A seasoned producer and DJ, Glasgow-based Galaxian none the less remains an elusive and discreet figure. Hidden behind his full-on camo military outfit, complete with a customised pilot helmet ornamented with the “Passivity Disruption Unit” tag, sprinkled with handmade graffiti reading the key words “resist” or “rise up” as well as the eye of Horus, symbol of protection, royal power and good health in the Egyptian mythology, Mark Kastner sure isn’t a man of compromise and half-hearted expression.
Dispensing his utter honesty and dystopian feel through full-frontal electro-tech destroyers, there’s clearly no gap to be found between Mark’s insubordinate persona and his deep, thoughtful take on societal issues, echoing just as naturally from the carefully-selected samples adorning his tracks down to his meaningful punchlines in interview about the worrying state of our civilisation.
After contributing some solid samples of his flaming signature sound to labels such as Transient Force, Last Known Trajectory, Shipwreck and his own Doppelganger label, Kastner returns with what may well be his most accomplished record to date, ‘Blowback‘, scheduled to land 28th April via Nicolai Vesterkær Krog’s forward-thinking Foul-Up. Eager to find out more about his unique vision, we sat back with Mark to discuss his views on politics and society, art of secretiveness and how music can change things from within. Stream the breaks-heavy ‘Forget About It‘ down below.
Interview by Baptiste Girou
"I see Galaxian music as a vehicle to spread this alternative view not dictated by the ideological managers and traditional narratives."
Your name Galaxian hints at a space-friendly aesthetic and your music strengthens this feeling. You speak of your music as an act of rebellion against the current state of things: lies, corruption, dishonest politics… On what level do you think music can change things and shift perspectives?
Hmmm, I have often wondered this, if in fact electronic music can affect any of that, at all, in any meaningful way. Ultimately I believe it can have an effect and can inspire people to pick up a book, get pro-active, view things differently or just to start asking questions. If it can do this then I think it’s a very potent thing. Of course, music should also be enjoyable and not just a lecture as that can be a big turn off. I guess it’s finding a balance between making great music and imbuing it with a deeper meaning.
For me now, I see the Galaxian music as a vehicle to spread this alternative view not dictated by the ideological managers and traditional narratives. If this touches people, if they feel it on a profound level, that’s a powerful force that can potentially be harnessed and used to shift and evolve minds and beliefs. It’s trying to invoke a deeper sense of meaning to life and how we participate in, sustain and give rise to its very creation.
While many out there are taking flurries of selfies everywhere they go, you hide your face behind a mask. Is it a way to protest against the diktat of image that’s engulfed a good part of our society and, by extension, the music industry?
Yeah the trout pout in nightclub toilets?!? WTF is that shit about?!! A mournful characteristic of the instant gratification, entitlement, celebrity for taking a shit culture which has become normalised for a large section of society. People need to cool it with this fetish that is mostly for others satisfaction and to feed a “like” addiction.
Taking a long hard look internally would be time much better spent. All this bullshit about the external appearance. It’s really tragic that we have sunk this low. I remember seeing pictures of Underground Resistance masking their faces and liked the idea of that. Making it purely about the music and not the personality driven ethos, deifying the person behind the music.
It’s weird but I couldn’t imagine playing without the mask and helmet. That has now become the character, in itself. Masks have always played an important role in every society throughout history. In many ways we wear masks on a daily basis hiding behind our persona, this role or game that we play. We tell ourselves this or that, immerse ourselves in these stories and beliefs, believing it so much that we forget who and what we really are, behind the external mask.
We fear our true selves, preferring to live behind the thin veneer of our carefully constructed personas and society. When this is mildly challenged, the mask slips and all chaos generally ensues. It is worth noting that word “persona” comes from the Latin meaning mask, a character, a role played by an actor. In a more immediate psychical sense we can routinely see masks on our screen displays and in person every day.
The continual protests and demonstrations worldwide with the armed state forces on one side hiding their faces and identities and the protestors often covering theirs to try and protect again CS gas and to not be targeted and picked out by spy cams. During the Occupy protests the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask became a prominent symbol of that particular movement. In some regions they have even made it illegal to wear a mask at a protest. No doubt that rule goes for the protestors and not the henchmen of the corpocracy.
So when I wear the mask, helmet and fatigues and become this kind of militant figure that we see a lot in the cultural imagery it’s not something that people are altogether unfamiliar with. We wear masks of many kinds to not only hide and blend in, to become something else but also in a way a strange way to way unify us. Perhaps Galaxian is a protest of sorts.
"We fear our true selves, preferring to live behind the thin veneer of our carefully constructed personas and society. When this is mildly challenged, the mask slips and all chaos generally ensues."
The term ‘dystopian’ often feels clichéd but in your case, it seems to suit your musical multiverse like a glove. It somewhat reminds me of Roberto Rossellini explaining that the supposed ‘pessimism’ felt by journalists in his films was in fact optimism to him. A truth in the look that may eventually change them for the best… Please tell us more about your new EP for Foul-Up? Have these tracks been recorded together or completely apart from each other and then garnered for the record?
Most of the tracks were recorded from varying periods. I have a large pool of music so it was a case of choosing tracks which best fitted the narrative and feel that we wanted to express. For some of the songs that had been produced longer ago I would update these with some of the more current techniques I have learned since then. This often results in a song sounding very different from its original version. This can be a blessing and sometimes a pain if I stray too far from the original.
What inspired you for this EP?
Some of the songs come from what I was feeling and seeing at the time. The title track ‘Blowback‘ hinted at the so called blowback effect that generally means when governments and other groups interfere with other nations and groups, covertly and militarily to affect a desired outcome. This can be extended to the patriarchal dominator culture, perpetual wars, crippling economic control, full spectrum surveillance, rabid consumerism, erosion of civil liberties, fervent destruction of the ecosphere, crushing poverty, I could go on, all resulting in intended but also unintended results and negative effects.
We can see the effects of blowback and other effects permeating society. Fragmented, fearful, suspicious and polarised populations and it’s rapidly getting worse and more ingrained. ‘Ouroboros‘, the symbolic serpent devouring its own tail, head not knowing what the other end is doing, an eternal cycle of destruction and re-creation. Again we don’t need to think too hard to be aware of that chronic state.
‘Tunnel Vision‘, we seem to have great difficulty viewing anything beyond our immediate vicinity and time. The rest of the EP takes on a similar tone. Collapse in full swing. Often the actual sound and feel of the music belies the themes they attempt to express. Some of the songs moods are quite uplifting and optimistic to my mind, like ‘Blowback‘. I’ve made my fair share of gloomy dystopian pieces but as my view morphs into a more holistic vision I think this will also begin to permeate my output. Bring a bit more light to the darkness.
There is certainly a lot to be inspired by, positive as well as the negative. Don’t be expecting any Ibiza big room EDM anytime soon though! The EP had so much input from Nicolai who runs the label, I allowed him to guide some of that which was an interesting, if sometimes intense experience for both of us. It was quite good to allow him to guide the direction in some ways as I tend to be quite firm in what I want to do.
Nicolai takes a keen interest in the minutiae of each stage of the process so it was nothing for him to fly over from Berlin for a weekend, lock ourselves in the studio and hammer out the final tracks. The whole EP took about 5 or 6 months to complete from our original thoughts to do something.
"We wear masks of many kinds to not only hide and blend in, to become something else but also in a way a strange way to way unify us. Perhaps Galaxian is a protest of sorts."
What’s your approach in the studio? Do you just like to jam and fiddle with your machines till you find something interesting or are you more of a careful thinker, heading to the recording room with a pretty clear idea in mind?
It can be a bit of both. These days it seems that the less I try the better songs I come up with. I try and not think about it too much and see what happens. Initially I will jam out a lot of it and once I get some basic elements I go further and make some choices about what it may or may not need and the direction I want to take it.
More often than not I go off into territories I was not expecting. It’s not really an ideal approach as I end up with so much rubbish but in amongst that, I chisel out a rough gem which I can then sculpt and refine. I tend to let my mood decide what I might create and follow my intuition as opposed to doing it in a rigid A, B, C style. Later on it gets a bit more technical as I compose, elaborate and usually over complex compositions that give me a headache just looking at them.
I can spend weeks and months on some of these. I can see the benefits of doing it live in one take but then again there are some songs that could just not be created and recorded live. The way I do things as Galaxian can be a very time-consuming process so I want to develop a better workflow where I create music of the same or higher quality but spending less time on the technical side of things.
Do you remember your first incursion in the realms of electronic music? Any moment that changed your life/vision forever?
I do actually. It was 1995 when I found myself unemployed. At that time you could go on a job training dole scheme to help you back to work so I picked a music studio training course in Maryhill. We were doing stuff like recording guitar bands, micing up drum kits, learning the mixing desk and all that kind of stuff. I was already heavily into the electronic scene and was excited to possibly get a chance to use their super modern Akai S1000 sampler.
I think it could sample a few seconds of sound and you could play it forward or backward. As I remember it they didn’t even show us how to use that but one day me and this pony-tailed heavy metal dude, Gordon, went in the mixer control room and tinkered about. We loaded some samples into the Akai from the CD-rom and slapped on a massive reverb through the mixing desk. Instantly sounded like Aphex Twin to me so we recorded it onto a standard audio tape as we played about.
That was my first incursion into electronic music making. Remarkably I just recently found that tape in an old storage box, on the label it says “Gordon and me – Aphex 95”. I’ll probably get that onto Soundcloud sometime soon if it doesn’t sounds too awful.
Which artists have had the biggest influence on you?
I started DJing in about 1990 or 1991 and the early techno and rave scene as a whole played a pivotal role for me and really inspired me to try and make this exciting new music. Well, Aphex Twin kind of blew me away when I first heard him in 92 or 93. He spanned so many styles and indeed spawned many others. I don’t actively try and create sounds like him but you can definitely hear strands of that in Galaxian music.
Early Detroit guys like UR, Jeff Mills, Red Planet and all the usual suspects really. Ambient music has played a lead role like Global Communications, Pete Namlook, FSOL and now droney things like Zoviet France, Nurse with Wound, Tim Hecker. Later on Sherard Ingram influenced me to make that kind of faster stuff that no one was either making or playing.
The first time I heard his DJ set was in 2003 at a festival (fuck how time flies!) that was a real lesson and eye opener. It really made me think about the music I was making at the time and had a major impact creatively. Amazingly enough I’ve been able to work with him and released a record last year. We have further plans…
Recently I’ve been heavily into classical, piano and ambient sounds. I started being into ambient back in the early 90s so I have come full circle and I have always created a good bit of ambient, soundscapey music alongside the more full on intense beat driven ones. Through listening to masters like Wagner, Debussy, Satie, Chopin and the like I’ve really felt musically re-invigorated. I’d love to bring some of their richness, drama and passion to what I do.
Truly though, there is just so much music that has had a deep and lasting influence. It’s always quite hard to define and think of all the really great music that’s informed the Galaxian sound and where it is heading. Believe it or not I do plan on composing an orchestral symphony when I get the time how far I will get is anyone’s guess but I’ll give it a go.
What’s your schedule looking like right now? Gig plans or new releases set for landing soon?
Gig schedule is fairly quiet at the moment but I think that will heat up very soon. Got a few shows coming in Athens and NYC later in the year. Plenty of releases this year with of course ‘Blowback‘ on Foul-Up, ‘Dosing the Population‘ just released on Lower Parts, new EP on Shipwrec and just finished an EP for Helena Hauff’s imprint Return to Disorder.
I’ve also done some bits with techno dons behind Repitch and 3TH Records. There’s an album or two that could be out sometime this year and some other EPS. Uhm, quite a lot really. That’s a good position to be in but I do need a bit of an extended rest.
Blowback is released via Foul-Up on 28th April, pre-order a vinyl copy from Juno.
A1. Truth Seizure
A2. Parasitic Seduction
A3. Forget About It
B2. Tunnel Vision
B4. A Grand Delusion