Chats with Thomas: rocomoco & The Hidden

Chats with Thomas: rocomoco & The Hidden

Immediately identifiable by its charming piquancy, the sound of this international trio ventures into new stylistic territory. With the beat-driven and uplifting creative voices of Rocomoco and the expressive, cinematic mind of The Hidden, together they are evolving lo-fi hiphop and chillhop. Positivity and pacified focus radiate effortlessly through their work. Inherently visual in nature, the three are known for inspiring paradisiacal scenes via sonic legerdemain. True to the personality of the creators, their tunes remain amicable, accessible, and strikingly fresh.

 

Could you all introduce yourselves and how you work together?

Thorsten: Ingo and I have been making music for ages together. We never felt like it was important to release anything because the internet was not such a friendly place for anything we could think about. Then we started to discover the lo-fi hip-hop community, and at that time, it was 2017, and everything seemed to fall in place for us. We started to think about founding a duo or band, to use the archive that was evolving, and then decided to release on our own on Distrokid. We started using social media platforms with the drawing of a paper boat, and we were surprised that we got some feedback. We hadn’t imagined that, because there are about 30,000 releases per week at the moment; we couldn’t even think about feedback. But, it all felt very warm, but we got picked by Indie Shuffle and from that point on, one of the songs we released got on a huge playlist on Apple Music and picked by playlists from the community. That was really amazing. And it all goes back to the lo-fi community.

Dan: I’ve been writing music since I was 16, so music has been an inherent part of my life. When you’re younger, the ambition is to get a record deal. Eventually, I completely lost interest in that, and the industry’s changed, so it turned into a hobby. I wasn’t pushing to get noticed at all; it’s like a form of therapy. I write music most days. So, it’s funny that when I wasn’t looking, it arrived by meeting these guys. The quality just went right up. They were able to embrace my creative ideas. They’d see that nugget of what would make a track great. We were able to communicate from the base level up and create some really good quality music which I’m pretty proud of. I was just lucky, really. I put out a riff on SoundCloud. I think it was you Ingo, you broke your leg and found “Sunday Morning?”

Ingo: It was Thorsten!

Dan: I had just been writing music on my own for a long time, and had been looking for somebody to work with. Thorsten just sort of picked up on “A Sunday Morning Hangover With Spring in the Air,” and it kind of went from there. It snowballed pretty rapidly. That track came together really quickly.

Thorsten: I think when we started to produce the EP, it took over a year for five tracks [Laughs]. We always felt that we needed to change this and that.

Ingo: It was not fast. Dan’s creativity was so huge! When we were working and trying to get the most out of the tracks, he would come on with another two or three ideas, and we wound up with so many tracks that we had to split it into two EP’s! There’s no end in sight! To answer your first question: Thorsten and I did music already for ages. We were in this loop of finishing something and then you work on it again, and in the end you never get anything finished. And because of this genre we were in, we weren’t so experienced in that. Then after we found this genre that really fit us—lofi hip-hop and chillhop—the tracks aren’t so long, so you can concentrate the music to only one or two minutes. Since he plays guitar and we both play keyboards and do programming, we really worked well together. Dan was like this third missing part of the puzzle. Everything fits really well together.

 

Ingo, you mentioned that you and Thorsten play keyboard and guitar. Dan, do you play any live instruments?

Dan: Yeah, I play the piano. I’m a bass player by trade. I write orchestral music, and I used to be into film scores. I do a lot of location recordings and I used to do sound design. Chuck anything at me and I’ll give you something back [Laughs].

I can hear sonically and emotionally how you all fit together. Could you talk a bit about how the three of you make that happen?

Dan: I think it’s just the fact we do all have our individual qualities that form a triangle when we come together. I’m into textures and recordings, Thorsten’s into breaking things down, and Ingo’s got this amazing ability to get in there and open it up. Between the three of us, it just clicked. We were able to communicate very easily with each other. We’re not offended by strong feedback. In fact, we whole-heartedly encourage it, because honesty is the key to development in any area. We’ve got a lot of respect. 

Thorsten: It all comes down to chemistry and musical taste. When you play in a band or with other people, sometimes you feel that “I wouldn’t do the line like this,” or “I have a different opinion about the development of this track,” and it call comes from having different music tastes. We all have a common ground in the music that we like. It’s very important for me, because I don’t like to produce just beats; I would like to create something that I’d like to hear. The way I listen to music as a consumer is how I listen to the music that I create, and I think about changes like that. It’s about participation in the music. With a computer, you can do the most crazy or fascinating stuff. With Dan and Ingo, I can work with people who have the same feelings about music, and that’s really important. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. 

Ingo: We kind of approach every song differently. Like Dan comes up with a melody line on piano, then I hear a kind of groove which I try to put into it, and Thorsten adds a new character to it all, and we make some comments and then go in again and try to come up with something that everybody likes. Sometimes getting there is hard.

 

Ingo, you mentioned that you and Thorsten play keyboard and guitar. Dan, do you play anylive instruments?

I think clear and open communication is the key to making anything work. Being from the UK and Germany, do you guys experience anything which provides the right kind of friction to get ideas going, or do you gel pretty well altogether?

Thorsten: There’s no friction at all. Sometimes we are a little bit lost in translation, but we get used to it, and it leads to jokes [Laughs]. 

Dan: It’s about flavours of emotions. Even if the words don’t exactly mean something or if we misinterpret things, I find that there’s a flavour that you get. You guys speak English while you’re thinking in German. I would love to be able to communicate with you guys in German, so the utmost respect to you! [All laugh]  

Thorsten: A fourth person came on as well: Leon, from Aviary Bridge! He gives it a new twist to the project. Now, Leon comes in, and he brings in single picks and he’s thinking about timing. We enjoy the mentorship that he took. He worked together with Dan, too. 

Dan: We’ve been working on a couple of tracks, actually. I’ve got two or three tracks in development with Leon. He’s as quick-fire with ideas as I am, so he’s an interesting character to work with.

“When your heart opens and you get a smile on your face, that’s the most important thing.”

I’ve noticed that you’ve also worked with Garot Michael Conklin. I find it interesting that instrumentalists are often becoming featured artists in these projects. Could you talk about your experience working with him?

Thorsten: I think we met him on Facebook Messenger. He had posted some photos of his trumpet, and we thought it would be nice to have trumpet on a song we were working on. 

Ingo: At that time we had just finished a track called “bouncy,” which we had sent over to Cozy Collective because they were looking for tracks for Cozy Friends, Vol. 2. We had it nearly finished and sent it to him, and he was so happy with it and sent us some trumpet to add to the track. We were really happy about it. We were also about to put it out as a single. 

Thorsten: We chatted a lot with him about development, and he was lucky to be on the Chillhop Sampler [playlist]. He released I think four albums in the last year, some with different kinds of styles. Now he’s coming back into lofi chillhop. He actually connected us with Aviary. He said, “Check out Aviary Bridge, they might fit.” So, we got in touch with Leon, but we hadn’t signed or anything because we wanted to be free. Then, we came back together nine months or a year later. Garot brought us together with Leon. This is the way with the lo-fi community and network. Two days ago I discovered a flute player on Instagram, and she was mind-blowing! If I need a flute, I can just drop a message and ask. If everybody’s open and there’s time, they can collaborate. We have so many collaborations, like with LeVirya (Leon). 

Dan: And Phlocalyst. 

Thorsten: We decided at one point to spread out, and it’s a good thing for us, because we see ourselves as the core of the creative work we are doing, but everybody is free to do other things. Ingo and I are also going wide. Sometimes too much [All laugh], but it’s so interesting. We made a collaboration with ESAE, she’s a Korean singer living in Los Angeles. Everybody brings in something special and new. It’s not about money; the whole lo-fi community is independent. They are all inspired and open to making music together.

 

It’s a very generous and loving community. I think one of the strengths of downtempo is that you can combine a lot of styles together and it still works, especially in lo-fi and in your music. What are you listening to that is inspiring you?

Dan: It’s difficult to say, as far as individual artists. It tends to be more about how the genre is evolving. We kind of got into the sound of hard cuts that came in with the SP404, but we liked playing it with real instruments and putting more thought into the structure. When you listen to it, it has a richness and authenticity. I think the genre is now ready to tip over into something a bit richer. Our palettes are a bit bored of that early, sample-based lofi hip-hop. It needs expansive development, and that’s what interests me.

Thorsten: I listen to the 2016 heroes, I love that. But I also love the more sophisticated productions, like santpoort. But I’m not really stuck into one thing. I also love listening to piano music. I’m trying get better with jazz guitar. You can tell it’s that kind of sound that we make, even if it’s reggae. We have this piece of reggae music on the new EP called “How is your Karma.” It’s like a reggae beat, but when you listen to it, you know it’s the Rocomoco & The Hidden style. 

Ingo: Yeah. It’s in our roots; Thorsten and I have been playing since our youth. We have been into independent music since then. Last year I put this Jazzmatazz disc, which is already 20 years old, into my player, and it sounds so fresh, like it could be from yesterday. I think the peculiar thing is that as you listen, you mix crazy things together. It fits, feels good, and sounds good. When your heart opens and you get a smile on your face, that’s the most important thing.

 

Since the advent of the internet, new communities are being born which change the participatory role of their audiences. Could you talk about how curators and communities are influencing your own development?

Thorsten: I think artist brands are not important anymore, especially in this laid-back genre of lofi hip- hop and consuming music via playlists. Everyone is trying to get into these playlists. On the other hand, you see these artists who are working on their brand and following a specific path. If you are a music lover and want to dive deeper, then the artist brand is important, because of the community and the connections you can make. But, I don’t know if a lot of consumers are following lofi hip-hop stars. What do you think? 

Dan: They’re starting to evolve. There are people out there like jinsang because they were there from the beginning. As an artist, people are drawn towards them. I like to be completely free with the way I write. I try not to write for someone; I just write for myself. But if it fits into a certain genre or a certain playlist, and you wanna push yourself to get into that crowd, then there’s a certain degree that you’d want to change things. I think we’re just lucky that we sound like that anyway without trying. Trying to fit in is the least of my priorities. What do you think, Ingo? 

Ingo: I absolutely agree with you. Of course you look after sounds which are fitting into this genre, but as soon as you go over the edge and say you need to use this sound from the “’19 Chillhop Collection,” I think that’s the wrong way. Of course we fix things based on comments, say, from Leon, but not because we feel we need to fit into a certain sound quality or character to get on twenty more playlists on Spotify. That’s not the way we work. We do our music, and at the moment, we seem to have an audience that likes our music. But, when it’s not there, I don’t think we’ll change our music to fit back again. 

Thorsten: I wanted to say something about the production and quality of lofi music. It’s an overwhelming sound, and in Germany, there are not a lot of events where you can hear lofi music by producers or DJ’s. Once Ingo and I were at the Mojo Club in Hamburg, and there were a bunch of German lofi producers like Plusma and High John from Raw Suppliers. We were standing there, and the sound was so strong that it pushed us out into the world. The SP404, DJ’ing, sample flipping—it was a totally new quality of sound! It’s so much fun to do because it’s physical. In a way, we tried to find our own path within the sound of lofi music. But, we don’t copy artists that we hear. We try to find our own way.

 

 

“If you’re free to be completely creative, you can see when the magic happens; you just know when it’s right.”

I think the hallmark of a good artist is that they can draw inspiration and influence from their community while also creating their own identity. Do you as a trio find it difficult to establish a homogeneous image together, or does it come naturally?

Thorsten: Naturally. 

Ingo: We didn’t really talk much about that because it came so easily. 

Thorsten: There was a moment when we split the album because I said we should not release it as a whole, because there are some different songs on it that have their own quality. That was a decision that came from curating the music and saying that this is like the quality of 3:30pm, where we have a forest, and somebody’s boiling a cup of tea in a laid-back moment near the ocean. Everybody’s looking for a place like that, but you can’t find it anymore. 

Dan: That artwork actually came from “Far Away From Everything,” which is on the second EP. It’s funny how it worked with [3:30pm]. [All laugh]. 

Thorsten: But the story goes on! The other tracks are good together in another form of release.

 

Your EP 3:30pm just came out. Is there anything you want listeners and future listeners to know about it that may not be available elsewhere?

Dan: We collaborated with $outh$ide, who is from Chile. I think the track that will be overlooked the most is “How is your Karma” which is really quirky; it’s one of my favorites. We put it to a stop-motion animation video, and it totally changes the vibe! It’s just a beautiful piece of work, but I don’t know how it’s going to be received. That’s my little champion. 

Thorsten: Yep, it’s quirky, and we made it. [All laugh]. We also had struggles with “Wonderland,” a lot of last-minute changes and stuff like that. 

Dan: I finished the piano and drums right before we were about to publish it [Laughs]. 

Ingo: Dan, you’re a wizard! [All laugh]. I mean, there will be all sorts of surprises coming on this EP. On the whole, it’s a very nice piece of music. It portrays this moment of sitting back with your tea and relaxing after the day. 

Thorsten: It went through a lot of stages. Back on a track that Dan made, called “Southampton University,” it’s just a piano track, and I rudely took beats and cut it. It was like an abstract picture. I had like 15 tracks; it was a mess—but it came together. There’s this amazing video that Dan did, like surfing in the south of England. It’s amazing. Dan is really a wizard in video editing. 

Dan: You’ll see my other half in this video with her surfboard. She’s obsessed with surfing. If she could live in the ocean, she would. I spend a lot of my time just looking at her in the ocean and recording sounds there. I need to occupy my mind, I can’t just stand there and stare at her [Laughs].

 

Dan, how are you connecting what you see in your mind with what you’re hearing?

Dan: I used to work in the film industry for years, so the video and audio are one. I don’t have any problems with boundaries; I can sit in front of a blank piece of paper and come up with something. I don’t ever find it difficult, because if you’re the one making it up, then you have no boundaries. If you’re free to be completely creative, you can see when the magic happens; you just know when it’s right. Then I’ll pass it on to these guys, and it’ll become a real collaborative effort, and they’ll recommend cuts and edits. We just feel free to create, and I think that’s how we work well as a trio. 

Thorsten: Yeah, the visuals already have their own language, and we try to cultivate that as much as possible. I don’t believe that we have a lot of YouTube viewers, but if they want to go deeper, then there’s something they can find. Our conception of music is more in place than the brand. 50% of German people listening to laid-back music are listening through Spotify playlists, and it’s just in the background. It’s not easy to create an artist image from that space. 

Dan: I wouldn’t be doing videos as a form of marketing; it’s just the process of doing. True happiness is living in the moment. When you think about the past, you have nostalgia. When you think about the future, you have anxiety. But, when you’re creating something, you’re truly living in the moment, and that’s happiness. 

Ingo: Or pottery. [All laugh]. 

Dan: I’ve done some ceramics in my time [laughs].

 

I think that’s an excellent outro. Before we part, do you have anything to say about what’s coming next? 

Ingo: It’s not the end, now that the EP is out; it’s the beginning of a long journey! EP2 is nearly done, it will be out afterwards, and EP3 is already in mind. 

Dan: I’ve got this track coming out on Memoir with Leon and Phlocalyst. There may be an EP. Plus, Leon asked if I could make a video for Behind Clouds and sar.casm—they got 10,000,000 streams on one of their tracks—so that’s being reviewed at the moment.