Andreas Tilliander - the Swedish producer whose extensive and diverse catalogue of music includes his work under monikers like TM404, Mokira, Rechord and Lowfour can easily be considered one of the contemporary maestros of analog gear.

Feature photo by SOTARN

Tilliander's musical output ranges from minimal techno to drone and experimental electronica and has been released on some of the most influential labels out there - Raster.Noton, Mille Plateaux and Kontra-Musik among others. Additionally Tilliander runs a label and studio in Stockholm under the name of Repeatle and hosts a show for Sverige Radio - Elektroniskt i P2. In November 2019 Tilliander spent a month in Berlin to work on the third album of TM404. Erica Synths' Eliza Aboltina sat down with the artist to talk about the evolution of TM404, his vast collection of electronic music instruments, eurorack induced trance and why does Sweden seem to be a nourishing environment for musical geniuses.

I've been joking that the secret of creating highly successful pop-music lies in the Swedish DNA. ABBA, Avicii, Max Martin… I still can not believe the phenomenon of Max Martin (for those unfamiliar with what I mean by that here's an insight - ed.)

TM404 - It is so strange.

Do you have any ideas why is it so? Do you think it's somehow related to the general education ?

TM404 - I don't know how it is in other countries but in Sweden you are more or less obliged to take music classes when you are in the third grade or so. Almost every kid is playing a recorder - the simple flute…

So practically everyone is exposed to mastering an instrument at an early age?

TM404 - I think so. There are also so many engineers in the music business that come from Sweden - Teenage Engineering, Elektron, Propellerhead (developers of Reason - ed.), Softtube, Cwejman, DinSync and so many more. I remember when I started to tour, going to Spain or Italy for the first time or even Miami - I knew there is no way I am going to sit indoors. I wanted to be outside, drink a beer, smoke some weed. Because in Sweden - same as in Latvia I guess, for 6 months a year it's too cold to go out. Therefore it's so much easier to spend time in front of your computer or with your instrument. If I would live in Jamaica…

You might have been making reggae.

TM404 - I'm a huge fan of reggae! I definitely would not be sitting in front of my computer making electronic music. I guess it's also the fact that one needs a role model. ABBA has been around since forever, Roxette were super successful in the 80s - they had like 10 huge hits that were featured in Hollywood movies. Then Ace of Base in the 90ties. But I guess you can see the same pattern in Germany - it's a huge amount of electronic music that comes from here. Probably the biggest globally. And they too had so many of the pioneers - Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, NEU! and all the others who at the time were considered to create strange experimental music. So the kids that are 45 years old today grew up hearing that music. I grew up hearing ABBA. The kids that will go to Berghain tonight probably grew up hearing Kraftwerk. I have a memory of one time when I played in Berghain - the driver had his kid with him and the kid who I sat next to would sing ''pam pa pa pam, Autobahn'' - he was 4 years old or so. And he would sing it repeatedly, all the time.

I was maybe 12 when I heard Kraftwerk for the first time. There was no tradition in electronic music in Sweden - in the popular culture at least.

Have you had any classical training when it comes to music?

TM404 - I played violin!

Me too.

TM404 - You too? So did Sebastian Mullaert (another Kontra Musik affiliated artist who just like Tilliander happens to have been born in the tiny city of Hässleholm - ed.) but he was successful and continued to play. I stopped after a year. I understood that my passion was not to play other people's music. My passion was not to play with other people. I wanted to do my very own stuff. So instead I was super young when I bought my first synthesizers. I guess that's why I have a vast collection of gear - I started very early.

How early?

TM404 - I was 10 or 12 maybe. I started playing electronic music when I was really just a kid.

How did that happen? Who brought electronic music to your attention?

TM404 - I was lucky - I have a three year older brother and his best friend was three years older than him, which meant that when I was 10 my brother's friend was 16. So at first he introduced me to skateboarding - which my brother was never into so I skated together with him, then he introduced me to electronic music which once again is something my brother was never interested in… So I always went to his basement where he had this huge E-mu Systems Emax synthesizer and that for me was such an impressive thing. When I was around 13 I bought an Amiga 500 synth - not to play games though. All of my friends in school had Amigas too but they played video games. I bought it to make music.

So I suppose your parents were quite supportive since you needed money to buy synths?

TM404 - Yeah, they were. I've been super lucky. None of my parents are in any way cultural people, they have very little cultural interest, they are very working class. Which sometimes annoys me because my family name Tilliander gives some kind of impression that makes people think I come from a fine family - and of course my family is fine, but just like I do not have a degree neither of my family members have any. Only because I had older friends I would find electronic music at an early age.

My friend always used to say ''You should get some musical training'' to which I always had a steady reply - ''I am not interested in that''. I want to make electronic music, I want to make techno, I want to make weird music.

But nowadays I sort of regret it. I have a dream that when I am older I will have a house in the countryside and a piano. At the moment I have no skill whatsoever to play piano. I have good gear and I have a lot of ideas and ambition but I really don't know how to play. I know when it sounds good and I can more or less find the key but I have never really mastered the piano. Sometime later in my life I would love to sit with a bottle of red wine with a piano in sight and be like ''Fuck electronic music!'' (laughs - ed.).


Andreas Tilliander


Do you listen to acoustic instrument music?

TM404 - I do tend to listen to a lot of strings and piano. I used to hate brass music, saxophone was the worst instrument for my ears - but naturally that has changed. As a teenager I was really into The Cure, I remember listening to their music thinking ''This is fantastic!'', then hearing a sax and thinking ''What are you doing?!'' And then finding the non-saxophone edit (laughs -ed.).

So now while in Berlin you have recorded the third album, correct?

TM404 - Yes, the third one of TM404 - Syra (''acid'' in Swedish - ed.).

So what is the process like?

TM404 - The first TM404 album was done with nothing in mind, it was just to have fun. I was touring a lot with a Swedish pop-band - Familjen - Johan T. Karlsson was doing vocals and I did instruments (303, MPC, Analog Rytm). He was the song writer though and I was there only for the live shows. Sometimes we had a live drummer as well. And we played at least a hundred gigs in one year - festivals, clubs. So I knew that I got money for the coming year and I was also tired of that kind of party music. As soon as I had free time I started to explore my old 303s and do strange stuff playing around just to relax. I filmed all my sessions and put them up on YouTube with no plan to release it. Then I got a few contacts within a week or so - Ulf (Ulf Eriksson - the founder and boss of Malmo based label Kontra-Musik - ed.) was one of them. He wanted to release it. I thought ''I don't know if I can do that but I got the files''. So I released the first album on Kontra-Musik and my first booking was to play in Berghain. ''Okay. A debut performance in Berghain...''


The cover of the first TM404 album released on Kontra-Musik in 2013

When was that?

TM404 - 2013. And of course I had been playing live many many years before that but the first TM404 show was in Berghain as part of the CTM festival. After that I got booked so many times - for a few years I didn't have that much time to create music. I was creating a lot of my music while travelling - in hotel rooms and so on. When Ulf approached me saying ''Hey, I think it's time you make a second album'' I sent him approximately 40 tracks that I had made. And he picked those that made the album. That meant that some of the music was 4 years old, some was a few days old.

Excerpt of the cover of Acidub - the second TM404 album released on Kontra-Musik in 2016

And this time I was here (in Berlin - ed.) for a month just to record an album. It's a different process to have a month dedicated for doing that and only that. I think you can hear that it really fits together, perhaps like a story.

Since I got my first gig in Berghain I ended up playing a lot in techno clubs - Tresor here in Berlin, Bunker in New York and so on. But the first record had nothing to do with techno. All the tracks were very slow. Then the tracks that I made in the following years were usually done to fit in a live set. Which made them to be around 125 BPM; I wanted to mix them while playing live - ''C minor, 125 BPM - this track is the same, okay - now I can mix them''. So now I had the luxury to not think about a live set, which meant that one day I would do something that was 40 BPM F minor, the next day 140 BPM and C minor. I guess it feels more like a journey. It's not 10 tracks that sound the same, it's ten that fit together while being different from each other.

Would you say that this is your preferred way of recording an album if you think of the future?

TM404 - Yes, absolutely.

TM404's setup in Kreuzberg, Berlin November 2019

Do you think being here in Berlin influenced the music?

TM404 - Yeah, it's been so nice to be here and speak to people who take experimental music very very seriously. Even though, let's say you are putting out a cassette in 30 copies. There is still real passion when people hear about it. You said before that in Sweden we have lots of producers in pop music. Yes, Sweden is indeed a great environment for music. I moved to Stockholm 20 years ago - and I did that because of music. Which means that almost everyone that I know in Stockholm is somehow connected to the music industry. However, most of them are into… Music not that weird, maybe? So it's good to be here and not only go to the techno clubs but also attend galleries with ambient concerts or very experimental shows.

Tell me about the environment in which you create and your collection of gear.

TM404 - I've had my current studio for 4 years now. I used to have one that was 50 square meters big. The one I'm in now is in a very central location of Stockholm, but because it's acoustically treated I can be as loud as I want any time of the day - and I have a place like that for the first time really. I've always had a studio seperated from my home but it's mainly been in office buildings so there were always limitations. This one is only half the size and some of my instruments are always in a storage space. So when I have an idea that next week I want to use a particular piece of gear, I go to the storage room and take them out.

I had the feeling you are a gear-head when you wrote to me about acquiring SYNTRX even though you own the original EMS Synthi AKS unit.

TM404 - Sometimes it's becoming silly (laughs - ed.). For example when I was in Japan last summer I found the Roland MC-202. I already had six of them. But I bought it. When I was leaving the store, the seller said he has another MC-202 and I bought that one too. So I had eight altogether. Though I did trade one before coming here for a Novation Peak. At the end of the day - I do not need eight MC-202s. I think I have about eight 303s as well.

Do you ever play them all?

TM404 - Yes!

How did you come about naming your tracks by the gear used - which then results in those long lists of numbers?

TM404 - It's like publishing a recipe. But there is no track title that is the same. It always changes - it can be four 303s and a 606. Then three 303s and two 606s.

But same as many others, 10 years ago I sold a lot of stuff in order to afford buying eurorack. I sold a lot of 70s classics - Korg Monopoly for instance.

Do you regret that?

TM404 - A little bit. But I've been using eurorack a lot so... What I do regret though is that in the end of the 90s I sold half my studio to afford a computer - a very very powerful one. So then I started making electronic music just using that computer and I put out my first album. And 2 years later I just gave it away. It was too old and I needed a new one. Which meant I was selling my Nord Lead, my MS-20 and MS-10, my vocoder, sampler - all of it. To afford one computer. And again - three years later it was worth nothing. That felt strange. On the other hand that was also the time I started making money with music.

When did you start using eurorack as a tool?

TM404 - I met Dieter Doepfer in 1998 - that's also more or less when he started the company. He had a showcase in the south of Sweden, but at the time I did not get into it. For me it happened around 2005. I bought a small system, mainly Doepfer modules - 2 oscillators, 2 filters - really a basic setup, which I was amazed by for a year or so.

Year is a long time, especially seeing how the consumerism around eurorack works now.

TM404 - Yes, absolutely. But also the MS-20 that I bought when I was 14 is semi modular. At one time I even had two. That is one of my all time favorite synthesizers. And I have the ARP-2600 which of course is also modular. So I've been using modular synths since a long time but eurorack, not that much. Now I guess my last eurorack phase started 5 years ago.

It's interesting how the founder of Erica Synths - Ģirts, few years before starting the company was knee deep into DIY stuff. And at the time he literally soldered every single DIY project out there. According to him now there's so much you couldn't do it in 5 life times. It also seems that it's currently so saturated that a lot of new stuff is constantly coming out but not so much innovation.

TM404 - There's a lot of stuff that makes me say ''Okay, so this is more or less a computer in a eurorack setting''. Which can be nice but… I really like full systems - like the Techno system, Black System or Make Noise Shared System. That's a great way of eurorack use. It's sort of the opposite of the idea of eurorack as you are supposed to make your own synth, but now after all these years I find it to make a lot of sense. You get a system, it's 100 % modular but there's a thought within.

Eurorack isn't that expensive, so you can maybe buy an envelope for seventy euros, a month later you buy a noise generator for fifty, another month goes by and you buy an oscillator.

It's so easy to buy stuff without planning which means you can end up with 8 oscillators and 1 filter, no VCAs. And to be honest I might have done that too - in the beginning at least. It was so easy. I was selling a lot of my other vintage gear and I had quite a lot of money to spend on eurorack. ''I want to get this one, and this one, and this one...'' And I bought it all without thinking how it fits together.

And it doesn't really… I think many would agree with you. The demand for eurorack is quite big yet still growing. At the same time - when you look at the music that gets released and is made primarily using eurorack, it feels like there's a disproportion, you know?

TM404 - I am very involved with the online community - I would even say too much. There is this Swedish group 99musik which is 99% about music. And there are so many users and so many posts every single day, whereabout most of them have big systems, regular jobs, wives, kids. And I say wives not husbands because there are so few of them that are actually females. Of course it can be really nice for it to be just a hobby and not having to think about releasing a couple 12 inches the next spring and blah blah blah. I think it's totally fine for people to have a lot of synthesizers without actually making music.

Absolutely. A tactile hobby in the times of endless screens. Then again if we talk about people whose aim actually is to release or output music there's the common problem of having a beginning of the track and an ending. Not even talking about finished concepts like an EP or an album.

TM404 - It is the same for me. I usually record into Ableton, then cut up, add some different stuff... That for me is a way of creating electronic music that works. To start with the eurorack, then add effects and layers on a computer. That's how I mostly use eurorack to produce.


Tilliander's studio in Stockholm

Not being a producer I can only speculate, but I think eurorack is the best for sampling stuff or playing live rather than being perceived as a production tool from A to Z.

TM404 - I agree. It's so hard to have a starting point with the intention to record something that will go on for 5 minutes. Because how do you get from one thing to something contrasting? How do you make it evolve to a radically different sound?

To add on the topic of making music without releasing it or just doing it as a hobby...

I've had a few episodes where I sit on the studio floor with just the eurorack. It's usually dark around me and it feels like I am meditating.

Having no plans on making music or recording it. Just spending a couple of hours connecting stuff and being in trance. Honestly - trance. Sitting there feels like being on drugs. Then 4 hours later - ''Wow, what was that? What just happened?''. It feels like I've travelled somewhere which is something that never happens while sitting in front of a computer, clicking the mouse, programming Ableton or whatever. That feels like work ''I am getting this job done, I'm gonna program this beat, arrange this track''.

That's where the improvisation comes in play!

TM404 - It really does. You do not know what is going to happen. If I click on a Hi-Hat in Ableton I know that it will be an 808 Hi-Hat, I can have a velocity change, add some reverb - but that's more like factory working or craftsmanship. Whereas sitting with a eurorack system, especially new modules that you haven't yet mastered is a very good way of finding new stuff.

I think another important compound is the uncertainty - you can never recreate the same patch.

TM404 - And also what you said before - it's easy to do something but it's hard to make it into a track. So many times I've been sitting in a studio thinking I will leave in 30 minutes, then finding something that sounds really good but not being sure how to take it anywhere. Then I record it on my phone, film it, maybe upload on Instagram. 2 weeks later I listen back to it just to be like ''Fuck, this is really good, I should've recorded it! I really should've recorded it!''.

There's this track in the next TM404 album… 4 years ago or so I heavily got into Buchla. At first I had very few modules - maybe 4? With which I made a very cool loop and I only filmed it, no audio recording. And now I found it just a week before coming to Berlin, thanks to Facebook reminding me what I did 4 years ago. So I grabbed that particular loop from Facebook, downloaded it, put it in Ableton and started to improvise. And it will be on the next album. Essentially it means it's a Buchla modular, recorded with an Iphone, downloaded from Facebook, programmed in Ableton... With some 303s and 606s on top.

So contemporary! Once the album is released I will try and see whether I can hear it.

TM404 - I hope you do!

What has 2020 taught you?

TM404 - I think I’ve discovered that it’s sometimes nice to take a break from things. You don’t have to constantly work, it’s OK to stay home and have an ice cream or two in the afternoon. I’ve also started to study the instruments I’ve got, really learning to do what I want with a particular drum machine or so. I haven’t left Stockholm since February which makes me feel like I really should appreciate the times abroad and the tours that I hope will come back in 2021.



To learn more about Andreas Tillianders' music and activities, head to his Soundcloud or social media.

TM404's third album Syra is scheduled to be released in early November. Lately Andreas has been enjoying a 12” from the Swedish label Envelope Audio - a record celebrating the early female pioneers in electronic music.

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