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  • Savant

    Savant

    “I believe people want listening music – even on the dancefloor!” So explains Aleksander Vinter of the philosophy driving his musical mastermind alter-ego, Savant. As Savant, Vinter proves a true iconoclast, simultaneously fulfilling expectations and defying them.

    On the one hand, he deploys the kind of speaker-shredding bangers that have made Savant one of dance music’s most popular rising stars: his dynamic live sets drives crowds at mega-festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival into abandon, yet Savant refuses to conform to EDM genre demarcations – or any, for that matter. “‘Electronic Dance Music’ is the most generic term, which doesn’t apply to what I do,” Vinter explains of the sound he’s dubbed “complextro.” “It’s all about putting everything into one pot of musical ether. I don’t have a rigid formula; my music manages to be comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. I like breaking rules – that’s where new stuff emerges.” Indeed, this is not your grandmother’s moombahton: 8-bit videogame soundtracks, trap, disco, house, electro, classical, ‘90s big-beat electronica – even ‘70s glam rock and ‘80s new wave finds its way into his sonic odysseys. “I like how a group like Queen is very theatrical and harmonized,” Vinter says. “That epic feeling, plus the style of David Bowie, and the spunk of Prince – that’s what I’m going for, but via dance music.”

    Savant’s status as dance-music culture’s most unpredictable, impossible-to-pigeonhole icon has remained constant throughout a madly prolific career spanning numerous singles, remixes, nominations for Norwegian Grammys, and 11 (!) full-length albums. (Most of Savant’s discography appears on SectionZ Records – the innovative, community-based imprint that was an early spawning ground for the likes of Deadmau5, to whom Savant signed in 2010 and continues to collaborate with.) Savant’s diverse appeal was made crystal clear in the instant breakthrough success of his flagship 2012 release, Alchemist. Alchemist would go on to reach the #1 spot on seven separate Beatport charts: Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Electro-House, Glitch Hop, Drumstep, Indie Dance/Nu Disco and Overall. “I get tired of using only the two rhythms – 4/4 and half time – you hear in electronic music today,” Vinter says. “I’m like, ‘What else do we have here?’ Even my housier stuff doesn’t have the same BPM all the time.” Similarly, Savant intended his 2014 album Zion to “feel like spending an entire day in the dance tent with your head in the speaker while different acts took the stage. In each of these songs, all kinds of different shit is happening – even different tempos. I’m a terrible DJ, so I like having a song I don’t have to mix: instead of mixing six songs together, I just make one long one that sounds like six songs! That style comes from me listening to DJ mixes and thinking, ‘What if you just had the cool parts, without the copy/paste shit repetition?’ I can’t do copy/paste at all – I’d feel like I was cheating myself and wasting the listener’s time. ”

    Savant’s music is largely unique in club culture in that Vinter aspires to create songs with actual meaning beyond merely “Let’s party!” Alternately inspired by literature, history, fantasy, cinema, and current world events, Savant is no stranger to wildly ambitious concept albums exploring visionary topics. 2012’s Vario took the listener inside a wild party that turned out to be a strange videogame that’s never existed; the distinctly classical quality of the smash Alchemist from that same year evoked the rise of ancient European dynasties. Orakel, meanwhile, challenged and engaged contemporary rave culture circa 2013 head on with its urgent, futuristic manifesto. Its follow up, 2014’s Protos proved unlike anything in Savant’s voluminous catalog, however- an ‘80s space-rock opera, with Vinter providing guitar solos and passionate New Wave-style vocals on nearly every track. For Savant’s latest, Zion, he flipped the script yet again. It’s an largely instrumental, cosmic meditation on the interminable conflicts in the Middle East – a complex real-world topic atypical for dance music’s largely apolitical, escapist culture – but set to a beat you can rave out to. “It shocks some of my fans, but I have to rediscover that I could do other things,” Vinter says of his ambitious, oft unexpected metamorphoses. “If I do a whole album of full-on vocals, for whatever comes next I want to do something that’s completely different. Writing about the Middle East has been in my mind a long time. It’s a very touchy subject, but the album has a lot of black humor and anti-irony amidst the heavier things. It’s all about how you interpret it. If you’re Jewish you hopefully hear Zion as a bar mitzvah party record; if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’ll see it as an Illuminati thing; if you’re a kid, you’ll just perceive it as a bunch of cool electronic music to download.”

    Vinter didn’t start life as a global DJ-producer star. Growing up in a small Norwegian town in the ‘90s, he learned English from reading the subtitles on episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Vinter struggled in school and life until he was diagnosed with a series of mental conditions – primarily Aspergers Syndrome, “but with some autism and ADHD sprinkled in there,” recalls Vinter, 27. “What Michael Jackson and Stephen Spielberg do is totally Aspergers: quirky, super talented, and unable to live a conventional life. That was me, but I was always happy: since I was a little kid, I was like Tim Burton on social steroids.”

    Vinter’s treatment revealed a silver lining: he also had a condition known as “savant syndrome,” which allowed for a remarkable focus and aptitude in a particular talent – in Vinter’s case, music. “They told me as long as I kept doing music, I would succeed,” says Vinter, who attributes his incredibly prolific output – he’s created nearly 15,000 pieces of music since he began writing and producing in his teens on a primitive Rave eJay computer program. Vinter quickly went from classically-trained prodigy to playing in black metal band No Funeral. He then graduated to producing solo electronic music that obeyed no genre rules at all – other than rocking the party while honestly reflecting the sum total of Vinter’s life experience and taste.

    “Electronic music doesn’t tell you how to think,” Vinter says. “That it was faceless, and mostly instrumental, felt revolutionary to me. This was music that took you on a journey, telling stories with sound, not words. It was a new language – and one that’s still being refined and redefined.” At the same time, Vinter draws inspiration from a wide variety of musical and cinematic sources. He obsesses over Metallica and Hans Zimmer soundtracks as much as, say, Aphex Twin, and still listens to Off the Wall by Michael Jackson every night while brushing his teeth before bed. “I hope that, by the time I’m 40, I’ve recorded a symphony or two, and completed a trip hop/breakbeat album,” Vinter admits. “I also want to do a Motown-style R&B record in vintage ’60s fashion – down to using the same instruments and recording equipment from that era. I’m a perfectionist, yet I want to try to do everything.”

    That iconoclastically inclusive attitude is a defining aspect of Savant’s live show –not traditional DJ sets, but instead performances crafted on the spot using digital music production software. “I don’t put tracks together by spinning records,” Vinter clarifies. “It’s more of a concert where you hear my tracks redone and remixed my way – they’re even more sporadic and all over the place than the originals! It’s not about continuous beats for me: it’s more about, ‘Whoa!’ I want to blow people’s minds.”

    As such, you’ll often find Vinter onstage as Savant performing in fantastical, elaborate costumes and a custom Guy Fawkes mask – in the process giving the post-Burning Man generation its own shapeshifting glam magpie/provocateur à la Marilyn Manson or Ziggy Stardust. Savant fans often come to his concerts and club appearances in cosplay-style costumes as characters from the 8-bit influenced art and anime/game-inspired visual personas like “Vario” that characterize Savant’s gig posters and album covers. (Acclaimed game developer Simon Stafnes of D-Pad collaborates with Vinter to create a unified universe of instantly recognizable Savant iconography.) “I see what I do as Savant as building an entertainment brand,” Vinter explains. “I always wanted to make cartoons, comic books, games, films, music – and it all ties together in this mythic fantasy figure I become for people.”

    “I’m lucky electronic music hit when it did,” Vinter continues. “Because of Skrillex and Tiësto, dance music has become this thing, in between pop and mainstream, where a little autistic guy from Norway can make a living, live in L.A., and prosper. I’m proof it’s possible. But making music for me is an obsession: I’m a workaholic, trying to make something beautiful for myself. It’s like making drugs; I’m trying to take my mind off the darkness of knowing too much. Escaping from one reality to another is what I do with music. I’m doing it for myself – but if I can hit some chords, trigger a sample, and take somebody into a new world, then I’ve truly succeeded.”

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