MUTEK.ES Previews: Getting to Know… Stendhal Syndrome
Performing at A/Visions 2, Sala Apolo  // February 9th
Pat Quinteiro - January 10, 2012
Already known variously as a psychosomatic illness and a Dario Argento horror film, since 2009 Stendhal Syndrome has also been the name of a Barcelona duo known for slow-burning melodic techno templates and haunting vocals. Despite their short life, they've already been selected to perform several notable Spanish festivals, including Sonar, the 2010 Mostra Sonora i Visual de Barcelona and Aparador Musical, organized by Mondosonoro. Their first album, Blinding Lights, self-produced at their Barcelona studio, can be downloaded for free on their site: www.stendhalsyndrome.org
Stendhal Syndrome has just wrapped up an exemplary year. They’ve been featured by the media as one of the “revelation” groups of 2011, playing and performing live on such high-profile Spanish programs as RNE-Radio3’s Siglo21. They’ve been chosen by Live Nation to play alongside British duo Hurts on their Spanish tour, shared the stage with Lovers, and so on. Meanwhile, Blinding Lights is being transformed into a remix album with the participation of Cora Novoa, Fibla, Helena Gallardo, Ville Rowland, Bkgrnd and Moduleight.
Currently working ont their second album, Stendhal Syndrome will be previewing a taste of what’s to come during their upcoming A/Visions 2 performance, alongside visual artist Alba G. Corral, who we get to know… tomorrow.
PQ: Emotional music with a scent of…? What will your new gift taste like?
SS: A thick and somehow fresher scent, without leaving our dark and emotional components aside. We are investigating new sounds, new rhythms, always trying to create the same kind of atmosphere and sensations. It’s clear to us now where we want to go and how we want to play. We wished to do something different. What came up was the result of discussing and testing sounds, melodies, effects and seeing whether it matched what we had in mind. We´ve become more intense and reached a more overwhelming sound without forgetting the roots of Blinding Lights.
PQ: Three years have gone by since Blinding Lights came out. When was the last time you were locked up in the studio producing new tunes? How did you meet? Is it turning out to be a very different journey?
SS: It’s a completely different journey. Blinding Lights was the result of a spontaneous and unpretentious union and therefore the record was produced in a very casual way and with little thought. Even if this has been an incredible year for us and we enjoyed thoroughly all the concerts we’ve made, we were longing to leave the scene and start thinking of a new project. During these years we released "Machine Hearts" as a bonus track of our remix CD, our remix of "The End Of Time" and the EP with "Mother" and the re-edit of "Broken Wings". But it´s difficult to combine our studio work with the preparation of our live act. We had to discipline ourselves to sit down and produce. We were looking forward to closing ourselves up in the studio This time before starting to produce new tracks, we sat down to listen to music and to define which sounds we wanted and how we wanted to work. We became more professional and more demanding, but at the same time it’s much easier to know where we´re heading. This allows us to define and to discard more quickly. In a few months we produced an EP with four tracks which we will present at Micro_MUTEK.ES as a preview of our new album.
PQ: It’s been said the you are the Spanish Portishead, the trip-hop band of Barcelona, that you do “darkwave”, that your concerts are intense and sensual. Do all these labels reflect your project´s emotional journey? Did the critics and public understand you? Of all the things that have been said about you in the press, what surprised you the most?
SS: Probably making a version of “Glory Box” made it easy to compare us with Portishead. We´ve also been compared to The XX or Zola Jesus. We find every comparison funny, beacuse they always surprise us. We enjoyed the “darkwave” label because we find it very difficult to define our style and this was a label that somebody wrote in a review and we adopted it immediately. Critics and the public always surprise you, they’ve always been very generous with us and truth is that they’ve always welcomed us fantastically in all scenarios and media. We didn’t expect it.
PQ: MUTEK is the junction of “Mu” representing the differents mutations of music and “Tek”, the technology upon which it feeds. Your first work mutated to Blinding Lights Remixes. Surprised? Did you expect this result?
SS: It is always surprising to realize that a track you’ve worked on for many hours and you’ve played live has become something completely different in the hands of other artists you know. Very slow and dark tracks become dance tunes and at the same time other more commercial tracks change into noisier sounds. We await every remix as a gift and we listen to it loud, together in the studio They all surprised us enormously, because each of them took different paths. That’s why the final result is very complete.
PQ: Any mutations in your new work? Can you advance the title of your album?
SS: We mutated a lot in this new work, even if we´re talking about subtle mutations. We don’t want to change our style. We still have the same DNA, with some modifications. We can anticipate that in most of the tracks of the new EP we’ve raised the BPM’s a lot, that we´ve been obsessed with the bass and we’ve introduced arpeggiators and that the melodies and effects will not remind you of the way we handled them in Blinding Lights. The title, even if it will come out at the end of winter, is Winter is Coming. Winter was arriving when we started producing.
PQ: In the preface of his work Rome, Naples and Florence, the XIX century French writer Stendhal (who gave the name to the Stendhal Syndrome) said, “music is the painting of passion”, and in your live acts, visual artist Alba G. Corral imagines, visualizes and paints your music live. She has complete freedom to explore your tracks, to project them and to add, right? What does Alba add to your show? How is she involved in the creative process?
SS: It wouldn’t be the same without Alba. Truth is that we started working with her casually, but she started being part of the project since the first concert that she did with us. We gave her complete freedom to work because she always understood what we wanted to transmit. When she can’t perform with us, we feel naked. We like to create a global atmosphere and her visuals always matches our goals. In this new phase we want to think and understand clearly what final result we want, therefore for the first time we will rehearse all together and decide how we want to visualize it. There will be changes all over.
PQ: The Stendhal Syndrome includes tachycardia, vertigo and hallucinations produced by the excess exposure that observinga work of art con produce. Did you experience Stendhal Syndrome? What work would provoke Stendhal Syndrome to Adri and Alfred?
SS (Alfred): I would point out one immediately. A quite recent one, the first appearance of James Blake at the Primavera Sound last summer. Open air scenery and packed with people. Nothing favorable to enjoy his performance, but he did it. Not only did the scenery strike us, but the silence that he imposed on the public. The other one, many years ago, when Cat Power came to the Forum Auditorium to present The Greatest. We were sitting in the same rows, three or four seats separating us. I don’ t remember the song, but at a certain point we called each other to make sure that we were seeing something extraordinary that we would remember for a long time.
SS (Adri): Since we met, we’ve shared many Stendhal Syndromes, and producing together makes us want to share many more moments like these. It’s rare now that we call each other when something new comes out that we like or when there is a concert we like to attend. Sharing is what we did with Blinding Lights beyond our project and now we like to live music more than ever. We shared a lot of stendhals (now we’re used to calling it “having a stendhal”), but no doubt that James Blake deserves first prize.