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MIXHELL

As Erica Synths have just released the vacuum tube based eurorack system Fusion System II we collaborated with MIXHELL's Iggor Cavalera to showcase the sounds and capabilities of the latest incarnation of Erica Synths signature audible realms of unprecedented pressure.

Erica Synths' Eliza Aboltina virtually sat down with the two producers to talk lockdown creativity, synths, prejudice in the electronic music scene among other things.

MIXHELL. One of the many and perhaps the boldest creative output of Iggor Cavalera and Laima Leyton.

Cavalera is best known as the former drummer of the Brazilian metal super-band Sepultura, his other projects include Cavalera Conspiracy, Petbrick and Mudo while producer Laima Leyton is behind projects Laima, Grrrl (as a music director), and on top both are also involved with the band Soulwax.


How have you been spending your time in the lockdown? What have been the impacts on your creativity?

Iggor - We have spent hours and hours inside the studio. As far as being creative it was very good to have this time for our own. Of course we are worried about what's going to happen just like all the other artists and I am not talking about musicians exclusively. But as far as being a creative person - this was something quite positive for us, right?

Laima - Yes, a bit needed as well. When you are trying to create between tours and gigs you always have to break the chain of creation, you have to restart and allow yourself to come back from a place, deal with the jet lag, put your house in order and then start working again. Whereas now we can be immersed. Of course there is a lot of tension and anxiety that everyone is going through, but also there is this amazing need of sharing with people what it is to be creative and to be creative within yourself. It's interesting - it's necessary and it's a reset!

We see a lot of art and music going online - streaming, digital events and so on. Is there something that the current occurrences have made you realize about the music industry altogether? Anything you would like to change in the future or perhaps something that we - people of the industry - should think about as a collective?

Laima - When this all started that was the first thing that came to mind - how the music industry works and how you are so sucked into a system that sometimes you don't even agree with.

Iggor - You just flow with it...

Laima - When we started - in the very beginning we were like Let's DJ every Friday! but then it created so much noise that I asked - is it worth it? Everyone starts as a blank page, and everything is allowed. So you really have to think within yourself - what do you want to do? If you can do everything or anything, stream on Instagram, get fans on Facebook and Twitch - things that I didn't even know existed... But then there's the question Wait, is that really me? Is that what I really want? It's a tricky one when you have too many options. But as you said, within the music business it has been really interesting to see the roles of different people. So many people involved - promoters, agents, venue owners, managers and us. And now we see how being the artist is the best part of being in the industry. Because we can still create.

Everyone starts as a blank page, and everything is allowed. So you really have to think within yourself - what do you want to do?

Did you have a lot of shows cancelled?

Laima - I had a new album - I performed in Latvia, both in Cesis and in Riga - it was amazing. But that was it. I was going to have a big one in Southbank Center, London then Berlin, Belgium - I had a bunch of festivals and so on. Funny enough, my whole record was about home.

Well that's ironic!

Laima - I did some stuff on the internet, but of course there was a financial part of it too - we as musicians survive on the money that we make playing live. We feed 5 kids out of music. And we pay all the bills out of music. Music is very functional in a way as well. It gives us the food that's on the table…

Iggor - My tour started falling out and that was when we realized This is bad! But then again it's a different feeling when it's just you. If you get an email saying YOUR tour is cancelled - that sucks but when you know that everyone's is cancelled...

Laima - Even Beyonce or Coldplay!

Iggor - Everyone! It's hard to be mad because everyone is suffering from the same thing. So it makes no sense to go out and scream at a wall.

How does your production process work? How do you go about it when an idea has born?

Iggor - That's a hard one. There are so many ways in which we do things. Sometimes it starts with Laima going into the studio and starting an idea with a synth line or a bass line or it can be me coming up with a beat and so on. There is not one guideline that we follow, right?

Laima - Yes, there is not one guideline, but there is a sense of working together while also allowing each other to work separately. We do not need to work together all the time. That made us have other projects besides the main one which is Mixhell. Whenever something is more into Iggor's realm he can take it to an another project of his - it could be Petbrick, it could even be with Cavalera Conspiracy. Whereas when something unfolds towards my side - something more chill, I can take it to work by myself as Laima. And only when something falls in the middle… But that took a long time for us to acknowledge. For a long time we would try to make everything work in the middle. And we would notice if we let some things go that the music that is born from this place of encounter is then truly genuine.

Let's see in a routine way. Iggor would stay here with his synths, modules and I would go to the studio and stay for a whole day sorting out the kick drum. Just because I like this kick drum. And if he had to be with me in the studio while I am sorting out that kick drum, like it was back in the days, he would be sleeping or saying something among the lines of Kick drums are kick drums. What are we doing? I always tried to explain things whereas he would be very instinctive. And I would be brainy. Allowing ourselves to be more flexible let us grow bigger.

So now when you've come to the point where you can separate these projects - what is it that describes the sound of Mixhell?

Laima - To be very honest Mixhell came as an excuse for us to go and DJ back in 2006 / 2007. So the music was made for the dancefloor. But when we gradually stopped DJing (we still love to do it though) - we found out that we could make music that not necessarily had to work on the dancefloor, for something certain like a club or a crowd. It's hard to define Mixhell because it's a hybrid of live music and electronic music.

I think the most important thing about Mixhell is sites of encounter as we are both music researchers.

Which one track would describe the sound of the Mixhell the best?

What have you been working on recently ?

Laima - We have a bunch of things going on... Before the lockdown we had two projects we were working on very hard. Iggor was working on Petbrick, and I was working on Laima - on a spoken word performance piece. We did things for Vinyl Factory, Fact Magazine, recorded a lot of DJ sets. We have a track coming out for NHS (National Health Service). It's a big compilation with UK based artists to support the national health service. That was a clear example of We need to sort this out as Mixhell because it's for something greater and it happened. It had to work.


The compilation for NHS has now been published, you can stream here


Iggor - I was working on Petbrick which is a noise project - I play the drums on it as well as do some programming. Again - it's a hybrid between organic sounds and analogue electronic sounds. More towards heavy and distorted side of things. It's harsh.

It was really cool to speak to Ģirts (the founder & visionary of Erica Synths - ed.) when we were in Latvia, one of the things that connected me to him was heavy music. We both have interest in Motorhead and the old school stuff. I feel like a lot of the people in the electronic music world connect through the old school heavy music. We clicked on that and I asked Ģirts what is he working on now. That's when he sent me the Fusion System II. I must say that was one of the most fun things to have had during the pandemic. I was going crazy on it, writing a lot of new material. So that's another thing coming out - a lot of new sounds.

Laima - When Iggor started DJing back in 2004 everyone would look at him and say Iggor Cavalera you should play metal, you should not be DJing. Some people from the metal scene would even say OMG, he's gay now, playing the gay electronic music. As if being gay would be a something bad, which is also strange. And it would be so judgmental - especially coming from the metal scene. That made us click with a lot of other people who also were in the grey area - like the guys from LCD Soundsystem or Soulwax - the band we work with a lot.

Iggor - Good example are guys from Nine Inch Nails or Alessandro Cortini - people from metal background who became interested in electronic music.

Laima - It used to be judgmental back in the days. But you know what - we don't care. It's just music! There are only two types of music - good music and bad music. We like the music we like and that's it.

Iggor - We do have plans on coming back to Erica Synths and writing some music, doing workshops. We have ideas!

Laima - It was such a nurturing moment visiting Erica Synths. I could talk about my poetic, nerdy side of things, whereas Iggor would talk about metal - for hours. We didn't want to leave. It's the best place in the world (laughs - ed.). Let's just stay here and talk talk talk, and play play play. Being close to the engineers making the gear, who understand how you want an instrument to sound. To pull a cable by yourself and change the whole dynamic. It creates so much freedom.

Iggor - But it's also funny because we were at Superbooth last year. Laima would go to any of the synth booths and most of the guys would look at her and say This is a synthesizer! This whole thing between women and synths - C'mon! Some of the best synth sounds were created by women! People looking at Laima always thought she must be the girlfriend.

Laima - Okay, I am the girlfriend but… Can I check the VCA? and then they're like Oh shit, she knows this. And it comes with this whole thing of discrimination. What it means to be a woman within the music business is not even close to nice or comfortable in so many aspects.

Iggor - But we've been fighting this for years. Together with my “gay“ DJ career.

Laima - When we were at Erica Synths I was making comments on SYNTRX - is this a hybrid or a clone of the Synthi? And everyone went on - NO, no! This is not a clone! It's good to have that conversation because it's a confrontation to build knowledge. It felt really fresh. And Ģirts is a mastermind of so much positivity.

It's good to have that conversation because it's a confrontation to build knowledge.

But now when we've touched the topic of instruments, how does it work? How much a certain gear plays the role of shaping the end result of a certain idea? Perhaps when you have an idea you already know what to use to achieve it or maybe you jam around a lot? What's the method behind your interaction with instruments?

Laima - We have totally different approaches. Iggor is a researcher, he allows himself to dig into the machine and discover. And he allows the machine to give back. I'm a bit of a control freak. I want this to sound like a sine wave with this percent of feedback and blah blah blah. But equally I get surprised too - maybe I was looking for something but found something else. And of course for both methods the instrument plays an essential role.

Iggor - Of course the idea is the main thing, it doesn't matter if you have the best equipment or if your gear is not that good. But then again you do have something that supports an idea and makes it possible to execute. To compare - if you see a dub musician doing a set and there are no subs - of course you will be disappointed because it's all about the bass and certain frequencies. So if you're looking for certain noises, if you have the right equipment it's endless how much you can explore but at the end of the day it's once again about finding and choosing the right tools. I have to say that when you start dealing with a lot of equipment it's easy to get lost and to forget to make music. It becomes a hobby that produces bleeps and bloops and not a song comes out. That's why someone like Alessandro Cortini is a good example - when you hear the stuff he writes, you're like Wow, that's just amazing because I can recognise what he's using but also he's writing a song out of that, perhaps using only two machines.

Laima - I think from a musician's perspective you have to remember that the goal is to write music. When I was, sorry - shitting my pants in Superbooth, because it felt so ignorant only because I am a woman and these guys know a lot, I called a friend of mine from Soulwax and told him, I'm so glad I'm here but sometimes I feel scared what people will think of me and his answer was You know what, just chill, at least you make music out of that and there are a lot of people who don't. Which made me think - oh, true that. Very very true.

It is also valid to be a scientist and to work the bleeps and bloops, I just think as a musician you have the responsibility to transform that in music. And what I like about the modular possibilities is that it equally gives you the freedom to explore, but also the geekiness to find e.g. a specific kind of sine wave. There's not only one brand that does it, you can search for exactly what you need. You don't have to buy a module in the size of a house for thousand euros, you can have a little piece of a synth. You can make an instrument with your own identity. Whereas the synths from 80s & 70s had specifics, so when you hear a sound you can tell where it comes from. If you have a rack like Iggor - it is something that becomes his sound. It's not something everyone would achieve as a formula. Which sometimes can be nerve wracking too. It's important to have small eurorack companies - one can really feel how much work and research is put into an instrument.

It is also valid to be a scientist and to work the bleeps and bloops, I just think as a musician you have the responsibility to transform that in music.

What would be your advice for young musicians?

Iggor - It's simple and cliche but it does the job for me - the gut feeling and the heart usually is the one that dictates what I like about sounds. The minute you start thinking about what people are going to think, what you are doing or if it's going to generate likes or make money or be on YouTube - it can interact with the way you are creating music. My advice for producers, DJs and musicians is to not think about those things before. It can come later, not before. You have to be a little naive.

Laima - It's like a cage. You put up your own limits if you start thinking too much of how something is going to please others and the industry. That's already a block whereas the best producers don't try to please, they work with what they have and they trust their guts & hearts and not their minds. We make music because we believe it's important for the culture, it puts communities together, it's a great tool to bring a message. We love the magic - music can travel, it can connect, it's healing, it's protest. We make music for different reasons but never for the plays.

What would you wish you knew you wish you knew when you started your career?

Iggor - It's a hard one.

Laima - I wish I knew something I still don't know.

We make music because we believe it's important for the culture, it puts communities together, it's a great tool to bring a message. We love the magic - music can travel, it can connect, it's healing, it's protest. We make music for different reasons but never for the plays.


Lately Iggor and Laima have been listening to Orgatroid, Kondaktor, Bolt Gun, Old Tower, Nihiloxica, Shit and Shine, Gnod, Nihvek, Xvarr, NYX, Laurie Anderson.

If they could send one track to the outer space it would be The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows.