Interview: The Field
Trance but not trance: Axel Willner on why he won't be dancing to his latest album
Words Steph Kretowicz
Photography Lars Borges
Win two tickets to see The Field play XOYO in London, December 8. See bottom of the article.
Axel Willner of The Field isn’t exactly sentimental about his hometown of Stockholm. He left his old job with Systembolaget — a chain of off-licences that, according to Swedish law, is the only retail outlet allowed to sell beverages with more than 3.5 per cent alcohol — to hook up with a girl and head for Berlin, a city he seems to believe is a little more open-minded when it comes to live music.
“Stockholm is very sensitive to trends,” says Willner, speaking over the phone in a Nordic accent, stumbling clumsily through the grammar of his second language. “You have to really be the thing right now and they’ll enjoy it. Otherwise they’ll stand there with arms crossed, being really cold.”
As an itinerant artist, it seems that occupying the spaces in between things suits Willner. On record, his music is suspended in the hazy realms of primal techno, suffused with the ambient pop he’s best known for. The Field’s debut album From Here We Go Sublime and the ‘Sound of Light’ EP (both from 2007) captured what Sweden might sound like to someone who’s never been there. Seemingly endless loops evoked seemingly endless summer days, filtered through a glaring sonic ambience and an ever-present, though barely perceptible, undercurrent of darkness.
“It’s more like trance but not trance, like that type of music,” Willner says, perplexingly, about his third and latest full-length, Looping State Of Mind.
With Berlin being famous for its hardcore scene of techno-loving all-nighter crowds, happy to queue up and be humiliated by ruthless door staff at the world-renowned Berghain club, you’d think Willner and his trance sound would be a perfect match for the city but, then again, you’d be wrong.
“My music’s not pounding Berghain techno,” he says. “It doesn’t really have the drops, or the hands-in-the-air, or kick drums that come back and all that stuff. It lacks all of those gimmicks, or whatever you call them. I can’t really see myself dancing to my own music. I would rather listen to it at home.”
‘Is This Power’
Even the briefest of research on Willner reveals that he’s not only created all sorts of music under several monikers, but also that there’s a shared motif linking them together: a self-conscious realisation that watching someone perform downbeat techno onstage, alone and on a laptop, could be both weird and boring. That’s why The Field is now a live band as well as a recording project.
“That’s actually why I invited people: because I was so tired of doing this by myself, travelling and playing. I also felt locked with a computer and I couldn’t really take it where I wanted to. Even though you have thousands of possibilities, maybe it’s good to limit yourself at the same time. With other musicians, it’s exciting… I was always playing in bands when I was a teenager and I kind of missed that. It’s more fun. Also, they are old friends of mine, so it is good times. We don’t all live in the same city anymore, so we meet when we play and it’s a fiesta.”
That last crack goes by almost unnoticed due to Willner’s typically dry vocal register, which resonates with his candid approach to music making: that of guileless sound production and little pretence.
“I can’t sit and poke around too much because then I would never be done. I know a lot of friends who can work on a track for a half-year and they never put anything out. They should because usually it’s really good, but they can’t. I feel pretty fortunate that I can just put things out there but, at the same time, it’s often pretty sloppy.”
Willner mixes his tracks live, striving to find a niche that merges synthetic and organic musical styles across several genres, but he recognises that chance has had a big hand to play in his success as both an artist and a performer.
“It was a ‘right thing at the right time’ kind of thing. When I was a kid, either you were into synth or you were into heavy metal and I don’t think it is like that anymore. You can listen to whatever kind of music you want. Everything is more or less melted together. It also has a lot to do with how you consume things today. Everything is consumed so fast… blah, blah, blah… that it can be in whatever genre. I think this crossover thing is coming to the fore more and more so everything’s getting mixed up. It’s just the way of the time, I guess.”
That’s precisely why The Field has managed to reach an ever-growing audience. And now that it’s morphed into a live band as well, there’s nothing either Stockholm trend-cycles or Berghain’s militant electronic scene can do about it.
To win two tickets to see The Field at XOYO, London, December 5, email an answer to this question to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12pm Monday December 5:
Who wrote the 1965 play The Field?