A disorderly duo built and engineered for high-intensity live performances, hectic mosh pits and tireless crowd surfing, Amsterdam’s Volition Immanent is the encounter of two music heads driven by the same crucial thought that music is a physical experience that’s better tasted in the midst of a frenzied crowd – mic bleeding, hardware blazing and woofers set to eleven. Punk to the core!
On one hand, Mark Knekelhuis, owner of the well-known Knekelhuis, a label that’s made a name for itself amongst fans of long-lost tape oddities, leftfield zone-outs and industrial-tinged experiments. On the other, Parrish Smith, genius collagist, rugged sound sculptor and fellow collaborator of L.I.E.S. and Dekmantel.
As Volition Immanent, Mark and Parrish complement one another in ways that transcend the frontal euphoria-inducing, ’77-style rowdiness of their vocals and inclement temper of their battle-ready drum programming. Ahead of the release of their new 8″ two-tracker on Mind Records, we caught up with the Dutch pair to find out more about the birth of their friendship and collaboration, live performances and creative methods.
Interview by Baptiste Girou
"It's about the will, and the will to be whatever we are. And where we go. That's, to us, what Volition Immanent signifies"
Your new EP is about to land via your home base of Mind Records. Please tell us more about the record and its conception? The B-side, ‘Photosynthetic’, actually is your first live-recorded track, isn’t it?
We are glad to work with Abraham from Mind Records again. He put trust in us since the beginning, and we get full freedom to do whatever we want to do with his label. Artistically speaking we really love his DIY approach of running a label and creating records. That totally applies to our own DIY ethos.
We have a strong connection with De School club in Amsterdam. They record every session. The goal is to archive and not to release those recordings. This track was capturing our live moods so well, and we had always wanted to release a track that hadn’t been recorded in the studio.
The A-side, ‘Whiteboy‘, got born out of a tongue-in-cheek “Fuck you” towards the white supremacy, with their deeply rooted, underestimated racist energies that have become part of our society.
The track came as a result of some experiences we gathered around the release of Parrish ‘Genesis Black‘ LP on Knekelhuis. Parrish mentioned in a previous interview that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get to know each other’s culture. It might take 10 minutes of your life to value each other’s culture. Then there were some people who’d rather avoid this discussion than openly discuss this as two different persons.
What do you recollect from that night at De School? The vibe seemed pretty special to say the least.
It was the first show we played there as Volition Immanent. And it was also the first experience for a lot of people in Amsterdam to get in touch with us. We were invited by Interstellar Funk and played there with Intergalactic Gary as well. It was in the basement – which is quite an atypical situation for a live show, and we were playing in a big booth surrounded by metal pipelines where you have to climb over to interact with people.
It was one of the first live shows De School ever booked of live-interaction vocalist form. It was wild and it turned out into an explosive punk show. ‘Photosynthetic‘ was the last track we played, and people were asking for more.
What is your favourite memory from past shows and gigs?
One summer we played on Friday in Berlin, very late. Without sleep, we jumped into the plane to Paris. We played at this festival called Villette Sonique. The 707 synth was fucked up when we arrived. All the drum patterns were in there. Airport customs had just broken the drum machine, and Parrish had to work all day to re-program the synth.
Then when we got on stage in front of a crowd of 1500 people, everything was erased again, so we just improvised and actually played one of our best shows. The intensity and excitement were so big. That was the moment Paris started to ask us back frequently.
"Mark got intrigued by Parrish, especially his primitive, DIY way of working with VHS sampling, the use of cheap-ass machines and getting the best out of it. It sounded hard-hitting from the beginning"
It’s safe to say you have a pretty special link to Mind Records; this new 8″ being your third release on the label in as many efforts. How was that tight-knit relationship with Abraham Toledano’s imprint born? Are all VI releases bound to come out through Mind Rec. channels in the future?
Abraham showed up at our first Paris show at Moulin Rouge. It was the Fete Triste party, run by Jan Melnick. We played there with Traxx and we had this great vibe with Abraham from the first moment.
We knew his label of course, and respected his deeply profound music taste and knew about his specialisation in super obscure Japanese records.
He is a real, honest person. Exactly the kind we like to work with. A bit later after the show Abraham asked us to release on his label.
Let’s trace back to the roots of the project. How and when did the two of you first get in touch?
There comes Traxx in again. Mark was throwing Knekelhuis parties in Amsterdam and did a night with Traxx at a club called DOKA. Parrish paid a visit that night and we briefly met.
Back then Parrish started to get his first interviews about working methods, and Mark got intrigued by Parrish, especially his primitive, DIY way of working with VHS sampling, the use of cheap-ass machines and getting the best out of it. It sounded hard-hitting from the beginning. Our first real conversation happened when our mutual friend Ron van de Kerkhof introduced us.
What is it that made you think “we should collaborate” in the first place? Was it your shared musical influences, or some sort of synchronisation in artistic expectations and aspirations?
Ron knew about Mark’s punk band and Parrish’s electronic output. He brought us together in a room – we hardly knew each other but started to jam. We knew from the first moment that it was on.
We both felt we were strongly following our own impulses, without taking too much care about what was going on in the scene at that moment. Trends and stuff. Never standing still is an attitude that is part of what we are.
Like every phase in the creating process of the band, we wanted to push ourselves forward by experimenting with a fresh fusion of genres and influences. That’s what makes us a good combo.
"The VI sound is hardcore-hitting, primitive and one that tests our primal instincts on the dancefloor and while listening. It's not about the instruments, it's more about how we use them and the way we tell our story as a whole"
You both operate out of Amsterdam, which has mainly been associated with further light-hearted, chill sound vibes over the past decades, in opposition to the industrial-friendly murk and particular geography of Rotterdam and Den Haag. How was your first record, ‘Wake Up’, received in your home city?
I guess people are receptive and we all support each other here in Amsterdam. Amsterdam shows have progressed through the likes of Unpolished, which is more open to big-room, dark electronics and smaller platforms like Zenevloed which invites experimental noise to industrial acts. Also, de School and Garage Noord show an eclecticism in programming artists from both light and heavy sound families.
I think that today there’s more room to find a counterweight, as opposite to the light-hearted music Amsterdam was once mainly known for. ‘Wake Up‘ was well received by our dedicated listeners and supporters which shows that the city is curious about innovative formations.
What’s with the name, Volition Immanent? How did you find it and what does it mean to you?
When a person makes up her mind, you speak of an Immanent Volition in the field of psychology. Basically it’s a cognitive process of self-awareness. It’s that process when a person decides to act according to a particular course of action. It’s about the will, and the will to be whatever we are. And where we go. That’s, to us, what Volition Immanent signifies.
Given the type of music you play and the high-intensity pulse of your live performances, do you see yourself as a duo or more of a two-man band in some way?
We don’t really see the difference between the duo and the two-man band. But Volition Immanent is both of us complementing each other in the studio and on stage. Due to all the musical elements we share, we provide a dynamic band presence. We are the main core of the band but we are always open towards working with other musicians.
Parrish – what’s your live setup comprised of, and what piece of equipment would you say best defines VI’s raw sound?
The core is the MPC Live but this doesn’t define the VI sound. The MPC and other instruments act as a medium of our music. The VI sound is hardcore-hitting, primitive and one that tests our primal instincts on the dancefloor and while listening. It’s not about the instruments, it’s more about how we use them and the way we tell our story as a whole.
"The most important thing is to create coherence between lyrics and music, so the lyrics communicate with the rhythm and vice versa"
Do you cling to a specific role / unshared position in the studio at all or is the process more open, creatively speaking? Is it you Parrish, for instance, who helms production from start to finish, or do you both participate in the technical elaboration of the tracks?
We both write down the tracks and ideas together, thinking of concepts or using certain mood boards and samples. When we have an idea about the sounds, Mark will then write the lyrics. It’s a step-by-step process, where we construct and deconstruct. Nothing more special than how others probably produce.
The most important thing is to create coherence between lyrics and music, so the lyrics communicate with the rhythm and vice versa. Parrish takes care of the technical side but we constantly influence each other in the production process.
Mark – You run your own label, the well-known and reputed Knekelhuis, in parallel to fronting Volition Immanent. Isn’t it a bit funny and say, paradoxical sometimes, to move from the shadow into broader, brighter light like that?
People have many faces. I’m feeling comfortable in both situations. I love to work out stuff in my own little world. Finding the right path of releasing music to surprise and excite me, and later on, the rest of the world.
There is so much amazing music out there and the specific character of Knekelhuis has been achieved through the freedom I shaped for myself. The only rule is releasing good music and not to fall into any kind of genre-related stagnation.
For me, this creation is only possible in a solitary way. Live shows are way more about personal connection with others. With Parrish and with the audience. Watching people in the eyes, touching them and finding that outburst that lies in all of us. The way we do this with Volition Immanent can only be catalysed in a social situation.
"Live shows are way more about personal connection with others. With Parrish and with the audience. Watching people in the eyes, touching them and finding that outburst that lies in all of us. The way we do this with Volition Immanent can only be catalysed in a social situation"
What’s the epitome of a good day to you?
Focused, having a structure in life, positive energy, a state of mind where everything is possible and a duality between relaxation and intensity.
A bad one?
We can’t always control our lives but still, we can choose how to cope with bad choices.
What’s the last record store you visited and what did you bag there?
The new record shop from Vincent Privat in Paris called Dizenord. Parrish bought Field recordings of bird sounds collected by anthropologists and recorded on tape. Mark bought a distorted dancehall doubler. Definitely a record shop that’s worth visiting and spend your whole day in.
What will you be up to this year?
We are always working hard on new music in the studio. We have no future collaborations with labels on the radar for now, as we want to make the right decisions. After some intensive studio focus, we will start playing more, starting this month with the release show and Boiler Room Paris.
Mark is working hard on Knekelhuis, a release flow of one record every month and a half, and many great records coming up. Next ones will come courtesy of Philipp Otterbach and Dark Star.
We are both DJing a lot with our solo projects. Parrish has a new collaborative EP coming up with Interstellar Funk on LIES records. Currently finishing the follow-up to ‘Sex Suicide & Speed Metal‘ that was released on Dekmantel UFO last year. Also, there are really exciting remixes coming up for some of your favourite techno artists.
‘Photosynthetic’ is scheduled for release 25 March 2019 in vinyl 8″ and digital formats. Order a copy from Bandcamp.
Photography by Raw Journey
A1 / 1. Whiteboy
B1 / 2. Photosynthetic (Live at De School)