Melawati Interview by Rocco Tyndale Music / Art / Label / Interview


Subtempo Guest Mix 041


Hi, my name is Melawati. I make electronic music in a barn a little under Brussels, by playing around with pulses and voltages. My studio is a laboratory of cables, old synths and misused recording gear. You can find me there most days, chiseling away at the sonic chaos in search of the song within. The songs I do find are warm and fuzzy, except when they’re harsh and painful. I feel great and so can you.

Hi Martijn, first of all, thanks for doing this mix for us.

It’s my pleasure. It’s a good day when you can sit down and focus on music for an evening, sifting through sounds and textures, coming up with a story. You look up, and it’s well into tomorrow morning without you even noticing. It’s really great.

I’d like to start by asking what tools you used to create this mix.

I use logic, which might be a bit of a weird choice, but it’s the tool I have at hand at the moment, as I’m between set ups. Whatever works.

Is there a theme to this mix?

When I decide on a vibe, or sit down to create a mix like this, I often find a visual or color scheme that I then put up on an old TV I have in my studio. I used to project it on the ceiling, bathing the studio in a multicolor glow, but alas, the projector broke. I still however keep the image close, as it sets the mood and keeps me on track with what I want to do.

A jumbled cable mess or the playground of your dreams, all depends on your point of view. One of Melawati's preferred studio tools: the eurorack.

At this moment, I’m experiencing a bit of whiplash from summer ending, and the return of the rain has me in a weird mood. So, although it might not be apparent straight away, the image I had floating around my brain while making this was wet asphalt, and purple clouds. It might not count as a theme as such, but I often try to not overthink these things and take them too literal.

You’re about to release your latest album, Artimia. First off, congratulations and happy release week to you! I’ve had the pleasure of getting an early listen and it’s gorgeous.

Thank you very much. It’s an album born from a dark place, but I’m glad for it to finally see the light of day.

Tell me a little about what this album means to you.

It’s an album that grew organically over the last two years. I was in a band at the time, but needed an outlet for the more experimental side of my music. I started messing around with modular synths, occasionally posting these experiments online, more to show off the sound design side of it all. I didn’t think I was working towards an album, but a lot has happened over the last two years, and what started as long recordings of me fooling around in my studio, recording the vibe of the day, got cut up, resampled, reworked, thrown away and slowly but surely became an album.

Does the title have a special meaning to you?

A while back, I had an issue with my heart. It would stop out of nowhere, skip a couple of beats, and kick back into gear. It’s a very weird feeling and had me pretty stressed for the better part of a year. The jams I was recording in my attic in Brussels, became an outlet. A way of really being in the now and not overthinking the moment too much. A big part of the day I spent worrying and listening to my own heartbeat, but with my hands on my synths I could, for a minute, let go and feel something else. Those recordings were hard to listen to for a while, but they had something, and became the basis for this album. The arrhythmia was heavy at the time, but luckily all turned out well, and the only remnant of those episodes is the title of my album.

Melawati playing live at Tomorrowland.

You wrote it during the pandemic, correct?

The pandemic was weird, because in it I saw a lot of the same patterns I had experienced the year before, during the months of arrhythmia. There was a lot of overanalyzing, trying to predict the future but failing, and at the end of the day surrendering to the moment and sort of being ok with it for a while. It’s just hard to keep worrying all of the time, and all of the sudden, you just stop. The sun doesn’t quite come shining through, but the rain stops and all is still for a moment. These were the moments I experienced the year prior, while turning knobs and making music, and now they were back. It was just a pretty weird full circle moment, and because of it, I listened back to all the recordings I had done the year before. All of a sudden, they didn’t feel dark, but reminded me of getting through it. Locked down, I started to build the jams into songs, and the album sort of started to take shape.

Do you think the pandemic affected the outcome of the recordings?

Definitely. I don’t make music in a vacuum, and even if I did, the pandemic was so ever present, that it wouldn’t have helped much. It dictated the flow of the day, the mood, and who you could share the burden of the lockdown with. But it also brought time and really made me grab on tight to the project, just to have something to focus on. I think it will forever be connected to that place in time, for better or for worse.

The tracks ebb and flow in intensity level, some are incredibly harmonic, and others are a lot more chaotic. Was this a conscious decision, or more something that happened?

I think the circumstances of making it had me pretty obsessed with this idea of floating in and out of consciousness. Of one moment being very aware of everything, but then all of a sudden, giving in to pure intuition and experiencing emotions without thinking too much. It was a necessity at the time, but that push and pull of bad stuff, of pushing back and giving in, is very tangible in the album, I think. Ebb and flow indeed.

A wonderful studio with lots of light on a countryside farm. Dream come true.

I read that you embrace mistakes in your workflow in the studio. Tell me more about that.

I work a lot with modular synthesizers, because I like the amount of control you have. You can build up sound or patch, working towards something you hear in your head that would fit the track, but with the turn of a knob or the plugging of a cable, you can go very much of piste, taking the sound into new sonic territory or veer into oncoming traffic entirely. I always try to keep my ears open to that kind of controlled chaos, or unintended variations, even when the track is close to finished. It’s happened more than once, me trying to add some final rhythmic touches, only to land on a jittering pattern, or unexpected melody that then became the new basis of the track. I would rework it, building around this happy accident, and try to finish it anew.

What are some of your favorite go-to tools in the studio?

I have some really great eurorack modules that can mangle sound in very interesting ways, spitting out audio that is barely connected to the input you give it, but will always sound of the same family, making it very useful in building tracks. The Magneto delay from Strymon is great for doing this. I will have loops running through it, recording whatever comes out and tweaking it throughout, making new variations each time the loop comes around. I’ll then put these different patterns into a sampler instrument and start structuring the track, using all the variations for fills, breaks and whatnot.

I know you are deep in the modular world these days. Are you an analog-only guy, or do you rely on digital tools as well?

Not really. I have a lot of digital modules as well, and have no real opinion about the debates that sometimes come up on this subject. I only like to work with hardware, because I feel like I’m looking at a screen enough as it is, without me adding to it when making music. Building up muscle memory with physical instruments is just a lot of fun, and playing it is what keeps me up in my studio way past bedtime. It’s just very inviting to turn knobs and react to what you hear. I love it. Of course when it comes to the later stages of making tracks, I rely very heavily on plug-ins, to blend everything together and make it sound like it should. But I think I use those tools more for mixing than for actually creating sounds.

Studio Staples: Prophet synth, Blue Sky reverb.

You are releasing Artimia on Ellum Audio, Maceo Plex’s label seems like a perfect match. How’d you and Maceo meet?

For a while I had been posting my modular musings and sketches online, more as an archive for myself and some friends than to make something happen. It was very much a side project, and I wasn’t really focussing on it too much. I was hiking on a mountain in Kanazawa, Japan, very much not thinking about my dark little modular attic, when out of the blue I got a text from Maceo Plex, asking about one of the jams I had posted online. He asked me if he could sign it to his label Ellum. I answered truthfully, but foolishly, that the music he was referring to wasn’t even a track, it was just a good 60 seconds of me tweaking this rhythmic patch I had. He has better ears than I do, though and just asked me if I could turn it into a track, and if he could have it by next week friday. I got home the next wednesday, skipped the jetlag and got to work and handed him Daliah by friday.

He remixed one of your tracks and you collaborated on another one, correct?

When I handed him the track, he just told me it was sounding great and that he would be in touch. I was pretty excited, but didn’t really know what was going on. The next message I got were two files, one was the remix of Daliah by Tale Of Us, and the other one was his own remix of my track. And they sounded amazing. Just a couple of weeks later, I saw people lose their minds when the remixes were being played on the biggest stages the world over. It was pretty incredible, and honestly still is. Since then we’ve been sending each other a lot of music, and finding ways to work together.

Do you prefer working alone or collaborating?

I love to hand over the reins of a track, and have a completely different mind bend the song to its will. I’m not the sort of person to keep everything close to my chest and stress out over every minute detail of a song. I want to hear the other person in the collab, whether it clashes or harmonizes. It’s all just telling a story, and telling it together, finishing each other's sentences and being the hype man when the other guy is getting to a punchline, is just a very human way to do it. I think music is meant to be made together, and I wish I could collaborate more.

"I love to hand over the reins of a track, and have a completely different mind bend the song to its will." – Melawati

What are some of your favorite collabs from this album?

Most definitely working with Lisa Jane on a couple of tracks. Waiting for her to email me back vocals to an instrumental was very exciting, as I knew she would nail the vibe and bring emotion and nuance to the track. As she did. She’s saying something with her voice that I couldn’t with my instruments and the blend of the good and the bad that we all experience really comes through in her singing. Even after listening to it for so long, while working on the album, when the light outside is just right, and her voice comes in… it still gives me chills.

On a side note, as I understand it your life has drastically changed recently, after becoming a father. How’s that going?

It’s going great. It is of course the best thing that ever happened to me, although the coffee intake has gone up quite a bit. It also made me want to create something that’s just… I don’t know… beautiful. To add something warm and golden to the world, which also had a big influence on how the album turned out. It started out in a pretty dark place but with all I have now, it feels like I’m standing in the bright sun, squirting my eyes and feeling warm and happy.

Well, congrats on the birth and nurturing of all your beautiful creations. It’s been a pleasure.

Pre-order 'Artimia' (Out 10/14)


  4. XXXY // 18 HOURS [RINSE]

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