On the surface Hendrik Weber embodies the Teutonic techno producer archetype: pale, wiry, with sculpted cheekbones and artfully dishevelled hair.
Weber is an earnest and thoughtful conversationalist, serious-minded, cerebral even. Delve a little deeper however, and he becomes somewhat harder to pigeonhole.
Weber started recording as Pantha Du Prince for Hamburg’s Dial label in 2002, producing a succession of fairly straightforward minimal records until he released the widely acclaimed This Bliss in 2007. An album of elegant, emotive techno, This Bliss was not so much minimal as economical, and found favour with many listeners who had enjoyed records like James Holden’s The Idiots Are Winning ’and Nathan Fake’s Drowning in a Sea of Love.
Weber’s 2006 remix of Depeche Mode’s ‘Lilian’ earned Pantha Du Prince a cache in more typically rock circles which has led to him remixing tracks by Animal Collective and The Long Blondes. While This Bliss may have won the respect of poker faced techno fans and cardigan wearing indie types alike, much has changed in electronic music since 2007.
In recent years the influence of garage, dubstep, rave and hardcore has been audible across the spectrum of electronica. The saturated, hypercoloured compositions of artists like Zomby, HudMo and Joker suggest a kind of attention deficit amongst young producers, a reaction perhaps to the pervasive influence of minimal techno over club music during the first half of the last decade.
While techno is hardly a spent force, its period of indisputable dominance seems, for the time being, to have ended, forcing imaginative producers to find new contexts in which to deploy the 4/4 kick. While Shackleton and Sandwell District have been exploring techno’s seemingly limitless potential for labyrinthine rhythmic complexity and abyss-like darkness, Robert Henke has been embracing the experiential qualities of ambient music, thrillingly realised on Monolake’s magnificent Silence.
Pantha Du Prince’s latest album, released on Rough Trade and entitled Black Noise, concerns itself with the idea that music exists everywhere, in what Charles Ubaghs, in his review for The Quietus, refers to as “a kind of perpetual a priori state”; in wind, trees and rock; in the latent, inaudible frequencies that comprise silence. In Weber’s opinion, and according to Rough Trade’s press release, the role of the musician is to “render audible what is unheard”.
I recently caught up with Weber to discuss inspirations, his artistic development and the creative processes involved in the creation of Black Noise.
I read that you grew up in Hanover. I wondered if you could talk about how that might have affected your music-making as opposed to growing up somewhere with a more widely recognised music scene.
“Actually, Kassel was where I was growing up. Kassel is an area where there is a lot of woods and mountains.”
So have you always felt drawn to that, rather than to the more urban environments of, say, Berlin?
“Yeah, I grew up in the countryside, but it was close to the city so I always went to indie parties or rock clubs where you could listen to Depeche Mode and British guitar music. I also went to the Wave Club, which was more new wave, shoegaze, stuff like this. There was a techno club called Stammheim, where DJs from Frankfurt and Berlin would come and play.”
I read that you were really into some of the British shoegaze bands.
“Yes. The noise pop in the end of the 80s or beginning of the 90s was for me like a teenage initiation, so to say. The time when you’re rebellious but you’re not into rebellion or something, so you try to form your own personality and the first thing that makes you do that is music somehow. I was really into this new kind of human music, this new type of musician or whatever you could call it, people like My Bloody Valentine, and they were influential in how they did what they did.
“What is behind the halting (position/attitude), how you do it, the gestures you use. You look to the ground, but you’re still doing these super powerful sounds and you’re blowing people away with your noise walls and still it’s sweet and has a certain melancholy but at the same time it’s super brutal. That’s what really caught my attention and was hitting me during a certain time. At the same time I was going to techno clubs and was listening to techno music and to the opera and shit like this because, you know, sometimes your parents take you out! These are the contradictions that I was learning to deal with.”
It was interesting the way you described the shoegaze bands there, it’s perhaps not unlike how I might describe some of your music: the sweetness, melancholy, but also something of the brutality of techno is there. You’ve talked about how you’re trying to do something quite different from what other techno producers are trying to do. I wondered if you could talk a bit about how you view those differences.
“For me, a lot of the techno music that is produced for the club is made for a certain effectiveness: a certain infectious body relation that is trying to be more and more groovy, have more and more swing, and the technical devices really develop fast. It’s kind of overwhelming sometimes how groovy a track can get and is only filled up with information that is necessary to make your body move but not your mind explore. For me that is basically a difference: compared to a lot of producers I try to give some other information, to try to tell a story of levels and plateaus in the music that are normally not so well represented. I try to change the hierarchy of the sound that dance music needs to be working.”
You’ve remixed tracks for bands like Depeche Mode and Animal Collective. I wondered if you could talk a bit about the appeal of working with more song-based material?
“What I like about this, when people send material over from these bands, you get the single parts. It’s really nice to work with the stuff they didn’t use, for example in the vocal part when someone is talking about the setup of the microphone or something, and you discover it in the tracks, in the stuff that they gave you. It’s really nice for me to work with this lost material, somehow to get a new perspective on the song itself.
“I’d rather talk about versions, than about a remix, because a remix is a remixing of the material that is there, and that is not a correct description for what I do. I try to get something from the material, I have a lot of fun and laughing with some of the material because sometimes you see the process of the first recording, of the jam, and in the end there’s a lot of effects or reverbs, or whatever they might use to make it sound better, but I might use the original file. You wouldn’t get this from an electronic producer, a house and techno producer. You would always get the files as they are.”
Your own music aligns itself partly with techno, but your tracks seem quite song based, there’s a narrative to them. I wondered if you could talk about how you feel your music has progressed between This Bliss and Black Noise.
“I think with Black Noise there’s more stability in the sound structure, and more stability in the telling. It’s not so ornamental, but the ornaments are more visible, or listenable. It’s just more precise and I think it has more depth to it. It’s not so direct but still there’s a lot of hidden stories that are better to discover than on This Bliss, because the sounds are a little bit clearer and also the whole working process was different. Whereas This Bliss was basically made on headphones, or on tour; on moving vehicles, trains, planes, cars, buses, and then trying to tie everything together in the studio, I was doing Black Noise ’basically with the recordings from Switzerland (The album was partly inspired by field recordings Weber made in a Swiss village that had been devastated by a landslide.), in the studio, in the stable house and also the finishing process last summer was taking place in the studio. I think there’s a different pace in the new album. I think there’s more of a peaceful pace in the new record.”
Do you think this depth comes from natural sounds you’ve been using as part of the recording process?
“Maybe, I don’t know, it’s just an impression that I have. I really like the idea to have this undercurrent, that the tracks are rooted in something earthy. They all come from a certain organic um, trash pile. Is that what you’d say? There’s still this organic feel in the tracks, they might grow into a totally other direction immediately. There might be a development in the depths that is not listenable. Sometimes even I don’t really know what’s going on, but I just let it be. It’s a little bit like a plant that is growing or something. Sometimes the tracks go in ways that I also cannot control. I think that has a lot to do with the field recordings, even the source material is not so present any more. It’s like the minerals, I would say, that the tracks grow on.”
You worked with Noah Lennox from Animal Collective, do you feel there are some similarities between your working methods, or in the way that your music is received?
“You can’t really compare because they [Animal Collective] come from another background, and I come from another background. I think what we’re both interested in basically is a sort of noise music, to work more with textures than songs, but still have a song structure inhaled in your subconscious. That is always there, but you’re still working with sound textures, which is unusual for a certain rock scene. Also the stream, you know? The ritual stream, so they (Animal Collective), just play one stream, make no breaks between the songs, that’s something you can compare. Also I’m not this straight techno dance guy and they’re not a straight rock band, so I guess we’re both kind of on the edge. I see the genres like this, but people have these boxes in their heads where they put these things in, and I think we’re both out of the box a bit.”
You talked about your interest in texture. I think with Black Noise there’s a real concern with ambience, as in environment, rather than ambient music as such. I wondered if you could talk about this a little; about your interest in using some of those techniques or methodologies within your own music.
“I’m interested in the idea of space, and of the room, and what takes place. If you compare the listening situation to the recording situation out in the nature it’s so different because on your headphones you create a certain positioning of the microphones, you create a virtual world in your head, because you have different sources of the recording and you have different rooms then that are layered onto each other, so you create a new space somehow. This is also what happens in the studio when you work with things electronically, digitally and you also work with these artificial rooms.
“I’m really interested also in fooling the senses, bringing new spaces in your head but also with your body, where you can go, so you have more of a 3D idea of music not only as one stream but you have several streams that you can also actually move into with your body.
“That’s in the future but that’s what I believe would be my ideal, so you can really separate the room into different areas. That would be my dream, but I do not think this will happen in the next fifteen years. Now we are getting there, the systems are there where you’re not actually listening to the room itself, but listening to the music, but maybe when you go out, when you go to concerts you listen more to the actual room so I hope that someday it will be like there is a new room, a new space that you discover, not only built by walls, but also a room that is built by sound.
“This is what interests me in electronic music, or in the possibilities of creating music electronically and not only by instruments or direct human interference, sounds that have a certain logic to themselves and direction, and you have to let them develop in these certain directions so they create these spaces and these rooms where you can go to with them, but it’s not so humanly made, it’s just perspective and it’s just listening really, to reveal what they say, or what they want to say. It still comes back to the principle of Black Noise where you actually try to reveal what is already there.”