I’m on my way to a café to meet up with Amar a.k.a. Canson on a sunny day with spring in full bloom. Canson’s music had fueled and deeply inspired many of my days and nights—writing, reflecting, traveling or simply relaxing.
A fellow editor once described how she had felt writing about the music of an artist whom she had never met in real life. Stepping out of the tram to meet Amar and shake hands for the first time I could relate to that feeling. The person I meet that day is gentle, friendly and warm, and appears very relaxed to me on the outside.
Preconceptions are a funny thing. I had expected someone very rationale, meticulous, or even nerdy. In contrast, electronic music producer Canson comes across as the dude who lives in the present moment, loves to chill, and doesn’t like when things are moving too fast. I bet he will grow very old. I’d like to believe that’s the privilege of nice people.
Find out more for yourself when reading the interview I recorded that day in Berlin. (We had to shorten it considerably because it was just too long but left it pretty raw and unedited asides of that.) At WITNESS THIS, we feel honored to be gifted such an insight into one of the scenes’s contemporary electronic music masterminds—not to mention the podcast embedded below Canson put together especially for you.
“For this mix I chose some of my latest remixes because I thought they fit perfectly together to take you on a journey through beautiful summer gardens and landscapes.”
WT: Amar, you’re 42 years old today… born in ‘76. What did your path to music look like?
Canson: I started making music in the nineties.
WT: So, electronic music then, right?
Canson: Right… well, I discovered Techno in ‘93, saw diverse live acts who were fiddling with the synthies, which I thought was amazing and so I started as well. I bought my first synthie and sampler in ‘94.
The pioneer era. And did you first start as a DJ before becoming a producer, or did you start with producing? You’re a live act after all, not a DJ in the classic sense.
Exactly, I’ve always been playing live. I’ve done some DJ-ing with friends as well, but never at parties.
Ah right, that one…
…that’s one of my absolute all-time favorite sets and I didn’t even know this track was one of yours. And when I was at a friend’s recently, he told me that all your sets actually consist of your own tracks only.
Yes, sure, all of these are mine.
The podcast you made for us as well?
Every track is mine, I play only live.
Wow, really. That’s by no means an easy feat, playing a set with just your own tracks. You have to earn that. Back to this track „Bellevue“—as it’s my favorite I’d like to ask how it came to be, and how long do you work on a track like this?
It depends. If everything goes smoothly, the basic idea takes form quite quickly. Working out the details is another story, but most of the time a track will form in my live set. I can make a track just before a gig and play it live straight away, and I often play tracks live which aren’t fully formed yet, the raw tracks. Sometimes I flesh them out afterwards, sometimes they’ll be dropped because I don’t like them that much after all, or because the feedback isn’t so great…
So, you’re trying… you’re basically checking how they work on the dancefloor.
Yes, and how I feel while playing them, as well. That’s very important to me.
So, this song, „Bellevue“ … to me, it’s got something spiritual. Is this intentional, or just my interpretation?
Nah, well that might be the case, but I didn’t aim for something like that. Generally speaking, my approach to music making isn’t based on a pre-formed idea, it’s all based on my gut feeling.
“Most of the time I make music on the sofa or in bed. I’ve just recently established my own studio again. All of this basically came about while I was literally ‘laid back’.”
WT: So, what you’re doing is less analytical or conceptional and more intuition-based.
Canson: Exactly, I just start and then it takes some path of its own… of course later on I think about what else I could add that might fit well, but the basic thing develops intuitively.
Cool, very impressive.
I also work with samples a lot.
Yes, I noticed that. And where do you get the samples from, are they from movies or…
Partly, they’re from YouTube or wherever I happen to find something, I’m not that fussy in that respect, just wherever I find something, and oftentimes that’s in traditional music … The Arabic thing has been overused by many, sadly, I used some of it years ago, always liked the sounds a lot … but later on I didn’t really want to use it anymore … the new pieces which sound like that are remixes by others most of the time. Something I take a lot of pleasure in are Siberian and Russian sounds, that kind of special, traditional music …
Do you travel a lot and get your inspiration that way, or does it all develop at the desk, in the studio?
Well actually, most of the time I make music on the sofa or in bed. I’ve just recently established my own studio again, I didn’t have one for 10 years. All of this basically came about while I was literally ‘laid back’. (laughs)
Very impressive. The things one manages to do while lying down. (laughs) I thought that specifically this track „Bellevue“ has got so many layers, it’s not at all this standard fare, four-by-four club music, you know, but it’s more… interwoven, with different levels and an actual narrative structure, it builds up like a crescendo. And when I found out all of this is live as well—I thought that was very impressive.
Yes, I’ve got quite a special way of making music. I really stand out against a lot of other stuff, which is something that often really unsettles me, because I just sound so different…
Of course, I want to sound like others, but I just have my own way of doing things.
Is this your main occupation, do you earn most of your income by performing music, or do you have other sources of income?
Yeah, well I quit my job a few years ago because it became too much, playing each weekend and being at the office during the week…
What was the job?
Project manager for business events and trade fairs. I worked four days a week and that was just too much for me. At the time I used to stay out late after gigs, I wasn’t just playing and then returning home, and that became too much after a while… after 2-3 years on the road, with more and more international travel, a lot of it by plane… well yeah, then I wanted to reduce my working hours, which wasn’t possible, so I quit. The company I worked for supported me in this, they basically said „just focus on making music now, you’ve never done this before, we support you and you can come back anytime.”
So, support means, the door stays open.
Exactly, the door stays open.
I see, so no sponsorship then. (laughs)
No, and I didn’t need it, I knew this would work, I could make a living with this, and of course one of reasons I quit was to make more music… which didn’t work out so well, obviously I enjoyed my free time a lot… (laughs) … during the week, and I even made a little less music… and after 1,5 years I started working again.
How many tracks do you produce in a year, about 3, 30, 300… just a ballpark estimate?
Certainly at least 15, I’d think. Many of those aren’t published though, I just play them live once and that’s it, but it depends.
“Often, I feel a little strange because my sound is so particular, and this tends to unsettle me. I’m very nervous every time I play, even though I’ve been playing for a very long time.”
WT: But you probably can’t really make a living off track sales, right? I’d guess you need the gigs for that… On Beatport, what you earn with track sales are rather peanuts as far as I know.
Canson: Track sales, well they give a little bit of income, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. And if you’re living in Switzerland on top of that… there it’s not enough anyway. But things are going quite well, considering I’m not the most productive person… I’m very efficient when I make music… I’m not someone who sits in the studio all day, all week and is always working, working, working…
The reason this is so interesting is that your music doesn’t sound like that. I think it’s very sophisticated, and I take my hat off to someone who creates something like this in such an intuitive, off-the-cuff way, because it doesn’t sound like that. It sounds as if someone had put a lot of thought into it and planned it out this way… conceptually, you know?
Not conceptual at all…
… It’s really based on what happens to tickle my fancy, and of course the music I’m listening to influences me as well, but I’m only listening to other styles of music, no techno and no four-by-four music, sure, there’ll be the odd set in between, something more mellow or something like that, but I mostly listen to other music.
Could you give some examples?
What I like a lot is very calm, mellow stuff…
Nah, I’m more into the experimental, very calm stuff… something I discovered recently is music from 70’s Angola, which I like a lot at the moment.
So, you really take a deep dive into a foreign culture then, too.
Yes, I’m kind of a music enthusiast, even though I don’t spend so much time on digging anymore, but I used to work in a record store for a long time, this was in the early 2000s, and of course I was exposed to a lot of different styles of music there.
What I find interesting here is that you just said you’re very efficient, and this even though you give off a very relaxed vibe, I think. You radiate a great calmness. Does this help you to channel your creativity?
I believe this is my nature. I’m a very calm person, I don’t talk that much either… quite particular, in any case.
Do you have a favorite club for playing live?
That’s a difficult question… It depends on the party, not just the club. Of course, what’s a lot of fun here in Berlin is playing at the Kater, because I really feel at home there and because there I’m able to play as I want to, which isn’t always the case in other clubs, often I’ve got to adapt a bit. Quite often I need to play faster than I really want to. I really like to play slow music at the moment, but this still doesn’t work everywhere, or to put it in other words, it only works in very few places. Often, it’s my feeling which confuses me, too. The feedback may be great, but I feel a little strange.
Do you have any idea why that is?
Maybe, yes, essentially, it’s because my sound is so particular, and this tends to unsettle me. I’m very nervous every time I play, even though I’ve been playing for a very long time. I played live for the first time in 1999. It was completely different back then of course, minimal, very reduced stuff. Much faster, too, of course.
I believe that on the day you stop having stage fright, you stop being good.
Then you’ve got to stop. Exactly. I’m not a great entertainer either, I just make my music. With my giant live set on the computer, I need to concentrate… So, I’m calm when I’m making music, too. (laughs)
Have you ever had an experience that stuck in your mind, some anecdote you could tell?
Hmm, yes, something that really was very special was my longest live set, when I played for 6.5 hours.
Wow. That sounds exhausting.
Yes, exhausting, this was in the Kiosk, at Kater Holzig. It was astonishing, after having played for about two, three hours I thought “Oh no, I’ll have to start repeating my tracks soon”, but after 6,5 hours I still hadn’t played everything. So I was like “oh, okay”.
(laughs) Do you vary your pieces, or are they basically played in the form you …
Nah, it’s all in separate parts. I can play every bit for as long as I want to, or combine them, everything’s very open. I’ve got a lot of sound clips, there’s no complete pieces in there.
What equipment do you use?
Just a laptop with Ableton Live and a small controller, at the moment.
What kind of controller is this? I’m a layman, but it might be interesting for the readers…
One of those old Doepfer controllers, I think it’s called Pocket Dial. Just 4×16 control dials, that’s it.
From the nineties?
Almost 20 years old.
Sure, late nineties or early 2000, I don’t remember exactly when I got it.
Cool… Is there some kind of dream you still have, which you would like to fulfil during your artistic career?
I definitely want to go to Japan one day. I used to collect these Japanese designer toys, I’ve got a lot of these plush animals with faces at home, you know, and little figurines and such, I really used to like those a lot and I still haven’t made it to Japan until now, and of course it would be great to be able to play there someday, too…
WT: It’s a fascinating culture.
Yes… last year I went to China for the first time, went on a tour… that was very interesting. Electronic music is just beginning to grow there, even though there’s been some in the underground for a while, but now it starts to get bigger… and yes, I found that very interesting. The people are still very motivated… and all those different impressions, it’s a different world.
Have you ever woven Japanese elements into your music, being so interested in this culture?
Hmm no, not really, no. And otherwise, a dream… I don’t really have one, no.
So, you’re not really success-oriented in the sense that you’re making a lot of money with this, but your music is really an art form for you, that’s how I perceive it, a form of expression, really.
Nice. What kind of profession did you originally train for?
I started an apprenticeship as a machinery designer once but didn’t finish it. This was at the time when I discovered techno, and raving became the first priority, so I quit the apprenticeship… afterwards I worked some odd jobs, often in a metal workshop, as I had learned metalworking during my apprenticeship… and then I got the opportunity to learn a little bit about sound engineering at a concert location run by the city of Zürich, I learned mixing for bands – at the time, I thought audio engineering was my thing, because I had just started making music… but I quickly realized it wasn’t for me. As an audio engineer, you basically do what the others tell you, even though you’d rather do it differently, and so I realized this wasn’t my thing either. Yeah, and then I landed in the record store. But soon the whole business went downhill and so I lost my job again after 6 years, and then I came into the company I’m with today.
And you’re living in Zürich.
I see. And do you have kids, or are you free?
No. I’m off the market, but no kids. A girlfriend.
What’s the coolest club in Zürich right now? I’m not familiar with the city at all… there used to be one called The Hive …?
That one’s still there, yes.
Is it still good?
This [Easter] weekend was quite good. There were some people from Berlin there and I heard it was a lot of fun… but my absolute favorite club in Zürich was the Cabaret, which doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately… and at the moment, the Kauz is my home, that’s a really small joint, about 120 people, fantastic sound system, fantastic bar, great cocktails… I do a small event there, about four, five times a year… it’s a slow thing, called “Relax”. I do this together with a good friend.
Yeah… that’s something I do, and I feel very much at ease there. And otherwise, well yes there’s Friedas Büxe in Zürich, too, that’s great as well…
I’ll have a look at all of those the next time I’m in Zürich. I’ll keep the Kauz in mind.
Canson: Yes, it’s fantastic. Very dim, atmospheric light…
Well, personally I witnessed the Bar 25, but at the very end of it, during its final stages. I had my Sturm-und-Drang period when the Kater Holzig was still there, now the Kater Blau… I feel it’s become quite a bit more professionalized, and yes, somewhat more commercialized as well, no judgement implied though…
Yes, well, they had to…
How do you perceive this?
Yes, I see it the same way, definitely. I like it there because all my friends are doing something there and are there, and I always meet everyone and it’s very family-like to me, of course… and well, the club, it’s okay. I’ve been liking it more since the Kiosk reopened, but it doesn’t come close to the Holzig. Still, playing there is a lot of fun.
You loved the [Kater]Holzig, too?
Yes, sure. I was there so frequently, there were times when I played there virtually every month… and yes, the Holzig in turn doesn’t come close to the Bar, of course… that was legendary, unparalleled…
The Kater really is a contemporary institution. I like to joke that I’ll be singing about it to my grandchildren, sitting around the campfire, as it really is our generation’s Woodstock… just like Burning Man, in a different way, of course that’s the American culture, but it also really is something very new which has been created here…
Canson: Yes, definitely! Not just the partying, but also the music. There’s really been a lot of new things that evolved there.
Do you go to Berghain sometimes?
Nah, I’ve never been to Berghain. Well, I’ve been to the Panorama Bar, but…
Yes, that’s what I meant.
I’ve been to the Panorama Bar once because a friend was playing there, so I went with someone. But I’ve never really been out raving in Berlin. In the past, I always used to go to the Bar 25, and usually I went inside and stayed there until it was time to go home. (laughs) And otherwise, I never really went raving a lot. I’m just really not a techno guy anymore… at parties, I don’t like it that much anymore. I still like listening to it, but I can’t stay there very long then. I really prefer the mellower side of things. But of course, it still can be a lot of fun with calmer music, too. If people go along with it. Other than that, I’ve played at a lot of different places in Berlin, of course… I’ve already played at the Sisyphos, and just recently returned to the Watergate, they had a URSL label night there… I’ve always liked Rummels Bucht a lot…
Have you already been to Burning Man?
Nah, I could’ve played there twice already, but I cancelled…
…because I just didn’t feel like it.
Why, would it have been too exhausting?
Hmm no, I don’t know really, it’s not really my thing… well, I know it would be a great stepping stone to get around even more, because once you’ve played there, many will be like “Wow, Burning Man…” but that never mattered to me. I’ve talked to many people who are very popular right now and get around a lot, and they said, well, it’s a good investment… It does cost quite a bit to get there, but it’s a good stepping stone as well.
Who had invited you?
The first year, I could’ve come along with people from San Francisco, and the second year, there wasn’t anything planned and I suddenly got an e-mail from Robot Heart, „so, about your slot,“ so I had to reply, “you know, actually I’m not going to be there at all…” (laughs)
…but obviously, Burning Man is fascinating a whole generation.
Yes, I know… and everybody says it has changed their life. I just find it a bit… well, not exactly ridiculous, but… if I went there, I wouldn’t exactly experience the biggest enlightenment of my life, so…
Who knows! (laughs)
I don’t think so. (laughs) I’d much rather go to such a place without a party, to be honest. The night sky must be phenomenal there.
Are you a spiritual person?
Or a believer?
No, not at all. Absolutely not. This is something I don’t understand at all. It’s nice that everybody believes in something, but for me, it often is too extreme, and I don’t get it. Doesn’t matter if it’s Christianity, Islam, or whatever. Even the Buddhists, I just don’t get it.
After all, nature is something spiritual too, in a sense.
Sure, right, that’s true, of course. And I do like it, I like these calm, spiritual or special moments, but it’s not as if I make a big thing out of it… or do some extreme meditating or whatever. I like to be with people like that, I feel at ease there, but it’s not my thing to suddenly start dressing otherwise or something like that… do you know what I mean? Friends of mine walk parts of the St. James Way regularly, almost every year. Usually, that’s a week of walking, every day just walking. And then there always are places where you can spend the night… with time, you get into some kind of thing… well, I really do believe there is something higher… but maybe that’s just energies or something like that.
Do you have a family? Siblings, I mean?
Canson: I’ve got two sisters, to older sisters, two and four years older than me. My father‘s Algerian, my mother‘s Swiss.
Ah, that’s where the name Amar comes from.
Yes, exactly. But I don’t speak Arabic, have never been to Algeria… I’ve grown up in Switzerland, I’m Swiss.
Do you notice an influence by your Algerian roots? Is there any way you notice it leaving a mark on your music or your art? Or maybe it’s inspiring you to investigate other cultures a little bit?
Maybe on a subconscious level. My family isn’t really musical… I didn’t play an instrument when I was young either. Sure, the recorder in school, but otherwise… So, I’m not someone who says „I‘ve already been making music when I was a kid,” or playing the piano in kindergarten… (laughs) Not at all. It all came with the electronics.
If you could talk to yourself, to the Amar from 1993, what would you tell him?
Try to do your own thing. Don’t copy. Get inspired, yes, but don’t copy. In other words, don’t try to recreate something one-to-one.
Which begs the question where to draw the line when it comes to inspiration.
Exactly, yes… it’s difficult. Sure, you automatically copy something, or just do the same thing as someone else, and maybe you’re choosing similar sounds, because they’re simply great. But yeah… yes, keep going, definitely, that’s always been my thinking. Just always keep going.
Have you ever been afraid that you might fail?
Because I believe that many creative people have this problem of not daring, of thinking „is this good enough now, can I really publish this, they’re going to laugh at me…” Which I think is completely normal, actually.
Nah, well, the publishing, releasing part is the label’s responsibility, so if they want to publish this… this has changed over time, but I used to think my stuff was terrible… and today I’m still very self-critical, I could work on a track for all eternity, but I’ve got to draw a line at some point…
Have you been to Garbicz [festival], too?
Yes. Not last year, but the year before last and the year before that. I’m going to play there again this year. I’m very much looking forward to it! The event organizers are my friends. They know festivals are somewhat of a challenge to me—I’m not the backpacker type, I’m more of a hotel guy. (laughs)
Now that’s interesting, since you like to be in nature so much. The infamous comfort zone.
Well, cool. Many, many thanks, Amar!
Thanks a lot!
Latest Canson releases:
Canson – Nothing To Guide (Sol Selectas)
Ninze & Okaxy – Melatonin (Canson Remix) (Laut & Luise)
Canson – Hills Of Medusa – Summer Sol III (Sol Selectas)