Q+A: 5 minutes with Unpropped

With deep reasons for creating art, Unpropped is unafraid of stepping beyond the boundaries. His latest offering, ‘Nousle’, is a palpitating track that skirts the edge of the musical ‘known’, chasing ever-onward like a steamroller on a well-oiled track. 

Stream ‘Nousle’ on SpotifyiTunes

The rising artist cites the likes of Floating Points and Alva Noto as his influences, telling us something about his tendency to play ball in the left field, favouring an alternative construction.  For ‘Nousle’, he poured his creativity into the production. And I’m sure we can expect to hear more like it when he releases his debut EP, Acausality

Here is our conversation with the man behind the mask and the moniker, Germán Sánchez:

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

I think that the answer to this question can take us a few wines to discuss. But to keep it straight to the point, to me, producing music is, first, the best means that I have found to deal with my own reality, thoughts, and emotions; this is the pragmatic side of the answer. And second, I believe that art is the most valuable legacy that a society can leave to transmit the knowledge acquired through our experiences, observations, feelings, technical prowess, etc. so that the coming generations can learn from them; this would be the more humanistic part of my motivation.

Now, I reckon that this last point might not be the most popular. Some people will argue that education is more than just arts, or that science is definitely what makes us progress… There is a lot of room for discussion. But my opinion is that embracing the power of arts to better understand the multiple expressions of human nature should sit at the top of our list of priorities.

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

The sound.

Even though a high-level concept can be a useful starting point as well, it needs to be a rather vague one otherwise it quickly becomes useless. If I concentrate too much on executing a concrete idea, the sound will inevitably take over, with me getting lost in all its possibilities. And I find that so much more appealing: following a path without knowing where it is leading to. 

Sometimes it takes you nowhere, but it is always worth the ride.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Not as of now, but something is in the making… stay tuned!

What’s on your current playlist?

Some years ago I started building an electronic music playlist in which I include only one track per artist that I enjoy.

I began building this list with the idea that more streams do not necessarily mean better quality. We are narcotised by the music that we are constantly fed by gatekeepers, or decision-makers, not sure how to call them, and we have come to this weird standard by which the number of streams defines how relevant your music really is. To me, it is like these questions that you always get asked out there: “What do you do for a living?” or “What did you study?”, the answers to which (too often) label you as worthy of consideration or not.

I called the playlist Against Commercial, and although I am not very deep into the experimental music field, the more detached from the mainstream it is, the better. But I insist on only one track per artist. That helps me to keep adding new discoveries and not get stuck with the same sounds. As of now, the list is some 13 hours long and you will find stuff from Rrose, Mount Kimbie, Marcel Dettmann, Floating Points, Ben Frost, Plaid, Surgeon, Ryoji Ikeda, Blanck Mass, Amon Tobin, Ital Tek, Shackleton, Rival Consoles…

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

There is not a consistent process through which I go each time, really. The only thing that I need to be clear about is the general framework in which I am working; if something falls out of that framework, it is usually trashed. No mercy.

That said, I often overcompress stuff to chop interesting pieces off the samples. Running them several times through tape recorders is another way of overcompressing, but often with some unique extra texture. Delays deliver lots of very interesting surprises in the sound design part, and reverbs as well (I am a big fan of Ableton’s convolution reverb, by the way). But most of the time it is all about playing around with the synths for hours… Apply LFOs left and right, warp, resample, and start all over again. The point is that productivity is not at all relevant for me. If nothing comes up, I will forget about it, and maybe come back to it later. Or maybe not, and I will start anew having disconnected my mind for a while. 

When I hear other artists speaking about how they can start and nearly finish a track in one day, I feel amazed, and sometimes a bit healthy jealous, because my approach is totally opposite. 

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

It really depends on the phase of the production process where I am in.

I feel the most creative during the first steps of a new track or album, when there is nothing limiting you. And especially during the night. In those days it is only about sound design. Trying and crafting kicks, basslines, leads, and any other rhythmic or non-rhythmic element, and tentatively putting them all together to see what fits, what does not, what is missing… To me, the task of producing music is pure craftsmanship, and I believe in dedicating as much time and care as needed to create something authentic, something deserving of being considered art. It is all about enjoying, so no issues or frustration whatsoever if going to bed empty-handed. The head keeps working in the background, though, and I have learnt that, after some time, something will come up.

During this phase, I need physical movement. It becomes very difficult to stick to the chair for more than 30 minutes without getting up, listening from a different point in the studio, preparing a coffee, playing video games, watching a film (or part of it), reading that book lying over there… It is quite chaotic in general, and very unstructured, but it helps to keep ideas flowing.

After I have accumulated enough material, and I have a relatively good idea of where everything would fit, it is time for arranging and polishing. This is when I get glued to the seat for hours to the point of standing up only when something aches. I also start to use the headphones at this stage and to a/b test on the monitors. Focus is the rule during these days, and I love it because it comes out in a very natural way. Breaks are nowadays long, not just hours, as there is more reflection and auto-critic involved. In any case, I remain “slow” in terms of productivity… no way I can arrange and polish a track in less than a week!

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

Yes, it was during my first trip to Berlin. Our plan was not to party and sleep, but rather to walk the city, stop here and there for a beer, a cake, some culture, and of course a bit of clubbing at night. Even though I had been on and off experimenting with electronic music for years, the general vibe of the city resonated tremendously with my own way of experiencing music, and arts in general. Some sort of a click took place during those days, and only then did I understand that it would make sense to dedicate more time and focus to exploring, developing, and shaping that excitement. I doubt I would ever move to Berlin, but it is no wonder why so many people consider it an inspiring place. A couple of months later I enrolled in an electronic music school in Strasbourg for a 2-year formal training in production. 

Any emerging artists on your radar?

I would hesitate to call them emerging, but I have been closely following the work of the 404.0 duo, especially regarding their audiovisual installations. I think that their concept is truly unique, or definitely the execution, and one can realise that from the very get-go; it is difficult to remain indifferent.

Another great artist that I have recently discovered is Hagop Tchaparian, whose general tone might slightly resemble Four Tet’s but whose way of introducing traditional musical elements in his compositions is amazingly catchy.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

Watching good cinema is the most effective resource to turn my mood into creative mode. More specifically, watching well-told stories unfold, and the more everyday-ish they are, the better. It is about how directors and actors manage to bring you inside random stuff that happens in daily life, how they make you reflect on little things that we usually do not pay much attention to, how the different scenes are presented and the dialogues written. They bring to the front many aspects of our realities which we end up overlooking while absorbed in our routines. It awakens me from lethargy, in a way.

That, and lazing around… there is some kind of mysterious power in not doing absolutely anything.

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

The centrepiece is Ableton Live, complemented by third-party effects, notably saturation, distortion, delay, and filtering ones, which help me grant a bit of a personal touch to sounds that might not be particularly interesting; the guys at Soundtoys do a great job in this field, in my opinion. I also own a few virtual synths, of which Arturia’s Pigments and Output’s Substance (even though this one is sample-based) are my preferred ones.

On hardware, I have tried Ableton Push in the past, but could not really incorporate it into my routine in a very efficient way. It happened something similar with a Roland MC-707… I really feel more comfortable working, processing, and organising everything on the computer rather than on external machines. Nowadays I am confident with a couple of synths: an Electron Digitone and a Make Noise (semi-modular) 0-Coast, while a TR8S drum box comes to play whenever I feel some sparks are needed. Finally, I am not big on keyboards, but a MicroLab remains always on the table; it comes in handy oftentimes.

Any side projects you’re working on?

Sure, I am starting to develop a live concept which shall revolve around sound, of course, but not only. The music that I produce tends to be quite visual, and I believe that a set in which colours and images are creatively introduced, both statically and dynamically, can greatly contribute to a uniquely immersive experience. My ultimate goal is that people wish to attend an Unpropped show attracted by the music, but leave having gone through a sort of innovative event in which their senses have been triggered in an unexpected way. This is all in a very early stage, and I am currently going through the research phase, but it will come, potentially in the next couple of years.

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

It may seem quite obvious, but I think that every little moment that one spends producing music contributes to improving one’s skillset. This is perhaps unnoticeable within short time frames, but regular, prolonged practice plays a decisive role in ways that are difficult to describe.

That said, I have spent a great deal of time working out my arrangements so that they become more solid and appealing. I keep working on the technique, so that the listener gets thrilled about the whole sequence, staying attentive and wanting to keep listening to discover what is going to happen next. Hypnotic vibes attract me a lot, so that is something that I want to dig into further as well: how to make the audience interested in knowing more while falling into a kind of hypnosis? It really sounds like a contradiction, so I am not sure if it is even possible, but it is a subject that does interest me a lot.

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

I would like to release one or two short collaborations towards the end of the year, which shall precede the release of a first LP in the first half of 2024. I am particularly excited about the latter because it will be a full display of the Unpropped universe, the crystallisation of something that has taken quite some time to mature and develop.

Famous last words?

Quit planning. In the end, it leads us all to the same place.

Follow Unpropped:


Image credit: Chiara Bellamoli