Magick Man: an interview with Todd Pendu
Since his arrival in NYC in 2003, Todd Brooks – aka Todd Pendu – has successfully made his ‘lifestyle’ brand Pendu a recognizable, positive, and defining symbol.
From turning his apartment into an art space, organizing the highly successful NY Eye & Ear Festival three years in a row, designing his own posters, throwing parties, running a music label, and performing with his music project Chaos Majik, Todd holds the NYC underground in a clutch. He was the first record label to sign Chelsea Wolfe and aTelecine, and has recently signed two new bands, Von Haze and Starred. His label has also put out music from the likes of White Ring and Mater Suspiria Vision. Meanwhile, his brand has continued to expand, extending into fashion through a recent collaboration with NYC leather fashion designer Zana Bayne. For Pendu, the future holds an infinity of possibilities.
How did your latest venture into fashion come about?
I’ve been into fashion since my early twenties, but I had no direct connection to it. I was just aesthetically drawn to looking at all the newest fashion magazines when they would come out. Basically the first time I started working with fashion designers directly was while setting up a Chelsea Wolfe photoshoot for i-D Magazine. That photoshoot gave me the chance to reach out to a stylist who gathered a wardrobe from some of my favorite designers including Iris van Herpen. I personally began to reach out to NYC designers such as Mandy Coon and Zana Bayne amongst others, which eventually led to my recent collaboration with Zana. She created a new leather bracelet that used my Pendu logo as the main component of the design. I have designed T-shirts and tote bags with the logo and a Pendu logo necklace in collaboration with Panda Eyes, but I had never thought of a Pendu bracelet; it was Zana’s idea completely. It was such an amazing concept. In the last few weeks since it came out it’s been so exciting seeing people Instagram and Tweet photos of themselves proudly wearing their new Pendu x Zana Bayne bracelet.
What does the company logo represent?
The symbol comes from alchemy; it’s the alchemical symbol of sulfur. The word ‘Pendu’ is French for the ‘Hanged-Man’ and is used for the Tarot card of the same name. Occultists in the 19th Century noticed a connection between the shape of the character hanging upside down in the tarot card and the inverted symbol of Sulfur, which represents ‘The Completed Work’, or the Magnum Opus – the philosopher’s stone basically. When I realized that the Hang-Man character had this shape it became this idea that the Hang-Man is not as people thought before, as a martyr, but maybe instead as a symbol of a mystic who is in this upside down position to reawaken the way he sees things. It’s almost as if that symbol is the final result of that reawakening. The symbol was a part of Pendu from the beginning but I didn’t start using the symbol on my flyers until around 2008. Around 2009 I came up with this way to make the symbol into an upside down cross and a triangle by creating a tiny gulf between the top and bottom of the symbol. It became a play on words, a pun. At the same time it is a bit more stylized. By stylizing it, I personalized it, but the original alchemical symbol itself is the core.
So it appears on everything you produce?
There are so many things that I do under the Pendu banner that are connected in ways maybe others wouldn’t be able to see immediately, so the symbol is a visual representation of that connection. When people came to Pendu Disco, they were all stamped at the door with the symbol on their hands. My records all have the symbol stamped on them. I think of it as a lifestyle brand because it has to do with every part of everyday life, the stuff you wear, the music you listen to, the place you hang out at. The symbol is protective and when worn, it’s a talisman.
The Pendu logo takes components of the occult, eroticism, and alchemy and uses them metaphorically to convey a message of liberation. But liberation does not mean getting rid of all rules, it means creating your own rules. Making your own choices. I call it ‘Thee Aktions ov Yes’. The symbol is the idea of transformation through seeing the world in a new way and not accepting things at face value.
What sort of sound do you look for when signing bands?
Life soundtrack sort of music. What I’m looking for in a band is a certain quality, an atmospheric dreamlike quality. Honestly, I like songs from almost every genre of music that have that atmospheric feeling. Even in country music, which is a genre so many in our scene feel they are disconnected from, there are songs that I love which are eerie in quality and exciting because of that. I’m always looking for those exceptions, those unexpected surprises. I like sounds that seduce and lure you into other worlds. Some have overused the word ‘dark’ in describing a lot of what I promote, and at times I have quite definitely used the word myself, but I feel it’s been misrepresented enough to where I don’t like using it. I prefer the words ‘atmospheric’ and ‘immersive’ as descriptors. The word dark for me is not about evil or the occult or demons, although all of the above are part of the ‘dark side’. The larger context is that really darkness is about instability and uncertainty. It’s about turning off the lights on what you are sure of and forcing you to confront the unknown. The word ‘dark’ covers a far larger variety of subjects then the typical clichés we all know of. If you stumble through the woods with no light, there is obviously the possibility of impending danger there, but it doesn’t have to be all about the danger, at the same time it can also be about the thrill of not knowing where you are, of not knowing how far away you are, about how far you have left to go. When I speak about darkness in music I’m referring to music that confronts us and reveals our vulnerabilities within ourselves. But let’s be honest, no one would be interested if it wasn’t for the thrill that can be found there.
What about your own musical project Chaos Majik?
I started the project in late 2007 as a side project from my band Ghost Moth. Ghost Moth was a trio that included myself and Robbie McDonald along with legendary free jazz musician Daniel Carter. It was always so hard to get us all together to play shows regularly, so I decided to create a solo project that would enable me to play whenever I wanted to. I use all analogue equipment. I use light sensitive oscillators whose tones are created from candlelight and strobes to create soundscapes and dreamscapes. At times the sounds create almost a kind of out-of-body experience. I had one person say the music sounded like they are expelling demons; cathartically getting rid of them. I have three sold out cassette releases, a handful of compilation releases, and a new LP coming out later this year.
How did you get into doing so much?
I just did, quite literally, without asking and without really knowing ‘how to’. I do quite a lot of different things but I see them all as fitting under one umbrella and part of one thing ultimately. I’m just trying to create a certain feeling using different means to achieve it, whether putting out records, or putting on shows, or myself performing electronic music, or as an artist designing or making collages. My goal is the same in each process; I’m trying to elicit ecstatic responses from the audience. I want people to be able to transcend their day to day life, take them to a place of heightened imagination; give them something that feels fresh and exciting and creates ecstatic energy within them. I didn’t always live in NYC, when I was living In Florida I also put on shows with friends. We made things happen. For a short time we ran our own venue out of storage unit, although it didn’t last long because the cops shut us down. However, rather than assuming we couldn’t run our own venue, we redefined what a venue was and realized that as long as we could get away with it, a storage unit ceases to be a storage unit if we define it as a venue. That’s what I do, I look for the potential of what something can be; not just take it as it is and leave it as that. Transform it.
The record label has become my main focus of late but I have a lot of Pendu parties coming up too which I’m excited to be throwing. I don’t really talk much about the future; I prefer to surprise people. However, I’m always putting stuff together and I continue expanding on the foundational principles that started this whole thing to begin with.
Photo: Veronica Ibarra
Published August 06, 2012.