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Unbalanced equilibrium – interview with FOQL

Published August, 2016
by Easterndaze

My friendship with Justyna Banaszczyk (aka FOQL) has begun thanks to Darek Pietraszewski (who runs the label Pointless Geometry with Kaśka Królikowska) who introduced me to her music. It had resonated with me very much and as a result she played at one of „za duszno” parties (which I organize together with Piotr Tkacz). In June 2015 there was a special event in warehouses of a former printing plant rented from the city. We did a kind of rave there and good thing that we managed to use it to the full because now this space is already sold to a private developer.

FOQL (which is „Flame of Queen Loana” from a novel by Umberto Eco) builds her tracks with technoid rhythms as basis and places acidic bands around them also adding unsettling vocal samples, hisses wrapped around with spatializing effects. You might know her work in a duo with Jarosław Grzelak (RNA2) as Kolektyw Ebola or Marburg (released by Oficyna Biedota in 2012 and 2013) and as a part of an ambient project called Meandron. FOQL, RNA2 together with Tomek Popakul (Astma) form OSTY, and when you add Kuba Drożdżowski you get BETH. Both ensembles has put out albums on Pointless Geometry recently: Biblical Times cassette and VHS tape Collapsing Memory (a recording of audiovisual performance
from 2012 which was based on Child of Rage documentary) respectively. Solo records of her were released by Pointless Geometry (cassette Black Market Goods), vinyl on Enfant Terrible/Gooiland Elektro entitled Hypatia and another cassette Hopeless EP on New York Haunted. Banaszczyk continues to work with this label – earlier this year they put out Mouthful Of Bullshit and Mogherini Tears just came out. 

Below you’ll learn how a small girl with violin started skipping classes, found out about punk concerts in a squat in Łódź or the first huge tekno parties – taking place in the very centre of this city…

FOQL at za duszno – photo:

FOQL at za duszno – photo:

I’m interested in this transition from classical music to techno, and there was punk on the way (if I recall it correctly). How did you “reconcile” those spheres, in what ways were they connected and how they differed? What was fascinating in each of them and what was maybe not so great? And what marks has it left on you?

I’m happy that you put it that way because those are the questions that I keep asking myself for years. 

I told you already that for eight years I’ve been at the Stanisław Moniuszko State Music School in Łódź, then located at Jaracza street, next to Piotrkowska. Classrooms and rehearsal spaces were packed in rooms and corridors were filled with countless secrets. Our cosmic imagination as kids that were growing up was crackling in brains as boiling water (you can imagine a huge room were we spent breaks jammed with loads of old pianos on which you could roam freely like on a playground – WICKED).

I’d always go to school by foot, from Gdańska street where I could see from the windows of my room the biggest factory in Łódź – the cotton mill of Izrael Poznański, which during communist times was titled with the name of Julian Marchlewski.

I think that the view from the window might be enough to feed my personality, and now my music also, on a kind of a rift, a crater, like I’m in a space where tectonic plates meet, where they constantly move against each other. 

I remember when I was very little the factory was still running, roaring 24h a day, workers ending their shifts, pieces of cotton flying on the street.

After the communist regime collapsed the factory did also. It was the beginning of a fast degeneration for dwellers of workers’ houses which were precisely vis a vis my rooms. Think about that: even last year those houses were inhabited by descendants of poor, rural migrant workers from the end of 19th century!

With the factory gone – the world for those people ended, alcoholism and drug addiction on a huge scale began, also poverty and marginalization for many generations. 

It was because of that that my mother decided that I would go to music school – she had seen a spark of talent in me and not for all the world she would let me go with kids from problematic families to the nearby primary school (btw, built also by Izreal Poznański).

So I found myself in another rift – for eight years I would march with violin from my school, where there were no bells because someone somewhere was always practising, either on an instrument or singing, to get to home through this whirlpool of human degeneration. 

I don’t know if eight years of musical education is a lot. On the one hand, it is , but then again for sure I wouldn’t say I can play brilliantly on any instrument. For sure I forgot about 90% of music theory but I still remember how to read notes. 

But certainly having had contact with music on a daily basis caused that today it’s the most important element in my life – I just can’t live without it, it’s so engraved in me and it moulded my consciousness and sensibility.

It was in the music school that my rebel spirit manifested itself. You might know that artistic schools (especially music and ballet ones) are sometimes quite an ordeal. I happened to have a notorious violin teacher. A genuine tormentor. Nothing compares to practising for so long that the strings cut into fingers of your left hand.

I hated this educational apparatus so deeply that since the 7th grade of primary school I started to look for my own ways of expressing myself and despite having all the chances to continue as a violinist my angst was so big that I wanted to drop out by then.

Enter: local context – in the second half of the ‘90 I was still a squirt but on my way home on Piotrkowska and on the first truancies I encountered punks.  …then a most unusual transformation happened… the ruins of Izreal Poznański factory, which were haunting for almost 20 years, turned into a shopping mall… I always joke that the ghosts of workers, who were killed by the machines, haunt the place nowadays.

Of course I was to young to have any bonds with the punk crew, who were 10-15 years older than me, but I remember that while seeing those huge groups on the streets I thought “ooooh, what the fuck, that means there is another world, more interesting than fucking violin passages and scales for 8h a day??? I waaaaant that, aaah, heeeelp”.

To that you should add the techno parade, the first punk concerts in a squat on Węglowa street, next to the old train station Łódź Fabryczna, the last days of the legendary Forum Fabricum club, the first electro-punk parties organized by a local crew and then the incredible run of concerts in the now defunct Jazzga – all of that shaped my musical paths…

But I have never stuck in only one genre or subculture. I’m just not able to ground myself ideologically or stylistically, socially or in regards to politics and make this sharp definition “I’m this and this, this is my group.” I was always more into being an outcast and staying in this crater in-between worlds, fractions, groups, genres, dependencies. 

I guess I don’t like hierarchies and that’s where my slightly reclusive stance comes from (in modern lingo it would be called “lack of interpersonal skills” or that I’m bad at “networking”), but power structures are everywhere…

My experience taught me that often those communities that see themselves as the most open-minded are totally hermetic. Don’t you think?

Thus music, which formed me and the process is ongoing because it hasn’t ended, is a series of constant delights with more and more sonic excavations. 

From Crass and Black Flag to Hildegard von Bingen, from Velvet Undeground to a discovery of incredible synthesizer underground labeled Minimal Wave by Veronika Vasicka, from traditional music to Throbbing Gristle, electro punk, rave, acid to free jazz and even grunge (Melvins!) and 19 Wiosen or Sonic Youth – they have so much in common after all, don’t they?

I’m simply on a look-out for sounds that will unbalance my equilibrium, music that will slap me when I’m feeling too cosy in my comfort zone saying: hey there, don’t get stuck in one place – exploration of sound never ends.“

Because everything is a wave, isn’t it? Those small particles that are moving all the time. Like violin string that stretches and bow which slides on it or hit it. 

That’s why instead of going to places recently I like to sit with my machines and shape those waves. Finally I have my own little studio and it’s still expanding.

How did you move from listening to all those things to creating? I guess you didn’t use much of what you learnt at school…

Truth to be told, when I got fed up with music school I immediately started to look for other forms of expressing myself. At the end of primary school and the beginning of high school I attended percussion classes, I thought it might be a nice thing, but I got bored quickly. Then I picked up bass guitar and was trying to find my way with it alone, for a few years I was into singing also – in high school with my friends we even won a few contests of English songs… So music was never gone for good. But for an explosion to happen I needed to meet a fuse-person on my path – that was Jarek Grzelak, my partner. Sometimes it’s just like that – it is this other person that releases given abilities and that was the case here. Since we’ve met we create electronic sounds practically non-stop. Together before, separately nowadays, but in a continuous synergy. It’s 4,5 years already and it keeps evolving in surprising directions. It’s important for me not to be seen as a musician’s gal. Probably that’s why we decided to exist as separate musical entities. Him as RNA2 and me as FOQL. Our attitudes are too strong for a duo. I think we might kill each other.

NYH56 FOQL – Mogherini Tears by New York Haunted

Tomek Popakul told me about this appeal that you put out calling people from Łódź to contact you if they would like to do something creative in this sad city. That’s how you met with Tomek – could you shed some light on the sessions of OSTY and on the conception of BETH? Were there any projects that are not released yet?

Yes, that’s correct, sometime in 2011 I still had the mission to save the world. To be precise: I wanted to organize a series of interdisciplinary events called Niebezpieczne Związki (Dangerous Liaisons). And indeed there were a few of them, but it became clear soon enough that organizing concerts is simply tiring and frustrating for me and my own artistic activity is way more attractive, stimulating and energizing. Nevertheless that initiative was surely substantial in getting together a group of people who met on experimental jam sessions – those meetings were a seed from which many acquaintances and projects grew: electro-punk of Ebola, Marburg, OSTY, BETH, etc… The sessions were continued in Warsaw – first at the Przychodnia squat, were we lived for some time and later in the now defunct Projekt gallery in the Praga district. 

Experimental Jam Session II by Niebezpieczne Związki || EXPERIMENTAL JAM SESSION

– two sessions are archived here and here you can find a recording of the performance by Marcelo Zammenhoff and Maria Apoleika from the first edition of LD.

Among those projects born as an effect of those activities which have never been published in a physical form by any label, I’m particulary fond of Meandron ( – even nowadays I put it up there with our best projects, even though I’m usually not into ambient stuff… (  

You mentioned a lot of names when talking about important music but nothing from the field of techno. But you are inspired by Acid Planet and Bunker Records, aren’t you? While you are at it you should reveal how you started collaborating with Dutch labels. 

Oh yeah, the Dutch scene and its sound had an utterly formative effect. My first encounter with it was 10 years ago, actually thanks to popularity of electroclash in Łódź. It was then through Cybernetic Broadcasting System (nowadays called Intergalactic FM) and the Global Darkness​ website that I found such artists as Legowelt, Unit Moebius, I-F, RA-X, Orgue Electronique, Beverly Hills 808303, Rude 66 etc etc…

It was such a far-out thing for me at this point, also no one was playing this kind of music in Poland in those days (maybe with an exception of Elektrpunkz from Lublin). Filth, chaos, intransigent sound – I went with the flow. All of this strangely shapes as a circle – I was on my first rave in the Netherlands in 2008, in a squat near Utrecht, where I saw Legowelt, Luke Eargoggle, Beverly Hills 808303, Minimal Rome crew for the first time. The other huge inspiration was the sound of Invasion Planete and the figure of Le Syndicate Elektronique. And of course Enfant Terrible – a label that was a true pioneer in rediscovering forgotten gems of synth wave. Once I sent a demo to Martijn van Gessel (who runs ET) and he responded by giving me a thumbs up. That’s how our long-lasting collaboration, and dare I say – acquaintance, started. Later Vincent Koreman (Drvg Cvlture, RA-X) wrote to me and I began to release on New York Haunted. I can reveal that I have a few more proposals more from the Netherlands, I work on a material for labels I deeply respect and I’m constantly impressed that fate comes up with something like this. 

It just still blows my mind that my records for Enfant Terrible / Gooiland Elektro are mastered by Rude 66 … Quite a wicked thing, you know, because for a number of years, this guy was a legendary figure in electronic music.

Machines don’t make music without your input – that’s clear, but I’m curious what gear you use those days and how have your setup evolved those past few years?

Right, my setup underwent a major evolution. At the very beginning there was only the computer and software plus the old tape deck with tapes from different sources, a lot of samples were created by manipulating them. I dreamt about working on analogue synthesizers right from the outset, but with a benefit of hindsight I can say that an orthodox approach, analogue means better, digital means lame, is just another fetish and often – posturing. After years spent dealing with lots of different equipment I’m sure that this analogue trend is just another pigeonhole in which one can comfortably hide oneself and look down on others. I keep repeating that for me a piece could be played on a comb and if it moves me, has certain emotion, then it doesn’t matter what gear was used. 

I don’t think it makes sense to list all the stuff that I put my hands on, but at the moment I use a computer as sampler and effect unit, Korg Volca Bass, Elektron Analog4, Arturia Mini Brute, tape dack as a source of samples and other synthesizers that pass through my and Jarek’s studios, i.e. Someone let us use them for some time.

I’m also fascinated by FM synthesis. I think that it’s possibilities are absolutely unlimited and allow for totally otheworldly sounds.

Should we expect more tracks with your vocals?

Yes, I think that’s certainly possible. What’s more, for years I’ve been thinking about buying viola (I played on it before finishing the school). I’m intrigued by body memory very much. What would happen if I’d try playing on a string instrument after so many years. That would be a strange experiment conducted on myself. I’ll do this one day but I need to find a suitable instrument – one with an interesting history.

(Special thanks for Piotr Tkacz who who helped with translation and sunny greetings to all mentioned.)

By Karolina Karnacewicz – musician, DJ, promoter, cultural animator, writer, based in Poznań, PL