Text and interview by Ilia Rogatchevski.
Photos by George Nebieridze.
Ilia Rogatchevski speaks with Berlin-based producer Misantrop about their new album Reproaching the Absurd, which is out now on Opal Tapes. The artist discusses their writing process and talks about how night life, collaborations and musicology inform their work.
Misantrop is the nom de plume of Nicolai Vesterkær Krog, a Danish sound artist based in Berlin. Krog has a background in the music industry as a DJ and events organiser. As well as producing their own music and spearheading the Foul-Up label, Krog has also collaborated with Lasse Björck Volkmann as Glass Knot and with Tobias Rye Adomat aka Splash Pattern. Krog is currently undertaking a master’s degree in sound studies.
Misantrop’s debut album, Reproaching the Absurd, was produced over the last four years. Its seven tracks explore the thought processes of a reveler’s mind at a club, observing their different mental stages throughout the night and the following day. The record is also a sonic portrait of Berlin. It attempts to channel the city’s energy by tapping into its electromagnetic patterns, as expressed in the track Homebound, via Christina Kubisch’s induction headphones.
Reproaching the Absurd is an engaging intersection of club culture and sound art. In the press release, Krog describes their approach to making the album as “resolutely queer […] draw[ing] influence from the hardcore continuum, techno-dancehall, no wave, harsh noise, musique concrète, pop, ASMR, and beyond.” Misantrop’s collaborators include the saxophonist Jeremy Coubrough, the ambient musician Angelo Harmsworth and Tobias Rye Adomat, who mixed the album.
Let’s start with your background. Where are you from and what got you interested in experimental music?
I’m from the south of Denmark, from a little island called Falster. I moved to Copenhagen when I was 18 and came to Berlin eight years ago.
I got into experimental music quite early. I was 13 when I was making noise in the microsound genre. My technical background is all pretty much self-taught. I’ve done a few courses here and there, but nothing special.
When I moved to Copenhagen, I started DJing at parties. Later, I learned piano, because I really wanted to study musicology. Then I moved to Berlin. I was working behind the scenes in the music business and decided to start my label Foul-Up. A few years later, I drifted away from making art and music. That’s when I was like: “Maybe I should go back to university.” Which is why I’m in art school now.
What are your takeaways from the course?
I’m getting a lot out of it. I needed to restructure my life completely. I needed somebody to provide that structure for me. That’s what going back to school did. It made me completely refocus my life. It provided me with a lot of time to work on my ideas and develop them. Before, earning money came first, and art and music making was reserved for the little free time I had. Now I’m putting artistry first.
Reproaching the Absurd is a significant departure from the Limerence EP you put out a few years ago. The EP was more dance orientated and beat driven. The new album is reducing those club sounds to something more experimental, violent even. In another interview you mentioned that there are elements of disco, R&B and Eurodance as well as harmonies and chord progressions in the initial stages of the project. What made you strip those elements away?
It took quite a while to get the first EP ready. By the time I was done with it, I was in a different place already. I wanted to do something different. It was me doing club sounds and then injecting something experimental into it. It was very subtle, in a way. But then I was like: “Maybe I should flip the script to make it more clear what it is that I’m actually trying to do”.
I really like to work a lot with references. I think like a musicologist. I enjoy most kinds of music. Stylistically, there is nothing that I am opposed to, but aesthetically I’m very specific. I was open to everything and just trying out different things. I think I have a tendency to choose references that have the most extreme departures from what I know how to do. With most of the stylistic references, I never actually intended to get there. It was more like setting a destination, even though the goal was actually a detour. For instance, the disco and Eurodance thing, I realised, in the process, that it wasn’t where I was meant to be going.
I guess that’s the problem with having studied musicology. I’ve learned a lot of rules about music and it’s difficult to unlearn them again. I put a lot of effort into the harmonies and melodies, but it wasn’t working for me: creating a mood that I wasn’t into, a mood that was too emotional for the lyrics.
Your voice is hidden under the wall of sound. It’s disembodied, almost robotic. What initially interested me about the project was the idea that you go on this journey to a club and experience everything from ecstasy to depression. Were the lyrics an attempt to understand something about yourself from a distance, psychologically speaking?
Yes, definitely. The lyrics were the first things that I did. Reading them back now, it’s all straightforward to me, but I remember that they were very difficult to write. Putting into words what I had been experiencing helped me to actually understand it.
It is difficult to remember why I wanted to do it, but I’ve been thinking about it lately, and I think there are two reasons. One is that I was in this environment a lot. I was working in the scene. It’s pretty hedonistic. Partying is an expression of joy, right? I felt like I needed to be talking about how there were other experiences within that environment that weren’t very much fun.
The other thing is that I’ve been dealing with depression for a long time, since I was a child. I felt like I was surrounded by this empty empathy that wasn’t doing anything helpful for me. I wanted to expose myself. I didn’t want to be seen as somebody to empathise with. It was a harmony through conflict approach.
Let’s talk about your collaborators. There is a bit of saxophone from Jeremy
Coubrough on The Latent Image and Lingering Transgression, and a bit of guitar from Angelo Harmsworth on Trail of Stasis. How did you meet them and what did they contribute to the record?
I met Jeremy on the dancefloor in Berlin. I thought he looked familiar. I walked over and said “Hi”, before I realised that I didn’t know who he was. We started talking and it turned out that a friend of mine had introduced me to his music that same week.
Is that TLAOTLON?
Yes, it’s impossible to pronounce.
You played at the KW Institute together?
That was Haku Sungho, but Jeremy and I did play together, yes. It was this place called Villa Kuriosum (Sonic Curiosities, Jan 2020). That was an improvised set.
Me and Jeremy had known each other for a while. I guess we were just hanging out and then he mentioned that he got his saxophone back. I said I had been contemplating getting someone to play saxophone on The Latent Image.
So we went into the studio and ended up having these jam sessions where he played the saxophone and I would be doing voice and some electronic stuff. It was actually really helpful for doing the album, for getting more comfortable working with my voice. You mentioned that my vocals are pretty buried. That’s mostly a reflection of me being shy.
On the album there is also Angelo Harmsworth, who I’ve known for a few years. We were good friends before Covid, but there are some people who, for some reason, you got a lot closer with during Covid. At least that happened with me and Angelo. Suddenly, we were talking every day.
We were meeting up once a week and playing what we’ve been working on for each other. I finished six tracks for the album and felt like there was a guitar missing. It turned out that he played the guitar. It already felt like he was a part of the album, because he was giving me a lot of feedback.
The person who really helped, because he did the final mix of the album, was Tobias Rye Adomat.
You worked together on another EP, Idée Fixe, as Splash Pattern.
Splash Pattern is Tobias’ project. We released the EP as Splash Pattern & Misantrop. That project we were working on for a really long time. We’ve known each other for ten years and, at some point, we became closer. He was coming to Berlin, every once in a while, to hang out. He was actually the first person to whom I’d ever read the lyrics to. One night, we came back from the club and I forced him to read all the lyrics in my kitchen, which was not the most perfect end to an evening.
I’m also interested to hear about Christina Kubisch’s electromagnetic headphones.
I did a workshop with her. I got to borrow them for a day, which was a lot of fun.
How did you find the experience?
You’re not walking around with a thing [receiver] in your hand. You’re just wearing headphones and it’s the headphones that are producing the sound as well. It’s very interesting watching people listening to LED panels, lights and electric doors. Getting in the way of other people. It was fun.
Reproaching the Absurd is out now via Opal Tapes.
Originally published by Iklectik Off-Site, August 2021