In Conversation With:

iagö navigates between sonic and visual realms as mediums to bring his creative essence to life. Translating a design-based approach to music and artistic creation, he finely balances the interplay of delicacy and disruption with authenticity and chaos to orchestrate his visceral projects. 

Primarily crafting his projects using analog hardware, he embraces the flaws and nuances intrinsic to the equipment. He describes his hypersensitivity to minute details as both a blessing and a curse – in the realm of sonics, identifying the imperfections within a sound is his favourite part of the process. The result of his approach is distinct yet powerful auditory experiences characterised by drum and bass-infused tones, swaying between melodic peaks and troughs, all while telling a perfectly crafted sonic narrative. His videos equally visualise human fallibility and the journey to break free from internal angst and turmoil. 

Ahead of his new EP release, Chemical Wedding, we sat down with Iagö and explored the intersections of his different disciplines, Chemical Wedding’s story and Benicio Del Toro.

George: The year is still quite fresh, how's your year been so far?

iagö: A sense of relief in places. I feel like a considerable weight has been lifted since the release of Chemical Wedding. I feel content. I could have tried to cut corners and not commit myself, but I’ve really immersed myself into the project for the last two years. Even then the video for Chemical Wedding took six months, with four different treatments. There was the initial concept for the video, it was an extreme, which had to be reworked to fit within certain constraints and parameters. So, there’s been an evolution. Dom Sesto, whom I worked together with, significantly helped the process, it’s a delicate procedure.  

I think that is an ode to your character. You’re extremely meticulous and that's quite refreshing. A lot of people, like myself, can be broad and chaotic. I can get meticulous where I need to be, but it's nice working with someone who really knows what they want. 

My background within the visual arts and design, significantly contributes to this mindset. It’s neither a good or bad thing. There’s not only the visual or technical standpoint but also an understanding of the process from ideation to execution, working from the ‘sketchbook’ into the final output. I definitely have a hypersensitive mind when it comes to anything visual led. Presumably because I’m constantly surrounded by it and consumed in the world. I guess it is a blessing and a curse, this hypersensitivity to the smallest of details. But that’s what I love, specifically sonically, the small increments and the imperfections within a sound, the finite noises as the sound wave is transferred out of one synth into an outboard processor and back into the digital realm. These imperfections are what give a character or give a life to something, it’s those small details that actually make the good records. There’s certain records I love which really play into this notion; think about Alan Vega and Martin’s Rev for Suicide, the ‘77 album or Nine Inch Nail’s Downward Spiral, to the likes of Brian Eno’s Apollo.

It’s almost like reverse engineering in design in a way, where finding the imperfections first informs what to build next. 

Exactly, I guess it really comes down to the notion of understanding one’s process and translating it to their given medium, whether visual or a sonic. There was a period of two, maybe three years when I started producing, where I was like “What is going on?, and What am I doing?” I was just figuring out how I work and what the process is. You’re really just experimenting and understanding the programs. It’s like science in a way. Understanding how sonics work, how it's transmitted, how you can manipulate it in certain ways. I like the granular levels, the details or notes no one else can hear except for maybe me, there’s a gratification and I can give it full justice. The design aspect really feeds into this whole notion. I have a whole bank of hundreds of visual pulls, it’s essentially my accessible archive. When I come across any visual or design language, typography, photographic, I keep it as reference. It’s usually constructed from a design standpoint but it really translates into my ‘world’ as a musician. You know, I may research or come across something,  which sparks an idea, I think, ‘How could I evolve that thought or idea within a project’, and vice versa.

There’s this old phrase that nothing is original. We live in the age of reference, so digging is the primary task you need to do before you can actually create something anyway. 

Everything is a copy, of a copy of a copy. Is that a Fight Club reference? In some cases, it might be the most important thing. With music, I just needed to experiment with different things. I needed to produce solely techno for two years, and just go and do the DJ circuit, and then realise, “Okay, I'm not so into this world.” It's a different kind of character that  had become, I didn’t want to continue down that path. I didn't feel challenged within that space, not out of arrogance, but because I wanted to push myself. Inputting a memory stick to perform and having a possible setlist of 200-300 songs. It felt like this monotonous cycle that I transcended into, it made me take a step back and consider what approach I want to take.

What was the preliminary stage of this experimental cycle? 

DJing was where it really started. I really try to refrain from using the word DJ, I think it’s picked up some bad connotations recently. But, I would have been maybe 12 or 13 when I started. It was primarily drum and bass, and Jungle.

Who was your first set?

DJ Marky, Shy FX, Digital, Metalheadz. I actually met DJ Marky a year or so ago, it was a bizarre moment, I almost idolised those guys in my youth. There was an energy I noticed within Drum & Bass and Jungle. I wouldn't say it's an aggression, but there's certainly an angst within it that translated into certain sonics and worlds that I like. At the moment, I find it hard to find a balance. It’s either darker, emotive or melancholy. I really struggle to find anything in the middle. I wouldn't say I’m a dark person, but I’m certainly drawn to darker worlds or sonics, maybe due to the extreme nature of them, the feeling it transmits.

In a weird way I think drum and bass is a mature but still such a fetal genre. Everyone from everywhere has some connection to it. Drum and bass had its commercial moment, but it was also extremely underground, but then it just floated. So, what was the next transition from that?

Exactly, it hasn't evolved. It's solid. Although, there was a lot of consumption of different music throughout my family life. Through my father, my brother, and consuming different genres. Whether that was hip-hop, Three 6 Mafia, or punk and new wave, to dance and electronic, the likes of Joy Division, New Order, Michel Jarre, St Germain. I remember going through the Reactive compilation CD’s my father used to keep, merely just thinking the artworks were cool, you know the fluorescent vectors. It was a lot of 90’s rave, the druggy 150BPMs of hard house and ending with euphoric trance. From here I started to get into production around 15 or 16. I didn’t know what I was doing. This naive youth. I had no real understanding of it, I was just figuring it out.

What was your first memory of that? 

I pursued the purchase of a cracked version of Reason 3 through my brother's friend.

We love piracy (laughs).

I bought it from him for like maybe fifty pounds, which at the time was a considerable saving. “Fifty pounds, I better master this thing…” (laughs). It started with Reason 3, just getting into that world, and transitioned overtime to Logic, which I guess at the time would have been Logic 8 or 9. It was purely understanding the software, understanding sonic, the varying waveforms, and their differences. Nothing really came from it. It was experimenting, understanding. DJing was really at the forefront and so that was my main format at the time. I put in the hours to understand the technicality. I then played my first club at around the age of 16, which was funny. I won’t go into the full story, although I’m certain the resident at the time, hijacked the set by nudging the jog wheel. Maybe there was jealousy, or resentment. But anyway (laughs).

With drum and bass, the beat matching is so technical. It's a fast paced genre, technical in its production and drum patterns, it’s more technical than most. I used to play on CDs and would have all the BPMs listed there. I would transcribe them directly onto the CDs. It was quite extreme. I think through doing that I really mastered the technical side, how to beatmatch and blend corresponding music. That was a skill I really honed in on. Then as I developed and so did my taste, I went on to explore more electronic music outside of drum and bass, it was easier to work with

When you learn things in the most complex spaces, it does allow you to experiment more once you peel back the layers.

From there I was getting deeper into the production and leaning more on the instrumental side, piano for a period of time. I had always wanted to be in music since I was young, almost a desire for the performative aspect within music. I played the drums when I was around 8 or 10, but never really hit a mark. Then I tried the guitar, but neither did it sync. Then it grew into the DJing. I was like “Maybe there is something in this.” This was early on before DJing had a significant impact within mainstream culture.

When I was still in highschool, I pursued DJing further. I was doing a lot of mixed media and more graphical along with sculptural work, a practice I really pursued. I had these two mediums that I jumped between. When I graduated highschool, I went to Kingston College to study Graphic Design, at the time I was DJing frequently, predominantly within the UK and the London circuit, Phonox, XOYO, some of the original clubs that are hopefully still in existence. At the time it meant alot of back and forth, scheduling between university time. Getting through lectures, DJing, studying, going back to university, a cycle that scaled as demand increased.

As you’re doing this more and more, what did you find in that process?

I was just running (laughs). This character running, slightly aimlessly maybe. What happens if you keep running at what point do you stop? Certainly a youthful naivety. It was, “You want to do a show in Nottingham?”. I’d just get on the train and go. I wasn't consciously picking up on things, it was much more subliminal. I’d get to my hotel room, which in most cases was bleak, an eerie feeling. I’d think on a much broader level as I digested the night. I was just consuming it and confronting it as it grew over the course of four years or so. It was exciting in my early twenties, travelling throughout the UK and Europe. The first real exposure into that world would have been around 2018. Also a period in which I started to pivot more heavily into analog production and technique.

Can you explain further about this exploration?

When I started I was primarily using my DAW with the inbuilt plugins, it’s good to get your head around these basics as these really form the foundation for most synthesisers or processors, even those advanced. Sine, triangle, square, sawtooth waves, they all contribute different frequencies and amplitudes, with these in combination outputting varying harmonic structures. It’s how we tell the difference between the sound of a guitar and a trumpet, or a knock on metal and a real human voice versus a synthesised one. Sorry I’ve slightly digressed. The rationale for the shift from software into hardware really came down to a feeling I was after. Software for me anyway doesn’t have that true feeling, it’s like the difference between a human and a robot, there’s no complexity within the robots emotion. The nuances are what matter. When you’re playing a sound or softsynth through a computer, you can’t feel it, it’s all consistent. Take the Korg MS20 for example, you need that physical hardware that you can directly manipulate and perform with. You could then take that signal and run it directly through an outboard unit, that’s when the magic happens. There’s a track on the project titled ‘Blood and Rust’ which uses a guitar pedal  called the RM-1N, the output once manipulated offers guitar-like qualities somewhat like a new wave record.

I think that's a beautiful way of understanding how to make analog sound.

We look at the early recordings and think “Why does that sound so good, what recording processing are they using?” But I think it really came down to the method and approach they took when recording. They had a finite amount of time and in most cases it was directly to tape, maybe a handful of takes. You can hear the energy or emotion within those records because of the performative aspect, it wasn’t a recording which consisted of best sections clipped together. It’s more of a performance, it’s like a euphoric state that brings out things you wouldn’t have otherwise had. It’s like acting, where maybe the whole script gets scrapped and the actor taps into his own inner dialogue, that’s when the beauty can emerge.

Now the possibilities are endless. Everything around us is so formulaic, produced to clinical levels of perfection. We all seemed to be locked into this strive for perfection. I’m not against it but a balance needs to be struck. 

And I love the idea that we were starting to pull away a bit more from that. What are the benefits of being someone who has both the technical understanding of the digital side and analog side? 

A lot of it comes down to research and exposure, whether music, design or art. Understanding sounds and its qualities. You can see how a certain sonic may translate into something you might hear on an old Prodigy record. There’s such a complexity in how a certain analog sonic is outputted or produced. When you come to think about how a certain sound is likely referencing something before that, it’s an endless cycle.

A lot of the understanding comes from experimenting directly with analog. Through that process you get an understanding of what early parameters may have been used for certain records. It’s then about transferring that audio signal back into the digital like Logic. That’s where everything is funnelled back into. It’s like the safe house.

It seems that in that process you’re either gonna get something that’s so fucking interesting or you’ll have no idea what’s gonna happen with it. What's your favourite part in that process? 

I’ve come to realise you have such a finite amount of time that when you hit that moment, you have to turn on autopilot and race before that idea dissipates. There’s also an extreme delicacy to it, you need to ensure nothing disrupts that train of thought. I think it’s a process I've learned over time. Then there’s maybe a period of two, three or four hours of just repeating that loop. Nothing else happens (laughs).

That's often what people don't see, isn't it? 

Yeah… and then you digress into deep contemplation and thoughts that transpire to question your work. It's all part of it. It may at times get really, really dark. Which begs questions of “Maybe I shouldn't continue down this path, I’m going to happily step away and call it a day”. But really and truly, what will be will be.

Chemical Wedding has been a long time in the making. What were the first stages when you realised you wanted to bring it to life? 

I have a love for sci-fi. Fritz Lang, Metropolis, George Lucas, Blade Runner, Vangelis. A deep intrigue and interest within the ‘world’, not just the topic but the characters that exist in those dark underbellies. This really acted as the foundation of which became the backbone for the project. Growing up I never consumed much sci-fi but I was constantly infatuated by the future. “Where will we end up in 20, 50 years” I'd think. In some cases though with sci-fi, it’s set within the future but there’s still juxtaposition with the past, they seem to be technologically advanced but culturally behind. This is where the real interest lies, the 1970s in 2050!

Yeah, we reached sci-fi during our lifetime which is an amazing thing. 

Right! The influence for the project, including its concept and title, really came down to research. It was looking at those writers and directors, and then understanding who inspired them. “Where did they begin their journey”? “What was their touch point?”. I went on this research mission, compiling notes and anecdotes. I then landed on what was supposedly the first science fiction novel ‘The Chymical Wedding’ written in 1616, I began digesting and finding scriptures online, pieces of information I could extract, “What was the narrative” “What compelled the author to write the novel” “How was the novel shaped and structured”?

What's the rough synopsis of the book?

It echoes five thematic stages, to many it resembles a biblical allegory. The notion of the circle of life, depicted through the symbolic representation of tests, purifications, death, resurrection, ascension. There’s some dark chapters, some light and joyous and some romantic and euphoric. There’s such a breath of language and human emotion, which was partly the reason I was drawn to it, it’s at that cross section I want to operate. The project really aims to transport the listener into a world, through the narrative depicted within the novel, it’s my sonic interpretation. Each track tells a different story, with different pacing throughout, but within the confines of a consistent sonic language. Initially I began experimenting for a month or two, pushing to uncover the sonic landscape. I wanted to understand how to depict the main crescendo moment, the high point in which the protagonist takes action, this would then form the basis to begin working around. The birthplace for Chemical Wedding.

I think you can feel it from the track itself, it has that. With the trumpets in it, you have that almost like fanfare element to experience.

The trumpets really acted as the catalyst to cement it within the space, and set it within the world I wanted to portray. Almost this dystopian jazz club within the city. The trumpets came later, before there was even the Tommy Saint feature. There was no artist for a while. I have numerous versions of that track, possibly around 120 or so, not including the mix iterations.

How did Tommy end up on it?

The track really formed like a formula. The drums. The synth lines. Editing. Reworking. Editing again. This formed the foundation, to then begin experimenting with vocalists and the instrumental side. I typically refrain from having people in the studio while I produce though. There needs to be a certain energy for me to conduct, I need to minimise distractions.

How do you say no? 

No comment. I’ll remain a disguise please.

How did you find the recording process?

It varied. ‘Last Ashes’ which I recently released happened within the space of a few days, similarly with the mixing process. The record itself was much more striped back, fewer integral parts. Everything had its own frequency pocket.

I love the visuals for it as well.

Thank you. The record and visual really aimed to portray this notion of confinement, the confinement one can find themselves in. Trapped in a linear simulation of repetition. Sem Osian, who featured in the video, represented it so beautifully, capturing this inner torment, in the search for an escape, as he slowly concludes to a state of hopelessness. I don’t sing or vocalise, so my expression is purely through sonic and visual language.

Yeah, and it’s beautifully linked by the upper part of the album.

The narrative definitely contributed to this, it helped me navigate through the recording process, at times acting as a source of inspiration or reasoning behind certain decisions. Down to the cover art, I looked to push the notion of the circle of life.

That tops off the process really well, when you can see something that communicates the amalgamation of everything. Now I can allow people to understand it. How excited are you to deliver it? 

I’ve lived there for the past 2 or so years. It’s a project that needs to be consumed as a whole from open to end, it’s a conceptual body of work which is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m looking forward to finally being able to fully immerse myself into my next body of work. I need to finish this chapter first.

I think that’s something people can take from you as an artist. Starting from the root of something and building from there, and giving something the attention it deserves. 

Maybe I should release all the pre-workings. Although it would defeat the purpose. I think it’s important that through certain mediums the viewer or listener works to understand its meaning.

One long voice note at the beginning. We’re in an era of voice notes skits aren’t we? 

We really are, although I’m not really one for voice notes. We should bring back the fax machine.

Is there anything else you've been thinking going forward in the future? 

Benico Del Toro.

That’s it. We’ll leave that there. I love it (laughs). I feel like I’ve already experienced what the future holds.