A text-version of “Star Wars” plays on a 70s computer as Kenneth Vladas Balys, who grew up in Iceland and Canada, walks around his art studio at Grandi, introducing some new bass synthesisers he’s been making by himself. The studio is a dreamland of synths, old electronics, artwork, and a recording studio. Presenting them, Kenneth speaks openly, in a sophisticated manner, never swaying off track. Better known as K, he’s the co-founder and only permanent member of the Dada Pogrom. This year, he’s celebrating the 30th year of the tech noire project.
Stabbing a dictionary
Travel back to November 8th, 1989, the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall. K and three of his friends are just about to launch their new music project. Inspired by the likes Vomito Negro, Beastie Boys and Intercity, they were striving for a more aggressive industrial sound, using electronic equipment that had been discarded when disco music had died out. “My friend and I threw an English-French dictionary in the air and stabbed it with a fork two times,” K chuckles. The two words they penetrated were “dada” and “pogrom.” And thus, the band was born.
“Dada” was an anti-war movement started by French and German veterans in response to the irrationality and hopelessness of WWI. The art movement was characterised by a senseless randomness and critiques of capitalist society. “Pogrom,” meanwhile, originated from Russian. It’s a term similar to genocide. The mix—that of pacifism and violence—found its way easily into K’s music. “The Dadaists showed that enemies have been able to get together and not only forgive each other, but work together in getting away from the hate,” K explains. “I think I’ve just decided to adopt that philosophy. I like the sound of crushing music, however.” The result is what the artist describes as a “murky, minor-chorded horror dance sound with a strong anti-war message going on in it”—the genre of Tech Noire.
The old & the new
Three decades of creation has naturally changed the project. Not only has technology evolved, but so too has the music. When asked about the most important changes that the project has seen, K mainly cites the improvement of the skills he needs to fulfil his vision.
“My craft has gotten better. There is a time in a career when you’re grabbing the new tools and learning them but at a certain point you have to stop and start staying with the tools you’ve learned and get better at your craft instead,” he says. “I’ve hit that stage now. I like this idea that I am gonna stay with the old tools in the back and modern tools in the front.”
Indeed, his music studio is a curious assembly of synths, drum machines, sampling machines, and analogue tape recorders, fronted by a big screen and Pro-Tools II—a beautiful mix of old and new.
Four thousand monitors
In their 30th year, Dada Pogrom will release two new cassettes. The first is “Fosfori Ambra,” which features, as K explains, “1989 early Dada Pogrom with lots of 12-bit sampled stabs, hits and horror movie samples.” It will be released on Dada Pogrom’s 30th anniversary through åtåmåtån. The other is a re-release of the sold-out “The Synth Wreck of Vasa” through Kernkrach Schallplatten.
“I am shooting music videos for that project right now,” K finishes. “I am building a wall of green Italian monitors,” he says, smiling. “I only have four so far but I hope one day I will have four thousand.”
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