MEET The pioneer of progressive sound, DJ Atmos, on creating music and the mosaic of experiences that have enriched it
When we lament that clubs close by midnight in India, to a DJ who is credited with pioneering progressive sound and has played everywhere there is to play in the world, we aren't expecting a logical, “True. But it saves lives, you know.” But then, there's very little about the life of Tomasz Dominik Balicki (aka Atmos) that is.
In 1998, when he was still waiting for a big hit, Tomasz recorded a song called ‘Klein Aber Doctor'. “So there I was, with eleven cassettes with the song on it. On ten, I wrote the addresses of small or medium record labels. I had no idea what to do with the last tape. Then a friend said to me, ‘Reach into your 12 inch' collection, pull one out, and send your tape to that label.' I pulled out The Flying Rhino. That's madness, I said. A waste of a good cassette. And you know what? They were the only ones who responded,” says the DJ, lounging at the Tangy Oceanfront Resort in Neelankarai.
That song is now considered a landmark in the development of trance. “So my cassette was nailed to the Wall of Shame of ten companies, saying ‘Why didn't we do that?'” he laughs. “I tell this story to the younger ones. It doesn't matter if your music's rejected at first.”
Originally from Poland, Tomasz's family moved to Sweden to escape the oppressive political climate. Initially, music was only the background to his drawing, graffiti and cartoons — but soon, he would begin to find patterns in the compositions. But mixing was easier said than done. “Unlike today, every synthesiser then had its own operating system. Which meant you would spend the first few months just figuring out how it worked, staring into a screen that was about the size of a matchbox.” At 19, he brought his first turntable, from a man whose boots had been stolen and needed money to buy a new pair.
Sweden is the third-largest exporter of music in the world. “Swedish law decrees that you cannot work for more than eight hours a day. This gives people enough time to live their lives! Also, the government has set up Circles everywhere, where you can go learn pretty much anything — pottery, dance, music — and get paid for it. There's even a set-up of basic recording equipment, so a young band can cut that all-important first tape, with the help of a sound engineer.”
Tomasz first visited India in 1995. “I came to Goa. I was looking for the purple sunsets and golden sands that were on the album covers of all Goa trance CDs there. In fact, there's a highway between Berlin and Hamburg, the A-24, that's called the Goa Highway, thanks to all the music festivals it has seen.” He would return frequently to paraglide in Kamshet and Panchgani. But the first time he came DJing was in 2008 — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata. “I had to pinch myself. Limousines, diamonds and people who could wear two Rolexes if they wanted to! I knew of a very different India just a few miles away.”
A classic in trance
His first album, ‘Headcleaners', is considered a classic in trance. It introduced a minimal and progressive form of psychedelic trance with deep sounds that didn't overpower. “Progressive sound has patterns that never really come to a point — they're timeless. Your heart beats at about 128 bpm — and if you play music at that speed, you can hypnotise people,” he says. “I was once told that there was headroom in my music, enough space for people to hum their own tune. That they could create their own music inside.”
In February this year, realising that his creative energies extended beyond trance, he launched another avatar, ‘Dominik Tomasz', who plays Techno music. “No one has to know who you are. The question is, do you have the courage to send out your demo tape as a complete nobody?”
So what is he working on now? “The laundry, the dogs, the kitchen, the garden, everything. I'm a househusband. My wife is a career woman, and I told her that if she does the paperwork, she doesn't have to lift a finger around the house. In the middle of that, I produce, write and create music, with several labels. And my fifth album is on its way,” he smiles.
To listen and download some of his best tracks for free, visit www.atmotech.com.