The Irish electronic music producer Ian McDonnell a.k.a Eomac (and one half of duo Lakker) has rightfully conquered a global audience with his athletic ability to merge digital beats and sensitivity. Following his spectacular Middle Eastern inspired album Bedouin Trax, Eomac has bestowed upon us a sonic delirium ‘The Temple of Jaguar’, the first release on Ian’s own label Eotrax. I met with Ian during Berlin Atonal festival to question him about the production of 'The Temple of Jaguar', the meaning behind the Eotrax label and the new conceptual EP by Lakker ‘Eris Harmonia'. We went to a park and sat down under the tree, his beloved spot to read a book. So immediately attractive was Ian’s genuineness and awareness of his surroundings and himself. Eomac gave carefully thought-out, yet overwhelmingly sincere answers to my rather eclectic set of questions, ultimately ranging from politics, humanity and spirituality to metal, noise and techno scenes.
‘The Temple Of Jaguar’ is quite an obscure, ominous track. Yet in the video you are dancing ecstatically. How did the idea for the video originate?
I don’t normally see things when I make music. I don’t have synaesthesia nor see images but with this track the idea for the video came to me straight away. I took the track for a walk on my headphones and while I was walking I saw the images of this dance. I just knew I had to do this. I developed the concept and had a film-maker / visual artist, Sal Stapleton, and choreographer, Emma-Cecilia Ajanki, help me to put this together. For years music has been my only form of artistic expression, so it felt great to express myself in other ways – through film and dance. This video made me thirsty for more. It felt like a new doorway opening for me. The visual representation of my music that came from me and the dance element… Using my body felt amazing. Since then I have more and more ideas for videos. Particularly because music is physical... I approach my music from loads of different levels but one of the levels is to move people. The actual act of dancing felt so good. I was on a high the day we shot it.
The dance suits the track perfectly! ‘The Temple Of Jaguar’ is not functional but highly danceable.
Functionality was never my main intention in making music. I like dysfunctional dance music. It appeals to me to make music that can be awkward, or shifts and changes in unexpected ways. I was always attracted to this rather than a continual thing of techno or house music. It gets really boring and is too safe.
‘Getting naked was a rather simple representation of my intention to fully be myself, as a person and artist, to let go of any masks and facades and to be fully me, without shame.’
The track and the video for 'The Temple of Jaguar' are brave. Also because you are getting naked in the end of it…
It was a way to connect with myself physically. A lot of us in the Western society are quite disconnected from our bodies and physicality. Being naked was a part of reconnecting. I want to be naked. I want to be vulnerable. I want to be completely open about who I am. Getting naked was a rather simple representation of my intention to fully be myself, as a person and artist, to let go of any masks and facades and to be fully me, without shame.
Your podcast for Radar Radio includes Pharmakon, Arca, Lightning Bolt and Impetuous Ritual. That’s totally my kind of music! Are you leaning towards darker non-functional music yourself?
That is music that inspires me, speaks to me... I was never into one type of music. Heavy and soft stuff, light and dark… I listen to it all, and try to express that in my music also.
‘With music like Aja and Pharmakon, it seems that they are really putting themselves out there. They are being very brave and vulnerable and that is where exciting things happen. Which is where I am trying to go as well, - to be honest and truthful and not be afraid of expressing myself.’
You included a track of Aja Ireland in one of your podcasts. What about you doing a track with Pharmakon?
I tried to get Pharmakon to do a remix for my label. But she was too busy as she was on tour. I feel a lot of that kind of music is more engaging and that the artists behind it mean it more. While a lot of dance music feels a bit empty at the moment. Perhaps it is too functional or maybe people are too afraid to honestly express themselves. With music like Aja and Pharmakon, it seems that they are really putting themselves out there. They are being very brave and vulnerable and that is where exciting things happen. Which is where I am trying to go as well, - to be honest and truthful and not be afraid of expressing myself.
‘For some people music is about an escape. But for me music was never about that. It’s about connecting and going deeper, not to escape, but to engage more.’
I have the same feeling about the techno scene, especially in London. There is some kind of emptiness…
A lot of it became a soundtrack for hedonism, which is fine. But it quickly gets pretty empty for me. For some people music is about an escape. But for me music was never about that. It’s about connecting and going deeper, not to escape, but to engage more. Techno as it is has gotten stale for a lot of people. There are still loads of amazing musicians within that, of course, but the general vibe right now is a bit empty for me.
Returning to the previous question, any plans for collaborations, perhaps on Eotrax label?
The label is a personal thing that I always wanted to do. I love sharing music and running a label is a way to do it on a bigger scale. It’s a platform to put out my own music and take things in my own hands. I still want to work with other labels, but I love having a chance to do it myself and release music I find inspiring. Recently, I have done four collaborations with different producers. I want to make it an ongoing thing, - invite artists, curate collaborations and release them on Eotrax. Collaborations are a beautiful thing, bringing minds together and being able to do things you would never be able to do yourself.
‘Music has the power to bring people together. We become more of who we really are in those moments… breaking the social constructs and barriers we create for ourselves... All the shit goes away. Everything and everyone makes sense.’
The next release coming out on September 29 on Eotrax is Lakker ‘Eris Harmonia’. One track is called ‘Song For Rathlin’. Is it a reference to an island in Northern Ireland? What’s the story behind?
Yes, it’s the northernmost point of Northern Ireland. In 2010 we played in a festival in Rathlin as Lakker, at a stage that was run by friends of ours for many years. The festival had a special vibe, maybe because it’s an island and once you got there, you could not get off. Just the ravers and the puffins. The atmosphere was amazing. It was a special thing for us. Through the title we wanted to express the idea of togetherness and unity that music, and particularly the rave culture, can have, the idea of people coming together in nature. Rathlin was our personal connection to that idea. The EP is about our reactions to all of the crazy shit that is happening in the world at the moment. Music has the power to bring people together. We become more of who we really are in those moments, listening to music and dancing… breaking the social constructs and barriers we create for ourselves. That moment is real, that’s people actually living… I see it in myself too. You switch off and completely forget about yourself, stop being self-conscious… All the shit goes away. Everything and everyone makes sense.
The promo for ‘Eris Harmonia’ says “What's next Regression? Destruction? Darkness? Light? Community? Harmony? How do we get to a point of harmony when there's so much fear and hatred in the world, so many fearful people opposed to community and togetherness? Eris Harmonia asks these questions and attempts to find answers.” I get what you mean and it’s a beautiful description indeed, but I must ask how we are going to find the answers in 5 tracks…
It’s so difficult to ask questions and find answers through language because it is so loaded and limiting. You can’t say anything without it meaning multiple things. We are trying to find answers through the music, which is a pure form of communication. It is abstract. Sometimes the only way to try to make sense of all the shit that is going on is to make sound. Shout, scream, make music. There are so many questions at the moment and so few answers are being given. I feel that all the answers are actually super simple because all the problems are super simple but we complefixy them. Problems are not going to be solved through music or this EP but it is a way to find a connection, and balance.
‘I don’t want to keep music and politics separate any more. Because they cannot be separate. Life is not separate. I don’t see a distinction between my art, my life and what is happening around me. I feel things need to change.’
You are quite outspoken about feminism, LGBT and politics on social media, which is great, since not many white male electronic music producers are like yourself…
I don’t want to keep music and politics separate any more. Because they cannot be separate. Life is not separate. I don’t see a distinction between my art, my life and what is happening around me. I feel things need to change. People don’t realise that a more equal society will benefit everyone… Social media is a platform for speaking up but there is so much noise. Am I just adding to the noise? Is what I am saying beneficial in any way? It’s difficult to know. You see all the anger, hatred and fear online, how do you navigate that? How do you make something positive? I watched a Vice documentary on white supremacists in America. It was pretty grim but interesting to see what these people actually believe in. As a person watching, you start wondering what to do? How do we change this? Social media gives that quick outlet, - people get really angry and then post about it. But will that solve the problem?
photo: Alfonso Chavez-Lujan
How does politics translate in your personal life?
Maybe it’s not politics, but I believe in humanity. I believe we are beautiful loving beings but there are loads of problems as well. On a daily basis I am actively trying to be more conscious, compassionate, loving towards myself and other people. My own view is that problems of the world ultimately are going to be solved when people start looking more inwards than outwards, when they start dealing with their own shit. I want to look at those things myself. I don’t want to ignore the negative things in me, my conditioning and my own internal biases. I want to address them and get rid of them. That is my personal activism [laughing]. We have to address our own shit and to take responsibility for our own actions.
‘I believe in taking the time to still your mind, to disengage from your thoughts. It gives you space.’
Do you meditate?
I used to do it more. I got lazy with it recently [laughing]. But I definitely believe in taking the time to still your mind, to disengage from your thoughts. It gives you space. Not only in sitting and breathing, but also as a way of being, as a state of mind… being conscious of your surroundings and yourself, your feelings and your reactions. I try to live that.
'I’ve read a quote from an English stand-up comedian Simon Amstell. He said he used to go on stage and try to get the audience to love him. It wasn’t working for him. Now he goes on stage and tries to find a way so that he can love his audience... I always have that in mind. I want people to get involved and enjoy what I am doing... my intention is to connect.'
I read a review on Resident Advisor about you presenting a hybrid DJ set as Bedouin Trax. The review said that people struggled with your set. Was it too experimental for some people, perhaps?
To me it wasn’t experimental. For some people perhaps it just wasn’t what they expected. It was in a techno focused event called Katharsis in Amsterdam. I was playing in a second room which was more diverse in its line-up. I was mixing a lot of spiritual and folk music from different cultures and loads of different beats, not only techno. It was pretty noisy as well. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work. I guess people struggled in the beginning. I cleared the room a bit at first [laughing]. The opening was slow. I opened with a piece of classical music and mixed it with really slow rhythms. I always try to build my sets. I don’t care what the DJ before me does and don’t try to continue that... As the set built up people got what I was trying to do and filled the room again. The set had a lot of folk music, earthy and natural, and spiritual music bringing a divine aspect to it. Both those things I often find missing in electronic music. My intention was to build an intense set that engages people and brings those elements in, directly, - by mixing them with beats. In the end, I got a positive response. I was super happy. I want to do it again… For a long time I’ve been playing in clubs. And I am gradually moving away from that. I’d like to play more gigs than clubs, do something different. But I don’t want to dictate my audience. Recently I’ve read a quote from an English stand-up comedian Simon Amstell. He said he used to go on stage and try to get the audience to love him. It wasn’t working for him. Now he goes on stage and tries to find a way so that he can love his audience, which I thought is a cool distinction for any performance. How can I give these people something? How can I connect? I always have that in mind. I want people to get involved and enjoy what I am doing. If they don’t, that’s cool. But my intention is to connect.
What is your process of writing music? Do you have a certain routine?
I don’t really have a routine. These days I write when I feel inspired. I use the same tools, Ableton and plugins, I don’t use any hardware. I do a lot of sampling as well. I love recording sounds. If I don’t have a recorder on me, I use my phone. Last year I recorded an amazing bridge in Lisbon. It had the most amazing drone, constantly changing with traffic and wind. I am yet to use it in a track.
What are you working on at the moment? And what’s next?
I am working on AV show for new Eomac stuff. I’ll go back to Dublin in September to shoot the material. I will be working with the same artist that did ‘The Temple Of Jaguar’ video - Sal Stapleton who runs Goldmoth Media. She's awesome. It is going to be an extension of the Jaguar video, except that in a live show set up. More movement and using my body… The next thing is Ruhrtriennale festival in Essen in September. I am doing a Bedouin Trax live AV show with a dancer and a visual artist. I also want to do more of what I did in Katharsis and less of traditional club sets.