HEALTH Explains the Rise of LA’s “Berlin-Style” Party Scene

When I heard HEALTH‘s new album, I was transfixed by the progress they’ve made over the past six years. I’ve seen them play countless times; their live shows are some of the most intense experiences of my life and the cause of at least three chipped teeth, a badge I drunkenly showed off when I interviewed them in 2008. Their self-titled debut was formative to my music taste, and the follow-up Get Color took it a step further with melodies you could actually sing along to. Not to diss Merzbow or anything, but with noise, sometimes a good proper anthem is what’s needed.

Death Magic, their third LP out August 7th via Loma Vista Recordings, feels like one BIG anthem, and they underpin the noise I’ve come to expect with imminently danceable (or thrashable) beats and what seems like critique of youth nihilism, as noted in my review, which was actually wrong and proves I shouldn’t read so much Thomas Ligotti. I sat down with the band in a room with a friendly dog—pretty much my favorite kind of room—to catch-up after seven years apart. My first order of business was asking about the European shows they’d been playing recently.

Benjamin: The tour has been really good. We’ve had dedicated fans obsessively coming to multiple shows all across Europe. A funny comment I’ve gotten from them is, “Your sound is so varied?”—spoken like a question, like they were surprised. Like, why would you have each song so different?

John: “You should create a similar sound for a dance floor.”

EB: Like techno or something.

Benjamin: Yeah, I guess so.

Jake: We’ve always done that to our own detriment, where we want every song to be different.

EB: I don’t think it’s necessarily so confusing; with your albums and any time I’ve seen you live it’s always felt very cohesive. Of course, Death Magic has its highs and lows, noise and pop, but that’s what makes it interesting. When something maintains a single level without evolution, that’s when I’m bored.

Benjamin: We think it’s cohesive, but most people think in rigid genre parameters. You know, “Oh, it’s a garage rock band. I get it, I immediately understand.” We try to stay away from that idea. But we do also want to be cohesive.

EB: It must have been a bit of a struggle when you toured with Nine Inch Nails.

John: That was such a mainstream experience, though. It’s totally removed from anything alternative or independent. That crowd probably goes to one show a year.

Jake: It’s not the intelligentsia of the music scene, really.

John: They have a very different relationship to live music.

Benjamin: They have a tattoo and a poster on the wall.

John: But it’s for one band! The average person goes to one concert a year.

Benjamin: Now it’s changing, though, because of large festivals like Coachella.

John: So they don’t even go to a show—they go to one festival a year. It’s a very different idea of being a music fan.

EB: Do you find that there’s a higher level of musical apathy nowadays in the US?

John: As a guy who’s been going to shows and music festivals for a very long time, I definitely notice a change. I’ve been going to Coachella since high school. The majority of people there would wear band shirts. For several years, I’ve seen almost none.

Benjamin: I think now it’s more about the event itself rather than the music.

John: And since the advent of social media, it’s about the perfect photo. You never see shots of young kids watching the band or the DJ; it’s just about capturing the perfect moment of having been there. I feel like, in a certain way, everyone’s in the industry now. I’m not saying they don’t enjoy being at these shows, but they’ve got work to do promoting their own personal brand.

EB: When I was listening to Death Magic, I felt like it was commenting on this idea of apathy in youth clubbing culture: being in a place where you only respond to drugs and don’t care about anything other than the moment, if that. The phrase “So what?” definitely appeared a lot.

John: We didn’t mean that in a negative way, though! We’re definitely not trying to criticize anything. It’s more about feeling a real human emotion about what you’re doing at the time, you know? Feeling like someone is saying, “Have fun, you can do your own thing.” It’s a positive thing.

Benjamin: Positive or negative, we’re just here. So what can you do about it?

John: Times have changed. In LA there’s now a very active party scene. There’s a lot of older people—people who’ve been in the noise and experimental scene for a long time and who now do a lot of party drugs because that’s the vibe—staying up all night at these parties. It’s a fun thing, but there is this certain…not sadness, but it feels like everyone is reaching for something.

Benjamin: That’s the whole reason you’re doing it anyway.

John: It’s profound, but we wanted to reflect that in a non-cheesy way. But it is a very real thing.

EB: There’s definitely been a shift in America’s party landscape in the last five years toward some kind of idealization of Berlin—especially Berghain, which represents the dream of a massive techno club where you can party all night on drugs. I suppose on some level it can be traced to the rise of EDM, which acted as a gateway for many into electronic music.

John: I think it was also reactionary to EDM. The underground sees it’s crap, so they have to seek out the “real thing” instead. So many people think, “I can only have this big techno experience in Berlin,” but now every weekend in LA there’s “Berlin-style” all-night warehouse parties. Berghain is definitely the model for it. And the people doing this are the same ones who were doing weird noise or punk shows before. The underground has a wide breath of sounds from different periods, so it’s always changing.

EB: How do you think that this idea of reaching for a higher quality of sound has impacted the DIY scene?

John: It’s weird, because there’s a lot of artists striving to make what, to them, is “authentic” techno or “real” music, but the real good shit can be hard to differentiate from the other shit.

Benjamin: Also, it’s really easy now for anyone in the DIY scene to make totally hi-fi music.

John: There’s no separation between the quality anymore. You can make something that sounds as good as anything on the radio with your computer. That’s exciting. But the thing about the underground is that it’s still tied to this idea of an authentic method or sound. So someone makes “authentic” techno the “right” way, but I can’t tell the difference between their real techno and some other techno.

Benjamin: We’re not huge techno or house fans.

John: No, but I mean that it’s just hard for songs to stand out sometimes.

EB: It’s interesting, though. Can you imagine James Ferraro five years ago being where he is now?

John: Exactly. With modern technology, there’s no reason why your music can’t be hi-fi.

Benjamin: It’s great that you ask that question, actually, because we’ve been getting asked why there’s such a stylistic change in our sound a lot. But I mean…how can you not do that? Unless you want to be a retro band, you have to respond to what’s going on. You have to be excited about the possibilities of music around you.

Jake: Some interviewers seemed almost disappointed that we’d changed.

Benjamin: “You’ve really changed your ghetto-ass record production style.” Well, sorry we made it better!

EB: When I saw you play Berghain a couple years ago, I was surprised at how pop-y the material had become—but even more surprised at how it made the more noisy parts sound fresher. It captured the same spirit in a new way.

Benjamin: What would be the point of waiting for a record or a show if you just knew you were getting what you already heard? It was very important to us not to go that route. It also speaks a lot on youth and progressiveness. People are afraid of change. They want to say, “I know what that band sounds like and it should stay like that.” No. There’s no integrity to that. You have to take a risk.

John: All the punk and noise stuff, if there was a button or some easily-accessible technology they could have used to make themselves sound high-end, of course a lot of them would have used it.

Benjamin: If the Misfits could have recorded at Abbey Road, they would have.

EB: This technology has really allowed freaks to come into the mainstream on their own terms.

John: That’s the thing about the internet too; these genre sub-divisions are all great because they’ve created interesting culture around them, but they’re out of necessity. Now, there’s really no rules. Anything goes.

Read Daniel Jones’ recommendation of Death Magic, which appeared in the latest issue of Electronic Beats Magazine.

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Polarity: Steph Kretowicz recommends Stellar OM Source’s <i>Joy One Mile</i>

The French artist reins her original freeform approach with the structure of dance music while retaining the ethereal qualities that made her unique in the first place, says Steph Kretowicz.

 

Christelle Gualdi’s music and attitude is one driven by desire: the desire to break away from the restrictive influence of her musical training, through the boundless atmospherics of earlier work as Stellar OM Source, or physical escape through meditation. In Joy One Mile, out on New York’s RVNG Intl, that yearning is still integral, but rather than responding to the imbalance of modern living by turning in on herself, Gualdi embraces and celebrates the duality of physical and emotional release, capturing sound at that impasse of body and mind.

It’s a drift toward the concrete that other artists associated with the DIY synth wave of the past decade have also followed. You can map James Ferraro’s progression from the visceral noise of The Skaters to the gauzy hypnagogia of Night Dolls With Hairspray before coming back to electronic dance music at its essence with SUSHI and COLD. Meanwhile, Daniel Lopatin’s disembodied mood creation as Oneohtrix Point Never gave way to the coarse physicality of his collaboration with Tim Hecker in Instrumental Tourist. Hence, Joy One Mile’s tracklisting, road-tested live over a year and evolved toward the escape offered in the club rather than hypothetical cosmic voyaging; through movement rather than mind.

That’s not to say that Gualdi has formalized her sound at all. Her unruly rhythms and erratic, clattering beats barely contain her expansive sonic palette, here incorporating sweeping synth sounds and polyphonic string samples. The acquisition of a Roland TB-303 led to her break from the illusory whitewash in last year’s Image Over Image 12-inch, binding her sound to a foundation of the sensual with pounding rhythm.

Instead of recoiling from the physical into the abstract, it’s in integrating the two that Joy One Mile’s greatest strength emerges and becomes Gualdi’s strongest creative progression to date. It’s that tension of opposing forces that is already established in the few verbal cues offered on the record. From the obvious implications of the album opener “Polarity” –and the correspondingly jittery thrust of asynchronous beats that run through it –to the lyrics of “Par Amour”, featuring vocals lifted from Detroit performer Lovie’s “Motions of Love (Acapella)”. Here, love and sex become one when she says, “because if you come, then you know”, while her languid vocal is repeatedly interrupted by the incessant, chopped-up breakbeat. Tracks like “The Range” and “Trackers” are less explicit, but it’s in the clipped breaths of the former that a thread of man/machine integration pervades before closing on “Natives/ Most Answers Never Unveiled”. It offers a fair conclusion to a record that seems to be interrogating its position at the cusp of kosmiche-meets-techno at the same time as embracing it—as the almost begrudging acceptance of our humanity and the persistent desire to transcend it.~

 

Stellar OM Source’s Joy One Mile is out now on RVNG Intl.

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Ecstatic Agony: Daniel Jones recommends Crim3s’ <i>Stay Ugly</i> EP

The contrast of disaffection and emotion on their latest EP sets Crim3s apart—it’s honest, touching you in strange ways, giving cold comfort like a record pressed in the Black Lodge, says Daniel Jones.

 

If you’re a music genreist, blogger, or just on a ‘dark‘ tip in general, you probably know about the much-maligned witch house. You know, the stuff with the triangles and crosses and a dozen articles expounding on the unGooglebility of it all? Yeah, that didn’t really end up so well. As with many underground genres, the inclusion of a definitive sound as well as an overused and inauthentic attachment to occult aesthetics spelled (heh) the end of the mini-movement almost as soon as it began. Those still involved, be it peripherally, erroneously or otherwise, generally shunned the name, considering it a tag for trendy laziness—not without reason. Yet the sound and vibe of it continue to exist and evolve in a variety of different sources even as music writers struggle to pin the idea down (I’m slapping my own hands even as I type). Crystal Castles, for example, draped the shroud over their recent LP III. It was probably the best album they’ve ever made, possibly because it felt so inspired by London-based co-conspirators and friends Crim3s, whose latest EP Stay Ugly is also a harshly searing combination of blown-out electronics and harrowing vocals. The difference being that Stay Ugly also feels more honest.

“Ugly” is an apt description for the five tracks here, which seem to revel in alienation even as the beautiful ache of need and hope seeps through. Sadie Pinn’s voice often hides below the throbbing bass, emerging in sub-decipherable gasps and shrieks. While the vibe hasn’t changed much since 2012’s Crim3s EP, the production feels fuller, and Pinn never more sure of herself. It’s hard not to be swept away when she wails, “I miss you! I need you here!” on “DOSE”, sounding only moments away from a breakdown. It’s this contrast of disaffection and emotion that truly sets Crim3s apart—it’s honest, touching you in strange ways, giving cold comfort like a record pressed in the Black Lodge. There is hope here, though it struggles thin and weak beneath the thickly-spread layer of garmonbozia. “Stay Ugly” plays with the idea of being caught between emotional states—“Keep your soul/Burn all hate/Take, plead and cry with the saints”—while the crystallized rave bounce of closer “stress” finds Pinn’s throat sounding ready to split in ecstatic agony.

There’s no escape from labels; it’s simply human nature to ascribe roles and names to ideas. Whether it’s accurate or not often depends on perception, and even more often makes little difference. To my ears, the witchy influences here are obvious, but the people making it (and this is the important part) are pure punk in the truest sense, possessed of a strong DIY spirit and a no-fucks-given attitude. Ugliness is antithesis to mainstream society—whatever ideals of kindness and acceptance society may espouse on the surface, in practice it shuns the aesthetically “unpleasant” in favor of whatever happens to be beautiful to the eyes and ears of the masses. Whatever you chose to label them, Stay Ugly proves that Crim3s go beyond trends and names. This is a soul laid bare, stripped raw and given voice. One has only to listen.

Stay Ugly is out now via Crim3s’ Bandcamp. Stream the full EP below.

 

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Self-Liberating: an interview with Grimes part 1

After the constant hype of 2012, the nonstop touring and the progressively larger shows, things have finally settled down again for Claire Boucher and her musical alter-ego Grimes. The sudden spotlight thrust upon her following her 4AD debut Visions has shone brightly, but also—from her perspective—glaringly. Now in the process of rediscovering her solitude in the dark forests of British Columbia, Boucher has managed to shrug off the creative restraints that have accompanied her unexpected indie popstar dasein and reenter the introverted world of production and songwriting to which she’s accustomed. Whether the result will be branching out further into the realm of ethereal, wallflower-pop or a percussive noise album (rumors abound), depends on what she finds in the woods. Or what finds her.

 

Claire, I heard you are seriously ill and had to cancel your European tour in November and December?

No, I am not seriously ill. But yes, I have problems with my ears. My doctor says if I’d be doing concerts right now, I’d risk serious and lasting hearing problems. Taking a break was an obvious decision.

Glad to hear it’s nothing too serious. We met once in the lobby of the Prague Hilton prior to your show at the Electronic Beats Festival. You seemed a bit like a fish out of water. The whole building felt like a fortress to protect the wealthy tourists or arms dealers or whoever was staying there from the people outside. And there you were with your punk haircut and tattoos.

I remember. Actually, I think that my Prague show was one of the best performances of that tour.

Don’t you sometimes wonder, “How the hell did I get here?” Not too long ago you were giving free concerts for your friends at La Brique or the Torn Curtain in Montreal—both simple, DIY venues.

Well, one thing’s for sure: at the moment, it’s hard for me to write songs for my new album. It’s not easy for me when I get to thinking about other people’s opinions and how they might comment on what I do. I have trouble thinking about fulfilling expectations. I’ve even started fake bands with no specific intention of doing anything with the result. But at least it’s allowed me to work somehow. The situation in Montreal at La Brique was different to how my life is now. For almost a year now, I’ve been on tour non-stop. There were people around me twenty-four-seven. Being able to write again requires me to really be detached from social life, I guess.

Did you write Visions in seclusion?

Yes. I often do my best work when I can be completely absorbed by it. It was the same thing in high school with math. It’s always been about losing myself and losing track of time. I remember meditating on a math problem for over four hours, and only snapping out of it when I had to go to the bathroom. Those were the times when I could really feel the progress. It’s always a good sign to realize that six hours just disappeared. To see how time dissolves can be a powerful experience, and it’s one I miss. Because it’s one thing to talk about stuff and it’s another to actually commit to doing it; to solve a math problem or make music. Not being too self-aware in the process is also really important.

So it’s in a trance-like state that you get your best results?

Probably, yeah.

In a recent interview with The Guardian you mentioned that you didn’t sleep, eat or meet people for nine days in order to gain a more intense connection to your subconscious, which made it easier for you to write the lyrics for your last album Visions. Would you call that a spiritual experience? 

I don’t know if I would call it spiritual. I’m not religious, even though I was raised in a religious household. I know a lot of younger people who just take some of the ceremonial aspects of religion and use them like some kind of backdrop. Especially when you look at the Canadian noise music scenes these days. They are very ceremonial, almost cult-like. You mentioned La Brique and the Torn Curtain in Montreal. In these places, when people would gather for a noise show, it would be for, like, seven hours. That can get pretty intense, you know? I guess these happenings serve as a substitute for a kind of religious experience they were missing otherwise.

A seven-hour show? That’s intense.

And don’t forget the temperatures in Montreal. It can get very, very cold in winter. Once you meet somewhere, you tend to stay there. Knowing that, musicians relate to it in a special way. It’s funny though, because the more successful I get, the less I find myself in places like that. There are a lot of spaces in Berlin like that too, right?

Absolutely. There are still some spaces that aren’t spoiled yet. But a lot of former artist-run spaces have become pretty commercial. Things have become more difficult in Berlin.

Berlin reminds me a lot of Montreal in a positive sense. Montreal is a pretty poor city, so its art and music scenes aren’t that big. Although with music it’s getting a lot bigger. I mean, Berlin isn’t rich, but its creative scene is so much bigger than Montreal’s. Both cities look back at a certain kind of DIY past that was formative in music history. We don’t have a club like the Berghain in Montreal, though. I mean, the Berghain seems so well organized behind the scenes. It’s pretty mind-blowing. I guess you could call it German efficiency.

How big a step is it from the small experimental set-up to the skillfully staged concerts this year?

Skillfully staged?

It’s a bold statement performing your live shows as a one-woman band together with dancers. Without a band to handle you were in total control of the music, whereas the dancers got the crowds going. It’s a simple but very effective set-up. 

First of all, there wasn’t much “staging” involved. I just contacted my friends in any given city and convinced them to dance live during my performance. The dancers weren’t choreographed—they were drunk. In Prague I had three dancers, at the Berghain maybe ten. It seemed like everybody wanted to come and dance. It sort of got out of hand but I think it was a good show nonetheless.

Apart from the fact that your dancers animate the crowd and provoke a reaction, they also come across as a kind of protection:  you’re not alone on stage. Do you find that more comforting?

I improvise a lot on stage. For instance, I record my voice while I sing and layer one voice recording on top of the other until I have a choir of sorts. And I do it on the spot. I sing, I sample, I arrange, I play. Having the dancers working the crowd relieves a lot of the pressure. It gives me the freedom to breathe and focus and dance. Having dancers onstage is good for my mental health. So, yes—they do help me feel comfortable. I mean, theoretically, I could perform the same music without them. But I doubt I could do it as easily. I probably couldn’t improvise that much if I felt uncomfortable.

Are the avant-garde or European improv scenes at all on your radar? People like Peter Brötzmann or Oren Ambarchi? 

Less so, but I’m aware of the history of improvisational music, and I have spent time listening to music like that in the past. Because what I play is improvised, it’s actually easier for me to perform somehow. It makes it harder for me to “screw up”, because I’m never destroying a carefully planned and rehearsed set. Nobody notices mistakes but me. Audiences assume it’s part of the show. But also the songs I perform live aren’t perfect replicas of the ones on record. All of my shows are different, to a certain extent. I mean, that should be the nature of any live performance by any performer, be it Madonna or be it some improvisational free jazz thing, no?

At a Madonna concert nothing is improvised.

Because she depends on a lot of other people, musical and otherwise. For me, playing alone is a luxury. If there were other musicians, it would certainly be much harder to keep that improvisational level up. With six people performing together on stage I couldn’t just change the set list just because I think it would make sense. But changing a set list could be essential when it comes to the dynamics of a live show if you ask me.

 

A slightly edited version of this interview appears in the latest issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. Read part two of the interview tomorrow.

Photo: Luci Lux

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How-to make a Daft Punk helmet in 4 months

How-to make a Daft Punk helmet in 4 months We love how-to guides. They’re probably what the internet is all about (think forums, FAQs, and websites like the brilliant www.instructables.com) and it’s always great to see people offering their knowledge to the public. Harrison Krix is such a person. In March 2009 the prop designer decided to build an exact copy of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christos golden Daft Punk helmet – and he succeeded.

Last year he published a 3 minute-long video of his crafting efforts, from the early concept stages to the final result in around 17 months – and boy did that helmet look pretty! Now the American graphic designer is back with a second video, but this time with a copy of Thomas Bangaltar’s silver helmet, which he spent 4 months of work on (check out his flickR for more images).

Sadly, these two are unique pieces and he won’t be accepting job offers for further copies. I’d give close to anything in the world to own one of these – together with an exact copy of Hedi Slimane’s leather jumpsuits, of course!

While we’re at it: see below for Daft Punk’s Soma-released ‘Drive’ that we mentioned the other day.

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