Impressions, context and sound

Exploring memories of music over the past year

March 2021. Design by

For this episode*, we’ve decided to feature an echo from our community, offering people the chance to express themselves on what The Observatory has been built on: music.

Music is intimately tied to what it means to be human. Not just because it’s the outcome of individual creativity, but because of its use as a social mechanism. Indeed, one of music’s most enigmatic aspects is how it can simultaneously evoke personal and communal experiences; a shared encounter with it has the power to instantly equalize complex individual emotions in a way few other elements can. 

With much of the world’s music venues being closed over the last year [The Observatory has also been shut over the last month] we’ve decided to focus on how people think about music within the non-communal contexts that define lockdowns. 

So, for this month’s feature, we asked a selection of people around the world to describe what their most memorable experience of music was in the last year – expressed in words**, imagery or sound***. By asking this question, we hope to shed some light on what music means to people, both personally and as a communal force.

* As The Observatory is still closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in HCMC, we haven’t published any lineups for this month. If and when the situation changes, we’ll publish lineups on a week-by-week basis.
** All answers have been kept in their original style, with some minor editorial adjustments in places.
*** Some readers may not be able to view music videos due to regional licensing restrictions; we have included the track titles as captions.

| Alex From Tokyo / 47 / DJ, music designer, Tokyo Black Star/World Famous label owner / Berlin – Germany

One of the most memorable experiences I had with music last year through this pandemic and the numerous lockdowns was last September on a nice afternoon in Amsterdam, playing a 6-hour vinyl-only eclectic set seated to a tiny crowd of friends and people socially-distanced, chilling on sofas including my partner Lindsey and our daughter Leona who was running all over the place grooving to my music selection on this sweet Klipschorn sound system inside this big beautiful old factory turned into the contemporary art and culture space Het HEM – it was surreal!

| DJ NOBU / Chiba – Japan

The tour with Föllakzoid that I experienced last year in Japan just before the pandemic broke out was one of the few musical moments that left a lasting impression on me last year. I like music with psychedelic elements, which I have been exploring and expressing myself. I fell in love with their minimalistic psychedelic approach when I first heard them play in New York, and from that encounter, they asked me to remix one of their songs. After the release of the remix, I invited them from Chile to Japan to play some shows with me. It was a mind-blowing experience to see their performances again, and also spend some time together. The remix was the most challenging one I’ve ever done, but it really helped me understand the structure of music more deeply. It was an incredible feeling to see the psychedelia that was brought over from so far away, Chile in South America being appreciated in Japan. A piece of memory that will stay with me for a long time.

Föllakzoid – IIII (DJ Nobu Remix)

| Ezra December / 42 / Artist, Psychotherapy Trainee, Property Tycoon / Bath – UK

How I have experienced music over the last year:

I have searched for excitement in new music as if I was a teenager again, as life in lockdown has lacked excitement for me. Music has been a fantasy world I escape to when the same four walls and the same limited company has driven me insane.

I have listened more intently. It has become richer and more colourful to me.

I have listened to old music with the ears of an older man, relating it to newer experiences, realising new depths, appreciating its cultural heritage and societal impact more profoundly.

In lockdown I have invested in a powerful, high fidelity sound system. This has allowed me to hear new sounds in music I thought I knew totally.

My most profound moment was listening to D’Angelo’s album Voodoo, loud, alone in the dark, and high on psilocybin. I could feel the music vibrating in every part of my physical being. My soul was alive. It felt like the most beautiful music I had ever heard, and triggered memories of a carefree, lighter and more exciting me. I chose this album, in its complete form, as it took me to a wonderful world that felt like home.

D’Angelo – Voodoo (Full Album)

| Fabrizio Mammarella / 38 / DJ, producer, label owner / Chieti – Italy

Last year’s most memorable music moment was probably the Sameheads open air party I played in October b2b with Franz Scala. It was definitely a relieving moment after the break lasted so many months. It was incredibly good to reconnect with a dancing crowd and listen to loud music again, through real speakers!  This is one of the tracks I’ve played in that set.

Fad Gadget – Ladyshave (Music Video)

| Gratts / 36 / DJ, producer, label owner, journalist / Berlin – Germany

The most memorable experience with music over the last year must have been sculpting my own tracks that will see the day of light soon. 

However, since you’re asking someone who used to call himself a dj first and foremost, I guess nothing beats standing in front of a sweaty crowd, playing music from the heart, loud. The best gig I played before we went into clubbing hibernation must have been for my Transport friends in Bangkok. One of my first sober gigs and one of those nights where everything aligned: a big sound, up for it crowd, homely decorations, great warm-up tunes by the hosts resulting in a massive vibe all over. I am ready.

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| Jade Barget / 29 / Curator / Paris – France

Amidst the turbulences of 2020, I needed stillness. This desire reflected in what I listened to: music had to be soothing. I had this 2019 album by Sweden-based Kali Malone, ‘The Sacrificial Code’ on a loop. 2h00 of pipe organ. It is meditative, grand, and austere. Not an easy remedy: the stillness is quite intense, sad. But it formed a sort of shield around me, which I really loved. The way I came across this album is important as well: at the end of a beautiful and psychedelic summer day, following an outdoor picnic celebrating my friend’s birthday and my departure from London, in the middle of two lockdowns, at one of my dearests friends’ flat, a hut in the trees, surrounded by beautiful souls. This memory travels through her sound.

Kali Malone – The Sacrificial Code (Full Album)

| Jing / 29 / Music producer and DJ / Taipei – Taiwan

Good frequency brings fun moments, and it does change a person’s mind. I have a friend who was only going to mainstream EDM parties… etc, for some reason, she’s been partying  at Pawnshop for one year since [the pandemic started]. Now she can tell what Electro and R&B are, and starting to know what she likes. Music taste/sense can be built when people find it fun, people tend to learn more regarding detail and the reasons they enjoy it. It includes a good show, a good sound system, a good party, a good track or good vibe.  A fun party with good sound is rather important for a better scene and community – without this I think a local scene doesn’t exist or is insipid.

Yung Acid – Sexyback

| Laura Zhang / 28 / Artist, Curator of 宀 Gallery / Hong Kong

I think it would have to be at a party in my family home on Lamma Island. We kept it relatively small (for people in the music industry) and allowed ourselves a moment of bliss while trying to be respectful. In this intimate space, on old CDJs and home speakers, sound itself had to be constrained. The presence of restrictions felt emblematic of the whole year. Yet, this very limitation gave rise to something unique. With minimal bass and a strict volume limit, 宀residents, Youry, Yadin and Xiaolin, had to do more with less. Youry played dark, slow, progressive trance while Yadin delivered indie-pop laced with electronic oddities and Xiaolin finished off with an alchemy of acid and ambient. No one was working, no one was worrying. We were absorbed by every beat and hypnotized by every note. You could almost see the waves that were held back, somehow exposing what was missing while finding inspiration in the current moment. Sound expanded internally.

| Manuel Fischer / 1991 / Musician, Art Director / Zürich – Switzerland

There were a few moments that brought me even closer to music, as a tool to reflect and rethink, but I guess this one moment connects well to the question.

I am part of an audiovisual / contemporary dance concert series called ““. Our full 2020 schedule was cancelled due to the pandemic which made us very sad, as our team had invested a lot of our time and heart into it in preparation. In December 2020, there was the possibility of running the event with Covid–19 restrictions. As this event is not based on a dancefloor situation with the audience dancing, we were able to have 3 slots of 50 people sitting with 2 meters distance between each other.

Before the pandemic started, I was mostly stressed while organizing the concerts, but in December it was the first time for me having a moment of sitting down and being able to fully explore the production. As I was sitting there I appreciated it more than ever.

I was thankful to be in a room with other people listening to amazing music. It felt like ages. It took 9 months to change something normal into something special, and I enjoyed every second of it.

| Robert Yang / Bézier / 41 / Electronic Musician & DJ / Berlin / San Francisco

The pandemic changed how we went about things particularly regarding how we interacted within the sphere in the most profound way. Because clubs shut down, the people who appreciated and needed it the most did not stop. Crews and artists doubled down on their efforts and managed to put on productions, but only in the virtual arena. Difficulty levels had been unlocked and a scramble to fill the economic void took place immediately. The speed in which online events flourished speaks to the drive to continue a discussion that includes questioning the politics set forth by dance music gatekeepers in a much more demanding light. Heavy processing of moods and pre-pandemic experiences crystalized into outrage as the community reflected on the mistreatment of Blacks and non-whites in some of these spheres. Community locked in to become much tighter, and engaged in healthy debate. Queer fam were more than willing to lend an assisting hand. I suppose, most memorable for me were peers who continued to maintain and operate space when physical presence was impossible. Some of these spaces helped establish decorum giving me hope when places open up again, we can feel slightly more comfortable in our skins as participants.

| Samuel Gieben / 36 / DJ, designer / Berlin – Germany

I didn’t get to play many gigs in 2020 but I did do one with my friend Fredi in an old church in Copenhagen in July. I played ‘The Forbidden Dance’ by Long Hair and before the breakdown  Fredi mixed in the acapella of ‘Don’t Tell Me’ by Madonna. I looked behind us and all our friends were on the stage, grinning and laughing and dancing together. It was rare last year to see the people you love dancing and having fun, but it hadn’t struck me til that moment. For the rest of the evening, and some days after, everything was in its right place again.

LOTR021 Longhair – The Forbidden Dance

Madonna – Don’t tell me (Acapella)

| San Soda / 34 / DJ / Berlin – Germany

I was late with grabbing this release after it came out and when I finally did, it was spring 2020 and the party was over. I took it with me to a few “semi” parties after the first COVID wave but never ended up playing it. The song is so powerful that it needed the exact right moment for it to have its full impact. Eventually that moment came at an outdoor party near Berlin in the summer. It was one of those true parties, a gathering where it was only about the energy flow and it had nothing to do with which tracks were played or how they were mixed or which individual was dancing or DJing or preparing the food. This was the soundtrack to one of those complete-union-moments where the music – and by extension the group of people moving around at that particular place and time – are fully reduced to a medium. If there’s one artist that is able to infuse this transcendental energy in his music, that manages to capture his journey so others can attempt it, it’s Theo Parrish.

Theo Parrish – This Is For You (with Maurissa Rose)

| SHHHHH / 42 / DJ / Tokyo – Japan

While we were still adjusting to life on lockdown, a media outlet  asked me to record a mix for them and I went to a local club to record it. I was impressed by the dance music (it didn’t really matter which track it was) that came out of the speakers during sound check. Dance music shakes our bones, it grooves and makes us feel alive. And the conversation that I had with my friends there, which I hadn’t had in a long time, I thought was also a groove. It’s different from listening to it alone on the speakers at home. This made me realize how much we are kept alive by dance music. This was my biggest discovery last year.

| Taku Hirayama / 40 / DJ / Fukuoka – Japan

The moment called perfect never comes so often but it did once in the middle of dancefloor at a festival in Portugal. Sound was rotating like a spiral and bass was spreading on the ground. It was really quiet at the breakdown with only one silky ambient chord.

Surprisingly I couldn’t hear anybody speaking at all. There were a few thousand ppl on the floor and everyone around me was totally into the music. It was absolutely one of the most impressive music experiences of mine. And I haven’t found that track yet.

| Toss Goldwater / 34 / Professor / Tokyo

To me, musical experiences are a sequence of events built throughout a party or a festival. What these create is an at times hazy, blurry, but foremost beautiful set of memories that are built as a collection of events, emotions, and memories. 

In a year in which the dynamics changed so dramatically, borders and boundaries became so evident, what stood out for me was the Japanese music scene’s vibrancy. Faced with semi-closed clubs, governmental regulations, and other variables, Japan’s DJs, party collectives, and sound crews decided to explore and push beyond the usual boundaries. What arose was a summer-long sequence of various festivals. Different in shapes, music, spectacular locations, and always lovely crowds, they all shared an equal desire to keep the musical experiences continuing, providing endlessly more magical experiences in times in which the ability to enjoy such experiences was not a given. Having the blessing and luxury even of being able to dance away days and nights throughout the Japanese summer at such an incredible number of festivals was the most defining musical experience for me in 2020. This note is also a massive thank you to all those who enabled this and who kept sure we were able to enjoy such experiences.