Interview: Diamond Version

Luke Turner

By Luke Turner

on 11.12.12 in Interviews

EP 1

Diamond Version

[2012 has been a brilliant year for independent label Mute. As well as acclaimed releases from Liars, Can, Cold Specks, and Beth Jeans Houghton, label boss Daniel Miller was recently awarded the Association of Independent Music's statuette for Pioneer, recognition for the toweringly influential catalog he has built up over almost 35 years. As home to artists as diverse as Depeche Mode, Erasure and Laibach, Mute has always felt like a true label of love, celebrating the most exciting, forward-thinking music around. We invited Daniel Miller to sit in the editor's chair at eMusic for a site takeover all this week. We interviewed two of his favorite new artists of 2012: Diamond Version (below) and Land Observations. See Miller's favorite albums on eMusic here; and read our exclusive interview with Miller here. – Ed.]

At the Short Circuit Electronic Music Festival in London in May 2012, Mute joined forces with the Berlin-based electronic label Raster-Noton to create a “sound halo” – looped recordings by artists from both labels – that was broadcast night and day in the Roundhouse venue. Mute boss Daniel Miller suggested to Raster-Noto founders Carsten Nikolai and Olaf Bender that they pair up for a proper project that he’d release, and Diamond Version was born.

“It was fantastic to bridge these two labels that are different in age but brothers in mind,” says Nikolai, who records under the name Alva-Noto; Bender records as Byetone. Separately, they are known for their sonic minimalism – Nikolai has made five albums with Ryuichi Sakamoto that explore piano and ambient textures – but together, they’ve made an EP of power electronics that Miller says is one of his favourite releases of 2012.

Diamond Version was launched with a YouTube “manifesto” of de-contextualised corporate slogans such as “I’m lovin’ it” and “How big can you dream?” and song titles include “Empowering Change.”

Luke Turner caught up with Diamond Version to ask about why they’ve harnessed corporate slogans to stern electronics, and about working with their hero Daniel Miller.

Has Mute influenced you as artists?

Olaf Bender: We were big fans of Mute in the ’80s. We met Daniel [Miller] and became friends. I have so much respect for him. He’s a real music fan, and has always been really interested in what we do.

One of the interesting things about the label is how it embraces both pop and avant-garde, releasing Erasure one moment, Einsturzende Neubauten the next. Is Diamond Version also about breaking down perceptions of pop?

Carsten Nikolai: The topic of pop music is always something that flows around us. But when we say pop music we mean something else. For us, pop music bridges people who you would consider underground or experimental but can [also] reach a wider audience. Nick Cave makes pop songs. I consider songs by Laibach or Einstürzende Neubauten pop songs, very serious pop songs. This is music that is not going to go into the pop charts, but it is still influential. It is give and take.

Which of you brings the pop element to Diamond Version?

Nikolai: Olaf is not so afraid of throwing in a rock or pop beat, then you tune it a certain way so it doesn’t sound like it.

Bender: I was a New Romantic for a short time, [and] I want to show this in the music. Popular music is about energy. What you had in old shamanic music is all here today, in new high-level production. Rhythmically and structurally, you are not totally free – it stays in a tradition of rock ‘n’ roll, of blues. I want to follow this. I don’t want to do a pastiche or yesterday’s music, but I feel that I’m in that tradition.

Diamond Version would also sound great in a club…

Bender: I have a bit more of a club background. Techno is physical, a body language. I am always looking for a shamanic energy. Carsten is from a fine-art background, so he thinks more conceptually. I am not very good at concepts and am more connected to emotions. I really like Carsten’s distance. In another way, maybe I’m a bit more connected to the heart, which is not so easy for Carsten. [Laughs.]

What’s the significance of the sloganistic song titles like “Science For A Better Life” and “Empowering Change”? Did you make them up?

Nikolai: When you go anywhere in the world you’re constantly exposed to advertisements. You go online and there’s nothing without advertisements. We’re interested in this idea of building identities. Olaf worked as a graphic designer in the past, and we are very interested in logos, identities and corporate identities. We collected slogans together when we made the Diamond Version mission statement. This was the very first, let us say, birth sign of Diamond Version. We showed it to Daniel and he thought it was brilliant. In this concentration, the slogans produce something really weird, something indescribable, something that is almost hilarious, this brutal world dominated by these ideas.

Is Diamond Version political, then?

Nikolai: I would be very scared of being politically in the foreground. Of course there is a criticism, of course there is a strong meaning, but we’re not pushing this strongly. We want to keep a humorous playfulness. We didn’t want a project where we got trapped. We wanted it to have a meaning but at the same time be communicative, open, fun for both of us and hopefully the audience too.