“Express without compromising whatever you have inside. “ - Hovsep Aghjian (HOV)

Hovsep Aghjian

Photo by Michael Yeghyan

Hovsep Aghjian (HOV) is a Lebanese-Armenian, music producer, and Ableton Live Instructor. Born and raised in Beirut, he moved to Armenia two years ago and is now highly engaged in the Yerevan underground music scene. He plays regularly at Poligraf Club and has an upcoming music label, DKTSK. He incorporates many different influences into his music including ancient Anatolian instruments.

His first experience playing music was the snare drum in a marching band. His uncle, who was into heavy metal music, encouraged Bobes to pursue this unconventional musical path. Later, he formed a band with a couple of friends playing rock and blues music and eventually, Armenian folk music. As a trained rock musician and professional drummer, he was inspired to transition into electronic music upon discovering Murcof (a Mexican electronic artist). Working part time as an interior architect, Bobes is stretching the creative and experimental music environment in Yerevan with his mystical, spiritual, and dark sounds.

How do you think Yerevan’s music scene is progressing? Where do you think the music scene will be in Yerevan in 10 years?
Just to put things in perspective, I visited Yerevan for the first time a year before the revolution and was lucky enough to do a musical collaboration and performance during my visit. The event was organized by Bohemnots. I thought they were just another underground electronic/alternative music community. Later I figured out they are the only true underground community that works from the need for expression and not just for the sake of making a cool musical event. This realization helped me to understand how small and how new the electronic music scene is here in Armenia. From that first event that I witnessed, up until the latest raves that I've attended, I can say that there has been a huge step forward in Armenia - especially after the opening of the first real underground club, Poligraf which created a platform on which raves started happening. Now, the community has a place to attend regularly and express themselves. This stability is one of the main motivating factors for producers and DJs who keep on pushing themselves. After the basic structure and space for self-expression is in place, another important part is the classes that are happening in Yerevan, both for music production and for DJing. This is helping shape the upcoming generation of artists. 

At the present moment, local producers are shaping their sound, searching for their identities and sound characters which represent their feelings and best fit the concepts they are trying to express sonically. This is a very crucial point in Armenia's electronic music scene. After all, if the music being produced here doesn’t have a distinct character, we cannot say that Yerevan has its own music scene (it would only be a party or a rave scene following the footsteps of other international communities). 

I don’t usually predict ahead instead I work in the present and try to give to the community as much as I can. This approach keeps things in reality and not just in imagination, hopes, and dreams. Yerevan is a post soviet city on an incredibly culturally rich and ancient land. The architecture present here, from its old monasteries to its brutalist structures, definitely help create the sound coming from out of here (from mystical spiritual dimensions passing through heavy industrial sounds).

Is there anything from the music scene in Lebanon that you would like to see in Yerevan?
The Beirut music scene lately is more oriented on the commercial side. Of course, there are many important musicians who are making beautiful productions; but in my opinion both Yerevan and Beirut, when we are looking at the core, are not much different from one another. In fact, whatever is happening lately in Armenia is far more interesting than in Beirut.

What is your favorite sound to produce with? What are your go-to plug-ins?
Anything really, as long as the sound I’m hearing is talking to me. But to elaborate more...for example, if I open up a new Ableton session and I'm in an energetic mood, I always tend to create a kick since I will be on high bpms and usually, on high bpms (145 and up), I go four on the floor. So, the essential part of such a track is the kick. Later, I add textures with my synthesizers and usually run them through plug-ins, or sometimes I use a VST as a soundsource and run them through my synthesizers. I do use samples from many different places, which could be random Youtube stuff, or a friend talking, or playing on the microphone to world folk music...it really depends on my mood.

I usually use basic sound shaping plug-ins mostly (EQ, compression, phaser, mono/stereo imaging). But, to make things a bit fun: Valhalla room (for those dark sounding reverbs), H-delay (a very versatile delay plug-in), Tal-3 reverb (for those very big lush plates), Phoscyon (for those nice crispy acid lines), Tal 101 (for basslines), and every single filter plug-in that exists on planet earth or mars or jupiter, it’s your choice.

How do you make a song? What is your working style like? Any creative rituals?
I’m a master of unfinishing songs/tracks. There is something that keeps me from posting a track or releasing an EP. My work revolves around live sets; I’m an improvisation guy. I like to feel the music live in a space, with a crowd. Saying that, I'm finally pushing myself to finish up my EP which will be followed by an album. But during my live sets, one of the main things I do to prepare is I clean up my entire place, then I clean up my inner space by meditating, I set the lighting right, I light up some incense, papier d’armenie usually, preferably the rose smell (the blue one), and turn up the volume. By doing these things, I create a sphere in which I can be comfortable to let myself go and get lost in the sounds. 

Where does your inspiration come from? If you struggle to find inspiration, what do you do? Do you have other creative hobbies?
My main inspiration is the human existence and its natural tendency of seeking reality. If I’m not centered and grounded, I can't make music. So, I always tend to keep myself balanced and as close to reality as possible by meditating and observing reality as it is. With time, I have been able to teach myself how to accept the natural curve of creativity, and how we can’t always be creative. It's like a sound wave, it has its ups, its peaks and vice versa. I’m also an interior architect, so I have to deal with visual creativity as well. After struggling a lot, finally I'm able to find a balance with both creative worlds. I used to detach both from the other and then had to constantly shift between visual and sound creativity. But now it's the same creativity for me, from the same source, just expressed in different languages.

What is your favorite part about playing live? What is your favorite part about producing?
I just want to emphasize one thing here. Livesets have two different approaches: an improvised live set and a prepared live set. A prepared live set is closer to DJing since you already know what you will be playing; you have your structure ready and there is little room for improvisation. Whereas, an improvised live set is a limitless and timeless living organism, there's no structure. You just have a palette of sounds (that were created in the studio) and you have to communicate with the crowd through them. Having said that, my favorite part about playing live is the lack of a third entity between me and the crowd - the third entity being the structure that was created during a prepared live set, or the artist whose track is being played during a DJ set. So, there is a direct uninterrupted connection with the crowd. At some point during a live set you cannot know if the crowd is making the music, you are making the music, or you are just channeling the reality of that moment and acting as a huge mirror in front of the crowd reflecting every single thing they have inside. It’s more than a musical performance, it's a ritual, a rave!

And it’s the exact opposite during production at home or in the studio - there is no one except you and your inner self. So, you keep reflecting yourself in every sound you create and then you analyze yourself through your sound. It's a big school of life in and of itself. 

What is the most challenging part about making and playing music? 
Being real and true to yourself, and to keep on exploring new dimensions. It’s easy to get stuck in one specific place or to get lost and suddenly realize that you are inside specific genres or you are making sounds only because they are trendy and cool and because people will like them.

Who are your favorite current artists (inside and outside of music)? 
23 skidoo, Deradoorian, Monolake, Marcus Henriksson, Al-Kindi Ensemble, G.I.Gurdjieff (as always), Parajanov (as always).

Craziest, most legendary music story or memory? 
The opening of the Massive Attack’s performance in Byblos, Lebanon back in 2014 - I was attending it with my closest friend. We both share the same love for sub-bass frequencies, and of course, Massive Attack has loads of them in great quality. So, the concert started and it was the opening track, I remember my friend and I looking at each other and saying, “Dude, I can’t feel the bass, there’s something wrong, the Lebanese technicians must have messed up the sound system!” - and exactly at that moment we hear this massive sub-bass where our entire body was just shaking uncontrollably (or nicely controlled...?), and we were looking at each other with great satisfaction just letting those frequencies flow through us. Goosebumps!

Can you give any advice in holding and keeping “the vibe” during a live set?
The crowd is listening to the sound coming out of the sound system and behind that sound system is you. The crowd is connected to you and they want to talk to you and tell you their stories and experiences. Listen to them, and they will listen to you in return.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to up-and-coming and aspiring DJs and producers?
For aspiring DJs: dig and dig well. Understand the context of the music you are listening to. Where is it from? Which year was it released? What label is it on? Who else is on that label? What is their sound character? This way, whenever you switch to producing you will already know the crucial things in the production scene. Even if you don’t produce, you can help a fellow producer. Another thing I would say is: work on your techniques. Make it mechanical so eventually you can give less energy to that and instead, you’ll have more energy to feel the space and the crowd and you’ll definitely know which banger to play next. And of course, support the local producers by playing their tracks even if they sound bad. It’s okay, no worries, they will get better with time.

Final words?
Express without compromising whatever you have inside.

Interview by Hannah Kazanjian Brewster