Damokles is a synthwave artist who injects his passion for science fiction into a true retro-futurist sound. He spoke to me about his influences, working with synthesizers and why humanity may one day accept consuming each other for nourishment.
The first thing I was wondering was how you chose your name?
Yes, Damokles. Well, as a matter of fact, back in ’97, I fell into a deep black hole called ‘domain names’. I started thinking, “There must be something still available, right?” I spent a night looking for domain names and everything was taken. Then I started doing more and more weird searches, and finally ended up with ‘Damokles’ spelled with a ‘K’, and it was still available, so I bought it.
I built a temple there actually, and then a few years later I needed an artist’s name, as it were. I thought, “Well, I’ve got this domain name, why not?”
You just uploaded the track Praise the Dead. I was listening to it earlier, it’s very addictive.
Yes, it’s a different kind of style to what I normally make, I think. This is more Jean-Michel Jarre-inspired I suppose. The theme of Order of the Impaled, and also the album that was released last year, is about a dystopian future, with zombies taking over the world and all that. Order of the Impaled is about a cult praising the dead, as it were.
On January 26th the album Synth Love Affair Vol. 2 was released with my track Astral Emotions. Brilliant album with lots of first-class synthwave romance on it. I really enjoy doing this kind of style. I guess it’s that Jean-Michel Jarre influence that comes out once again.
Lately, funk has become an important ingredient in what I’m doing. I used to be very much into funk before the synthpop revolution, as it were, so that’s an important DNA strain in me. On the EP I released in September, Bring Out the Funk, I did just that. I brought out the funk within me and let it take different shapes. If you have listened to it, you probably know what I mean.
“Maybe the track was in love with James Bond, I don’t know.”
The track Diamonds Are Forever, an obvious reference to the Bond film?
Yes. You might think so, but it’s not. I actually wrote that on SoundCloud, “The name has nothing to do with James Bond,” because the thing is, if you listen to the chorus, it kind of screams out ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. I don’t know why, but when I name my tracks, that’s a special process.
I try to listen to what they’re saying. Even though I don’t write lyrics to all my tracks, they kind of “want” to be called something specific. Maybe the track was in love with James Bond, I don’t know. I was just trying to listen to what the track wanted to be called. Sometimes writing lyrics also becomes very easy, and sometimes it’s not.
Would you say that the sci-fi influence comes into the music as well?
Well, to be honest, I suppose the reason that I’m focusing on science and philosophy is because writing about contemporary events doesn’t really appeal to me. It tends to become quite mundane, you know? “love, hurt,” what have you. So, that’s why, really.
The intro of Star Wars says it all: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” So, “This doesn’t have anything to do with me, brilliant. I can see it without any hazard.”
“Just slipping on a banana peel and ending up someplace gives you the greatest pleasure.”
Can you think of any particularly happy moments in your career?
Oh, yes. Most of the time, it’s unplanned events, things that simply happen. Once, I ended up playing with a band in a bar, on the top of a building in Turkey. It was a fantastic experience, so I guess not looking for it, just slipping on a banana peel and ending up someplace gives you the greatest pleasure. Life is full of banana peels, and the trick is to dare to slip on them.
Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with synthesizers?
For me, it really took off with Kraftwerk back in 1977. That was one very defining album for me, The Man-Machine. Prior to that, I had fallen in love with Space, the band that made Magic Fly, you might know the track? The very first acquaintance I had with synthesizers was Hot Butter – Popcorn, very, very early on. But, synthesizers were a very big milestone when it comes to music creation, I think, up to a point. Today, it’s very much recycling, but back in the 80s, it was all about experimentation with what you could do.
“One thing that was defining in the ‘80s was who could afford the synthesizers.”
So, I can relate to the creation process of dubstep, because it came out of the curiosity of sound. But then, everybody started cloning dubstep, and it really wasn’t that interesting anymore. Skrillex, kind of, gave dubstep a face for me, and he was an explorer of sound. That’s what very much defined the ‘80s, explorers of what you could do with different synthesizers, and drum machines, and what have you. One thing that was defining, however, also, in the ‘80s was who could afford the synthesizers.
I wasn’t so very wealthy, so I had to make do with the cheaper stuff, while Jean-Michel Jarre had all the good stuff. It is an advantage, but today, I mean, I work with Propellerhead’s Reason, and within that DAW, you have what Jean-Michel had a thousand times over. For a couple of hundred bucks, or pounds in your world, you can have what he had. So, that opens up the competition.
That’s true, yes, but then it becomes less elitist. Although, maybe the accessibility has made it kind of busier and noisier in not such a good way at the same time, so that’s kind of a double-edged sword I guess.
Then we come back to Damokles, with that sword… Limitation is also a foundation of creation, come to think of it, so in a way it was better just having a handful of gear than the abundance of today. Right now I’m making an album with some Italian guys. It’s Batch Sound, a hip hop band. I used to be a champion doing scratching way back when, and I do it still.
So, I’m doing the scratching on all the tracks, and I sing and rap. I said to the guys, “So, are you thinking about maybe doing live performances? Because, if you are thinking that way, maybe this old guy is not what you want on stage.” We’re making really cool music and the album is due some time this spring, I think. Sometimes, one and one becomes more than two, and that’s very interesting. I’ve come to the conclusion that success is like love: You cannot find it, but you can make yourself available for it.
Yes, but if you don’t make yourself available in either case then it won’t happen. Do you do a lot of collaborations?
Yes I do from time to time, but there is one guy that I actually have been a mentor for musically-wise. He is called Amplitude Problem. You should absolutely check him out. His real name is Juan Irming, and he was my ‘apprentice’, as it were, many, many years ago in Sweden, and then he went to the US. Now, his son, Max, is also making a career within the music sphere. He’s called Max James, and they both make synthwave music. So, we are three generations making synthwave music, so yes, it is very good.
“You don’t do as much as you might have done on a rugged planet like Mars.”
To share ideas and interests is very much not generation-bound at all. It’s minds meeting. In our sub culture we’re all making ‘80s music just for making ‘80s music, not for making money out of it. When I say I make ‘80s music, I don’t try to make ‘80s music. Since I’m in love with a certain set of sounds, it turns out to be ‘80s music once it’s done. Like the 808 drum machine, for instance, it’s very specific for that period. One of the tracks on the album that I released in January last year is about the journey to Mars. People have actually signed up for a one-way ticket.
Is that something you would have done?
No, not in this current state of mind. But, it’s not totally out of the question, depending on what turns my life would’ve taken, I suppose. It will be Columbus’ journey all over again. But, we are sitting on what everybody else did before us, and that’s good and all, but the problem is that most things have been done already, apart from app development and what have you.
It’s a very comfortable life, and in comfortable life, as it is with a very comfortable set of pre programmed synthesizers and everything, you don’t do as much as you might have done on a rugged planet like Mars. So, maybe they can get more things done there, who knows? It seems that we are more messing up the planet than doing good stuff these days.
“I will give you a 100% guarantee that you will experience something after dying.”
Yes, that’s a great comparison, and I suppose the best of creativity often comes when your life isn’t very easy, when everything hasn’t been done.
Absolutely. When I graduated, the line of business I were to spend my life in was not invented yet. You absolutely never know, and never underestimate the human mind, but I think that our limited lifespan is part of the creation process.
Because, if we have just 100 years maximum to spend on the planet, then we have to do things in a certain amount of time, make things happen, as it were. It’s kind of a force that pushes us forward. But, if you can think, “Yes, I’m not going to do that now. I can do that in 10,000 years…”. Maybe then it becomes difficult to get things done.
This ties in quite well from a quote from the Temple of Damokles on your site, where you said, “An afterlife is guaranteed due to the fact that perception depends on it.” Are those your words?
Those are my words, yes. Are you ready to go deep? I will now give you a 100% guarantee that you will experience something after dying: We are linear. The only way we can ever imagine perceiving the universe is linear. So, when you think about dying, you still think about it as linear.
But, if I tell you that you will cease, then you might think about darkness, but no, I mean cease. Like, if you turn off a computer. That’s not really possible for us to understand, so the only way for you to actually experience something after death is if there is a linear ‘second episode’, as it were. If there is not, we will not be aware of it at all.
“Apart from the aliens popping out of people’s stomachs, it’s old school.”
In many ways, we’ve surpassed the imagination of science fiction writers 40 years ago. If you look at the first episode of Alien, you will think, “Oh no, that’s not what it turned out like. Look at the displays on that screen.” They tried to make the future state of the art, and it turned out to be old-school junk when we look at it today. If you look at Alien, the futuristic imagination of tomorrow, you think it’s old school by today’s measure, apart from the giant spaceship crossing the void, and maybe the aliens popping out of people’s stomachs, it’s old school.
I would say that that stylisation, though, is what makes it great now. It’s the whole retro-futurism thing, which ties in with the music of synthwave.
Yes, and then you have the steampunk retro-future touch of it. I actually made a recording studio once, looking more or less like the bridge on a starship. There are pictures of it on my Facebook page. So, you can check it out. I look at myself as an explorer, and an explorer of different arts. That includes everything: Music, image, computers, hardware, what have you. You will meet so many people saying, “You can’t do that, no. You’ll fail, why should you be able to do that?”
But, you need to break through that and realise that you have the absolute most sophisticated computer at your hands that has ever been created, as far as we know, and that’s the human brain. If you spend your life just drinking beer and watching whatever bad show on TV you can find, then you shouldn’t really have gotten it in the first place, because with it, you can do absolutely anything.
I live by two rules; “Everything humans have done before me, I can do, because I am human” and “What has not yet been done, I can be the first to do.” One thing that I realise is I do not want to wake up on my 90th birthday realising I’ve slept 30 years away, so I sleep five hours a night, and that gives me even more time.
That’s extraordinary. Do you find that your body deals with that well?
No, not at all.
That’s an extra three hours a day on most people.
Exactly, and multiply that by my age, that’s a lot of time. I just did the maths, and it adds up to some 58,000 more wake hours. I am nocturnal, and I do make the most of my hours awake.
Or, playing games, or watching very, very weird TV series or what have you, but it’s all part of the same process. But, sleeping it all away seems like a big waste. You go around being tired most of the time, but then that’s the price to pay. If the body is tired, it’s not a problem as long as your brain is alert.
It sounds like your leisure activities feed into your inspiration.
Of course, I watched that retro ‘80s-based show, Stranger Things. I’m looking forward to the second season of that.
“Obviously, we contain a lot of useful molecules.”
Have you seen Black Mirror? I’m sure you liked the San Junipero episode? [Note: Minor-ish spoiler coming up].
Yes, a brilliant take actually, and we’ll do that. I mean, there are actually scientists around today that seriously are considering that we are living in such a simulation right now. They have the foundation that everything is too organised in the universe and it’s too simplified. Yes, they actually reason that the only way it can be this simplified is if it’s an actual simulation of the universe.
I don’t think that we are simulated but, whether or not we’re living in one, we will absolutely create one, and it’s both frightening and interesting at the same time, what’s going on right now. The interesting thing about the planet today is that there are 7 billion different opinions, 7.48 currently today, actually.
Yes, we need to start building some houses on Mars I guess.
Well, I helped my daughter doing an essay on overpopulation, and there are several different measurements from the UN on when the planet becomes overpopulated. I guess we’ll know when we pass it. “Oh, no more food. Well, there it was then. 94 billion, no more. Let’s eat each other.”
Along the way, I believe that eating each other will be part of ordinary day-by-day business, not in a cannibalistic kind of way but in a recycling kind of way. Because, obviously, we contain a lot of useful molecules. So, instead of burning the rest, maybe we should recycle it. That’s a big step, of course, for humankind to accept. But, have you eaten a sausage, do you know what’s in it?
On a very basic level. But, it’s one of those things no one wants to know, right?
Exactly, so let’s look at the next step: Recycled molecules as sausages, and it will work out fine. “Tastes good, yes. Let’s leave it at that. Yes, good food. Mmm.” It’s a state of mind, we’re not there yet.
It’s a Soylent Green kind of situation, but maybe it will become accepted. Maybe there’s a story or a song in that idea. It’s a good prompt.
Yes, “Let’s all eat each other.”
“He said, “I am a doctor, and it says ‘All the best, Roger Moore’.””
Have you met anyone that’s really stood out in your memory?
Well, I met Roger Moore one time. I was a DJ up in Norway and I was with a girl who was working in another hotel, and I was sitting down in the club having a coffee with her. I said, “Well, have you heard that Roger Moore might be coming to this town?” because it was the film festival town of Norway. She said, “What do you mean, ‘might be coming’? He’s sitting up in the bar.” Well, we had a ‘very, very important’ piece of information for the bartender.
As it turned out, he had rented the entire bar for himself and his friends. So, we came up there, and it was a huge place. He was sitting 20 metres away from the bar. We stood there, I said whatever message I had to the bartender, and then I got myself together and walked those 20 metres over to his company. I excused myself and said, “Well, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I don’t have many idols in my life, but you are absolutely one of them, and I would love to shake your hand and to get your autograph.” I shook that Walther PPK hand, and he wrote his autograph on a piece of paper, and I went back to the bar.
Then, I started trying to read what he had written and it was impossible. So, I went all the 20 metres back and I said, “I am very, very sorry to interrupt you again Mr Moore, but you really should’ve been a doctor because I cannot read what you have written.” Then he said, “I am a doctor, and it says ‘All the best, Roger Moore’.” Then he claimed his place up there on the Olympus of idols. So, I met James Bond. He was touring for the actual last Bond film he ever made.
So, maybe the Diamonds Are Forever thing did get in your subconscious a bit in that memory?
Maybe it is there somewhere.
You can check out Damokles on:
You can also see the video to Ozone Surfing here.