|His unique productions as Portable and Bodycode have made Alan Abrahams one of house music's most interesting and idiosyncratic artist. In anticipation of his upcoming album Richard Brophy tracks him down for an interview.|
Originally from South Africa, Alan Abrahams has spent close to 20 years living in Europe. Working as Portable and Bodycode, Abrahams has released on labels like Perlon, Spectral Sound, Background, Yore, ~scape and his own Süd Electronic. Despite maintaining a relatively low profile, he has been responsible for some of the most evocative house and techno of the past decade.
Benchmark releases like the dense rhythms and eerie organs of Bodycode's 2006 album, 'Conservation of Electric Charge' and the plaintive vocals and Portable's gloriously melancholic 'Know One Can Take Away' and last year's 'This Life of Illusion' for Perlon map out new possibilities for house and techno music and mark Abrahams out as one of the most distinctive artists working in the realms of the dance floor.
With a new Portable single,'Let's Go' out on Karat, and a Bodycode remix of Efdemin due next week, we dragged Abrahams away from the beach for a chat.
You're originally from South Africa, but seem to have lived a nomadic existence in Europe. Where are you based at the moment?
I'm living in Berlin right now. I'm just here (in Portugal) on holidays to get some sun. It's minus 10 in Berlin! Yeah, I have been around. I lived in Lisbon for three years. I moved to Berlin for a bit, then back to Lisbon for one year and then Berlin again. With all the technology that's available, you can work anywhere in the world.
How does living in Berlin compare to life in Lisbon?
Life in Berlin is good, it's such a music city, but there are often so many things going on at the same time that you become spoiled for choice, whereas if there is even one good artist coming to Lisbon, you make sure that you go to see them. I moved to Berlin to make sure that I didn't get distracted by nice sunny weather - which was a problem when I first moved to Lisbon! Before Lisbon I had lived in London for 10 years, so that was long enough.
You have released two albums and a number of EPs as Bodycode, but seem to be focusing on more on Portable at the moment. Do you have any plans to release more Bodycode material?
To be honest, there is no time for Bodycode right now, but as a producer I have also just been in Portable mode lately. I am concentrating more on the vocal side of my music, so that lends itself more naturally to Portable. I am working on an album for Perlon and a single for Süd Electronic. I'm also singing on most of the Portable tracks myself - except for the new Karat release, which has a vocalist on it called Jason Young. He's from LA but based in Tokyo and I met him when I played there.
So how did the hook-up with Perlon happen? It doesn't seem like the kind of label that would release deep vocal house...
I can't remember how it really started. I played a few Perlon parties, so it was really a natural progression. Actually it was quite a weird collaboration in the beginning because I didn't think that the release ('Know One') would fit on Perlon. It was more or less one of the first vocal tracks that I did, but people are still talking about it and playing it. The relationship with Perlon has worked out very well so far, and 'Find Me' was number one on the Groove single charts.
Portable: "House and techno have become like Ikea music" // photo: Shai Levy / shailevy.tumblr.com
Both the Portable and Bodycode projects sound utterly distinctive - are there any producers or artists who have influenced you or whom you admire?
Thanks very much! I listen to some electronic music, but not very much. Actually I listen to a lot of ethnic music from Africa, Latin America and India. I like traditional classical music and use library music as well for samples. I see a connection between ethnic music and house and techno - both have a religious element, whether it's dancing around a fire in ancient times or dancing in a club nowadays - and I try to get that through in my music. At the same time, I'm not just taking a piece of ethnic music and sampling it, I'm sampling the music and trying to make it sound genuinely different by using technology.
So are you cut off or unaware of what is going on in contemporary electronic music?
It's good to know what's going on but it's a bit disappointing to hear what's happening. Like this house revival, it's just a rehash of what has been going on for years already and it contributes to the all the fodder that is released. Technology makes it easy to make music but it also means that house and techno have become like Ikea music!
But surely technology also makes it easier for talented producers to make music and get noticed?
Yeah, that's right, it's like evolution - it will be released, it will be heard. It is easier to release music, but more difficult for it to stand out. I have been making and releasing music for over 10 years and it's only getting known now. I also believe that if music comes from your heart and it has real sincerity, it will get listened to and that it will lead to other things. I met Sutekh by accident in London: I was playing at a night near where he lived and he happened to come down to hear me. He liked the music I was playing and released the first Portable record. If you are making music for the right reasons, it will get out there.
So what's a Portable show like - do you DJ or play live?
I only play live, it's always been like that. I'm also singing live now, so it provides another angle to connect myself with the audience. It's good to have vocals in electronic music, but it has to have a feeling and a message. It's so easy to put something like a vocal singing 'take me higher' into a track that has no message or has no political message especially.
So do you feel that electronic music should be politicised or should it provide a form of escapism from everyday life?
There are so many things that are not right with the world, from climate change to the collapse in the world economy to social unrest. At the same time, I don't want to be preaching, but if you are making music and you are being sincere about it, then it has to have a message. My music is not political in a straightforward way, and reflects more personal politics, what I believe in.
You mentioned earlier that you were working on a Portable album - can you tell me more about what it'll sound like, and do you have any other releases planned?
The album is a mixed bag. There are vocal collaborations with Jason Young, Efdemin, Lump from Finland and Lerato of course. Some of it is house music, but some of it is more experimental. The reason for this is that originally, Portable music was meant to be listened to in a different environment than the club. Hopefully the album will be released in the summer. I also have a Bodycode remix of Efdemin's 'Chicago' out now and plan to release a single for Sud Electronic as Portable.
Portable's latest single 'Let's Go' is out now on Karat. Listen to and download more Portable releases below.