In Trance 95 Interview
In Trance 95 Interview
In Trance 95 was formed at a time when there was no private television and human communication was dominated by telephone lines and postal mail. In 1988, they released their first single and a year later their first album entitled Code of Obsession. In Trance 95 was a purely electronic band, probably the first of its kind in Greece that preferred to use synthesizers instead of guitars, and played synthpop. Having started out as quite a dynamic band in 1988, with a number of video clips and furthermore interviews on MTV, the duo (consisting of Nik Veliotis and Alex Machairas) suddenly took a turn and split. There was a long silence with rare appearances, a modified name (Itenef) and unofficial releases. But after 23 years, they are back together working on not only one but two albums, the first to be released at the end of summer on the American independent Minimal Wave.
The following interview by Maria Pappa, “The Return of In Trance 95 on Minimal Wave” was recently published in Iefimerida:
We met with them on a beautiful sunny afternoon at the home of Alex Machairas. The first thing I notice is the unique chemistry between the two of them, Alex’s enthusiasm complements the stoicism of Nik and when confronted with the two of them, I forget all the questions I intend to ask. I hand them a massive biography that I found about them online and immediately the corrections begin.
Alex: We didn’t have extra members, we were a duet.
Nik: It was always the two of us.
Alex: We used auxiliary members at our shows.
Nik: An extra hand.
Alex: One foot out here. Plus George Geranios and Magdalena Sverlander! (Laughs)
Okay let’s start from scratch. When, where, how, why you made a band?
N: The history to be told by Alex, all.
A: In May 1988, we met randomly at a concert of the former member of Tuxedomoon, Blaine L. Reininger. Remember?
N: I remember.
A: And the exact next day..
N: We met again!
A: We both discovered that we share an interest in electronic sound and we had some small analog synthesizers and drum machines. Nikos was fortunate to have a basement, which had turned to a soundproofed studio that had as a basis a four-channel fostex. And we began immediately the next day to experiment on the sound of analog synths, drum machines and tapes, which became our daily pastime for endless hours. That tied the band immediately. That was May 88.
How old were you then?
A: 17 and half to 18.
N: We are 5 days apart.
A: We were born 5 days apart from each other. And in fact we had just turned 18 not long before.
Did you finish school?
A-N: We just finished the school.
N: And it was time to deal professionally with music, as you know.
A: And indeed we were very productive then. In our little basement. A historical site. In that studio we spent countless hours and wrote and wrote. It was the so-called Airdawn. We had named it this way because usually when we finished the recordings it was was early morning, dawning and then it was spring and it was very windy. And we joined those two words, air and dawn. And we called it “Airdawn” Studio. The songs on our first single “Desire to Desire / Brazilia” were probably the only ones that had been pre-written before we met and later we worked together on them. I had written “Desire to Desire” and Nik wrote “Brazilia”. Before forming the band, we were both 17, and those two tracks made it on our first single that got released in 1988. Almost everything from our early days was written at the Airdawn.
What were you listening to then?
N: I do not even remember what. Surely Tuxedomoon, because we went to see Reininger live.
A: But I wouldn’t position them exactly as a main influence. I mean, it was also the Tuxedo. The period we formed In Trance 95,the truth is neither do I remember exactly what we were listening to. However I remember later in the car of Nik, tapes of Clock DVA, SPK, Yello and Deux between tapes of our own pieces. And we also had other things like Serge Gainsbourg. On a personal level going back in time, albums such as “Radio Activity” by Kraftwerk, the first four of Orchestral Manoeuvres, John Foxx’s “Metamatic”, as well as less known material like for example the cassette “Space Museum” by Solid Space in 1983, that was their only release, influenced me in particular to make me want to create music. And the first period of the Human League and Depeche Mode of course those are key influences! The first records I bought when I was 12 were two 7inches, “Souvenir” by OMD and “Ziggy Stardust” from Bauhaus. In such a “tender” age tracks like “Fade To Grey” by Visage or “Electricity” seemed so different to my ears. At the same time I was discovering Joy Division / New Order and Factory records, the Bunnymen and the Cure, the Legendary Pink Dots, Cabaret Voltaire and countless more. I collected records with my brother from a very young age. We grew up with post punk - new wave and electronic music was considered part of it. Whether it was synth pop or more experimental stuff.
How was the Greek scene then?
A: Non-existent! The electronic scene. There were no Greek electronic assemblies. Even the record company we released our records with, was mostly punk, garage-punk. We were the only electronic band on them.
N: It was mainly garage-punk.
A: It was similar at the festivals we were playing. We were performing along with bands like Slow Motion or South of No North , usually being the only electronic act on the bill. There was no such scene at all. We belonged to a scene that did not yet exist in Greece. Later it did started something there indeed but during the 90’s.
Was there an audience?
N: There was.
A: There was an audience, but I can not say that it was big.
N: It was taking awful lot of things for something to happen.
A: Then you were playing at An Club in the beginning, at the very early gigs, they were friends coming. Later, of course you are not interested to have only friends coming and we did manage to gain a small audience. We were more of a cult name. Even in the festivals we played we had a very small but enthusiastic audience that was just ours. The public was also limited in general. Greece always suffered on this thing, the synth pop, cold wave, minimal synth species. I do not think that even now there is such a large audience, comparing with abroad. This is electronica, but if more specific, the sound of ours is not the most popular to begin with, although it exists larger scene ,even today in Europe, America, England and France and definitely more bands too.
N: But then you were going around and you would listen to everything. There were three places with bands playing and the people were going to see them. There was no categorization. Then we thought it was but looking at it now from a distance there wasn’t really, in daily basis everyone is playing everywhere.
A: And how many groups have made reunions now, plus the new ones.
Well now there is an independent scene but everyone is different from one another.
A: Then again it was another addition to our diversity that we were not interested in being part of a particular local scene. Always from the very beginning of the band, we saw In Trance 95 being part of the whole scene existing worldwide. We were not interested to be part of only a Greek scene. We were interested that there are other groups in Europe and the States that were playing like us.
The name that you got?
A: The name! “95” was from the street where our studio was located, that was in Lycourgou 95, a basement in Kallithea. The “in trance” part came from a sci fiction book. In it,at a far distant future someone was seeing the past while in a state of trance. And although the word means that, we also liked that it links to transportation as “trans” sounds the same. We liked as well the sound of the word “trance”.
It wasn’t given too much thought. So after deciding on “In Trance” we added “95” since we also wanted a name with a number on it!
Does the basement still exist?
N: Logically it must be there.
A: End of ‘89 we packed up from there. The basement was given to Nik from his father and then Nik turned it into a soundproof studio.
N: The singles were taken to be recorded into the large professional studios. Then you couldn’t record on your computer. To begin with, firstly because there was no computer.
I guess it was an unknown word.
N: You could do a demo with those amazing magical machines. With the Four - track you can write your demos at home, but the releases went into a studio. The studio time was every day like “go afternoon, we leave at night and have the finished product” because there was no money for luxuries.
A: The studio was too expensive to hire. Going with the hour.
M: Mixing, mastering, everything ready straight for cutting.
Do remember your first gig?
A: Our first proper live gig was in 1989 on January 3rd at “AN” Club.
How was it?
N: Well it was nice.
A: The amazing thing is that few of our live performances are preserved on video. The clip of “Presidente” that can be viewed on youtube, is from a full live take of the song.
The video clip of Desire to Desire,how it really came together?
A: It’s a great story. We shot the video clip in 1988, there wasn’t something similar in Greece. But we had decided to do it ourselves. The directing and editing was done by Roger Crook, who belonged to the group that made the editing of the film by Nicholas Roeg from around the mid 70’s starring David Bowie, «The man who fell to earth.” He happened to be in Greece then.
N: For some reason he was left behind in Athens.
A: Actually he was doing the editing for some documentaries back then and a well known for helping young artists lady, from the rich Kolonaki area of Athens, her name is Feni Xydi, she’s the one who brought us into contact with him. We had already some material on super 8 and 16mm film from a first trial we attempted with a Greek student in the art school but still we hadn’t felt satisfied. The filming and editing with Crook turned out lasting many days, basically because the guy was always drunk by the end of each day. We paid him with money and countless beers. He made it in about 20 days and it took us over a month to finish the entire video production. And when the video got regularly played by MTV on the late night eurozone the channel had stopped transmitting in Athens but was viewed only in Thessaloniki, it was seen actually only by the north Greeks. But it helped us sell out our first 7inch in Thessaloniki.
N: Making the clip was a great adventure.
A: MTV showed great interest on us from the beginning. We had done some interviews and they had put us on the MTV news, it was about us recording our “Code of Obsession” album as the channel was searching for European bands outside U.K. We were presented first time at Marcel Vanhilt’s late night program where he quoted «It sounds like Kraftwerk but it comes from Greece». And they had put the cover of our first single all over the screen and played “Brazilia” on the background, then “Desire To Desire” video clip followed, being played quite often in the night zone. It was nice, but then we did not really highly appreciated it. We made the video and we never really watched it again back then. We did it, we saw it during the editing and kind of left it behind us. We did not expect that many years later would be on Youtube, it would become cult, and we would be discovered by Minimal Wave label in a record bazaar. Meanwhile,our vinyls have gone up to crazy prices, i.e. considered to be abnormal. Our first single had to re-purchased because we did not have it in a good condition. We needed to do mastering from the vinyl as the studio tapes were lost and so we wanted a better copy and it costed us 150 euros. The second one around 100. Excessive prices. They were pressed as limited editions, they came in 1000-1200 copies each and they became too rare. How can we know then? I had 25 copies from each and forgot them in a previous apartment when I moved out. Placed in the kitchen loft and I remembered it two years later. It may still the boxes with the singles be there or it could be a new owner who sells them for this kind of money. (laughter)
The production of the video clip actually canceled the release of the next single?
N: Unfortunately yes.
A: It was that expensive. We had to pay the Roger and of course he wanted to delay as much as possible to get more money. We had a plan and wanted a second single released soon. We had already recorded “Presidente”, but because of the high cost of the video we abandoned it and jumped to the next single,a little bit later. Any time Roger had to work,he needed more money and more beer. But of course we have to admit it was amazing to see him work. Admirable. The man made it all on 16mm film. It was done at the Andromeda studios, where there have been made many Greek films and documentaries. He wanted to use some girls for the clip. He phoned the model agencies and he was told they do not give girls for video clips in Greece, there is no such thing. Somehow we found some. All editing was done on hand, cutting film at the old montage machine . After he completed all the editing and we although were happy, we still wanted to go even further and took it to another company to put some additional effects, which were popular for bands of our school of sound and inevitably the cost exploded further more. The cost was constantly being multiplied. Had reached a crazy amount, but we didn’t got concerned.
N: I remember what we had, we gave it all there.
And when was the video clip released?
A: It was released late January ‘89. And sometime in early February, was first-aired on MTV.
Was it shown by our national TV?
N: What national?
A: We did not even sent it really. I was asked by Kostas Sgontzos who really wanted to play it but I didn’t gave it for some reason, I do not remember.
N: Yes, it was the problem with the format it had.
A: It was done on the format of MTV and I could not bother to do one more conversion.
Then what happens?
A: We remain hyper productive and continue writing new songs. In June ‘89 we release our next single that was “21st Century European Temptation”, having rejected “Presidente” for second single. And with this release we became better acquainted with who became our sound man, Coti K.
Was Coti a member of the band?
A: He had a big role in the band, and he played on stage with us, this was on Rockwave after Nik left. We used additional members to achieve a more lively sound. But most importantly he was always our sound engineer in most of the live shows and at the studio recordings since 1989 throughout the period that followed. We even worked with him now at the final mastering.
N: Look, Coti since we met him, he was always there.
A: And George Geranios who was in the second composition of the group I met him back then at a record store where they had sold out all our singles.
When did “Code of Obsession” come out?
A: The “Code of Obsession” album comes in 1990 but half of it was recorded in late 1989 and the other half in the early 90s. Got released in July ‘90.
Which sounds different from the singles.
A: Then we started to listen to a lot electronic body music and there were influences from Front 242 but also from bands like Coil on tracks like “Lacerta”. While the B side was much more dance. A remix version of In Trance 95. Then came a 12inch in 1991 “Warm Nights Driving On Wet Streets” - where the sound continues purely electronic but at that time came the first digital synths and we were a proportional band. But the experimenting with samplers and digital synths somehow tried to polish the sound more than we enjoy today, so this is how we returned to our first recordings. The amazing thing is that we had too much material from 1988-89, because we were seeking to find our sound and therefor have written many songs. Many were played live, and many other remained forever in our archives.
Do those archives exist?
A: There is a big part of it. From this, Veronica Vasicka who has Minimal Wave got around 25 songs and chose 10, plus our first single. And from this selection comes the album «Cities of Steel and Neon». Some tracks had to be mixed again from the four-track and all of them had to be remastered.
Amazing. What expectations did you have when you began?
N: We had no expectations. 18 years old we were.
A: Just to do what we wanted. Although there was an expectation that we have even now. We always love the final product. That is the feeling we have when we hold the record in our hands. To have the vinyl in our hands, the single and album to hold and play it. What we like most of all.
N: That was magic.
A: This feeling. And now we are pleased that there was a return to vinyl, as our album will come out on vinyl. The CD’s have died and I am happy for it.
What reviews have you took then?
A: The reviews were good from the national press until the end, before Nik left, we were put 4th in the list of best greek records of the year in Pop and Rock magazine and we had our first cover along with other groups. We have also appeared on national television performing three tracks.
How was that experience?
A: ERT2 whenever had those musical breaks, there they were throwing us!. And we were, “Oh, gosh again they show us!”
N: I have the impression that even this will still be the state of national television from the atmosphere point of view. I still remember that filming at Rodon club. And they had also written our name wrong,In Trance was written with an “s” as In Transe 95.
A: This and us on the MTV news presented by Steve Blame and a blonde. I found those on some old videotapes. It was very strange to watch. And not something we thought important at all then.
It must have been the dream of every band to be played then on MTV.
N: Nah! It was not so.
A: We did not see it that way at all.
N: Then there was not this burn to become somebody, to come out on TV or play on MTV or to make a career.
A: Mostly if our records do good. That would delight us most. To have a record that will support us to produce more records. That satisfied more, recording and releasing.
N: I did not even know that our clip was played as much. Now recently I found out.
So you never officially disbanded?
A: No. Actually we never really broke up. We never discussed and decided to split. It Just made its cycle at the beginning and then there was a huge gap that Nik went abroad and then did several other projects. He never officially left.
N: I eventually started learning the cello and I dealt with it and we just stopped calling each other. There is not any tearful dramatic story about that.
A: He wasn’t involved with electronic music for a long period. At the summer of 2006 I slowly started putting together the studio with the help of Coti and soon followed a first attempt to reform the band with George and Magda joining the line up. And at 2008 I met Nik to consider whether we do something again. And we said great, let’s do something together again and we did nothing,it took us another two years. Meanwhile, Minimal Wave had approached us after Veronica discovered our first single at a record fair in New York. She viewed as well the clip of “Desire to Desire” on Youtube and after she found my email in some way, I received a message from her asking if there is any way to find some old recordings of us for a possible release on her label. I said OK, but I did let pass a long time again. I probably waited as much because subconsciously I wanted to reunite with Nik in order to do the official return of In Trance 95. And this took place in 2010. When Recoil booked a gig in Athens, they were searching for an electronic band from the past to play as their selected guest and they suggested us to Alan Wilder. We took the offer and finally Nik and I got together. Wilder met us backstage too and during soundcheck he kindly said to us that he loved our music and he looks forward to see us play. It was quite an honor and a surprise. From the exact following day after the gig we started working together again the same as we used to, writing and recording new material…