Inner Tension: Blazej Malinowski

An abandoned concrete building, awaiting demolition, may seem, at first glance, to be an unlikely place to find a musical trailblazer. But it is here, in a studio a few steps away from the Magdalenstraße U-Bahn, that Blazej Malinowski, 37, spends countless hours every day, working away in a small room filled with both vintage and highly advanced equipment.

One of the leading names in Poland and Germany’s electronic music scene, Blazej Malinowski has been holed up in what he calls his “safe space” throughout the pandemic, and the more he talks about his relationship with his studio, the more it makes perfect sense to have found him there. “Even when I feel uninspired,” he tells me, “I believe that I’ll be able to create something new in this space soon enough. During these tough times, I work every day and that is what gives me the inspiration to move forward.”

The building itself seems to resonate with the name he gave his record label – Inner Tension. “The title came to me one day and it just felt right. It was the title of the record that I dedicated to my daughter and it also reflects the type of music I would like to release.” The eponymous track was released on The Gods Planet label in 2014. Malinowski also organizes parties under the Inner Tension banner.

Like many others in the electronic music scene, Blazej Malinowski’s creative passion is deeply rooted in his childhood. Born in Toruń, a small town in communist Poland, Blazej developed a fascination for vinyl records at a young age. A child of the ‘80s, he entered his teen years in the ‘90s, immersed in the rhythms and beats of hip-hop, that came out of 1970s New York block parties and was soon heard blasting out of sound systems and stereos all over the world. He came of age as hip-hop was exploding, the arrival of the genre’s “album era,” with more and more artists worldwide able to access the affordable technology—turntables, samplers, and drum machines—to launch themselves in the scene.

But it wasn’t until the young Blazej Malinowski encountered House music for the first time that his vision for his music really took off. “It was after discovering House music that I found my way into much more interesting sides of electronic music for me personally, with techno as its core.”

As the spirit of Chicago’s underground subculture began making itself known in Poland, Blazej Malinowski developed an ear for deep basslines and new mechanical beats. A trip to America in 2002, aged 20, was another important catalyst for his career. “That trip has had a huge impact on my life, even today… back then it was impossible for me to afford turntables in Poland, so that was the only solution for me to pursue the music in terms of playing records elsewhere, and nowhere could feel more utopian than America, the birthplace of house music and techno.”

It was in America where, by working at Lake Tahoe casinos and making countless sandwiches, the aspiring artist could finally make enough money to have a spending spree at Amoeba in San Francisco, buying up second-hand records by the likes of Jeff Mills, DJ Premier, and Mixmaster Mike.

Photo by Krzysztof Gniedziejko

Jeff Mills in particular would have a crucial influence on Blazej Malinowski, not just artistically but in developing his ethos too. Known as The Wizard, Mills remains one of the most influential techno producers, with roots in Detroit, the birthplace of techno, where Blazej himself had the opportunity to play in 2017. Mills is the mastermind behind Axis Records, a world-renowned label putting out most of the records that Blazej bought in San Francisco in those early days. But it was his approach to music that struck a chord with Blazej, particularly Mills’ belief that “nothing has proven to be more vital than the creation of music itself.”

Malinowski was drawn to the questions at the heart of Mills’ work: “Who are these people that translate these otherworldly ideas to create such sounds and rhythms for us?” asks Mills. “How much of what we hear is attributed to the producer’s personality itself? What do they see and believe?”

Blazej Malinowski’s artistic vision similarly champions the act of making music, above acclaim or financial success. “Of course, label owners can pick tracks and we can talk about the features of the record, but I never changed my music to make it a good fit for release. My personal music development is very much the outcome of a natural process. I always wanted to make music that feels right to me.”

The music that felt right to him happened to be just what clubbers and listeners were after. He returned home from America to find a thriving underground music scene in Poland’s capital, Warsaw—a city that “changed everything” for him. He started off in his bedroom, without any fancy equipment, just “with records and turntables.” Together with his friend Michal Wolski, he began to promote his own parties and play in clubs. The pair initiated the FünfeStrasse Projekt and had their own show on Radio Kampus. DJ sets and live acts followed, until an endorsement from Silent Season, a Canadian electronica label, catapulted him onto the global stage as a producer. This led to an invitation to work with the Technosoul collective, who enabled him to play at amazing venues such as 1500m2 do wynajęcia, Nowa Jerozolima, Das Lokal, and many others, since long gone.

He really likes the collaborative side of the business, between artists, labels, and producers who respect each other’s unique qualities and ideas. Collaborations with The Gods Planet, Silent Seasons, and Semantica Records have been key to the evolution of his signature hypnotic sound: “I never make music to fit in a specific label and I was, and have been, lucky enough that some labels shared my vision and approach. Semantica is one of my favorite labels of all time.” He has also learned a lot from the other artists around him, like Jacek Sienkiewicz: “I always looked up to Jacek, who is for me, until this day, one of the most important people in the Polish scene.”

Moving to Berlin six years ago opened up new gateways in Blazej Malinowski’s personal and professional life. A family adventure soon grew into something much more meaningful, strengthening friendships old and new with producers and DJs, such as Claudio PRC and Ness, with whom he has collaborated closely on The Gods Planet and Semantica Records. Although Poland was the crucible for his artistic identity and first ideas, life in Berlin has been an “eye-opening experience with meaningful inspirations to develop the techno scene back in Poland”—a scene which has continued to thrive over the years: “Over the past 15 years, the Polish scene became, in my view, a very strong part of its culture, and I cannot be happier that it shaped me as a DJ, producer and a person.”

The pandemic may have silenced nightclubs—Berlin is eerily quiet at night, no sonic reverberations bouncing off steel and concrete, no pulsating dancefloors and hedonistic crowds—but Blazej’s studio is alive with noise. When I arrive, on a hot summer’s day, he is putting the finishing touches to the latest installment of his Why So Silent series, in which he creates original scores for classic silent films.

This June, he returned to his homeland to perform for the first time since the world shut down. The project can be seen as a fitting soundtrack to his career, perhaps—a bridge between his past and present, between Germany and Poland, between the old world and the new—a reminder of his mutability and intuition as an artist, whose music shifts to echo and bring out the feelings of different places at different times. Pounding beats for noisy dancefloors, intricate layers for quieter minds. You are just as likely to hear his music in clubs and house parties, as in cafes, bookstores, and people’s homes. Writers like myself dive into his sets for hours for concentration and inspiration.

In the music industry, where peripheral and innovative artists are often sidelined by mainstream commercial sounds, electronica occupies a diverse and eclectic space that allows individual artistic visions to thrive. When so many artists and musicians have been hit by the pandemic, it is a testament to Blazej Malinowski’s ethos that he is set to tour with such exciting new work—a reminder that creating work you love, because you love to create it, will be far more enduring than selling your vision for money or fame.

I talked to him about his artistic life and career, and about his journey from the early days of his childhood to his currently ongoing projects. He shared untold stories about how he was shaped by—and now strives to help shape—the underground electronic music scene in Europe and beyond. That interview is presented in full here, only lightly edited for clarity.

You have been collecting records for many years. Can you speak more about those early records, and some of your foundational influences?

Blazej Malinowski: I have some great memories of listening to my parents’ collection from a very young age and I have most of the albums from that time until today. But I really became more aware of the music that surrounded me when I was much older—around my teen years. I went through the hip-hop, trip-hop, jazz phase like many other musicians of my generation. Then a fascination with House music, and soon after that, I discovered more interesting sides of electronic music with Techno at its core. Ever since, I have gradually grown into who I am today as a listener, music producer, and DJ.

Can you tell us about some of your first experiences with making music? Was there a certain piece, gear, or software that got you started, or any moments where you first felt those creative sparks?

BM: The first thing I bought was a Roland MC 909, and soon after that Korg esx 1 and Akai Mpc 2500. With those three instruments, I started slowly to get into music production. After a while, I got into Ableton Live, and from that point, I have been working on both hardware and digital equipment. It gives me a lot of inspiration and it is the best work environment for me. Finding my way of creative path took lots of solo hours in the studio. My first live acts gave me another push, and it slowly progressed into promoting parties and playing Live whenever I could. Making music has always been the one thing that I wanted to do in life. But for many years I did not expect I would be able to once live from it. I did not have high expectations. I just wanted to get out there and show what I was working on. And I ultimately did!

While you were in Warsaw, you established your first radio show on Radio Kampus. How might you describe Fünfte Strasse Project, as far as its visions or goals, or approach to selecting tracks, especially in relation to artists from Warsaw and Poland?

BM: At first, the project was a music event in Warsaw, happening once a month. After a while, we got into Radio Kampus with our own show. We have been doing the program for more than 10 years now. We are on air every Sunday. Together with Michal Wolski we play and talk about records from the artists we like and inspire from. We also give space to DJs and producers, so they can perform during our shows. The idea behind the program had not changed since its inception.

Photo by Krzysztof Gniedziejko

Your most popular and widely known track, “Mika,” was the outcome of another important musical collaboration that you had with the Polish Technosoul project. Looking back, how has your view of this track, and the EP, changed over time?

BM: This track (and the whole record), is very personal to me and my family. We were going through very tough times and that track is the outcome of that struggle. Also, I think that after that particular release, my interest shifted towards slightly different sounds. I still like this record, though I think if I were to make it now, I would probably do a better job with the postproduction. Another thing about this release is that my friends from Technosoul wanted to put this record out and it was the first vinyl record of mine that was published by a Polish label.

You also have a background in graphic design. With the Why So Silent? project, you bring silent film screenings, experimental animations, and other visual phenomena to the dancefloor through immersive projection environments. What was the driving force behind this project, and how has the event production evolved with these visual elements?

BM: I started the Why So Silent? project in 2013, with great support from Dorota Tomaszewska—she was a manager of the Znajomi venue, where we organized most of the events. Until today, I have held 42 events under this title. In the beginning, it was just an experiment, for which I would invite my producer friends. I usually look for more experimental titles as I want to give total freedom to the artists to come up with their own interpretations and conceptualizations of the project. The most important thing for me is that the movie will follow the music and not the other way around. That is a twist from the usual way of connecting those two worlds.

When I started this project, I did not have high expectations and was not sure whether it will last for so long, and that there will be such an interest in it among the public. But I was wrong! Over the years, I had the privilege of listening to music made by many amazing artists at those events, from ambient and experimental to techno. People were always somehow very much focused during the screenings and that is what I love the most about this project. It gives the space to really listen to the music with an additional visual part to it.

I think electronic music fits perfectly with the silent era pictures. Most of the screenings were made as siting screenings, where movies had a significant role. I also organized three parties with silent movies as visual background. Two of them took place at Jasna 1 club and one with Luigi Tozzi at Ohm in Berlin. This was an event that I organized with a collaboration with the Samsara Sessions project. I never pushed this project, but I will definitely come back to it as soon as the situation allows.

You have a number of musical collaborations with Claudio PRC, including the Why So Silent parties, and sets for Radio.D59B/Deepartment. Where did this musical bond begin, and in what ways does your work resonate with one another?

BM: I booked Claudio for his first gig in Poland in 2014 and from then on, we became friends. But it was not until I moved to Berlin and had few coffees with him that we became close. Both he and Ness supported me with The Gods Planet label. Claudio and I are working on several projects and slowly bring them into reality together. Our first EP came out on May 14th on his label 012. We always understood each other on artistic and personal levels. I admire both his musical and DJ skills.

Your first collaboration with an international label began with Silent Season. One of your most beloved mixes was released on their Campfire Stories Series some seven years ago. The label defines itself as an electronic music label with sounds that grow “from the connection between deep ethereal music and the rainforests of Vancouver Island.” Do you see a connection between the intensely industrial sounds of Polish techno and the deeply ethereal sounds of the Vancouver rainforests?

BM: Releasing on Silent Season was a big dream for me. It was the first demo that I sent out and I was very lucky that Jamie was interested to release it. I see the personal connection between artists and their music rather than connected to their surroundings. I believe that as humans, we look for this special place that we feel comfortable at and all of that resonates with our creative qualities. Sure, the scene in every country has different layers that sometimes are hard to describe so easily, but definitely, they are there to explore. Poland is not an exception in this regard.

Besides the mental heat and energy that your music injects into the dance floor, it is extremely layered, profound, and focused, which makes it versatile for different environments. Your WTP.27 mix is a perfect example for someone who wants to listen to music while thinking and writing all day. Do you envision your music in spaces beyond the dancefloor when you are composing?

BM: With recording podcasts, I tend to dip into deeper layers of sound. Also, in the mixes that I make, I tend to be more layered and more hypnotic than my DJ sets. Podcasts are usually the space that I can discover new sounds. They are the platform to find inspiration and new tracks.

With production, I try not to think about the actual outcome of the track and I just do what feels right at that specific moment in the studio. I like to produce a kind of music that could be played both at home and on the dance floor. I love both the deep side of techno as well as more intense forms of it that energize the dance floor. It is more about the sound and general atmosphere of music and the way in which it inspires me for making my future tracks.

Photo by Krzysztof Gniedziejko

One of your best-known albums is Entity, which showcases the stylistic transformations of your musical vision towards a much more mesmerizing, hypnotic zone. How have your collaborations with Semantica Records and The Gods Planet shaped the technical evolution of your work?

BM: My first record on The Gods Planet came out soon after I moved to Berlin. After that, we played with TGP on many different occasions. Svreca wrote me one time if I would be interested in a VA on his label and I have to say that was very exciting to receive his note. Semantica is one of my favorite labels of all time. In terms of music, I never make it to fit in a specific label. I have been lucky enough that some of my favorite labels share my vision and approach to music. This is an important source of inspiration and encouragement for any artist.

Other than clubs and studio recordings, you are also a regular guest musician at the Up to Date festival. Your festival sets are often on the “ravey” side, to borrow Robert Hood’s term. With so many festivals around, what is special to you about the Up to Date Festival? How might you approach a festival differently than a club setting?

BM: Up to Date is organized by my close friends, and it has become my annual tradition to go there every year. I think I missed only the first two festivals, but now I perform there every year. The general approach is very close to my vision and I really admire the whole team that has been able to stay united in organizing this amazing festival for so many years. The artists who are booked for this festival are mostly the ones I really admire. I firmly believe that it is one of the best festivals in Poland. When I play Live there, I often perform on a more intense beat with ideas that I have developed in my studio and this is a rare and valuable opportunity for every musician to play what they feel based on the mood of the crowd.

We all know 2020 has been disastrous on so many levels. While the underground music scene, and all live music, has faced unprecedented challenges, you have remained remarkably productive throughout this year by releasing several new tracks, such as “Second Half,” “Suspension,” and “Continuum.” Where do you gain inspiration during these utterly isolating periods?

BM: This is my way of coping with tough situations: to work and create. So, I am working on projects that I can actually control. To be honest, I was certain that the pandemic would not last too long and I would be able to perform music in public. Now I remain hopeful that these maddening times will be over soon in one way or the other. During the pandemic, I managed to remain productive thanks to my studio space. I worked every day and that was what gave me the inspiration and strength to move forward.

The most exciting recent development in your music career has been the establishment of your own label, Inner Tension. It is the title of one of your previous tracks released on The Gods Planet, as well as parties you have organized. Is there a kind of continuum between these previous works and the new label? Do you perhaps see “inner tension” as a concept that links your many projects together?

BM: I was envisioning my own label for a couple of years now and choosing the right title was always the most difficult part. Inner Tension as a title was an inspiration that felt just right. I dedicated it to my daughter and it also reflects the type of music I would like to release. When I started organizing underground parties under this name, I was already in the process of producing the records for the label; So yes, I wanted to make a connection between all of those projects.

Inner Tension is a way to express my vision of music, both with upcoming releases and artists who did and will perform during the events. I am very grateful that my first release with Oscar Mulero’s remix was very well received. I could not imagine a better start for the label. The next ones are in the making and I am working hard to finalize the details before their release.

What is the idea behind the mix? How did you choose the records in it?

BM: The mix is a reflection on what was happening musically in my head throughout the pandemic and it contains a few of the records that I released over the past months. It opens with an excerpt of my first Live act after the break and closes with my upcoming track which should be out very soon.

01. Live recording (Excerpt)
02. State of Consciousness
03. CTAFAD – The End (Blazej Malinowski Remix)
04. Keeping The Distance
05. At The End
06. Katharsis
07. Edit Select – Far North (Blazej Malinowski Remix)
08. Continuum
09. Unreleased