Yves De Mey: The only thing that could help is that people start buying music again

May 15, 2017

Antwerp-based producer Yves De Mey has his roots in sound design and scoring for performing arts, film and installations. He released on Line, Sandwell District, Opal Tapes and Modal Analysis. He is also one half of Sendai with Peter Van Hoesen. His main tools are an ever-growing modular analog rig and some vintage synths, combined with an avid interest in audio manipulation. We had a chat with Yves about synths, inspirations, Sendai, the Belgian music scene and the Intonal Festival, where he recently performed both solo and with Sendai. 

Yves De Mey (Photo: Camilla Rehnstrand)

It’s always a genuinely interesting situation when two artists with an already strong musical personality team up to work together. You’ve been partners as Sendai for 8 years now and I cannot help but notice that your sound is growing more and more stronger with every new release. How do you see this from the inside, what was the key for you to find your own sound together?

I think we’re almost working together for 12 years now. So your question makes even more sense 🙂  When we started out, we’ve spent an awful lot of time in the studio together (in Brussels). It was definitely a good thing to be able to work together so often, sometimes even daily. And either one of us took on a certain responsibility or a part of the production process. I’ve just started using a modular setup, and when I was laying down some sounds or tracks with it, Peter would manipulate them digitally or add beats to them. It’s not like we were staring at the same screen all the time, it was much more free-form than that.

Then Peter moved to Berlin and our approach slowly shifted, since we didn’t get to spend so much time together. So we’ve been trying to find a more ergonomic and less time consuming approach, which also means our ways of making sounds changed. Peter has a beautiful modular rig as well now, and I’m actually diving more into hardware synths and some software again like Max for Live, Reaktor,… things like that. And we just send each other simple sounds, single layers or whole tracks, usually when either one of us thinks it’s time for the other one to chime in. But for us it’s no so much about finding our own sound; it’s more about turning and twisting all the sounds and tracks until we think it’s something we haven’t heard before, at least not coming from our machines.

Looks like everyone ends up in Berlin sooner or later… have you ever thought about moving there?

As much as I love Berlin, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to move there. I have my work and my child here, so financially and practically I would only complicate things. And I can perfectly do what I do where I am right now, so no need to move to another city to take part in a so-called scene that is actually nothing more than a made-up community. But I have quite a few friends there and it’s always lovely to be there. So I rather keep it as a preferred destination of mine.

Do you think this long-distance method works just as well or do you prefer to be actually in the same physical space at the same time?

I wouldn’t mind spending more time with Peter in the studio, but because that’s not really possible, I think we made the long-distance method working well enough to accomplish things. It’s definitely a different way of working together; there’s no instant feedback and less jokes, but it is what it is. I guess it’s better to embrace what can work instead of fretting over what doesn’t.

Yves De Mey and Peter van Hoesen performing as Sendai at Intonal Festival 2017 (Photo: Camilla Rehnstrand)

Last year you’ve released ‘Drawn With Shadow Pens’, your first full-length solo record in 7 years on Spectrum Spools. Not going to ask what took you so long, since in the meantime you’ve released a dozen of EPs and albums both solo, collaborative and Sendai. It must be rather challenging to find the right state of mind when you can work on such a massive piece like that. How do you find the right time and place for all your projects?

Although the album was released in 2016, the majority of the tracks was done in 2012. In that same year, I became a father and that obviously means less time to work on non-lucrative stuff. So I guess I’m able to whip up stuff rather quickly when I find the time to do it. But it doesn’t feel like that all. To me it all feels very slow, and I wish I could work faster. But alas… The good thing is: most things I make are moody, I mean, it’s mood over function, so when the mood is right, and I feel like exploring, things happen fast. The Drawn with Shadow Pens was also a very focused affair; 3 days of making a patch on the modular, 1 day of recording several takes, and another day of editing and mixing. I did 12 or 13 tracks, fortunately not all of them were released. But still a rather intense and lengthy production. But I loved doing it, because I’ve learned so much then, especially about sound synthesis. Double win!

Considering all the above mentioned releases, would love to hear how a regular day of yours looks like – in- and outside of the studio. Walk us through it!

A regular day: waking up, half of the time making sure our daughter gets in school on time, go to the studio to do commercial work (otherwise no cash), pick up the kid from school, cook, kid to bed, work a few hours on my own stuff either at home or when I can, back in my studio. Sleep, repeat.  Nothing too sexy or rock’n’roll. But I like it, usually. I don’t want financial stress, so I’d be a fool to think I could make a living by doing the music I do. So I save myself the frustration and deal with work (fortunately still sound design and other studio work), and try to find maximum pleasure in doing my music.

What do you think should change in the music industry in order to be able to make a living out of what you really love?

I’m not sure the music industry can change/has to change/…  I could obviously say promoters should book me twice a week for live gigs, but that’s not going to happen. The sort of music I’m doing will never reach a huge audience, i’m very well aware of that, so I don’t think it’s even remotely possible to make enough money with it to live my life the way I do now. The only thing that could help in making things easier, is that people start buying music again. That’s more related to people’s attitude than the industry itself, I think.

To give you an example: recently I noticed someone had put my latest EP on Youtube. It definitely sounded like the digi-file, so no vinyl rip. The thing is: the digi-files are only on sale on our Bandcamp, so I perfectly know who buys those. He didn’t. But in his Youtube comment he puts the link to our Bandcamp page, saying “support the artist”. When I ask him where he got the files, he says he simply illegally downloaded them and thought it was a good idea to put them on Youtube, because he likes my stuff and wants to promote my music. Sorry for the long rant, but this perfectly points out what’s wrong with people’s thinking these days. Totally flawed ways of dealing with the work of artists, and for no reason thinking you can do whatever you feel like doing. I guess in this case it’s just plain stupidity. So far for thinking I had a smart fan base…

Knobs, cables and patches are all great friends of yours. How often do you change your modular setup and what do you consider to be the most important aspect when you are doing upgrades? Are you one of those impulsive ‘need to get a bigger case to fit more modules in there’ or you like a more of a laidback variety of tools?

When I started out, I’ve spent tons of money on getting the system as big as possible in the shortest amount of time. But since I have a child, I’ve slowed down quite a bit. Once in awhile i buy something new, but i tend to be rather relax about it. I’m not one of those kids who buys every new module and then sells it because it’s not “the one”. I really don’t care. I rather spend my precious time on making things sound right instead of just knowing I have the latest thing and still produce shit sounds. It honestly strikes me in a very negative way that the increase in manufacturers and diversity of modules didn’t lead to more interesting stuff. Again proof it’s not about the tools, but about what you do with them. Apologies if that sounds pretentious.

“It’s not about the tools, but about what you do with them.” (Photo: Camilla Rehnstrand)

I have the feeling that no matter how much stuff some musicians got, there is not much change in the sound. If you think about inspirational musicians either today or in the past, who would you name as a source of inspiration for yourself and why?

Phew, probably way too many. I listen to music all the time, and I’m probably influenced by everything I hear. It doesn’t even have to be music; sound in itself is already pretty influential. But I’m definitely more inspired by artists who explore new terrain in sound design and rhythm. Stating the obvious, but Autechre rules for that matter. Better: they rule, full stop. And then there’s everything else. Recently I’ve really been enjoying listening to Youtube clips where someone just goes through preset banks of synthesizers. Don’t know why, but I find it really soothing and inspiring.

The Belgian techno and experimental music scene is quite small, however also quite fascinating. How do you think it’s been evolving during the last years and who would you say your favourite local fellow musicians are?  

I don’t really try to keep up with the Techno scene as such, because to me it’s not that interesting. I mean, I think I’m fairly up to date when it comes down to knowing how things sound nowadays, but I hardly ever go clubbing, so I’m not looking for my Techno fix. So it wouldn’t be fair to really comment on that, and I want to avoid cynical remarks. But there’s an incredible amount of extremely well-executed electronic and experimental stuff around. One of my favourite local artists here in Antwerp is Hiele, especially for his live sets. But there’s more of course: the artist related to the Vlek label from Brussels are doing great stuff as well, and recently I really started enjoying the releases on the Ekster Label, also in Antwerp (and related to Hiele). There’s good stuff happening here in Antwerp, albeit rather small-scale, and I try to enjoy that as much as possible. A key figure in the whole scene here is Allon from the Entr’acte label. He’s involved in some very decent nights happening here, and his encyclopedic knowledge of music makes sure there’s always a good injection of inspiration when something happens.

You’ve recently returned from Malmö and the Intonal Festival where you played a solo performance and together with Peter as Sendai. How did you like the festival and how would you sum up your experiences over there?

I really enjoyed being there. Although I had a nasty cold and was nearing exhaustion (or that’s how it felt), I had a great time there. Loved playing at this water tower building, very good crowd, good sound,… Saw a bunch of friendly and familiar faces as well, always a pleasure. But as always, not enough time to check other acts. I have a hard time enjoying gigs when I’m supposed to play one myself. It messes with my concentration and ears, so I rather stay away from that. Doomed to the backstage, I’m afraid…











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