Naïve Magic: Imagination Never Fails… A Decade With Erang
Infinite Plains Of Imagination
My introduction to dungeon synth came by accident. At the time, I spent most of my day looking through new black metal releases to write for my blog. Erang's music was erroneously tagged as "black metal" on Bandcamp and, while this tag is technically true, the accident led to something greater. From that moment, I discovered a scene of music and subsequently a community of close knit creators and supporters. Dungeon synth became my world and a vocal supporter. In 2015, I first interviewed Erang regarding the release of his 10th record Tome X. This interview led to many others over the course of the next five years. I mention my relationship with Erang less as a professional boast but more as an example of the informal nature that exists within the dungeon synth community. Erang, like many other creators, are just as much fans of dungeon synth as contributors to its sound. The divide between artist and creator is barely existent and the space between passive and active engagement in the community lies within a world of haze. This informal nature of the community often leads to one of your favorite artists becoming a very close online friend.
Erang has been making music for longer than ten years but is celebrating a decade within dungeon synth's realm. He is one of the few dungeon synth artists working at the time of its famed revival in 2010 and has since then been releasing music throughout the decade. Through this time period, dungeon synth's sound and community have gone through dramatic changes as it adjusted to being an almost entirely virtual music scene. Erang's music has been a constant throughout this flux of change and though it has embraced related styles and incorporated things like synthwave into its sound, the artist's thesis has never changed. A look into Erang's music is a look into the history of modern dungeon synth from its dark medieval beginnings into a future shock of color and variety.
One of the first aspects of Erang's music which captured my attention was the devotion to escapism. Erang's records are centered around a fantasy land with characters and storylines that might be influenced by the events of the real work but like famed storytellers rest within a world of its own. The addition of maps, art, and stories which were included in this shared universe was an additional level of immersion that I never knew I wanted. Listening to Erang's music moved beyond just experiencing a fantasy narrative and embraced the idea of fantastic devotion to its subject. From Tome I (2012) to PRISONNIER DU RÊVE (2021), the collected work of Erang is the continual narrative of characters within span of its own time and space. Erang's music is a place of refuge for the creator and his audience and over the past ten years he has tended it like a garden watching life blossom from carefully crafted vessels.
At the time of writing this article, Erang's first four records Tome I, Tome I, Tome III, and Tome IV have a planned tape release by Gondolin Records. This will be the first time these four records will be released individually outside a box set. Also concerning his more recent material, his latest album PRISONNIER DU RÊVE will be release soon on tape as well through Dungeons Deep Records. With all of this celebration, 2022 is a perfect time to gaze into the orb of dungeon synth and take a look into its past.
Before your start in dungeon synth, what were you doing with music? Were there any precursor projects?
I started to get really interested in music around 14 or 15 years old. Before that, around 10 or 11, I played (badly) a bit of guitar but that was it. It was later, around 1995, when I discovered a copy of Fasttracker on an old floppy disk that I got hooked. From then I started to make any kind of electronic music but never in a "specific" genre because it always bored me, I don't know why. As a listener, I love to listen to any kind of music but when it comes to creating my own music, I can't follow any strict "rules"... So back then, I was making strange experimental things.
My music was always made on a computer but it wasn't "pure" electronic music like techno, house, drum & bass, or whatever... It was just some emotional vignettes, snippets of feelings put together. Because I liked melodies, it wasn't 'experimental' in the sense of weird sound manipulation... Mainly, really, it was just some short fragile melodies put together with any sounds that fit. I waited a very long time before releasing anything because (like many) I had too many psychological barriers: I wanted to make a grand piece of art, it was never good enough, etc. At some point, I just thought: stop, you're going to finish something and release what you have. So (sorry for this long introduction) to answer your question: I released 2 albums with all my short snippets on them under my name and that's it. Quickly after I took them all offline and came back a bit later with Erang. So, to say it short, Erang is my first & last project. And like I often say: I don't like the word 'project' when it comes to Erang... It is me, a full part of my life and will always be there and always have been.
Erang as a character the Land of the Five Seasons originally drew me into the music. How did this worldbuilding start?
Well, that's a tough question to answer... Like I often say (and I know what it means to me) Erang has always been a part of my life and will always be, even if I stop making music. But concerning the 'worldbuilding' itself of the Land of the Five Seasons, it really started with Tome II. On Tome I, almost all of the tracks are in fact quotes from Tolkien or fantasy movies that made my childhood. When I was working on Tome II, I remember telling myself "well, you're not going to release another album about the fantasy world of others..." So I put many more titles with personal or hidden meaning.
Tome III which had the appearance of the "Stone Giant" & "The Drunken Tyrant" and it goes like this release after release until I decided to unify them under the Land of the Five Seasons and draw a full map . And what I like about this process is that it's an organic one: I don't know where it goes and I build it as it goes because it doesn't need the consistency of worldbuilding like, say, in a novel. For instance, it was only with the release of ANTI FUTURE(2016) that I thought about alternate timelines, etc. and developed them later with my Western album and the character of Louis Leroy... I have pretty much all the bare bones of the story in my head and I will write it someday for sure. A full novel might be really interesting and I definitely have that in mind. I’ve started to write several pages but it is, on purpose, not about the main story so to say. It follows some simple creatures from the Mayoo Woods in their own little quest and, only from time to time, you have references about the Kingdom of Erang or the Drunken Tyrant like some distant events... I like this idea of not directly talking about what you’re supposed to, you know.
One last important thing about my worldbuilding: more than the "fantasy" part, the most important and singular thing for me is that all my world is linked to my personal life. Some events, names of characters or names of places come from real places or real things from my life... There are hundreds and hundreds of references hidden everywhere that only I know. Many are too personal to share but, for instance, the "Forester's Grandson" is about my grandfather and was, indeed, a forester and I felt very close to him. "Autumnal Lullaby" is for my daughter, who was born in Autumn. "A Mount Useless to Everyone but Me" is about a short hills in front of my parents house. I grew up there all my childhood and when I was a teen I used to stare at this Mount from my window at night, watching small lights from other houses, letting my mind wander. I can also add that the "Mayoo Woods" deal with the death of my childhood's cat pet, a long time ago.
Did Andrew Werdna's blog (The Dungeon Synth Blog) have an influence in the direction of your music?
There is clearly a before and after his blog for me. After the release of my 2 albums before the first from Erang, I was lost... back then I couldn't listen to any 'professional' music. Everything sounded "fake" and overproduced to my ears... So I was more and more into obscure experimental music but I wasn't satisfied either because it was art for the sake of art you know? It wasn't emotionally powerful enough for me. It was only experimentation without the beauty of a simple melody. That's when I discovered black metal & dungeon synth and it was a revelation, an epiphany.
When I found Andrew's blog it was as if everything I was doing musically on my own suddenly made sense. All those weird low-fi things, the appeal of fantasy, the infinite planes of imagination, the dusty sounds of antic synth... everything clicked. That's how I discovered Lord Lovidicus, from the blog, and I was blown away. The purity of the music, it's simplicity and it's beauty, simple but deep, raw and meaningful... And it was a treasure known by nobody. That was what I was always looking for. I remember I tried to make a friend of mine listen to some tracks and he laughed, going like " How could you listen to music with that terrible cheesy synth sound and where there are obvious playing mistakes? "
I knew I was in a lonely & solitary way but didn't care. I know it may sound weird but I also discovered Summoning because of the cover of "Farewell" by Lord Lovidicus. It quickly became one of my favorite bands, on my top 5 definitely. So I'll be eternally grateful to Andrew and his blog. He was also the first one to review my first album on his blog and interviewed me: a profound thanks to him, really.
What was the dungeon synth scene like in the early 2010s? Did you have a chance to connect with anyone else making the same music?
Back then, around 2010, it was the beginning of the digitalisation of music. On a massive scale I mean. Cds were already dying but we didn't have real good smartphones and there were no streaming apps, etc. So when it was digital it was only mp3 on PC (from Megaupload and such) and then you put it in a portable mp3 player you know. And it was also the beginning of the popularity of Bandcamp... Well, I say "popularity" but it wasn't popular at all. It was a beginning, at least...
For instance, we were talking about Lord Lovidicus and back then he was still putting Megaupload links in his video description for people to download the album and that's it haha. He wasn't on Bandcamp. I uploaded my albums on Bandcamp because a musician friend of mine told me about it. So I did that. And I can tell you for sure that we were maybe 3 on Bandcamp under the "Dungeon Synth" tag. I sent an email to Andrew, I remember, which was only saying "A Nostalgic Journey…" and that's it, nothing else written aside from a link to my Bandcamp. He purchased it and replied to me with something kind and that's how we eventually connected together. But there wasn't a scene.
There was no DS Facebook, no DS channel on YouTube, no DS forum or anything else... Mortiis was still completely away from dungeon synth and medieval ambient. My “2 hours of Dungeon Synth & Fantasy Music” video was amongst the first compilations of Dungeon Synth on YouTube. It was the begimning of people doing long compilations with titles such as " 2 hours of .... music ". Now it is common but not then. So I thought : " Well, I got enough material to put it on a long compilation so why not do it?" I knew that people were using my music while playing tabletop RPG's so I told myself that it could be cool for them to have a long seamless compilation like that to listen to while playing.
Back then, it was only the blog of Andrew. So when I was trying to share my music around on forums for instance, I was often talking about "Dungeon Synth AND Nostalgic Fantasy Music" because if I only put DS, nobody would have known what it was. I also started to chat with Lord Lovidicus and we made a split together. Funnily enough, I remember that when I was talking to some people around me, in real life, about DS they replied it "wasn't even a real genre of music and you can't just put a name on what you do and call it a musical genre"... and now there is a DS section in some records stores in the US...
How did you advertise your music in 2012? Your early records were just digital sales on Bandcamp, correct?
Yes, correct. And it was like that for a long time. In fact, for a long time, it was only digital for everybody. The 'tape fever' seems very recent to my eyes at least. On the contrary, nobody really wanted or cared about having music on a physical medium back then (at the very beginning of the revival at least). And if it was, it would have been on CD, no tapes... and even less vinyl because they were too expensive to make. So, to 'advertise' my music, so to speak, I just wrote emails to people who might like it. I found them on blogs about fantasy or blog about strange ambient music or RPG blogs. Same for forums... I was always talking to them about "Dungeon Synth and Fantasy Music" because it was too obscure.
You cherish many things from your childhood which seem to influence your work. Did you always seek out fantasy/sci fi material as a child? Where did you find all of these things in France?
It first came from my father. He used to tell me stories from Bilbo the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion… for instance, I vividly remember him telling me the part with Shelob & Frodo when I was maybe seven or eight years old. He was a fan of fantasy but, mostly, Science Fiction and he and his uncle had tons of them, a huge collection called Fleuve Noir Anticipation. He also often told me about Dune when I was a little kid: believe it or not but he did part of my education with some precepts from Dune. My father is a strange character and he used to say "In life, you must act like a Fremen, not a Sardaukar," it marked me greatly.
But for me, it mainly came from the movies because I was a child and a kid between the 80’s and the 90’s when all the great fantasy movies came out: Willow, the Neverending Story, Conan, Dark Crystal, Legend… I loved them. I read the Neverending Story book when I was in elementary school and it struck me. Later I played the Livres dont vous êtes le héros (Choose Your Own Adventure books) and, like probably many kids, tried to write a simple one myself with drawings. I also played some role playing games with my elder brother. Not a lot of time but it left a huge impression on me. I don't know how to explain that but, since then, I've always felt linked to that community even if I'm not a player... Because I know that I'm not a player because of the lack of time and I put all I have in my music (and also, back then, none of my friends around me in school were into that, so...) but if I had more time, I would have been more involved into tabletop games, definitely. It may not be obvious today but, back then, it was really a hobby for the outcast. And I felt like one myself.
Are there any more French novels, comics, or movies that you grew up with that may have not made it to a global audience?
Specifically French it is hard to tell... French influences were mostly on my last album PRISONNIER du RÊVE, which is not DS but more Berlin School or Space Synth in the vein of early Jean Michel Jarre.. I drew a lot of influence from the movies of René Laloux like Time Masters or Gandahar. PRISONNIER du RÊVE was also influenced a lot by French TV cartoons from my childhood like ULYSSE 31 and Les Mondes Engloutis (Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea). Actually, the cover art is definitely a nod to 'Les Mondes Engloutis'.
Revisiting some of your album covers, I am reminded that most of your records came with drawings and maps. Has drawing always been a part of your life?
Definitely and I must say it was my primary and first way of expression. At some point I dreamt of myself as a comic illustrator but I had neither the talent nor the patience. But I've made several short comics and things like that, that I keep for myself. So, yes, drawing is an important part of my world. And the ones you could find in my website or that come with my albums are as much a part of the Land of the Five Seasons as the music itself.
I drew really a lot at school during the courses. My school books, notebooks and even ring binder were a mess full of doodling and weird characters or monsters. I’ve made all my covers myself. There are many really talented illustrators in DS that I truly love and adore the work: I sometimes think I should ask some of them to make a cover but the thing is, as I said, my drawings are part of my world and I want it to be personal and intimate you know. Some covers are 100% made with photoshop and collage while others are mixed with my own drawings, it really depends. Tome I and Tome IV are drawings while Tome II and III are photoshop collage. The forest on the Tome III cover is actually a real place: I took the photo myself as it is a forest from my childhood where I used to go a long time ago…
Making music for almost 10 years in this scene, is there anything that you miss about the "early days." Is there anything that you do not miss from 2012 that you have in 2022?
Obviously I miss the mystery and rarity of it, the innocence and sense of wonder... You really had to dig to find mp3's here and there. Because on Bandcamp it was almost nothing and for proto DS or pre-revival DS you had to find rips of tapes or CDs on blogs so it wasn't that easy. Almost nothing on YouTube as well... So you found on a blog something that sounded "remotely" DS and it was like if you found the rarest treasure: it was pure joy and bliss for me. On the contrary I would say that I sometimes felt really alone back then and it was sometimes a burden, so I do not miss that. Because I've met wonderful people along the road and I don't feel alone anymore. I'm a pretty solitary person in my life. Well, I have friends but not a lot and I don't like to go outside often. I do like to travel far away once a year but I don't like to necessarily go out on the weekend you know. I have my own little world in my mind and imagination. And, in real life, around me, no one cares or listens to the same things as me. So having met these people within the community along the year is something that matters to me.
Your recent albums (last 5 years) have veered off the course of traditional dungeon synth. Do you feel "obligated" to play dungeon synth or would a new sound pull your interest?
I feel "obligated" about nothing when it comes to my art & music. The thing is, after 10 years and several albums, you can't endlessly and forever remake the same album over and over, like Tome I for instance. So I needed to explore new territories. However, I may not have explained myself very well in my previous answer: when I said I can't follow the strict rules of any genre, this is precisely why I've found Dungeon Synth appealing in the first place: this is a rare genre where you may have a 'canvas' but, in the end, you're very free to create inside of it. It has the punk and black metal attitude of being more or less low-fi and spontaneous and creates with whatever you have under your hands. It is free but, on the other hand, not free like "sound experimentation" without emotion to say it short. So it is the perfect balance for me. I have a feeling that the people who like Erang, may like it for the same reasons others may dislike it: you never know what to expect... It is definitely rooted in DS, as I've been very active in the early revival, but it will always have the freedom to go anywhere... So everything is always possible but one thing is for sure concerning Erang: it will always be Dungeon Synth 'til I die.
In 2021 you pre-recorded a live show for North East Dungeon Siege. Was that the first time you played "live"? Do you ever see yourself playing at a venue in front of an audience?
Yes, that pre-recorded live show (which was a huge work to put it all together and doing all the stop motion animation) was my first but I could do another one day, why not. Something pre-recorded like that, like a video clip you know, an animated show... However no real live show in front of a crowd. As I said, I'm a solitary person and I don't like public manifestation. I don't like going to shows or concerts myself, as a listener. I like to listen to music alone, at home or outside. I remember Mortiis asked me once to open for him in the UK and there was also a DS festival in Moscow that asked me and I was really honored but I had to decline... However, never say never and, who knows, one day I might have a good formula or something that could motivate me to do so... but, for now, I don't see it being any time soon. And I'm afraid that, in a live event, it might lose a bit of its charm and mystery…
In 2020 the lockdowns sent most of the world into hiding. How was that time for you? It seems like your life as a bedroom musician wouldn't have changed
I won't complain: I had my little garden to go outside and it was an opportunity to focus even more on my art and music so, not a big deal for me... But it must have been a very difficult time for people with financial struggles or big families in small apartments in big cities, etc. Also for all the young people, students and teens: I often think about them... They've lost between 1 and 2 years that they will never have back. I mean, when you "lose'' 1 year between your 39's and 40's it's not a big deal. But the years between 16 and 20 are really unique and you won't live them twice: you're supposed to live important experiences in your life around that ages, etc. So it was a pity for them, really.
Are people who know you in real life aware of your music projects? Do you talk about dungeon synth at all to people offline?
Not many know, really a handful, maybe five: they know about it but are not at all into that kind of music or even metal you know. So I don’t talk about music with them. My wife is very supportive and she plays guitar. Not the same genre at all but, at least, we can talk about music in general. In fact, there is only Arathgoth, a longtime friend, I can talk to about Dungeon Synth specifically. He’s no longer living in the same town for a very long time now. But we do text or phone each other about music and DS. He’s the only one “offline” so to speak…
Now at the ten year mark for your project do you have any goals, hopes, or dreams for the next 10 years?
I'd like to expand my world and lore through other media and art form maybe. Still focusing on music of course but it will be nice to add layers to that. I got many ideas, just running out of time you know. But I'll do it, that's for sure. Also, I'll continue to spread the Kingdom of Erang & the Land of the Five Seasons around me, hoping that many new people from different horizons come and join us. Speaking for now, in 2022, I'll focus on celebrating this ten years anniversary with many things I'm already working on. A lot of surprises to come and not only under the form of music. Also several physical releases. Can't wait to share all of that! Mainly, I'm working on a huge musical love letter to Dungeon Synth to celebrate these ten years: it deals with all the aspects of DS, from old school and black metal to new age and video game music. I really want to make this album for all the people and Erangers who support my world and music. I need them around, truly: the Kingdom is Ours & Imagination Never Fails!
Follow Erang on Bandcamp.