Minimally-inclined Erased Tapes duo Kiasmos have a busy summer ahead with more than 20 gigs scheduled across two different continents planned, including the legendary Sónar festival and Britain's own Latitude. Clash caught up with Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen backstage at a recent London show, to learn why whisky and friendship are essential to their music...
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It's Friday night, and there is certainly no priest in sight at St. John-at-Hackney Church. The atmosphere is buzzing: dreamy projections and strobe lights illuminate the vast walls of the church, where 1400 people are waiting patiently in front of the stage.
Meanwhile, in a small backstage room with bright yellow walls and a big couch, the ambience is a little more relaxed. If the two musicians are nervous about the big crowd awaiting them on the other side of the wall, it certainly doesn’t show.
“Sleep less, eat less, work more. That is our model,” Ólafur Arnalds says in his characteristic Icelandic accent, while Janus Rasmussen, who is sat in a laid-back position, laughs and nods. In October last year they released their eponymous debut album on Erased Tapes to much critical acclaim. Such success, however, hasn't gone to their heads - both prefer to experiment, to keep their fingers in as many different pies as possible.
Ólafur, who won a BAFTA for writing the score to Broadchurch, has toured the world with his ambient piano and string compositions. Janus, on the other hand, is a renowned producer and member of both Bloodgroup and Byrta, preferring to get people moving with his synth-laden dance-pop.
“We met in 2007 and we were like ‘hey, we both like techno for some reason’,” says Janus. The pair share a love for Jon Hopkins, Talk Talk, German house producer Stimming and, admits Janus, “lots of R&B”.
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It wasn’t until last year that they went in the studio and assembled years of material into an album. It consistsof eight tracks, flowing together seamlessly, and sounds as if situated somewhere in the wasteland between neo-classical and dance music.
“We just made a lot of songs in about four weeks and in the end we tried to find a thread,” says Janus. “It is actually quite surprising that it sounds whole.” To which Olafur adds: “I don’t think you have to choose emotions intentionally when writing music. You can just write and whatever you write will always represent that period in your life.”
So looking back, is there anything in particular which characterises those four weeks? “Whisky, probably!” Ólafur laughs, while Janus shakes his head in the background, insisting that they were in fact quite sober - at least some of the time - while recording the album.
“I think this album is just a combination of our past and who we are”, Ólafur adds. The two have been best friends for years and agree that Kiasmos is the result of their friendship as well as being a meeting point between musical backgrounds. The minimalistic soundscapes are as danceable as they are emotional, as cold and subtle as they are embracing.
“Kiasmos is the place I go to when I need a break from everything. I dance a little bit on the stage and get everything out and then I can go back to playing sad songs on the piano,” Ólafur says, while his colleague laughs, and adds: “For me it’s just going to even more intense dancing.”
This is their second gig in London in four months, having played at Village Underground in November. This time around the crowd is twice as big and the venue is completely sold out. Although they have been working on separate projects in the meantime, Kiasmos has had a life of its own in cyberspace. “We didn’t really do anything” admits Janus. “The album has just been spreading online. It’s crazy.”
The man at the door tells them that they are on in ten minutes, but the guys are still equally relaxed. In the light of the two big tours coming up, they have spent a lot of time working on their live sets as well as producing a few new tracks.
“The music becomes a whole different experience in a live setting. You have to approach the songs differently and even change some of them. They become different songs when you play them for a different purpose,” Ólafur explains. “For every show we have played so far, we have added or changed something.”
A few minutes later, the crowd is erupting in applause, clapping and shouting eagerly, as the stage lights up and two figures – both tall and slender - enter. Slowly the beats start building up, flowing from wall to wall, getting more and more intense every minute...
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Words: Eir Nolsøe
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Follow Kiasmos online HERE.