Behind Skadi is the German musician Alexander Leßwing. The project has existed since 2001 and has produced a series of remarkable releases, among which the darkly brooding “… And Nothing Remains”, the atmospheric “Eliwagar” and the majestic “Vergangenheit und Gegenwart”. Despite the noticeably high level of his musical craftsmanship Alexander has remained more or less under the radar all these years. After a long break, 2014 sees the re-emergence of Skadi with a new album, “Enemy Within”, as well as a number of compilations containing hard-to-find and unreleased tracks by Skadi and Alexander’s previous projects. Seizing this opportunity we asked Alex a series of questions, the revealing answers to which you will find below.
For many of us there’s one particular point in our lives, usually in our childhood or early teens, when we can be allowed to say our true connection with music began. Do you remember what your first encounter with music was, that ultimately inspired you to become a musician?
There was no first encounter which inspired me to become a musician. In fact, it was an ongoing process which started in my early childhood. Ever since I can remember, I ‘invented’ melodies in my mind, played rhythms on self-made drum kits, and played melodies on different items and tools. After I got my first computer system with a usable audio interface in the late 80s, I started to create music inspired by my environment, everyday life, and emotional situations.
How did you come up with the name for the project, and what does it mean to you?
I have a strong affinity to the roots of our culture. Norse mythology and religion is an important part of it. Although I am an atheist, I think that we should know about our ancestors’ religions and way of life. I picked “Skadi” as a name for the project because I have a strong tendency to winter, melancholy and solitude. The name combines my personal taste and my opinion of knowing and honouring our ancestors’ past and beliefs.
Tell us a little bit about the history of your project – releases, live gigs, collaborations, any particular incidents or works that hold a place in your heart, and anything else you might feel is important.
“Skadi” was created after my former industrial project “Unnatural Bleeding” was drifting more and more into ritual ambient music. “Skadi” was at first a parallel project to “Unnatural Bleeding”, but I soon realised that I didn’t feel connected to “Unnatural Bleeding” anymore, which made “Skadi” my main project until now. For many years I worked on my own, only sharing my music with friends as gifts for diverse reasons. In 2005 a friend of mine asked me to release some of my music via the label “Art Konkret” and managed the contact. In 2006 the album “Eliwagar” got released as a physical CD. I had a few well populated gigs after that release. But they are not really worth mentioning, especially because I am very introverted and don’t like to stand in front of an audience. After my project got confused with an extreme right-winged group I decided to stay quiet for a while, since I don’t want to be connected to this group in any way. Fortunately, a close friend of mine asked me to release my unreleased and formerly gifted tracks as digital download albums. I agreed to that and in January 2014 I started to release my music again on Bandcamp.
We often see a lot of reviews and commentary referring to the same release, yet describing completely different things, to the point where the reader might become a little confused. If it was up to you to describe your music in the way that you see fit – and not necessarily restricted by genre classifications or labels – what words would you use?
In short: Emotional music of the inner soul. But to explain it in detail, it is difficult to describe your own music or find descriptive words for it. Different listeners result in different opinions because everyone connects the music to different situations. My music tracks are acoustic pictures of a moment and therefore always connected to a special and unique situation of which the listeners are not aware of.
What is the process you usually go through to complete a recording, from beginning to end? I’m referring here not only to the technical aspects of recording, but also your state of mind, something related that could trigger the writing process and so on.
It’s quite a simple process to complete a recording. Some emotional situations in my life create some sort of sound in my mind. I feel melodies within me and try to keep this emotional situation as an acoustic picture. So I start to record this melody with instruments, similar to the sound in my mind and begin to add fitting elements like rhythms, build-ups, stingers, etc. to it. Usually, this process won’t take longer than several hours, not counting the mixing and mastering. Mixing and mastering usually is a second process, because for quality reasons I want to have some distance from the moment I created the track. This split of processes is quite new though. My older recordings are not always in a good shape regarding mastering, and so I had to re-master then as far as possible.
As we all know being an underground musician is not a lucrative employment. What’s your everyday life like – job, family, other activities – and where does making music fit in it? Is it a crucial part of your life or do you view it more like a hobby?
Apart from creating music, I work as an IT consultant. Furthermore, I am strongly connected to IT related activities like photo art and gaming. I also like to consume audio books and read scientific or philosophical literature. Since I don’t have any family, I have enough room to be creative. However, creating music is always a crucial part of my life because it is an important catalyst for emotional situations.
The role that social media play in the promotion and even the survival of an underground artist today is indisputable. Based on your own experience, do you feel that this type of exposure may stand in opposition to the general idea of underground music? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the friendly, everyday communications of artist and audience have somehow detracted from your work by depriving it of its mystery and sense of nobility?
I don’t think that social media stand in opposition to the idea of underground art. My personal experience is that most fans of underground music show respect and appreciation to the artist and don’t have any intention to deprive the underground work from its mystery. In the end, it is up to the artist if she or he wants a shroud of mystery around their project or not. I accept social media as a modern way of promotion and a positive chance for less known underground artists to get in touch with the audience.
Post-industrial is a constantly evolving organism that keeps generating new genres and cross-classifications. On the other hand many newer artists carry significant influences from the pioneers of each genre, and the sheer number of projects and albums makes it more challenging for the casual listener to assess the quality of a release. What is your personal assessment of the current condition of the dark ambient scene? Do you feel it has changed since you first started making music?
The dark ambient scene is still very small compared to many other underground music scenes. Many artists know each other either by social media or even in person. Of course there are many dark ambient projects on the market nowadays, but from an artist’s perspective it’s not a matter of quality but a matter of whether the audience like the music or not. The audio production equipment is on a high level and has become affordable, which makes it a lot easier to produce music on a high quality standard. The mixture of sounds, melodies and rhythms is a matter of taste. I would say that things have changed since I started to create music. However, it’s not the audience that has changed a lot, but the possibilities for the artist to create good and high quality music.
Name some of your favourite artists, musicians or not, that constitute an influence and inspiration for your own work.
Well, although I try to stay as individual as possible while creating my music, there are of course some influences and inspiration from other artists. To name some of the most influential artists: Dead Can Dance, Raison d’être, Lustmord, Ulf Söderberg, Klaus Schulze, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Hammock, Aphex Twin, Autechre. There are many more artists I love to listen to which also have some influencing impact on me, but the list would be too long.
And finally, do you have a message for our readers?
Music is an important part of our life. It’s the acoustic essence of emotion. The artist shares an intimate and emotional part of him- or herself. Listen to this music with your heart and soul and not with your mind in order to understand the emotion of music.
Skadi – Enemy Within
[reviewed by: vitriol]
I was first acquainted with Skadi some years ago, with “Vergangenheit und Gegenwart” in 2005. That and the previous album, “…And Nothing Remains” (2004) have caused a deep and lasting impression on me, as they were unlike anything I’d ever listened to before. Various influences from celebrated dark ambient acts have been incorporated, and indeed transformed, into the project’s sound. Ulf Söderberg’s distinctively ritual, tribal rhythmic sequences, early Raison d’être sacral atmospheres, organic minimalism and use of space; the extensive use of industrial and electronic sounds in complex layering. Ample neoclassical elements are often employed in an expertly cinematic way, their orchestral structure being reminiscent of film soundtracks with moody compositions and emotive climaxes (like the one made by Immediate Music for the 2009 Dorian Gray film for instance, or Elliot Goldenthal’s score for Neil Jordan’s “Interview With The Vampire”).
The emotion that Skadi’s music causes resembles a pain as sharp and acute as frostbite. A breath of cold, fresh air enters your lungs, and you have a strong sense of cleansing and purification, that goes hand in hand with the pain. The music emits a kind of personal, abandoned melancholy that has a classical aura to it, going back to 18th cent. German romanticism. The name fits the project perfectly. High mountains, snowy landscapes, dark green leaves covered with frost, those are the refuge of its namesake goddess who abandons her unfortunate marriage to seek comfort in her beloved arctic solitude. And whether the albums tend towards the neoclassical or the dark ambient side of the spectrum, the effect they have on the listener remains unchanged.
“Enemy Within” rather tends to the dark ambient side. The majestic neoclassical outbursts have ceded their place to ethereal religiosity, but there are still rhythmic elements to be found in some of the tracks. As the title suggests it pertains to the constant inner struggle with oneself, therefore the tracks are divided into separate thematic units but belong to the same general concept. And so we begin this fearful journey as we cross the threshold of “The Labyrinth”, like a second Ariadne driven by her need to face the monster within. A long dark ambient track with a lot of different sounds woven together, both organic and electronic, toned by deep, reverberating chants, lo-fi drones and layers of beats that intensify gradually. The combination of western religious music and eastern tribal rhythms yields a fascinating result. This richness of sound and texture gives way to minimalism in the next track, “Path Of The Despairing”. Bleak, hopeless, poignant dark ambient. The hollow chants of some austere priest whisper guilt and failure in our ear. The sound is dry, rigid, merciless. Sudden clangs coming from desolate rooms where the light enters but feebly, and only for a little while. Slow, heavy drones. Ghostly female voices. The suspense-building in this track is impeccable. As the promise of redemption turns to ashes in our hands we find ourselves in the “Path Of The Tormented”. Winds whispering to the empty walls. Melodies looping in catatonic repetition. Oscillating drones, rhythmic noise bursts. The music unfolds like a stop-motion picture, spills on the ground like a stain of black ink absorbed by the dust. The image of despair and vacant hopelessness is almost palpable.
When even the pain has gone there is nothing left but emptiness. Having perhaps forgotten why we keep walking, we enter the “Path Of The Abandoned”. And in this gaping void, where we’ve been forced to let go of all our worldly ties, light finally comes. Windy drones whistle through empty spaces, soothing religious chants offer guidance, and a moving neoclassical sequence creates an atmosphere of enlightenment and harmony. It was just a glimpse however, and before we can grasp it it’s gone. Our mortal flesh burdens on us, and in “Path Of The Lost” we return to the darkness. Unlike the previous tracks, the sound here is dirtier and the track contains noisy passages and guitar drones, joined in the second half by melodic synths and ritual rhythms. The rich synthesis resembles that of the first track, “The Labyrinth”. It was through a tunnel that we entered this realm, and we’re getting out the same way.
But to where? What awaits after death? Is it hell, the void, our worst nightmare? Or perhaps the redemption we so desperately long for? “Path Of The Dead” is an 11-minute long track of sheer beauty and spiritual elevation, that contains nothing more than a series of male and female chants and some gentle ethereal sounds to support the atmosphere. Nor does it need anything else. The album ends with the soul’s proverbial release.
The sorrowful moods and unique atmospheres, powerful and fragile at the same time, the intense emotional introversion, the mysterious and purposefully vague imagery here, all suggest one interpretation: that Skadi focuses on the workings of the soul, not the observance of an external environment. A conclusion enhanced by the frequent use of religious elements interspersed throughout the tracks. Perhaps the term ‘spiritual’ is more appropriate than the term ‘religious’. The point as I see it, is not to accentuate the doctrines of one particular religious persuasion, but to convey an essential, inescapable existential agony. “Enemy Within” does so in an exemplary manner, delivering what is in my book one of the top releases this year.