Lakker on shifting sounds and protecting hearing
As All Ears moves into its second phase, we decided to catch up with an Irish duo who are similarly gearing up towards a sound shift. Having put out ornate, idiosyncratic techno on R&S, Blueprint and Eotrax, Lakker called us from Berlin, taking a break from transformative album sessions. Ian McDonnell (also known as his solo moniker Eomac) told us that “previously we would tend to start tracks separately and then once we had the initial kernel of the idea down we would start collaborating” with Dara Smith adding that the change towards constant studio-cohabitation is “bringing more of a rawness to the music, because it's based on pure excitement and vibe in the studio”. As veterans with strong identities in the studio, DJ booth and live AV stage, we knew that Lakker's take on hearing protection would be interesting. But first, more about the new music…
Ian: We're not overthinking it or being too precious about it, we reach the stage very quickly to say that works, I don't like that, etc.
Dara: I think we've got a very clear idea about where we're going, we even had a track the other day where we were like 'yeah it's a cool track, but it's not where we're going'.
How would you describe this new direction in your sound?
Ian: I don't want to clarify too much this early, but we've changing up the sonic palette a bit that we've been working on. A lot of our music from 2011-2014 was a lot more club-orientated, and we've moved away from that quite a lot; there's still percussive electronic beats and signifiers of rave music, but it's definitely moved away from being dance music, per se.
Dara: Once you start thinking about things for the club, for the floor, you have to start working in a certain production style – everything crafted for sound systems – and you can move out of line with the raw idea you had.
Yeah, and sometimes a powerful track in a club can be far from purely functional, it can be jilting, reset the floor and maybe even confuse people.
Dara: That's exactly what we've liked about any of the club nights that we've been to, when people go off the beaten track.
Ian: I've always liked being confused on a dancefloor.
Are there any particular DJs who pull that off?
Dara: I've been listening to Mumdance's radio show; one minute he's playing Japanese pop, then a metal track, and then some ambient grime, he just goes all over the place and I love that. I've also been listening to a young man named Eomac, you might have heard of him… He's doing the same thing with his radio shows - no genre. There's so many hyper specific genre nights where you can hear the same sound for 10 hours and that's not as exciting for me.
With your new music, would you rather listeners use it to help make sense of their own life, or more as a route to escapism?
Ian: Escapism is not something that interests me as such, for me music is the opposite of that, it makes me connect deeper to things about what it is to be a human, the connections between everyone, in a metaphysical or spiritual way. In all my music, solo or with Lakker, that's the intention I'm bringing, to help myself and others connect to something truthful.
When did you start wearing earplugs?
Ian: Dara was on it first, like 20 years ago.
Dara: I started doing sound engineering when I was straight out of school. Our studio teachers gave us a little lecture about ear damage, so I got the proper ones.
I think what's done the most damage has been our early days of DJing at house parties and in tiny bars. We used to play at this night called Techno Tuesday, in a tiny little bar in Dublin; it was what they used to call old man pubs, someone would take it over and install a crappy soundsystem that we'd just turn right up to 100%. There were also a lot of house parties because the clubs would close early, so you'd come back to one of those and play for hours - having had a little drop to drink - and you'd look down at the mixer and see the volume is at full. If you walked into a quiet room and someone put those headphones on, you you'd rip them off you, you'd be angry! But, you just don't notice because you're hammered.
Since you've moved to Berlin have you seen more people using earplugs?
Ian: Clubs here give them out at the bar, but a lot of people still don't use them. A lot of people think it's gonna damage your experience and lessen the music, which just isn't true.
Dara: A good set of earplugs should clear up the music in some ways, but when you're standing next to the speakers in Berghain with your earplugs in you can still feel it through your body.
Ian: It's a much more comfortable experience.
I've had a couple of times when I've been a bit paranoid or in clubs when the little ritual of putting your earplugs in or rearranging them can be very calming.
Dara: Yeah I find chaotic noises very stressful sometimes, it might be something to do with my dyslexia, but sometimes at dinner conversations I can get very stressed and have to take myself out of the room for a short moment to calm it down. I find putting my earplugs in very calming; it's like wearing headphones, which I used to wear during office work, even when I wasn't even listening to music, just to dampen it down.
I don't know where it comes from - maybe studying sound engineering, years of djing and production - in some ways you're so specifically listening to all the sounds, that your brain's constantly working, so I find that the earplugs' reduction of noise very calming.
Ian: There is that sense of your own space, of safety even, because the ears are constantly working and receiving signals; it's to do with your sense of safety, awareness, balance. When I first wanted to wear them, I was adamant to protect my hearing, but I felt uncomfortable at the start because I felt disconnected from the space I was in, so that was a hurdle to get over.
Would you say tinnitus is a larger issue in Techno then in other genres?
Ian: I've been to metal gigs where it's been viciously loud as well, where it can be really damaging, but tinnitus is definitely a huge problem in the electronic music world, because the levels are crazy. I understand it because of the physicality, but I think everywhere should give out earplugs these days, there should be more awareness.
Dara: We played a gig the other say where the soundsystem was so loud that bits of the roof where falling down, that can't be good for you!
One of the benefits of high-fidelity earplugs is they allow clubbers to appreciate musical details without being drowned out by bass. Is this something you want for fans in your sets?
Ian: I'd be really comfortable knowing everyone is wearing earplugs, so they can hear all the details and feel the physicality of the music. It makes you so uncomfortable to think the music you're playing is damaging people. It doesn't happen that often, but sometimes you see people with fingers in their ears and we hate to see that.
Dara: That's not the experience we're looking for, we're looking for clarity with weight. The physicality is important for electronic music. I remember some of my first dubstep nights and the appreciation of a good soundsystem with proper bass – the bass seemed to fill the room like a liquid. There's a huge difference between a well set up soundsystem and a loud soundsystem, people always mix them up.
Ian: I don’t think raising the level is always the best for the whole experience. It's difficult to turn things down in a gig, because for that moment the vibe turns down, even though it can then settle and build again, and every time you turn the system up the vibe jumps.
Dara: It's like a little sugar rush each time.
Until it gets to the end of the night and you realise you've eaten 10 audible doughnuts and you feel a bit sick.
Dara: Full on oral diabetes.
Written by Will Soer