Feature Opinion

ATEQ: The music speaks for itself

A friend recently put forward the question of advocacy and privilege, and more importantly how to approach them as a privileged advocate.

While most of us have experienced some level of discrimination or oppression, we also have an element of privilege that excludes us from another’s struggles. While this answer evolves within it’s own intricacies, it sat in the back of my mind when approaching this piece. Of the many opportunities I have been excluded from in the music industry, mostly due to gender discrimination, the one opportunity that always presents itself is the platform to speak to artists from around the world about deeply critical subjects.

When Lighthouse Festival South Africa announced ATEQ (real name Florian Lepa) as one the headliners, for their event at the end of January in Cape Town, my flags were raised as he is a Giegling artist.

In 2017 an incident occurred with Giegling boss Konstantin, who was reported to have made derogatory comments about the role of women in electronic music. A global petition was made to have him excluded from Amsterdam Dance Event in 2018 and there was a general uproar within the music industry about his  comments. Konstantin has issued an apology and acknowledgement of his poor choice of words but I felt it would be enlightening to the South African music community to hear the perspective of an artist associated to the label.

There is a constant grey area when it comes to separation of “ the art VS the person” and it would be disheartening to be met with a complicit silence on a matter such as this, when approaching someone like ATEQ for commentary. Thankfully he was willing to grant us a very rare interview.

ATEQ has revealed himself to be a very private person who has chosen to let his music speak for him, over the expanse of his career. Concious of the impact of a misspoken word and the impact you have on your environment when you have the privilege of the attention of your audience, he has managed to lead a successful and unproblematic public life. In this interview we discuss the incident in question, his perspective on diversity and inclusion in the music industry and how his career has helped enrich his own life experience. Our conversation was illuminating and honest without censorship or an apologist undertone. Learn more about ATEQ and if you have a chance to see him perform in South Africa, do not miss out.

Angela Weickl: You seem to keep a relatively private presence online, in terms of interviews and features outside of your music releases. Is this a concerted effort on your part, and if so why?

ATEQ: Yes that’s true. I do not show personal things that are irrelevant to my work. It is a conscious decision to keep my personal life private. Music should speak for itself, and when it’s pure, without any tags or images, it will have its most direct appeal.

I seldom give interviews or speak out in public. Words have an immense power and can quickly lead to misunderstandings. For me, music is what matters and if I want to express something, then it’s through sound. A lot can be said, but sometimes I ask myself… what happened to the music? In our collective we have a similar approach and focus for what we are creating now, as well as for the future. Our music and events are our sort of language, our way of communicating with the world.

I’m constantly working on music every day and I’m waiting for the right moment when all of these pieces fall together to create the story I want to tell. It’s like a diary, my best friend. And yes for me its the truest, most honest and powerful way of communication.

AW: First as a club and then later as a label, you have been part of the Giegling family from the outset. To what do you attribute the greatest successes of working as a collective?

ATEQ: Konstantin and Dustin took over a club in Weimar (called electro giegling) from some students and asked me to play. This was 2007. I instantly fell in love with the club, the city and the people there. It didn’t take long before I enrolled as a student in Weimar. It was an incredibly beautiful time. We all lived together in a house and after we had to close the club we founded the label. For me the greatest success was exactly that time. We organised illegal parties and we started to take part in the Fusion Festival where we build our own stage. We turned our ideas into reality within the label as well as outside the label. We created a freedom which I never knew existed in that form. So many great things happened in the years since then… not enough space to tell about all of them here… but a beautiful utopia.

AW: Do you encounter many artists in electronic music who see the benefit of working as a collective rather than isolating themselves in an effort to possibly find faster success on their own?

ATEQ: In my opinion there are many groups and collectives which believe in something and that realise their ideas with a lot of love. This is wonderful and gives the room to create something that has not existed before. Personally I drew a lot from it and it inspired me to work in a collective. On the other hand it can be very intense since everybody is their own character and has their individual ideas and skill set. It is important that these ideas match, like when cooking for example, all these different ingredients have to blend well.

AW: It’s never all sunshine and rainbows, what are the biggest challenges of having individual artists representing a label with such rich history and esteem amongst its peers?

ATEQ: Yes, one has a lot of responsibility not only for oneself but also the others. It is important to be aware of that.

AW: In 2017 an incident involving Giegling co-founder Konstantin caused an uproar. He was quoted as saying, women are “disproportionately promoted” in the industry and suggested that women are “usually worse at DJing than men”. After this went public, The Black Madonna also tweeted that Konstantin had warned her to stay away from him because she is a feminist and he is a chauvinist. And in 2018 a petition was drawn up and circulated online in an attempt to have Konstantin excluded from ADE.  In your experience and having known Konstantin for so many years, were you surprised by the incident?

ATEQ: Yes I was shocked by the article. We all were. Sexism is absolutely not acceptable! But the picture that was created in the media is not how I know Konstantin. I have known Konstantin for many years and he is known for testing boundaries and sometimes pushing them. Nevertheless in this case his way of addressing this topic was obviously wrong. This is a very sensitive topic and should be discussed more carefully and with a lot of respect. From working with Konstantin for a long time I know that he is always motivated to help and support people and when having a discussion he can be very passioned and it can go in multiple directions, not necessarily a bad one… it can also work as an impulse for something positive. I think he was very unaware and didn’t treat the subject with enough sensitivity.

AW: Do you think it’s a case of him being ignorant of the impact of his words, and that his suggestion of it being a joke seems like a weak attempt at an excuse for his behaviour?

ATEQ: This whole thing is much bigger than Konstantin. I totally understand the reaction to the article and why so many people felt offended, discussing it the way they did, and getting up in arms. I think it is important that subjects like this get discussed because only in dialogue we can really learn from each other and change the things for the better.

It goes without saying too, but, none of us have any problems with women in the music industry, to think otherwise would be totally absurd. The people who know us know that we seldom speak out, but instead express ourselves through actions. And for a while now we’ve have some enormously talented women in our label who do great music and whose personalities match our collective spirit.

To have them onboard is a great thing and I am excited about every show we can play together.

AW: I don’t believe the conversation about inclusivity and diversity in music will be over until we normalise inclusion based on merit while achieving equity as well. Do you believe enough effort is being placed, into the club and event spaces you frequent, to promote diversity and equality?

ATEQ: I agree, the first step is done, but we have to work on what happens after too. I think that clubs and festivals are reacting in a good way though, not all of them but many. Unfortunately a lot of the same artists are being booked again and again, women and men, which I find monotonous. That fact that many promoters play it safe can be counterproductive when it comes to diversity and variety.  I think it’s essential that we help future generations to have easier access to electronic music, which is partially happening already. For instance there are many women who present videos or tutorials about music and studio equipment, like software and modular systems. This is really motivating I think. We as a label are thinking about how we can create new platforms through workshops in the future too.

AW: There is no better influence on your life’s perspective than travelling. Your music affords you the opportunity to travel around the world, what are the greatest lessons you’ve learnt about yourself due to travelling? And what has surprised you most about discovering new cultures?

ATEQ: I am forever thankful to be able to travel so much. There have been so many experiences. For the most part I’m only in the one place for a short time and can sometimes only get a glimpse of where I am. But if one doesn’t mess up when playing for the first time and gets invited again, new pieces of the puzzle come together. I am collecting pieces which will eventually become a whole.

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