Yatra Arts seeks a wider audience for Icelandic electronic music in 2012. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?
Gaukur á stöng was filled with the great, the good, and the unwashed when Icelandic electronic duo Reptilicus took stage on December 9, 2011. They were there to witness a truly spine-bending performance celebrating the release of their limited edition single ‘Initial Conditions’ after a thirteen-year hiatus.
At the gig, I ran into Canadian Praveer Baijal—the man responsible for the revival of Reptilicus. Curious to learn more about his work producing and promoting electronic music through his label Yatra Arts, I convinced him to do an interview with me later in the week…
Praveer, you’re obviously very passionate about electronic music. How did you get involved with that?
I was a young south Asian kid, about ten, eleven years old, growing up in the suburbs outside of Toronto in the ‘80s. I wasn’t excited about what I was hearing on the radio and rejected mainstream music pretty early on—stuff like the Eagles, etc. But then I bought ‘The Man Machine’ by Kraftwerk after hearing the track ‘The Robots,’ and that was a life changing moment for me.
I was into a bit of punk, but I was heading more into new wave, new romantic & synth orientated music by 1981—stuff like New Order and Japan. Then towards the mid ‘80s, I was getting exposed to the likes of Einsturzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV, and Coil. From there I just moved into more experimental sounds.
In the early ‘90s, I was obsessed with this stuff on all levels and I also really enjoyed networking with artists, so I decided to publish a record. This is pre-Internet, so we’re talking fax, phone, and regular mail. But I got a real kick out of just communicating with artists, and finding out what they were into.
During that time I bought an album by an Italian group called Sigilum S, which became our first 7´´release. I ended up producing several releases, including a compilation containing a pretty all-star cast doing power electronics in the early ‘90s— bands like Genocide Organ, Brighter Death Now and locals Orphx, to name a few.
So when did Yatra Arts enter the story?
I had already spent a good part of the late ‘80s and all of the ‘90s travelling for music—attending festivals and one off events. I was a still a bit of a lone ranger doing this as not many were willing to leave the continent from Toronto to see an ‘electronic music’ performance in say Belgium, Holland or Germany, but I followed my passion as I had been doing for years and spent my time and money on seeking out and experiencing things that excited me.
Yatra Arts was something I had always kept in mind as the next step for me—a new label for releases, organising gigs and showcasing events for local and international artists in the Toronto area. We started organising events Toronto in the early ‘00s, and by 2006, I put on the first Toronto show for the German label Raster Noton. They had, in the previous five years, always put on showcases at the Mutek festival in Montreal, which is the biggest electronic music festival in North America. Raster Noton became a significant part of what I was doing during these years and in 2007, we collaborated to present an installation with the Nuit Blanche arts festival, which featured a work created by Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender.
So Yatra Arts started as a promotional entity then?
Yes, it was definitely doing more events and acting as a network and platform for artists. I had been a bit hesitant to start another label immediately as we were in the midst of the music business committing suicide. I consciously decided to strictly focus on events for a few years until I was ready to start releasing physical products again.
When did you first become aware of and interested in Icelandic music?
I first became aware of Icelandic music in the ‘80s through familiar names such as KUKL, Björk and The Sugarcubes.
In my usual quest to discover new records, I came across ‘Crusher Of Bones’ LP by Reptilicus. I could only imagine that there wasn’t a whole lot of music being imported to Iceland at the time, so the fact that these guys were active in this area of music was exciting in itself.
Reptilicus have been on a long hiatus until now. How did you manage to get them active again?
Back in 2009 I was communicating with Danish–Icelandic musician Rúnar Magnússon, who asked me if I could set up some concerts for him in Toronto, which I did. We got talking and I found out that he was very good friends with Jóhann and Gummi of Reptilicus. It had been a while since I had spoken to them so I got in touch with and started a dialogue, just friendly chitchat. Then I heard in 2010 that they were performing at the Donaufestival festival in Vienna. I watched clips from their show and quickly realised what they were doing really appealed to me. Their sound was really dubby, minimalist and industrial—a winning combination in my books.
Then Jóhann commented on Facebook that he was a massive fan of German electronic artist Senking, a Raster Noton artist who I had worked with. I spoke to him about it and I basically said to him that I was restarting Yatra Arts and the timing was parallel to their comeback.
There was synergy then…
Oh definitely. I wanted to release a 7” from them and they said they were interested in doing it. Jóhann had actually posted an early demo version of ‘Initial Conditions’ on Soundcloud. I heard it and thought ‘This is a fantastic track!’ so I told Jóhann that I wanted to release it and told him to pull it from Soundcloud ASAP, which he did.
What are your overall thoughts on the experimental electronic scene in Iceland?
I’ve seen a whole range of talented artists in an area of music that not very many were aware of in Iceland. Take Auxpan, for example. I first heard him on a compilation through the Austrian label, Laton, which also had the likes of Mika Vainio, but few in Iceland know this.
There’s also really great work being done in the realm of visual arts here. I don’t think that there are many labels looking into that sort of thing. It’s given me a clear vision of what I want to do with Icelandic artists.
Now that you’ve released material from Reptilicus, what else can we expect from Yatra Arts in 2012?
We’ll be producing more releases in 2012. We’re looking to do a split release with AMFJ and Auxpan on limited release followed by a split release with Thoranna Björnsdóttir, aka Trouble, and Björk Viggósdóttir on cassette. And then we’re working on a compilation CD titled ‘Quadrant,’ featuring tracks by four Icelandic artists: Rúnar Magnússon, Auxpan, Thoranna and Jóhann Eríksson, solo.
So Yatra Arts is working hard at fusing some of the power electronics with some of the minimalist sounds in Iceland. The new Reptilicus single is a reflection of that.