At its core, what really makes music original is the intention behind it; the reason a person set aside time to put certain sounds together in a certain order.
A lot of people make music so they can make money. Some people make music to stand up for their political beliefs. Riccardo Lebron, who produces and performs under the name Anakim, makes music to send people on a journey through space and time. Of course, as in all literature and cinema, space and time, in reference to Riccardo’s music, are as much a metaphor for the unexplored frontiers within yourself as they are physical places and concepts in our universe.
Riccardo wants you to dance, but he also wants you to think. It’s an elusive middle-ground that has been attempted by many but accomplished by few. Dance music would not be the archetypical sound associated with deep contemplation. Most people aren’t sitting and thinking while they’re in the club. But that’s what makes his music so special. His intentions in this regard are so authentic and clear that one can’t help but consider the larger implications of their choices as they enjoy his deep, astral grooves.
We invited Riccardo to be the next in our “In Conversation” series to discuss these sage intentions and the discussion that ensued accomplished the same goal as his music. Read on to look inside this unique musical mind.
HL: I’ve read in past interviews that you want people to perceive your sound as “huge”, but when you ask most people what dance genres are “huge” they would likely veer more towards the trap, big room, hardstyle etc. which is not what you make. What elements of your music do you think make it “huge”? How do you accomplish this goal without relying on the more in-your-face aspects of dance music that have become common?
RL: I remember the first time I was asked that question. When I thought of Anakim back then I was like, “I want my sound to be really huge,” because that was me at the very beginning of my career; the beginning of what I thought I wanted Anakim to be. I still do want my sound, the real true Anakim to be huge.
HL: So how do you accomplish a huge sound within this genre? Because there are other artists within your genre who wouldn’t consider their sound huge. What makes your sound huge?
RL: I think it’s the tone of my tracks. My tone is definitely more aggressive I would say compared to other artists within the progressive/melodic techno world. I think I rely a lot on my kicks to be really big. This is music that is absolutely meant to be heard on club or festival grade speakers. So when you first hear it maybe on headphones you might not think the track is huge until you listen to it on multimillion-dollar speakers and that’s when you get a sense of just how big that sound really is.
HL: You’ve said that one of you recent EPs, The Oracle was inspired by movies like The Matrix. You yourself used to be an actor. So clearly you are inspired by other forms of art besides music. How do you integrate ideas that are born from other art forms into your music?
RL: Coming off the concept I had for Heightened Sensitivity, which was essentially someone going through these stages of enlightenment. ‘Heightened Sensitivity’ represented them being more open to metaphysical aspects or spiritual aspects that they weren’t once open to. Then ‘Ascension’ was actually reaching self-enlightenment. Heightened Sensitivity was someone searching for answers.
So, when I watched The Matrix, first I realized Neo is considered the chosen one in that movie but he’s still searching for an oracle. Someone who has insight, has knowledge which they have gained from a higher power. Then I started doing some research into oracles of the past like the oracle of Delphi in Greek mythology. People would line up for hours to speak to this oracle who supposedly had knowledge and wisdom gained from gods.
Then when I watched The Never-Ending Story a few days later, I realized Atreyu was also searching for the oracle because he needed answers as to why the darkness was spreading all across their land and only the oracle had these answers.
That made me start thinking, throughout time people have always searched for answers and they’ve always searched for those answers to come from other people who claim they have wisdom and knowledge from higher beings. So, I asked myself: “what answer am I looking for in life?” and I started thinking about my path and how I’ve always searched for answers and meaning in various things. I thought about how everyone is searching for answers in their own life. Everyone is searching for meaning, and a lot of times they do rely on a higher power. Whether it be religion or if they’re just a spiritual person.
That’s how I got the concept of The Oracle. I wanted to create a soundtrack to what the various stages of searching for meaning would be. It has ‘The Oracle’ and it has ‘The Underworld’ which is more of a darker tone. I wanted ‘The Underworld’ to be the chaos of when you’re going through these various stages and then ‘The Oracle’ is the soundtrack to actually finding the answers on this journey.
HL: In terms of the sound of your tracks, you clearly have a very specific intention in mind when you’re making the track. So, when you’re in the studio working with different sounds how do you know when one fits these intentions?
RL: I think for me it’s all just a feeling because music is there to make you feel something. So, for me when I’m choosing sounds or I’m doing some sound designing I ask myself “what does this make me feel in the moment?” and “does this fit?” That’s basically what it is.
HL: You’ve repeatedly cited space and other intergalactic ideas as a foundation for your music. What would you say are the commonalities between your music and astronomy, deep space exploration and such.
RL: As obsessed as I am with space and space exploration and whether or not there aliens out there (I really wish we would come into contact with them just to prove me right once in my lifetime) it’s also one big metaphor for the deep interspace you can travel within yourself. Through things like meditation, and I’m not pro at mediation that’s for damn sure, but what I do know is that you can reach some really cool things and really cool levels of consciousness within you through meditation.
This quote is talking about consciousness and where consciousness explores:
“They describe the topography of consciousness itself which belongs as much to us today as these largely anonymous seers thousands of years ago. If the landscape seems dark in the light of sense-perception they tell us it has an illumination of its own and once our eyes adjust we can see in what Western mystics call this divine dark and verify their descriptions for ourselves.”
And then it goes on to say:
“And this world they insist is where we belong. This wider field of consciousness is our native land. We are not cabin dwellers born to a life cramped and confined. We are meant to explore. To seek. To push the limits of our potential as human beings. The world of the senses is just a base camp. We are meant to be as much as home in consciousness as in the world of physical reality.”
And so that’s why I practice meditation and all that stuff, and that’s why I see what I see and then I just score what I see.
I basically want to make all of my tracks as a mini-soundtracks to whatever I’m thinking of at that moment having to do with this theme of deep space exploration. It could be anything from being a soundtrack to actually travelling interstellar space at the speed of light to coming up on a foreign extraterrestrial world.
As I’m making the track, I ask myself questions such as “what is this world like?” If I travel into this world and it’s full of beautiful green flora and passive alien-like fauna what would the soundtrack to this nice world be like? Or if say I’m travelling space and I come across this hostile fleet of aliens I’ve never seen before in my life and they want to go to war with me or they want to attack me what would the soundtrack to that battle be? That’s what my guiding light, my north star is when I’m making music. I basically try to score mini movies in my head.
HL: And you can really visualize these situations that you’re coming up with?
RL: Yeah I go sort of crazy with that.
HL: That’s interesting because you don’t have a lot of visuals paired with your music. So is your goal for other people to see the same thing as you when they’re listening or is it still open to interpretation?
RL: Once they listen to my track it’s totally up to their interpretation. I don’t need to hit them over the head with it and be like “this is what I was thinking you need to think this too when you listen to it.” That type of stuff will come later on if and when Anakim becomes bigger and I’m able to have these visuals in a show. We’ll make sure the visuals are correct so people can get a sense of “oh that’s what he thinks about. This is how he’s crazy.”
HL: Extrapolating that idea to your sets, how do these specific images link together when you’re playing live? Because obviously you play other people’s tracks when you perform, if you pick another artist’s music is it because you feel in that moment it contributes to the soundtrack you’re trying to create?
RL: I would say when I actually play the real true core Anakim sound you can understand what my vision is overall; what my sonic landscape is overall. I know I can lean techno. I can lean really progressive to melodic techno to techno depending on what kind of a show it is. Which artist I’m playing with. What time of the day or night it is, but everybody’s tracks who make my own sets they one hundred percent contribute to the overall sonic picture that I’m trying to paint with the Anakim brand.
HL: In doing my research I read multiple times that you want your music to be thought-provoking and even meditative while also keeping the crowd dancing. How do you fine that balance in your productions. What elements of your tracks would you say lend themselves to being thought-provoking?
RL: I don’t think my music is simple. That’s really what it is. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with booty shakin’ bass-y tech house. That’s cool. There is a time and place for all of that and it serves a purpose and it’s fun. It’s definitely fun, but I don’t want my music to be simple. I don’t want it to be categorized into twerking and stuff like that. I feel like I think about subjects on a deeper level. Like the texts that I read are usually somewhat profound or deeper and so I want my music to be a reflection of me as an individual which is why I like making what I hope is thought-provoking or a deeper layered style of dance music.
HL: Do you think thought-provoking is hinged on one genre or do you think any genre can thought-provoking when it’s executed properly?
RL: I think a lot of genres can be thought-provoking if they’re executed properly, but I don’t think a lot of people focus on having their music be thought-provoking in a sense. I think a lot of artists today want to cater to the crowd who wants to get fucked up and have a good time right away. Which is why tech-house became so formulaic over the last two or three years and then the party tech sound came in.
HL: So how do you find that balance between being thought-provoking and still getting the club moving? Because there is an entire genre of dance music dedicated to being thought-provoking called IDM, Intelligent Dance Music. And while that music is certainly dance music, it’s not common to hear Aphex Twin, Thom Yorke, Boards of Canada played in a club.
RL: I still do want swag in my music if that’s the correct term [laughs] because I’ve always wanted it to be thought-provoking yet danceable. That’s my main criteria because there’s a lot of melodic techno out there to me that’s just boring, and I don’t want my music to fall into the boring category.
I’m talking about songs that are in the top 100 on Beatport within their respective genres. I want there to be more swag in my music while still being thought-provoking. And I guess that’s also another feeling. I guess I just have to rely on my ears for that because there’s a certain criteria that I don’t know if I could even put it into words; that all these boxes my tracks have to check before I’m ready to present it to the world.
Photos by Alex Varsa and Jamie Rosenberg