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"Music is the key" – traversing immersive electronic realms with Daniel Troberg

The LA-based artist marks new EP on Hong Kong's Acidchicken label with a far-reaching Q&A

  • Patrizio Cavaliere
  • 24 March 2022

The inextricable fusion of music and technology forms the backbone of the electronic-fused sounds populating all shades of the polychromatic dance spectrum. Some creators and enthusiasts are enchanted by the pulsing rhythms, others by the intoxicating melodies or the irrepressible bass. For others, it's the evolving technology itself that proves the irresistible hook.

LA-based Daniel Troberg is an artist with the futurist essence of electronic music vibrating at the core of his very being. The DJ and producer has been actively producing cutting-edge sonics for well over a decade, regularly performing at worldwide events alongside techno royalty like Juan Atkins, Dan Bell, John Tejada, and Claude Young among many others. His journey into music began in the early '80s on Finland's Aland Islands, where a fascination with home computers blossomed into a fully-fledged love affair with electronic music. His aptitude for the mechanics behind the music saw him work with Swedish production equipment manufacturer Elektron for 20 years, from where he was considered one of the key architects of the groundbreaking Octatrack performance sampler. Today, he works with Hong Kong-based synth manufacturer, ASM, runs a regular radio show on dublab, and continues to produce and release music from his US base. His supremely-crafted sound has won him admirers including Laurent Garnier, Josh Wink, Richie Hawtin, Ricardo Villalobos and more, and his new 'Trans Pacific Acid' EP arrived via Hong Kong's very own Acidchicken label.

Actively purveying inventive electronica since 2013, Acidchicken have released over 300 tracks on vinyl, cassette, CD and digital formats from scores of international and locally-based artists. Troberg's latest release on the imprint arrives as a collaboration with Cutt Records from Shenzhen, China. The expansive 11-track collection includes five originals, alongside remixes from Tilliander aka TM-404, Dataline, Kagg, Annika Wolfe, Pepe Mogt and Ramón Amezcua aka Bostich, traversing styles including acid house, techno, and experimental electronica.

To celebrate the release, we spoke to Troberg from his LA home. Touching on all-manner of fascinating topics, he shares with us some invaluable insight into his influences, the new EP, LA life, as well as his informed thoughts on what makes music resonate with the listener.

Hi Daniel, thanks for talking to us today. We understand your journey into electronic music started at a young age, what can you tell us about some of your earliest experiences dabbling with computers and production equipment?

"The excitement I felt back then will never come back. They are cherished memories for me now. Working around limitations and figuring stuff out yourself was just so rewarding. I remember making big bass drums by sticking a microphone in a speaker cabinet while playing the rock drum kit on some boring synth. Or building a rudimentary audio interface using resistors and connecting it to the parallel port of my PC. Or coding lines of BASIC on my MSX computer to produce silly melodies. Making electronic music has become very easy today, but sometimes there is a feeling that there is no magic left. I try to insert some magic again."

Was it the technology that fascinated you first, or the music?

"From the perspective of a creative process, I came from technology and specifically early 80s home computing. The musical creative part came a bit later. However, listening and engulfing myself in music was there very early on. Music is vibration and life. It doesn’t matter what the sound source is. If it evokes feelings, the job is done."

Who were some of your musical influences growing up?

"Just too many to list, but I guess I will have to drop some names so here it goes. John Rocca, Prince, Kraftwerk, The KLF, Vince Clarke, Pet Shop Boys, S-Express, Ultravox, Jean-Michel Jarre, Public Enemy, Basic Channel, Mad Mike and UR, Jeff Mills, DJ Hell, Woody McBride, Walker, Jammin Unit, Mike Ink, Biochip C, Geir Jenssen, Joey Beltram, Mixmaster Morris, 808 State, I-F, Unit Moebius, Mark Bell and LFO, Brian Dougans and Future Sound of London, Richard D James, Miss Djax and Djax-Up-Beats, Luke Slater, Art Of Noise, Autechre, Baby Ford, Cari Lekebusch, Dave Clarke, Christian Vogel, Thomas Heckmann, Neil Landstrumm, Mika Vainio and Panasonic, Freddy Fresh, Robert Armani, Erik Van Den Broek, Sven Väth and Ralf Hildenbeutel."

We now take searching for music on the web for granted, but how did you access music before the arrival of the internet back when you lived on Aland Islands?

"Apart from the radio outlets which was coming mainly out of Sweden, and a bit later on, MTV Europe reporting from the rave craze happening in Europe, I also went over to Stockholm and did record store runs there. And then at some of the rave parties, they were selling records too. I also used to call a specialist record store in Gothenburg in Sweden and they would play the records over the phone and recommend stuff, absolutely amazing. A bit later on, a good friend of mine started to work at a record store on the Aland Islands and I could order some good stuff via him, as he had distributor contacts. There was also a couple of friends interested in the same type of music so we would talk and share information."

Scandinavian countries have a strong electronic music heritage, what do you consider some of the factors that contribute to this?

"I believe it is a combination of dreadful weather most of the months, making people spend a lot of time indoors, coupled with a very decent music curriculum at school, at least back then. Home computing in the 80s really accelerated the electronic musical climate with tracker programs and demos, where programming of both music and graphics would be taken to new absurd levels and that really grew the DIY spirit. If you look back even earlier, there was of course academic influences as well but that really just lived a life of its own. Also, there was quite strong government assistance for cultural projects. It was a safe place overall, so I believe that also played part in solidifying certain elements that would later contribute to a strong musical output, including electronic music."

When did you make the move to LA, and how has life changed for you since living there?

"I moved to LA in 2013. Life is pretty good. You need to work hard in the US, but there is also more reward. There are so many people just in LA and that makes for quite a vibrant music scene. It's all quite colourful. I do go to some warehouse parties when there are interesting acts that perform. I also eat more healthy here, the food is pretty great."

Who are some of the producers and DJs you admire today?

"Too many to mention, but if I need to mention some then one would be my friend John Tejada for the absolutely magical output, interweaving brilliant melodies, compositional goodness, and high-level sound design in an always interesting and super high-quality manner. Another one would be Annika Wolfe, ready to explode onto the world and with such a sense of funky mechanical rhythms and grooves. Tijuana's Soul Of Hex who is also now releasing on Underground Resistance, and their elders Bostich and Fussible of Nortec Collective who basically created their own sound and still keep themselves relevant. I also really like the output of Machino and the folks from Paranoid London, prime acid jesters of the highest order. I think Perc is brilliant and it's got that early 90's aggressive energy but in an updated format. SFV Acid is quite the unsung hero for me too, really enjoying that stuff."

The Octatrack is one of those instruments whose unique properties almost give birth to a whole new sound. What can you tell us about your involvement in the r&d and production process? What were Elektron setting out to do when they conceived of the idea to produce the module?

"When I was demoing the Machinedrum UW with vinyl records, grabbing loops and syncing up the vinyl with the UW sequencer, I hit a point where stereo audio sampling became problematic. We started discussing a product and we understood that we were on to something, so we started brainstorming the basic requirements. Timestretching was one of those requirements. And suddenly we were in Ableton Live territory, and so the idea of an external box that could do just a tiny tiny piece of what Ableton could do was born. My input was a lot about how the sequencer should behave, for instance how we should handle off-grid programming like micro-timing, how the different tracks should be able to not only have individual last steps but also speed multipliers so that a vast amount of different rhythms could be combined. And then how the sample playback parameters should be able to morph using a crossfader with the memory bank system. And the MIDI sequencer. Basically, a whole lot of what makes the product really stand out. From a company perspective, it really just needed to make sense economically. It cost quite a lot to develop it but the team was also very very small back then, it was a wonder what we were able to pull off really. Kudos to my old developer colleagues. It's the exact same product now as it was back then. To be honest, I prefer the old version. It's just a bit more cranky and delicate."

Some producers have a better understanding of the technology behind the music than others, while some are more adept at performance, composition, production etc. What do you think sets those artists who fully understand the technology behind the equipment from those who don't? Do you think it's apparent from their music?

"What it comes down to is if you can tell a compelling story or not. I listen to Autechre and I get immediately transported. I listen to Jean-Michel Jarre and I also get immediately transported. I am very sure these two artists have quite a different way of approaching the compositional process, but what matters is the result and being able to know when something is finished. Things can be badly mixed or very well mixed, sound design can be completely outrageous or it can be all factory presets. In the end, if it hits the eardrum and enters your brain and you feel something, anything, that's what counts. When music gets complicated, it narrows the audience."

You're currently working for the Hong Kong-based synth manufacturer, ASM. What is your role there, how do you work around the distance in time and space from the company?

"I handle the sales and distribution network for ASM mainly but we are a closely-knit team that also need to wear different hats. Luckily I have many years in the MI business plus experience from earlier jobs and projects, so I feel very confident in what I can do and can not do. As for the global setup that we have going, I guess it's just the times we live in."

Can you tell us about the production process of the new 'Trans Pacific Acid EP'. How long did the composition take, and what does the music mean to you?

"All of the tracks were just one-take multi-track recordings, then slightly edited and mixed in the computer. Sometimes I like it quick and dirty, as it captures an exact feeling at an exact time. Also, I believe I did not use more than 6 channels for each of these tracks, it's just very simple stuff. I like my Tascam recorder mixer and for this project I used only hardware stuff. My main focus was to tell compelling stories of acid. I let the listener decide whether it's a trip or not."

And how were the remix artists chosen for the project?

"I chose the remixers because I like what they do and they are all good friends, so I was very happy to be able to involve them."

How do you feel about some of the interpretations?

"I love them all. I'm so happy that they all were able to do it. Getting someone's take on something you have created is pretty magical. It makes your perspective change too and you learn from their output."

When were you last in Asia, and what do you think about the state of the underground music scene here?

"Last time was in 2019 when I played in HK, Shenzhen and Tokyo. I think HK and especially mainland China has a very interesting thing going on and I would love to come back and play some more music."

What are some of your most prized pieces of studio kit?

"My Tascam mixer recorder thing. My new MacBook and my UAD Apollo. My old Octatrack. I have still quite a lot of hardware but I get bored of it too. Obviously, I really like the Hydrasynth for its extreme sound design flexibility and ease of use, the UI is really something else. My modded TR606 is fantastic. Monomachine. Eventide H3000. Studio Technologies AN-2. VestaFire modular effects system. Roland Space Echo. Yeah, I think that is it."

Are there any synths, modules etc that you consider a holy grail item?

"I used to think so but I have come to realize that it is the ideas, processes, and executions that becomes holy. Not the gear itself."

Do you have any other releases on the horizon?

"Yes, I do. I have a vinyl coming out in June of this year, it's an ambient electronica LP. I also have some digital releases lined up and I am considering reissuing the Electromechanix back catalogue on digital. There have been some people playing some of those tracks lately and I have been getting requests about some of them. Haven't really made up my mind yet, it feels a bit weird to mess around with the old stuff. I am not the same person anymore."

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about?

"Music is the key."

Daniel Troberg's 'Trans Pacific Acid' EP is out now on Acidchicken, you can buy it here

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