Monosurround - Maximalising your world

The Berlin-based duo of Ramtin Asadolahzadeh and Erik Schaeffer have been producing music together as Monosurround since 1999.

Their brand of techno, chunky electro pop and nu disco comes jam-packed with twists and ideas, and has been released on labels such as Moonboutique, 1st Decade and Citizen Records. Their DJ and live acts have taken them to many clubs and festivals around the world, including Sonar in Spain and Les Plages festival in France, bringing their concept of Maximalism direct to the dancefloor. In 2008 Monosurround released their first studio album, “Hello World”, and in August last year their remix of Depeche Mode “Peace” was one of the official winners in a Beatport remix competition.

Olaf Quintessa got in touch with Erik and Ramtin to find out about their musical backgrounds, maximalism, playing in Second Life, and parties of the future.

Musically you and Ramtin originate from very different backgrounds - Could you both tell us how you got interested in electronic music?

Ramtin: I started playing drums in the age of six, then later on some guitar playing and vocalism (my kind of singing). For me a real singer is an opera singer, that's why I call myself a vocalist. I was always fascinated by music – how some guys can create such a beautiful thing.

Passion became profession, so I bought one record after other and started collecting tons of vinyl. My favorite genres were funk, soul, jazz and world music from the years 1962 to 1976 – for me one of the best periods in the development of that music. Meeting Erik in 1998 brought me to electronic music, and again the fascination about music was growing and growing...

Erik: I got interested in electronic music in school - no really! I was in a school for musical education, learning instruments such as french horn and piano. Basically the education was pretty much only about classical music. We also had lessons in music theory and aural training. My teacher there was super cool: he often brought new electronic music to the class, to open our classical minds. It was the early 90's - full of fresh techno - it totally worked on me. So I started listening to electronic music more and more and as soon as I could afford it, I bought an Atari 1040 and a synthesizer and started making electronic music. So basically I really have to thank him (thanks Stephan) By the way: the very same teacher made a fantastic remix for our track "Borschtchick". Check out the SWINX remix

How did the two of you get together?

Erik: Haha, the most asked question ever, so you will get the same answer: We met in a dark, crazy, 60's sound-driven club in Berlin Kreuzberg. Ramtin was DJing there playing superweird sounds and I was just an innocent guest. Friends introduced us to each other. We both were looking for musical partners, so it was a perfect match. Not even a week later we started making music together and found ourselves involved in soundscapes somewhere between freaky boogaloo, break beat and new electronic pop tunes. After a few months we were choosen to produce music for German cinema productions. So it was pretty much a quick start.

What is Maximalism?

Erik: Maximalism is the ultimate expression of art – any art: music, pictures, film, everything. It stands for artificial perfectionism and the love for details; going for that final 10 percent, even if it hurts and eats time and energy and you sometimes feel like you will never finish your work. That's the point, where Maximalism begins. It doesn't care about genres, styles or conventions – not even about time. It is about quality, not quantity. It's about giving people an emotional value, something to sink in or trip away. Not just some junk-food that you consume and forget about the next moment.

Ramtin: After a long time listening to a lot of music and realizing that there was obviously a growing lack of love, value and respect for this art, we thought: "Fuck, what's the use of it!?". A big amount of so called "producers" fool the audience and themselves by creating totally random stuff without any artistic demand – just "tools". After that, they create a buzz around it and consider it as the next giant leap in musical evolution. That makes no sense for me. I do not want to live in a world of superficial musical scenes following any hype.

Take Germany for example: people from all over the world consider this country as a pioneer in electronic music. And yes: it was. But the current trend is: Germany becomes more and more "Minimal Land", a monocultural desert without character. So in my opinion it is time for some honest art, personality and tearing down these walls of "bubble bullshit" people have built around music. It's time for Maximalism: poly shape, detailed, honest and mind blowing music!

Last year you had a "Maximalist DJ" competition - Can you tell us a bit about that?

Ramtin: It was the logical consequence for us: The situation of the electronic music scene in Berlin is pretty bad. We just had to step into action...

Erik: ...So we started that contest for our Maximalism Party. It was the first time we presented our album "Hello World" on stage with a show that we created. For that special occasion we wanted a so called "Maximalist DJ". So we decided to start a contest to find the right guy. Cheers to Drunk'n'J - great job mate!

How important is playing live for you? How have you developed your live act?

Erik: It's very important to us. In fact for "Hello World" it was so important, that we decided to return back on stage after a live abstinence of nearly 5 years. In 2004 we were pretty much fed up playing live on techno parties. We felt a bit misguided in front of an audience that was only there for partying and dancing, not really caring about live artists. But of course we love parties and dancing too, so we decided to bring our Maximalism-driven sound to the crowd as DJ team. That was the right decision for the past years. We traveled the world and played innumerable DJ sets. Now we're back with both: live and DJ Set.

Any memorable live performances that spring to mind?

Erik: Yes: the first live show after 5 years. It was on an electronic music festival in France and we had no idea what would happen. We never tested our "Hello World" tracks on any audience before, so it was very, very exciting. After a few minutes we had such a huge feedback from the crowd, that we basically surfed through the live set. It was totally awesome to have such a feedback after such a long break - very encouraging.

Ramtin: Oh yes, that was pure energy. I will never forget the faces of the crowd talking to us. They just came to us and thanked us for the show in a way that was just damn touching.

The rezday party you played at in Second Life in January was a memorable night. How did you first hear about Second Life?

Erik: Well, I learned about Second Life by a very special person. Her SL name is Morgan Kincess. I met her first in RL in 2006 and we re-met 3 years later on a live gig in Paris. She was telling me all about SL. Up to that point SL was only something I'd heard about in the media a few years before, but it never came into my mind to give it a try.

Ramtin: When Morgan told us about DJ-Sets in Second Life we were totally curious about it and decided to give it a try.

What did you think about playing in Second Life?

Ramtin: It's an extremely crazy situation. All these avatars, the music and the vivid chats build up a surreal atmosphere. A great experience!

Erik: Yes, we love it! It's something very different but can be totally intense. The sims are not that powerful, so mostly only around 50 people fit in one place before you find yourself in lag-war or sim-crash. But playing in front of 50 people in SL feels like playing in front of 800 people in RL. As an artist you have that ultimate reaction and interaction. The people in SL are just nice – very open minded, creative and all into art and music and very communicative. So it's perfect to play as a team: one is DJing, the other one hooks up with the keyboard and types 'till blood is running.

Any more plans for Second Life events?

Ramtin: Definitely yes!

What favourite music are you listening to at the moment?

Ramtin: I rediscovered early works of the 1001 Strings Orchestra and the second album of Hank Marr called "Marrket Place". You can even hear how he (Hank) breathes while playing his space organ. Besides, I don’t give a shit for radio top 100 hit chart boulevard undertaxing nonsense.

Erik: I'm sure there are tons of good tracks and good artists out there, but I just don't find enough time to look for new stuff. The commercial music market totally sucks (yes Lady Gaga & Co., I don't like your music at all!) and the club music market is a big disappointment for me too. I miss passion, creativity and that final 10 percent we were mentioning about Maximalism earlier. So I mostly listen to music to relax. Therefore I have my all time faves that still work great for me - as well as classical music that has a very special place in my life. Of course from time to time a great new tune hits my ear, but I just wish it was more often...

What's coming up next for Monosurround?

Erik: Earlier this year we started our own label to create our own platform for Maximalism. We just had our first release "Hello World [Remixed]" as vinyl and digital and it's doing so well, that we decided to put the next release on the track. We are in full preparation for our next release scheduled for July. Besides that: playing live, DJing, playing in SL, you know ;)

Ramtin: The big plan is of course the world domination. But in the meantime bringing some extraordinary music to the folks is our #1 priority mission.

Last question - You're on your way to a party in the year 2110. What do you think the music will sound like?

Ramtin: I believe in love. So my imagination is quite positive: I see artists and musicians performing for an audience that does not have to pay money for the art anymore. The domination of money ended after the big federation collapse in 2084. So the real artists do art and the real lovers enjoy it.

Erik: I never thought about that before, but if it was a little bit like StarTrek that would be fun. No monetary system, first priority of mankind is to successfully progress, everybody does what he is best at. But maybe that is too much fiction. I just hope it's still gonna be human and emotional and that the market is open and fair to everyone. I hope there will always be people that do music for the art that it is, not just as a tool or money-machine. A little bit more like Monosurround would be cool. ;)