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Meet CRF & John Sarastro

The friendship between the swiss lo-fi beat wizard John Sarastro in exile and the boombap veteran CRF has took its time. If the two had known each other earlier, this would certainly not be their first album together. But the chemistry was right since the first meeting and in the last three years the two busy artists used the free time between their various projects to slowly but steadily tinker on an album.


That wasn’t that easy. John Sarastro now supplies half the US underground from Queen Herawin (Juggaknots) to Ninja Tune’s Dell Donahue, Pastense and Uncommon Nasa to DJ Robert Smith with beats, while CRF has toured most of the time with his crew Bungle Brothers and as a solo artist with various collabs such as Edo G.

But now, the record is here – “Letzte Zuflüchte” – Last resorts. Somewhere between lo-fi boom bap and bar philosophy, between dusty vinyl and amazingly profound flat jokes, the two have found their home. The topics are broad and range from consumerism and loneliness at parties to sci-fi short stories about mind control chips. But subliminally it’s mostly about food. And when CRF’s imagination runs away with him again and his strange fantasy gets a bit out of hand, Sarastro’s earthy instrumentation between abstract jazz and organic funk provides the red thread in the album.

 

What is the mission of CRF & John Sarastro?

CRF: To bring that good old dusty boombap back to people’s eardrums and provide  Hiphop entertainment that makes you think.

Describe the musical frameworks your “Letzte Zuflüchte” album explores.

CRF: John Sarastro has a heavy leaning towards rare, raw, and original samples which he incorporates into his beats without much polishing. To me, this instantly brings up those feelings I had when I first heard NY underground Hip-hop in the 90ies and first fell in love with Hip-hop. So apart from some weird little experiments like “bass” and some uptempo beats like “Esszimmertisch” and “Rührei” that allowed me to unleash my flow potential, we never strayed too far from that raw dusty trademark Boombap we both love.  We actually picked the beats to fit it.

Is there a theme that connects the songs on “Letzte Zuflüchte” album, or is it something else?

CRF: It’s the product of a new friendship. We did not know each other too well before and the work on the album established certain chemistry between us. First, we just wanted to do bar philosophy with old-school boombap beats and a few more or less freestyled hook lines but in time, as work progressed, we started exploring new avenues together. The whole album process happened very closed-off and harmonic. Apart from the few features and the mastering, it just involved us two, like a safe-haven in chaotic times. So we called it “Letzte Zuflüchte – Last Resorts”.

I loved your latest song “Thaiimbiss” feat DJ Okay. What’s the story behind it?

CRF: “Thaiimbiss” was the first song we finished. It’s closest to the original idea about a dusty boombap album with some stream of thought philosophy. The whole song is set in front of a food stall at 4 a.m.  With me trying to decide whether to order or not. But from that starting point, I explore topics such as past relationships, my not-so-stellar rap career  or how it doesn’t actually bother me that it’s not-so-stellar. It’s the perfect entry point for the album. You get to know me and Sarastro and our world a little. Plus the cuts by DJ OK really add a lot of flavor!

You say chemistry was right since the first meeting of CRF & John Sarastro. Could you tell me more about how you’ve met and started making music? Also, the importance of chemistry between artists?

CRF: The first time I saw John must have been around 2015. He knew my DJ, ILL-O, and ILL-O did some cuts on his projects. After listening to our music, John asked me to record a verse for his compilation “Sarastro” in 2016. I said, “if I record that, I’ll record it at your studio, so you can give me feedback.” And we just hit it off. I was thinking frequently that we would have probably been best buddies for half our lives if we had met earlier but with both of us having jobs, families, projects and living almost 100km apart, friendships are not that easy anymore. Regarding chemistry: chemistry is everything. If I do not have a good feeling about an artist as a person, I cannot do good work with him – or her. I’d rather work with unknown hobby-musicians I have a good time with than with a famous asshole that might advance my career. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I never got rich and famous. 😉

Describe your approach to recording.

CRF: “Letzte Zuflüchte” –  Safe-haven: Whenever I would have any time to spare, I would sit in my car and drive to John for a long night of recording. Most of the time, we basically worked through it because we knew we would not have another session for 2 or 3 months. The whole album took us exactly 3 years.

What non-musical entities and ideas have impacted your music?

CRF: with regard to lyrics, I just basically incorporate everything that happens in my brain. A lot of the non-storytelling tracks are stream of thought that range from the personal to the political interspersed with random bits and pieces of comic culture and rap trivia. Add some anti-jokes and a tiny bit of Bukowskian self-destruction and you have my style. As mentioned, the beats are very sample-oriented and often a little dark and mystic, so quite some songs like “Magenweltgeschwür” or “Shinjuku” came out much more somber than my usual stuff.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in the forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

CRF: For me, the message with regard to music is always the same: be yourself and have fun with it. If you’re not having fun with it and you cannot be yourself, you’re doing it wrong and perhaps you should not be doing it at all. Making music is never the means to an end, it’s an end in itself. If I listen to an artist, I don’t really care how successful he is, I just want to get an emotion from it. Sarastro and I both make music for over 20 years now. And we still love every second of it, even though the commercial success of it is laughable. But I will keep on making music for at least another 20 years. If we land a hit – great! If not – okay. The point where I seriously would think about quitting would only be if I get bored creating.

What is your view on technology in music?

CRF: I never particularly liked the concept of record labels and first I thought that the internet would redistribute a bit of the wealth to the artist himself but now, it’s just the tech companies screwing everybody over. I think it’s great that artists have so many and so much cheaper ways to release and promote their music but with everybody fighting for attention worldwide and forced to release in shorter and shorter intervals, music has become something like fast food. Quickly consumed and quickly forgotten. I try to still buy vinyl from artists I respect. It forces you to really listen.

What are you working on right now?

CRF: I’m working on the next album of my crew Bungle Brothers. It’s called “Halb Fiction” and will be released on June 19. As far as I know, John Sarastro works on another producer album with international collaborations called “Obsidian Lanes” and on an album with Dell Wells from Brooklyn called “Bolt Seminar”. I’ve also got verses on both of these albums.

 

To learn more about these guys, make sure to check:

Thank you!

What do you think?

Written by Emily

Emily is currently finishing her studies in journalism and popular media abroad in the School of Media studies in Tel Aviv. In free time she writes for several popular magazines and loves hip hop culture very much.

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