For his solo career, Riverside’s Mariusz Duda wanted to create something as distinct from his day job as possible. He spoke to Prog about returning to his first musical love, being creatively selfish, and embracing electronic music on latest release AFR AI D.
“I’m inspired by limitations,” says Mariusz Duda. As the mastermind of Riverside and Lunatic Soul, he’s comfortable being a musical chameleon. But recently he’s expanded far beyond the bounds of progressive rock.
He released three albums of electronica – Lockdown Spaces, Claustrophobic Universe and Interior Drawings, known collectively as the Lockdown Trilogy – in quick succession in 2020 and 2021. Now, with AFR AI D, his latest work as a solo artist, he’s giving free rein to his formative influences.
“I grew up on Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis,” says Duda. “Later on, Mike Oldfield and later, later on, progressive music. My very first music as a composer was electronic music. In the Lockdown Trilogy artbook, I even put a photo of my cassette tapes that I recorded in 1992. I had 15 of them. Believe me, no one wants to listen to that these days, but for me it was the beginning. I wanted to emphasise that this is really important music for me.”
In 2023, Duda had originally planned to devote his time and energy to writing the next Lunatic Soul album, but then he went on vacation and everything changed. “I decided to go on a holiday with my family in April, and I took some serious rest,” he says.
“I was so happy after we came back that I had to do something with myself, so I opened the computer and boom, in six weeks I had this idea. I heard about ChatGPT, artificial intelligence. I thought, ‘This is a great idea for an album, but I’m not going to use that in Riverside. When I record another Riverside album it will be 2025. Probably everyone will have forgotten about ChatGPT; it will be nothing new.
“‘I can’t do this in Lunatic Soul because that’s more ephemeral. Artificial intelligence in there? No. But I can continue my electronic work. It fits!’”
AFR AI D embraces the limitations of electronic music – the only conventional instrumentation comes from the guitar solos performed by Riverside tech Mateusz Owczarek. However, with song titles including Taming Nightmares, Good Morning Fearmongering and Why So Serious, Cassandra? there are shared themes with Duda’s work in Riverside.
“I always write about loneliness, struggling with things around me, the trial of surviving these days, fear and anxiety,” he says. “All my albums are more like therapy; that’s why I’m trying to record so many of them. That’s why I never wanted to only be part of a band – I wanted to have my own Marvel Universe.”
While the artificial intelligence references are clear, Duda says he’s presented AI as anything we fear. “Everyone has their own demons they’re struggling with. I’ve got my own. We live in really uncertain times; we are afraid of many things, so I wanted to record an album about taming nightmares. I wanted to return to the darkness – but at the same time I need another album that helps me to cool down.”
He also wanted to retain a sense of optimism: “It’s not the end of the world and we can embrace the future,” he says. “I don’t believe in this vision from The Terminator that artificial intelligence will rule humanity.
“I believe we’ll die much sooner because the sun will burn out, or there will be no drinking water anymore, and then we’ll ask artificial intelligence to help. That’s why the title is Why So Serious, Cassandra? Why do we have to see these Cassandraic visions? AI will only be another tool.”
At one point he considered naming the album OK AI, as a nod to Radiohead’s classic OK Computer. “But then I realised that AFR AI D is much more me, because I write about fear and anxiety all the time. It’s catchy and I can play games with the words inside of that, so I think it’s better.”
Speaking of names, Duda’s solo project could have been called Eye Of The Soundscape, after the 2016 Riverside album that saw the group experimenting with electronic music. But the death of Riverside guitarist Piotr Grudzinski led to Duda abandoning that idea. “Everything didn’t have a meaning anymore,” he says ruefully.
Then, with Lockdown Spaces in 2020, the time felt right to release music under his own name. “I was considering a project name, but then I realised Mariusz Duda would be much more well known,” he says.
“I started my solo career in 2008 under the name Lunatic Soul not because I was not ready to release music under my own name, but I knew that people love bands. I didn’t want to sound exactly like Riverside. I’m the main composer in Riverside. This is not a band that’s full of compromises – we’re realising my own vision.
“That’s why, under my own name, I decided to do something crazy like Lockdown Spaces that sounds like music from Atari . It was important to me because, first and foremost, I grew up on those video games, and secondly, I wanted to try something out musically.”
Hence, no bass guitar, no conventional vocals, just strange, minimalist electronic music – even if Duda himself isn’t the biggest fan of Lockdown Spaces. “It’s hard to listen to that album now,” he says, suggesting that it was just about getting something out of his system. “I didn’t want to create an album that everyone could listen to for many years. I was really selfish, but I needed that.”
In addition to taming nightmares, making AFR AI D has helped Duda understand who he wants to be in the musical world he’s created. And while he’s not committed to performing this material live, he has ideas about how to do it.
“I enjoy electronic music, but I’m not enjoying hiding behind modules and 15 keyboards, looking like Jean-Michel Jarre surrounded by all this electronic stuff,” he says. “If I play this live, I’d choose a band with drums, bass, guitar. Do electronic music but as a band, just like Faithless did.
“I saw one of their shows live on television. Knowing them from the albums, it was, ‘What the hell, this is so amazing!’ Live, it was a totally different band. So, I see myself playing my electronic music more like LCD Soundsystem or Groove Armada.”
Duda regards his solo career as belonging to the realm of progressive electronic music, where soundscapes and melody interact. “It’s more in this direction than ambient Brian Eno stuff or the Berlin school of Tangerine Dream,” he says. “On Lockdown Spaces, on Claustrophobic Universe, I tried to be someone else, because I got rid of melodies.
“But melody is really important; and on AFR AI D, I think on every song there are some melodic parts that are characteristic of my music. Why should I get rid of that? That’s part of my soul.”
After 20-plus years of Riverside, Duda feels he’s unlikely to break out of the prog world to find an entirely new audience in electronica. “You’ve got your loyal audience, your fans; you cannot afford to do things only for them,” he says.
“I do this electronic world mostly for myself, knowing it’s not as popular as Riverside and Lunatic Soul, and I’m fine with that. My goal is not to be a competitor to my own musical projects. I just need genuine, organic development. Who knows what will happen in the future?”