To accompany the latest guest mix in the Southport Weekender Inspirations series, Gavin Kendrick interviewed Noema, talking psychedelia, mysticism and Ghanaian reworks.
Where does the name Noema come from? I understand it could either mean the content of a thought, or a type of beetle?
My mother gave the name to me. The word has several meanings, depending on the context. It is a term used in music: in that case the noema emphasises a certain part of a composition by using a different compositional style or technique than used in the rest. In rhetoric it is a sort of obscure speech, which is only understood after reflection. But my mother also liked beetles very much.
Your biography is quite fascinating! What have you been up to over the last few months? Can you share the latest chapter of your adventure?
I was in Brazil in the end of last year and met my friends from the Voodoohop Collective again, which was very inspiring. They run huge parties, very DIY and put a lot of effort into decoration, visuals, costumes and make up. I don’t remember the last time when I was at a party with so many interesting and open minded people as guests. They play a lot of Brazilian and African music and mix it with very trippy and dubby electronic club tracks. It’s all between 100 and 110BPM and they mix it in a way I’ve never heard before. They created a super nice scene in Sao Paulo, which is really open minded and looking for new experiences. The crazy thing is that it’s totally not mainstream, kind of the anti-thesis to a clubnight in Ibiza, and they still have up to 1,000 people at their parties who go with it and enjoy it! That’s just wow!
Your contributions to the vinyl-only Africa Shakedown releases have caused quite a stir, ‘Daa Nyinaa’ being a particular favourite. Where did you first come across the Ata Kak original?
I found the track at the ‘Awesome Tapes from Africa’ blog and immediately fell in love with it. It is by a Ghanaian artist called Ata Kak. Since the audio quality was so bad, I imagined how the whole production would have sounded, if the artist would have had access to proper recording equipment. So I re-built all the instrumental tracks as close as possible to the original (also sound design wise), added some little percussions and synth here and there, and only changed the arrangement at one point, adding a 20 seconds long instrumental part to give some space to breathe. Basically I didn’t do much, it’s all the magic of Ata Kak! It was more or less just the polishing of a dusty diamond. Actually Brian from ATFA finally located Ata Kak very recently and I had a couple of phone calls with him, which made me very happy!
And can you tell me some more about African Shakedown #2?
I run the Label together with my partner and best friend since early childhood, Jens. For the African Shakedown #2 we just contacted some friends about material for it and got all these great tunes, edits and music in between edits and remixes, so it came together in a very natural way. Since I prefer original music much more over edits, I did an original composition, only using some sample snippets from a few records and some recordings of me playing stuff.
I saw some photos of you on a pretty psychedelic boat party last summer. You were in black face, which I thought was quite controversial. How do you feel about that?
I use to paint myself in a lot of different colours all the time, and black used to be one of them. When I used this colour for the first time, I was aware in a more less diffuse way, that it is and was also used in a racist context, for example in theatre. So I asked two black german friends of mine how they felt about it, and they said they don’t feel disturbed at all, since I wasn’t using it to actually represent a black person, adding red painted lips or doing shit like that. So I also used this colour a couple of times, because black just looks damn cool! I actually only became aware of the whole dimension of it after doing some more research about it this winter. I understood that in America and the UK, there’s a real long and dreadful tradition of black face, because of historic reasons much bigger and more present then in Germany. I guess that’s also why the friends I asked here back in the day didn’t feel so concerned about it. After all, I understand that regardless of my intentions, black face is a very strong symbol in some cultural contexts, whether I like it or not, and I can’t just ignore that. Also, since a lot of people see and discover me in the context of the African Shakedown releases nowadays, which is actually only a small part and not the musical centre of what I’m doing, it can definitely lead to misunderstandings. And since the last thing I want to do is to disturb and upset black people, I decided to only use different colours in the future.
Can you tell me about your residency at Renate?
I’ve been one of the official resident DJs of Salon zur wilden Renate for about 4 years now and I’m very happy about being part of that particular club. I play there about once a month and book ‘The Magic Movement’ label nights, which happen about every two or three months. Renate is one of the few spots in Berlin where the people running it still do it with passion. They do theme parties once a month, not because the concept might sell well, but because all of them just really like to dress up! The bar staff, the legendary artist care, everybody is super nice… I feel very home at Renate. I’m also able to play long sets there, between three to six hours, which I love. When I’m supposed to play for two hours, that really stresses me out, but 6 hours, hey cool, no problem!
You are a member of Wahoo with Dixon and Georg Levin, how do you compare performing live to your DJ sets?
I used to play with Georg and Dixon at a couple of gigs, after they produced their album. Nowadays that project is very quiet. I performed on stage since very early childhood, mostly solo with classical guitar, and later a lot with a guitar duo and several bands. So this really shaped my idea what it generally means to perform music. My experience is that of course it is a different quality of energy, when you perform live with a band. When you play an instrument and create the music in that very moment, you are as close to the music as you can ever get. I always try to have the same energy when I play records and treat the gear as an instrument too. Maybe the flow doesn’t get as intense as it can get when I play an traditional instrument, but it’s pretty close. I’m also very focused when I dj and can’t really talk to anybody while I do it. Both ways I give a lot of myself to the audience, dance a lot and stuff, that’s why performing is always very intense for me.
What is your studio set up?
I’ve played classical guitar since I was 6, so I have a couple of different guitars, guitar effects, a twin reverb and so on. From this stuff I really love the Moogerfooger Phaser and my Antonio Marin-Montero guitar! Besides that I got a Little Phatty, Bass Station, Virus TI and Hohner Clavinet. I also got some very nice mics, like a Neumann KM84 and Pearlman TM-1, because I record a lot of stuff, like percussion and so on. But I think the most important parts of my studio are my PMC speakers, the acoustic tweaking of the room itself, a graphic spectrum analyser, and my ears. I’m not too crazy about vintage gear and drum computers. I mostly record samples when it comes to drumming and with synths, well, they have to work easy and sound good, that’s all I care about. The most important thing is the idea and not the gear anyway. When it comes to mixing, I work together with Christoph Schlimbach. He is just incredible and helps me to bring out the sound I intend to. Without him I would be lost in sound, quite literally.
I’ve been playing your track ‘Silence’ from the ‘In Between Reality’ EP and getting lost in its almost mystical groove. How did this track come about?
I started with samples I took from a 70s jazz record from a veeeeeeery famous pianist. These samples are band hits, playing several large chords with tenor sax, piano, bass and cymbals. As far as I remember, I recorded the percussion and the bass next. To be honest, I started to write ‘Silence’ and ‘The Fire Dance’ in 2007! It took me years to bring them into the shape I wanted them to be in. Hopefully the next releases will develop a bit more quickly.
I’m intrigued by the wonderfully psychedelic artwork that accompanies your music and online profiles, do you design this yourself?
The label bosses of the Magic Movement from Cairo came up with this artist called Laprisamata from Madrid. His work is just amazing and I’m very happy that he made this stunning cover. After the 3rd Magic Movement Release he is going to make a new one I’ve heard.
Do you have any esoteric interests and practices?
I’m really not into esoterica in a New Age sense. It actually drives me crazy. But I’m very interested in mysticism and Zen. I do Butoh, which, like most of the Japanese art forms, has a strong connection to that. But it’s nothing I talk about too much, since it’s just not really possible. It’s always funny if you meet people who are interested in mysticism too, because you understand very quickly that you have a common understanding of something you actually don’t need to talk about. I’m also very interested in psychedelic culture, for example ‘The Doors of Perception’ by Aldous Huxley, where the band ‘The Doors’ took their name from, and which I can highly recommend. It’s very interesting to understand the political dimension of psychedelics, for example how the American government suppressed everything connected with LSD in the early 70s, not only in their country but even in the rest of the world. They were afraid that people would start to reject the whole system, like the Hippies did, on a broad scale, because you experience a world far from capitalistic ideas. I mean, Nixon declared Timothy Leary public enemy number one, just because he was telling people to “turn on, tune in, drop out”. I think this fact is really crazy and illustrates the power of psychedelics. I’m far from being a Hippie but these facts are quite striking. Besides the bizarre rhythmic exercises I do every sunset, I would consider dancing and playing music for myself as something mystic.
What are your plans for the summer?
I’ll be working on a lot of new music for myself and other artists for ‘The Magic Movement’ as well as the upcoming sublabel ‘Magic Jams’. We also have another African Shakedown coming up, so there’s plenty of work to do. At the end of the summer I will go to Sumatra for some time to experiment further with the 360 degrees and how to imprint yourself into space. With no second-thought. No remorse. Pure action.
Preview a selection of Noema’s forthcoming music here:
Debut release on ‘The Magic Movement':
African Shakedown #2
Brazilian Shakedown #1