German duo Grandbrothers are doing new stuff with old things. They create glorious, layered, uplifting electronica using a grand piano. That doesn’t sound all that impressive, until you see that all their beats are also created using tiny hammers all over the instrument, linked to sequencers and computers.
This geeky mix results in some really beautiful tracks and their debut album Dilation is one of my absolute favourites of the year. I caught up with Erol Sarp (piano) and Lukas Vogel (electro-mechanicals) to talk about their impending world domination.
Hi guys, so is this the first time you’ve played the UK?
Lukas: Let’s say it’s the first official gig we had here. We had a show in London a few months ago, but that was more a kind of showcase gig. Funny thing is that we got invited to Latitude because of that gig!
Blues comes from years of slavery and oppression. Rock’n’roll comes from teenage rebellion. Where does your music come from?
Erol: Pure boredom!
Fair enough. I’m curious about the little solenoids you use to make your beats. Are they hand-made? Magnets in coils?
Lukas: Yes, they are handmade! We calculated how much power it would need to get them running, what kind of components we needed, bought them and built them together. Those were some geeky good times!
And are they only hitting strings? What other parts of the piano?
Lukas: Besides hitting the strings, we also use them to hit the wooden and metal parts of the piano, thus creating percussive sounds that make up our beats.
Naïve Rider starts with what sounds like a synthesized beat, and has a few other very post-processed sounds
Erol: Yeah, but it’s not a synthie! You can hear me playing a chord in the beginning. Lukas freezes that chord, adds some distortion and sends it through his self-programmed sequencer in which he can set the tempo and beats. And this is part of our whole concept – all the sounds you can hear are generated in the piano – no synthesizers or samples.
What’s your writing process like? With such a complicated instrument is improvisation and jamming possible, or do you compose with other instrumentation?
Lukas: No, usually we use the grand piano only and we come up with most of the ideas and songs while jamming. Over time we have developed a good way of communication and sense for each others’ abilities and that makes it really fun to sit there and just play and let things happen. And when there’s an idea or fragment that we like, we start to build around it and add more and more to it.
Your tracks are often pretty complicated. Do you have backgrounds in formal composition?
Erol: Are they? *he smiles* We both learned some things about composition, arrangements etc. while studying. We had, like, really tough classes in theory of harmony, counterpoint, analysis of the baroque and romantic era and also jazz-harmonies and composition. So that helps. And I think we both have understood how to use that knowledge and some sort of musical instinct to create music and emotion.
Are your roles set? Does Lukas always do the electronics and Erol the keyboard?
Lukas: It was pretty clear, that we wanted to use our individual strengths, Erol having a more musical approach…
Erol: …and Lukas being the mastermind behind all these electronics. I’m always impressed by his technical and engineering skills – but always from a musician’s point of view. So probably this is going to stay that way. But sometimes while rehearsing we goof around and I sit behind the computer and Lukas at the piano. That sounds… interesting as well. We should do that live at some point!
Does your setup of mechanical devices around the piano change? Or might it ever change?
Erol: We always add more and new things to our setup, so you could say that it’s a constant development. I think we have just begun and there’s lots more sounds and ways of playing to discover and this is what keeps this whole project fresh and fun. It could be that it drastically changes at one point and that we might play a concert with only an upright piano and effects, or with two or more grand pianos. There’s lots of possibilities and that’s a good thing.
Do you think of your music as primarily electronic or classical?
Erol: Our music is a mix of different genres – there’s classical elements, electronic elements, Ambient, Pop-Music, Jazz, Folklore, and that’s what we always wanted to do. To play music that we like without any limitation on a certain style. And part of the concept was also to take this very historic and “dusty” instrument and put it into a new context – in a club for example – and make people dance. And the funny thing is: it works!
Who or what do you feel are your influences?
Erol: There’s obvious influences like classical composers – Debussy, Ravel, Satie… -and there’s also tons of wonderful musicians and producers that we listen to a lot. It’s always difficult to list them because we don’t to forget anyone but yeah… modern artists that have had a strong impact are Steve Reich, Ryuichi Sakamoto, The Cinematic Orchestra, Bonobo, Nils Frahm… the list goes on.
You seem to be the only band ever without a website. Don’t you want to take over the world?
E: It’s coming! Took us a while, but it should be done in a few… weeks…months… and then we’re going to take over the world – yes!
What’s on your rider? (Or what do you wish was on it?)
Lukas: Microphones, cables, …
Erol: I think he means backstage…
Lukas: Oh – booze! And fruit and crackers.
Who would you like to be listening to your music?
Lukas: Everyone in the whole world.
Erol: And my first piano teacher. That would show her!
Cats or dogs?
Erol: I like turtles!
That’s excellent. Thanks guys.
Debut album Dilation is out now, and is thoroughly deserving of your attention.