“Bringing an audience to tears at the beginning of the show is maybe not an ideal way to start a concert, but it did amaze me to hear about such strong reactions. But I suppose you couldn’t ask for a better feedback—at the end of the day I guess it’s why we do what we do, to really connect with other people.”


John Lemke (Photo by Lukasz Bernacki)

Blurring boundaries

Unaffected by current trends, and driven by passion and curiosity, John Lemke, one of Denovali’s most creative forces, operates quietly but effectively in the colorful effervescent fringes of the musical spectrum, attracting the curious ears of new sonic worlds seekers across the globe while avoiding the all-devouring mainstream radar. Lemke is known for his unconventional modi operandi; his work is characterized by dynamic interactions between peculiar acoustic experimentalism and electric and electronic explorations. These unique interactions assemble electrifying, organic-sounding, lo-fi-infused genre-defying compositions. Elements of electronica, dub, modern classical, ambient, jazz and more, collide and merge with one another effortlessly, knocking down genre fences. With already two successful EPs (Traveller and Walizka) and a wonderful album (People Do) in his discography, Lemke continues to explore and deepen his self-created sonic universe, and is now working on a sophomore album. If you haven’t come across Lemke’s work before, here’s your chance to catch up and discover a truly original artist.

Igloo logo The story?

John :: I was born in a little place called Cottage Grove in Oregon to German parents, but grew up in Berlin until I was about 20. After moving to Scotland to study theatre, I soon realised that music (which had been a big part of my life since aged five, I fell in love with Queen’s Greatest Hits II) had a much stronger pull for me. So while doing a masters degree in Sound Design at Edinburgh University, I started writing music for animations, documentaries and eventually TV. All the while I was working on my own material, but it took me years to arrive at the kind of sound that had been forming in mind. Then, through a good friend and collaborator, now fellow label mate Poppy Ackroyd, I met the guys from Denovali while on tour with Poppy in 2012. At that point I had been working on a collection of new tracks that I wanted to bundle into an album. Denovali were quite keen to hear the material and from there on it all kind of fell into place then. These days I live in Glasgow, but still spend a fair amount of time in Berlin, where most of my family (and my favourite piano) are.

Igloo logo Sound & style?

John :: Instrumental electro-acoustic music would be one, albeit fairly bland way of putting it. What I enjoy most is combining textures rich in atmosphere with locations recordings and hand crafted beats that hopefully inspire to move in some way. As a listener to many varied types of music, it’s important to incorporate many elements from my own listening experience into my music, hopefully blurring genre boundaries wherever possible. These are all aspects I try and bring to the live show as well.

Igloo logo Latest work?

John :: My debut record was very much a studio album, in that it included a lot of very detailed sound design, recording and production techniques. With the following release (‘Walizka’ EP) I wanted to move into a more live-driven direction. The songs on the EP have a much more immediate, almost catchy feel to them, which is probably owed to the fact they were conceived in a rehearsal room environment, as opposed to a studio. It’s definitely a direction I would love to keep pursuing and combining with the studio approach. Naturally, making music is a very slow process for me. I like the sounds I work with to have a real life of their own, which I achieve by either recording in many different environments or using certain techniques, such as worldizing, to alter the sounds. This becomes a bit harder if you try to create something in the moment, on the spot. But I’ve learned that combining both approaches can sometimes yield the most interesting results.

Igloo logo Memorable reaction?

John :: There’s a track that closes my first album, but I often decide to open the live show with, because it’s quite warm and direct (‘When We Could’ from ‘People Do’). It gets quite an intense reaction from live audiences from time to time. Recently I played a festival in Germany where people kept coming up to me afterwards saying that this particular track really moved them, in some cases even made them cry. Bringing an audience to tears at the beginning of the show is maybe not an ideal way to start a concert, but it did amaze me to hear about such strong reactions. But I suppose you couldn’t ask for a better feedback – at the end of the day I guess it’s why we do what we do, to really connect with other people.

Igloo logo On heavy rotation?

John :: Can’t stop listening to the new Sharon Van Etten record (‘Are We There’) – it’s just like a drug! I’m also a big fan of the new Grouper album and keep going back to the Scott Walker & Sunn O))) collaboration ‘Soused’ a lot, especially if I’m in need of a good sonic cleansing.

Igloo logo Live?

John :: It’s a bit quieter on the live front at the moment, since I’ve retreated to the studio to work on new material, like some hibernating animal. However there’s quite a few European dates coming up in the summer and hopefully my first American show next January!

Igloo logo Future plans?

John :: A new album is in the works, which I’m really excited about! I’ve just moved into a new studio – still in the process of setting it all up actually and it’s influencing the writing a lot, which I enjoy. Hopefully it’ll be ready for release later in the year. In the meantime I’ll also be working on a new live sound design installation with friend and collaborator Rodrigo Malvar in Portugal and writing some new film scores.

John Lemke Home Page | John Lemke on Denovali | Denovali

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