If you have even a passing interest in the buying of synthwave music on physical media, specifically that of the vinyl format, you’re more than likely already aware of the producer known as Code Elektro and their high quality releases. If not, you should be because they’re well sought after for a reason and it would behoove you to check them out as soon as possible. For one thing, the presentation of each record is impressive as Iceberg Records does a fantastic job in handling production and distribution. These album covers beg to be framed on your wall or at least displayed openly on your shelf rather than just sleeved away with the rest. The good news is that there’s now a new release to be had in the form of their latest album, Triads, which came out just a few weeks ago.
It’s quite the hefty beast as the cover art would suggest in the form of a neon dragon, that looks very mechanical in design, which was beautifully crafted by John Bergin who has done design work for Stranger Things, Drive, and Mr. Robot. “For me the visual expression is a big part of the music” Code Elektro mused, “and since I’m making instrumental music perhaps visual expression has an even bigger influence on the artistic feel. John is an amazing artist, and he is good at so many things from artwork to design and music, so I knew that it would be awesome if I could talk him into working on the cover and thankfully he wanted to work with me too! I could not be happier with the result. I told John about the concept of the record and said to him that I wanted a big dragon on the front cover and something on the back cover for the vinyl. He came up some initial ideas, we worked from that, and I just love the new cover. The community has been really happy about it too!”
Concept albums, telling stories through music, and generating a theater in the mind has been part of Code Elektro’s overall mission ever since his last album Wolf. “It feels like I’m making a movie every time I write a new album and therefore for every song there has to be a story even though it’s instrumental music. For the new album, and for my previous album Wolf, I have been working with overall concepts” Code Elektro explained. Wolf, as described on his website, is a concept album which mixes themes such as technology, the future, and the role of man in relation to nature. “I really like that approach and I will probably work this way again as I already have a few ideas.” Elaborating further on the new album, and the concept behind it, Code Elektro stated that “the title Triads means three things to me as it’s my third album and a triad is a group of three. Also, a triad can mean these crime syndicates originating from China in the 18th century so the album definitely has this eastern vibe to it combined with a synthwave-ish and cinematic sound that I try to create.”
Code Elektro is the stage name of Martin Ahm Nielsen, based out of Denmark, who released his debut album Superstrings in 2015 which was met with critical acclaim and earned him his first GAFFA Award nomination for Best Danish Electronic Album. He would follow it up a year later with his sophomore effort, Wolf, which was also nominated for the same award. “Music has always been a big part of my life” Martin reminisced, “as I have been playing bass in different bands since I was a kid. I really like 70s and early 80s electronic music such as Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter, and Jean Michel-Jarre. But I also like to listen to rock and metal, mostly bands from the 70s, 80s, and 90s: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Rage Against the Machine, and Alice In Chains to name a few.” Harking back to his prior allusions to being a visualized instrumentalist, Martin also finds inspiration in “comics such as The Incal (Moebius/Jodorowski), Valérian and Laureline (Christin/Mézières), and from movies like Blade Runner, Matrix, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Alien, TRON, etc.”
When it comes to making his own unique sound, Martin utilizes a wide range of both hardware and software. “For software synthesizers I really like the DIVA, Zebra, and Repro-1 from U-he and I also like NI Reaktor, Predator, and Omnisphere. For hardware I use a Moog Subphatty, Korg Minilogue, Roland JX3P, and a AKAI S3000XL. I have two UA TwinFinity tube preamps and a DIY SSL compressor that I feed into an RME Fireface soundcard. I also play on my Fender P-bass, Yamaha Fretless bass, and Ibanez guitar. I’m also a Cubase user and have been so for many years. I would love to have a Buchla Music Easel, Jupiter8 or CS8, and I hope that I can afford at least one of them some day.” When it comes to mixing and mastering, especially in terms of vinyl as previously stated his releases have become known for this format, the question arose of whether or not he does so with said format in mind. “Yes and no,” Martin teased before going on to address it further:
“I try to write and mix the songs as good as I can. The mastering is a different story because I release on streaming/download and vinyl, so I need two different masters. I’m always using a mastering engineer for my albums. For me it’s great to have another set of ears as well as all their skills and hardware gear (compressors, equalizers and limiters) which gives the music something extra that I can’t get myself. The mastering engineer and I start out by discussing how this will translate onto the different media and then we make a plan for the mastering sessions. When you release for digital/download you will have to compress and make your music as loud as all the other artists. This is called the “loudness war,” but regarding vinyl the listener is listening to a complete album and therefore you can use dynamics in a different way because the next track will have the same volume and dynamics [as the previous track]. That’s one of the main reasons why I release on vinyl.”
With another album under his belt, and an impressive one at that, the inevitable question to ask now is what’s next for both Martin and Code Elektro? “I’m always surprised about how much work there is up to an album release” he admitted, “so I’m probably going to take a break, but I have also been thinking about a few concepts for new albums and maybe there’s a few new opportunities as well?” When asked if these new opportunities involve playing any live shows, Martin stated that “I have been playing a lot of live shows since I was a kid, but always in bands. It’s a great way to connect with an audience. There have not been any live shows with Code Elektro yet, but maybe in the future?” While the future may not be too clear at this moment in time, there is at least one question that always garners a concrete answer: what goes on your perfect pizza and inside your ideal burrito? “Any pizza is always good! I just spent two weeks in Los Angeles and at one place they had a breakfast burrito with guacamole and egg, it was awesome, I need to find that here in Denmark!”
You can find out more about Code Elektro at their official website.