Analogue synth aficionados have re-contextualized the collective memories of the sonic past into their idiosyncratic renditions – usually aided by an opulent visualization of their music.
Chicago band Gatekeeper are as influenced by Wax Trax! as they are by the mighty John Carpenter and early EBM. Their debut Optimum Maximus appeared on the Kompakt offshoot imprint Fright Records and was followed up by Giza on Merok.
We caught up with the New York based duo to talk about Chicago, their music and, erm, witch house.
Hello Gatekeeper! Tell me, how did you two get together?
We met in Chicago while we were both at school there. I was studying music and Matthew was studying critical theory. We moved to New York last summer.
Did you make music prior to meeting up?
Yeah, we were both making music, but just for fun before we created Gatekeeper.
Were you influenced by the rich musical heritage of Chicago?
Definitely. Chicago’s house music, labels like Wax Trax!, Trax Records, even stuff like Dance Mania. People don’t really pay much attention to it in Chicago these days unfortunately.
This straight dance music aesthetic is different to what you’re doing though. You also draw from other influences – has EBM had an influence on your music?
Yeah, some of it but we’re pretty selective in our influences.
As for EBM, it’s the specific aesthetic of the sound and the rhythm of the music, less the vocals and stuff, which were not quite as interesting for us.
When you got to New York, did you hook up with the whole scene there – the witch house scene? Is it a scene as such?
We don’t really consider ourselves as part of a specific movement right now. There are lots of movements that we cross over, but I think we’re pretty different. We’re definitely not a witch house band. Lot of our friends and communities that are supporting their music also support us.
It’s not music that really sounds like ours. Of course we like Salem, but we’re not trying to sound like them.
What sort of equipment do you work with?
We work with both analogue and digital. Our studio consists mostly of keyboards from the last thirty years. We record everything in Logic.
Does the fact that you both studied music influence the way you look at and create music?
It’s harder and easier in different ways. It’s harder because I’m comparing everything to the standard of quality that has been around for hundreds of years, it’s also easier because I have those tools that I can use to express my ideas. It can be difficult when comparing it to the traditional way people approach music.
But you feel free to defy those things that you have learnt?
It’s like learning a language and than you can speak whatever you want. Once you have the tools it’s up to you to use it in an interesting way. We have a lot of analogue synthesizers from the past and we are using new digital technology.
What would you say is the special Gatekeeper touch?
We think of it as imaginary soundtracks for films that don’t exist. We take a lot from the past, from many different genres, but we recombine it so it never sounds like anything in the past. It’s hard to say what our trademark is, as it’s always changing. That’s probably more to the listener to decide.
Do you have something specific that you do, a little trick that you can divulge?
A lot of times when we’re listening back to what we’ve recorded, to make sure it invokes the right feelings, we’ll play a movie on mute with our music to see how the music informs the action in the movie. That’s important since we heavily rely on cinematic tools.
Visuals are important for your project then?
They’re totally inseparable for us. We rely on the way music looks either in your head, in the form of a video, or in the form of a live set. Some way of creating a visual identity for the music is crucial in the experience of what we’re doing.
What about the semantics of your visuals?
We don’t really choose the visuals. Generally, the visuals that accompany our music are loose interpretations – it would be a colour, fog. Ideas that would conjure images in your head, it’s more like a feeling communicated by music.
You’re planning a VHS release. Can you tell us more about it?
The VHS was created by us in collaboration with our friends Thunder Horse, a visual collective from New York. We also work with them on our live sets, create special effects, etc. We made all six videos with them together and created the VHS. It’s meant to accompany the album in one sense – visuals with each song – but it’s just one interpretation of how it could’ve been done. I feel our music can take many different directions with the visuals.
Did you choose the VHS format to fit with the retro-futuristic sound?
It’s a novelty in a way. There isn’t a lot of VHS around anymore. We are using stuff from a lot of eras and the VHS plays into that. It’s also a medium that Thunder Horse work a lot with and they have huge VHS libraries. There’s also the aesthetic quality issue. When you put something onto VHS – the videos all take this uniform quality and the music sounds overcompressed. It’s a nice experience to watch it because it unifies everything.
What about your latest record – Giza?
We’re drawing from this imaginative desert world. Our last EP drew from John Carpenter, Dario Argento. The new record is a little bit different.
I guess this Goblin horror score music has been omnipresent in the last two years…
That’s what we were interested in two years ago when we made our first EP. As a result of over-saturation, the way we consume media is with a need to hear new things. Once we’ve been into something for half a year or year, chances are we’re not going to be into it anymore to keep us from getting bored.
Do you consider what you do as dance music?
Experimental club music. Not really. On some level, it works in the context of a club with the lights and smoke and people dancing but it’s also very cerebral. But we are both very flattered when it works in a club. It can work but it just has to be in the right context.
What are you working on right now?
Bunch of stuff. We are working on mixes, some new material, a score to a video game. We just started talking to people about doing film scores, T-shirt collaborations, etc.
Are you planning to come to Europe any time soon?
We’re planning a big tour, France, UK, Germany, etc. in April.
Published March 14, 2011.