Huerco S’s ascendency from obscure Midwestern producer to in-demand artist has been quick but hardly surprising. Intriguing shards of sound were peppered throughout his early releases, but the twin focus of dance floor hit “Apheleia’s Theme” and the beguiling album Colonial Patterns crystallized Brian Leeds’ captivating take on dance music over the course of a remarkable 2013. On the surface, his music seems unconcerned with club potential, but the Kansas-born Leeds has a knack for turning unassuming, jumbled morasses of samples into effortlessly hypnotic house cuts. LWE caught up with him in advance of his appearance this Friday at Unsound New York’s Mutual Dreaming party to talk about naivité, jungle, and just who exactly Huerco S is.
So you were born and raised in Kansas City?
Brian Leeds: Just Kansas. I’m originally from Emporia, Kansas. It’s two hours outside, but I guess it’s easier just to say Kansas City. But I lived in Kansas City for three years.
How did you initially get into techno?
A friend of mine– I was in a band, and he went away on holiday in France when I was 16. At the time I was into metal and hardcore punk and stuff. And he came back and was like, “Yo, check it out, it’s like jungle, drum and bass,” and I was like, “Holy shit, this is so crazy.” So through him, listening to podcasts and just.. genre to genre, skipping my way through, with the help of the Internet.
You mentioned the Hospital podcasts before, so why aren’t you making drum and bass?
That you know of! I did do some jungle tracks, but they never, like — they’re under an alias — it’s under “unknown.” So you can’t really search that. Sometimes it’s fun to go back; I never really took it too seriously. I just made what I thought a nice, perfect drum and bass song sounds like, you know? Nothing completely revolutionary.
Were you mostly consuming music online through things like podcasts?
Yeah, back then, for sure. I used to just go through sites and download as much shit as I can, but I don’t really use digital music at all anymore. I’ll listen to some podcasts, but mostly radio shows. Like NTS, Berlin Community Radio. But at the time it was definitely all podcasts, Internet-driven stuff.
In Kansas, were you ever buying records, ordering them from overseas?
To be honest, I didn’t get into buying records until maybe a year and a half ago. And I would mostly just order from Boomkat and overseas stores. There were a couple of, like, junk, second-hand record stores, but most of them, they maybe have a dance section, and it’s hip-hop singles or something. It’s not very categorized. And occasionally I would find Todd Terry, Strictly Rhythm records, or whatever, but nothing super crazy.
So is it safe to say that you only got into DJing very recently?
Yeah, for sure. Last year was the first full year that I’d been DJing.
And was that just because people were asking you to play shows or something, and that was—?
I mean, it was something that I wanted to do, and I guess I was doing the kind of live thing before that. But then I didn’t really like how I was going about that. DJing was an easier solution, and it’s something that I enjoy.
When you play, how often are you doing live sets as opposed to DJing now?
I haven’t done a live set for over a year. I’m going to try to do a live set sometime soon, but I want it to be special. I just don’t really know how to do it; logistically it just seems really difficult.
How did you start making music?
With he same software I’m using now. I’m still using FruityLoops. I just bootlegged a copy, put it on my mom’s desktop computer, and I’d stay up really late making tracks. Eventually I got my own laptop as a graduation present, and it’s just the same stuff over and over.
I have a record coming out [on Proibito] in a month or so, and this is kind of the first record I’ve done differently. I mean, I do use the computer, but the computer is only an editor. I didn’t do any sequencing; it’s all recorded from synths into Audacity and then I chop it up. I’m trying to use the computer as little as possible. But that’s just because my computer is quite old, so it’s really hard to work with. Bypassing that whole thing just makes it easier. But yeah, the majority of everything else is all in the box.
It’s maybe been overstated in your case, but there’s a very distinct, gritty quality to the music that you make, and yet you work completely on a computer.
Some of it is intentional. It’s not like I’m adding an entire track of white noise or static. It’s always things that are present, and I just choose to accentuate those things instead of hiding it — I just let those things shine through. Like low-bitrate samples. You hear the compression in the audio, these artifacts. I mean, I shouldn’t be using these bad things, but I don’t know… I think they sound interesting.
Do you start tracks with a sample in mind?
There’s never really one definitive “this is how they all start”… It’s just kind of an epiphany. I’ll be on YouTube looking at German advertisements from the 80s, and then I’ll be like, “Yeah, that one second is really sick. Let me go to, like, mp3finder.com and get, I don’t know, maybe a 320 [kbps] rip if I’m lucky.” I don’t even know what that means, though. Usually I like to sample things that aren’t necessarily musical, or would be considered, like — “Oh, I could definitely make a song out of that.” I think the more difficult the sample, sometimes the more interesting it can be.
How do you distinguish your remixes from your own tracks that you make with samples?
Well, I guess with a remix they’re already providing me with the samples. I just dig into that and try and fuck it up as much as possible. Like, I just did a remix recently, and the dudes really love it and I’m really happy with it, but it kind of comes to a point where I don’t really know what is the original and what I’ve added. But that’s kind of cool— completely making a new song with what they’ve provided. That, for me, is a remix, you know? Not just keeping the same vocal, or something.
Who are Apheleia and Hiromi?
Apheleia — I was just going through lists of minor Greek deities, and she’s the deity of lust. And Hiromi happens to be the woman who provided her voice for the track, the spoken-word Japanese. I think she wrote this novel, and she’s just doing a book reading. I really don’t even know what it says. I’ve asked some Japanese friends, and they’re always like, “Oh man, it’s so sad.” So that’s good I guess.
You wrote “themes” for these two. How do you see the links between the tracks that you make and the titles?
A lot of times titles are an afterthought. I never think, “Oh, I’m going to name a song this,” and then make the song. For me and a lot of friends, naming songs… it’s so hard. My project files have the worst names. You know, just like “Pizza Box” because you see a pizza box on the ground. You just need something to save it. So just some number. The titles [on the album] lent itself more the whole concept of the album, but for a lot of other things I don’t really think too much about the titles. They’re not really as important.
How do you approach the overarching themes of some of your records?
The Opal Tapes one is definitely a bit — that whole thing has this weird, perverse kind of sexual thing throughout. I mean the untitled track — obviously that name doesn’t lend itself to anything, but tracks like “Press On” or “Elma” it’s just “male” jumbled up — I don’t know. But Royal Crown of Sweden one, they’re all just the biggest and deepest lakes in Sweden, so yeah, pretty simple.
Is Royal Crown of Sweden the only known alias you have?
I did a track as Huerco S. called “Welfare,” and Max D put it in his FACT mix a long time ago, and I think Anthony did as well. It’s just something I did in 2010, kind of this dubby house track, and I didn’t really think that’s, like — it’s not really Huerco S. anymore, so after this next record of mine comes out, which is 06, there will be a split of a bunch of artists on Proibito, and that will be on there under the name Independence Avenue Orchestra. I lived on Independence Avenue in Kansas City. And I’m doing a remix as that for a friend, so that will pop up. It’s me trying to do, like, Maurizio meets Kerri Chandler… I don’t know. Dubby New York house, or something.
Well, so if that isn’t Huerco S., what is?
I don’t know. I struggle with that all the time. That next record I’m doing for Anthony… it is Huerco S., but it doesn’t say “Huerco S.” on the record. And I don’t think it’s going to say “Huerco S.” on the press release. It’s just “HS.” But I don’t know, sometimes I just get tired of seeing my name so I just make something else, you know?
It’s funny that you mention all these upcoming releases on Proibito, because one of my questions was that you’ve never released twice on the same label, up until this moment. Is there any reason for that?
I think inexperience. I was presented with these opportunities — I’m turning 23 in a month, so I still think I have a lot of learning to do. It just makes more sense to settle down. I have a good group of friends and we’re all like-minded. It just makes sense. Anthony’s a good bud, and I trust him. I mean, I have no problem with the other records that I did and how that came about, the whole thing, but it definitely is not as personal. Talking to someone on the Internet, you send them a file, and then, “Oh yeah, you’re records going to be out in, like, a week. Where do you want us to send them? Here’s your PayPal.” You know, I just want to work with friends; that’s pretty much it. And I’m just going to try and do that from now on.
With Proibito, I can basically do whatever. But Software is still there. I plan on doing another LP, but no rush. It’s well in the future.
So what’s next?
There’s a four-track titled A Verdigris Reader on Proibito. Some remix work, LP maybe 2015. I think after the LP last year, I really need to refocus and consider what I want to do. With a lot of dance music, especially with how fast things are moving, there’s this need to always be putting literally whatever you make out — “Oh, I did this jam. Let’s fuckin’ press it to a record.” I think people need to just chill out a bit, just make good music instead of putting out tons of shit and having to sift through it all.