ION (Giannis Papaioannou), a songwriter, a producer, a Dj, a man of music, released earlier in 2016 his latest ‘Unsound’ LP that we presented to you here in Last Day Deaf. As usual, his music is enhanced by certain quality either it is by ION or by his band Mechanimal. He is active a lot recently so we asked him for an interview, that he kindly accepted, and due to his audio/visual performance at SNFCC on 18 February we had a very interesting interview with an important person in the underground scene. For the time being, press play on ‘Unsound’, and enjoy the dialogue with an honest and very experienced artist!
Hello ION, welcome to LDD! It is almost a decade since ‘May Nothing But Laughter’. So, how’s the trip so far after all these records (9 so far as ION on your own), and all the places you hit the stage on?
Actually, it’s longer than a decade. ION has been my solo electronic project since Raw (my previous band) split up. My first release ‘Sauna’ EP came out from Oxy Publishing in 1997, followed by ‘Ionized’ a 12” EP released through Kinetik Records. Since then, there were a few long gaps amongst my releases, but I never stopped experimenting and recording with analog and digital synthesizers. I was also very active in the techno DJ scene so that (plus my day job as a journalist) kept me from producing a solid album. Once in a while, when I needed an ear break from “working” on whatever I was working on, I’d start a new session to play around with just a sample or a sine wave. Most of the time I did it just for myself. Once I started accumulating enough sounds to listen to a series of them, I realized that was what I wanted to listen to a lot of time. My first proper album ‘No Camera’ came out in 2005 through Klik Records. That planted the seed for a very active musical period in my life that still grows on.
…Αnd how’s the feedback so far for your latest ‘Unsound’ LP?
I’m happy about the fact that all the reviews and most importantly all fan emails I received after this release are very good and they liked the way I turned into more solid song structures. Even one or two with acoustic instruments and vocals. This is good because it might make people look at what I do next a little bit differently.
You are a restless electronic musician, with diversity in your art. Love for electro same as dub and techno is obvious, but what are the facts and hopes on ION’s evolution through his musings?
For me it’s all about honoring your impulses and working with what you have in front of you. It may be a laptop or it may be an analog sequencer. I’m happy I can speak both languages so I can use both analog hardware and digital software in recording my music, without feeling trapped in any advertising hype.
You are among the most respected names in the underground, so I’d like to ask your opinion on underground electronic music worldwide, what has changed and where are we heading to?
I try not to worry about names, limitations or borders on any form of art. Today we experience a massive wave of information on music production so I just try to keep up with whatever sounds good to my ears. Be it underground or subterranean or electronic or death-metal or hysterically clean pop. As an artist I like building bridges, or as I say connecting dots. I have faith that my new work connects the dots of my past, more obscure, work. I also believe is very challenging to write a beautiful pop song because I love the minimal aspect of pop music. The best pop songs are minimal. So, as I grow older the best lesson I’ve learned is to leave my mind and my studio doors open.
Is hardware the ‘‘soul’’ that breeds or the “agent” that sires? How important is for the artist to be chained with the hardware stash, and is it important after all?
The hardware is an essential tool that can help you shape your own sound. Nothing more than that. Maybe, for all synthesizer freaks out there I should add there’s some kind of fetishistic value on tweaking machinery, testing new gadgets or building modular walls for that fore-mentioned purpose. But nothing can be played unless you play it, nothing can be repeated unless you program it. So when we talk about electronic music people have to understand we’re not talking about some superintelligent AI system. All that is recorded or produced through synthesizers or drum-machines or samplers or computer software has been dreamed, conceived, performed, programmed or put on sound media by humans. And the hardware is there to serve these dreams come true.
You are also the mastermind behind the electro industrial band Mechanimal. Who came first, ION or the band? What are the concerns that made you launch both projects?
Mechanimal as a project was born out of an ION track. The idea of using Freddie Faulkenberry’s voice on my track ‘Low Land’ (self-released on 2011) gave birth to the idea of the band, when a few harder tunes surfaced from my archives. Using titles and names on different projects has always been tricky. At first, I was just naming things by the certain periods I made them, and then I started realizing that they evoked some really consistent images. Those harsh and more industrial sounds or songs seemed to fill the gap between the past and the dark times that were coming stronger back in 2012. On the other hand, it never felt weird experimenting with genre blending. I’ve always, for better or for worse, been working on two or more things at once, and that’s kind of the way I like it.
What is the ideal, DJing, ION or a band member?
I like communicating through all. And I definitely try not to think about distinctions between roles and moods. Instead, I think about what feels good to me, what I feel comfortable with. It’s very important focusing on what I feel good with. It’s just easy for all those things to get distorted the more people you have buzzing about, telling you their opinions.
Listening (a lot) to ‘Unsound’ I figured out that it is the most complicated of your releases, in our time’s mood. How long it took you to compose and arrange it?
My previous album ‘ΜΑΥΡΗ ΣΥΧΝΟΤΗΤΑ’ was released back in 2015, so it took a little more than a year to have everything done. A few of the tracks in the new album were recorded in past years, then all fitted together with the new ones in the latest release.
What does really inspire you in composing your music?
At the moment it’s really important for me to be near nature as much as I can. I find it really healing and creatively inspiring. I don’t read as much as I want these days, I have a pile of unfinished books by my bed. But I watch lots of films. I like being in the presence of art, looking at art, making art, being creative. Music is like a lifeline for me and for many of us. And I’m not talking about escapism because I don’t believe watching a beautiful film or listening a classic album is escapism. It just helps you connect very deeply to that part of ourselves that we tend to overlook sometimes.
Do the global political and social facts affect your art, and in which terms?
Of course! But I try to write music that has an appeal that’s a little broader than just what’s happening in culture right now, οr just commenting on timely events like I did with the first Mechanimal album. I strongly believe that no matter what you’re doing it’s going to be influenced by the time that you‘re living in. Especially, when the time you’re in is so terrifying. So as the world becomes more absurd and scary, the more I crave being in the presence of my music.
Thank you ION! Please share with us few musings that you are keen on in this period, and close this interview as you like!
Thank you! I’d like to close this by saying that making any kind of art is enjoyable and beautiful, but there are times when it’s frustrating and that’s when angst comes knocking at your door. And then comes a feeling of misery and suffering. But all this is just a part of the process. At the end of the day I can’t really complain because I love doing what I do.