Winning and Losing: Bladee and Mechatok Interviewed by Alexander Iadarola

On techno-spirituality, impending doom, and making failed pop songs.

Two portraits side by side. On the left is musical artist Bladee wearing a black mesh helmet with tall, pointed ears and holding a silver coin up to his right eye. On the right is producer Mechatok, a young man with a buzzcut holding two fingers with acrylic nails that have flames coming off of them.

Bladee [Benjamin Reichwald] and Mechatok [Timur Tokdemir]. Photo by Hendrik Schneider.

Good Luck, the debut album from Bladee [Benjamin Reichwald] and Mechatok [Timur Tokdemir], has a peculiar title. It suggests that the artists, hailing from Stockholm and Munich, respectively, know something the listener does not. Specifically, it begs the question of why we need to be wished good luck. Is it that obvious?

Bladee is one of the co-founders of Drain Gang, a multi-disciplinary collective including Ecco2k and Thaiboy Digital. Situated between the music, art, and fashion worlds, their work has inspired a devoted international fanbase. Mechatok, meanwhile, made a name for himself in an adjacent set of electronic music scenes between Berlin and London. He has released music on imprints including Yegorka, Presto!?, and Staycore, and composed the original soundtrack for artist Kim Laughton’s videogame Defective Holiday

After initially releasing Good Luck in December of 2020, the duo reconvened in May to deliver the deluxe edition, featuring high-profile remixes from Charli XCX, Salem, and others. The heartfelt, subtly psychedelic body of work marks an interesting juncture in both artists’ discographies. Bladee’s earlier music is moody, even morose at times, but he’s never sounded so carefree as on Good Luck. He becomes almost a benevolent cult leader, glowing with the sheen of enlightenment. Meanwhile, for Mechatok, the album marks a transition from being known as an underground club producer to recognition as a fully fledged pop architect.

—Alexander Iadarola

Alexander Iadarola Did you make this album together in person?

Bladee We made the whole album together at Timur’s place.

Mechatok There was this impending-doom-type mood. We spent a lot of time in this living room for each session, like eight to ten hours, sitting on the couch and watching YouTube.

AI On this album your lyrics are a lot less intricate, though not less complex, than they’ve been in the past.

B That’s something that I’ve always wanted to be able to do. You know how some pop songs are just one word, but it’s enough to make a crazy song? I don’t like to over-explain. Where I’m at now, I feel like this is a more universal language. You don’t have to be able to exactly relate to the story I’m telling, but I can convey a feeling through just by saying a color or some shit like that.

M The saying less thing is crucial, because the conceptual root of a bunch of the songs is that the hook or the verse is sort of like a mantra, with a short slogan as opposed to this elaborate chorus. Through repetition the meaning keeps morphing or increasing, constantly transcending its initial outline.

Bladee and Mechatok, Good Luck visual album, 2021. YouTube Playlist courtesy of Drain Gang.

AI There’s a spiritual quality to the three albums you released in 2020.

B I’m really into spiritual stuff, so that’s obviously influenced my music-making.

AI It’s hard to articulate exactly why, but the vibe sort of reminds me of Hilma af Klint.

B It’s funny you say that because I’m super inspired by her. About a year ago I bought this book about her art, and another that’s all her notes and philosophy. I was really into it; she’s receiving images and using some spirit language to paint pictures.

AI If you had to define your spirituality, how would you do it?

B I’m trying to make it up myself. I take a little bit from things that I’m into, and the whole thing kind of came from the fact that I was able to build these worlds or universes in my music and to create within this kind of universe myself.

M It’s a lot about creating, spawning things, as opposed to following a set of rules.

B Exactly. What works for me is just following stuff that is beautiful and inspirational to me. These things that make me excited are what is divine to me, the shiny golden things that make the path you take. 

AI Timur, what was the recording process for the album like on a technical level? Certain aspects of the production remind of 2000s pop, Kylie Minogue, Eurodance, stuff in that zone.

M Most of the beats didn’t exist previous to recording. We would usually start with a simple motif, and Benjamin [Bladee] would go on it and create these mantras, just repeating certain sentences. From there we would build the song. 

We were both fascinated with the simplicity and impact of Eurodance lead melodies. There’s something archaic about certain structural elements that came out during that time, maybe late ’90s or early 2000s. They would have vocals building up to the chorus, and then the hook would be that same melody, just played with a synth. We were trying to extract the ritualistic quality of that.

“What’s the kind of divine or, rather, abstract sort of quality?” We would try to capture that and channel it, basically. We established this practice where Benjamin finds a million crazy songs, and together we cut out the best part, the main melody or a good vocal or whatever, and just loop it, and get into this trance of listening to these looped fragments. 

AI Early 2000s production styles often engaged with computational technology as this radical force changing the world. There’s a kind of techno-spirituality in a lot of that stuff, whether it’s overt or implicit. 

M At that time, there was a novelty to technology. Artists would deliberately make work about it because it was exciting. In our situation, the reason our work might have these aspects is much more because that stuff is just painfully our reality and less this thing of interest. 

A close-up portrait of Mechatok with half of his face out of the left-side image frame. His eyebrow is partially shaved off and he flips a silver coin.

Mechatok [Timur Tokdemir]. Photo by Hendrik Schneider.

AII also noticed that most of these songs are only around two minutes long. It feels like you’re making slightly unconventional decisions on a formal level.

M From a structural point of view, the compositions have a bit of a fractal thing to them. We chose this window of two-and-a-half minutes for most of them, but to me they’ve always felt like they could infinitely repeat. It’s almost like a Mandelbrot zoom, but you can only experience one level of it. You can’t show its infinity. You have to use a crop. 

BWhen I was coming up with lyrics for these songs, I felt like there was a hook, and a verse, and another verse; but as I was writing it down I realized, “Wait, this is just kind of the same thing over and over.” It just changes slightly each time.

M I wanted to achieve this exact thing with the production. When you have a gemstone, it’s going to change color or reflect differently depending on how you hold it to the light. Technically the stone is this very simple object, but the variation happens with the angles you put on it.

When we shot the videos, we had this conversation about how pop music is framed. We’re interested in imperfect ways of capturing something, as opposed to making an overly perfect, glossy, 3D-rendered hyper-object. Finding these melodies, these hooks, was not this streamlined process of constructing an aerodynamic chassis. Instead of displaying perfection, we’re displaying an attempt at reaching something perfect. There’s a sober element of tragic realism in it. What you’re seeing is someone trying to be perfect, but you’re not seeing the perfect result. You’re looking at the struggle. This is the concept of universal tragedy.

AI When you were watching YouTube for hours at a time, what were you looking for? 

B My YouTube algorithm at that time was pretty crazy. I had been looking at Russian ballet videos, and we were listening to some weird Dutch Italo-disco stuff. I was listening to a lot of binaural beats.

AI The binaural beats thing is interesting. I feel like people listen to music because they desire a certain thing, and normally the desired thing is encrypted through style or form; but with those it’s just like, “Listen to this to become superintelligent.”

M That scammy aspect is another good angle. Once you start looking at music as something that can fulfill a certain need or desire, it starts becoming the same dopamine you get from gambling or something. You can start manipulating it or selling it in this sort of scammy way. Maybe it doesn’t even have the advertised function; maybe it’s a placebo. You can start playing with this notion of selling of a laced drug.

AI There’s now something kind of funny about the album title to me, given the conversation we’ve been having. The title Good luck is open to interpretation. It’s something I might say to an enemy, for example.

M As a gesture, it’s just saying something to the listener before they listen to the album. “Good luck with this.” Then, you listen to the eight songs, these eight suggestions, and make whatever you want out of it. You could think of it as a call to participation.

There’s this period of pop music in the late 2000s and early 2010s where it’s basically what you described: this style of song with directional instructions. It’s very abstract in some ways; you’re mostly talking about “left-right-up-down, all the way around.” There’s lots of ways of understanding this, right? If you listen to pop now, it’s mostly about this hyper-concrete stuff: “I just woke up and saw my therapist,” or whatever. It’s lost its transcendental sense of meaning.

B With this really stupid, basic level you can put whatever meaning you want into it. It leaves space for the listener’s own associations.

When I wasn’t as confident in my own music-creating, I had to say all this stuff in my lyrics and find themes to use in my music. But the more I do it, the more I want to say basically nothing. It’s more like a pure reflection. The energy you put into the song is not really about the words. You can express the vibe without pointing out exactly what it’s about.

Portrait of Bladee, a young Swedish man with long curly hair and a tattered black sweater. He holds up two acrylic nails, which are on fire.

Bladee [Benjamin Reichwald]. Photo by Hendrik Schneider.

AI Do you remember a specific moment when you felt yourself initially gravitating toward spirituality?

B What really got me into spirituality was reading these Hilma af Klint texts. When I was reading about how she made her works, something clicked for me.

AI She made up her own world. It’s not based on anything external.

B Exactly. She made systems of all this stuff, which was really inspiring to me, because I’ve always been into that kind of thing. I’ve always had colors that make me feel certain ways, and I’m drawn to symbols and things like that. Drawing and painting help me arrive at new concepts for music. Creating a world for something new to grow in. Music has always been quite visual to me; I want to make a picture.

AI You have both mentioned a sort of universal approach to music-making. Can you expand on that?

M The universalism that leads to totalitarian regimes is one universal model that is enforced across the regime. In contrast, we’re talking in a hyper-individual way, where it’s like, if everybody would have their own universalist logic, there would be these overlaps. Maybe that would be a more functional concept, as opposed to the idea that there’s just one universal truth.

B My philosophy is that there are infinite ways of looking at this universal truth or wholeness, and every expression or way of looking is equally valid.

M It’s almost a logical loop where if you even attempt to make something that feels universal, you end up with something that is very specific. Taking Good Luck as an example, it sounds very specific. Again, there’s this sense of tragedy, or failing in a way. Of course, the realistic takeaway is that you can’t make anything universal. You’re always going to end up making something that’s very much your take. It would be totally arrogant and insane to say, “We made the universal pop album.” Of course that’s bullshit.

B In the world we live in, it’s not possible to achieve this. Striving for the beauty or the glory is sometimes enough. Maybe that’s the most important part.

Bladee and Mechatok’s album Good Luck is available for purchase or streaming.

Alexander Iadarola is a writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in publications including Rhizome, 032c, and Art in America. He recently started a blog.

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