After his gig at the Berlin club Horst Kreuzberg as part of the CTM Festival, we caught up with Pete Swanson, who in the early noughties was one half of the experimental noise duo Yellow Swans and is now, after the band split up, exploring amazingly dysfunctional realms of what we would probably call techno.
Used to playing in gallery spaces or concert venues, Swanson still feels a bit uncomfortable with his foray into the basics of club culture:
Pete Swanson: The way the stage was set up was weird for me, the whole DJ booth thing, where there is a stage and then a table, it feels really divorced from the crowd; generally I play in the middle of the crowd on the floor. I started doing that because I was always unsatisfied with monitors, and the music I do is really physical. I get really into into it and it’s really important that people can see that. When standing up behind a DJ booth it’s a more tamed version of what I usually do.
Do you see a transition in what you do now? Is your music transforming into a club thing?
I’m not interested in heading in that direction, it’s kind of the opposite of where I want to go. The first record that I did solo after Yellow Swans was more beat-oriented stuff. It was fairly clean compared to what I’m doing now, and i really like how filthy it got and how messy it is now. I continued to cultivate that and I like having all those disparate gestures combined in this thing that I’m doing now.
I feel like noise is becoming more established as a genre with rules now—that made it less and less appealing for me, which is part of the reason why I ended heading in that direction. I felt like the music that I had been doing reached this dead-end. As an artist, I’m sort of restless and I want to escape the traps that I set for myself. I’m fortunate enough to have my work in critical discourse for a long time now, and I feel like when I end up finding myself in some genre, the genre I’m working within becomes this established thing real quickly. As soon as that happens I gotta get out of there.
My setup is really unpredictable, I just have cymbal sounds going through this self oscillating distortion pedal creating these weird wobbling notes, with a kick drum also modulating the notes. There is not any melodic line that is in tune or anything—and people are just dancing to this most deteriorating music. It’s amazing to see.
So your live set-up is pretty much based on coincidence?
Not all of it. I use a modular synthesizer which is the main source of sound, but then I have all this processing systems that I use: they all have auxiliary outputs, group outputs and some of the stuff is really inconsistent and prone to error. Sounds have to fight each other. When I was doing Yellow Swans, it was all these discrete layers on top of each other and I wanted to have this thing that is one sound! Everything just influencing each other and playing off each other.
A lot of what I do live is just opening and closing envelopes on the kick drum or static percussion sounds. By closing these envelopes all the melodic elements will come out. There is this whole mercurial flow to everything.
How did you develop this?
I practiced it over years with Yellow Swans, I’m still using basically the same processing system but instead of having a bandmate that plays guitar I now have a modular synthesizer.
Pete Swanson’s EP Punk Authority is out on March 11 on Software Records.
Published February 14, 2013. Words by Michael Aniser.