Let’s start with your journey through being born in Warsaw, having then lived in Berlin, and you are now based in based in Shenzhen, China. That’s quite a distance covered. What’s the story behind your travels and how does life compare now to having lived in Europe?
I moved to Berlin when I was only 2 years old and it feels like one of the most important events in my life that influenced my taste and aroused the need for traveling. So I feel really thankful to my parents for this. We returned to Warsaw at the beginning of my primary school times, but I would travel back and forth between the two cities until about 20 years later when I decided to move back to Berlin on my own. All my life I was thinking of relocating somewhere south, to live by the ocean, you know, someplace warm, but I felt like moving back to Berlin was something I had to do first to complete this past experience.
Meanwhile, in the 20 years since, Berlin has become one of the most important and vibrant cities for electronic music. This was a very convenient excuse to relocate and further develop my musical career.
At the same time I was still dreaming of living in a much warmer place, away from winter and maybe that’s why I liked Shenzhen and Hong Kong on the spot. Those two cities were the first places I have visited in Asia when I attended ChoP experimental music festival in 2013. I met great, friendly and like-minded people and felt at home immediately. I moved to Shenzhen in 2014. I wasn’t sure how long I would stay here. It was supposed to be temporary, 2 years maybe. Almost 5 years have passed now and I’m still here…
Your first release of 2019 is with Nirosta Steel – Go Back on Compost Disco. Talk us through how the track was created and produced, including any favourite items of software/ hardware you like to use?
I first met Steven (Nirosta Steel) in Hong Kong at the empty Premium Sofa Club one afternoon when I came there for a meeting with Johnny Hiller, who then introduced us. I was always a huge fan of Arthur Russell so meeting someone who was so close to him felt really special. Steven was touring Asia with his project “Arthur’s Landing” where he performs cover versions of Russell’s songs with local musicians. I helped him to quickly form a band in Shenzhen and invited him to perform at my Lavo jazz bar. The concert was fantastic and we have stayed in touch since then. A year later we have organized a little Arthur Russell lecture and music workshop in the first location of Vinylhouse recordstore. Vinylhouse was really tiny at that time, just a section inside a small indie fashion boutique. People who came to listen to Steven, were just sitting on the floor on pillows, close to each other and around him as he was telling stories of Arthur and the old bohemian New York scene, singing and playing his acoustic guitar, all unplugged. After that I invited him to my studio to jam. I loaded one of my unfinished grooves in Ableton, Steven grabbed my Dongguan-made Telecaster 1963 replica and recorded some rhythm guitar takes. He asked me to show him where to press the “record” button and asked me to leave him alone in the room for a few minutes. He said “I will surprise you”. I’ve set the microphones and everything and left him there for about 20mins until he came out saying “OK, it’s ready, you’re the cook now”.
I checked to the recording after he left my apartment.
Sometime later after the arrangement and basic mix was ready I invited Huiming Li to record the bamboo flute. I met Huiming back in 2013 at the ChoP festival. I remember I was really impressed with his solo performance at Mist House Art Gallery on top of the Wutong Mountain. Huiming was just about to leave China, so we had to rush with the recording. It was really the last chance to have him in the studio before he left to Canada.
The last ingredient that added that jazzy feel to the song was Arnold Boesack’s improvised, very random takes, played on my Juno-DS61. Arnold played with Steven at Lavo before so he was very happy to join this project.
The making of this song was spread in time but done very quickly basically, with a very limited set up that I had here at home: Microkorg XL, Yamaha Reface CP (with it’s incredible build in tape delay effect!), Juno-DS61, Telecaster 1963 replica, Fender Pawn Shop Offset Special, Jazz Bass 1975 and a Shure sm7b microphone. All mixed “in the box” with Ableton Live and a few Waves plug-ins: CLA Bass, CLA Vocals, Kramer Tape. Oh, and the Boss RE-20 Space Echo pedal used for some feedback noises. Maybe a few more things like a broken Kaossilator and percussion samples of course… Steven also shared with me a few Arthur Russell production tricks on, for example, how he would mix the vocals with the flute together. A lot of the song’s character comes from leaving some little parts raw and imperfect, not quantized, too loud or too quiet.
Tell us about one of your first musical loves Flamenco and Jazz. Who have been the most inspirational artists for you? And what are the unique qualities found in those particular styles?
I grew up listening mostly to rock, flamenco and jazz. I started playing classical guitar when I was 8. Paco de Lucia was my hero. For some reason the gypsy scales felt always somehow more natural to me and easier to learn and play. You don’t really hear it in my electronic music productions, because I’m very careful not to put it in the wrong context.
I stopped performing publicly as a guitarist long time ago, still in high school. I never really performed excessively, but appeared on local TV, performed some charity events, in theatre’s, won a couple of “young talent” awards, you know. Now I don’t practice anymore, I just fool around with my Amalio Burguet flamenco guitar alone at home. It’s like meditation.
After I started playing bass, naturally my first idol was Carles Benavent (from Paco de Lucia’s band). Listening to a lot of Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Tomasz Stanko, Toshinori Kondo (who I was lucky to meet in 2009 in Warsaw), made me want to learn the trumpet. Some other jazz musicians and composers that really inspired me and from who’s records I was learning better than from any teacher, were Dizzy Gillespie – especially his album with Machito: “Afro Cuban Jazz Moods” (still one of my strict top 10 albums of all time), Lalo Schifrin, Herbie Hancock, Archie Shepp, Philip Cohran, John Zorn (particularly Masada), Bill Laswell,.. the list is long. And besides, I was listening to all different genres at the same time, to everything I could find in local stores, from classical music to techno and from punk rock to disco, a lot of reggae, trip hop, future jazz and house obviously. Sometimes it would be just a single song that would have a strong influence, like Karing Krog – The Meaning of Love, or Shirley Hamilton – Take Me Back. Or X-101 – Sonic Destroyer (laugh).
More recently, around the time I recorded “Gin ‘n’ Tears” (2013), Uku Kuut’s music (RIP <3) had a big impact on my own way of production – he’s Vision of Estonia LP felt like an enlightening to me.
You have presented a long-standing radio programme: The Input Output Putput Show. Can you tell us about the concept behind the show, and about the types of music you play?
I can’t believe I’m still doing it (laugh). I started this weekly show back in 2005. The radio station has changed the owner and name 3 times since then. Right now it’s only online. I am pre-recording my 1 hour mixes and sending it to the HQ in Warsaw to broadcast it because I can’t rely on the internet quality to stream it live anymore. Also the 7h time different could make it difficult sometimes.
Of course I skipped or replayed a few shows during these 14 years but most of the time I was still preparing it on time every week. I had a lot of amazing guests too: Tadashi Yabe (U.F.O.), Tyree Cooper, Georg Levin, Daz-I-Kue (Bugz In The Attic), nd_baumecker, Uku Kuut, Gonno, Opolopo, Snuff Crew, And.Id, Ben Mono..
The shows are in the form of a DJ mix. I always try to play tracks that would build a story, make sense being played after another and I would still try to do some mini transitions even if the songs won’t really mix. I hardly prepare the playlists though, I improvise, I play records I just bought or rediscovered and I’m trying to quickly figure out, sometimes in panic, what I should play next while the previous song is on. There are no limits stylistically. The radio station trusts me and allows me to play anything I like and it’s a blessing. Of course, I am aware that now my radio shows are broadcasted on Wednesdays 6-7PM so I wouldn’t play like it’s a Saturday night. And in the end it’s a jazz radio station, so I want to share recordings that have a similar quality, are musically rich even if I play dance tracks.
How important is variation in music for you, can you tell us about your personal philosophy when it comes to DJ’ing and Producing?
There are so many great tracks in any genre, how could I limit myself to follow just a narrow path, it would feel like a mistake. Sure, you can perfect your skills and be an expert in just one musical style but without listening to other styles, that are so accessible right now, you are simply missing a lot. As a producer I am trying to grasp all the different musical approaches and techniques to develop my musical personality. It’s exciting and rewarding. Of course I might not have the same deep knowledge as someone who specializes in and grows up with one specific genre and its environment, but this might be just how I can add something different, new and unpredictable to it, still trying to be respectful of course. I like to collaborate with different artists from around the world for the same reasons and those unusual combinations and unexpected results are most interesting for me.
Tomasz’s ‘Go Back’ EP (featuring Nirosta Steel) is out now via Compost. Buy/ listen here