Sofa Surfers
By Justin Hardison

The Sofa Surfers first hooked up in 1996 in their native Austria and brought together live instrumentation with studio technology for their own heavy brand of downtempo, dub and breaks held together by an underlining tension. Attention was first brought to the group from their debut “Sofa Rockers” and then following albums such as “Transit” and “Cargo” which both received excellent attention from around the globe or their unique writing and production skills. “Cargo” seemed to throw everyone off because the Sofa Surfers introduced a more avant-garde and gritty sound that made was a departure from the downtempo sound of their first album. Their latest full-length, “Encounters”, features with a varied array of vocalists, MC’s and musicians such as Junior Delgado, Dalek, Sensational, Mark Stewart and LiL Desmond Levy for a inspiring and intense set downtempo, hip-hop, rock and experimental tracks that truly represent what the group is capable of. They push it one step further with collaborations with visual artists during their live performances. I had the pleasure of interviewing surfer member, Wolfgang Schloegl about the new album and state of music and politics in Vienna.

What did you aim to achieve with Encounters? Why did you decide to create an album of collaborations?

On our second album “Cargo” we developed our sound vocabulary, but it was a pretty hermetic affair, which was good at that time. On “Encounters” we take this sound and explore certain styles. The vocals are a very important part to do that on. One other issue was to make contact with other like minded people. We had to open up. That was a risk, but also a chance for us.

Are you happy with the results?

Yes. There are always details which you would change in your current state of mind, but a record is always a snapshot of a limited time of your life...even if this snapshot covered two years of our lives.

I am interested in the technical side of the album. Did you meet with the vocalists you worked with or do more of a tape exchange?

Part part. Some got just a tape and sent the vocal track back. Sometimes their interpretation was different than what we assumed, so we sometimes made our playbacks to fit the vocals in and make it a real 100% Sofa Surfers track. Others (DJ Collage, MC Santana, Mark Stewart) worked with us in the studio.

Do you prefer to record live material and then edit it because Sofa Surfers really seem to enjoy using more acoustic elements.

Yeah, but there are many things just sampled without us recording it before. After a while we simply forget the origin of the sounds in our libraries. We don´t make a difference.

How did you go about selecting vocalists for the album?

Except Junior Delgado every other vocalist we met or got in contact though friends. I hope that makes the album not rounder but more lifelike. DJ Collage we met in Dubmission in San Francisco, because he had a Viennese girlfriend at that time. I heard him on stage and I played a DJ set that night, so we stayed in contact and work together since then. He will go on tour with us through Europe. Mark Stewart read an article about us and when Jeb told him he´s working with us we got in contact with him. He came to Vienna and we had a very intense week in the studio. MC Santana is a young Jungle MC from Berlin whom I´ve heard on the radio one night I called the station, he was still in Vienna and the next day we had a session.

Could you give me a run down of which members handle what?

Wolfgang Frisch- programming
Markus Kienzl - programming
Michael Holzgruber - drums
Wolfgang Schlögl - programming

We play different instruments, that doesn´t mean that we can handle them.

Could you explain a little about the neo-conservative backlash in Vienna and how it effected the outcome of the new album?

The whole backlash made many us far more politically aware. The question rose, if you can produce music just based on aesthetics rather than content? In the light of those thoughts we decided to incorporate vocals more in the sense to represent a network throughout political, cultural and geographical borders that creates a group also defined through certain similarities. You can always build a group based on one common factor. So in the most cases it makes little sense to define yourself through a group. Encounters is not our protest album. it just reflects our state of mind during that period of time. The press really seems to be hyping the Vienna scene as a neo-lounge type movement but your work and some of the artists on Klein seem to really be pushing the music further. What is your take on the way Vienna is being portrayed? From an outside sight it´s always difficult to see all the nuances of a scene. This neo-lounge or downtempo music is no doubt one part in the Viennese scene, but there are many other producers around that are working on different concepts for a long time already. And like after every hype, those who have worked before will work after. The music may differ in style, but I can see an emotional pattern throughout nearly all music from Vienna, which grounds in the city and their people.

Any plans on touring the U.S.?

No. It´s too difficult right now. We´d like to play there though. I play smaller dj sets in L.A. and San Francisco from time to time.

Tell me a little more about your live show. Visual work seems to be an important element in the performance.

We change our setup for nearly every tour we do to keep it fresh and interesting. We like also to improvise, so it´s good to be confronted with different gear and instruments from time to time. (this also immanent for our recording work.) For this tour we use a full drum kit, a bass and possibly a guitar (We don´t know, we haven’t rehearsed yet.) 2 laptops: one with Cubase5 controlling a Yamaha A3000 Sampler, the other with Logic Audio and Reaktor with a midi controller, 2 16 channel mixing desks,(Mackie, Studiomaster)2 Pioneer EFX-500, several bass guitar effects. 1 Guest MC (Collage, a ragga MC from San Francisco) in addition I do a little mcing, and we use stuff like steeldrums, harmonica and several percussion instruments from time to time. Our visual work is an integral part of our work. We collaborate with a visual arts collective called Vidok. This collective is divided in many little fractions, which many of them contribute to our work in one or the other way (live show, video, cd, poster, t-shirt design, etc...) The live visual work are partly synced via midi(if for example there are vocal tracks with lipsync), partly live mixed the same way our music is. (Our mixing desks on stage and mixing and dubbing nearly all resources) Also Vidok tries to incorporate more narrative elements.

Do you or any of the other members have any side projects in the works?

Markus Kienzl has already released 1 EP and 1 12" on our home label, Klein records. Wolfgang Frisch is working under the alias Humbucker on tracks between noise and movie scores. He contributed two tracks for the Sincerely Yours score 12" I, Wolfgang Schloegl have one solo track on the Sincerely Yours CD Compilation and work on my solo CD (probably out in October) as I-wolf. That project focuses on my personal interpretation of Soul with a slight flavour of Dub. Michael Holzgruber, our drummer, is working on web design.



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