Interview: Jonas Thor Gudmundsson (Ruxpin)

11 mins read
1. As
we are well aware, your grandfather played in a symphonic orchestra. Why didn’t
you follow in his footsteps? Why did you chooce electronic music instead? What
makes it stand out among the massive variety of all the sounds that surround

My grandfather was one of the founding members of the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra. My whole family has always been quite musical and, of course, there was some pressure in learning instruments. When I was studying piano, my music school was offering a course in Midi music and I was intrigued about that. My two older brothers were already flirting with electronic music and I wanted to give it a proper shot. Anyway, the teachers at the Midi course were Maggi Lego (from T-World, later GusGus) and Bix – both of the quite renowned electronic musicians in Iceland. During the course, me and another course member made a techno track which was released on a compilation in 1996. I had just turned 15 at the time.

I chose to focus myself on electronic music mainly because there are no borders – neither in its form nor sound. There are no rules and everything is permitted. That was the main appeal.

2. How did your first ever release, “Mission
EP” see the light?

This one was a while ago – back in 1999 when I was young and handsome and not the human/gorilla hybrid that I am today. I had lots of tracks in a sort of Warp-style genre and dropped the DAT tapes on the table of Thor, the manager of Thule Records. He picked out the four tracks that made the most sense, I guess, and put that on the vinyl. I wasn’t very much involved in the process, mainly because others knew better. I was young and just excited to see my stuff come out on a vinyl. Thor did well in picking the tracks on it as I’m still proud of the release.

After some time your albums got publshed on the German labels
“Elektrolux” and “Mikrolux”. What about them impressed you
so much, and what impressed you in the electronic scene of that country in

Elektrolux were big among Icelandic electronic musicians. We all knew about what they were doing, since they were quite supportive of Icelandic musicians at the time – even releasing some of them. They had heard my debut LP and I guess they liked what they heard. They asked if I would be interested in doing something for them. At the time I was doing more “electro” influenced stuff and I thought it was ideal for that label – and that material became “Midnight Drive”. I was psyched about releasing there, especially as they had such an amazing roster of artists – for example Aural Float, Anthony Rother, Unn and Sushi Club. I was happy with my time there. It was a great label, but there came a time where we both felt we should move on to other things.

4. Tell
us more about your new album, We Become Ravens! How long did it
take to finish? What kind of message for the audience does it contain?

I think the first draft of the album was made in 2013. It was full of unlicensed samples, such as hip hop acapellas and I thought I’d rather try to avoid such hassle. I knew I’d never get permission from the likes of Rakim and Grandmaster Flash for this. I still perform some versions of those tracks on concerts when the mood is right. All in all the whole process took around three years. I’m not saying that I was going Brian Wilson with it though. I took break from it to focus on other things, such as working on other projects – such as Asonat and Octal Industries. It helped to take a step back from the process and then later return to it with a clear head.

I tried to do things a bit differently with this release – and one major difference is that it wasn’t mixed by me. I put my trust onto Jose Diogo Neves – a very talented mastering guy. His experience is mostly with jazz and pop music – and I felt that was exactly what it needed. Most IDM-style music is sounding pretty much the same and I thought he brought a                                                                                                           new flavor to the album – the missing spice.

5. Your
fourth album in a row so far comes out on “n5MD”, and that’s quite a
long period for a musician. What connections do you have to that label?

I’m just amazed that n5MD still wants to release me. I’m pretty certain I’m not a cash-cow for them – as I believe the music is quite “underground” so to speak. I have a great relationship with Mike, the label manager. He is an all-around good guy with a good heart – doing this purely out of his endless passion for the music. He’s honest and I trust him.

6. Do
you agree with the statement that there is no friendship between musicians and
we are all largely egoists?

I don’t agree with that. Being an egoist only stagnates your growth as an artist. You need to be open and be willing to learn from others. The moment you lock yourself up and start believing you’re the best, then that might be the beginning of your downfall. I also honestly don’t understand how IDM electronic musicians can be egoistic. Even though you’re signed on Warp and/or regularly giving high-fives to Mike Paradinas, it doesn’t mean anything – as the harsh truth is that hardly no one knows you except handful of people. IDM music isn’t the right genre for big egos – there are lots of other genres for that.

The Icelandic scene, especially, is relativily ego-free. People are open and willing to learn from each other. People help each other out. Artists send each other unfinished works and ask for advices – and the beauty is that no one will get offended if you give them a very honest opinion. It’s better to get a negative feedback from a friend before the work is released than getting scolded by strangers after the release is out.

Describe yourself as a person as briefly as you can.

Who am I? I could do a very existential answer to it – or not. I’m a bit of a geek. First of all, I’m a father. I’m also a history buff – and that was what I studied in University. I’ve done some work as archivist, worked on archaeological digs and even as a football coach. I’ve also been doing some work as a tour guide. I like to keep myself occupied and I have kind of a wide range of hobbies. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.

I’m lazy doing the dishes – but It does give me time to listen to other peoples music. I eat too much of chocolate, but don’t drink much alcohol and don’t touch drugs – so I feel that I’m justified to eat as much of chocolate as some type of reward for that. When watching football, I occasionally yell at the screen and hope that the players are listening to me – even though I know that they don’t.

I used to coach teenagers (age 13 to 18) in football. I was alright in football when I was younger, but wasn’t really good enough to go professional. During my teenage years, music and other interests (such as history) took over. I was always playing football without so much enthusiasm during the last years that I practiced seriously. Few years later I started exercising again and was under supervision of a great coach from Serbia. He tricked me into coaching and slowly I started enjoying it a lot. I had great kids and really enjoyed seeing them grow – both as footballers and as persons.

Iceland famously reached the quarter-finals of this Euro 2016. What changed
after this event in the country that is so isolated from the external world?

Nothing really. Icelanders like to complain about things and have always done – so during the Euro 2016 then the whole country stopped with their silly complains about every minor thing and actually starting coming together as one. That’s good and bad at the same time. I like that they argue about everything – as that also keeps everybody on their toes. When everybody is satisfied then we have these annoying over-nationalistic tendencies that we are better than everybody else – and I’m no fan of that, as we are not.

Interestingly, you have made a sudden decision to move from Iceland to Tallinn,
Estonia. Why is that? Do you prefer big cities or places that are away from all
the bustling?

I moved to Estonia to chase after my girlfriend and haven’t regretted it. I like the city and its people. It’s a different atmosphere than in Iceland, especially concerning the music culture. Estonians tend to be isolated with their demos and everybody seems to be writing their masterpieces, which in most cases will never see the day of light. In Iceland, however, everybody is excited to share their music and eager to get other peoples opinion on it. I guess the scene in Iceland is more compact and friendlier. I can’t imagine myself living in a huge megapolis, as I need “space”. I live at the seaside and close to a forest – and I need some nature elements close to me. Concrete jungle isn’t what inspires me.

Jackson Pollock has continuously been criticized for his “random
art”, for randomly getting ideas and creating something just in 5 minutes
without any self-reflection. In your opinion, does the problem lie in the
artist, or is it the limitedness of people’s perception? Have you ever had a
case where everything got solved by lucky circumstances?

What Jackson Pollock introduced is the format. If you take him or any other artist, it will still be a different piece of art created. The artist is free to choose the format and the way – and there will always be people who aren’t going to like it.

Once it was said to me that if the consumer doesn’t “get it” then it’s not the consumers fault – but a failure from the artist to create clarity in its complexity. I don’t know if I agree to that, but it still food for thought. Art is expression. Even though you want to express yourself clearly to others, but ultimately the main objective should be the act of expression itself – despite what other people might perceive.

I don’t believe there is something that is effortless. If it comes out without effort (or a successful combination of circumstances) then it’s because the circumstances for it to be made without effort had been created. The groundwork had been done by years of studying, learning and experimenting – even perhaps at some point subconsciously.

What kind of state of mind enables us to create, according to you?

Inspiration is a very uncontrollable element. You can’t force inspiration to come – and it’s sometimes like a Chinese finger trap, in such way that if you try to induce it by force it becomes more impossible to achieve your goals. Going out for a walk, be aware of the present moment and clear your mind.

Could you tell us more about the Asonat project? What is its main
concept and its main objective?

The concept of Asonat was to bring two opposites together – electronica and pop music. The main objective was to have fun doing it – and it still is. The three of us all have different musical views and working together is a learning experience.

The project is composed by the three of us – Olena Simon, Fannar Ásgrímsson and me. Originally me and Fannar met up due to us both releasing on n5MD – me as Ruxpin and Fannar as a part of Plastik Joy. Shortly after we met up with Olena. I had seen her perform at a little bar in Reykjavik and I liked her singing. She sang on few tracks on our debut album – but shortly after she became synanomous with the band. As a trio, we felt that the project was complete.

13. Are there any Ruxpin live events planned for this
year and where can we attend them?

I haven’t really planned out any tour or something like that. I’m sort of over that kind of stuff. I’m not cut out for this “hotel life”. I’m a family man. If someone wants to book me for some event, then sure I’ll listen to what they have to say – but long and tiresome touring is not for me. I’m into some discussions for certain gigs, but I don’t want to disclose any info on that until everything is 100% sorted.

14. You
have devoted 20 years to sound. Do you feel accomplished or are there still
things that remain unfulfilled and unreleased? What does it feel like, to start
during the CD era and to last well into the modern times of free access music?

I’m satisfied and have no regrets. There are releases that I should have done better on, but I’m still happy it’s out there. Of course there are numerous things which remained unrealized, but it’s probably unrealized for a reason. Maybe some things weren’t meant to be. I don’t really care so much about the evolutions in the music business – nor the evolution within the music production. Music will still be music, no matter how you sell it, give it or make it. Nobody cares about what types of software or hardware you’re using – as if the music doesn’t take you anywhere, then it’s all for nothing. Music is and has always been a hobby. Of course there was ambition at some point to be a full-time musician, but sometimes you got to look at life realistically. We ain’t all gonna be driving around in a tank and living in a bank vault.

Tell us about the guest material that you have prepared specially for

It starts with a gem from Netherlands. I’ve been a fan of the electronic music scene there for a while now. They have this certain clear and playful sound to it – melodic and experimental. I’ve been enjoying the work of Mier, Marsman, Generate, Kettel, Secede and many more from that region.

The mix includes some gems from my home country as well – such as Ben Frost, Murya and Biogen. Murya is actually my oldest brother. He’s been making amazing music since I remember myself, but he’s always been a bit shy to get it out there. Now recently he’s been pouring the music out. Biogen was one of my mentors. He passed away too soon and now recently his friends and family made a beautiful vinyl & CD release with his work – which is something all fans of Icelandic electronic music should have a look at.

I included one track that would never have been on my album due to copyright issues. During live gigs I’ve recently been messing around with all type of old school acapellas. It started as a joke. Mixing hip hop vocals with melodic IDM sounded so absurd, but these contrast felt intriguing – so I kept going with it. I probably have a whole album with this kind of stuff.

Other stuff include for example Vittoria Fleet, which is experimental pop music from the n5MD label that plays with your senses, Deru, who is a legend in the IDM scene and made this track inspired by his work on a documentary in Iceland, Karsten Pflum, one of the most underrated IDM producer out there, and a track by an unknown artist which was featured on the amazing Covert compilation on Touched Music.

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Questions: Ilya Kudrin


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