Viken Arman, along with a generation of like-minded artists, is pushing the boundaries of electronic music not only towards the future, but also towards the past. Fusing ancient melodies with electronic beats to create magical vibes that go beyond dance music brings rich cultures together in mystical musical journeys.
Viken brought his global festival Souq to Beirut’s own Grand Factory on Saturday April 16th with its great line-up and mellow oriental atmosphere. We had the chance to interview Viken, who is as intriguing in his inspiration and depth as his music. Here’s what happened.
1. You grew up with a proper music education learning the piano, which empowers you today with control, innovation and navigation of your music. Tell us a bit about your upbringing at home, your first days of sound exploration and perception of music at that time.
I started music when I was 5 at the conservatory learning solfege and music theory. At the beginning I hated it! My dad is a piano amateur and a huge fan of classical music, rock and jazz in particular. So my first love was his music library. For example, I can say that I literally grew up with Keith Jarrett. When you’re young, it can be really hard to get into this kind of music which is really complex, but it educates your ears and perception of music. Unconsciously, it opens your mind to many different worlds. Then when you’re able to understand this music, it becomes a revelation. With these bases I started my own journey, exploring a lot of different types of sounds as deep as I can, with a special interest in my roots.
2. Your musicianship and very peculiar sonic taste make your music sound like a spiritual prayer from the future. Tell us about your creative process at studio, how do you lay down your ideas and later develop them into dense melodic journeys?
I’m constantly trying to create something unique. My inspiration comes from everywhere : it can be a song, a movie, a painting, a recording, but most of the time I find my first idea by reading old books. Then I have to translate it into music. It’s really difficult to describe the process because it’s always different. Sometimes I’m working first on a texture, sometimes I’m working on a rhythm, it depends on the mood. I have many different original instruments which allows me to extend my sound. But usually before starting anything, I already have the drawing in my head. So I know more or less where it will go. You can definitely compare it to a painter. I have the sketches and then I’d need to find some interesting colors, forms and brushes in order to make a very special piece. At the end, the most important element is the emotion you’re sharing.
3. Your music is evolving fast, from Souq (the track) to the Life EP on All Day I Dream, your sound is developing and expanding constantly. What experiences allow this growth and inspiration?
I think I’m always on a quest to find myself. Sounding different is like an obsession. I have to get out of my comfort zone, musically (listening to the weirdest stuff) and technically (using rare instruments). Otherwise it quickly becomes boring. I really want to take people on a journey with a whole range of different landscapes. I used to produce a lot of different type of tracks. When I was 12, I was producing Hip-Hop beats. Later, I started producing electronic music. And then I developed a passion for composing movie soundtracks. I love every kind of extreme sort of music. Each genre represents a certain moment of my life and I want to share it. This journey is probably a reflection of my personality. I love discovering new things, new places, new people, all the time. Our actual world is about mixing cultures, loving the unknown, creating new colors. I need it, this is vital.
4. Within the infinite layers of your music, we find traces of almost all kinds of sound ever known to man. From ancient tribal chants and drums, to jazzy licks, to modern singing, to futuristic synths and ambiance. Can you tell us about the musical influences that shaped you as a musician and as a person?
I have no limits in terms of music. Everything is good (except commercial music like EDM, but this is not music to me). When an artist is interesting, I’m going to listen to everything I can from him. I will try to understand his life and his work.
There are so many artists who are influencing me… I’m fascinated by John Coltrane, Bill Evans, J Dilla, Tigran Hamasyan, Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Komitas, Aphex Twin, Leo Ferre, Flying Lotus, Oum Kalthoum, Levon Minassian, Apparat, Terry Riley, Ennio Morricone, Philip Glass, Dhafer Youssef, Minilogue, Ricardo Villalobos… The list is too long! And I keep discovering new artists everyday! That’s definitely impossible to quote all of them.
5. The Armenian culture is almost always present in your musical identity. Can you tell us a bit about your Armenian heritage and its impact on you?
Both of my parents are Armenian. So I grew up with this culture, it is part of me. Over the years I started being obsessed with Armenia. I wanted to know where we come from, when, how… So many questions. History is very important to me. We cannot forget the past if we want to build the future. It’s an infinite source of inspiration. I came back to Armenia last January and I have no words to describe it. Every single moment was powerful and rewarding : discovering stunning churches, sharing a meal with friends and family, meeting amazing artists, staying on top of a mountain and listening to silence… I’m going to move there for a few months after Burning Man in order to work on my album. I think about it everyday. I can’t wait. Armenia is definitely a part of me.
6. Your live-sets, especially your latest White Ocean set, was a spontaneous extravaganza of sonic diversity, depth and groove. You’ve mentioned that your approach to this set was different than what you usually do. What was different about this set and experience as a whole?
You have to be there to understand. Burning Man is not a music festival. It’s a life festival where “freedom” is the main ingredient. And when there is “freedom”, it means there is “creativity”. So when I played at White Ocean last year, I felt completely free and I had some crazy ideas throughout this set. No one will judge you. You can play whatever you want. A few minutes after I started, a big dust storm hit the playa so I had to find some solutions to keep playing (because it was impossible to play my full live set). I couldn’t see anything. So I decided to defy the weather playing harder: the stronger the wind, the bigger the waves. It was so epic. Looking forward to come back this summer!
7. Speaking of Burning Man, what’s your input on the rise of the ‘transformational music festival’ culture that is happening all around the world? Do you think this is the future of spirituality and music, their eventual merger?
Well, I don’t want to think too much about it because at some point I’m pretty sure there is a kind of utopia. In my opinion there is a lot of bullshit around spirituality in electronic music. I prefer staying focused on good music which I love so much… But I can affirm that there is a deep relationship between our music and the people: it’s a community. It’s been a while we haven’t seen this powerful human connection. That’s a really important detail, in particular nowadays when this world is getting crazy and people are becoming more more ego-centric. We’re connecting people through and beyond the music. We all know each other and the door is open for everyone who is positive. There is unity. And this is happening all over the world!
8. You’re known for your infinite support to this very particular music scene that combines ancient cultures with futuristic deep grooves. Tell us a bit about Denature Records and how come you say it’s more of a music collective or family than a mere record label?
We created this record label because no one really wanted to release our music. We always had to rework our tracks in order to be bankable. Here it’s a platform where all our friends can express themselves with all their creativity. It’s really easy. I’m always telling to everybody “send me your tracks that people don’t like” because I’m pretty sure we can find something much more interesting in this kind of work. We’re doing it only for passion. There is no money issue. We take care about every single detail. We’re pressing vinyls for all the releases. I personally want to offer the best releases ever to my friends. We support them. We truly like their music. It’s such a pleasure to produce our music ourselves without any limits. We are all sharing our tracks, our ideas, it’s stimulating. We all have the same vision more or less. At the end we’re definitely a family.
9. After touring the world, Souq is finally coming to Beirut’s own Grand Factory with Canson, Powel and yourself. Can you tell us the story of Souq? What it is at core? How did it come to be and where it plans to go from here?
Last year, I got a bit tired about playing in Paris in wrong conditions, without a coherent line up. I wanted a place where we could play our music with all our friends, celebrating our Denature release parties, eating the food we like, drinking Raki and sharing all our culture. So together with my friends Nadim and Will, we decided to create the SOUQ. It’s a daytime event with a market where your grandma can hang out around the shops, your mother can dance next to your best friend while your dad is drinking Raki with one of our artists. Everybody is more than welcomed. The first editions in Paris were a great success (unexpected). Now we are developing this event all over the world : Los Angeles, New York, Istanbul, Dubai, Berlin, Tulum, etc.
10. You’ve showed your audience your versatility, infinite expansion, gracefulness and tastefulness. How does the future look from your side, what’s in the pipelines for now and what dreams do you have on the scale of the bigger picture?
In September I’ll release my new EP on Denature. Then I’ll move to Armenia to compose my first album with some amazing musicians. And later, one of my dreams would be writing music for an orchestra mixing all my influences.