Every once and a while I open a press release that completely and utterly shifts the music I am listening to. A couple weeks ago I was living contently in a world of indie acid rock when I decided to open an email with a subject line that read, “Freakin’ Disco’’. I would quickly like to preface that I haven’t really listened to anything electronic sounding since 2004 when I had a really heavy Armin Van Buuren phase. Turns out it was a live instrumental electronica band from Hungary. The album enclosed in this digital present was their latest EP TOTEM. A collection of music so amazing and so danceable I just had to reach out to the band for more information. So without further ado, my interview with Freakin’ Disco.
Could you tell us a little bit about the origins of the band and how you got your start?
- Ágoston Szabó Sipos: The three of us, Áron, Andris and me, met at the jazz department of the Hungarian Academy of Music. We used to work a lot in independent theaters, even today we do. That’s where we met Gábor. We had an improv concert with him and by the end we knew we had to go on as a four-piece. Since then we have been improvising a lot in the creative process and at concerts too. Of course, our concert program is very well designed, but we also leave room for improvisation.
- Gábor Keresztes: As Ágoston said, the three of them formed a jazz trio after their jazz studies, but they felt that some electronic ingredients were missing from the music. That’s when they met me, and I was in charge of those ingredients in the early days. On the day we met for the first time in our lives, the guys told me they had a gig the next day and asked if I wanted to join them and see how we could work together. We tried and after the gig Freakin’ Disco was formed.
What was it like working with Steve Dub and how did that collaboration happen?
- Ágoston Szabó Sipos: There was a tender in Hungary that our management applied for. Bands had to send in demos and very well-known producers, like Clint Murphy, Jake Gordon, Mo Hauslet or Steve Dub would each choose a couple to work with. Steve chose our song. That’s how we started our collaboration with him. We were lucky enough to meet him in Budapest a couple of times, which proved to be the most way of working, but of course we were sending the song to each other online back and forth. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
TOTEM is amazing! I haven’t enjoyed an album like this in a long time and I really can’t stop listening to it. What significance does the name TOTEM have in relation to the album and how is this album different than your previous releases?
- Gábor Keresztes: Thank you, we really appreciate it! We are all sensitive to all kinds of tribal manifestations. Before we started writing this record, we decided to call it TOTEM. We didn’t define what we meant by it, but we knew that we all had a very strong connection to the energy that we felt this tribalism in. It always acted as a signpost when we were unsure about something.
What is the music scene like in Hungary? Is it hard for indie bands to get noticed or has it been easy?
- Ágoston Szabó Sipos: I think we can consider ourselves lucky. We have a lot of concerts…relatively. Especially the summer season works well. There are a lot of festivals in Hungary, and we fit in quite a lot. We’re rarely headliners, it’s hard to compete with the singing, pop acts, but I think the hard work pays off and they know about us. However, it’s a bit difficult to grow bigger. Cultural policy in Hungary is not going in the right direction these days. We have some nice venues in Budapest where you can play, but in the rest of the country it is getting more and more expensive and difficult to reach the audience, it is not easy to organize a multi-stop tour, for example. That’s why we want to play abroad even more, as it also might create more buzz around us at home.
What is your writing process like? Do individual members of the band bring their ideas or do you just get together and start playing?
- Áron Komjáti: The answer actually is both. We really like improvising together and we feed a lot of our music from listening back to those sessions, but at the same time it often happens that someone comes up with an idea or a concept and we start working on it in rehearsal. But there are also times when we send each other our ideas online and everyone works on the song at home. As you can see, we have tried several different ways of composing, and found that luckily, we can work together relatively easily.
Do you have any plans for a US tour?
- Áron Komjáti: One time at one of our club concerts in Budapest, a girl from California, who was studying in New York, came up to me and she was raving about how she thought there would be a lot of interest in this music on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco and so on. So, of course, we’d love to tour the US, we hope to do it one day!
What are some of the hardest challenges you have faced as a band?
- Áron Komjáti: One of the major difficulties in Hungary today is that most people listen to music on the radio and unfortunately there is no real platform for music like ours, at least none of them reaches wider audiences. So, it’s very difficult to grow in terms of audience after a certain level. We’re trying to create a lot of new content and use the online space to get as many people as possible to listen to our music and as many people as possible to come to our concerts. Since all four of us in the band are freelance musicians, we all play in several bands, compose music, teach, have families, so the biggest challenge is how we can find time to work together. Also, it’s kinda difficult in Budapest today to find a rehearsal space where a band can settle in for years, find a home and not have to move to a different place every year.
What made you choose to perform the music with live instrumentation as opposed to simply playing tracks? (Btw I much prefer live instrumentation)
- Freakin’ Disco: Probably it would be more practical, but we never considered it. We are instrumentalists who want to create music together. Also, a lot of our music and concerts are based on improv and experimenting. We even have a series of concerts where we only improvise, sometimes inviting other musicians to join and see how we can inspire each other. We love playing live.
What would you say has been the most memorable aspect of your music careers so far?
- Ágoston Szabó Sipos: We love to play shows. We have a wonderful audience, who give us a lot of energy and drive during our concerts. The most recent show we did was at a boutique festival in Hungary, called Bánkitó festival. It was a great party. So, the concerts that go well are the most memorable. Of course, it’s good to reminisce about the mini tour we did in London or the concerts on Ozora festival.
If you were given a box of all the things you have ever lost in life, what would you look for first?
- Ágoston Szabó Sipos: I would look for all the time wasted.