At Disconnected Moments is nowhere near STL’s debut album, but it’s his first for a label other than his own Something Records — which functions more as a studio journal than a label proper — meaning this is one of the more eventful releases in Stephan Laubner’s career. And while there have been plenty of highlights on Something (“Vintage Hunter,” “Mindbender,” and a smattering of loops come immediately to mind), it seems to me that he’s usually saved his strongest material for Hamburg’s Smallville. Given “Silent State,” that might seem rather obvious, but At Disconnected Moments all but confirms it. Granted, this somewhat depends on your preferred STL style. The blunted kicks, razor-sharp hats, and rickety synth lines are completely absent from At Disconnected Moments in favor of the kind of dubby house he usually sends two hours north up from Harz to Hamburg. For those looking to dive deep into the kind of airy, long-form grooves Laubner does so well, At Disconnected Moments is a gold mine.
Ignoring the CD-only tracks (“Silent State” and “Neurotransmitting Clouds on the Secret Freeway,” both of which were released four years ago), At Disconnected Moments perhaps seems, at first, like a double-pack mostly for DJs. “Scuba’s Motion Dub” kicks things off on the floor-focused tip with thumping kicks and plenty of delay; and while nothing really changes over its 11-minute runtime, it’s a case-study in what makes STL such a remarkable producer. There’s plenty of dubby, elongated techno/house around, but there’s something about “Scuba’s Motion Dub” (and really the whole album) that makes it impossible to turn off, and makes every track’s final breaths a bummer. “One Day” is more laid back, while “Space Cats” switches up the palette ever so slightly with space-age synths and grubby percussion.
Which brings us to “Amelie’s Dub”: a remarkably potent slice of dub-house bliss. Its carefully modulating and subtle melodies reach out from a swelling morass of kicks and low-end, hypnotizing effortlessly over its impossibly brief 10 minutes. “Ghostly Ambit” is a creepy, late-late-night slow-build, and nestled near the end are the short beatless cuts “Good Wine” and “Over and Out.” Yet while it’s essential for DJs, the vinyl comes away feeling slight. The extra ~24 minutes of music that the CD version supplies brings At Disconnected Moments firmly up to classic status. Yes, it’s long, but especially on the CD version it seems like that’s the whole point. This is an album to lose time to; an album that you put on to disconnect with everything around you. It’s a remarkably strong suite of tracks whose longevity is essentially already proven. I’ve owned and played “Neurotransmitting” and “Silent State” rather consistently since they were released, and I never tire of hearing them. I suspect all of At Disconnected Moments will end up that way, too.]]>
The third in a trilogy of Dance Classics from Kouhei Matsunaga, Vol. III sees NHK’Koyxeи engage with techno more overtly than on previous issues. While “501″ may still have some of the hip-hop/Autechrian swagger of foregone volumes, most of the album might actually bring DJs to entertain the notion of squeezing this stuff into their sets. A tall order, for Matsunaga’s music is far too fluid, far too free-spirited to stick to any one groove for very long. “341,” a solid slice of party-rousing deep house, certainly sets the table right but disappears just as quickly as it began. Album highlight “768″ lays the ground work for a sub-heavy, bleepy techno roller, and then shifts into a stuttering 90s rave anthem — something like Donnacha Costello’s Colorseries scanned at obtuse angles. “675″ starts off sounding like filtered and sequenced white noise, but soon coalesces into a heads-down, delayed techno roller.
“766″ sounds like a version of “768,” with a longer runtime allowing it to stretch its legs and breathe a bit. It flits between being tightly wound and letting its synths really sprawl out, perfect for dance floors with more esoteric proclivities. Dance Classics Vol. III evokes the work of nsi. in its brainy, academic-leaning approach towards dance music, eschewing DJ utilitarianism in favor of something more idiosyncratic. It is not, however, overly challenging music, as its sub-heavy grooves and enveloping sonics are sure to light up dance floors in both the laboratory and the living room. Music this beguiling and this effective can be hard to come by in techno, as there are certain genre rules that techno simply must play by before it’s a different genre entirely. Dance Classics Vol. III is hardly seeking to turn techno on its head, but it does stretch the rules in directions that aren’t always considered. It’s playful and it’s serious; it’s floor-ready and it’s a DJ’s nightmare; it’s immaculately produced and yet caked with noise at times. It’s one of last year’s most unfortunate casualties of the year-end charting season, and yet it’s far too timeless to really give a shit. In short, Dance Classics Vol. III is just that: a future classic.]]>
Abdulla Rashim has certainly made quite a name for himself on the back his hypnotic, glacial techno tracks, both on his own eponymous label as well as Prologue and Semantica. While perhaps immediately reminiscent of Donato Dozzy’s shamanist dance music tendencies, Rashim brings an unmistakably Nordic sensibility to his music, one that his new label Northern Electronics seems to underline in triplicate. Northern Electronics had a busy 2013, with five (according to Discogs) intriguing releases from Rashim as well as his friends Varg and Acronym. Ulwhednar, a collaboration between Varg and Rashim, was at the helm of three of those releases: two cassettes, and an LP of mesmerizing, immersive techno.
Ulwhednar, excerpts from LP
LP‘s structure is rather straightforward: four static, tripping cuts of techno with three short interludes, one at the beginning, one at the end, and one in the middle. Those short tracks are nice, beatless palate-cleansers, but the real meat of the record is found in between them. Each of the four tracks might at first sound like loops, but while they progress imperceptibly over their run-times, they create hypnotic whirlpools one could conceivably get lost in for days. “Synden Mot Den Helige Ande” hits hard with overdriven kicks and strobe-lit elements, while “Kornguden I Vånga” seems almost frostbitten with its ghastly atmospheres and rumbling percussion. “Dömd Till Elden” is more austere, with frozen 303 notes and submerged drums, while “Nåjden Från Norra Västbyn” is the warmest of the four. Despite its name, LP certainly doesn’t give off the vibe of an album, but rather of an ambitious EP, one that clocks in just under 30 minutes. Album or not, it’s an engrossing listen all the way through, whether holed up in your apartment while sheltered from arctic winds, or as a key component of a DJ’s record bag. Northern Electronics has carved out a space for itself and is well worth keeping an eye on.]]>
More than any previous year, narrowing down my list of the five best EPs that 2013 had to offer was a tough one. Some highlights: Levon Vincent started the year with the release of the much anticipated Rainstorm II; James Ruskin crafted a seven-track strong EP for his new Jealous God imprint; and Pépé Bradock kept his Imbroglios series humming along with installments three and four. Elsewhere, Ital unleashed a meditative 12” on Workshop, Anthony Naples polished his house sound on a record for The Trilogy Tapes, and Samuel Kerridge plunged further into the darkness on two very impressive EPs for Downwards. All of that was just the tip of the iceberg, though, as those records, along with plenty of others, all found themselves just shy of the top five. As always, in order to keep this list sensible and narrowed down enough to be meaningful, I’ve followed a set of criteria in determining what records are defined as an “EP” and thus eligible for inclusion here. EPs on this list must be released on a single piece of 12” vinyl, they must be the work of a single artist (i.e. not a compilation), must contain three or more tracks, and mustn’t have any remixes (though alternate versions of a track are OK).
Those of you who are not from New York City may be unfamiliar with the BQE, so let me summarize it for you. The work of one of the most hated New Yorkers ever, Robert Moses, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a mostly elevated highway built straight through the heart of those two boroughs, slicing up some neighborhoods, isolating others, and being jammed with traffic at all hours of the day. So if it is true what they say about the suffering artist, Fred P has shrewdly chosen the BQE, a source of immeasurable suffering, as the muse for his strongest EP in some time. It sees the Queens-based deep house producer operating in a more spaced-out techno vein than ever before, with the contorting synths of “Splitting Particles” hitting the floor hard, while the dubby jazz vibes of “Tube Compression” retreat deep into the sewers. “Storm Clouds” is a widescreen, ominous cut, observing the city from the heights of… the Kosciuszko Bridge, I suppose, and “State Of No State” closes the EP out with a swinging, spoken-word track aimed straight at the dance floor. BQE‘s an invigorating listen at home, and, combined with its club potential, it’s one of the year’s best bets.
Actress’ only release for 2013, Silver Cloud, doesn’t swing through styles and moods like his well-loved LPs, nor does it scream for your attention like his EPs for Nonplus — it mostly just hopes you brought your cough syrup. “Voodoo Chronic Posse Illusion” takes up the whole A-side, sticking with a simple, strummed chord progression over its entire length while frayed sonics may have you checking your turntable’s connections. A languid tune that evolves on its own time, it sucks you in with its subtlety, with sub-bass that occasionally rears its head, and with its stubbornness and confidence. Flipping over, “Silver Cloud Dream Come True” dives even deeper into Actress’ sludgy, hissing mess, with a slower tempo inviting comparisons to some of the last couple year’s most prevalent trends in both hip-hop and house. “Floating In Ecstasy” makes those hip-hop comparisons even more explicit, with growling, soot-covered bass lines and low pitched vocals leading towards something of a climax. Silver Cloud has nowhere near the stylistic variety of pretty much every other Actress release — it’s really rather monochromatic — but that’s perhaps what makes it such an excellent listen, and the perfect soundtrack to endless spliff-rolling sessions.
The first time I wrote a “Top EPs” list for Little White Earbuds, back in 2009, I had considered including STL’s Silent State on Smallville, but in the end decided against it. Its title track was clearly track-of-the-year material, making the record a must-buy, but while the other two tracks were very good, the 12″ felt a little too one-sided. In 2013, DJ Qu’s “The Way,” is, for me, a clear standout track, but the EP from which it comes feels a lot more rounded. With its vocals from Peven Everett and Josh Milan, “The Way” is an incredible slice of deep New Jersey house, its melodies both far in the distance and shockingly intimate. The side continues with Part 2 which is less focused and more free-form, dishing out a more celebratory and looser vibe that compliments its original version wonderfully. And yet I sometimes feel that once you flip the record over it only gets stronger: “Liquid” is a propulsive, technicolor house track that swerves through moods while keeping locked in a hypnotic groove. Yet as a DJ, I always reach for the B2, “Liquid (Beats),” which distills “Liquid” into a potent, reduced, early-morning jacker. Superb.
Move D has been peddling strong EPs for his whole career, so his inclusion on a chart of this sort should come as no surprise. A 1996 version of this list would certainly contain his wonderful Cymbelin three-tracker for Warp, and recent EPs for Workshop and Uzuri (not to mention his many great records with Benjamin Brunn and Juju & Jordash) are all of unquestionable quality. Yet by reaching back into his archives and assembling a five track mini-album, one with nods to the dance floor but no desire to feel beholden to it, Move D really nails the aspects that make an EP such a rewarding format in and of itself. The five tracks veer from the grungy synth tones of “Kriek – Animals” through the dubby, acidic timbres of “Ground Zero” and the late-night melodies of “Picking Flowers For You (Off Major).” “Ovi Riese” ventures most strongly in the direction of a dance floor with its filtered bass line and drum machine workouts, while closer “March Of The Cheesecrackers” is the kind of minimalist coda that really could only make sense on this record. For what is ostensibly a compilation of old material, The KM20 Tapes flows remarkably well, and is another in a long line of essential 12″s from Move D.
Terekke’s first release, the incredible two-tracker of “Damn” and “Pf Pf Pass,” inaugurated the L.I.E.S. white label series, introducing an exciting new voice to the house landscape. Dubbed out, spacey house tracks that sounded like they were recorded with the shittiest cassette deck in existence, they nonetheless proved so infectious that their lo-fi quality became a trend all its own. Yet the mellow master Terekke has kept his music close to his chest, releasing only a single track “Asidis” last year. 2013 sees him double his discography with YYYYYYYYYY, a record that was easily the year’s best 12″ at the time I heard it, and which nothing has surpassed. “Bank 3″ sounds cut out of some marathon jam session: its swinging hats, pummeling kick, compressed pads, and simple bass line all conspire to jack better than every copycat that’s come along. It still sounds like shit, but no matter: “Bank 3″ is one of the strongest house cuts I’ve heard this year. On the B-side, Terekke travels deep into the ultra-deep field images of its cover: “Piano” is a Chain Reaction record with lower production values and in even less of a hurry to go anywhere, while the wonderful, slightly out-of-time samples and smoked-out haze of “Amaze” provide simply the greatest bed-focused house track of the year. In fact, all of YYYYYYYYYY is probably best consumed horizontally, but with its singular vibe and strong sonic identity, as well as its versatility and ability to be enjoyed in numerous environments, there is no question that YYYYYYYYYY is one of 2013′s most notable releases.]]>
Juan Mendez has been steadily honing his production chops for well over a decade now. His preliminary releases as Jasper often hinted at greatness, but as Silent Servant he’s consistently supplied some of the strongest techno of the past five years, both on his own and as part of the nebulous Sandwell District collective. With his new Jealous God label it seems like Mendez is ready to take his well-established sound and step outside of it: dissolving it, reshaping it, and bringing it into new territories. Earlier this year, Jealous God’s first release, a collaboration between Mendez and Svreca, distilled his bass lines and tape-saturated atmospheres into minimalist shapes that hypnotized through subtle prodding.
“Lust Abandon” goes elsewhere, this time picking up where his excellent Negative Fascinations album from last year left off. Through that record and his recent DJ sets Mendez has made his interest and love for 80s post-punk and EBM explicit, and “Lust Abandon,” with its steady 115 BPM tempo and gloomy atmosphere, all but caps it off. A constantly shifting arpeggio functions as the track’s backbone, guiding us through Mendez’s reduced environment of minor-key pads and heavily processed voices. The track’s sense of focus and confidence mirrors that of Silent Servant’s best work — its steely, plodding thud never blinks and never abates, seemingly building ad infinitum. Powell does his thing on the B-side, pushing “Lust Abandon” even further down the path of no-wave rhythms and post-punk attitudes, but while it’s an interesting enough listen it mostly serves to highlight just how good the A-side is.]]>
Remember Your Black Day is Vatican Shadow’s debut album. While my shelf full of Vatican Shadow records that run upwards of 40 minutes might contest that point, Dominick Fernow would retort that all of his previous releases under that name were either compilations or released initially on cassettes — that Remember Your Black Day is the first Vatican Shadow release fully conceived as an LP. Yes, it seems a bit nitpick-y, but it does raise some interesting points about what an “album” is and the ways an established producer with 10 distinct releases can approach something like a “definitive” statement. It ticks all of the boxes, aesthetically, that the Vatican Shadow project has come to represent: a black plume of smoke rising above Baghdad on the cover, track titles that read like headlines from the War on Terror, but those have all remained consistent throughout the project’s history.
How do you define an album? Is it just by format, or is it by feeling? And we came to the conclusion that it’s about feeling [....] It’s a return in the sense that it’s not dealing with one theme, it’s dealing with many; as opposed to a kind of concept piece which focuses one sound or one idea thematically or lyrically. [...] I guess that’s how I’d define the real albums. – Dominick Fernow
Based on that quotation, Fernow would probably contend that it’s the variety and lack of a single, unifying concept that makes Remember Your Black Day the first “proper” Vatican Shadow album. Looking back at the project’s discography over the past two years, it’s true that his releases are often variations on a single theme. Jordanian Descent presented us with two extended warmongering dance cuts, and Atta’s Apartment Slated For Destruction featured four melodic rhythms that were all nine minutes long, while Ornamented Walls paired a previously released live set with a B-side full of sketches and versions.
“OK, fine,” you say, “it’s his debut album, it’s not his debut album — what does it matter? Is the record any good?” Well, indeed, if Remember Your Black Day wasn’t such a mixed bag, it wouldn’t matter at all, but it is. This seems to recast the “proper album” posturing in new light. “Circumstances Quickly Become Questioned” starts strong but ends immediately, followed by the slow dirge of “Tonight Saddam Walks Amidst Ruins.” It’s a classic bit of Vatican Shadow mood setting and tension building, but early-album momentum gets snuffed out by “Muscle Hijacker Tribal Affiliation.” 808 kicks and distorted drones set the scene with metallic percussion, but the percussion soon drops out to leave a rather bland synth line standing alone. The track ends up going nowhere, which is a shame because next cut, “Contractor Corpses Hung Over The Euphrates River,” is one of Vatican Shadow’s strongest to date. Pummeling kick drums, far-off guitar chords, unsettling melodies, and head-cracking percussion stacked on top of each other to blissful effect.
Which brings us to “Enter Paradise,” whose distorted guitar riffage in what’s nominally a techno record is perhaps an attempt at the variety hinted at above. Personally, I find the black metal guitar riff a bit over the top — it never really gets any more interesting in repetition — but its surroundings all conspire to obscure it. Given the throbbing triplet bass line and the slow-paced percussion getting funkier with each bar, its easy to forget the guitar is even there. From here on out the album is smooth sailing: the fleet-footed building of the title track is sure to get play at your darker clubs, ditto the raucous mouthful that is “Not The Son Of Desert Storm, But The Child Of Chechnya.” “Jet Fumes Above The Reflecting Pool” sees the record out on a high note, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is slightly off about the whole thing. Remember Your Black Day may contain some of Vatican Shadow’s strongest material to date, but the record’s weaker cuts threaten its momentum precisely when it needs it the most, and make it an album best enjoyed piecemeal. With every listen, high-points such as “Remember…” and “Contractor Corpses…” get even better — their raw, straight-to-the-jugular intensity gets more furious with each spin, which throws into stark relief those meek tracks that seem to be simply biding time (“Muscle Hijacker…”). As an album, debut or not, and as a front-to-back listen, Remember Your Black Day does not rate as Vatican Shadow’s finest, though some of its tracks most certainly do. Flaws and all, however, it is a fascinating listen, and one that delights just as it frustrates.]]>
[Soma Quality Recordngs]
Given his recent spate of releases with Soma, one could infer that Deepchord sure has been doing a lot of yoga lately. Soma’s name may very well stem from the way Burroughs and Huxley used it to refer to opiates, but for many “Soma” refers to the drink used in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of Hinduism. Rod Modell’s recent 12″ goes so far as to shout-out two key yogic concepts: that of prana (the life force one takes in through breathing) and tantra (a system of meditation using said life force). Perhaps most damning, however, is that Prana/Tantra just moves more than any Deepchord record I’ve heard in awhile. Its motions are not unlike those of a yoga class, as each measure flows into the next without ever really leaving its mat.
“Prana” features slowly building percussion, icy high-end, and minor chords on the upbeats, but while the constituent parts of dub techno rarely change, it’s immediately apparent when a particularly exceptional slice of the stuff lays in front of you. “Prana” is quite a bit brighter and more swinging than we usually hear from Deepchord, but few would mistake it as anything but Modell’s work. Its kick drums and sub-bass lines entangle just so — the same of which applies on “Tantra.” “Tantra” is more subdued in its approach, but as delayed elements pan around the stereo field and samples swell in the background its hard to think of anything else more hard-hitting. Like any good yoga class, Prana/Tantra hypnotizes with its physicality and its contentment to just let a good thing be the way it is. It may not try to rewrite the playbook, but Prana/Tantra has lately been the first thing I reach for when needing to escape to another place for 20 minutes.]]>
For a label with such a seemingly strong sonic identity, Livity Sound releases tend to surprise with just how far flung the label’s palette truly reaches. Though the impeccably produced tracks always carry some measure of shattered rhythms and dubwise philosophy, Livity’s seven records, from Pev’s weirdo steppers through Kowton’s grimey house takes and Asusu’s effortless techno gliders, speak to both the roots and the diversity of Bristol’s music. Yet the records have always felt like class-A DJ tools — injecting a sense of space and rhythmic intrigue into a set while shifting between main events. Until now, though, Livity Sound has lacked an anthem. Both “Infinity Is Now” and “End Point” happen to be just that.
With more straight-laced rhythms than the label might be used to, “End Point” is all about its massive rave synths, initially bubbling up under the surface, soon full blown in their intensity. There’s nary a misstep throughout the whole side, with percussion aiding and abetting the cut’s linear rise and fall with steely focus, its head down but its hands in the air. While perhaps a bit of an outlier in the Livity canon, it’s without a doubt a label highlight, and one that’s sure to get a lot of play by DJs both in and out of Bristol. B-side, “Vapours,” reminds of some of Pev’s other work on the label, but again sets a label high-point with its strong, hand-drummed syncopations and bone-rattling subs. Taken as a whole, Livity Sound’s seventh release cements the label’s reputation as Bristol’s most exciting at the moment — an impressive feat given the city’s history, but one which increasingly seems like Pev’s to lose.]]>
Rare is the record that goes for upwards of $100 second-hand only a year after its release. Bookworms’ white label debut for L.I.E.S. is one such record, following a similar story from Terekke; and its tracks “Love Triangles” and “African Rhythms” blew up dance floors with their loose-legged grooves and mélanges of both recognizable and totally obscured samples. Nik Dawson has since ramped up his production game, both on his own and with his roommate Steve Summers, unleashing a slew of new material in 2013 that takes his sound further into hypnotic terrain. Dawson has also earned quite the reputation as a live performer — evidence of which can be found right here in our exclusive 178th podcast, a live set recorded in Chicago. We caught up with Bookworms recently to discuss everything from Playstation to his recording process to badass DJ names.
Download LWE Podcast 178: Bookworms (55:05)
So where are you from?
Nik Dawson: Where did I grow up or where was I born?
Where did you grow up.
I grew up in a town called Lake LA, about an hour and a half south of Los Angeles. Just like, the high desert, weird desert. Not quite a suburb.
Is that when you started getting into house music, or was that later?
No, it was probably later. I moved a little bit closer to LA. A proper suburb, I guess. It was called Santa Clarita, and that’s when I started getting into electronic music. Maybe not house just yet, but started trying to make, like, drum and bass and breakbeat kind of stuff and weird ambient, downtempo stuff.
What were you listening to at the time, and how about how old were you?
Like 17. I guess I got into drum and bass when I still lived in Lake LA because all the skaters in high school listened to drum and bass and Aphex Twin, and that stuff was cool for some reason with the skaters. So when I got into high school in the ninth grade I just kind of started becoming aware of that stuff. Later, when I moved away from all my friends, I was just really bored and babysitting my little brother all the time in the house and just started sequencing, because my friend had this Playstation software called Music Generator that you could sequence with. Starting to mess around with stuff on the computer, too. I was probably listening to… Aphex Twin, Goldie, DJ Shadow, just like underground LA hip-hop stuff. New York hip-hop like Nas or something — stuff like that.
And you were starting to make music on Playstation?
Yeah, on Playstation, and also I used Fruity Loops at first, I think. Just downloading free software and this sample editor called GoldWave.
So how’d you get from there to getting into house music?
The day I turned 21, I moved to San Francisco — or I moved to Oakland and was staying with my dad for a while because he lived in Oakland. And then moved into San Francisco and then just through meeting people and going to parties out there and talking to people. I moved there wanting to do more electronic music, but I hadn’t really played out. I’d played out once since in Southern California at this crappy rave.
I was more just making stuff in my room and then moved to SF, started playing out, and finding out about all kinds of different genres and stuff. I had an Electribe before I moved up there, but learned how to use it more like a sampler and how to make a live set and relying on the computer less around that time. I never had a laptop so I couldn’t do a live set with a computer. I was just into everything, like ambient stuff and weird, you know — Black Dice and shit like that. Jazz and Eno and all kinds of stuff.
About when did you make the tracks that you eventually put out first, “Love Triangles” and “African Rhythms”?
I made that stuff in SF around 2008, just on my MPC.
And that was kind of a natural progression from what you were talking about? Just kind of going out and listening to music and getting to know your gear better?
Yeah, totally. You know, starting to listen to more house stuff and wanting to try that. I was getting more comfortable on the MPC; I’d had it for a few years, but I got it in probably, like, 2006.
What were you thinking about when you were looking at records to sample? Were you starting from the record and saying, “Oh, I want to sample this,” or were you kind of like working on music and then grabbing things to sample that you had sitting around?
I used to do hip-hop production stuff. Like, make beats for rappers when I was in high school, and that’s at the same time when I was trying to make drum and bass or ambient breakbeat, or I don’t know what the hell it was. Some of it was just fucking noise because I didn’t know what I was doing. I could just build stuff up from samples — how to layer them and stuff and put weird effects on them. By that point I was getting into using some things as tones. I didn’t have a synth, but I feel like I was almost kind of emulating synths by that point, by sampling little bits of things and playing them at different pitches, or maybe putting an LFO on it or something, or just layering different breaks and stuff. It’s just a way to construct a song, I guess.
What prompted the move to New York?
I had been in San Francisco for a long time at that point, and I had wanted to live in New York since I was really young, even before I started making music. From watching skate videos and just being into hip-hop or different kinds of music, New York is a Mecca for a lot of stuff. So I just figured, “Hey, do I want to stay in California for the rest of my life, or do I want to try to see what New York is about?” Because I visited once and stayed with my friend Brett [Winans] for a couple of weeks, and I liked it but didn’t really know what it was about. I had been in California my whole life.
And then how’d you meet up with Ron?
Well, I’d met Jason [Letkiewicz], aka Steve Summers, in San Francisco because he was living there around, like, 2007, 2008. I actually recorded an early version of what became “African Rhythms” at his house trying to use his mixer and with him kind of engineering it. But then I think there was some confusion, and I was not used to working with someone else, even though he had a sweet board and he’s talented and stuff. I just went home and recorded it with an MPC and a DJ mixer. And that was the version that came out. But we just knew each other through going to different shows out there and so then when I moved out here, he had been out here for a couple years and we just started hanging out again. And through him, I met Ron, or ended up hanging out with Ron.
Were you familiar with the label and knew what you wanted to send him, or did you just send him stuff as a friend to see what happens?
I think Jason had played him some tracks because I was like, “Oh, it would be cool to put some stuff out.” Then we hung out and he just asked me — I think maybe he saw my SoundCloud after he had met me. So then I just sent him a bunch of stuff and those were the tracks that he picked. There were some newer ones in there and he didn’t really know when I’d made what, and he just picked those two tracks and it seems like people were into it, so it was a good starting point.
Those early tracks were really sample-based, and it seems like lately mostly of your music has been a lot more hardware-based.
I bought a synth. [laughs] I bought a synth. I was really against it for a while because I felt like maybe it was my life’s work or something to try to get as much as I could out of samples. It was kind of a silly idea, but I was like, “Oh, you can do so much with samples,” and I was kind of emulating synths by sampling a short tone from a record and then pitching it differently, or putting some effects on it, or doing some kind of envelope thing, or modulating it with filters. And then I was like, “Oh, maybe I could do more modulation if I had a synth and fuck with the sounds more and have flow more and maybe have more life to them.” So I kind of took this side journey, and learned MIDI and got a couple of synths and was stoked that I could interface those with my MPC — adding to what I already had. But I definitely use both. I’ll still use samples, like, on the new record there’s some samples, but it’s more subtle.
Do you find that it’s changed how you make music?
I guess I’m just writing the stuff more than just working with existing material. So maybe I could start by sitting down at the synth and just play something and develop it from there, do more modulation. I guess it just changes where you can go. Like, you can layer things differently. I just got into MIDI and the stuff you can do with that. But I really like integrating the two: samples and synthesizers.
How do you start a track usually?
That’s the thing that’s different. It could start with a sample, or it could with start with just me sitting down and playing a sequence or a drum beat. Every track is different. Or I’ll have an idea that I want to do. — like, “Oh, I want to make a really drony track.” And just go for that.
How does this play into what you do live?
I guess I make a live set the same way I would make a track, only it’s supposed to be longer, and a lot of times I’ll layer multiple tracks together so that they’re all kind of one huge sequence that has three different zones that I can get into, but also it can bring in different things at different times. I use a lot of the same stuff that I would use to record a track. I’ll bring out the same mixer and the same synth a lot of the times, the same MPC. But it’s just stretched out more like a DJ set, mixing it and starting to mix in a new track and bringing in different parts, like hi-hats, and then bring in the synth and the take out other things that were going from the last track and then just keep moving.
Do you allow much room for yourself improvisation-wise?
Yeah, definitely. It can change pretty drastically. Just depending on the crowd and the situation. It’s different every time because you can decide what not to play or decide what kind of effect you want to put on what sound at what time, so that changes every set. And then sometimes I’ll just overdrive everything if the sound system’s really bad, because you can’t hear and it’ll make it sound more crunchy and distorted. Or sometimes you play on a nice sound system and you can hear everything pristinely. I played at Output and they have a Funktion One, so I could hear everything more clearly, whereas, if I played on a shitty PA and had to red-light everything just to be able to hear it. But I like that element of chance, and yeah, I try to leave it open so there’s different ways that I could go. A lot of it’s just improvising with effects and arrangement and layering.
Do you ever DJ out?
Yeah, I DJ. For sure. Yeah, we have a night at Bossa Nova Civic Club, me and Jason, called Confused House. We DJ there every month. But I’m more known for doing live sets, I guess, because that’s what people ask for. I haven’t really got my name out as a DJ that much. But I’m trying to work on that.
How does playing live change what you’re able to do? When you’re in the studio, you can have the luxury of time, and you have the luxury of having everything around you that you want. When you’re playing live, you don’t quite have that ability.
I try and simplify it and maybe just have one synth and sampler. Just one synth and my MPC. I use different synths sometimes, but even when I do tracks, there’s limitations. I only have so many tracks on my mixer, so I can really only have so many things going at a time. But you don’t really need to have 10 synths going at a time, really. You just see what works live. I’ve been playing live for a while, so I kind of know a middle ground between what might affect people or what people might move to or keep people interested, but also just doing whatever the fuck I want. All the stuff I record is recorded in real time, too, so it’s kind of like a live recording, just at home.
Do you ever play tracks that you’ve released? Or do you try to keep the live set kind of its own thing?
A lot of times I’ll make a set specifically thinking about where I’m going to play and trying to imagine what it’s going to be like. Or if it’s been a place that I’ve been to before, imagining the space — keeping the space in mind. I try to think of it like a site-specific installation. It doesn’t take me super long to work out a live set. I just make a bunch of parts and improvise off those. But if I’m working on something, sometimes I’ll bring out the sequence and play it out live and then kind of go back and re-tool it a little bit. But not as much now. I guess I used to do that more with the “African Rhythms” track, I definitely played that track out for a while before I recorded it. I kept taking stuff away because I felt like there was too much going on. So that was definitely helpful in that process.
You do a lot of collaborations with Jason. How do you approach that differently from how you might approach your own music?
I guess when I work by myself I’ll just spend more time fucking around and zoning out and maybe fucking with a synth tone for a couple hours or something… just kind of lose track of time. Or listening to a sample for a really long time and trying to see if the repetition works in this kind of way. But then when I work with Jason, we’re both just throwing shit out there so you spend less time fucking with a sound and deciding whether or not it’s good before the recording. I don’t have to do as much because Jason’s going to probably do 50 percent of the sounds in the track, so I know I can do less, in a way. I don’t have to focus on the whole track. It’s like being in a band. We don’t really talk about what we want to do or the structure. We just get some parts that we like going and then say, “Let’s record it.”
A lot of times I end up doing the drums. Like, he’ll definitely help out with the drums, but a lot of times I end up doing more of the drums. And I’ll do the arpeggios a lot or just more sequenced synth lines. And then he will do maybe more pad sounds or chords and stuff like that or just weird, filter-y noise sounds and stuff. But I feel like those two things layer together really well.
The music you make with him comes out on a label Confused House, which is also your nickname for your apartment that you share together. How important is the space to what you make?
It’s super important. We each have a studio in our room, and then we have the record setup in the living room, with little crappy speakers that I bought. And so we’ll just record some shit in my room and not really think about it that much and just record a few tracks and maybe come out here and listen to it later and see how it sounds. And think about what we want to put out, because we record a lot of stuff. We’ll just smoke and talk about that. Just, like, DJ out here, have fun fuckin’ around with records. And borrow each other’s gear sometimes.
It’s definitely a cool atmosphere, and I feel like that’s shaped the sound of the last record I did on L.I.E.S. I used a bunch of Jason’s equipment as much as my own. The Confused House stuff is just the sound of us hanging out at the apartment all the time and making tracks and listening to weird tracks and being inspired by some abstract shit or some weird movie and then just go record stuff.
You put out your first record last year. And so there was one record in 2012, and you’ve had so far about five or six records this year. To what do you owe this increase in productivity?
Part of it is just because Ron took a chance on putting my shit out. I’d always been working on a lot of music, but a lot of it wasn’t released. It’s not increased productivity as much as an increase in having avenue to put stuff out. But also, working with Jason, we do record a lot of stuff since we moved in here like a year ago. I’ve always just been making a ton of music since I was a teenager.
Tell me about running the Confused House label.
Well, I mean I’m more of an ideas, music guy and Jason is more of a details guy. So, it’s kind of more on him, in a way; but I’m definitely with him on pretty much every step. But it’s cool to get a bunch of records shipped to the house and try to carry them up the stairs and get them shipped out. I guess Jason will have the final say, though. It’s more his thing that I’m a big part of, I guess, to be honest.
You’re not the one calling the shots?
No, not so much. I’m more just the music dude at this point. Or just ideas about what shit should be called, or what should come out next. But it’s not just going to be us. The first three records have been me and him, but there’s going to be some other people introduced to the label pretty soon, so I think that will diversify it a little bit more and maybe make it seem like it’s not just Bookworms and Steve Summers records.
The initial concept was that me and Jason starting jamming a lot when we moved to New York, but then we also jam with different people, like with my friend Bret, who goes by CB Radio. He comes by a lot and will jam with me and Jason in that same kind of style. Or, like, Matt [Gardner], Terekke, lives pretty close, and he’ll come by and jam. So I think we have a record with both of them that’s going to come out soon.
Is this apartment the constant that ties the whole label together?
For now, yeah.
You don’t want to close up the label when you move?
No, I guess it would just move somewhere else. Jason had used that name for some things before and wanted to make it as a label. I think it was the name of his website. We did the Unknown Artist record on L.I.E.S. with me, Jason, and Aurora [Halal] and our friend Damon [Palermo], who does stuff as Magic Touch. Jason said that was one of the first ideas for the Confused House thing of friends improvising and just having fun and hanging out in a room and recording off the cuff and seeing what happens. That was like a Confused House thing, but I guess it’s just the name for Jason’s studio, and I’m just a part of that. We played live together once as Bookworms and Steve Summers. I guess we’re going to play some shows together in Europe in October as a duo. And we’ll do the same thing, just improvise like how we do in the room and not really talk about what’s going to happen — just have a beat going and sprinkle stuff on top of it.
So what else do you have coming up?
I just did the Japanese Zelkova 12″ on L.I.E.S. a couple months ago. I guess that’s pretty much gone now. I just did a record under this name DJ Bookworms.
What makes this record a DJ Bookworms instead of a normal Bookworms record?
There’s only drum on it, so it would be really good to mix. It’s kind of a DJ tool, although I don’t know if it’s super DJ-friendly because it’s really fast and distorted, but I think one of the tracks you can play at — you can slow it down from 45; it’s cut at 45, so you can play it at 33. One time Legowelt played one of my tracks in a mix, and he put me down as DJ Bookworms for some reason. So I was like, “Hm, that kind of has a ring to it,” and I kind of wanted to use that for something.
Where did the name Bookworms come from? Are you a big reader?
Not a big reader, but I usually have a book that I’m reading. You know, one or two. But maybe I used to really like naming tracks after the titles of books because I thought it was really epic or something, and I wanted to kind of evoke — I don’t know if I want to say “cinematic,” but some kind of imagery with my music. When I came up I was pretty young, but it was kind of like “bookworm” is the opposite of DJ Eliminator, so kind of like the opposite of the tough DJ name, like the badass DJ name. I felt like a lot of people had really cool names, cool hip-hop names or DJ Dopefresh, or something like that. Or DJ — I don’t know, even like DJ Shadow. That’s a cool, kind of dark, mysterious name. I feel like Bookworms is kind of like, [affects nerdy voice] “Hey, what’s up, guys?” So it was kind of like a joke on that, that has gone on for way to long, but I still feel like I’m that guy.
What else do you have coming up besides the two records that you just released?
I did a split with Greg Beato on this new label called Russian Torrent Versions, that should be out soon. Confused House 003 is coming out very soon on Confused House with me and Jason. And probably do some more shit on Confused House and some more shit on L.I.E.S., for now.
You don’t want to necessarily do stuff on other labels, at the moment?
I mean it’s cool, but it’s nice to know the people that you’re working with, to some degree. Even the thing I did with the people Anómia in Barcelona, I’ve known the girl Ivy [Barkakati] for a long time because she used to lived here — or she used to live in SF. So we talked about doing something for a long time. Since I did the record on L.I.E.S., the first record, people will write me and ask me for tracks, and I’ll be like, “Oh, I’ve got some tracks.” But then a lot of times they’ll be like, “Oh, can you change this?” and “Oh, I kind of like this one, but could you change this?” I’m just like, “This guy that I don’t really know, that I’ve never met, is asking me to send him tracks and then telling me to change them, when I don’t really even have the means to do that because I record all my shit to a live take.”
Working with Ron or Jason, I never have to change anything. There’s a rawness to it, and I look at it kind of like a picture without Photoshop. That’s how it really happened, so it’s not going to be completely perfect, or there are still things that could be different or whatever, but that’s what makes it what it is. So if that’s working, I don’t really need to go elsewhere. I don’t really want it to just be like, “Hey, man, give me some tracks.” People are into what they’re into, and I’m not going to change my process too much because it’s just freestyle at this point. But who knows in the future? I don’t know. I mean, just throw a bunch of money at me, and we’ll go from there. [laughs]
What can you tell us about the mix?
It’s a live set recording from my first time in Chicago. I played Smart Bar and it was so sweet and heavy. But the recording is from the night before — I played this loft party that Daniel Smith set up out there. It was packed with kids and hella sweaty inside, but still freezing outside. The smallish PA \speakers were melting when I played and you could smell it and see them glowing… and I think you can hear that in the recording. You can also hear Beau Wanzer’s DX 100 which he let me borrow. (Thanks, Beau!) I had never used one before but I just sent all my MIDI sequences through it and hoped for the best, flying by the seat of my pants. Beau and Huerco S DJed that night too. Good night for sure.
There’s going to be an urge to talk about Jealous God as the successor to Sandwell District. The compulsion is perfectly understandable: again we are dealing with a triumverate (this time with James Ruskin in place of Function) who have established a very strong identity both visually (c/o Juan Mendez) and sonically for the label. That identity has, so far, manifested itself as two “issues” each comprising a 12″, a mix CD, a small pamphlet, and, for a surcharge, an oddball item (so far, either a tote bag or a dagger). This sense of “collectability” is not without precedent: while early Sandwell releases epitomized the no-nonsense, paper-sleeved 12″s that have the hard-working DJ in mind, later missives flirted with ultra-limited editions and tchotchkes thrown in the sleeve (most notably with Feed-Forward‘s now-infamous release).
At the end of the day, however, Jealous God is a techno label, and the only thing that will matter to most people is the music found on the piece of wax they’ve bought. Issue number two is from James Ruskin, and it lays out six tracks of techno so engaging that all miscellanea are quickly forgotten. “Into A Circle,” which featured on Sandwell District’s still disappointing Fabric CD, proves much more captivating than its use there — the kind of peak-hour techno whose distant pads and storming percussion enthrall almost effortlessly. “The Nature Of Our Hurting” is more toned down, with minor-key chords creating an almost melancholy atmosphere, while the half-stepped “What Falls To The Ground” feels cinematic with its big-room textures and cathedral-filling pads.
That cinematic quality is pushed further by the record’s three “Excerpt”s. Each clocks in at under two minutes, yet they’re immersive enough that they hit harder than much of the off-cut ambient pieces so often tacked on to 12″s. “Excerpt Two” hits those cathedral motifs again with heavily reverbed organ sounds and choral effects, while “Excerpt Three” drifts along nicely for a mid-record breather. But it’s the killer “Excerpt One” that makes perhaps the biggest impact of the whole 12″ — a single chord progression whose environment continuously expands amidst a rising torrent of percussion. It’s so tempting to want more as the percussion subsides after only two minutes, but Ruskin’s confidence and restraint is admirable, and “Excerpt One,” just like the whole of Jealous God 02 leaves the listener begging for more.]]>