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Sara Samad 18 Apr 2014

An Artist for the Ages: Pop Philosoper and Cultural Nomad Thomas Azier

If you haven’t heard of Thomas Azier yet, I suggest you pause whatever you’re doing, get on YouTube, and check out Rukeli’s Last Dance. Then thoroughly enjoy the next three minutes and 34 seconds of your life. Try not to break into a dance if you’re at the office, leave that for April 24 when Azier performs live in Beirut with The DnB Project in collaboration with Beirut Jam Sessions.

Hailing from Berlin, the pop-electronic artist is one of Europe’s most promising young talents. He released two EP’s, Hylas 001 and Hylas 002, in 2012, and later headed for a world tour with French musicians Woodkid and Stromae. Initially planned as the third EP in his trilogy, Hylas 003 ended up developing into a full album, and was released earlier this year.

Beirut.com had a chance to interview Thomas Azier ahead of his show. Check it out.

Beirut.com: How did you get started as an artist?

Azier: There was not much to do in the place I lived in the north of Holland, just green fields and cows, so my brother and I lived in our own world, playing a lot of music all day.

Beirut.com: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with your music?

Azier: What I’m looking for is a musical play between hope and despair. I like big contrasts: cold electronics next to warm vocals, analogue and digital, aggressive and sweet etc.

Beirut.com: Growing up in the Netherlands and relocating to Berlin, how did that transition influence your songwriting? What did you expect to find in Berlin that you lacked in Holland? And why did you pick Berlin, specifically?

Azier: I like to make decisions out of intuition. I can’t explain why Berlin, I didn’t know anything about the city and didn’t know anyone who lived there. I just decided I needed to find my own story and time to experiment because I didn’t have much to say when I was 19-years-old. I moved to Berlin and spent a few years there studying music on my own. What I got in Berlin was time to work and to think.

Beirut.com: What do you consider to be some of the most significant moments of your career?

Azier: The release of my album after five years of work feels like an achievement, especially when there were hard times when it seemed like nobody cared. I kept going, and when I finally saw the end result, I felt happy I didn’t make any compromises.

Beirut.com: Where do you tend to draw inspiration from?

Azier: Not necessarily music, more like architecture, literature, stories, conversations, dreams, moods, paintings, poems.

Beirut.com: Unlike the rising trend of almost instant sharing via various social media, you spent around four years working on your EP before sharing anything. Why the long wait? And, what was that creative process like?

Azier: I feel that a lot of people these days are just throwing out music every day. Some of it is really good but most of it is really average. Music has become a noise [in some ways] and there are no filters anymore. This is a great thing for a young artist, but for the listener it’s sometimes hard to determine what’s good and what’s bad. I just knew I wanted to make something that had substance, with a certain depth; as a listener, you can decide whether you want to stay on the surface of the song or go deeper into the lyrics, or the sounds we recorded in the factory in east Berlin. I just needed time to make something that felt authentic to me.

Beirut.com: What do you think about the influence of technology on today’s youth and music?

Azier: It’s extremely important to look forward. I feel as though I’m just starting to understand the possibilities in sound design and production, and it is starting to influence my songwriting. It’s possible to do outrageous sound design and production, and you don’t even need a huge expensive studio to do it. Just a computer.

Beirut.com: What is Hylas? Where did the name come from?

Azier: Hylas went looking for water on an island and got seduced by the nymphs. He was pulled under water and drowned and became one with them. This is a metaphor for a few of my personal experiences. Maybe Hylas was me and the nymphs were the city of Berlin.

(Image via youtube)

Beirut.com: Can you walk us through the segments of Hylas.

Azier: The red thread through the album is the concept of change. I was very inspired by the book Metamorphoses by Ovid. It’s hard to deal with change all the time, I live in a city that is under constant transformation, my body was in transformation when I arrived to Berlin; I was still growing up. Relationships change, seasons change – change is the only thing in life we know is certain. To deal with it makes life a challenge, and hard sometimes.

Beirut.com: What has been your biggest challenge as a solo artist?

Azier: You have to have so many ‘hats’ on these days: mixer, musician, producer, art director, singer, songwriter, etc. It’s hard to keep focused with all those voices talking to you during the process. I started to mix things up at some point and it drove me even insane for a while. I feel the challenge of being an artist these days is to find frames. There are TOO many possibilities so you have to always frame your work space, like a painter who decides on the frames of his picture.

Beirut.com: Since the release of Hylaas 001, how has your music changed and evolved? And what entities do you feel inspired this evolution?

Azier: I feel I had a lot of hope and felt very positive when I arrived in Berlin. Things got a bit rough and darker over the years, but in the end I found the perfect balance between the two.

Beirut.com: How do you come to the decision that a track or a record is done, completely finished and ready to be put out?

Azier: I usually feel it in my body. Before it’s done I don’t eat well, don’t sleep and I’m looking for solutions obsessively.

Beirut.com: What’s the funniest thing to happen to you at a gig?

Azier: Right before one of my shows, my in-ear broke, so I went back to find my spare ones. Then when I ran back on stage I fell flat on my face, tripping over a stage light. Quite an entrance!

Beirut.com: If you could see any three bands/artists live, who would they be?

Azier: Moonface, Prince, KXP.

For more information about Thomas Azier’s show on April 24, click here.