Breaking down the Fifth Wall: An interview with Hound Scales and Divvorce
Brooklyn’s Fifth Wall label is less than a year old, but their extraordinary opening run of harsh, heavy techno by predominantly under the radar artists—plus the odd curveball such as 5kin&Bone5’s Matrixxmann in uncharacteristically 4/4 form—was immediately worthy of attention. We spoke to Hound Scales and Divvorce, the young minds behind the label, to get a grip on what’s going down. As a bonus FW-affiliated artist Myler has crafted a typically strafing mix featuring the likes of BMB, Xhin and a forthcoming Hound Scales material to accompany the piece. (Above: photo of Divvorce by Kenneth Locke)
Fifth Wall are a a thoroughly modern proposition. The newly minted label purveys a new strain of scaled-up techno that, despite being at the more gruelling end of bunker industrialism, possesses a sly humor that acts as a safety valve which releases the pent up earnestness of many of their musical forebears. “Junta rave” was one early descriptor coined by co-founder Nico Jacobsen aka Hound Scales to describe the label’s debut, Case (Nabis), a cavernous set of vascular bangers that had elements of ’90s garage shining through the cracks in the title track’s reinforced concrete casing,”Militaristic party techno” was another, “…Because,” as Divvorce—the second, anonymous figure behind Fifth Wall— puts it, “the military like to party too, right?”
What’s more, Fifth Wall is located in Brooklyn, rely heavily on the tools of the internet and are at least partly anonymous. If there was a venn diagram featuring the dominant musical trends of 2013, they’d be somewhere in the middle. But, here’s a tip, don’t mention trends. Fifth Wall defines itself strictly against the increasingly fashion-led NY scene, preferring the virtual company of young producers from UK clubbing outposts like Bristol and Leeds to their neighbors and living by the maxim “don’t do trendy shit.”
Of course, we knew none of this when we first heard their music but their outrageously consistent run of releases in 2013, including Hound Scales’ inaugural Case (Nabis) and continuing through Irish producer Myler’s Fatland, featuring the Blawan-esque “Glad Bags” and the comparatively supple forms of Matrixxman‘s The XX Files, made us, 1) sit up and listen and 2) get them on Skype to find out what the hell’s going on over there.
How did Fifth Wall get off the ground? You’ve only been on our radar since February.
Divvorce: We started the label last fall. I guess we didn’t really see many other labels around us in the US that were doing the same kind of sound we wanted to do so we saw this vaccuum here. We wanted to develop a sound we thought was really exciting.
What was your route into this harsh, warehouse sound that’s become your hallmark? When I saw you were based in Brooklyn it instantly made me more interested—it breaks with what’s coming out of NYC right now.
Hound Scales: All I listened to growing up was heavy metal and industrial, and like heavier rap shit. It’s never been a conscious thing to make heavy music, it’s just how it sounds, whether I like it or not. In general our tastes, as a label, just err towards heavy.
D: Personally, my influences and the direction we want to take the label is not based so much on what we’re currently hearing around us in electronic music. I’m from San Francisco originally and when I started to work on the label we were still living in San Francisco, and it was definitely was not something we were hearing so much around there—although a little bit maybe. It was mostly based on stuff I was hearing on the internet.
HS: There was definitely a conscious effort to bring it back to straight-up dance music. I know that when we were going out to San Francisco you didn’t even hear 4/4 anymore. Even at electronic music parties all you would hear was like Ciara, so I was like fuck this. Diversity is good but it wasn’t even diverse, everyone had this battle plan of like now is an R&B edit and now it’s a trap song and maybe one house song for like 30 seconds. It got to the point where I was dying to hear techno or house when I went out, it just wasn’t something we could hear anymore.
D: I’ve been listening to Chicago house for a long time and I’ve always been into really early Detroit house and techno and I longed to hear that out. A lot of the label was probably a reaction against what we were hearing.
You’re clearly not techno purists though… or are you?
HS: I’ll be honest, there was a bit after I heard the first Sandwell District album—because that album was such a revelation to me—there was a good six months after that where I only listened to techno. But we’re definitely not purists.
D: We both really love jungle, early ’90s, Goldie, that kind of stuff was some of the best stuff ever created. I don’t know if that’s reflected in the music, but I think it is.
HS: The next EP is definitely; it’s essentially a slowed down jungle record.
There’s a lot of interesting music coming out of Brooklyn, what with the UNO and L.I.E.S. stables based there. Do you feel part of a network, a scene?
D: I’ve never met Ron Morelli, I feel like we’re actually kind of isolated.
HS: I don’t know anyone.
D: I know the White Material guys and I really like their label. To be honest I think we’re both socially isolated from a lot of the wider community, for better or worse.
HS: For me personally it’s like, I’m a bit tired of scenes. Obviously if someone I like is playing I’m not going to not go. I went to the Boiler Room to see Pete Swanson and shit because it’s not like I’m going to miss that, but for the most part it’s kind of hard to get me out of the house to do some scenester music shit. It’s not a traditional way to succeed, to not go out, but I think it does help with our vision because we’re not wavered by influences of what’s going on around us.
You’re clearly not taking any musical cues from your neighbors but you seem to have gone out of your way to not sign US producers, apart from yourselves and Matrixxman.
HS: I have a massively reactionary personality and anyone who knows me could tell me that. I’m the kind of person who does exactly opposite of what I’m around and that’s what I’m thinking of when I’m looking for artists.
D: The first two releases were by Hound Scales and myself respectively. The third release was from Clouds and they’re from Scotland and fourth was Myler who’s Scottish. Matrixxman is from San Francisco. We sort of mix it up, we’re not beholden to any place.
HS: It’s not something we planned, it’s just harder to find Americans making decent music at the moment.
D: Well, I wouldn’t say that. There’s a lot of Americans making great music but not in line with what we’re going for. I’m staying positive.
There seems to be a knowing sense of humor running throughout our work. The whole “junta rave” genre you coined in the beginning, the monochrome label artwork which you make yourself, Nico.
HS: Junta rave came about because I love attaching these crazy names to everything. It was one of those things to describe my release because it was all over the fucking place. It was a batch of different songs—my first five decent songs I made. Originally I was like this is militaristic party shit, in my mind, what would be a party tune in an underground compound? I feel like it fit; the arch contrast. It’s a definite reflection of our personalities, we can be very serious but we can also fuck around a lot too. As for the artwork, we try to do a playful take on classic techno. Like on the Matrixxman, there’s a little UFO sucking the brains out of some guy—you have to look really closely to see that. I try and do a little nod to the release, sometimes it makes more sense, sometimes less. For my release’s artwork you’d have to know quite a lot about this artist Rosemarie Trockel to really understand it. With Divvorce’s art, his whole EP was a reference to this neighborhood the Tenderloin in San Francisco.
It’s early days but what have you got lined up in the coming months?
D: After Matrixxman, we have this guy Unklone who’s this English artist, it’s really dope.
HS: I would say it’s more along the lines of the stuff we put out originally. Charlie [McCloud, Matrixxman]’s release is a nice summer break from the head smashing, but Unklone brings us pretty much back around full circle. We’re both obsessive music collectors and we just both constantly scouring for shit, and it just sort of happens that the people we’re liking just happen to be all kids in their early 20s from England. A lot of it has to do with Hurfyd, who is this guy from Leeds who has this YouTube channel. I definitely consider that dude to be on our board of trustees. When it started, especially everyone that I thought was making exciting music that wasn’t already releasing on labels were these kids in Leeds and Bristol. They were the first people I reached out to. Now they’ve created a little scene for themselves, we found ourselves associating with these guys.
D: Then there’s Physical Therapy, a Brooklyn-based artist.
HS: The Physical Therapy record is one of these things; it was so incredible when I heard it because it was everything that we like to push at Fifth Wall, I was a bit surprised at first because I had all these preconceptions about he as an artist would be making, as Mykki Blanco’s tour DJ and it ended up being a totally unique.
D: He brings a unique perspective having not been steeped in the cult of techno.
HS: Yet he’s the biggest Tommy Four Seven fan, which is what makes it so good. The first time I talked to him we ended up talking about Pizza Man and then talked about Tommy Four Seven a second later. That’s why his music is so sick, he’s out there playing the queer rap scene. It all comes across. People are going to love this shit. ~
1. Radial – “1980”
2. Hound Scales – “A Clique Of Tough Women” (Yuji Kondo Remix)
3. Xhin – “Teeth” (Surgeon Remix)
4. British Murder Boys – “Rule By Law”
5. Ontal – “Disorientation”
6. Hound Scales – “Throated”
7. Sawf – “Toolio”
8. Forward Strategy Group – “Elegant Mistakes”
9. Fran Hartnett – “Reducer”
10. British Murder Boys – “Anti Inferno”
11. Surgeon – “Compliance Momentum”
12. Go Hiyama – “Tokyo View”
13. Go Hiyama – “Personal”
14. Dj Boss – “Zakruta”
15. Swarm Intelligence – “Execute” (Blackmass Plastics Remix)
16. Swarm Intelligence – “Collide”
17. Amon Tobin – “Stupid IDM’z”
Published August 05, 2013. Words by Louise Brailey.