Photo by Cristian Davila Hernandez (Self portrait exploration with Amanda Elise Kuipers)
Up until two years ago, Amsterdam based Colombian DJ and producer IGNOTA (Cristian Davila Hernandez) never listened to techno. Today he’s playing in Russia’s most underground clubs, performing in Berlin and Eastern Europe for the first time and taking people on a ritualistic adventure with his dark ambient music at Club Basis, Intercell and illegal raves in Amsterdam. We meet up to talk about darkness, his music and its relation to psychology, emotion and social welfare.
I have seen you grow in a very short time. When did you first start out with music and taking the first steps in becoming a DJ?
Up until two years ago, I didn’t even listen to techno. At that time, I was a fashion photographer and went out to RnB clubs. One day, I attended Amsterdam Open Air festival and we passed the format stage where Juan Sanchez was closing the stage. The music intrigued me, so we walked up to the stage. This was a very special moment. Never, had I really felt music, nor would I dance to it. But when I heard this style that was completely new to me, I immediately understood it. I felt the rhythm, I even danced, but it also became very visual for me in my mind. It was easy for me to distinguish all the different layers of this music. That’s when I thought: this is what I’ve been missing my whole life.
I quit fashion photography and put all my money, time and energy in DJing. That’s when the experimenting began. I recorded my own sets and quickly noticed that I didn’t just want to play music and mix. With my understanding and feeling for layering in techno music, I wanted to bring across stories.
What genre of techno did you start experimenting with?
My music belongs to the niche of dark ambient techno, which is what I’m currently still playing. I would describe my music as abstract, atmospheric, shamanic. But it also contains sinister sounds with industrial, uncompromising to hard and intense underground techno.
Your music belongs to a very specific yet broad spectrum of sounds. What inspired you to start experimenting within this genre?
It all started with a producer called Haxan Cloak, who’s also into dark ambient. Throughout my time as a fashion photographer, I used his music for an assignment. Then when I got into techno, I started listening to Haxan Cloak again. He produced scoring music for several movies but also series and this dark ambient horror really triggered me. This also made me realize I’m not into up-vibe music.
It quickly became clear to me that what was going to inspire my music was sound design, the music they play in movies, music by for example Hans Zimmer. He’s very well able to elicit all kinds of emotions within you. That has really inspired my music and me.
I assume touching people with your music is important to you?
It’s the most important thing. Music has affected me in many ways; I want my music to do the same to others.
Looking back at who I was before I discovered techno, I was someone who was very closed and difficult in communication. Visiting De School for the first time I really had to adjust, it was a new form of going out for me but also a new form of listening to music. After two or three times, it became clear to me that this type of music can act as a form of meditation, it allows people to step outside of themselves and experience all kinds of emotions that can bring you in a serene state of mind.
It made me crawl out of my comfort zone and made me realize that I don’t have to be so closed off. It made me explore and push my own limits. I pushed myself to be more open and open-minded. In return, this affected the development of my sound. When I became more open-minded, I also trained myself to listen to music in an objective way which made me open up to new things. This made me explore all kinds of dimensions in the music spectrum. From classical music to noise rhythm to hard noise.
But also looking at clubs like Berghain. The first time I went during Ostgut Ton label weekender, it showed me how much impact techno can have. The building itself, the sound, the people, the atmosphere and the freedom. The club kept me there for a whole day. It’s mesmerizing to see how they play the same style for twenty-four hours, but it doesn’t feel like that. That impacted me in a way that I thought, they are able to dive deeper into music and deliver stories.
You explained to me how music has affected you and changed you, now what would you want to achieve with your own music? What do you want to bring across or make people feel?
I want people to be touched by my music. May it be in whatever kind of way. Whether it triggers euphoric feelings or distressed ones. I’m there to provoke or elicit these feelings. Whether these are nice ones or not, I do it on purpose. If people never get in touch with things that make them feel strange, uncomfortable or that make them have no idea how to feel, they will never grow. I’ve been exposing myself to that kind of music in a broad spectrum and as I mentioned before, it has done a lot to me and I want to share that with others.
How do you approach your sets in wanting to elicit these feelings?
I call myself an architect in provoking emotions as I approach my sets and productions with my purest emotions. This is what relates back to my name. IGNOTA is Latin and stands for ‘the unknown’. I profile myself as TERRITORIA IGNOTA, which stands for the unknown territory. That’s why each set is unknown territory for me; there are emotions or feelings that I haven’t experienced before. Emotions are short-term, if you don’t react to them, valuable opportunities slip, which would have otherwise allowed you to create a surprise effect.
Photo: Amanda Elise Kuipers
My sets are affected by my state of mind or the mood I am feeling at that moment. It’s an outlet, but I also look at how I can bring across a story. Psychology and the social aspect of people are a large part of my music. I very much think about what my music could evoke, what it could mean to people and I look at how people react to it. That is why I’m studying and reading a lot about psychology, frequencies and emotions.
IGNOTA is something that comes back in every part of you as an artist. There’s an exchange. You step into an unknown territory, where you react on your emotions and this is reflected back into your music, which allows other people to step into an unknown territory themselves. That’s beautiful. I remember when we were standing in the garden of De School a year ago and I told you how your music made me feel like I was in a lift that slowly descended in dark and red cave. Like I was going straight to hell. But I absolutely loved it, it brought up so much feelings inside of me.
That’s really nice to hear, these are exactly the kind of unknown feelings that I want to elicit within people. Talking about red, this colour means everything to me. I use the colour red a lot in profiling myself, sounds and emotions. It’s my favourite colour because red is the colour of life. It’s blood, passion and rage. It’s menstrual flow and after birth. The beginning and ending of life. Red is the colour of love and hate. Beating hearts and hungry lips. Broken hearts, opened veins. A burning desire to return to white.
Photo: Club Pluton, Moscow, by Cristian Davila Hernandez
Reflecting back on what you said earlier about wanting to elicit certain types of feelings within people. I can also imagine that there are people who don’t want this. How do people react to your music?
For many people I am literally unknown territory. My music belongs to a niche, and niches are always something you either like or you don’t. After a year of playing I found out my music isn’t for everyone. In spite of people liking hard techno, I play hard techno in a very different way, it’s darker.
I accepted that not everyone could like my music. The most important thing is that I’m satisfied with it. Right now, this type of music is what I breathe. I sleep with it, I wake up with it. And of course, you’re looking for some type of confirmation for what you’re producing. Surprisingly, it were the Russians who saw my music for what it was first and who opened up their gates to me for the first time.
Photo: The Church of Saviour and Blood, Cristian Davila Hernandez.
How did the people in Russia find your music?
Everything basically happened through Soundcloud. A guy named Sasha, found my music online. He went crazy about my music and we started messaging each other. Sasha had another friend Оля, Margo, a VJ who had connections with Russian promotors. They promoted my music to other people and my listens quickly went up. Eventually Vlad, a Russian DJ called Katsura, approached me. He asked me to come and play in Saint Petersburg for their 4 your anniversary of their organisation called Påraleł, an event he owns with two other friends which was to take place in club Mosaique. I was super excited but also very nervous as I had never played in front of a crowd that big.
I arrived at the club, which is next to the famous church of the saviour on blood, which is entirely made out of Mosaique, hence the name of the club. I played for three hours, at that time I had never played that long. I underestimated the intensity that comes with it. I don’t know how it is for other DJ’s, but I’m constantly thinking about the form of energy I’m going to bring across and doing so in the right way. I’m thinking five tracks ahead, creating stories in my head. For the first time this was quite intense, but it worked out perfectly.
How did the people react to your music? You knew on forehand that they liked your music in Russia. So how was it on the dancefloor?
For most of the people, my music genre was new to them. People came to me afterwards and told me that they had never experienced this before. Just like it was unknown territory for me, it was also TERRITORIA IGNOTA for them. It came to this point where I thought: can I even do this, can I play that heavy and hard? But they all danced and I was able to deliver all kinds of elements and own productions during my set and bring across the story I wanted.
Photo: Kisloty (Клуб) by Cristian Davila Hernandez
You told me a while ago that you played in Kisloty (Клуб) in the same weekend. How did that happen?
After Påraleł, Vlad told me they were going to throw an unofficial afterparty in Kisloty which is located in a former railway factory. They were so happy with my performance of the night that they asked me right after my set if I wanted to play a set there. My friend Laura and I couldn’t believe it. We arrived and thought, that something like this exists over here. It was a very special place.
Online platform Dazed called it the wildest club in Russia. How did you experience that?
Well people are allowed to call it wild. Everyone has their own opinion. But what I liked about the place is that there were a lot of individuals, interesting people with their own style. In terms of how it looked it was in a way comparable to De School. They both create very interesting spaces with little attributes needed. However, I would say Kisloty is more raw.
I really liked playing there, we did back to back to back to back sets the whole night till the morning with the whole crew. Katsura was there, Serotonin, Crisis, Draag and Kyk. One thing is for certain, those Russians can play really hard and in a good way.
Photo: Kisloty (Клуб) by Cristian Davila Hernandez
You played there in November 2018. The club closed in May 2019, how does it feel to have been able to play in such a club?
I think I’m the only Dutch person who has played in both Kisloty and Mosaique. It was overwhelming. From what I understood, Kisloty only existed for two years. They wanted to stop at a high. However, I do think something new is going to come. After that, I went back to Russia again in March to play in Club Pluton in Moscow. That was very impressing as well.
Photo: IGNOTA playing at Pluton, Moscow by Dmitry Bolshakov
What would you say is the reason your music is so appealing to the Russians?
I think it all has to do with Russia’s history, but also the mark it left behind on the country in present day. It links back to the communist and oppressed past they still share. And still, there is no freedom like we know in Europe. There’s this piece of freedom that has been taken away from the people. There’s a certain melancholy. It’s a cold country, there’s a lot of melancholy in their buildings, the history they share, the temperament the people share, its religion.
They don’t show their emotion that fast, while I found out Russians have a lot of emotion, but they have always been oppressed. That’s why I always make the comparison between Russians and Colombians. They are similar in many ways as they have also been oppressed, in a different context, but they both have a lot of temperament and are also fighting for their identity. This is something the Russians are still experiencing and are still fighting for. That’s why I think my music style appeals to them. It contains this melancholy they are maybe sometimes unable to express themselves. It’s dark, raw and full of emotion.
Photo: Club Pluton, Moscow by Cristian Davila Hernandez
Just like you, I’m very much into this dark and melancholic techno. I was wondering during our talk, where does our preference for this darkness come from? I mean, I’m a very happy person, but I can really find beauty in darkness in all kinds of aspects of life. Just like you don’t like happy up-vibe music, and your feeling and emotions generate this dark music. Where does that darkness come from?
I believe it’s all about energy in whatever kind of form. Life is both plus and minus, it’s light and shadow, zero and one, life and death. Us humans have created an abstract form of things that aren’t normal, or we can’t grasp or we don’t like, and we call that dark. I believe that everyone has a certain darkness in them. This isn’t negative. Light and darkness live together and they balance you out as a person.
It’s about embracing a part of yourself that is dark, a certain emotion. And it doesn’t need to be negative, it can be something beautiful. But darkness is often portrayed as something that is scary or something that is not okay.
Exactly, and for me it is melancholic. This dark music for example is a form of meditation for me. It makes me calm and it makes me feel a lot of emotions.
Photo: Amanda Elise Kuipers
Most people want to push away darkness because they can’t deal with it or don’t know how to. This means they are also not able to use it in the meditation form. This is something I want to bring across in other people. To make them feel like they access a part of themselves they would otherwise not – and feel melancholic emotions in form of meditation. To make them embrace a part of themselves.
This leads us to Russia again and why your music appeals to them. Because many of them had or still have to oppress their emotions and this dark music allows them to feel it, to embody them and express them while dancing.
It’s oppression in a way, but also having felt these emotions at the same time. Music and how it manifests itself often has to do with socio-political aspects in cultures and their social welfare. When you look at the Netherlands, there’s hard and dark music but in a lesser intensity and less offer than in other countries like in Eastern Europe. There’s a lot of up-vibe music over here.
When we talk about social welfare, it’s interesting to look at Eastern Europe right now. Take for example Poland and Ukraine. The underground scene is booming. There’s a lot of dark and hard techno. The newer generation is fighting against its communist past and there’s a lot of oppressed emotion. Their music and dancing is charged with emotion and dance becomes political. Just like what happened when the wall fell in Berlin, or the rave-olution at Bassiani in Georgia.
What’s next in store for IGNOTA?
I’m going to make my debut in Berlin in ://about blank in September for Upperberry Gone Wild. I’m really excited about this as I will play an extended set of four hours alongside other very skilled artists. Furthermore I’ve recently been asked to play in Vilnius, Lithuania at Kablys. I’m also planning on releasing my first album that I’ve been working on for the past one and a half year.
Upperberry Gone Wild party at ://about blank
When will it be released?
Late 2019 or early 2020 if everything works out like planned. It’s almost finished because I am working on the last track of the in total 15 tracks. The name of the album will be Infernum, which is also Latin, meaning “The underworld”.
For an artist who just started, you created an album really fast.
Exactly. Some people asked me why. But I really enjoy producing and I want to show my broad spectrum I play in within dark ambient. Also showing my sound design ideas for my future plans making music for movies/series or games. I’m also going to set up my own record label called Cinnabar Records.
That’s really exciting! I can’t wait to hear more about it. I was really excited about some of the tracks I’ve heard on your album and I can’t wait until it will be released.
You can find IGNOTA on Soundcloud for more of his music. To stay up to date about upcoming events and the release of his new album/label you can follow his artist page on Instagram and Facebook.