There’s hardly a deficit of young pretenders making koanlike electronica – but it’s probably fair to say that none of the new school are doing it with quite as much class as Henry Laufer, alias Shlohmo.
After pleasant enough beatmaker beginnings, Laufer now does an excellent line in crunchy, wistful digital jams. You can hear the ghosts of FlyLo and Samiyam in his percussion/death rattles, but there’s an attentiveness to atmosphere and timbre that sets Laufer apart. Last year’s Bad Vibes – gauzy, glitchy, groggy and (occasionally) groovy – showed how far Laufer had come, and pointed to a voracious musical imagination (cf his 2011 FACT mix, where Charles Manson, SALEM and Sinead O’ Connor all bump uglies). This year’s Vacation EP, by contrast, offered a much sparser variation on the token themes. FACT caught up with Laufer at MUTEK to talk about the economic woes of the itinerant musician (and Beyonce, of course).
“It was me and the computer and nothing else.”
Vacation struck me as your most focused release in terms of the sonic palette you were using. Was it a deliberate choice for you to hone in on a particular sound rather than being more wide-ranging in your influences?
“It’s funny, because the tracks actually started – the first two tracks of the three – on a tourbus, and it was more of the necessary means of making something on a tourbus as opposed to being in a studio with all my tools and shit. It was me and the computer and nothing else, so everything that I did had to be MIDI-oriented or sequenced. Before that, the intention behind the structural aspects of the songs…where Bad Vibes is really maximal – it’s basically me just adding and adding and adding and adding until it felt right – on Vacation I wanted to strip down as much as possible. There are only a few elements for each song, like four layers. It was definitely a minimalist attempt, combined with minimal means of making stuff, and I think it just worked. Definitely something that I hadn’t tried in years, just making something with only a few parts and focusing more on structure. Making enough things happen between the elements where they play off each other as much as a more maximal sound would. I think that was the only real idea.”
“All the music that I really love has an atmospheric quality to the recording, to the actual space of the song.”
Tourbus electronic records are almost like the equivalent of lo-fi records for guitar acts. Partly through necessity, and the romance of being on the move too, they give you an opportunity to pare your sound down. Was that the first time you’d recorded on the move?
“Yeah, that was the first time. It was my first real big tour, it was with Daedelus and TOKiMONSTA, and we had a lot of downtime sitting on the bus. It’s funny what you say about the lo-fi stuff, because for me the lo-fi sound is desirable. When I’m at home, and I have all my gear, I’m like, ‘How can I make this sound as bad as possible? How many things can I do to this? How many means of recording this can I go through before it gets to the final recording?’ Whereas on the bus, it’s just the computer. So instead of being in a band and having a guitar and a recorder, just having a computer tends to make things sound way cleaner. So it’s the opposite for me when I’m in the studio.”
It’s interesting what you say about processing and reprocessing, and having a ‘maximal’ quality to what you do, because your music is unusually tactile and textural. There a lots of sounds that are rough, that engage the body when you listen. Do you strive to do something more physical than contemporary producers?
“Definitely. I don’t know about more than other people, but it’s definitely something that I look at. For me, all the music that I really love has an atmospheric quality to the recording, to the actual space of the song. To me, I like filling that space and making stuff sound like a place. Creating an environment of sound existing for that little bit. Pretty much all the music that I really love has a certain sound quality to it that maybe other people don’t listen to as much as I do, as opposed to the actual song. Which might be kind of shallow for me in some respect, because I tend to listen to how things sound spatially as opposed to the music a lot of the time. I’m trying to get better at it.”
“Old cassette music, old Three 6 Mafia – it wouldn’t be good if it didn’t sound as bad.”
Do you listen to field recording/sound artists? Is it an influence on you?
“Definitely. I went through a huge period of only listening to really experimental stuff and atmospheric, ambient stuff. Now, I’m kind of bored. I listen to a lot of pop music too, so now song structure for me is one of my…it’s harder for me to make a song than it is to make a texture and an atmosphere, you know what I mean? I think that’s what I’m not necessarily good at, but what comes easy for me is making texture and making that space. Making not necessarily a pop structure, but some kind of melodic song structure that takes you somewhere musically as opposed to just texturally, is something that’s way more difficult for me. I hadn’t thought about making stuff until the last album. I guess a lot of the music that I was listening to, and that I’m still listening to and I like texturally, is not even necessarily field recording or weird music, but even just old dub and old reggae stuff. How the mics sound. There’s never been anything that sounds like old dub studio stuff. Old cassette music, old Three 6 Mafia – it wouldn’t be good if it didn’t sound as bad. It’s more that stuff that gets to me than just purely atmospheric music.”