Interview: Legowelt

Enter the Star Shepard
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For fans of more leftfield techno, the name Legowelt is one that brings many smiles. His funky, spacey, retro-yet-futuristic sound is as infectious as it is fun, and the seeming lack of regard for following the "rules" of traditional techno makes it all the more mesmerizing and enjoyable. His collection of old and obscure synths has only added to the flare of his music. Ahead of his upcoming gig as the opening act for the Red Bull Music and Dimensions Festival project called Get Down Early, we caught up with the flying Dutch spaceman for a quick chat on his new hand-built synth and more. 

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Hi Danny, first off, thank you so much for chatting with us today. We are huge fans of not only your music but also your overall vibe and views on music. You have some cool stuff in the pipeline, but before we get into that, give us a rundown on your life for the past 6 months.

Ah I got to check my legowelt.org website for that to refresh my memory in chronological order 

let's see: 

I just did a live soundtrack for Werner Herzog's Nosferatu in the KINO cinema in Rotterdam with lots of synths live, it was pretty cool if I say so myself...it was a joyful feast of outerworldly FM synthesis 

In the summer I built/hacked/circuit-bent my own synth called the STAR SHEPHERD, made out of old guitar pedals FX boxes an AM radio and a late 70s Casiotone keyboard..

Last month I made an album with it together with The Hague misfit duo Baglover...its called "Star Shepherd - Current Explorations In Star Synthesis". Its got me singing on it too. 

Some other releases I did the last 6 months were: 

On Clone, the Omnibus Babylon EP for which I made a video clip with Dr.Snuggles: 

A re-issue of my Rising Sun systems Oberheim Space album on double vinyl with new artwork and I played some nice gigs too like the Sustain Release festival In upstate New York last September. 

You are known as a bit of a synth maestro, and your collection of vintage synths and knowledge of said collection is extremely impressive. Any recent obscure or cool purchases recently?

I wouldn't say its extremely impressive I just have a bunch of synths all over the house as ingredients for my creations. I don't see myself as a collector either I just eat cookies over my Jupiter 8 and really don't care if the crumbs come in the sliders...which they definitely do. That's not something a collector would do with a Jupiter 8. 

Recent purchases...the local thrift store is a source of weird keyboards, I found a 1981 Yamaha PS20 there for 20 euros its pretty simples but its got nice analogue rhythms and arpeggios...good for wavey stuff.

As for obscure, I got a JVC KB700 from The Hague musician Phochos, its a really advanced early home keyboard/synth from that JVC video recorder brand with sophisticated tones and very nice rhythms I am using it now to make a new album called "Commanding The Beast" 

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Which is sort of 'M. Hanlon's Commodore 64 soundtrack for Druid 2 Enlightenment' meets Norwegian Black Metal...the JVC just hits that sweet spot in between! 

Continuing on the subject of synths and cool projects, you recently built your very own, the Star Shepard, out of various parts and bit of tape and plywood, amongst other things. What was the inspiration for this? Did you have a plan of what you wanted to make before you started? 

No not really a plan I just started on it and sort of finished in the process the inspiration for it came from an earlier synth I build together with The Hague musician Kassen, somewhere around 2003-2004 called the Nautilus...that one was accidentally put next to the trash and never seen again. I always wanted to make another one. 

StarShepherd Synth 2

I had these old cheap guitar pedals, FX boxes and an old Casio keyboard and I thought why not put them all in one box, circuit bend everything etc., and have some kind of fresh new instrument, with some cool blinking lights and lots of knobs. Actually, not all the lights and knobs on the Star Shepherd actually do something, they are just there for, let's not say 'show' but 'psychological placebo fulfillment of turning a knob'. Because the thing is so decrepitate and the sound is kind of constantly changing, people that use it don't even notice the knob is not doing anything. Then I tell them that the knob is changing the electromagnetic polarity of the germanium transistor or something similar and people look they just did some quantum physics experiment. 

But yeah maybe they did nobody knows what's going on inside the Star Shepherd! 

You describe the synth as “very noisy, crackly and sometimes starts doing its own thing like some sentient synthesizer being that is alive. This makes it quite an adventurous experience.” What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building the Shepard?

Ha, it all went pretty relaxed and chill I was not facing any major challenges..the main problem is that sometimes there is a beep in the sound like the thing has tinnitus...I think it has something to do with electromagnetic shielding or the lack of thereof. 

Speaking of which, did the name come before or after you played it for the first time?

The name came after I had I built it, I came upon the idea when reading about a Sumerian deity who shepherded the stars. 

Sometimes, handmade things turn out to be more fun to look at than to use. Have you found the synth to be as useful as you were hoping? If you were to redo the whole process, what would you have done differently? 

Yeah, it was more useful then I would think. I thought it was going to end up like a circuit bend bwieuepprrrrkgggg-sounding affair, fun for a few hours and then become annoying but it ended up being quite musical, even so, it was used all by itself in my last album 'Star Shepherd - Current Explorations In Star Synthesis'.

Differently, I probably would have used a thicker kind of wood, the plywood is a bit wobbly now. 

The world of instruments is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, with the upswing in analog hardware and classic synth re-issues. What is your opinion on the current state of synthesizers? Is there anything you would like to see companies do more of? Alternatively, are there any companies are products that you absolutely love right now?

Nah I have seen it all so there is not much that excites me synth-wise, I can be more excited with a 20 euro keyboard from the Thrift store than a Moog III modular. Though that Moog One 'A Meditation On Listening' advertisement movie with Suzanne Ciani, Sakamoto etc. is pretty sweet... That's some next level hypnotic advertisement techniques going on there...I guess the synth must be pretty good too. 

Thanks again for sitting with us today Danny. Before you go, one last question. In all of your experience with both synthesizers and making music in general, what is the single more important piece of advice you could give to the new generation of music makers and synth lovers?

Don't be put off by any theoretical brabble or 'rules' how to approach certain matters in music production...first of all, there, no rules find your own approach in music production in whatever way that makes you happy in this hobby. Concerning the Theoretical brabble...for example, FM synthesis you don't have to know what's going on in theory...how certain carriers and operators in whatever algorithm affect the sound etc. just know what the knobs do and how certain values do affect the sound using your ears...that's much more useful.

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