Interview: Ctrls


Ctrls has been consistently releasing solid techno tracks with the Belgium-based techno label Token since 2012. The mid-February arrival of Users marks his sixth techno EP and the 50th entry in Token’s growing catalog of work by a list of techno’s best producers, including Inigo Kennedy, Ø [Phase], Rødhåd, and Surgeon. The Danish producer has a much a longer history producing electronic music though. His drum ‘n’ bass productions as Pyro stretch back to 2000, and since 2010 he’s been involved in several techno and electro collaborations under the names Northern Structures (Sonic Groove), 2400 Operator (Underground Quality), and Generic Face (count 0).

The techno that Troels Knudsen has been releasing as Ctrls is often an interesting combination of the canonical structures of techno music with the syncopations that form the foundation of the genre in which he’s worked for much of his career. Also constitutive of his particular sound with Ctrls is the live, gestural feel of many of the elements of his tracks, especially the heavy synths. You can hear his hands at work and his live timing in interaction with the driving rhythmic structure. Given Knudsen’s varied history, I thought it might be interesting to ask him some questions about his work process, where he finds inspiration, and why he’s focusing on techno these days.

Inyahed: Can you talk about how you got interested in this music and about the music scene (or scenes) with which you were first involved? I’m especially interested in how your personal story is connected to the local history of this music where you grew up.

Ctrls: The first real ”scene” I got into was actually a virtual one. I was into whatever electronic music I could get my hands on, which living in suburban Denmark was mostly restricted to radio, TV, and whatever more or less commercial imports I could find in local stores. I was introduced to music through my parents and software through my friends and music teachers pretty early. But when I got online around the age of 15 and found stuff like the tracker communities and electronic music discussion forums I got really hungry and wanted to release music. Just around the same time, the music I was interested in (silly UK hardcore and jungle/drum’n’bass) started taking hold in Copenhagen and I started DJing. But I was pretty reclusive and kept quite separate from the local scenes for a long time and mostly just focused on production and buying records. I was already talking to people in the UK and releasing music shortly after I started interacting with local scenes, and that felt like enough. I think the best example of this is that I somehow managed to run a record label with a guy from Scotland, for several years, and never actually met him in person. Then the music I was into almost completely died under the Hawtin minimal wave and I only worked with scenes abroad for a long time.

But once I got into techno and house all of a sudden there was a lot to work with back home and that’s been really refreshing and enjoyable, both as listener/party goer and organizer and DJ.

Inyahed: Is there a genre that you consider your main field of work, or do you think of yourself as someone who works in different genres at different times? What motivated you to work in these different genres at different times?

Ctrls: I definitely prefer to keep a clear focus and I feel like I could keep making techno forever as it is now. I’ve got a lot of drum’n’bass releases under my belt so that has to be taken into account, but I’m aiming to put out a really solid body of work within the techno framework. I’ve had a lot of little side projects along the way, like 2400 operator, and I’ll probably keep doing so, but I always gravitate towards a certain style with emphasis on some kind of purity.

Somewhere along the way I decided to just work with electronic music, but that’s really the only restriction I’ll put on it. That being said I don’t see myself removing my main focus from techno for a while.

Inyahed: What non-musical things do you consider to be important influences on your music? For example: other art, experiences, concepts, even everyday things?

Ctrls: There are so many, but they say that you should write what you know, so lately realism plays a big factor. I’ve said before that the main theme of Ctrls seems to be ”life vs technology”, and I think that’s still the essence of it. We’re now so intertwined with it all that there are conflicts between the humane and the effective around every corner. Various types of movement and rhythm have also been strong attractors for me. Everything from the physical flow I’ve learned from sports and martial arts to physics and the way people move through life.

Inyahed: How has your work process changed over time, both technically and in the way that you create, listen to, and refine your music?

Ctrls: Over the last few years I’ve been very into jamming and playing things live. I played instruments when I was younger, and I’ve been missing that a lot and so I’m trying to get some of that feel back into the process. I used to be very into the fact that I needed nothing but a computer and some speakers but I’m getting more and more into physical interfaces. As a result I’m listening more and more for just ”pure music” in club-focused productions, which is a lot more rewarding than you’d immediately think. It’s made me way more picky but it’s also given me a lot of insight which I’m really enjoying.

Inyahed: This is a rather broad question. In your view, how is techno different from the other genres that you’ve worked in? I’m not so much asking about the specific musical characteristics, but the broader aesthetic, mood, and emotion of the genre. With that in mind, how do you approach a techno track differently than a house or drum n bass track?

Ctrls: It’s almost scary how well the history of techno suits the things I’m into in general. I’m still fascinated by how flexible the style can be, considering the very simple ideas it’s based on. There’s a lot of abstraction going lately, and it’s now so open that it can be almost anything and I really thrive off that. But as a result I’m very drawn to texture and rhythm when I write it. I’m trying to fight that a bit lately and base things off more tonal concepts.

Drum’n’bass was interesting because it required a ton of technique to get anything close to what your idols were doing. I did my best to not let that get in the way of the music. But even so, the technical (and kinda pseudoscientific) bootcamp I put myself through during has been really cool to draw on lately.

 House taught me groove in depth, how to add things without adding energy (harder than it sounds), and what you can get from less energy-based compositions, which I really needed and was very curious about after 10 years of 170bpm.

Inyahed: Is there anything about the new release that our readers might be interested to know?

Ctrls: The title ”Incoming data” comes from a William Gibson paraphase: ”If you take recreational drugs all you’re doing is tweaking the incoming data. You have to be incredibly selfish.” As much as I love Gibson’s work, that statement has bothered me for a long time. All the titles come from ponderings about being in altered states (no prizes for guessing which drug inspired ”externalizer”), simply because I wish more people would deal with the drug situation instead of sweeping it under the rug of prohibition.