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From hauntology to gender stereotypes in music, an interview with Inal Bilsel.

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

In anticipation of Fengaros 2022, we talk about Nostalgia For The Future and its performance at the Festival.

Avant Garde: Your artistic identity is characterised as "science fiction", "nostalgia", and "haunting". How are these characteristics integrated in your music and how do you manage to express them to your audience?

Inal Bilsel: The sound of the Theremin, the earliest electronic instrument, has a special place for me. Although I do not own nor can play the instrument itself, I have found ways to achieve its sound through conventional synthesizers. It originates in Russia, but the American audience and the world have come to know and associate this instrument with early Sci-fi films. I used to be an avid pulp-sci-fi reader, especially the works of PKD, who influenced my creative output. This is just an example of the sci-fi aspect of my music.

Nostalgia is another ever-present element in my music. It comes in different forms and shapes, sometimes with the instruments I use (technostalgia), and sometimes with the themes that I incorporate into the lyrics and back-stories for my tracks or albums. Hauntology is sometimes defined as ‘failure of the future’ - although I admit this is an oversimplification. It is not a Genre, as far as I know, but more to do with some stylistic traits such as old-timey melancholic atmospheres, decay, and wear-and-tear, all of which can be easily translated into musical material, sounds and textures.

nostalgia for the future
Fengaros Reacts (2021) Studio eleven63, Nicosia

A.G.: How did the combination of your music with the audio-visuals come about, and what was the reason?

I.B: It was 2013 when I first started incorporating visuals into my live-set Tales From The Future. I began downloading tons of royalty-free documentaries, advertisements, and other TV material, mostly of American origin. First of all, they were fun to watch; I mean, I was hooked when watching a 1949 video on Dating Dos and Don’ts! Eventually, I edited them to take them out of their original context and create new stories in the process. This can be called repurposing found footage, I suppose. I was telling a sci-fi story with my repurposed videos, but above all, I was having great fun and wanted my audience to have fun too. It’s self-admittedly pretentious, trying to be more serious than they are, you know, just like pulpy sci-fi novels. Over the years, I kept on reworking and refining the visuals, eventually becoming a self-contained world that my later work is based on.

A.G: What is the one thing you want your audience to feel from your music and what is it you want to get from the audience?

I.B: It depends on the occasion. If I am putting up a solo show, I’d be doing a much longer set, preferably with visuals and set décor that contributes to and enhances the storytelling. I always try to create a sense of journey, a long but rewarding journey. This notion is evident in my album Paradise Lost, where I incorporated mythological story conventions, the so-called ‘hero’s journey’ and the monomyth. The beginning is the ordinary world, business as usual, and then the hero ventures on a journey and comes back to his home changed. This type of arch, home-journey-home is the essence of my live sets, and over the years, I have found numerous ways to translate this idea into music. Obviously, this type of thing cannot be done in shorter shows. However, the shorter shows provide an alternative for me, a way to skim down the show to its bare essentials and perhaps create a livelier performance.

Nostalgia For The Future
Ezgi Akgürgen, Naz Atun and Onur Kasapoğlu

A.G: How was your band formed?

I.B: Nostalgia For The Future is not a band per se. It’s a band formed to perform live interpretations of my music, which I mainly either create myself or record with various musicians. I’m more of a studio-oriented musician than touring and performing, although I also enjoy that a great deal. The original idea was to perform Paradise Lost in its entirety with a live band, but eventually, I incorporated older material as well, specifical music from my live-set Tales From The Future. Moreover, I have collaborated with the band members on numerous projects, including my albums, so it was only natural to have them on board.

A.G: In what ways does an artist's gender, class and sexual orientation shape their professional experiences and their aesthetics?

I.B: An artist inevitably mirrors, criticises, and feeds from the society they live in. However, an artist first and foremost needs an abundance of time and freedom to practice, create and flesh out their art. This, as we know, is a luxury enjoyed by a particular social class, unfortunately. Speaking for myself, and perhaps a majority, we must juggle daytime jobs, family time, and creating art. It’s a skill of its own! You either learn or give up.

There is no denying that gender plays a massive role in how we fundamentally see and react to the world around us. Sadly, there are fewer female producers, sound engineers, and DJs. Perhaps this is how we are led to believe because they are not getting as much attention as they should. Either way, the issue is more to do with these gender roles than aesthetics. Speaking of sexual orientation, now that’s a whole other thing, isn’t it? Although I would be surprised if the LGBT community is treated any differently. We are so hard-coded to what we perceive as “normal” that we don’t even realise how irrational that can be. Now that is the second time I’m resorting to oversimplification; do I have any more lives left?

A.G: Are there any gender stereotypes in the music industry?

I.B: Sure, this kind of thing is unfortunately still present in our current, supposedly modern society. I don’t follow the tabloids, so I wouldn’t know the specifics, but I do know that female artists in general, particularly in the pop-music scene, are on the headlines not about their art but mostly about how they dress, their dates and enemies. We have all seen how the Depp-Heard trial unfolded. Translated to the music industry, a male artist writing lyrics about an ex-girlfriend beating him up would undoubtedly resonate differently than a female artist writing some such lyrics. As artists, we should be ahead of society, stereotypes and all the irrationality that plagues humanity.

Fengaros Reacts (2021) Studio eleven63, Nicosia

A.G: What can we expect from your performance at Fengaros?

I.B. We will perform music from my album Paradise Lost and unreleased tracks from Tales From The Future. Most of the setlist will be brand new live renditions of stuff we haven’t performed before, and we are very excited about this. Also, I am planning a surprise opener track, a piece from my earliest influences, a certain Vangelis… The idea occurred to me after his recent passing away, so it will be a homage while a unique opportunity as I don’t usually prefer to cover music. Although I’m still in the process of refining the setlist and ultimately, I might postpone the idea for a later time. We will have laid-back grooves, ambient interludes, and upbeat electronica. Fans will be right at home, while newcomers will hopefully find something new to discover. In any case, we are super excited to be performing at Fengaros this summer!


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