Icelandic producer and DJ, Cold, returns with his latest EP, Exiles, on Thule Records. The Waveform Transmitter’s Ste Knight talks minimalism, dub techno, and what to do on a 20-year plus haitus.
Being given the opportunity to talk and listen to an artist who made a huge impact on the underground electronic scene is always a great honour, so when The Waveform Transmitter‘s Ste Knight was given the opportunity to chat to Icelandic dub-techno pioneer, Ísar Logi Arnasson, also known as Cold, he jumped at the chance.
Any techno fan worth their salt will know the Cold track Strobe Light Network. It has been around now for over 20 years and so it is more than likely that serious techno heads will recognise it, or will at the very least have heard it several times before.
It seems fitting that a producer from Iceland would produce stark, minimal beats with a dub-techno, ambient edge. Listening to Cold‘s productions, it is very easy to imagine being stood in the centre of some rolling, snow-covered tundra, while a winter blizzard beats against one’s face and the wind whips and howls around you as you make your way towards a warmer destination.
Ísar‘s productions could, in a way, be described as monolithic. The elements all come together to seemingly form one huge sonic mass, that vibrates with its own life-force. This could be a fair summation of a lot of what we call minimal dub-techno, and is certainly an analogy that can be applied to a lot of the more carefully considered, well-produced ambient techno out there.
Cold‘s latest release, on Thule sub-imprint Æ Records, titled Exiles, is a perfect example of dub-techno. As mentioned earlier, the productions on the EP conjure images of ice-caverns and driving snow, the evolving textures reverberating around huge glacial cathedrals as cracks start to form in the frost below and arctic sea creatures wail and whine in the ocean beneath your feet, Northern Lights illuminating the eerie sky above.
This is a theme that is present from the start of the EP, in opening track Aerials, and continues in Phased Out, which brings melting icicle drips to the fore. Exiles adopts a slightly more industrial tone, before we are plunged back into icey caves in Dialogic, as all manner of lifeforms squeel from the darkness. Finally, we are treated to another more industrially influenced track, as Goosebumps closes us out.
We are VERY lucky to have a storming Waveform Mix for you, which Ísar has carefully put together for your enjoyment. You can buy Exiles from all good digital outlets, as of July 17th. Take a listen to this week’s amazing mix below, but first, let us see what Cold had to say for himself when he shot the breeze with our editor.
Waveform: Hi Ísar. Thank you for joining us for a chat! Let’s start with your artist name, Cold. Is that related to your Icelandic heritage, or is it more to do with the stark, ambient, dubby nature of many of your productions?
Cold: My first ever record on Thule was called COLD, my artist name on that record was supposed to be CODE, but later the name of the EP stuck to me and I didn’t try to change it. I do like the name Cold and it connects with my given name Ísar Logi (which means Ice & Fire ). My name is connected with the fact that in 1973 there was great volcanic activity in Iceland, and my parents thought it would be a great idea to have Iceland in mind, when giving me my name.
Waveform: You first received critical acclaim for you track Strobe Light Network, which was released on Thule. How did it feel to be flung into the public conscience so rapidly?
Cold: The song didn’t make big waves here in Iceland, since we were at the time mostly unknown. But we had big dreams that we could be part of the music scene worldwide. Later Strobe Light Network was licensed to a Belgian label, Reload, and from there to Elektrolux in Germany. That’s when it came alive as it hit a nerve with the scene there.
The song also enjoyed the remixing skills of Sven Vath, Dominik Eulberg & Gabriel Ananda, Einmusik, Chris Wood, Thor & was also broadcast on TV program run by Alex Azary of Elektrolux. I really wish I had gone for a visit to Germany more often at that time to experience the moments when my song was played out by great DJs. I sometimes meet people that tell me about that experience with stars in their eyes… that makes me happy.
Waveform: After Strobe Light Network, you took a bit of a hiatus from production. Tell us what you’ve been up to in the meantime.
Cold: So, when we started the Thule label, I really wanted to have an impact on our local scene. So, I put my focus to promotion and magazine publication. In 1996, I started a music magazine that later became quite large on the Icelandic scale (25.000 copies). As the magazine grew, I got more and more opportunities to be creative in so many other ways then music production, so I kept the magazine going for 7 great years.
After I stopped the publication of Undirtonar Magazine in 2003, I put my focus towards event promotion and DJ-ing. Later I started working part time at bars and then ultimately managing them.
For the last few years I’ve been playing mostly every weekend and working a lot. Currently I work at a nice little hotel bar. I work one intense week and then one week I’m totally free. I’m a bit of an extreme person, being in the zodiac sign of the Gemini. Either I drown myself in work or I try to do absolutely nothing at all. I also spent some of the last few years in different countries, chasing dreams and the sun.
Waveform: Your productions are often described as being ‘minimal’ and tend to be placed in the dub-techno category. Do you agree with this interpretation of your sound?
Cold: Well I am a big fan of the minimal ideology, both in music and just in life. Simple ideas with big meanings. And when you put it together with the spacious atmospheric dub sounds, it’s almost perfection. Third thing I like very much is music that evolves naturally with LFO’s and different length loops. – So, I put together Brian Eno, Mauritzio & Wolfgang Voigt.
Waveform: And what inspires you to create the music that you do?
Cold: Sometimes I’m just too lazy to search through mountains and gigabytes of music to find something that fits my mood. So, for me it’s just to entertain myself to sit down with a blank screen in Ableton and create something totally new and fitting to my current mood. Many times, I make tracks that I later use as background noise when I go to sleep. I love to make loops that have movement and change within them. The perfect song is one that I can listen to for hours and not get bored.
Waveform: Can you give us a little insight into the workings of your studio? What gear do you use to produce your music?
Cold: I’ve just recently started producing music again and my setup is pretty simple. I’ve got an iMac running Ableton Live. I’ve got Yamaha HS8 studio monitors through an Audient iD14 sound interface. Sennheiser HD25II headphones. I’ve got Akai MPK 49 keyboard controller and then I use my Traktor S8 also for knob twiddling. Not big on plug-ins and soft synths.
I use mostly the gear inside Ableton and Max for Live. Samples mostly come from sample banks and off of CD’s or vinyl from my collection.
My next step is to add more hands-on controllers to be able to get deeper into the tracks when I play live. I guess the lightbulb has lit up again in my head. I do enjoy creating tracks that I can play out as DJ or release for other DJs to enjoy to.
Waveform: You’ve burst back onto the production scene with your new EP, Exiles. Can you tell us a bit about the process involved in the creation of the release? What made you want to go back into production after such a long time?
Cold: Exiles EP is basically a collection of songs that I managed to finish. Usually I only make loops, that I listen to for hours and then go to sleep. I don’t really enjoy building song structures. The reasons why I’m producing again is that I like the opportunity that I have at playing my own songs when I’m DJ-ing. It’s a great feeling to see people react to something that is so close to heart.
Waveform: You’ve released your EP via the Thule imprint. Did this seem like the natural thing to do, to go back to ‘where it all began’?
Cold: Þórhallur (Thor), who is the man running the show at Thule Records, along with the other label owners, heard some of my tracks on Soundcloud and asked me if I had enough songs ready to do an EP. So, we sat down and listened to some songs and found out that these 5 songs fit pretty well together on a EP, and all agreed.
I have not been in contact with other labels out there regarding my music, I’m very relaxed about all this. It is nice to be part of the Thule family of artists. They have been doing amazing things with re-issues of older sold out records and are miles ahead in their productions.
Waveform: We are in the VERY privileged position of having you produce a very exciting Waveform Mix for us. How does the process of putting a mix together differ from production? What was the driving force behind your track selection for the mix?
Cold: Putting together a mix is 90% about collecting the songs for the mix. It’s a great task to mix my own production in with the masters. The most difficult part is to blend it all into a good story. I like to keep it interesting and danceable for the mind and the heart.
Waveform: What can we expect from the Cold camp now that you’re back on the scene?
Cold: You can surely expect more releases, better quality productions and different music styles. I will perform with the Thule artists on a big music festival in November, called Iceland Airwaves. You can expect to see me somewhere performing a live-set or DJ. More black & white artistic photos of a visionary serious artist will be coming.
Waveform: Can you namedrop a couple of up and coming artists who you love, who you think we should be listening to?
Cold: I really like the sound and production of a young and upcoming artist on the Thule label, called Kristján Thor Waage. He has an EP coming out very soon, simply called “W” and it is a great tribute to the masters of dub techno, Mark Ernestus & Moritz Von Oswald.
Another friend, that recently moved to Berlin to master his production skills, is called Ezeo. He is a member of an Icelandic collective of DJs that work under the name VIBES. I would not be surprised if a few of his songs would make new waves very soon.
Waveform: Thanks again for talking to us, and best of luck with your future projects.
Cold: Thanks to you guys, and see you at the club.
Here is this weeks brilliant Waveform Mix. We’re sure you’ll agree that bringing a mix from an artist who has not released anything commercially for the past twenty years is no mean feat, so get your amp whacked up to max and give your speakers a serious workout. Enjoy! (Tracklist below).