Interview – Ekca Liena

Brighton’s Ekca Liena (AKA Daniel W J Mackenzie) creates deep drones and sumptuous ambient textures in which to lose yourself in. Daniel spoke to M3 about his free releases, altered states of consciousness and the structural coherence of albums and sandwhiches…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Daniel – My main musical project is under the solo alias Ekca Liena, where I release music that contains a variable configuration of ambient, drone, post-rock, doom, noise and electronica. There is also a psychedelic and ritual element at times, at least I believe there is. I also produce more conceptual and minimalist music under the name Daniel W J Mackenzie. Additionally I make up a fifth of psyche-drone band Plurals – we play pretty often in the south of England, toured the UK last year, and have numerous short run and DIY releases under our belt with others forthcoming. There are other bits and pieces here and there. I dabble in artwork, graphic design and photography when my camera isn’t broken or when I can afford to splash out on getting films developed. In other words, I don’t currently do photography.

What inspired you to start Ekca Liena? What is your own musical background?
It’s hard to tell where Ekca Liena came from initially. I’d been playing around with making music since my mid-teens and when I hit seventeen I think it got a bit more serious as I discovered… alternative states, you could say. This combined with a continuing desire to transpose emotions and experiences (usually of the negative, melancholic kind I guess) and things far more abstract into art I suppose are the roots of it. Oh, and I have developed an obsession with music to listen to whilst trying to sleep; I listen to music every night without fail until I drift off – this has no doubt informed the ambient element. Sometimes this can take a while and sometimes (though less so at the moment) I have strange, quite distressing and trippy experiences when I’m just about to go unconscious. The weird deserts of the hypnagogic state man, twisted things happen there. They exist ‘in between’.

My musical background is pretty run of the mill I think. I played recorder in school, probably Three Blind Mice or Pharaoh Jacques, my uncle used to teach me piano a bit, then I got into sound manipulation, synths and software about the same time I picked up a guitar. It’d be great to be better at all the instruments I use… the truth is that I get out of them what I need to for a specific track or improvisation environment and the rest is a frustrating mystery minefield. I’ve always been a dedicated and open minded music fan, always discovering something new, rarely letting go of my personal favourites. This and associated interests has lead to vast musical influences.

What was the reasoning behind making some of your recent releases available for free or ‘pay-as-you-please’ download?
My free download releases are pretty much all ones that have sold out. If they are unavailable to buy physically I prefer they are free than making someone pay for an MP3 of them. Certain other material was always free as well – this I don’t consider as strong as other work, or perhaps as significant. One of these was a selection of offcuts, tracks which didn’t make the ‘Sleep Paralysis’ album. Another is a collection of stray tracks that don’t really have a home on a release and probably never will. I see more value in a solid, coherent and dramatically structured piece of work – these strays, as much as I love some of them individually, they are just bonus items really and I don’t seek to go through the process of securing a label, physical packaging etc. for them when I can just say ‘here you go, whoever wants them, enjoy these as a thank you, or just as extra bits I don’t feel the need to keep to myself’. You never know, someone might like these more than what I have decided are worthy of proper album tracks.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
I guess the benefits would be that someone can take something away from a visit to my discography, perhaps meaning they would remember the name instead of casting it aside and moving onto the next artist. And those that missed a release can at least hear the album and know they got it legally. It certainly is quicker and easier too. You can finish a track and have it listened to around the world all in the same day.

On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
I really have no idea. If you mean people, on the whole, like all over the world, then probably most would download it. Amongst the musicians, fans and labels I tend to associate with there still seems to be a respect for the physical product, whether this be pro-manufactured or handmade items. What I tend to hope is that these consumers have a greater understanding of the lives of the musicians they like i.e. just humans, like them, sat in their bedrooms or modest studios and having day jobs, or being financially endangered, trying to survive whilst they pour their hearts and souls into their art. So in that case I would say the number of downloaders would be lower, but still I’d be reluctant to suggest a figure.

Would you say this method is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
Again, I don’t know. I’d like to think so. If the distributors drop out as well it would be a blow to the physical music market. I can almost imagine a complete split in the music industry – the commercial side ditching physical altogether (like has been reported) and the independents and DIY labels retaining it, with digital as an option to avoid isolating a certain section of their audience. With this I can imagine distributors almost picking sides. Obviously the commercial side would be big money stuff but perhaps the independents would have some kind of freedom to eke out their own prosperity, a complete structure of labels, fans, musicians, distributors and retailers that actually gave a shit about each other and know about respect and co-operation.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I guess CDs come first – my record players are all troublesome things, all three of them have their own problems that I’d get fixed if I didn’t have to fling my money elsewhere all the time. But still vinyl, absolutely – I’m really excited to have my own music on vinyl this year. I don’t mind tapes but I don’t seem to fetishise over them as others do – though the appeal isn’t entirely absent. Certainly not digital. I just can’t get my head around paying for MP3s, not sure if I ever will, and even a free download album doesn’t give me the same satisfaction as physical item. I get more pleasure from selecting a disc or record from a library of releases on shelves, taking a stack with me to my desk, to the kitchen to listen to whilst making food… than I do sitting near-motionless at a computer staring at a screen of folders and files, something I wish I didn’t have to do so much as it is.

Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I absolutely do, yes. Plenty of albums work as a whole piece from start to finish, and it’s how I prefer to create most of mine – to the point where I tend to avoid placing gaps in entire albums. If you can’t listen to it in one go you may never understand the carefully placed peaks and troughs in intensity, mood and pace. You don’t see people just eating the tomato in a ploughman’s sandwich do you? And then the cheese, and the cucumber and so on. No. Everything makes sense because of what sits with it. I get frustrated and despondent with my suspicions that the digital music age panders to a general sense of dumb impatience, and in response hyper-convenience, with our culture. Things have to be delivered immediately, with flashing colours and volume and now now now – there is no call to slow people down and some of the most rewarding subtleties of life are lost when you’re always rushing. It’s another thing to glue us to our computers, stop us leaving our houses , getting fresh air and conversing with others, whether they be friends, strangers, shopkeepers, whatever. It’s starting to feel like The Machine Stops already for me and I don’t like it. Abbreviations spreading like a linguistic plague. Sorry, back to the point, yeah albums are no longer works of art in their entirety. A series of three minute blunders that work together only in their narrative flatness, perfect for short attention spans and Youtube parties.

What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
It seems like a move to thrust censorship over a platform as open and free as the internet is masquerading as a sincere solution to protect work that is being abused by piracy. I don’t think this protection is unwarranted – I believe piracy can be damaging to independent artists and they should be empowered to prevent it if they wish – but the potential for the acts to only look after corporate interests seems very real. And the ideas that there’s a more sinister force at work, one that wants to strangle a crucial network of expression and broadcast for alternative thinking and truth, is frankly terrifying. That simply can’t happen.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Ekca Liena?
More of the same really. I have loads of work in production for which I’m seeking labels to release, physically of course. Finished work due for release includes, but is not limited to, a collaboration with Spheruleus on Home Normal, a new full length on Install, splits with Pupilar and Talvihorros and a CDr on a Russian label. I’ll be seeking more gigs too. As Daniel W J Mackenzie my début album will be re-issued on CD and vinyl by Frac-ture (Fluid Audio) and I’ll be completing other work after that. Plurals have a CDr coming very soon on Tor Press, our collaboration with Nadja’s Aidan Baker due out on Southern (Latitudes Sessions) and various gigs including Supernormal Festival in August. If all goes as planned it’ll be a busy and productive year.

For more information, you can visit Ekca Liena’s Bandcamp and official website.

About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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