16.04.2017 | Words by: Jasmin Hoek
This weekend marks the De School comeback of one of my favorite DJs around: Aurora Halal. Both her DJ and her live sets often leave the crowd dancing in a hypnotized state; Aurora has shown her talent for combining a dark and deep sound with a very groovy yet mysterious edge. She stretches the corners of techno to electro, to a Detroit underground-inspired harder side of (acid) house, topped off with some vague dreamy vocals drifting through. This particular sound can also be heard in her own productions, of which several tracks, such as Shapeshifter, have become instant fillers of dark and hazy dance floors.
This time at De School she is bringing along Daniel Martin-McCormick performing as Relaxer, also known as Ital, and the mind behind the Lovers Rock label. Aurora comments: 'I’m really happy that this time Relaxer is joining me. Relaxer started a year ago as a slew of strange 12”s with a funky, techno pulse but often with paranoid vocals murmuring on top. Some of them were more lo-fi and others were intensely powerful. I tried DJing those and immediately got a crazy response, and now my secret weapon of choice is whatever he’s been cooking up. I love this vibe of tenderness, melancholy and also strength, not a lot of techno does that. Relaxer is also Ital, the person I collaborated with as Ital & Halal, and who I was first touring with when I was making visuals. I think these themes run through all his projects but Relaxer particularly clicks for me.'
At De School, we had the idea to interview them together, but Aurora creatively came up with the idea to have a conversation with Daniel on his new project instead:
AH: This is a brand new live project, right?
DMM: Yes I wrote most of the set a few months ago and have played it twice so far, at Berghain where it debuted and at Institut fur Zukunft in Leipzig. When I start working on a set I try as much as possible to envision the room and the whole experience. So when I was writing for Berghain, I wanted to use that room as a jumping off point for a sort of spiritual descent. I had a very clear image of an exorcism happening through techno, where the pulse of the music would create a pleasurable field in which the audience and I could engage with and confront personal demons.
As I was getting deeper into the writing I started to notice that a lot of the samples & titles I chose had themes of workplace frustrations, toxic masculinity, fragility and violence against women, all things which scare me. In my work it’s important to comment on our larger external reality. Something abstract, like a weird, unnerving pitch bend on a synth can evoke all this for me. It’s all in there, and I’m discovering it as I write it.
This is something I’ve always looked for in techno and house music - the steady beat moves you along and gives you a sense of security while you engage with life’s harsh and/or beautiful realities.
AH: I liked hearing your 'imagine the room' philosophy when we were both preparing for our live sets at Sustain-Release last year, you said you were envisioning the trees while you were in the studio. That worked for me too, I like abstract music but also having something evocative to think about which transports you. The stage we played on was indoors but with a row of trees surrounding the top, and a bouncy wooden floor. So I was writing synth parts thinking they were mist rising, and since my set was early on, seeing my basslines as a coil of the night’s energy concentrating and growing stronger as the set went on.
DMM: This is your third time at De School, are you preparing specifically for the venue now? Would a set at De School be different than at S-R?
AH: S-R is my home and I also feel in a way that De School is like a home base, the same way Berghain is, which is so far the only other place I’ve had a 4 hour DJ session. My number one rule is be myself no matter the context. Feeling comfortable can really bring out the best though. At Berghain there’s of course a certain sound that most DJs play on the main floor, and since I knew I won’t do that, I was very nervous early on that my style wouldn’t be accepted. But the feeling I had once I was in De School's booth every time wasn’t fear at all, but that I was channeling an intense power which made me feel relaxed, and connected.
I guess the last time we played together in Amsterdam was at a Subbacultcha party a long time ago. I think a lot has changed in our ideas since but that was sort of the seed.
DMM: That was in 2014 and my thinking about live sets was shifting a lot. The music was moving in a more fluid and heavier direction, with a darker, trippy vibe coming through. I was also interested in how I could use club dynamics as a bedrock for longform, slow building moods. I found the more I could streamline the set, the more room I had to go farther out. These ideas emerged at first gradually and then quite quickly, and I realized I wanted a new alias to contain them. This was essentially the seed for Relaxer.