BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN HARDCORE AND TECHNO – IN CONVERSATION WITH SOMNIAC ONE
The Netherlands-based Lithuanian techno and industrial hardcore producer, DJ, and label owner Kristina, known as Somniac One is one of the most respected contemporary artists in the underground electronic music industry these days. She influences today’s techno and hardcore scene with a sound that is intense, atmosphere-driven, and technically precise. Her signature kicks, combined with a distinct and innovative sound design make her productions recognizable and unapologetically herself.
The talented artist started producing music at the age of 13. She has released on labels such as Perc Trax, PRSPCT, RAW, Ghostly International, Love Hz, Meta4, and on her own label, Somniverse. Established firmly in both the techno and industrial hardcore scene, Somniac One is perfectly positioned to blur the lines between genres. A cross-pollinating approach to DJing has seen Somniac One perform at major events like Dominator, Soenda, Bang Face, Dream Nation, Intercell, Defqon.1, as well as renowned underground clubs across Europe, including Tresor, RSO, and Anomalie in Berlin, Kompass in Belgium, Fold in London and Boiler Room.
We explored Somniac One’s origins and dived deeper into her views and reflections on the hardcore and techno scene. She now walks the line between techno and hardcore, uniting and integrating both genres in her sets and original productions. Kristina is recognized for a top-tier comprehensive and innovative sound showing her audience new ways of crossing genres.
With “I Hope This EP Finds You Well” she today releases three tracks representing her take on the industrial techno of one of her all-time favorite techno labels Perc Trax. With a strong, emotional message and a sound that this label has been defined by throughout the years, Somniac One enriches us with another great vinyl release.
How did you get into electronic music? How were your first experiences with it? And what were your biggest influences looking back? Like many of us, I began listening to electronic music on commercial dance music radio when I was around 11. A bit later, a friend from school gave me a CD with a lot of dark, edgy underground music. hardcore, Drum and Bass, and stuff like The Prodigy. I was immediately hooked and began digging deeper. Soon after, I started producing music, too. I realized that I was actually able to make those sounds myself, all I needed was a computer and some software for it. I got a copy of Reason from my cousin for Christmas and I remember spending a full day unable to get a single sound out of that piece of software – turns out I just had my sound card settings put wrong. I was determined! Around 2010, I started performing live sets using loops and sounds from my own productions, Ableton, and a controller. Around 2015, I picked up DJing, first at home and later at actual events. Funnily, this massive Dutch Festival Defqon.1 in 2017 was my first DJ gig. I was nervous! Since I discovered electronic music, I’ve been cycling through a lot of dance music genres, both as a listener and in the studio. The major influences for my productions are the industrial hardcore scene, artists like The Outside Agency, Mindustries, or Ophidian, as well as the darker millennium hardcore sound – music that came out in the late 90s and early-mid 2000s, hard techno from around the mid-2000s, and IDM. Industrial techno releases from pre-pandemic times by artists like Ansome, Perc, and Clouds, are what ultimately drew my focus towards techno, and my experiences on the dancefloor probably also really helped to shape my view of the genre. Nowadays I get more inspiration from music outside of the respective genres I create, or sometimes it’s an old dance record I happen to discover or re-discover.
How would you describe your musical journey and the development of your sound throughout the years? I’ve gotten much better at what I do. Over time my productions became much more solid while the stuff from 2010 is not really something I would be able to present to dance floors now. At some point, I also started focusing on turning my music hobby into a career. Around four years ago I quit my day job because I was slowly able to make a living from playing gigs. While my main focus for the longest time has been industrial hardcore, I’ve dedicated the last few years to learning techno. And now I’m joyfully walking the line between techno and hardcore, integrating and combining both genres in my sets and original productions.
So Techno or Hardcore? Hardcore is a language that I’m fluent in. I feel like I know exactly what I’m doing when I’m playing hardcore, even if I still often feel like a newbie in the studio. It’s a tough genre to produce. On the other hand, there are a lot of things about the current hardcore scene that I cannot really identify with. It has changed a lot over the years and become much more EDM-like, both in terms of the music and what is expected of performing artists. I don’t really see myself picking up the mic to hype up the crowd throughout my sets! What drew me to techno was a bigger focus on the aesthetic of the sound, and less focus on big breakdowns and drops – although that currently seems to be changing.
To me, techno is journey music, while hardcore is more about peak experiences.
What I also really like about mixing techno, is that there’s a lot of room for layering since, unlike in hardcore, the tracks can be quite minimal, structurally and sonically. It’s really nice to be able to use all four decks and have the chance to create new things on the fly by blending different tracks together. It’s a slightly different approach to mixing than in hardcore which I really enjoy and also find quite challenging.
In what way do you think the Hardcore scene runs kind of differently than the Techno scene? Hardcore is much more of a producer’s scene than techno. Artists get booked for the music they release and only rarely for their DJ sets. There’s also much more focus on playing your own music at events. In techno, the crowds are often less aware of the actual music played, and the focus is much more on the DJ and their ability to make people dance and carry a specific energy or vibe through their sets. Techno has also become much more mainstream and commercial now, which can provide incentives for artists to treat it as a business. On the other hand, the Dutch hardcore industry is quite corporate and monopolistic, which can come with a lot of downsides for the artists and smaller event promoters. Hardcore organizations were also the ones to start throwing those massive events that would host tens of thousands of visitors, while all the other dance music organizations only followed later.
Where would you say you belong or do you like to keep it fluid? In a way, I think that the hardcore community is much more tight-knit. Artists tend to be very supportive of each other. If your music is good, you’re one of us, and we’re all happy to push and promote each other. Meanwhile, techno can feel much more competitive. I also often feel more connected with the crowd in hardcore because they actually know all the music, every edit, turn and twist in the track, while in techno they seem to be less aware of what is being played.
I enjoy presenting the music I like to new crowds, surprising them, and giving my audience a chance to discover. I’ve also made some great connections and friends in various pockets of techno.
Being part of different scenes and meeting such a diverse set of people is very interesting to me. Definitely, one of my goals is to build more bridges between the scenes.
What about the Techno scene? In techno producers are not as visible as DJs, although, let’s be honest, music production is quite a bit more labor-intensive, time-consuming, and demanding of skill than DJing is. The way this industry is set up now means that artists’ income is almost solely derived from DJ gigs. It would be okay if the industry fairly rewarded each musician’s contributions through event bookings, however, that is often not the case. So, we have a massive income and reward-recognition gap between the majority of producers who make music that DJs play and DJs who consistently get booked to play that music. What makes this situation worse is that a lot of the time when DJs publish mixes or videos from their gigs on social media, most don’t credit producers whose music they are playing. So, the producers are not even given the exposure that could potentially result in a paid gig, even if their music really has the power to light up the dancefloor. I wish more DJs realized their responsibility to share the music they love with others. Besides, it’s a great way to build communities and connect with other artists.
You’ve been in the industry for quite a while. What has changed? I think the scene has become much more diverse. There’s a lot of room for different kinds of sounds, and the crowd as well as event promoters have become much more open-minded. Back in the day, you probably had lots of genre purists keeping everyone in check. Now you can hear all sorts of different sounds. Being able to play at a lot of different kinds of events, often with very diverse lineups is really exciting to me. Besides, in all these places I get to play music that many of us back in the day thought was much too difficult and underground for audiences outside of our little niche scene. That feels like a real win!
In your productions as well as in your sets, you cross these genre boundaries. Why do you think it is that artists become more and more open when it comes to blending genres? Most artists tend to experiment or even professionalize in music genres that fall outside of the styles they are most known for. Life would be quite dull if we had to forever be locked in a single genre box. It is not uncommon for music producers to start new aliases and use them as creative outlets for other kinds of music. The problem with starting new projects is that you have to build a new audience pretty much from zero, grow and maintain new social media channels, find new agencies for bookings, and so forth. When I began experimenting with techno, I also considered starting a new alias for that.
After observing certain changes in the techno scene – event lineups getting more musically diverse, the trend for harder music, and getting the chance to play my own hardcore at those events – I decided to stick to my single alias Somniac One.
Besides, my preferred kind of hardcore always had strong techno influences.
Sometimes people come to me after my sets and tell me they’ve never heard techno like this before, and I have to explain that what they were listening to wasn’t really techno.
To answer your question, I think that similar experiences probably also led other artists to openly display a wider spectrum of their musical tastes. Although I’m sure there are other reasons for this trend, too, like the post-pandemic influx of new artists whose work has been less steeped in genre traditions, as well as the greater appreciation for sonic diversity among the audiences.
How do you usually prepare for a Techno and Hardcore party? Hardcore sets tend to be much shorter, the standard festival set is only 1 hour. There I often go in with just a single playlist, approximately 70-150 tracks that I might want to play, all sorted by BPM for convenience, and I select the tunes on the fly. For the regular 2-3 hour techno sets, I prepare multiple playlists, say a playlist for medium-strength techno, harder techno, lighter tracks that work as layers, a ‘bangers’ playlist – tracks I know that really work on the dancefloor – and a playlist for an occasional non-techno (e.g., acid, electro, breakbeat, or early rave) track to spice up the mix. What goes into those playlists depends on the mood of the night and the space. A daytime open-air festival calls for a different energy and vibe than a dark sweaty basement or an industrial warehouse. I also bring a hardcore playlist along to every show and almost always dip in there. At techno parties with really hard lineups, which has become quite common nowadays, I’ll mostly play hardcore and drop a few more old-school/classical hard techno or schranz tracks. The kind of techno that I normally produce and play is just no longer hard enough for those events.
What’s the secret of keeping your style authentic? It’s quite simple. I stand for a specific sound, or a range of sound. I have spent many hours perfecting that sound in my studio as a music producer and my DJ sets are an extension of that. I can’t just drop all that and start playing whatever is popular because that is just not what I stand for. I also have pretty specific tastes and preferences, which helps. Producing music you dislike sounds like absolute torture! Some DJs have confessed to me that they play stuff they don’t really like in order to stay relevant and keep getting gigs, and I understand, we all need to pay our bills. But honestly, I’d much rather go out there and get a day job than go down that path!
I want to feel good about myself as an artist, and it’s also a great feeling to be rewarded for doing exactly what you love.
What do you do when you feel creatively blocked? You just have to push through it. Sometimes you spend a whole day on a track and then at the end of the day, it’s two minutes shorter. That can be quite demotivating. But you learn that this is part of the process, so you keep trying until something good comes out. What helps, of course, for me is to listen to other music, taking breaks, long walks, or finding other ways to refresh your mind. I also find that staying away from email, the news and social media when I have to create also helps. A creative mind is a relaxed mind.
What do you enjoy outside of being a producer and DJ? For the longest time, music was my hobby. And that’s something I would do every free minute that I had off work or school. A few years ago, it became the main thing, my full-time job. So I feel like I haven’t really had the chance to develop any other real hobbies. But what I enjoy next to my music is cooking; I like to read a good book, I listen to podcasts to stay in the know, and I try to take the time to do a bit of sight-seeing and to familiarize myself with the countries and cultures that host me for my shows. I also casually do yoga and meditate a bit which has really helped to keep me grounded. A busy touring schedule has made life feel quite chaotic, and those things also helped me to push through the difficult pandemic period.
You launched your new label Somniverse! How did that come to life? I launched the label last August with the first release ‘Deer in the Headlights’, pressed on a little red 10” vinyl record representing my current musical range. The reason I started the label was because I wanted to have more creative freedom. If you make music for a certain label, you have to adjust your sound to make it fit within that label’s sonic range. There are always certain genre boundaries. I wanted to have more room for experimentation. Aside from releasing techno and hardcore, I plan to also have some weirder B-sides, maybe an occasional ambient or IDM track there. I’ll also keep releasing everything on vinyl. It’s nice to have something that lasts, and my fans still appreciate a physical product they can add to their collection.
Can you tell us more about your new EP? What were you focussing on sound-wise? And is there a story behind the name? “I Hope This EP Finds You Well” just came out on my all-time favorite techno label Perc Trax. My aim was to make three or four tracks that would represent my take on the industrial techno sound that this label has been defined by throughout the years. I began working on this EP back in March, 2022 – I’m a slow producer and vinyl production times have been crazy long in the last few years. Admittedly, it was also a conflicting time for me personally. On the one hand, the world had reopened after the pandemic, DJ gigs were picking up again and many great opportunities were coming my way. On the other hand, on February 24th, 2022 Russia began its brutal invasion of Ukraine. This felt really close to home, given my own country’s (Lithuania) recent history and Russia’s destructive influence on our culture, political and economic development, as well as our national psyche, felt to this very day. My own grandmother was put on a cattle train and deported deep into Siberia at the age of 12, where she faced starvation, harsh winters and saw death on a regular basis. This release is not about that, but wherever you are, whatever your station in life is, I hope this EP finds you well.
What does the rest of your year look like? I have some nice gigs lined up here and there and I’ll keep touring Europe on a regular basis. I’ll also be back in South America in September for a mini tour with gigs in Colombia and, for the first time, Ecuador. The rest of the time I’ll be spending in the studio working on the next release for Somniverse, which I want to have finished ASAP. Right now my productions are really dancefloor-oriented, but I recently had one of my tracks featured in a Norwegian TV series ‘Kids in Crime’. In a slightly more distant future, I’d love to try my hand at music with other purposes, like film or a fashion show! My favorite thing in the world is sound design and the requirement for heavy kickdrums in my kind of dance music can be quite limiting in how wild you can go there. But we all love creative limitations, don’t we?