Published March 10, 2017
“I used to think everything sucked if it wasn’t rock,” admits Án, known to his friends and family as Elvar Smári Júlíusson. In January, the 21-year-old electronica producer released his debut EP, ‘Ljóstillífun’ (“Photosynthesis”), —a minimalistic slow burn of synthesized soundscapes, bass drum kicks and sombre piano melodies.
“I’m from the suburbs,” Elvar chuckles. “I was always a post-rock indie kid. It wasn’t until I started sneaking into downtown nightclubs at sixteen or seventeen that I heard electronic music. You need to experience electronic music to understand it—the space, and how the sound system feels. Shitty Bluetooth speakers won’t do.”
Despite his young age, Elvar’s taste has gone through permutations. As a teenager, he dreamed of forming a band, as he spent his time composing alternative rock songs by himself, with just an amplifier and “sick amounts” of reverb and delay. “I never found a collaborator,” he says. “So as I started getting more into electronica it was obvious that I should do it on my own.”
Graphic design as music
The piano features heavily on ‘Ljóstillífun’, but the instrument is a recent addition to Elvar’s arsenal. “I played the guitar,” he says. “Then the composer Hafdís Bjarnadóttir taught me piano for the last three years of my studies. With her, it somewhat stopped being about the guitar, and became more focused on writing music. We turned to the piano, and other instruments.”
Elvar studies graphic design at the Iceland Academy of Arts, and feels his two disciplines—music and visual art—influence each other. In fact, most of the individual track names on the record are references to graphic design terms, including the Icelandic words for contrast, grid and ratio.
“The electronic music that most resonates with me is made by graphic designers,” he explains. “You can just feel it. Like Guðmundur Úlfarsson’s Good Moon Deer and Anton Kaldal’s Tonik Ensemble. I feel it when I look at their designs and listen to their music that it’s the same thing. Only one is sonic and the other visual.” Needless to say, Elvar designs his own album artwork.
Without the elements
Elvar’s first release comes out on Möller Records, founded by veteran electronic producers Skurken and Futuregrapher. “I’m newcomer to the scene, but everyone’s very friendly,” says Elvar. “I didn’t grow up in the loop. I’m not from a family of artists.”
His moniker Án—the Icelandic word for “without”—feels apropos to Elvar’s minimalistic music. “I strip down my tracks, remove elements until there’s less and less and fewer pronounced sounds,” he explains. “Electronic music can feel cluttered to me. It works for some people, but it’s not my approach.”
The process is time-consuming: rebuilding a track, block by block, until it’s turned into a different animal entirely. “All of a sudden I’ve switched out every component until it’s a completely new song, maybe ten times,” he says, conceding with a smile: “I should probably stop it.”
Hear ‘Ljóstillífun’ on Bandcamp.