PLAYLIST: In the headphones of Covenant’s Eskil Simonsson – Noise, Techno, Dark Ambient and more


Electronic music has many facets and today’s electronic underground scene is flourishing with many new talented acts that are pushing the boundaries of contemporary music, be it minimal techno, noise, experimental, dark ambient, EBM or any other of the different cross-pollinations that are happening out there. One person that is really up-to-date on the latest explorations in the electronic music scene is Eskil Simonsson of the Swedish electronic act Covenant.

Being a frequent visitor on many of the leading underground scenes around the world, both in his role as lead singer and musician in Covenant, and in his private role as connoisseur of music, Eskil sure is up-to-date on which acts and tracks to tune into next. We asked Eskil to put together a playlist of contemporary artists that has caught his ears during the past years and a list of tracks that are pushing the envelope in electronic music.

As we met up with Eskil in downtown Malmö, which is by the way on its way of becoming the leading city in Scandinavia when it comes to experimental electronic music housing events like Intonal and iDEAL fest, to discuss his playlist he let us know that he seldom listens to individual tracks anymore. Eskil prefers to consume music via labels. By botanizing places like Bandcamp he often ends up purchasing the whole back catalog of a particular label. Purchasing a whole catalog allows for many hours of music exploration of various genres and of the different artists connected to that label. Or as Eskil puts it: “I have a constant flow of music in my ears.”

1. ANCIENT METHODS: THE SOFT MOON

First up on the playlist from Eskil is the noise and EBM act Ancient Methods. The track Soft Moon starts out like a classic noise performance with delicate sounds and ambient noise-scapes, but transforms over time to an intriguing down tempo electronic EBM track with distorted vocals. A key ingredient here is the loosened approach that can be felt all through the song in combination with noise and other hard elements.

Since 2007, the name Ancient Methods has adorned both live project and label for Wollenhaupt (and, until 2014, his former partner Conrad Prutzmann). A variety of other aliases and projects, including Trias and the Prutzmann/Regis collaboration Ugandan Methods, further his ambitious goal of obliterating dance floors across the world. 2015 finds Wollenhaupt hustling hard; along with more remixes and collaborations. It’s not merely the bleak, machine-like atmospheres inherent in this churning mass of sound that turns the mind and feet to darkly jubilant celebration; certainly there’s plenty of that going around in electronic music. Rather, it is the human elements that set this music apart: a snippet of half-decipherable vocals here, a whisper of organic instrumentation there—that somehow vital element of malfunction in the complex gears of structured dance, caused by the intrusion of flesh. In this sense, there’s a distinctly pagan feeling to the music of Ancient Methods that evokes the aural essences of gods far older than the fleeting sensory pleasures worshipped in techno clubs. If Berghain is a church, Wollenhaupt is a mobile Stonehenge.

2. VATICAN SHADOW: MORE OF THE SAME

‘More of the same’ starts up in a traditional techno set with sweet pounding beats, then moving on into effective electronic soundscapes and rhythms. Eskil is always on the look out for the sound of tomorrow, in essence what will the underground scene sound like in a year from now. Vatican Shadow is a perfect example of this – the sound is unique with lots of power and as the track goes on it morphs into something that could be described as dance music meets noise.

Vatican Shadow is the Techno outfit from multi-media artist Dominick Fernow active since 1997 under various monikers. Beginning in 2010, Vatican Shadow blended sinister ambience with concrete percussion, luscious synths, and metallic drums created by separating stems onto cassettes, which were then re-layered and collaged live. Weaving the cassettes into each other like one would use turntables, the soaring strings and mysterious broken rhythms were first heard on the 100-copy, cassette-only ‘Byzantine Private CIA’ for his label Hospital Productions which began in 1997. Ten more of these limited releases would follow between 2011 and 2012 on Hospital Productions. The first of these tapes pressed onto wax was ‘Kneel Before Religious Icons’, quickly followed by the ‘Iraqi Praetorian Guard’ 12″, which featured a masterful remix by Regis. Following up on his Berghain residency and joining Ostgut Booking, Vatican Shadow’s ‘Rubbish Of The Floodwaters’ EP casts a full spectrum picture of where the project was born and where it headed.

3. ABDULLA RASHIM: A SHELL OF SPEED

Watching Abdulla Rashim is a great experience, according to Eskil. Few are able to run monotone noise for 5 minutes straight and still have the crowd sheering. Abdulla has a strong sense for blending delicate drums and beats without letting them overshadow the performance. One can really feel how he brings pure emotions into his music and compositions both live and in the studio.

Abdulla is mysterious and exciting in equal measure. Since taking on the Abdulla Rashim moniker four years ago, the DJ-producer has launched two highly respected labels and released on numerous other. Dig into Rashim’s artistic identity and it becomes apparent that everything is organic; nothing is forced and everything happens, and has happened, quite naturally. It’s with this nonchalant intention that he has quietly released some of the most in-demand and talked-about techno of recent times. It was his eponymous label [Abdulla Rashim Records] that gave listeners their first taste of his work in 2011 with Gizaw, a raw and energetic EP that piqued not only his audience’s ears, but also the interest of two of techno’s most desirable imprints: Prologue and Semantica. Rashim would go on to release powerful records on both seminal labels, cementing his name as techno’s one-to-watch in a very short time.

4. FRAK: 666

Number four on Eskil’s playlist is the Swedish act Frak. Eskil states that Frak has a very unique sound and that they are quite playful in their approach to music. He continues stating that Frak has a really strong identity – sincere and genuine, but for and foremost they are a really nice live act, using real equipment on stage (not computer generated), which is audible in the texture of the sound and that doing it this way means their will be small mistakes and improvisations that creates a great listening experience.

Jan Svensson, Johan Sturesson and Björn Isgren formed Frak in the late 80s. This cult outfit have been beavering away in the key of acid in the small town of Karlskrona in southeast Sweden for some 25 years, in the process racking up a considerable discography that includes perverse, goofy and genre-buckling releases on labels such as Börft, Sex Tags Mania and Kontra. Kontra describes Frak like this: “Listening to Frak is a lot like biting into a fresh falafel wrap without first removing the aluminium foil holding the delicious mess together; it’s mouth-wateringly warm and moist but at the same time intensely harsh and tough to chew. This might seem like a far fetched analogy but if you’ve ever went partying in Kontra-Musik’s home town Malmö you’ll know the feeling. And if you’ve never been to Malmö, well do stop by someday. It seems, when the stars align, the gatherings here can be the stuff both legends and albums are made of.”

5. PUCE MARY: NIGHT IS A TRAP II

You could describe the music Frederikke Hoffmeier makes as Puce Mary as industrial noise, but that would not do her justice. Her performances are like entering an electronic roller coaster with Puce Mary in the driver’s seat. Her presence on stage, alongside her trusted MS-20, is energetic and nicely blended with her vocals at all time. The track Night is a trap stems for many things, many of them nihilistic, many of them regrettable. Perhaps the vicious industrial collapse of Puce Mary’s so-named track is meant to communicate the desperation of falling unstoppably further into a terrible habit. The album, after all, is called The Spiral. It’s Frederikke Hoffmeier’s third brutal, meticulous noise LP as Puce Mary for the Danish underground label Posh Isolation, following 2015’s Persona and 2013’s Success. If this blistered exorcism is really about trying to break the punishing trap of routine, it captures how tectonically weighty such a process can be. “Night Is a Trap II” sounds like foundations shattering in real time, like purging the worst parts of yourself. It’s what you’d want to hear as you lose control.

Eskil speaks of Puce Mary and her music as quite hard and dark, but also that it eats away in the electronic genre. Puce Mary appears to always chose a different angle relative to the traditional, making it an intriguing audio experience.

6. YOUTH CODE: CONSUMING GUILT

The cool thing about Youth Code is that their music, considering the genre they’re in, almost has a certain hit-potential.  The vocals are really great and they have a different approach to their music then other bands, and the fact that they are touring with a modular synth doesn’t make it less interesting, says Eskil. He continues; Sara has similar attitude in her vocals as the promising Swedish EBM girl REIN, who has received great momentum in the Scandinavian electronic music scene lately.

Youth Code may not have its roots in the goth scene, but the duo is arguably the most popular of the current wave of bands influenced by early industrial music. Along with groups like Burning, from Minneapolis, Echo Beds from Denver and All Your Sisters from San Francisco, Youth Code embodies a synthesis of experimental electronic music and a more visceral sound from raw live shows. When the group launched, in 2012, vocalist Sara Taylor had never been in a band, unlike her partner, and the other half of the duo, Ryan George. Rather, Taylor had toured between ages seventeen and twenty-seven with metal bands like Suffocation and High on Fire. Youth Code has released records on one of the hippest underground labels, Dais, and toured with Skinny Puppy multiple times, becoming one of the most exciting live acts around and now its confrontational electronic music is inspiring a new generation of musicians.

Synthesizers get wired to sound more frenetic than music from the duo’s past, creating a high-paced, ultra sharp tone and sound. The music twists and whirls into a loud, slamming breakdown of steely drums and political samples. It’s a machine of a track to put a hole in something along to, taking pleasure in the bruising.

7. KAMMARHEIT: WHAT THE EARTH BORE

Next up is the Dark Ambient maestro Kammarheit. Eskil lets us know that Kammarheit was a constant listening companion when they were making the Covenant album “The Blinding Dark”, and it is fair to say that Kammarheit’s music has had a direct influence on the album. The music is very atmospheric and well produced, and it delivers a really pleasant pulse.

Kammarheit is a dark ambient project by Pär Boström. Formed in 2000 as a way to explore and re-create a certain atmosphere – a post apocalyptic stillness among majestic subterranean halls, deep chasms and abandoned places; music that is both apocalyptic and soothing, a kind of numinous and meditative ambience.

8. DANIEL MYER: BLAC KOLOR

Born in 1971 and based in Bielefeld, Germany -Daniel Myer began experimenting with electronic music in his teenage years, and in 1993 he founded the legendary electro-industrial/EBM project Haujobb. Since then he has made a name for himself in the modern electronic music scene and initiated a legion of first class band projects like hmb, Newt and Destroid. Daniel is now also a permanent member of the renowned Swedish EBM band Covenant and has been since he first joined in 2007.

9. TREPANERINGSRITUALEN: BLACK EGG

Trepaneringsritualen is the solo project of Swedish noise artist Thomas Ekelund, known previously for his work with Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, Nullvoid, and Th. Tot. He has been really prolific for the last few years. Not only did Thomas release albums and EPs with Harsh Head Rituals, Small Doses or Malignant Records, but has become popular so far due to his intense and harsh live performances as well. In fact, his gigs are closer to black rituals than to standard concerts. For me Trepaneringsritualen delivers music that feels really trashy, a genuine home made style – both raw and close at the same time. When listening to him it feels he is mostly doing the music for himself and his own pleasure, says Eskil.

Trepaneringsritualen manages to create deep obscure atmospheres by combining death industrial and dark ambient in equal measure. In fact, Ekelund builds his offering on black-metal lyrics, heavy slow-pace rhythms and noise. His music explores subjects of religion, magic and occultism, and invites listeners to take his hand to a realm where time and space melt in the aggressiveness and grimness of his overwhelming sound.

10. DJIVAN GASPARYAN: I WILL NOT BE SAD IN THIS WORLD

Eskil’s playlist is rounded up with a surprise track by classic instrumentalist Djivan Gasparyan. Why you may ask: “Because it is the world’s most sadly sounding instrument”, says Eskil. Very emotional and decorticated – a breath of coolness. Djivan Gasparyan is an Armenian musician and composer. Gasparyan plays the duduk, a double reed woodwind instrument related to the orchestral oboe. Gasparyan is known as the “Master of Duduk”.

Wrapping up the session with Eskil we asked him about the plans for an upcoming Covenant album – what we can expect. If Kammarheit helped inspire and shape the previous album the next album will be more melodious and perhaps not so polished, say Eskil and smiles.

So put on your headphones and jump into the world of Eskil and Covenant.