Håkan Lidbo is a Swedish composer and artist, born in 1965 in Malmø. At Nordic Music Days in Bodø, he is presented with the piece Matrix. It’s a Norwegian premiere.
Extending a career in electronic music with more than 350 records released within numerous genres, Hakan Lidbo is now exploring new ideas with the same inexhaustible energy within interactive art, games, innovations, architecture, society, media, events, and robotics. He also founded the Rumtiden Idea Lab in Stockholm Sweden, where his team explores the intersection between new art forms, science, society – and music.
It’s next to impossible to keep tabs on Håkan Lidbo. He is a productive producer who specializes in lushly rhythmic tech-house but is able to hop from style to style like few others. Lidbo spent a number of years during the ‘80s playing in rock bands. Frustrated with both the people he was dealing with and the style of music he was playing, he bought a sampler and decided to essentially work on his own from then on. During the late part of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, Lidbo had an acid jazz project called Solid State that opened for Public Enemy during the group’s tour of Scandinavia; he would add samples from jazz records on top of looped hip-hop beats, sometimes incorporating live musicians.
After that project wrapped up, Lidbo went into production for a number of acts that varied stylistically from house to industrial to straight-up rock. Since the late ‘90s, the producer has amassed an intimidating quantity of solo singles and EPs on several labels, including Loaded, Paper, Force Tracks, Transmat (as the Vanisher), and Poker Flat. He’s no stranger to full-lengths either, having released 1999’s Before the Beginning, 2000’s After the End, 2001’s Tech Couture, and 2002’s 6/10/60 and Sexy Robot. Lidbo has done plenty of remix work for the likes of Fatboy Slim, Luomo, Midfield General, and Ashley Beedle.
You seem to be doing a lot of different things! Art, music, science, games, technology, robots, etc … – and somehow all this stuff seems to be connected. Can you explain how you work and think?
In my previous career, when I was focusing on composing, recording, releasing records and playing live, I soon discovered the benefits of moving freely between genres and contexts. I easily get bored so when I had explored one field of music I was always curious to move on. I also discovered that developing skills within multiple fields of music gave me tools to easier explore new skills – not only music.
When I did a radio show called Ström for Swedish Radio P2, I launched a series of projects where I commissioned music from various artists, in collaboration with non-musical fields of society. I also did music projects as parts of a Ph.D. in Ethnology, send music to space with Swedish Space Corporation, did a project with Church of Sweden, etc. I found that music can be used for many other things than just to perform or passively consume.
The journey that took me to the outer limits of composing music made me aware that success not so much about having a certain competence or skill, but more about thinking freely about the challenges ahead. I learned that it becomes boring to do what you already know, but rewarding to always explore what you don’t yet know. Uncertainty, confusion and the imminent risk of failure becomes the normal state and then it’s not a problem to move into new territories.
Music is a powerful tool to train the imagination and imagination is what we need to visualize the future, to bring new ideas into the world. So the process of inventing new ways to interact with technology, games, apps, robots, architecture, design, etc, can be the same as composing. In business or at university, the innovation process looks very different. It’s controlled and structured and rarely playful or artistic – but I believe the creative process of the artist often can be superior… If you want to bring new ideas into the world.
Where do you find the ideas that get you started? What inspires you?
I have a brain that is always cooking with new ideas and I actively practice my ability to come up with new ideas all the time. I’m developing games that work as training tools for non-linear thinking, in the intersection between art and games.
I have a co-working space in Stockholm where 9 people there from all fields of creative work and create, devoted to bringing new ideas to the world. I run this place based on a vision of a new type of economy. What if we could measure the value of ideas and self-fulfillment instead of profit and growth? We live in a time where many people talk about creativity and innovation, but very few do something that is actually new. At my place, we build physical prototypes of the ideas we come up with and often these ideas incorporate music in one way or another.
My company is very far from the most successful creative hubs in Stockholm, but when it comes to the number of new ideas and projects that we produce, I think we’re one of the best. So I calculate my company’s growth and profit in ideas, not money. So for me, getting new ideas is not about going to concerts or exhibitions to study what already has been done, it’s about imagining what ideas can we bring into life to make the world richer and more inspiring.
What thoughts do you have about the composer’s role in the further development of the music and art field?
I think, in one of many possible futures, composers might be a lost trade, just like elevator operators or travel agents, something you can find at museums. But in another possible future, composers, philosophers, and artists might be the ones that shape the world. Music and art might be a part of all aspects of life in that future.
The very structures on which we have built our societies; education, corporations, and organizations are the same structures we invented at the dawn of the first civilizations. It’s basically military structures with power concentrated to the top and then declining in lower levels. Education is very much about killing children’s imagination, teach them how to endure, adapt and keep quiet. What we have built is probably really bad structures for growing new ideas. The winner in our system makes as much money as possible, doing as little as possible. The ones that do as expected will be promoted, the ones that have new ideas will be left out. The opposite of this system is the dynamic artistic process where the objective is not to climb the career ladder, not to make maximum profit, not to do as your told, not following the rules. I strongly believe that there is a way we can organize ourselves that is completely different from today; a society that strives for new ideas, inspiration, happiness – and the artistic process is the main method in which both education and business is conducted – but we have to invent this new system ourselves.
So if composers are only to be found at museums, we might lose a possible way to re-imagine our world. If we do as we’re told, follow the rules, adapt and create what we believe will be popular, then the right place for us will be the museums. But if we methodically explore what music can be tomorrow, except what it already is today, then composers and artists might be more important for the future that we can imagine.
Is reality an antonym for art and artificiality? Do you think artificial intelligence will get a natural position in art in the future?
We have already begun to merge with AI. Most of us are equipped with a device in our pocket where we voluntarily provide information to the new rulers of the world, the ones that control the data. Then, with this data, we can be analyzed as consumers, but also programmed into new personalities with new beliefs. As consumers, we are much easier to handle if we all like the same things. If we are different and unpredictable, we will be difficult to control as consumers. So a way to fight this development is to develop an unpredictable taste as consumers, staying away from the mainstream, develop and get to know ourselves, as physical beings and in our digital lives.
A recent study investigated what factors are important when people start new and long-lasting friendships. One might think the most important things are common cultural background, political view or favorite football team – but even more important is a common taste in music. So I believe the music we listen to shapes us as humans through our social network. If this is true, with reverse engineering, maybe the one with the most power to re-program us humans into obedient citizens might be Spotify.
What is Truth, in art? Are the wordless expressions, freer than other art forms? Any thoughts on this?
I think that we have only explored a fraction of what music can be. There is a reason that most (young) people in the western world have music on all the time. It’s not so good that most of that music is composed like fast food, and not particularly nutritious, but the fact that we never seem to get enough of it tells us that it’s much more than entertainment or filling the silence. Music is a part of the human construction, without it we wouldn’t be humans. If scientifically explored, I’m confident that music will be of great importance when we, as humans, transcend into the next step of the evolution.
Matrix, a strategic board game and complex, a collaborative musical instrument – not for the humans we are today but for the ones, we might become in the future.
The matrix can be experienced Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at the festival! Come play!