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Exploring the Disconnect with Jan Blomqvist

We caught up with the Berlin composer at Cova Santa.

Recalling it like it was yesterday, the date was Sunday 26 August 2018 - the WooMooN closing party at Cova Santa. Predictably, it was mobbed. We'd received a tip from an acquaintance. “You have to see this guy Jan Blomqvist - he's incredible.” That was enough of an endorsement for us. Off we went.

The party delivered, living up to its billing. But it was Jan Blomqvist who fulfilled his commendation.

Eyes closed and letting the ecstasy take hold, we swayed on the dance floor as Jan Blomqvist and his band took us from evening twilight through to nightfall. The group were just preparing to drop the third and final part of their Disconnected project. Recorded as a full-length album, it was released in a digestible three-pieces, a few months at a time.

Specifically, the track in question was Our Broken Mind Embassy. That moment of dance floor bliss would turn out to be one of the highlights of our entire summer.

Ten months later, we were back. Sat at the same venue next to Jan and his partner, Raffaela.

Unlike that frontman who exuded coolness and seduced us on the dance floor on the previous visit, Jan seemed a little disquieted - not so much flustered, but certainly a little agitated. Not that this should come as any surprise.

From Freddie Mercury to Fatboy Slim, Johnny "Rotten" Lydon to the late Keith Flint, the stage persona is often a vastly exaggerated version of self, far removed from the real person.

My laptop fucked up because of the heat.”

Suddenly, things became clear. In addition to technical difficulties, Jan is still finding his groove travelling as a solo act following a lengthy album tour with his band comrades. That, coupled with the chaotic energy, rush and logistical issues that come with the island had brought things to a head.

Raffaela, though, was a calming presence. There was no question, she had his back. With a comforting grab on his thigh and an awry smile of reassurance, Jan settled. No words were said, and none were needed. The gesture alone spoke volumes. Almost instantly, Jan's posture and demeanour eased. The change was noticeable.

Soundcheck went well, actually. The problem I have right now is that I'm now travelling solo, and I'm used to travelling with the band.”

On the day, it was time for The Storytellers presents Dancing Into Dreamland. It was the first of three confirmed appearances for Jan at Cova Santa this summer, all of them solo sets in a switch-up from last year's shows with the band.

We have two completely different set-ups, so it can be hard to get into the right rhythm. In total, I have seven synths with the band, but, alone, I only have two. So the configuration is always tricky to establish. But I made it!” he ends defiantly.

And his laptop?

I think it should be okay later in the shadow.” A glimmer of optimism, and the suggestion of a smile. There he was.

The solo frontman

Since that fateful night in late August last year, it's fair to say that Jan Blomqvist's back catalogue went straight to the top of our playlists. On repeat. In fact, this would not be the first time catching him play in 2019.

Earlier in the season, we had made the trip to HEART Ibiza to see him perform. On a night programmed by Jan himself, Disconnected - the name of the album - took over the Marina Botafoch venue. The night would showcase Jan Blomqvist and the band with further live performers from the electronic music universe invited as support.

The summer has scarcely begun, but we had already been treated to a specialist show of live musicians on an island known primarily for its DJ scene.

If you could cast your mind back to the Disconnected show at HEART on Thursday 30 May, how do you think it went?

Jan Blomqvist: “It was good. I was pretty nervous. A little bit stressed. Logistically, it was hard because there were all these Cirque de Soleil performers doing a show during dinner, immediately before ours started.

Unfortunately, I couldn't watch it, but it was difficult to dovetail two live shows in one room. It made the soundcheck pretty hard. Normally, we take six hours but on that occasion, we had to arrange in only three! In the end, everything worked out fine and it went great.”

Regarding the artists you invited to join you at Disconnected - Giorgia Angiuli and Ben Böhmer - what made you choose those artists?

JB: "Ben Böhmer became a friend of mine. When I met him for the first time, I was like this guy's 24-years or something? The very first time, he was only 22, and I was like, 'Wow, this guy sounds like he's 30!'

I mean, learning music is like a book, you know? If you read lots of books, you become a better author - and it's the same with music… if you do it right. It's one of those jobs where you can only get better. I don't want to offend the young artist, but for his age, he was sounding mature beyond his years - like an experienced pro."

Ben Böhmer performing during Disconnected at HEART on 30 May.

JB: "As for Giorgia Angiuli, for me, she's like one of the most exciting artists in the scene right now. Maybe she's not to everybody's taste because it's pretty hard techno. But she's so entertaining on stage and she's such a lovely person.

I really like her, and she's exactly the kind of artist we envisioned booking: lots of live acts, taking things back from this DJ scene a little bit.

It was also a conscious thing to make our line-up 50% female and 50% male, so it's a perfect split across the first and second show.”

Bathed in pink hue - Georgia Angiuli brings the drums to Disconnected.

The next Disconnected show at HEART is in the diary for Thursday 3 October. Are you able to tell us about any of the artists joining you then?

JB: "On 3 October we have Rodriquez Jr. and Liset Alea – who will actually be making her Ibiza debut. She showed me her stuff and I was totally sold. I was like, 'yeah, let's get her in!' Then we also have a really great surprise support DJ, whom I am a big fan of.

In the end, we got all the acts that we wanted, which is perfect. My partner Raffaela Travisano and I worked very hard putting the shows together. Fortunately, literally the first four acts we asked all said 'yes' (laughs). There was no plan B, actually! Two girls, two boys, fair-trade booking!”

We wanted to ask, much like the album itself was released in several parts, was it a deliberate strategy to have a big gap between the first show and the last show for Disconnected?

JB: "Yeah, it was part of the concept. Of course, Disconnected was a conceptual album, in the sense of how connected we are, yet how much it disconnects us personally. And, in reality, we are both totally connected and totally disconnected at the same time.

The whole album is about this contrast, so I thought this might be a nice idea to disconnect the album by splitting it into parts.

The concept fits pretty well in the times we are living in right now. While I can only speak for myself, nowadays I - and I think many other people, too - cannot even focus on an entire 12-track album. After a few tracks in, I'm done. So the project needed time. Time to listen to all of the material."

JB: "Modern life is so fast-paced and hectic, we don't have this time. So I thought if I can give the people three tracks and then another three and so on, then I can focus on promoting three tracks, for three months at a time.

That's a nice thing to do because what you often find with albums is that there are maybe three super amazing tracks and then the rest are like... I don't want to say bullshit, but they're filler.

I don't want to sound like I'm boasting, but the intention with Disconnected was that every track was equal. Plus, the tracks work well on stage.”

Today is a little different for you, as it's a solo set. Does the set list differ at all from when you perform with the band?

JB: “Normally it does, yes. However, this time I don't intend on making any surprises because the set time is not as long and I don't want to play any new tracks just yet.

This is my first live solo show here for this season and you cannot go to the store and buy everything new. If I write maybe five or six new tracks, I don't want to show my hand all at once. I want to leave some in the locker.

I think because it's the beginning of summer, it's okay to play a similar kind of set (to the one from 2018). It's not the same show, but it will be similar to the one with the band.

The whole season I'll be kind of testing the waters - trying out some new things. That's what I call a live music season.”

The observational introvert

Disconnected is a great body of work. Minimal beats and haunting, stripped-back vocals combined with the aesthetic of this porcelain-skinned frontman with fair Northern European features - it has created a genre entirely of its own.

Synth-laden electronic music with substance, borrowing the best elements of radio-friendly pop. Or, as the term that Jan has coined, concert techno.

We wanted to talk to you a little bit about your lyrics. To us, they seem quite observational. I like the way that they don't tell the whole story - they're open to interpretation. Even though it's quite obvious what they mean if you study them.

We especially like the line in Our Broken Mind Embassy:

Lost in between lines,
in incoherent sound
If we were all blind in mind,
we'd hear it so loud

How do you find inspiration for the lyrics?

Jan Blomqvist: "I love watching people. When I'm not on stage or in the clubs, I'm quite laid-back, quite introverted actually (laughs). I like sitting in the corner people watching. On stage or backstage, I seem to be totally opposite, but my real character is quite reserved. I'm a shy person, though nobody believes me.

But it's true, I love to people watch. I have this theory where I travel a lot - wherever I go - I feel like everybody is dealing with similar problems. Feeling lonely in a totally connected world and it sends people crazy. Nobody has an answer to this question."

JB: "How can we come back to a society with community values? How can we maintain friendships, when we don't make the time anymore? Because everybody is so busy with a demanding lifestyle. It's really difficult for me to meet my friends.

I've encountered so many people in the same situation, all over the world. These experiences inspire me.

At the moment, I'm working together with my best friend Ryan Mathiesen. He was one of the first guys to totally understood me - like a brother, you know? He studied Philosophy. It fits perfectly to work with him. He inspires me a lot.

He's always giving me a philosopher's perspective. I have lots of ideas and he complements them with his universal knowledge.”

Is that an artistic project for the public? Or is that a personal thing for you, to meditate and help keep yourself grounded?

JB: "It's both, actually. I mean, my ex-girlfriend dated him. I'm not a jealous person, so she was like 'I'm dating a new boy and he's pretty cool, you'd like his style' and after that, we became best friends.”

That's quite an unusual dynamic for a friendship.

JB: (Laughs) "No, because after she introduced us, she said he might be beneficial for me because I needed a native speaker. I think I can communicate in English pretty well, but I cannot write a book or something.

He's from Vancouver and I needed a native speaker for me who could really translate. The fact that he has Philosophy degree makes him a perfect match and that was the starting point of our friendship. From then on we became best friends.

If you start writing lyrics, it's a really intimate thing. You have to go really deep and it's not something you can do with just anybody. There has to be chemistry.”

Jan Blomqvist the Philosopher

Occasionally, Jan would exchange glances with his partner. These seeming requests for reassurance were dutifully fulfilled. But he needn't worry. As our conversation continued, Jan become increasingly relaxed and began to open up and articulate more. His hands and arms, previously held in a cross-body defensive pose, were now animated in expression.

What do you think is the solution for yourself and other artists who are bombarded with information on top of a rigorous touring schedule and all the distractions that come with the music business?

How do you unwind? How do you reconnect with reality?

Jan takes time to absorb the question posed. He looks wistfully past my shoulder, musing over his reply.

Jan Blomqvist: “I don't want to present a solution. I think that everybody has to start thinking. That's why I started writing my last album Remote Control. We are so manipulated by media and everything. I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I mean, I really don't, don't get me wrong.

But it's definitely true that everybody is controlled by the capitalist system we find ourselves in, in some way - some maybe more than others?"

JB: "Everybody should focus on themselves to find their inner balance again. And I think that has to come from within. You can only find it yourself. There's no general resolution that's going to work for everybody. I can only write lyrics that make people think.

Thinking is a good thing. For me, when people are thinking, communicating, talking, singing, dancing or making art, it's always the best thing that can happen to humans and especially to their intricate lives in a complex socio-political structure."

It's a form of therapy?

JB: "Absolutely."

When you visit the island, do you get much opportunity to have some downtime to appreciate its beauty? Maybe the beaches or visit some of the nice restaurants? Or are you literally flying in and back out again?

JB: "I'm not always in and out. A lot of the time, yes. But even if I stay for one week or ten days, I don't have any time, because there's always so much going on. In a way, there are too many options – it can be quite stressful!

To relax or disconnect, I prefer places where there are no parties and fewer people, so I go to the mountains. When I'm here, I cannot really close my mind. When I'm on a party island, I party! It's simple." (Laughs)

Ibiza connections

Where Ibiza is concerned, Cova Santa - and specifically the Storytellers and WooMooN collective - is the ideal fit for Jan. The setting, the spiritual come eco-conscious "woke" message and the crowd it attracts is perfect for live performers with a message in their music. A far cry from the relentless thud-thud of 128bpm dance floor focused music found elsewhere.

HEART, too - the home of the Disconnected events - has done much to elevate live electronic music acts to the same platform as DJs. Between either Disconnected show, the venue has filled Thursday nights with another live maverick in Satori. His Maktub residency exclusively showcases live acts.

Keen to know more, we quizzed Jan on how these connections were formed.

We wanted to talk a little bit about your relationship with Storytellers and WooMooN, who are of course produced by the same team. You played for them last season and the season before that as well.

You've got a few more dates at Cova Santa this summer, plus you're playing at their party during Off week in Barcelona. How did that relationship develop? What is it about their vision that resonates with you?

JB: "When I first came to Ibiza, I met so many people in a short space of time. Everybody was really friendly. But what happens if you meet 20 nice people all at the same time is you don't form any real connection.

It's normal because you have no idea who is the coolest monkey in town. It took me a while to feel at home here. But when I arrived today after one and a half years of playing for this party, it felt like I came home.

I really enjoy working with these guys. It's a nice feeling to stay in this family and I don't use that term loosely. It really does feel like family."

Moving our focus away from the promoters and thinking about the venues themselves instead, HEART and Cova Santa are two very different but unique venues. What does each one offer you as a performer?

JB: "HEART reminds me a bit of Berlin club, I think. It's pretty dark and it puts on a great light show. Plus, it's really professional. I mean, in Ibiza, everything is quite professional, much like Berlin. HEART is one of the best clubs for visuals.

Especially where the Disconnected shows were concerned, it was important for the live performance to be in a visual venue. For me, it was a natural choice. And Cova Santa, for me, it's outside and open-air so it feels totally Balearic.

Its vibe is pretty hippy and I really love that. That's exactly how I grew up. My parents brought me to the hippy markets in Germany all the time, so for me, I feel like I really fit in here. Especially on a day like today, with all the decor, this looks exactly like one of those childhood places where I played with my Mum.”

Jan's honesty about the hedonistic distractions presented on Ibiza and the regression into childlike wonder struck us as being all too ordinary, regardless of the fact he is an international recording artist. He's far from alone in that respect.

Leaving Ibiza to one side momentarily, what about further afield? Does Jan Blomqvist have aspirations of world domination?

JB: "I might do an album again next time because I'm going to turn my attention to the US market.

It's always a bit more back to basics where America is concerned, so it might be better to present the new music in an album format. You can't try to reinvent the wheel in the US market."

Is America ready for concert techno?

JB: "Yes. Definitely! (Laughs) It's taken a while, but finally, l feel as at home also there as I do here, at long last."

You mention new music. Is that confirmation that there's new material in the pipeline?

JB: "Well actually, whenever there's new music ready, it always takes four or five months to release it - especially if you do a 12-track album or something."

We take that as a resounding “yes” - and we can't wait to hear the finished product.

Later that evening - and riding magnanimously solo - Jan Blomqvist would deliver a live performance dripping in emotion to a packed-out Cova Santa. Resuming his uber-cool, confident frontman persona, if he still had any lingering nerves about being onstage by himself, he didn't let it show. He aced it.

Although initially it was a surprise to see him present a genuine, more vulnerable side of his personality to us, it only served to enforce our growing admiration of this artist. We felt a connection - a human one, instead of a moulded product fresh off the production line at the label, full of PR spin and media training.

It was raw. It was real. It was in those moments of uncertainty that Jan bore his soul and gave an inner glimpse into a complex and multi-faceted artist. And we won't begrudge him playing the part on the stage. He wouldn't be the first, nor the last.

Maybe it's a shield of armour? Or maybe it's possible for artists to be both full of doubt, yet bursting with charisma and stage presence at the same time?

In much the same way that we can be totally connected, yet conversely completely disconnected at the same time. These things may appear paradoxical, but the evidence shows that these contrasts co-exist in poetic symbolism.

The other thing we took away from our encounter was the touching relationship between Jan and his partner. Their bond had a real collaborative dynamic, as well as one of a nurturing nature. When the rigmaroles of back-to-back touring and partying are all too prevalent in our industry, it was warming to see somebody in a palliative role as well as a career-focused one.

We would treat ourselves to another Jan Blomqvist solo set less than a fortnight later, again at Cova Santa - this time for WooMooN. Despite the repeat play, the sense of anticipation was not lost.

Jan has another Cova Santa date left in 2019, this coming Sunday 4 August for WooMooN. We wouldn't miss it for the world.

Later still we have the second Disconnected show at the start of October to look forward to, where Jan will be reunited with his bandmates. We're unsure whether he still hankers for those moments of camaraderie on the road, but we're certainly looking forward to both performances with matched eagerness.

Plus we have a sneaky suspicion that Jan and Raffaela might have a few more surprise shows up their sleeve. The first of which is his guest slot at Satori presents Maktub on Thursday 15 August at HEART, where he'll be closing the show.

Jan Blomqvist will perform alongside Stimming, SEGG, Maga, Nu Form, Parallels and Valentin Huedo b2b Francundo Mohrr for WooMooN at Cova Santa on Sunday 4 August.

The second Disconnected show takes place at HEART Ibiza on Thursday 3 October.

Tickets for both events are on sale now. Stayed tuned for further show announcements.

PHOTOGRAPHY | Michael Tomlinson

WORDS | Stephen Hunt

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