They may have been kicking around for a few years now, but damn if Polographia didn’t hit their stride in 2016. The live electro duo’s sound lands somewhere between the soft majesty of outer space and the easy serenity a surfer feels inside a barrel… safe to say, we’re fans.
They also strike the middle ground between DJs and bands, an artisan grey area where triggers, MIDI effects and live instrumentals form a tight-knit blend wholly unique to their act.
For Happy Mag Issue #4 Polographia invited us into their studio for a behind-the-scenes lens into the machines and musicians who make it all work.
Amongst the shifting soundscapes of Polographia, no experiment is off limits and the fence between rock and electro disappears.
HAPPY: We’re here to talk about the gear you play with live, and the gear you record with. What makes your sound what it is. Just to start, what’s your live setup look like at the moment?
MOKTAR: It’s a drum kit for Dan and for me it’s a MIDI pad that I use sometimes, but mainly I use the pad on my Keylab 49, the keyboard. I use a lot of triggers on there for weird effects, I even have banks where I can change instruments around if needed. We use a lot of Ableton plugins as well. I’m on guitar too, I used to use an amp but lately I’ve been travelling light and plugging straight into Ableton.
HAPPY: How long have you been playing on the current setup?
DAN: Oh, ages. Since I realised playing drums was heaps more fun than triggering MIDI pads, which is what I used to do. We’ve been ironing out over the years and figuring out what we’re comfortable with.
MOKTAR: It’s a super easy, quick setup. Soundcheck is easy too because we don’t come through heaps of lines, everything comes from my end. It makes it really easy to fix anything on the fly.
HAPPY: And what you play on, what you’ve just explained, is that the bulk of what you write and record on as well?
DAN: We’ve got different keyboards at home which we don’t play live. I don’t actually play much drums when we’re recording unless there’s a track which would be sick with real drums, then we’ll get a couple of mics and do something simple.
HAPPY: Wait, you record with drum samples?
MOKTAR: Yeah well we like to explore a bit with each track, we always genre hop and it’s why every song you hear has a new type of sound. It keeps it interesting, we hardly ever use the same type of kit. We like it that way.
DAN: We’ll also do some layering with electronic drums underneath real drums, same thing with keyboards. Sometimes we’ll record a keyboard or sometimes we’ll use a MIDI sample and then put guitar over the top.
HAPPY: That’s super interesting. I mean there is such a ‘sound’ to your music despite the genre-hopping and apparently the wide sampling. It stitches together so well and I would never have noticed unless you just told me.
MOKTAR: Any chance we get to explore with different synths we’ll jump on too. Last week I had five hardware synths for the week to muck around with. Korgs, Rolands, heaps of 80s sounding stuff.
DAN: We’ll always record that stuff when we get to use it, that way we get a bunch of sound banks to use.
HAPPY: So the last time we talked you said you’d often feel naked onstage without a vocalist, but it actually seems like there’s a fair bit to hide behind. Do you see yourselves in the future moving towards a pseudo three piece setup where you’ve always got someone in front of you or would you go full instrumental like Ratatat?
MOKTAR: I feel like it would be so cool to have a third member but at the same time, it would change everything completely.
DAN: It would have to be something else. If we had a singer we’d have to rename the band.
MOKTAR: It could change us for the better, sure, we’re still growing and not everyone knows us at the moment, but I feel like it would somehow dismiss everything we’ve done. Our sound can go anywhere when we feature a different artist and that’s what we enjoy doing. It’s kind of the thing to do these days.
DAN: We’re kind of like producer/DJs but with… real instruments.