Photo: Press (Exos)
When dub techno was forged in Berlin in the early to mid 90s, it did not take long for the world to appreciate the curious fusion of two genres that, apart from an emphasis on bass frequencies, did not seem to have much in common. There were corners in the world where the releases from Basic Channel and the Chain Reaction label fell on even more fruitful ground than anywhere else: Iceland’s tight-knit scene became a hotbed for young producers adding their ideas to the formula. Exos was one of them, and for a brief period he seemed unstoppable. Having released his breakthrough EP Green Beat on the legendary Thule label while he was still a teenager, Arnvidur Snorrason released more than a dozen EPs and three LPs in just eight years before going almost completely radio silent. In recent years however, the name Exos became a staple again in the techno scene also thanks to supporters of his work like Nina Kraviz and his own work ethos. These days, Snorrason is back to being unstoppable: apart from having freshly founded the Planet X label, he is currently readying a massive reissue project, all while already putting the finishing touches to his first album in 18 years. Exos’s contribution to our Groove podcast may give you a first taste of how it will sound like in two densely packed hours.
You were introduced to techno through Icelandic radio in the early 90s and your father – himself a musician known as Octal – heavily encouraged you to start making music. The Thule label was obviously in full swing at that time, but how did the local scene in Reykjavík look like? Were there spaces to go, a scene?
The scene was actually pretty good at that time, we had a big club open that hosted events, bands, DJs. I remember The Prodigy playing there, and Masters At Work. My first time going there was to listen to Damon Wild in the year 1995. It was called the Moon Club. This was before the internet so we got all our information through a radio program called the Party Zone on Saturday nights. There were about ten DJs that played there, and two or three of them played techno. That’s where back then I got most of my techno knowledge from. DJs at that time were really deep into the scene and they used to hunt records as if it were food in the jungle. The vinyl obsession was serious. If you wanted a record, you had to get it somehow. No matter what. But in many cases, it was not possible. That’s why Icelandic DJs went to London to buy records. London was the best place for it, even better than Germany. In the year 1997, Reykjavik had another legendary club called Thomsen. That was a smaller space and more intimate. The weekends were long and wild.
Earlier this year, you have launched the label Planet X with an EP featuring old and new material of your own. This month, you will release an EP featuring Matrixxman and Bjarki under his Q-Cumb alias. What’s the concept of Planet X?
The concept is pretty simple actually. I want to build up a platform for harder material than I have been releasing through the X/OZ label, which is more experimental and dubby. Planet X is rougher and harder. I have actually been planning it for two or three years and now it’s happening. I have some old and new friends coming out on Planet X. Remco Beekwilder, DJ Rush and of course a Gotshell release featuring Setaoc Mass and Takaaki Itoh remixes. So there is a lot of exciting material coming up.
You will also re-release some of your classic releases from around 1997 to 2001 on three different releases in the course of three months. What made you undertake this task?
Yes, that’s something I have been planing for quite some time now. As I get a lot of messages, questions and requests about my old material that was released between 1997 and 2001, I decided to re-release all the old stuff that came out on vinyl back then. Most of it isn’t even available on YouTube. I added some remixes and edits from close partners such as Waage, Ohm, Bjarki, Lafontaine and Octal Industries, to name a few. The first release is coming out in December and it’s my first release ever, originally out in 1997. The second release coming out is my favourite, Q-Box. Then the third will be Downgarden, which originally came out in 2016. Then in January, I release all the stuff that came out on Force Inc, the albums Eleventh and Strenght. In February, I will release the rest of the music that came out around that time and also new unreleased music as well.
The time in which the original releases saw the light of day was a very prolific one for you – you put out three albums in 2000 and 2001 alone. After 2004 however, you had noticeably slowed down before releasing music more frequently again in recent years. Why did you become so elusive after 2004?
A lot of exciting things happened in 2004. Also a lot of other things, difficult things for a lot of artists and a lot of labels. In 2004 Dave Clarke, the vinyl master himself, predicted that all the vinyl industry for dance music would disappear. He was right. A year later, most of the distribution companies for Techno went out of business. I actually started a label called Do Not Sleep in 2005 and I couldn’t continue as the vinyl market was so bad. Many of the biggest names in Techno had big problems with their distributors and the main distributor Prime even went out of business. Digital music was taking over, not only the CD market but also regards to the studio equipment. I wasn’t ready to make the shift to the digital world. I had four or five releases lined up and confirmed on different labels in 2004, but they all told me that the market crashed almost overnight. Some of my mates in the label business lost a lot of money as well. So I focused more on my DJing and played some local and international gigs at this time. And in 2005 I started doing techno events in Iceland. That was fun and because of a stressful mindset as a DJ and a promoter I forgot about being an artist.
You have also spoken about working on a fourth album. How is that coming along?
Yes, it’s ready and will be coming out in early 2020. I have been preparing it for three or four years now. The idea is to have some kind of follow-up to my last album, My Home is Sonic. With this album, I go deeper into my productions when it comes to dub versus ambiance. Those tracks all have a very strong connection to the Icelandic environment and some of the tracks on the album I dedicate to certain places on the island. The vinyl version is shorter than the digital version, just like it was with My Home is Sonic. I am excited to finally release it in few months.
As a DJ, you occasionally play on three decks. Why does this appeal to you as a DJ and what kind of preparation does a set on three decks need?
For me, playing on three decks and making it work is the most difficult thing I can ever imagine as a DJ. When I am doing it, I don’t care if I am playing for a big crowd or alone. I am just there to challenge myself. I’m like a painter doing his best – I think a painter is just being creative and not caring about what people around them are thinking about their painting. So in a way, the three-deck mixing for me might not even be DJing after all. Anyways, when I am playing on three decks, I am concentrating as much as possible to have two records in the mix. Once I got that straight, I blend the third record into the mix. If it sounds ok, I try to keep it running as long as possible. And then I maintain that vibe on and on. If I don’t touch the decks for a while I lose the practice and the touch, but it takes me only one or two days to get it back. I did a full-on three-deck mix for Boiler Room in Tunis and I took a couple of weeks to practise for it. When I entered the DJ booth in Tunis, we had a thunderstorm and rain coming on to us so hard that my vinyl records were showered in seconds. The storm and the rain made the cameras blurry and it was very hot in the tent. But after watching I was happy with the technical part and the results.
What was the idea behind your contribution to the Groove podcast?
Well, it’s a blend of some Planet X unreleased tracks and some raw unmastered music of my own. Some tracks by Bjarki and my Icelandic posse, Waage, Lafontaine and some old classic stuff as well.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future and what are your plans as a producer and label owner?
I have been on an Asia tour for a few weeks now, but next week I am playing an extra long set at Berghain at the annual Figure night. Hope to see everybody there. Then preparing for South America for couple of months and then back to Europe next spring. In 2020 a lot of material will be coming out both on the X/OZ music label and Planet X and a lot of my own stuff as well.
Stream: Exos – Groove Podcast 232
01.Unknown – Intro
02. Pfirter – Mshrmstvndlprk
03. Benjamin Damage – Figure
04. BDMS – Tool
05. Setaoc Mass – 53 Degrees North PT. I
06. Rave Tool 69 – Trax
07. Denise Rabe – Sunfall (Insolate Remix)
08. Basic Channel – Jeff Mills Remix
09. Andre Kronert – Black Bloc
10. Amotik – Setis
11. Brian Sanhaji – Track
12. Regular Guy – Walks in a club
13. Electro – Track
14. Kenny Dope – Bucket Beats
15. Amotik – Vistār
16. Christopher Rau – Beasts
17. Bjarki – Slapstick
18. Lafontaine – Planet X 002
19. Format – Dark Comet
20. Gotshell – Planet X 005
21. Karenn – Track
22. Unknown – Track
23. Paradox – Vocal Tool
24. Tommy Holohan – Skull Crushing
25. Cressida – A Pristine Grundle
26. Lady Starlight – Figure
27. Brian Sanhaji – Symptom
28. Drum – Tool
29. Power -Tool
30. Acid – Rave Tool X
31. Roman Lindau & Roberto – Devastator
32. Ray Kajioka – Taking Action
33. Track – Ruff Tool
34. Mike Davis – Track
35. Syberian – Permafrost Acieed
36. Exos – Figure
38. Gotshell – Planet X 005
39. Arthur Robert – Frustration
40. Pfirter – Universal Constant
41. Ø [Phase] – Track
42. Rave 001 – XX2
43. Sedvs – Toy Shop
44. Exos – Trax 0049
45. Exos – Bingo
46. DJ Boss – Track
47. SEX – 001 – XXX
48. Bjarki – Sæhesturinn
49. Exos – Mind in Motion
50. Exos – Happy Acid Dude
51. Bjarki vs Kuldaboli – újehhh
52. Marlin Manson – Beautyful People
53. HardyHard – Xtarxz
54. Exos – Gorospe Judgement night
55. Kuldaboli – Djöfull Hata ég þig mikið
56. Old Psy Track – Unknown
57. Lafontaine – Planet X 002
58. I Murdered – Blood In Blood Out
59. Ongaku – Mihon #2 –
60. Sorcery – Orbature
61. Amit – Taylor Dub
62. Sorcery – Orbature (Samuel Kerridge Remix)
63. Amit – Live in India
64. Kuldaboli – Leyndarmál
65. Blade Runner – Track 4