Interview: 5 minutes with Dervisis

Utilizing an array of techniques and values, Athens-based electronic producer Dervisis has been dubbed a “musical chameleon”, introducing the use of darbuka pattern inspired beats amidst lush electronics and soulful vocals. He has remixed for producers such as Tendts and Liphemra (aka Phem), released two homemade LPs released by Greek label Inner Ear Records as well as a third and final self-titled album on Klik Records in 2016 respectively.

Born in Athens, Greece, Nikolaos Dervisis grew up on punk influences, playing his first gig at an anti-war anarchist festival before diving into the experimental musical realm. After performing together with a few bands in his early years, Dervisis soon realized where his true calling was. After receiving a BA in Graphic Design, he then started to experiment during back and forth travels between his hometown of Athens and London by building up an archive of unheard material, and soon after, earned himself a Master of Music degree at Goldsmith, University of London.

We caught up with Dervisis on studio-progression and life of a musical nomad:
(Be sure to stream Dervisis’ latest single ‘Missing’ below!)

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

I have no idea, it just clicked naturally. Sometimes I wish I didn’t care that much so I could focus on a more stable field, career-wise, but I do care. Besides I enjoy it too much, even the hardships and setbacks.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

I “sketch” a lot. I’m making beats, loops and I design sounds on a daily basis. I also observe and try to copy techniques from musicians I like. I have literally hundreds of unfinished stuff, some portion of which is coming to place. Whenever an idea, a melody or something strikes the first thing I do is go through my unfinished stuff and check if anything fits my current concept to get to its realisation faster.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Not on these particular tracks, but I’d love to do it in the future. Generally I prefer to collaborate with people I’m close with. A great example is the drummer I perform with at gigs, Danae Palaka. She is my bestest friend and has been performing with me for quite some time. She may also be featured on some future track of mine or I may be featured on tracks of hers.

What’s on your current playlist?

Call Super – Arpo
Mısırlı Ahmet – Akdenizli Büyük Üstatlar
James Blake – If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead
Charlie XCX – Boys (is STILL on my playlist)
Lee Gamble – Mnestic Pressure
Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
The Glass World of Annea Lockwood
Crass – Yes Sir I will

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

Lately I’ve spent some time studying rhythms of darbuka (also known as dumbek or τουμπερλέκι among other names), a hand drum of Arabic origin which is super common in the Balkans and Middle East. My idea was to include the actual theoretical knowledge of the instrument and the unique characteristics of eastern-mediterranean rhythms, which are common in a very large geographical area and combine it with my pop music making. I’ve used patterns and phrasings everywhere in my music. That’s the most precise constraint I set to my music lately. Other than that I try to squeeze in elements from all my influences and then clean the mess I’ve made.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

It’s somewhere between fun, excitement, coziness and a small dose of unexpectedness and awkwardness, but certainly there’s a friendly interaction. I might alter the flow of the setlist or extend the dancier parts according to the vibe. Same thing happens when I play with my drummer Danae, we jam through the parts of the tracks. If people dance we keep it up, if they chill we take it easier.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

My studio is actually my laptop and I can work from almost everywhere I am. Now that I live in Athens there are some specific places where I work. My first choice is my friend Panayotis’ art studio, where I use one of the rooms and have all my gear there. I mix, record, try stuff and fool around. The second is my room in my grandparents’ house and the third is a nearby cafe called Cinecitta. In the last two places I mostly edit or re-arrange stuff using headphones. All of them are pretty close, so when I get bored or need to do something specific, I switch to another place. Until October I did the same thing in London, switching between my room, Pelican Cafe in Peckham and Goldsmiths, where I studied. I’ll also do the same in Istanbul where I’ll spend some time, my work is always always coming with me.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

I’m not entirely sure if I realised when that moment was. It was either when I was 19 and made my first “electronic” production on GarageBand and thought “wow I can really make music” (which of course I took back a few days later) or 3 years ago when I was working on a 9-5 job in Athens and was extremely unhappy.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

I’m good with the audience, Danae and my gear, but sometimes, especially when I DJ I carry a gizmo plush doll with me!

Any emerging artists on your radar?

I like Flora Yin-Wong, serpentwithfeet, Chiyou Dean and Bonebrokk.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

Besides music, art, books, movies and experiences, it’s having time to try my ideas without a rush, so when I’m not working on design projects or have some specific deadline, I do that and after a few days I usually end up with concrete ideas that just need to be finalised.

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

Again, the core is my laptop. I use Live and Reaper and software such as Iris and Omnisphere. Max 7 is also on the list but I’m not entirely comfortable with it yet. From physical gear I currently only use Elektron’s Analog Four, various percussion instruments and three mics. I use the same gear when I perform live, plus a Launchpad Pro.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

It has changed a lot and still does. Through different projects, approaches and techniques. Generally I like to be on the borders of ‘naive expression’ and professionalism.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

Gigs, dj sets, more new tracks and a new LP later in 2018.

Preorder ‘Missing’ single by Dervisis via iTunes

For more information follow Dervisis on Facebook

[Image credit: Mariza Kapsabeli]