18.10.2019 | Words by: Ivar Laanen
On a stormy evening in Rotterdam, I received a message from my girlfriend, who was having dinner with her former philosophy professor Chris. She told me they were exchanging music, that she had just showed him some tracks from Aleksi Perälä
, and that I should come by.
Chris is a disciple of Hegel and a teacher of Marx—amongst other things—but tonight he was schooling us on the music of his youth. He went through a catalogue of tracks, tossing on some rather excruciating hardcore and queuing some of his favorite Aphex Twin tracks, including this banger
. He talked about the legendary club Nighttown
and spoke about the dichotomous nature of the music scene within Rotterdam when he was growing up, in which house and gabber were the dominant genres of the city.
But when he told us he wasn’t aware of the music coming out of Rotterdam today, I felt obliged to show him a track by some of the boldest representatives of the city nowadays: the electro duo Animistic Beliefs
. The chosen track was Reflection of a Language
off their new album Mindset: Reset
, a menacing yet dreamlike track in which a cyclical droning melody is supplemented by punchy kick drums and ghostly vocals. Before the track could even unravel itself, our philosopher was nodding his head and paying respects.
“Oh…this is good,” Chris uttered as he pulled out his phone and noted down the artist details. “Oh, this is very, very good. I will be listening to more of this.”
A certain sense of pride comes with showing an older generation of the city that underground electronic music like that of Animistic Beliefs is still alive and kicking in Rotterdam—and not entirely succumbing to the same commercial ‘Make it Happen’
narrative that the city council has fallen in love with. In a city where more clubs close and Starbucks open, it is in the city’s darker musical realms where the unimpressed take refuge—in Clone Records
, at Operator Radio
, and within tightly-knit musical circles. Or so it feels.
It doesn’t bother me to know that I didn’t witness the rise of house and gabber music in Rotterdam, though it does pain me a little to have never seen a Bunker party in the 90s
and all that filthy West Coast electro in The Hague. But what I am grateful for is to be alive now witnessing new waves of electro-infused records flooding into the Netherlands, with Animistic Beliefs at the forefront of it all right now.
Linh Luu and Marvin Lalihatu are the pairing that make up Animistic Beliefs. The two have been natives of Rotterdam their whole lives, and first appeared on the scene’s radar in 2015. It wasn’t their production that was turning heads at the point though—their first release didn’t come out until 2018. Instead, it was the duo’s live acts that didn’t involve any laptops or DJ-setups, and that relied solely on self-built modular systems and drum machines. In clubs like the now defunct Transport, the two were using this setup to pump out blistering techno and electro in the style of Detroit’s forefathers.
To believe in Animism is to believe that everything, including plants and inanimate objects, has a living soul. For Linh and Marvin, their artistic name is a testament to the soul that lives within their machines, their musical devices.
On a mild September afternoon, I biked to their place in the city’s old north to have a little chat ahead of their upcoming gig at De School. There’s some both intriguing and humanizing about seeing artists outside the performance element you’re accustomed to seeing them. At the kitchen table, Linh is casually making a gouda cheese sandwich. Marvin then appears from behind her and shuts the window, muffling the sound of drilling and construction coming from the street below. Otherwise, the home is quaint and quiet, with quirky art fixtures on the walls and fantasy trading cards scattered all around the place.
“Want one?” Linh asks, pointing at her sandwich.
In the sound of Animistic Beliefs, you can taste the distinct influences of Detroit and West Coast electro. Such is the natural consequence of the duo having started out as a live act rather than producing via Ableton. Funny enough, it was an employee of Coolblue who steered Marvin towards hardware early on.
“In 2009 I started a music study and was playing around with music on the computer,” said Marvin. “But then my taste started to change, and I started studying how the older artists I liked made their music, which was through hardware. At that time, I was also working at Cool Blue—and there was this guy working there who was at least 2 generations older than me who knew a lot about modular systems and synthesizers. Turns out he was producing a lot of acid and techno back in the day. He pointed me towards a good synth on Maarktplaats. Later I got an MPC and over time, I kept trying out new hardware, buying and selling.”
Eventually, Marvin pulled Linh into the world of electronics.
“I’m self-taught in guitar, but through Marvin I started moving towards the electronic sphere, said Linh. “At first I was playing a lot with Marvin’s instruments, and only later was I using modulars to build instruments. That actually started through a friend of ours who had a soldering
club on Monday evenings…”
“Super nerdy,” Marvin laughs.
“Yes, super nerdy, but fun. The club members were mainly older people, and you would go there because you could have a gezillig time soldering together instead of doing it at home bored by yourself. There was even cake baking and tea drinking.”
“…and synthesizer building.”
With electro as their central medium and analogue systems as their means to bring it, perhaps it’s only natural for people to draw comparisons
between Animistic Beliefs and the legendary electro outfit Drexciya. And while some of their early work, like the track Marianentrog Patrol
, does feature dark subaquatic-like soundscapes, such comparisons feel stale and out-of-date—especially considering the expansive sonic terrain they’ve chartered in their recent debut album. I remember reading a Resident Advisor piece titled “2017 in Electronic Music
”, in which Sherard Ingram (DJ Stingray) is quoted as saying "Stop sticking with the paradigms of the past. Sound like the 21st century. Blow our minds." Flash forward two years later and that call-to-action is being answered; not only with tantalizingly quick compositions fit for hyperloop travel
, but also through the use of new conceptual themes such as Artificial Intelligence (see video
“The album is very much inspired by AI and futurism, but it’s also based a lot in mythical subject matters…” Marvin starts.
“…in folklore and mythical creatures, such as succubi,” adds Linh, referring to the supernatural demon in folklore
that appears in dreams and takes the form of a woman in order to seduce men. The second track of the album happens to be titled Succubi Island
; you can imagine what happens there.
“In our heads there are these wild fantasy worlds, but that’s not per se something you will hear in the music,” says Marvin. “What I always find nice is that we can present a world to you and that it’s up to you to fantasize about what’s going on in that world.”
On top of these influences, Marvin also suspects Rotterdam as a habitat tints the music that Animistic Beliefs puts out. It certainly plays a role in their imagery: a close look at the back-cover of their Molucca Quake EP
shows the concrete, shield-shaped window sills of the Blaak Tower.
“I’m not sure if it’s on-purpose, but the music that tends to come out of Rotterdam is always a bit darker,” Marvin says. “You can feel so well that this isn’t the capital city, and if you parallel that with the music, you can feel that it’s also a bit more raw and unpolished.”
“Yeah I agree, but at the same time we also have—because of the bombings—a very new, futuristic city,” Linh counters.
“Yes, but futuristic isn’t always cozy.”
Whatever it may be that is influencing Animistic Beliefs to produce their particular strain of electro, underground electronic music is all the better for it. Few things come close to the feeling of watching a good artist make live music in front of you, but in electronic music, that performance element is undeniably lacking today, especially in comparison to other realms of music. But then there’s Animistic Beliefs: a hypnotizing, unforgiving live interaction between humans and machinery—arising from Rotterdam city.Animistic Beliefs plays live in our basement during the Saturday night of Het Weekend 18.10 – 21.