Photo: Press (CTRLS)
You wouldn’t expect a regular Techno DJ to sandwich a mix with Toru Takemitsu’s groundbreaking tape manipulations from the 1960s. Then again, CTRLS isn’t your regular Techno DJ. Even though Troels Baunbæk-Knudsen only debuted five years ago under his cheekily chosen moniker, he’s already made a name for himself with a slew of releases on Kr!z’s Token imprint. CTRLS’s style is akin to his sometimes labelmate Inigo Kennedy insofar as it blends a rich tradition of Ambient, IDM and Bass music into a singular style of Techno. His contribution to our Groove podcast is accordingly not your regular Techno set, but much more.
You have gotten into electronic music in the mid 90s, before peer to peer networks or streaming services were even on the horizon. What and how were you looking for and getting the music you wanted?
It was much more of an exploration compared to how things are now. When I was too young to go to clubs I had to read magazines, listen to one of the very few electronic music radio shows and just go exploring in record shops. I ended up buying a lot of compilations and albums just for a few tracks. Once I started going out and hearing new music and meeting DJs it became a lot easier to get to the styles I was interested in. Once I got exploring on the net the online forums were the big one for getting to new music. Especially because the focus was so pure. Even though now you’ve got dedicated Facebook groups and Instagram pages, there was still a more intense atmosphere around the music and digging for new stuff in those times.
Before releasing your first CTRLS EP in 2012, you were putting out Drum’n’Bass music under your Pyro moniker, under which you still occasionally release new records. What was the initial idea behind CTRLS and why did it so rapidly become your artistic priority?
I just fell completely and utterly in love with Techno some time in the mid 00s. It was to the point where I think it must’ve been a bit annoying as I was trying to impress everyone around me how great it was. I also felt like I took quite naturally to it as a production style, so it all just made too much sense for me to not go all in. At the same time, I could feel that a purer, less euro-minimal’esque Techno sound was building again, so it was really exciting to see where it was all going to go. Especially after years of mostly Tech House and Minimal Techno.
All of your CTRLS releases so far have been released by Kr!z’s imprint Token. What’s your relationship with the Belgian and his label like?
We just get on really well, like a lot of the same music – outside of Techno as well – and we share a passion for a really engaged and intense approach to DJing. All that aside, he runs the label very professionally but still keeps a very tight focus on the music. There’s basically not a lot to not like about his operation. It’s to the point where I’m starting to feel like it’s almost too comfortable!
Besides your solo work, you have frequently collaborated with other artists. Most recently, you’ve released together with Apeiron Crew’s Solid Blake under the moniker Historical Repeater. What is it that you look for in collaborators and what are your plans with Historical Repeater?
I basically just look for people that I like and respect an,d that can add something to the music that I can’t. Blake has a massive knowledge of dance and electronic music and has introduced me to so many new things. In general I make sure to keep people like that around when I meet them but if you can work with them it’s even better. Lately, I particularly like to work with people that are great with music theory because it doesn’t really interest me personally and it’s such a different way of working and looking at music compared to how I’ve learned it myself. At the moment we’re really just trying to find a good home for the music and playing some live sets when we get offers we think might be fun. In general that project is all about having fun in the studio, so we’re in no huge rush. Up next is a remix of a Drum’n’Bass track from Monolog on BNKR records some time this fall.
Apart from your own music, you also work in audio engineering and in particular mixing. Are there any common mistakes you see others make and if so, what’s the best way to avoid them?
You know, as the software, sample libraries and music hardware got more common the stuff I’m getting is generally pretty solid already. But the big one is always bass and treble levels. It makes total sense since it’s a really challenging part of mixing. And most of that is usually people that don’t have a good listening environment or speakers, which is exactly why they come to me. So if you want to get ahead of the curve, then good speakers and a treated room will take you very far. As a more general piece of advice I’ll say that it’s very important to be aware that there’s a big difference between energy and texture. I see a lot of people using way too much bass or high end because they want more attitude, but in reality what they tend to want is a lot of texture and harmonics, meaning more midrange of some sort. It’s a mistake I make in my own music quite often as well and tend to rely on mastering engineers to pick up on.
Much like your own productions, your contribution to our Groove podcast blends subtle textures with rhythmical finesse. What was your idea behind it?
That’s exactly it. Lately I’ve been completely obsessed with the marriage of weird synthetic atmospheres and really creative and driving grooves. There’s something about that contrast that really gets my imagination and visual creativity going. Going in I knew I wanted to make a fairly intense podcast, there’s a lot of tolerance for faster and harder styles in Copenhagen just now and I’m really enjoying that. But I also didn’t want it to be dark as such, just energetic and a bit weird. To maximise that effect I’ve been working a lot with EQing and FX to really have the tracks work together. Selection-wise I’m generally quite excited about a lot of great music coming out right now, but I’ve had a busy summer in the studio so I wanted to include a lot of my own new stuff. Simply because that’s the vibe I’ve been on lately. I can get a bit caught up in all the new releases, and forget to dig, so I also made sure there was an oldschool nod of sorts in there with the Morgenstern and Veil (Oliver Ho, for those that don’t know) tracks, which by the way still sound completely fresh and more innovative then a lot of music being released now. And finally, I started and ended with parts of Takemitsu’s „Ai“ as it seems to me a lot of the world could use more love just now.
Last but not least: Where can we see you perform live or behind the decks in the near future – and what are your plans as a producer?
I’m a resident of sorts at Culture Box in Copenhagen, up next is september 30th with DVS1, and there’s a Substantiv Malmö date in October, as well as generally just hopping round Europe as per usual. I’m enjoying playing at home a lot lately too, there’s a great new DIY venue called Et Andet Sted („The Other Place“) that I’ll be working with, watch the CTRLS facebook page for updates. I’m reworking my live set, so that’s out of rotation for the immediate future, more news on that soon. As for my music, there’s a big Token project coming up at the end of the year and I’m doing a couple of VA projects, one being with Moscow’s Propaganda club and their in-house label early next year.
Stream: CTRLS – Groove Podcast 123
01. Toru Takemitsu – Ai
02. Sciahri – Insanity (Opal Tapes)
03. Alexey Volkov – Breakthrough (Escapism)
04. Ctrls – Untitled (Unreleased)
05. Inigo Kennedy – Revenge (Token)
06. Smear – Transect (Forward Strategy Group)
07. ? – ? (?)
08. Talker – Snub Nose (Standards & Practices)
09. Banke – Cheerlead (Unreleased)
10. ? – ? (?)
11. Ctrls – Rush Hour (Token)
12. Steve Stoll – Manipulation 2 (Hardtools)
13. Ladan – Rebound (Sublunar)
14. Ctrls – Untitled (Unreleased)
15. Ctrls – The Storm (Propaganda)
16. Christian Morgenstern – Miscellaneous Pt 2 (Kanzleramt)
17. Veil – Saline (Light And Dark)
18. Dean Rodell & Monolog – Do Not Cover – Historical Repeater remix (BNKR)
19. Repro – Breed in Weakness (Unreleased)
20. Ctrls – Untitled (Unreleased)
21. Ctrls – LXR track (Unreleased)
22. Cio d’Or – XXII (Semantica)
23. Daniel Andreasson – Mc35l# Rushup (Skudge)
24. Anastasia Kristensen – Going back in time (Mord)
25. Toru Takemitsu – Ai