Name: Daniel Jakob aka Dubokaj
Recent release: Dubokaj's Daydreamflix, a collaboration with the late Lee “Scratch” Perry is out now.
If you enjoyed this interview with Dubokaj and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, and Facebook.
Your debut album was called Alpine Dub. Do you actually live in a hut in the Swiss alps?
I wish! Unfortunately I live in Bern. But I feel drawn to the alps and will regularly go there. From my home, it's a mere hour to the next mountains. Sometimes, I'll stay there for a few days.
I would say that it has become a sort of inner desire and fascination to be able to go to a very primal place like the alps, put on my headphones and lose myself in digital reverb spaces. I am fascinated by the fact that there's an entirely different reality within half an hour of my apartment.
Maybe this sounds a bit naïve. But honestly, that thought still amazes me as if I were a kid.
As you pointed out in an earlier interview, there is certain parallel between the echo of the mountains and the echoes in dub.
Yes, and maybe the spatial experience you gain from hiking through the alps can be of help in the studio. Maybe it makes me use reverb and delay differently.
But for me, personally, the bigger influence is the visual experience, the images I absorb there and then recall during the production process.
I do intend to make recordings of these natural echoes. I'll just wait for the Summer to come.
Tell me about the importance of sound for your work.
At one point, I thought that sounds were more important than songwriting and that beats and sounds mean more to me than harmonies and melodies. I've come around on that, but more about that in a second.
The point is in the very beginning, I was the singer in a conventional band and also responsible for recording our playbacks and demos. Around this time, I bought myself a Yamaha A3000 sampler and started to experiment more. Until then I had had no connection to electronic music whatsoever and I thought dub only remotely interesting. I was, however, interested in the releases by the Berlin label ~scape by Barbara Preisinger and Stefan Betke aka Pole.
When I started my duo Filewile, dub elements became more prominent.
[Read our Stefan Betke / Pole interview]
How do you create the all important reverb and delay effects for Dubokaj?
I prefer to use analog tape echos and use them to perform the music live. This way, I can steer clear of the endless editing possibilities of software. To me, they are a blessing and a curse at the same time. I have to admit, though, that those analog tools don't always sound as great as they may look. Usually, two or three takes are enough.
When it comes to reverb, I have a Boss Reverb Box RX 100, a Vermona spring reverb, and a Sansui RA-700, which is a hi-fi reverb unit from the 70s.
In terms of delay. I have three Roland Space Echo with tape and a digital Space Echo RE-3, as well as a couple Electroharmonix MemoryMan. The Space Echoes are always a bit of a risk. During one of my sessions for Alpine Dub, one of them definitely died.
You said you came around on the idea that sounds are more important than songwriting.
I would say that ultimately, ideas are more important than sound. This is also why I don't usually want to know which producers are working with which consoles – with the exception of effect units such as reverbs and delays.
That said, I can easily get fascinated by certain sounds or timbres. Sound is still incredibly important to me. And yet, in the end, it's often the melody which draws me in.
I currently work a lot with field recordings and embed noise and shadow-layers into the tracks. But even these elements are always there to support the underlying composition. They'll enhance the melody rather than forming a mere backdrop.
Which sounds attract you most, would you say?
Muted, reverby organ sounds or the wow and flutter of a tape recording, which reminds of my childhood. Very dry drum sounds – I guess that's my interest in the 70s.
I like sounds which have been sent through various pieces of gear or which have been re-recorded with a microphone. I don't really care what kind of sounds these are. What interests me is the way they've been treated, the hiss that results from dubbing from one tape to another. My personal hauntology. I also like the watery feeling of a spring reverb.
Before recording Alpine Dub, I would often use recordings I'd made with an extended spring reverb. I used to hit that thing like a maniac. I even played it live during performances with Filewile.
How do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?
I like to drift and take a playful approach. Sometimes, there will a clear idea that I'll try to realise. But usually, I'll take only semi-finished tracks and send them on a journey through my two desks and their effects. And then I'll use the take I like best and continue processing the recordings in the DAW.
Maybe sometimes I'll do another dub session on top. That way, the ideas will go through several rounds and round even more corners. There is always something new to discover!
So, to sum it up, the music is heavily influenced by the instruments I use.
You've compared the process to painting.
Yes, although perhaps the term collage is more apt. Or sculpting.
It's all about shaping the material. Searching for a form and developing it by painting and then painting over what you have, covering up some parts and then using them as a foundation for something new, layer by layer. First, you fill the canvas and then you start stripping down the picture to the essentials.
In a way, your process doesn't have an end and will yield a lot of material that won't get used. You don't seem to mind that.
I have always been interested by things other people would discard. Also, I will often feel like I could still use this or that. Throwing it away wouldn't feel right.
I have a few really worn-down instruments. I don't feel like repairing them either. My 1962 Phillycorda will only occasionally produce a few tones. Such limitations will lead me to think differently. And then I'll start working with those limitations.
Ultimately, I'll try to find beauty in all those unfinished, discarded sounds. Which obviously doesn't actually happen in each case.
What was this like for your new album, Daydreamflix, for which you recorded with your then Swiss “neighbour” Lee Scratch Perry.
The track "Dubmarine" is a good example for my work with my Trident Mixing console.
It is the result of several dub sessions. I sent almost all elements through the Trident and only added a few sounds at a later stage, such as the high synth-arpeggios. For the vocals, I only used the wet-signal from the delays and edited the clean signal in the DAW.
The recordings from the jam session with Lee were fairly bad. They were taped using only very basic recording equipment.
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
I think it’s good to have a vision or a framework that helps with some guidelines of what you want to create. But of course you’ll always be inspired by instruments, and equipment too.
Different haptic experiences lead to different results. Like you’re limited physically, but not in your dreams and mind. You can think of craziest sound sculptures and in reality you'll never reach the point where you say: this was my vision. You have to adapt, take opportunities etc.
Sometimes these appear through instruments and then the equipment is the inspiration.
So equipment can indicate a musical direction as it were?
Sure. I don't think that's an issue at all. I like to get distracted and inspired by technical possibilities, limitations even. Often, I'll approach a new piece of gear with a naïve curiosity and just try it out. That way, I'll discover the potential at my disposal. Playfulness is very important for me. I do have a certain vision of a mood, or an image in my head which will motivate me to go looking for particular sounds and melodies.
Physical and technical limitation also help to make artistic decisions. Otherwise you get lost. Or you’re such an incredible digital artist that has his clear vision and is able to realise all the things he dreams of. I'm not. This is my main struggle with the digital world. Having endless possibilities makes me feel depressed sometimes.
That’s why I go back to the analogue world here and there. Working with real knobs and cables, recording live, in a classic way dubbing tracks on a desk. At least parts my productions are made this way.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music?
I guess I’m more into originality and innovation than keeping a tradition alive, and also I’m not a perfectionist. I often act by accidents, let things happen and I also love to clash ideas and see what comes out!
That has been my modus operandi for my entire life: When I was 14, I had saved up some money from working in the local supermarket on the side. Initially, I wanted to use it to buy a stereo. Instead, I came to the conclusion that it would be better to invest it into an electric guitar to simply create the music myself. DIY right from the start.
I never did get a musical education. I was always far too impatient and wanted to skip the learning part, start making music right away and play live. And it's still that way today. I absolutely respect artists that go deep and get very specific. And I’m sometimes impressed by perfection. I’m just not that guy, I’m too nervous.
Since I'm choosing my tools rather randomly, my music rarely sounds like something that's already been done. That way, I'm preserving a certain originality.
Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I am curious about music that searches for the new.
Traditions and conventions can occasionally make for good points of departure. But I want to make music that is entirely my own. I don't have any affiliations to a scene which cares about maintaining these conventions or sticking to a fixed style. Rather, I am fascinated by new position, some of which may perhaps come off as fragile.
I prefer experiments to traditions. And wherever there is experimentation, there is bound to be failure.