Interview: Peter Votava aka Pure, Current 909, Ilsa Gold
Transcript of the interview with Peter Votava, aka Pure, Current 909 and one half of Ilsa Gold, recorded by Christoph Fringeli in December 2021 and first published on our Noise & Politics YouTube channel in April 2022. The video is embedded below.
What were your earliest experiences in electronic music, how did you get involved?
I got into making music via DJing which I started originally by putting records on turntables in the late 80s. DJing in the understanding of electronic dance music is something that I then discovered in the summer of ‘91 when I visited friends in Berlin for a week and they introduced me to a new music style that didn’t exist in Vienna back then, by bringing me to Tresor, and that’s how I discovered electronic dance music. My understanding of DJing changed and like a year later I started slowly step by step making music.
I started with somebody else’s gear – it was Christopher Just’s.
We didn’t really have plans to work together already [at that point]. Christopher is the the guy with who I did or I’m still doing Ilsa Gold together.
He was already making music, he knew already that there are these instruments that you need to have to be able to make techno. He had to move his stuff out of his flat because his girlfriend said, either the instruments go or I go, and so he brought his Casio FZ 1,his [Roland] 909 and his 303 to my place and that’s how we started, with an Atari Mega 2, I think with a crack of Cubase 2.
How did that connect with what was happening in Vienna at the time?
I come from 80s new wave and industrial music and so my connection to any kind of electronically produced dance music before techno simply didn’t exist. I had no connections or contacts to any club or party dance culture before. When I started making parties there were no other parties I knew of. So it was me and four or five other people who started making techno parties in Vienna in ‘91 (much later I learned there had been some activities already but they weren’t relevant for me).
The first one was with a friend from back then who is still active as DJ Sirius and it was called Tekknodrome, with 2ks, and I was very active doing parties till ‘97. Yeah so like from ‘91 to ‘97 I was making at least one party a month, sometimes more, and DJing and producing and also for some part like ‘94-95 also playing a lot of shows outside of Austria.
And then you also started producing as Pure or DJ Pure…
As I said DJing was my first way of producing or of performing music and from that I just moved on… then we built the studio together in my living room and I started recording tracks in ‘92, mostly solo and then also occasionally we worked to make the first Ilsa Gold productions, and then I had a bunch of tracks ready in ‘93 or so that I thought that would make sense and at one of my parties I booked two artists from the States, Jethro X who’s Kurt Eckes, the guy who runs Drop Bass Network, and Delta 9. I played the tracks to Kurt back then and he offered me to release them on Drop Bass Network and that was my first solo release called AnalogueTerror.
Then you started your own label…
My own label Loop Records was actually almost all releases of me working with someone else – usually guests at my parties or artists that I booked for my Loop parties. I also started recording stuff which didn’t really fit into this style which then became my side project Current 909 of which I released two records on another label I called Atmosfear… this was ‘97 I think, ‘96 or ‘97…
There were several labels – you ran Loop, then Atmosfear, we started Sub/Version together, and later there was dOc…
Oh yeah but dOc Records is something I started much later, not before 2000 or maybe even later, I’m not sure…
This actually represented my, let’s say, second period of music making. I had a first period which started with techno and then ended in what in the 90s was called hardcore – which is different from what people nowadays understand under this term.
When I stopped doing that in like ‘97/98 I got much more interested in abstract electronic computer music and dOc records is the label that released music from these days so this was active between maybe 2000 or so till 2004/5.
Then why did you stop running labels?
Because I’m a terrible label boss! [Laughter]
…and I just decided to stop damaging myself, my own career and other people’s careers by releasing my and their music. I think that everybody else is better than me in releasing and promoting and distributing and everything that you need to do when you run a label.
But also in this period the business changed…
Yeah that’s true. When I started in the 90s business was good enough, you didn’t have to have a clue. You just made some records and some distribution bought them and shops sold them and maybe you sometimes even got money for it, and sometimes you didn’t, but it worked. It worked without marketing and promotion and building a brand or whatever you have to do, I don’t know, and this changed in the early 2000s.
Dawn of the internet and mp3s and all that stuff. In the end my label activities were just another victim of this time where the market shrunk and actually everyone who wasn’t committed enough or was not able to adopt to these new rules, just died out.
You also moved…
I had wanted to leave Vienna already for many years before I finally did in 2004 and I was undecided where to go, but I’d lived in Berlin at end of the 80s for one year, and in the early 2000s I had really many friends already in Berlin and then at one point I thought it’s actually the natural decision to move to Berlin. It was, at least back then anyway, probably the most exciting city when it comes to music – or maybe it still is, I don’t know – and it was just much more lively and chaotic and everything that Vienna is not… and I felt like if I stay in Vienna then I’ll just get old and lazy, I just didn’t feel like I’m already old enough to prepare for retirement!
You stopped putting out vinyl around the turn of the century and became more interested in the CD format and in albums rather than 12 inches…
Yeah, but this had actually not so much to do with the format, it’s just that my musical focus changed. I didn’t produce dance music anymorewhere you put tracks together on vinyl because it was the natural format for DJing. I developed towards just listening music, and the natural format for listening music back then was the CD, also because you had more time on a CD and if you’re depending on how you make music if it’s not as precisely produced as many dance tracks are, if it’s more live recordings of improvisations and things like this then you automatically have like longer pieces and it’s a different music genre and this has different rules or different habits. So it was just natural to make albums.
And what about files?
Doesn’t work for me. I think I just missed that – I’m probably too old, I don’t know. It took me years to buy my first CD, and yeah it took me a long time to kind of adopt to this new format of CDs, and with digital I just don’t know what to do with it… I have gigabytes of music on my hard disks and an absolutely unusable iTunes that has tons of copies of the same tracks because they have been copied to some different disk, and the application is too stupid to figure it all out… I don’t know… digital…pff… if I listen to something from my computer then it just doesn’t feel real to me, it just doesn’t…. I use Bandcamp, I use SoundCloud, I use Mixcloud… but I don’t know – something’s missing… Also it’s almost impossible for me to memorize music I listen from files.
It’s probably me, it’s not the format…
You did eventually return to vinyl.
Yeah well, actually my musical interest shifted back from let’s say experimental music to more well-produced dance music again. It started around 2010 and the first outcome of this change of direction is the Bolder album on Mego together with Martin Maischein. This was the first vinyl I think that I did again and this was in 2014.
It was for the same reason that I moved from vinyl to CD, I changed back from CD to vinyl because I think for this kind of music it’s the the physical format that makes sense.
Of course DJing changed a lot since the 90s, so either you play the files or you play vinyl… that’s what you do and that’s why I moved back to vinyl…
In terms of your musical production how has technology influenced or shaped the way you make music?
Well I started obviously with hardware because that’s what you had to do in the early 90s and I luckily had a pretty big collection of gear and around ‘97 I started to discover computer music.
In the mid 90s computers got fast enough that you could actually play more than one or two audio channels without expensive external audio hardware, just with the built-in hardware, and I discovered the computer as an instrument for electronic music in 97. And in 98 I discovered a new tool for me which is a programming language called Max, and this introduced me to audio software programming which got my full attention then for almost 10 years 24/7.
So I was only focusing on computer, I sold all my old gear unfortunately or fortunately, at least for the moving (to Berlin), and I worked entirely in the box as you say, only using midi controllers as physical interfaces.
This stayed like this until 2015 maybe when I slowly started buying hardware again, but this of course was also because my musical interest shifted.
I’m now using both. I’ve got not a huge but nice selection of fancy Eurorack modules and I have actually two drum machines again and I bought a 303 clone and and I’m using this for production, but I haven’t shifted completely back to hardware. Right now I’m so into making music that I have 100% control over that I even record hardware – it always ends up in Ableton Live and then gets the final treatment there, the final arrangement and mixing and everything.
Back to your musical history, to a project that seems quite different from your solo work: Ilsa Gold.
Almost the anti-pole, yeah. Ilsa Gold happened without any plan or concept and there was no master plan. There was also no original, we couldn’t build on anything, because we are from Austria, we’re from Vienna and there was nothing… there was no history that we could continue…
It happened because Christopher and me have the same humor and we are musically extremely different. We pretty much don’t like any music that the other one likes, except for very specific narrow kind of techno that we agree on which is mainly Underground Resistance and when we started making music it was because he had his equipment in my flat and he kind of knew how to how to use it, so I was curious, I learned, I did my first steps then and we were just like trying out stuff and we recorded tracks that just happened because we… I don’t even know why … at the beginning it was just like random tracks that we recorded. And then we found out that this one thing when we can work together the best – and actually also the only way we can work together – is if we put jokes into rave, into kind of a rave costume that’s the internal jokes between him and me, that’s how we came up with all the funny tracks that people so hated back then.
I mean I’ve now said it like already several times in the last 10 years, but every serious techno producer back then hated us, for being funny, for making fun of things, for being successful, for playing all the big raves in Germany that the others didn’t play, and all that without even doing anything to make this happen. So we had no promotion, no manager and no booker, nothing like this, it all just happened and it went really quickly. I mean the first release was ‘94 I think and when we released the first record we already had the tracks for the next two records done.
And then we released the second one, which was maybe a bigger hit even than the first one I’m not sure, and then when we drafted the third release it was the first time that we started to come up with some sort of concept for something because we made this very ravey release and at the same time we made this super serious dark intelligent Detroit-ish acid techno album called Winterreise with a super kitschy cover and we knew, we were sure that all the distros and all the shops will order them and then they will put it on the turntable and it’s like “well that’s Ilsa Gold but that’s not funny, what is that!?” And this is exactly what happened, and when we released them, we released these two records at the same time exactly, Ilsa Gold 3 and Winterreise, and all the distros bought the same amount of both and when they reordered IlsaGold 3 they sent back Winterreise.
This went on for like another two years or so, maybe ‘95, ‘96, and then I was just so sick of everything that was related to this project.
Especially like the live shows that we played and I just stepped out and I didn’t talk about this project for over five years, even if someone asked me about this, I was like “I don’t know what you’re talking about… never heard of… I don’t know what you mean, me? No you must confuse me with somebody…”
And then sometime in the 2000s we occasionally came together and made the odd track or some joke, and we actually still are best friends and still once in a while do some stuff.
We made this really funny track which I’m really proud of… We did this in like 2017 and it’s a bizarre collage of news footage combined with classic gabba samples and screaming and noise. It was our hatred against the Austrian government back then that we poured into this track.
And besides that oh yeah we had a project called Sons of Ilsa, yeah that’s true… I mean I can talk for hours about that… We had this huge hit we got into legal troubles for …. that’s Ilsa Gold…
Enough of the past! what are your plans for the future?
Quite diligently working on music almost every day! For many many months I think that I’m almost done with my next ep which will be as Pure and which will somehow be in the style of the mid 90s, kind of, and besides that I have so many unfinished tracks I’ll probably, I mean i will definitely want to do more Current 909 stuff. I’m so terribly slow with finishing tracks that I gave up planning anything to avoid any disappointment on my side and also on the possible label side. I just slowly work myself through tracks and when they’re finished enough then I’ll look around and see what i can do with them…