Interview: Svengalisghost

If you’ve heard anything off of Svengalisghost’s debut release, “Mind Control“, it’s apparent this is the work of an experienced producer with a refined palette of sounds. Don’t get it twisted, he’s in no way content with using the same sounds over and over, as he states, “What’s the new sound? That can’t be it, that can’t be the only new sound. I want to push the evolution.” in reference to the 303. He clearly lives by those words as his tracks sound as if they’ve been sent from ten or twenty years in the future. His father deserves some credit for being the one who introduced him to many of the disco records he still plays today as well as the tape deck that he produced his first edit on. He also credits films as a trigger for much of his musical inspiration. Here’s someone who has put in their dues over the course of 20 years and has lost none this initial vigor. He’s a veteran of the nineties Chicago loft party scene and someone devoted to making you work your body on the dancefloor.

He attributes much of his style in the studio and on the decks to the legendary Chicago DJ Ron Hardy along with the his father, who introduced him to DJing and disco. His introduction to production came in the form of his longtime friend Jon also known as SSPS and during a stint in New York he and Jon learned the ins and outs of machines. Over the years Jon became the recipient of many of his early jams, originally made to keep him well stocked when he played out. Now as Svengalisghost he plans on pushing the evolution of electronic music.

Listen to any of the tracks off his L.I.E.S. release and you can hear a bit of that inspiration through its many gritty, sci-fi elements. Nothing is there accidentally; he’s made a conscious decision to bring back that rough grit that characterized early Chicago productions. Each one has a main element that is constantly evolving and giving meaning to the repetition. For the most part his music falls in the house music sphere, but there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on that separates it from the absolute waterfall of house tracks. They’re easy to lose yourself in and are clouded in that L.I.E.S. mystique.

Now there’s L.I.E.S. itself, a label run by New York’s Ron Morelli and one that’s constantly introducing us to virtually unknown talent such as Xosar earlier this year and Terekke last year. With only two years to its name it has already become synonymous with deep dance music and on the insta-cop lists for many DJs regardless of the artist releasing on it. It’s also home to artists like Legowelt and Steve Summers. Svengalisghost is in good company and we look forward to more releases and the many side projects up his sleeve.

Stream: SvengalisGhost – Live at Mutual Dreaming

Let’s start with L.I.E.S. how’d that come together? SvengalisGhost: “I work as a lighting technician so I do crazy shit at night and hardly ever get to go out anymore. For a while I was just making music for me, this was right before Soundcloud jumped off. You didn’t have that ability to share music with a ton of people back then other than a simple website where we would trade files, at the time it was just Jon (SSPS) and I. Then I forgot all about my musical ventures and I kind of stopped making music, I went into a state of hibernation. Then suddenly, sometime last year, he told me this guy named Ron was really digging my tracks. After he mentioned this a couple of times I told him to put Ron in contact with me. He gave him my number and Ron hit me up to told me he was feeling my stuff. At the time I went under the name Below Underground. He said he wanted to put some stuff out, but the crazy thing was I stopped making music because my computer had died. All of the stuff I had recorded back in the day was lost and I was so shell-shocked I couldn’t make any more music for while. Ron and Jon are the only people other than myself, that have about twenty-four cuts from me from, which Ron chose three from for the release.”

You mentioned Jon got you in touch with Ron, what was his role in your music? “Jon and I go way back, he’s one of my best friends. Back in the days of the Chicago loft party scene, we were the only mugs still beating disco, Italo and more of the rare grooves when other people were shunning that shit. We were doing live edits, bringing a tape deck and pitching it in. This was around ‘97. We used to have a two-man crew called Redlight Disco Systems: we would go into parties and basically smoothly make our our way to the turntables. As I mentioned before, these were loft parties so if you knew somebody who knew somebody, then sooner or later you were at the tables. Usually cats knew you, so they knew you were about to beat some pure heat. I left Chicago and went to Mexico City to DJ for what was supposed to be a weekend, which turned into a week, which turned into a month and this month eventually turned into a couple of months. Then I came back to New York: I went out but these cats were putting powder on the floor. I just wanted to go out with true Chicago jack artists, so I called Jon and he came up: he’s been up there ever since. He was DJ’ing with Ron all the time back then and he gave Ron some of my tracks.”

And around what time was the detour to Mexico City? “Around 1999.” Is this when things started to change? “That was the last heyday of the Chicago loft scene. Growing up, you knew cats that were 19, 21 years old with 2500 square feet loft space. It was fertile ground. It’s crazy that the clipping of that happened simultaneously in a lot of cities, and it seems that New York is the only place that you can still just lose it on the floor in The States. Even in Chicago I haven’t gone to underground party where I can just lose it.”

Have you met Ron Morelli yet? “That’s another crazy thing. I’ve talked to him on the phone countless times, but we’re linked with this collective consciousness; this web of minds.” So you feel like you’re on the same wavelength in terms of music? “We’re in sync. I mean, he was linked with Jon, so I know he’s synced. We’re talking so you’ve got to be synced. It’s like a resurgence of the true heads. It’s weird that out of all the people this guy felt the energy enough to the point where he had to reach out and contact me.” You guys are a natural fit. “Going along with these connections, I’m actually doing another side project with someone from New York called Shadow Lust. We’ve never met, but we’ve recorded three tracks, four when I finish this one today.” Wow, so this is over the Internet? “Basically, she’ll make the beat and I’ll do lyrics or I’ll make the beat and she’ll do lyrics.” Are you looking to release this side project? “Definitely, I want to keep diversifying. Even Jon and I have something we’ve been working on too; it’s called Mystery School.  We’ll probably record more stuff when I get to New York. I’m really looking forward to it.  It’s gonna be hot.”

What is the Chicago scene like now? “Put it like this, I live right down the street from this place called The Empty Bottle and they had Hieroglyphic Being play there and hardly anybody was there!” When was this? “This was in December 2011. It’s preposterous! I mean, I had to go to New York to play my first live PA! In my own city I should be able to represent myself. In the eyes of some people, this is a Mecca and cats would love to come here and play. It’s weird growing up and seeing that the city had a little bit more grit and edge and now that it’s lost, I try to embed that grit in my sound. I have it as a mental image, as a scene; since I work with light it’s all about colour, focus and intensity. Colour is frequency, and I want the musical note that produces that energy.”

I can see that in your music, it’s very spacey, late night, and there’s a definite color to it. “For a while, I didn’t listen to a lot of music. I didn’t want my mind to be influenced by anything else other than my mind.” Do you deliberately tuck yourself away and don’t listen to other people’s music? “Oh yeah, that’s the whole theory behind Redlight Mountain. It’s a place you have to go to push your music further as well as a spiritual retreat. For me to be able to communicate via music, to have that scene playing in people’s heads, and to have cats contacting me say they’re feeling it; its humbling. The first time I DJed and heard a system get beat, with records my dad had, I said it can’t get better than this, but making the music your playing is so heavy! It’s serious, it’s like Shaman shit.”

When you started getting into clubs and DJing, did you already have an interest in production? “The first productions I ever did were pause edits. My father was a DJ, so all the records I had, the disco cuts, they were from my pops. After I learned how to blend and all that stuff, I started noticing the tapes these cats were making. My friend told me about the reel-to-reel and how they would splice tapes. I didn’t have a reel-to-reel, but I had a cassette deck with pitch on it so I made my own edits. It was one of my pop’s old Sony recorders, it had this sick pause button on it with hairline precision. It was almost like using a computer, but it was this old shit from the ‘70s. That was my first production that I can think of. Now, the first exposure that I had to machines was from SSPS, Chris Quinn and some skater cats with 808s and 707s. I didn’t actually play on the machines until I hung out with Jon when he was in NY.”

Usually, people say artists like Mr. Fingers, Frankie Knuckles and the likes left an effect on them but it seems like the people around you really influenced you and brought you in. Am I right in thinking that? “As a DJ the method I take when I’m attacking a party is without a doubt based upon Ron Hardy. He was savage and that savagery is what’s needed as a DJ. I hate seeing DJs that aren’t moving their bodies. I think the best DJs are the best dancers and if you’re too cool to move then there’s something wrong. Now, if you can get on the floor and work your body then you can take that knowledge to the pulpit and know how to transmit.” Passing your vibe on to the dancer. “It’s all about seduction and as a DJ you have to seduce the crowd. I don’t want to give you a chance to think about not dancing. I want people to be completely worked out and exhausted because that’s how I like to leave a party. There were schools of certain people: certain cats spin certain ways because they liked Frankie’s way of blending, or they liked Ron Hardy’s savage treatment of a mix.”

Are you into that retrospective, classic house sound that’s been coming back? “I’m influenced by Chicago, but I don’t want my sound to be it; I want it to be the future. That’s what we all should be doing, not relying too much on the past to sell. It’s a regurgitation of something that’s already been done. That’s why I try not to get any of the machines that emulate the sounds of those songs.” Trying to keep it fresh. “Yeah, I had a Poly800, but it was reminding of stuff I’ve heard too much so I sold it fast.”

Are you taking notice of other scenes around the world? “I research, but a lot of the stuff I listen to when I’m not producing is non-electronic. I listen to Sun Ra or Gong or I’ll look at a bunch of trashy slasher flicks and then produce.” So your inspiration isn’t linked with music specifically? “No, for example, I was watching this movie the other day and it just set me off.  That’s the way my mind works I need variety. That’s why as a DJ I can’t spin straight house all night or straight techno or straight disco. For me DJing is about this story. That’s the art of it; you should be able to go from beating some obscure electronic into an ill tech track and still keep that viciousness.”

You mentioned that you want to avoid certain sounds, do you choose specific pieces of gear to avoid that? “Totally. I’m really into modulation and need the sound to change over time. That’s why I chose the Evolver. When SSPS got his I thought it was one of the dopest things I’d ever seen, as far as what you can do with it. It has four oscillators, crazy modulation routing, four LFOs, and a third envelope to be determined. You can make FM sounds, DX7 sounds, and all kinds of things with it. I also work with an ESX because I don’t have the money or space to get six drum machines and for what it does it’s perfect.”

Do you have a musical background? “I’m a DIY type mug. You have to pick up a book and right now with the Internet everything’s at a click of a button.  It’s so amazing; this is probably one of the trippiest times to be around.” We still have so much boring music being made. “That’s the thing, of course there’s gonna be pure crap out there, but I also feel like a lot of the dinosaurs are dying off. The environment will only support those mugs just a little while longer. It’s time for a new breed of cats. Look at Ron and L.I.E.S., they came out of nowhere. It’s not time for beef and drama, it’s time to get down and say let’s make heat, let’s do something that hasn’t been done, let’s move away from the old, and let’s not be afraid to make our own shit. Personally, the early primitive experimental aspect of Chicago electronica is what I’m after, but it’s all about now. I want to push the evolution. I’ll listen to some John Coltrane when he got really avant and hear future acid in it. Those musicians had to open their minds up to hear the new discordant sounds that sometimes came with avant jazz. The same goes for Spanky and Pierre when they were listening to the 303. They didn’t have a manual they were able to hear those weird sounds and be like wait that is actually dope. So if they were able to open their minds up to that then what’s the new sound? That can’t be it, that can’t be the only new sound.”

Stream: Svengalisghost – HIGHHEELSLEEZE

You mentioned 24 old tracks that Ron has, are there plans to put those out? “He has expressed interest in releasing more stuff and I think it’d be cool to have a from the Below Underground vaults kind of deal. I was listening to a couple of those tracks the other day and there’s still some heat on there. There’s this one cut, “Midnight Eyes Are Watching”, that I’d like to put out in particular. It’s an eight-minute track that’s half tangerine dream, half future jack and the last three and half minutes is just me jamming out. I jam out a lot and once I kind of get the structure of the song I sit down and try to get it in a logical order on the computer. There’s very little editing.”

Your music seems very dancefloor oriented, but at the same time sounds like it would work well in a long play format. Any plans for album? “Yeah, I’ve got about eight tracks that I’m in the midst of pushing and sculpting, but I would only want to put my first album out on L.I.E.S. I feel comfortable with them and who knows I might release other tracks on other labels. If I do put an album together I definitely want Ron to be the one to put it out, on general principle, because I wouldn’t be talking to you if it weren’t for L.I.E.S. and I feel like that would be sick for the label.” You’ve definitely got some standout material. “It’d be cool to do a nice album and blow it out of the water. Even with that other project, Shadow Lust, some of it is dancefloor material, but some of it isn’t. I don’t like making 4/4 all the time. Some of it is 85 bpm, slower lurkier stuff.

Any other musical hotbeds or projects you want to shine the spotlight on? “The Shadow Lust project with 51717. She’s a sick musician from New York. She’s had a couple cassette releases and I think she’s got some stuff coming up on HOSS. She’s also a friend of Ron’s and another person I’ve never met who’s super cool. The project is really sick. We’re trying to do an exclusive cassette release for that and we’re gonna shoot for an album. It’ll probably be a real limited run, hand packaged and numbered, you know the deal. So that’s the two things, Mystery School with SSPS and Shadow Lust with 51717.” Nothing with Ron? I know he does stuff with Steve Summers and is planning to work with Xosar. “We were just Facebook messaging and we’re definitely gonna make the machines talk when I go to New York and I’m totally game for that. The Two Dogs In A House shit with Jason is banging; I’ve got mad respect for him. Then there’s Jason and his lady, Aurora, who together make up Innergaze, which is also sick. It’s a pretty tight crew to be affiliated with and I’m honored.”

Standard last question, what’s your drink of choice? “I like whiskey and ginger, but as of late I’ve been doing a can of beer a day keeps the doctor away.  It depends on the season.  It’s weird.  During summer I’m prone to whiskey and lime or rum.”


Mystery School feat 51717 – Dusted Burn

Jonathon Alcindor
Jonathon Alcindor

Writer & Techy. My word is bond, whatup doe? Twitter, jonathon@truantsblog.com

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