They say that the creative process is more a process of surrender than it is of control, and when it comes to electronic music, this couldn’t ring truer. As Danish producer, DJ and Electronic Music Production & Performance Bachelor alumnus Johan Klinkvort, aka Shatter Hands, says, when working in the digital space, you can not only undo your choices, but also “undo your undoings”! In his case, however, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing.
Johan’s latest release, Block and Tackle (Revisited), a remix-heavy encore of his brilliant 2019 album, is both a testament to the power of a fresh approach and to letting go. Because if a piece of art can never truly be finished, perhaps it is the listener, rather than the artist, who ultimately completes it.
In the latest of our Where Are They Now? series, we caught up with Johan to learn what he’s been up to since leaving dBs Berlin, and to delve deeper into his creative process.
Where Are They Now?
Featured photos by Roberts Osis
“I think it’s healthy to let your work exist in the moment you made it, and let it rest afterwards”
It’s been three years since you graduated from our Electronic Music Production & Performance Bachelor. What have you been up to since then?
Phew! A lot. I moved back to Copenhagen and found myself a studio space and a job at a music shop — one that was flexible enough to give me the freedom I needed to create, produce, perform and DJ. I also started a small label called Super Bad Disco with my two friends. We are currently working on two releases for the beginning of this year.
Several months ago, you released the brilliant album Block and Tackle, which was described by Urban Waves Records as the start of a whole new chapter in your career as a music producer. What inspired you to create a revisited version as your latest release? Do you think that a piece of art is ever truly finished?
I made a lot of music during that period of time, but I had to kill some darlings, interludes and long intros for the vinyl release. Not because the music wasn’t good enough, but because of the limited space on an LP. So I sat there with some tracks which were made for Block And Tackle, and felt that they were strong enough for another release. In addition, I made a remix and I also reached out to one of my favourite german beat makers, FloFilz, for another remix. So the label was keen on releasing a follow-up.
The second question is tough, but it couldn’t be more relevant in this digital age. I could probably write an entire essay on the subject. I almost never finish music if I don’t have an immediate deadline, set either by myself or someone else (label, collaborator etc.). Working in a DAW will always allow you to come back and revisit (ooh!) the work you’ve already deemed finished. To me, it’s a HUGE pitfall. There are no consequences to your actions; you can always “undo” your choices and even undo your undoings.
I think you need to finish your current project or piece of art in order to move on to the next one with a fresh mindset and new ideas. Sometimes that can be the hardest and most fear-inducing thing to do. However, it feels so rewarding when you realise there’s nothing more to do and simply have to say, “It’s done.” Also, I think it’s healthy to let your work exist in the moment you made it, and let it rest afterwards.
“I couldn’t have predicted what my collaborators would bring to the table and that, to me, is the key essence of collaboration”
Why is it important for you to collaborate with other artists on your releases?
It wasn’t, really, until I made Block And Tackle. I’ve always been very confident working on my own and having complete creative control. But, during the process of making the album, I realised that if I were to make something other than a beat tape, my productions could benefit a great deal from working with others. I’m not a singer or a rapper, nor am I good at playing or jamming on instruments, but I knew what my productions were missing. However, I couldn’t have predicted what my collaborators would bring to the table and that, to me, is the key essence of collaboration.
We’d love to also talk about your 2018 EP Shatterdays. We recall you saying that half of its tracks began as homework for various dBs Berlin classes. Could you talk about the creative process behind this EP – from creating these early versions to finally releasing them years later?
Before starting at dBs Berlin, I worked in Logic Pro, but I switched to Ableton Live during our first semester. To me, my homework (tracks/ideas) sounded like I hadn’t fully found my own “sound” yet. I struggled with working in a new DAW and having to learn the new interface. After graduating, I kept coming back to the sketches and tracks I made for each semester. Some were finished tracks and others were almost there, but I didn’t like the idea of them just sitting on a hard drive. To me, though, they weren’t fit to be released together.
So I decided to finalise and release them one by one, each Saturday, until I didn’t have any more left. I announced it on my various social media platforms, thereby creating the aforementioned deadline I needed to actually complete my goal. It was a brilliant way for me to clean up my hard drive and get some buzz going on my dusty SoundCloud profile.
“Approaching music more academically — be it discussing, listening, producing, analysing or playing — is perhaps the best thing I took from dBs”
What were the most important lessons you learnt at dBs Berlin that you’ve carried forward into your career?
Better work ethics, I would say. Planning, creating time frames, scheduling and setting deadlines for myself. I would also say that approaching music more academically — be it discussing, listening, producing, analysing or playing — is perhaps the best thing I took from dBs. It has really expanded my vocabulary a great deal.
In your final year at dBs Berlin, you won CDR’s Dimension Sounds contest, with a track inspired by the night. What’s your advice to current students thinking of entering similar competitions?
Do it! Another deadline to work against. And, to me at least, the competitive aspect is fun; it helps me to think outside the box and really try to do some extraordinary things. Sometimes these contests have a set of rules or dogmas that can inspire new ways of thinking and working.
Be mindful, though, that you as a contestant will always be free promotion for the company or organisation running the competition, as well as their third parties. Make sure that the prize is worth the work you put in and think twice about who is winning the most in the end. Lastly, don’t feel bad if you don’t get picked. Look at it as a chance to get something done, work outside of your comfort zone, better yourself and have some fun.
“I look at creating a set the same way I would go about producing a track…Only, in this scenario, it’s in real time, in front of an audience, and you can actually feed off of people’s reactions whilst producing”
What’s your number-one piece of advice to anyone considering a music career?
Only you can decide what a career in music is. Career is a highly subjective term — I learnt that at dBs!
You’re quite a regular in Copenhagen’s club circuit. How would you compare producing a track to creating a live set?
To me, it’s pretty much the same. I look at creating a set the same way I would go about producing a track. I think about dynamics: the intro, the highs and lows, transitions, breaks, pauses, etc. Creating a live set is essentially “producing” a track, which can be anything from 30 minutes to six hours long. Only, in this scenario, it’s in real time, in front of an audience, and you can actually feed off of people’s reactions whilst producing.
What does the future of music, technology and performance look like to you?
Tough question! I think it really depends on which genre of music we are talking about. But let’s say that we’re talking about the musical realms I travel within. A lot of the music I listen to is made on equipment which either adds a certain desired sonic quality when using it to produce or perform, or is somewhat affordable (let’s face it, we’re musicians, not real estate agents). So I don’t see too much change there — but who knows?
Technology can create a lot of fantastic instruments that allow you to make new and previously unheard sounds etc., but if it’s only affordable to an elite group, it won’t matter. Luckily, there is some wonderful, affordable, equipment out there and some great freeware as well. I think we’ll still see more laptops onstage, alongside more MIDI controllers. But hey, we’ll also have a new-generation audience who understands what is going on when they see the equipment up there onstage.
I, myself, push buttons on my Roland SP-404A when I perform. So far it’s been good fun, but it doesn’t really allow for me to improvise too much, unless I work within the same BPM on all my tracks. So I’m trying to implement a Push 2 into my production and performance, and I would like to play with a drummer for future performances.
Finally, what events can we look forward to in the coming weeks?
If I were in Berlin, I’d go to Panke in Wedding for the East-West Sessions. They’ve got local heroes Beatpete, Figub Brazlevic, and some other people playing there on the 12th of January. In Copenhagen, I’d go see the band TUHAF. They play really dope Turkish psych-rock. 18th of January at Vega.
Thinking about applying to study Electronic Music Production & Performance with us in 2020? You can already RSVP to our 22nd of February Open Day, where you’ll get a tour of our facilities and studios and take part an electronic instrument jam session, guided by our tutors and students.