Software signee Tallesen explains how Constructivism influences his work, and we premiere a remix from his latest EP.
Along with Recondite, Tallesen (AKA Cayman Johnson) is one of the most profound musicians we know. A few months back, the New York-based visual and audio artist released his debut LP, Stills Lit Through, via Oneohtrix Point Never’s abstract Software label, which situates him in the company of a host of intellectual producers like Huerco S and Tim Hecker. We became infatuated with his hypnotic loops and asked Tallesen to explain his influences in what would have been a column-slash-interview about his visual and theoretical inspirations.
He sent us a list of artists, philosophers, and YouTube videos, along with some often abstruse explanations of how they’ve influenced his productions. It spiralled into a didactic dorm room-style email exchange about Constructivist artist Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, architect/stage designer Adolphe Appia, and YouTube videos of Kobe Bryant. “Constructivism is a school of thought that holds art accountable for serving some practical use,” he wrote. “Maholy-Nagy’s creations were display pieces as well as constructions for some sort of imaginary function. To me, using a work to imagine some desire that humans haven’t experienced yet is stimulating advice for creating abstract work. For instance, I think about music as an accessory in different settings which serves the function of engaging human response.”
It took us a while to digest and process everything Cayman sent us, but now that we’ve heard Dreamcrusher’s remix of “Glenticast,” it feels like it’s all coming together. The rework marries Tallesen’s penchant for the esoteric—blurry instrumentation, grainy lo-fi production—with the dance floor functionality of a careening kick drum that underpins the shifting layers of sound. In that way, perhaps the track stimulates a desire for gritty textures and conceptual sonics that might seem impractical when it comes to making your average clubgoer dance.
“Glenticast (Dreamcrusher Remix)” is out this Friday on Software, along with reworks by Thug Entrancer, Lord Raja, Best Available Technology, and Kanyon.
Denver DIY figurehead Ryan McRyhew deconstructs the dance music of Chicago with his latest project Thug Entrancer. Daniel Jones revels in the ruins.
Thug Entrancer makes me respect house music. Don’t send me any prayers or worried emails; it’s not a long-running interest. In fact, this record is closer in content to a sub-genre-style juke. There’s a ghostly processor void looming over Death After Life that gives the album an otherworldly URL sheen, as though it were transmissions from another plane of audio. Indeed, I’ve been petitioning for years for post-life artist awareness beyond wishing Kurt Cobain happy birthday on Twitter. Did you know that in 2014, ninety-eight percent of teenagers continue to listen to living artists? If you are part of the two percent that believe the opinions of the living are void and worthless and that only the dead should be allowed to speak and grace our ears with wisdom, share this review with ten friends or Klaus Nomi’s ghost will come into your room when you’re at work and ruin your bed sheets.
But back to my point about house music: Thug Entrancer, aka Ryan McRyhew, clearly has a love for the sounds of funky, paired-down Chicago. “III” in particular amps up the Larry Heard-like dance vibes, but removing the soul in favor of a kind of audio coleslaw: beats and snares are flung full-force at the listener’s ears, a sonic salad for the mind to digest. Thug Entrancer bears little aesthetic resemblance to McRyhew’s previous project Hideous Men, a collaboration with his partner Kristi Schaefer; the hip-hop tinged occultronic beats have been smoothed out into something more mechanical. I can’t say I’m particularly versed in Chicago’s musical flavors, having only been there once, but I can say that playing Whitehouse in the trap was not as cool as I’d hoped, unfortunately. The seasoned drug dealers were not having it, repeatedly referring to it as “demoralizing” and ‘’this shit’. If they’d only had “IV” to layer them in John Carpenter synths, they might have been too creeped out to slap me and whack my guts and make me stand on the corner with a sign that said “Fart Boss”. The Nancy Reagan advertisements were right: drug dealers are just bullies with cool tattoos and a lot of money.
Indeed, Death After Life maintains a driving, after-dark juke flavor across the first half of the record, reminiscent of footwork minimalism; the second starts to get a bit more upbeat, chasing Excitebike soundtracks down a neon-lit racetrack on such skittering tracks as “VIII” and making my legs do the awkward shuffle most frequently seen in “Old Man Dances To ——” sort of videos. McRyhew, however, does make you think. His disruption of the traditional patterns embedded in each of these genres by decades of musicians is a result of loving care. Even as he dismantles, he rebuilds sibling structures on top of the ruins which echo our modern thought processes toward our past: a constant renewal, a fresh perspective on our dance roots to re-inspire or re-awaken tired ears. In a similar way as That’s Harakiri, another recent musical reconceptualization from Sd Laika, McRyhew uses broken patterns and repetitious audio phrasing to hypnotize the listener with both familiarity and discombobulation: the hand clap beat of “V” applauding itself, the Atari meltdown toward the end of “III”, the overall uncanny feeling of hearing acid-tinged footwork rhythms overlayed with eighties Dario Argento-wave cloaks. It’s messy and, at times, seemingly divergent: the aforementioned meltdown, for example, seems more of an album closer than a three-deep ender. But that’s half the fun. Above all, Death After Life feels like the mutant art-kid split personality of modern house music’s more staid mannerisms. You can picture McRyhew bouncing around his equipment with a wide grin, running the likes of Carl Craig and RP Boo through neon dimension filters and sweating it out as diodes. A flick of the hair and that techsweat is pouring on to your face and lips, just flying everywhere as the synth pulses laser light on the wall reading: MUSIC IS COOL. Which is the best part about music. ~
Death After Life is out now via Software. This text appears in the forthcoming Electronic Beats Magazine N° 38 (2, 2014), out June 1st. You can purchase the new issue, and back issues, in the EB Shop.
The Moscow-born, New York-based, footwork-influenced producer signed to Oneohtrix Point Never’s Software label isn’t afraid to point out the thread of pop misogyny linking East and West.
Steph Kretowicz hears Slava’s raw solutions.
According to Slava Balasanov, there’s more than one Russian pop star who appears in their music video “totally naked.” Compared with the US, where pop icons are generally barely-clothed, there isn’t much of a distinction in intent. That’s something the Moscow-born, New York-based DJ, producer, graphic artist, and programmer—going by the mononym Slava—explores in his latest Software release Raw Solutions.
He may not be very ‘verbal’ by his own account, but it’s in dissecting and recombining the hidden perversities of Western popular culture that Slava’s scattered and syncopated beats, informed by Chicago footwork, are taken to harder, more debauched levels. From the Britney Spears monologue of “Slave 4 U” to the distorted, jackhammer repetition that sees the phrase “all day” morph into “all gay”, Slava identifies and enhances the unsettling undertones of these chart-topping tropes and shows us what they’re really saying.
Most explicitly, there’s “Girls on Dick”, featuring an aggressive loop iterating its title over a palpitating bass, the track echoes the downtempo mincing of Tyga’s “Snapback Back” by Tri Angle affiliate Evian Christ. That comparison is probably one of the reasons Slava has been associated with the label’s unwelcome ‘witch house’ tag in the past, while also appearing on a #seapunk compilation with equally dissimilar artists, Le1f and Unicorn Kid. Most recently grouped (perhaps misguidedly) with Kingdom’s Fade to Mind label in a 2012 Unsound Festival appearance, alongside Fatima Al Qadiri and Nguzunguzu, it’s a comparison that Balasanov understands through their shared interest in DJ deconstructionism but rejects with a much harder, darker production sound, illustrated by the zipper/skin fetish motif of his album art and intensified by his rejection of computer software during recording.
Stripping his sound from the more refined decadence of his previous Soft Control EP to a core of primal insinct, Slava’s Raw Solutions is probably best suited to a release on Oneohtrix Point Never‘s Software label for the mere fact it doesn’t fit anywhere else. A giddy but always frustrated drive to death, the record reflects a polarized East-meets-West upbringing that harnesses those cultures’ shared depravities in order to corrupt and ultimately liberate its listener.
The way I interpreted Raw Solutions is this fascination with American popular culture, that obsession with its hidden darkness.
Yeah, here it’s mixed in with this fun, glossy bubble gum wrapper, where in Russia it’s like all the nastiness is just out in the open. Even in the way that the government operates, it’s just very open cynicism. No one tries to pretend that things are good, or comfortable, or easy. That’s what I found so fascinating about America when I moved here, because there is this image of all these bright colors and this really sexy effect of marketing, but then there’s still all this darkness underneath. The juxtaposition of those two things is really fascinating and a big contrast to Russian culture, where there is nothing glossy about it.
Do you think part of your role as an artist is investigating and magnifying these hidden currents?
I don’t feel like it’s my role to do it as much as it’s something that I’m fascinated by, uncovering these layers. I think, in general, what I’m interested in is this cynical decadence and the different shapes and forms that it could possibly take. Especially in music, it’s such a rich subject. Both culturally and emotionally, music is the ultimate medium for expressing all these very rich, complex emotions. So exploring these subjects through it is what is important to me and what drives me to make it.
On that Coral Records #Seapunk Vol. 1 compilation, you sample Britney Spears, then again on your Soft Control EP and then in “Doit” and “I Know” on Raw Solutions. What’s your connection to her?
There’s a lot. Just the sample in itself is really amazing because it’s a little monologue at the beginning of “I’m a Slave 4 U”, and if you take every phrase it’s so strong on its own. If you cut it out, it’s like a self-contained object. It’s always been a problem with my mix samples, where the trickiest part is finding one that says more than just the literal words.
I’m interested in the way you use language in your music. Where you pick a tiny phrase, word, or sound and manipulate its intention.
Yeah, sometimes, once a phrase is looped and it’s an English phrase, I’ll start hearing Russian in it or I’ll start hearing something else. I’m fascinated how, through this repetition, a phrase can become transformed and become something else and begin to embody all these different associations. It starts to break down into distinct sounds and your brain begins to recombine these sounds into new meaning. That’s always been really exciting for me.
Since you moved here from Russia at 12 and have an outsider’s perspective, do you think that, considering her history to this point, that Britney Spears represents the cracked American dream, in a way?
Oh yeah, totally, this glamorous decadence that spirals out of control and ends up in these episodes of insanity and chaos. It’s kind of a beautiful, exciting thing to be able to see that.
In seeing you perform live, I’ve felt parallels with the virility of drum n bass culture. It’s a certain abandon in this really macho, heavy dance music. Do you feel that energy in your own production and do you see that as filtering through from your Russian history?
Oh yeah, definitely. I feel like, even house music, as positive as it can be, has these really dark undertones. It’s true of a lot of music in general, like hearing a song that makes you want to cry. It’s probably the most beautiful, intense experience and the fact of music having the power to convey these things is amazing; all this emotional information coded in these little segments of time that are so transparent, so communicative. There’s definitely that emotion, the feeling of darkness, but then that’s also transformed into energy. It’s something that doesn’t bring you down but makes you want to move, and makes you want to release these emotions.
That’s definitely what drum n bass does and, in a way, that’s also in Russian culture. This dark, negative cynicism can be life-affirming through humor, through irony… It’s kind of a way to deal with negativity in life, in general. Not denying but accepting it, and digesting it and transforming it into energy that you can use to do constructive things.
I wasn’t going to mention this because I initially figured there wasn’t much of a concept behind Raw Solutions because, as you say, your music is informed by your DJ sets but I’ve noticed a lot of misogynistic elements in the phrases you’ve chosen for the tracks. Is that conscious?
Yeah, it is conscious and, in a way, it’s almost such a huge element of pop culture that I feel like it can’t be ignored. I’m not trying to criticize or promote it, but it’s a part of the language of music, especially hip-hop music and a lot of pop music. In that sense, in my live performance and in the music I play, it’s an interpretation and rearrangement of existing pop music and culture.
That’s why all those things are there and, surprisingly, they’re the most effective elements. People go crazy. I think it’s because they’re, in some ways, I don’t want to say subversive, but they’re ‘edgy’. I feel like lots of people identify with those kinds of things, in different kinds of ways. Well, not ‘identify’ but respond to and think about. So, I feel like it brings out a lot of energy and a lot of emotion in people and being able to channel that is important.
Have you identified a similar thread running through Russian popular culture?
Oh yeah, of course. The exciting thing is; there’s this pop star called Katya Sambuca. She’s like a porn-slash-pop star. She’s very pop and mainstream, so it’s really interesting because, there, it’s taken to a whole other level, where it’s more blatant and more crazy and insane.
Then, I guess, the most disconcerting aspect of this conversation is that we’ve established Russians and Americans might have a completely different cultural disposition but the attitude towards misogyny is the same.
Slava’s Raw Solutions is out now via Software.
The Week in EB feature is a platter of the finest cuts of EB content, served up in one place, once a week. The idea is that it offers you an opportunity to catch up with what we’ve been getting excited about over the last seven days. Of course, it’s become a truism to remark that we live in an era of information saturation; where every day our attention spans are torn asunder by channels competing for our eyes and ears and keystrokes and mouseclicks. Nevermind all that, though, sometimes quality is where it’s at. Here’s the cream of the crop.
Life Of Grime: An interview with Wen
The Keysound Recordings-signed British producer’s strain of grime and dubstep starts at 130 bpm and stakes bold new claim in now classic territories.
High Anxiety: An interview with Autre Ne Veut
Adam Harper speaks with the pop auteur, signed to Oneohtrix Point Never‘s Software label, making art from the dark side of the human condition.
Downwards is the Only Way Forward: An interview with Regis
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Downwards label. Angus Finlayson speaks to co-founder Regis about the label’s origins, future, and the artists that have shaped both. Before British Murder Boys and after Sandwell District, Downwards remains.
Eastern Haze: February
As Eastern Europe’s sense of political discontent grows, February’s edition of Eastern Haze explores how music is reacting to and reflecting the collective mood.
Autre Ne Veut is more than enough answer to the concern that there isn’t any sincerity in today’s pop music.
Sincerity and high emotion force their way out of his music’s every orifice, twisting its shape to manneristic excess and blasting the listener with new heights of feeling. Since his first self-titled album in 2010, this fearsome expressive urge has made him one of the most innovative songwriters around, pushing beyond any historical connotations his synthesizers and samples might once have had into a strange new 21st century message splayed across electronic fragments, uneven rhythms, and obsessive falsetto refrains.
Yet the success of Arthur Ashin as Autre Ne Veut is in making the message so immediate and human, as well as so mutant—much like Edvard Munch‘s painting The Scream, which features in the earlier video to the single “Counting” and is conspicuous by it absence on the cover of Ashin’s new album Anxiety. We’re surprised to find ourselves sympathizing with the monster because the monster is actually a most human of beings; it’s us.
One of the common symptoms of an anxiety attack is ‘derealization’, the sense that your body is no longer real, that your face and hands belong to someone else. This terror is vertiginously resolved into pure ecstasy on tracks like “Ego Free Sex Free”. In just this way, the portrait becomes a mirror, through which Ashin beckons us to join him staring the trauma of death and self-dissolution in the face (especially on “Gonna Die”), making these emotions not just safe, but sublime to behold. So, it’s unsurprising that when I interviewed Ashin, he described the album as “cathartic.” I’d go one further: it’s therapy.
What do you think makes Anxiety different from your other releases?
I would say that there are two primary differences, with considerable overlap. Previous recordings were done completely alone with the occasional guest vocalist. All were done at home, and as a result, there was really only one mind to bounce ideas off of or to play/program anything. This tended to make the earlier recordings a bit more myopic in scope and leaned toward more concise songwriting where there was no open musical space, just an incessant barrage of ideas and stacked sounds. The new record, in contrast, was more collaborative, with other vocalists and players; it is also a bit more sprawling—though the songs themselves were written in advance and more thoroughly conceived—and most of the sounds are given their own little place in the mix.
The studio setting, complete with engineer, allowed me to capture every sound at a much higher quality. There were software instruments used, which was an exclusive feature of the first two releases, but most of the sounds on Anxiety were actually hardware, recorded through high-end analog outboard gear, so there is live space and transistors adding character to each sound. This lent to a subtractive, rather than additive approach to the sonic ebb and flow of the recordings, because I felt more confident in every sound’s quality and value.
Why give the album the title Anxiety? Is the music a representation of anxiety or a response to it?
The album is titled Anxiety as a response to an array of social and professional anxieties experienced over the previous few years. So, ultimately the entire project, Anxiety included, is a sort of cathartic release.
The album cover shows a picture frame. How did this come about, and what is its significance?
Initially the cover art included the image of Edvard Munch’s The Scream within the frame. It was a recreation of the sale of the image. This placed perhaps the most famous modernist representation of anxiety within a capitalistic framework—arguably more anxiety-producing than the image itself. When the image was stolen we were left only with the symbolic exchange and all of the residual tension.
Do you consider your music a ‘portrait’ of yourself or of someone else?
The music is a portrait of my anxieties and frailties, and in that sense it’s very personal, but what I’m also looking to get at is a shared sense of humanity. These sometimes mundane but dark subjective experiences that we all succumb to from time to time.
Many of your songs reference the body. What do you see as being the relationship between music and the body? How does the one affect and influence the other?
I would argue that all of art and culture and science are an exchange between one’s body and the world or society. I just find the mind/body divide to be essentially artificial, since our sensorium so heavily informs the mind and the notion of mind itself is simply a function of the body (brain) working. Music is this sometime-ephemeral non-thing that affects the senses and impels the body to respond.
Two of the songs on Anxiety touch on mortality. Do you think art and music can help us cope with these ideas?
Yes and no. In a lot of ways, I think that ultimately creating art of any medium is a selfish act. Nobody does it if they don’t want to, exceptions being those who feel they do it because they have to (as a profession). The creation of music can be extremely cathartic to me and if it impacts others in that way, that’s terrific—magical, really. But I don’t set out with an intended response.
Your songs are fascinatingly orchestrated, spread in such interesting ways across different sounds and instruments. How do you go about making them?
This record is very different than my previous recordings. It was an extremely subtractive process, where I initially threw everything at a song, creating a sort of rough slab. Electric guitar over an entire track, sax blurts across an entire track, synth lines, etc. Then I just stripped large chunks away, developing the basic dynamics of the arrangements. And continued chipping away until things felt right to me.
How would you characterize the sound of the label Software? What might be your part in that?
I think that the Software ‘sound’ will emerge over time. Daniel [Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never]’s tastes are extremely eclectic, but I think that there are certain threads throughout that tie things together for him. He’s a sentimental guy in a lot of ways, and I think that attracts him to emotional music, but he also values artists that are idiosyncratic and push the boundaries of what is comfortable for the listener. I guess on some levels I do that, and others less so. I have no idea where I fit in exactly, but that probably says more about me than it does Software.~
Photo by Jody Rogac. Autre Ne Veut’s new album Anxiety is out now via Software.