it consists of sporting a starched imitation of a 19th century ‘folk’ costume, for others it is simply a creation of the Present without shaping it in imitation of some idealist utopia. I prefer the latter approach, but I cannot deny the influence of the Lithuanian genius loci. The problem is that today ethnic culture is most often essentially a museum exhibit. As I hardly ever encounter such milieus in my work, it neither helps nor obstructs me. The important thing is to show that one’s creative work does not want to (and cannot) be squeezed into such categories. Speaking of the archaic spirit... I see it in many manifestations of the Present, so for me it is not something frozen in the past. Tribal, atavistic symbols are always near; only the epoch gives them shape.

Audrius Šimkūnas: If that tradition is really the way it is pictured, hurray and applause! But tradition is not axiomatic; to remain alive, it must change itself and change others. And be somewhat strange. It cannot be a blind conviction that ‘things were better back then’. Perhaps things were better for many under Soviet rule too. One must distinguish between the good and the bad things. Speaking of ‘legitimised’ folklore, sadly, today it is the safe kitsch country-folk version that is entrenched and protected. If we manage to distance ourselves from it, we can start talking about some kind of creative magic, moving forward, or continuity of ethnic identity.

Laurynas Jukonis: That is absolutely true about the surviving tradition, no need for the word ‘supposedly’. And it neither constrains nor helps; it is simply there. A kind of cultural war is going on these days: say, the British sound is trying to set the trend, while smaller countries are asking themselves: why aren’t we moving forward and why is our sound so provincial? Instead, the question should be: why do we resist indoctrination by the British sound (culture)? Because there is no need for that if you feel self-confident enough and have your own vision. There is undoubtedly an influence, but we have a solid foundation of our own. It is a necessary compromise.

Mindaugas Suchockas: I am convinced that those who have been marked by the persistence of the archaic past you mention are able to produce work of a much higher quality and evolve simply because they have an additional palette of sensations and forms, whether they employ it or not. These forms are naturally illegitimate in relation to the elementary folk, because as soon as you try to grasp them, you realise that what you have in your hands is the result of connection of these forms with you – which is only meant for you. Hence, they are incompatible with any kind of ideologisation or legitimation. One can capture them, but never legitimise.

Jurij Dobriakov: What is the locus of the spirit of the place for you personally – the collective Lithuanian ethnocultural and musical tradition, or more personal things? If so, what are those things? How important is that tradition today (both to you and to our time and society in general), and how long will it retain its significance? What mutations does it undergo in the sound culture, and what enables it to remain itself even after those mutations?

Vytenis Eitminavičius: The spirit of the place that is important for me does not lie in the collective tradition. Quite the opposite, actually – it is born out of the work of quiet creators, individual seekers, spiritual teachers. It is created by people whom I would like to call friends, even though I don’t know many of them yet. These important discoveries, which rarely reach the ears of popular culture, are what create the spirit of the place. They come from personalities who go deep into the fundamentals, work a lot, and leave us with something which lets us come close to the roots.

The face of ethnic tradition has been constantly changing. Perhaps these changes prevented it from becoming a niche phenomenon and enabled it to remain visible even in popular culture. However, in the case of the latter it often mutated, losing its primary meanings, often trading the distinctive minor-scale essence for merely a jolly colourful costume, just form, without the individual and his thoughts. Still, I believe that the deepest ethnic traditions will persist as long as there are people who uphold the most important aspects of those traditions through their quiet but significant works.

Povilas Vaitkevičius: I think it lies in sensibility. It is the thing which keeps certain people in a musical scene together. ‘Tradition’ in this context turns into traits of the national character. Some social groups constantly seek to usurp it. Thus, personal sensibility and connection with the spirit of the place seems to be the most sincere thing with regard to tradition. Its existential significance is undermined by those who simply ‘learn’ it instead of feeling it. Maybe I am poeticising, but profound ideals do not emerge from constructed schemes. Speaking of the mutations tradition undergoes, at the moment I don’t think I can identify what they are.

Audrius Šimkūnas: For me, the spirit of the place resides in the place. A kind of psychogeographic cognition. No matter where that place is – under an oak tree or under the heart. It just sits there. Over the years, the perception of its depth grows and shifts to more mysterious things, something other than one’s own ‘illuminations’ that need to be preached. The essentials come through different channels, and this accumulated energy affects the others around you. If this happens, it means it is important and has continuity.

It is hard to generalise the mutations of cultural/musical impressions, but personally I have evolved from exhibitionist pagan black metal to isolationist drone or the sound of bent grass shaken by the wind. The forms of transfer may change, but the essence remains the same. It is like an inner ritual, the consecration of a talisman, the marking of a territory which is not a map.

Laurynas Jukonis: I guess it comes from personal experiences: sleeping out in the frost, travelling in the blizzard, night-time conversations and insights by the fire, exploration of strange places. These are fairly intense sensations of the spirit of the place. It might not be directly related to the folk tradition, but the latter was shaped by some of the same primal instinctive experiences conditioned by the local nature. In fact, perhaps we are talking about archetypal experiences rather than the archaic past. And I would call the sound of my friends’ circle an echo, really.

Mindaugas Suchockas: For me, the principal roots have always been in nature, landscape, and tribal human nature. The latter has been shaping its relationship with the surrounding reality on a collective scale for centuries and beyond. That process spawns a very powerful and elaborate link, an incarnation of that primal encounter. It prevents one from forgetting one’s relationship with the real, unknowable and very close at once. It is also an attribute of one’s tribe (the people with whom one’s self is resonant, and with whom one can revive and cultivate that link).

The tribe is the chief source of knowledge, and the culture it carries persists as long as it is alive. This phenomenon is independent of history. There is merely a greater forking of these links and tribes in this motley time. It seems we are switching from a tap root system to a diffused root system, which performs the same function even though it appears more chaotic. What enables tradition to remain itself even after mutations? The presence and passion (without turning the primal links into an ideology) of tribes makes it possible to preserve and transfer these monolithic and simultaneously dynamic experiences in their unchanged and simultaneously changing form.

Jurij Dobriakov: Such a hardly classifiable musical niche inevitably finds itself caught up in a tangle of genre names and definitions. In the West, we have seen different terms for ‘contemporary folk’ like neofolk, post-folk, apocalyptic folk, psych folk, freak folk, folk rock or folktronica. Yet there is a feeling that they are not appropriate for describing the specific sound of the Lithuanian ‘archaic’ post-industrial scene, because the latter seems to have few equivalents in the dark music scenes of other countries. The sound of the Lithuanian act Wejdas was once described as ‘amber ambient’. Could there be more similar genre codes unique to our special sonic climate? What makes it special, anyway?

Daina Pupkevičiūtė: Genre codes are just keywords for orientation which let the listener more or less imagine what to expect, but they cannot reveal the distinctive traits of each particular project. It seems to me that excessive definitions only impede navigation in the ocean of information. For instance, what is neo tribal post-apocalyptic folk?

Vytenis Eitminavičius: I’ve always had a problem with genre codes. I avoid labelling my music with them, and when I want to understand which genre my sound might fall into, I ask people who know better than I do. Amber ambient was one of the most beautiful definitions of individuality, I would like to see more of them invented, but I don’t think that is the job of the artist.

The musical environment we live in is distinctive not only due to its sensitivity to nature, which is one of the most important things, but also to other historical, social, inborn or hereditary factors which have influenced the whole of our climate: the fall and the legacy of the Soviet regime, unstaged and quiet patriotism, the will to work in order to touch something new and meaningful, the streets and yards we grew up in, dedicating time and resources to personally important things. I admire this milieu for its ability to sacrifice itself for the sake of things it deems worthy.

Povilas Vaitkevičius: A premeditated genre code would be artificial, it must come naturally. Even though the Lithuanian nonconventional music scene has a common vibe, it comprises quite different forms of expression. Thus finding some common definition would be complicated. But then, maybe that is a good thing? Maybe it only confirms the scene’s vitality and ‘resistance’ to the established Western (sub)cultural canon. Speaking of originality, we have discussed it among ourselves numerous times, but we haven’t arrived at a definite conclusion. The sensibility I have mentioned earlier might be one of the elements, but we should still speak about traits. The uniqueness of the climate is perhaps also conditioned by the historical and cultural experiences which intertwine with the still persistent connection with nature (Lithuanians do love their trees). All of this is conducted by the local stubbornish individualism which uses the forms available to it to produce the distinctive atmosphere.

Audrius Šimkūnas: Terms and labels are just one way of introducing order into chaos. If a Lithuanian post-industrial genre code were to emerge (I cannot imagine it and at the same time I could propose a host of meaningless names), it would be great! How important it is to the artist is a different question. Personally I completely ignore this. The Lithuanian dark music scene might differ from, say, the German one, but one could say the same about Gabon’s dark scene, for instance. I could also add that we probably still have something unsaid, not all of the secrets have been revealed yet – that is what makes us distinctive.

Laurynas Jukonis: That is a question for the critics. One can perhaps identify a distinctive sound by making a generalisation about a certain amount of output. In any case, uniqueness comes from people with whom you can speak about anything, but not so much the origins of the sound, because we share the same experiential background, and there is no need to verbalise it.

Mindaugas Suchockas: Terms are a headache, really. Still, I tend to view bands who have created certain styles as a school. This allows for a more precise classification of music, particularly experimental. The problem is, musicians often refuse to acknowledge the influence of a particular school. The latter is always the starting point of an artist’s path, but it must continue towards autonomy. I am not sure if a genre code is necessary, though. The works of the bands and the people behind them say everything.

Jurij Dobriakov: Electronics, industry, and archaics do not seems to be compatible at first, but in this scene they intertwine organically. And not only in Lithuania: for instance, in the imagery of the British ‘occult’ post-industrial classics like Coil or Nurse With Wound the industrial atmosphere sees to stem from nature, but nature in its own turn is viewed in a very psychedelic and esoteric way, so it is unclear where one ends and the other begins. What does ‘industrial’ mean to you, particularly in the Lithuanian context where the industry has long been associated with the building of Socialism, which turned ethnic culture into a decorative spectacle in the vein of the Lithuanian Song Festivals? How is an ‘archaic’ industrial sound possible?

Daina Pupkevičiūtė: When I think about the Lithuanian industrial sound, I think about the people who create it. Most of us live in the concrete jungle, stark post-Soviet ‘sleeping districts’, and suffocate from this dull spiritless existence with its meaningless 5-days work week routine, so we feel a profound longing. We long for a variety of things, feel nostalgic about something we never experienced, things we never had (sometimes even bending the conventional laws of time and directing our longing into the future, longing for everything we will never see or become), and perhaps it is nature that becomes this ideal space, metaphysical rather than physical, which responds to this vague longing, filling it with content.

I have been thinking for a long time that the people who create high-quality music of this genre end up here not as a result of a conscious decision, but instead because of certain worldview affinities: they are united not only by music, but also by values, explorations, and passion. Maybe it all sounds too spiritual. For me, the industrial aesthetic is a way of (critical) thinking about oneself and the other in a posthuman space, the time we live in, the principles we embrace, the aims we pursue, and the meanings we create.

Vytenis Eitminavičius: Thinking about the industry takes me back to my childhood yard in an industrial city of factories. I spent most of my free time then in concrete playgrounds surrounded by concrete houses. Many memorable discoveries took place there. I grew up in a synthetic stone environment, where I could compare the sound of a ball bumping into the ground to that of thunder, or the creaking metal gates with pines ‘weeping’ in the wind. This continues today, when I try to use free-form sounds to touch the primal matter, symbols, or images, something which is directly related to archaics.

Povilas Vaitkevičius: A spinning cart wheel in the epic poem The Seasons by Kristijonas Donelaitis, written around 1765–1775, is also a kind of ‘industry’. I think these things share some universal principles which negate the conventional linear model of time and turn music into an instrument for changing the world, rather than just an aesthetic pleasure. You are talking about a ‘very psychedelic’ perception of nature, but there is actually no single ‘right’ way of perceiving it. Its indifference to our attempts to span it is both shocking and fascinating. Meanwhile, the notion of ‘industrial’ music today seems to have outgrown its initial ‘factory’ aesthetics. I associate it with numerous things at work in Being and nature. The sexy rhythmic flickering of a sequencer’s LED lights and the muffled sound of a tree beaten by a stick both resonate in nature which is omnipresent. After all, electricity is the same thing as amber (called ēlektron in Greek).

Audrius Šimkūnas: The English scene you mention was spawned by the 70s occult revival: Crowley, Spare, Grant... This revival coincided with the psychedelic-psychotropic revolutions of the time. This cocktail led some to the stars and others to the grave. In Lithuania, where everything was delayed by decades and came in the shape of rerecorded cassettes, everything happened locally. Simply because nature abhors a vacuum. Hence, the points of departure were internal, and this is where that ‘archaic’ aspect comes from. We were playing around with our own brand of magick, and quite earnestly, but we called it industrial, because there was no other general term others would understand. The building of Socialism did not play a big part in it, except maybe for isolation, which sometimes seems to act as a fairly decent creative impetus. If you cannot get something elsewhere, do it yourself! This is the kind of freedom which opposes the more totalitarian phenomena like the song festivals.

Laurynas Jukonis: Mere play of stylistic definitions. We agree that it somewhat resembles the sound popularised by the Brits or the Swedes, but the themes are different, and the sound is quite different, and certainly has hardly anything in common with industrialisation. Likewise, none of my friends interprets archaic forms in a straightforward manner, by mixing in folk songs, for instance. This music has little to do with generic names – they are just definitions which make communication easier.

Mindaugas Suchockas: I tend to trust the law of conservation of energy. Nothing ever disappears anywhere; things simply shift forms. I think the same is true for archaic phenomena: as I’ve said earlier, it can either become an extra hue with which to expand one’s palette (although there is always a risk it will end up being a flawed synthetic simulation, like the aforementioned song festivals), or it can be practiced in its surviving original form.

Speaking of Socialism, it was an ironic turn indeed. There were so many attempts to halt our growth or even cut down the branches of our archaic structures, but unique elements sprang from the roots instead. This confirms the power of these underlying layers.

I have always perceived industrial music as switching off the mind and turning on the hearing, harshly and yet harmoniously nostalgic. How is a Baltic industrial music possible? Only through the individual creating it and his attitude. If it is sincere, open, and passionate, he and his work are an appropriate soil for archaic seeds.

Jurij Dobriakov: There is an obvious trend of interpretations of various ethnic musical traditions flowing into the amorphous world music ocean, where affiliation with a particular place is not obligatory, and it is transcultural synthesis that takes centre stage. Is it an inevitable development scenario? What is your view of it? In a sense, post-industrial music which employs emphatically archaic imagery is also synthetic in the sense of bringing together different origins. How does your work differ from the above-mentioned world music model?

Daina Pupkevičiūtė: The only unchanging thing in the world is constant change itself, so it is inevitable that we are constantly synthesising, interweaving and coalescing different things. Every day we encounter an unbelievable amount of information, consciously and unconsciously, willingly or not, deliberately or accidentally, and all of it sticks in our mind in some form and translates into our creative work. I don’t believe it is possible to create anything interesting by confining oneself to a hermetic comfort bubble, because any creative signal requires an impulse, internal or external.

As for world music, I think we should define the term itself. It usually refers to interpretation of non-Western musical traditions and their incorporation into the Western sonic vocabulary. This intention or its absence makes all the difference: perhaps the purpose of world music is to modify and adapt some specific sonic tradition. When I make my slow drones or harsher noises, I do not have this intention; adaptation is not part of my process. Indeed, often I have no intention other than sinking in sound.

Vytenis Eitminavičius: I hesitate to admit that it is a purely contemporary issue. The pursuit of new forms and approaches is inevitable, but the end result depends not so much on the idea itself as on the personality of the author. Personally I am not a fan of direct integration of ethnic music forms into the so-called world music universe. There are great examples of more subtle integration producing significant works, just as there are numerous inferior kitsch approaches. However, this trend is not really related to a style or genre, it is a matter of personalities.

I have never sought to speak about ethnic traditions directly. However, primeval imagery constantly comes up in my mind, because probably it is the essential axis. I doubt that I will ever use a sample of a Lithuanian polyphonic song in my piece, but the principles of multilayering and overlapping used in these songs definitely influence the composition of sounds in my music.

Povilas Vaitkevičius: This merging of different musical cultures usually ends up as kitsch, unfortunately. Because the fusion of forms demonstrates that you are not so much interested in what they contain. Hence, my relationship with world music and similar things is cautious at best. It definitely isn’t an inevitable development scenario. I see such manifestations only in certain specific contexts. In contrast, industrial music combines different elements in a different way.  It does not cite preexisting forms; instead, it manipulates vague feelings, emotions, and experience of the archaic in the present, which is completely different from playing a Lithuanian flute with the accompaniment of Indian tabla wearing a linen skirt. I can only speak about my own music – it differs from the mentioned model in that it does not convey some sort of incorporeal ‘spirituality’ and seeks to avoid using direct folk citations. As I’ve said, the aim is to create the Present, the time that is usually forgotten and is the most difficult to feel.

Audrius Šimkūnas: Transcultural synthesis was inevitable from the very beginning. We use the same techniques and instruments the whole world uses – this always leaves some imprint on the work. But the energetic charge we put into our sonic palettes makes us distinctive. This is not the world anymore, this is Kernavė or Užpaliai. And this is my heart’s experience, performing magic here and now, in this or some other place. When you do it, you never think about some synthesis or combination of different origins. That is the interpreters’ job.

Laurynas Jukonis: This is a very ambiguous description of world music. Are we talking about the style as such or about the influence of other nations’ folklore? If we follow the logic of the question, Lithuanian black metal with its Norwegian roots is also a form of world music. Industrial music heavily relies on technology which has (almost) no nationality in general, and is just an instrument for reaching one’s goals. Thus, there are no different origins; there is just the industrial aesthetic as a means of creative work and a result is somehow related to the archaic. Speaking of global homogenisation, I think that influences are ineffective or at least controllable as long as one has stable roots in particular experiences.

Mindaugas Suchockas: The world is big and creative possibilities are endless, thus there is nothing wrong with world music, in my view. The task of each band or artist is to grow their own tree, and they have the right to choose how to shape the branches of their works and from what roots to feed them. I could mention concrete electronic acts whose joint projects with Lithuanian polyphonic songs were genuinely and profoundly stunning, or bands which do not classify themselves as ethno or folk, but feature obvious harmonies from the Lithuanian region of Aukštaitija in their sound. I have also seen people with no musical ear begin singing regional folk songs on par with the old-timers after attending folk music clubs for several months. There are still ancient forests where one can rediscover, without a tent and mobile phone connection, the ancestors’ primal encounters with reality, which shaped our archaic harmonies. I am sure that the Baltic element will find a way to survive in some form.

In electronic music, only the creative process is synthetic; the resulting work, however, becomes organic if everything takes root. It is a risky way of doing things, because there is the danger of creating something fake, but that is our own choice. Sovijus as a band is tied to the legend of the traveller; if the work requires it, we can insert artefacts from other cultures, but its main stem will still pump the vital sap from archetypal Baltic layers.

English text edited by Romas Kinka