The neo-kosmische house pulse of Blondes made their second album Swisher one of the most talked about records in the underground recently. Deb. Strauss met them in Bremen before their Panorama Bar appearance. Photo, left to right: Mike Haar and Zach Steinman of Blondes, by Tania Castellvi.
Mike Haar and Zach Steinman, otherwise known as the nü-kosmische duo Blondes, graduated from the Lena Dunham-endorsed Oberlin university a decade ago and one can witness a jokey conceptual side in their naming of A and B sides (“Business” supported with “Pleasure, ” “Hater” the reverse of “Lover”). Live, the oft-improvising duo privileges actual hypnotic trance over the EDM version, with Swisher (RVNG), their latest full-length, embracing the first eighties German sounds of “Love on a Real Train”-era Tangerine Fantasy and Manuel Göttsching’s proto-techno E2-E4 , fitting within nicely with the current kozmik zeitgeist of Lindstrøm and the like, though wearing a less disco-y approach.
Contemplating your backgrounds, how does conceptual art figure into what you do?
Zach Steinman: I think we actually do possess a conceptual art approach to our process but I don’t wanna get too high. In college, we were in a music group called Misty and it was all of percussion, and it was sort of established up to…
Mike Haar: It was a drum circle [laughter]. It was sort of like a taking from Sol LeWitt. The beauty of this idea was that you could just do whatever you want by it and it would be whatever it is. It had been kind of like, you just set up the rubric and then worked within it, and I think our project uses the 4/4 bass drum much the same way. “Class, ” off our new record, is probably the only track that will doesn’t have a straight 4/4 bass drum at some point. It is about restrictions but also about the ability to set some thing up that can never be really, totally fucked up. Because the constraints provide you with the freedom to work.
As long as you have a house beat heading underneath you can do anything that you want along with it.
Would you consider your projects more headphone than club music?
ZS: I don’t know how individuals react. It’s funny ‘cause possibly people will say we’re really good live and really not exciting to hear on recording, or it’s the contrary.
SH: “Can’t see how this works in the dance club. ”
ZS: Yeah! “Doesn’t work as dance music. ”
YOU WILL NEED: We definitely attempted to be doing live electronic playing—you know, synths and stuff. But it always set out to be dance music, or at least to have this sort of metronomic thump.
ZS: Right. And there’s simply something about the ambience surrounding dancing music that’s always been attractive to us.
The idea of having an immersive experience.
ZS: Well, yeah, there’s nothing like it, really.
After i was first reading about you men the term “lo-fi” was used a lot.
YOU WILL NEED: But we kind of came out of that world, so yeah.
ZS: We’ve also definitely already been influenced by the worlds of fresh or noise music.
SH: Yes. Our first shows, we were actively playing our friend’s sort-of warehouse loft area, where they would have noise shows.
A Black Dice approach?
SH: Not really that, but there’s been a lot of shows in Europe with people who were just with tables full of equipment, making shit happen. We were sort of coming up in that scene, I guess. Yet doing sort of a dance music edition of it.
So you were subconsciously endeavoring to create dance music in contrast to the thing that was going on?
SH: It was organizations of friends, basically.
And you had DFA, where they’re trying to somehow bring dancing music to crowds that do not normally dance.
ZS: Yes. We were definitely into DFA.
SH: Gavin Russom was huge.
He was living here in Berlin for a long time. But this individual also seemed to have this moment in which he moved from ambient sound to some more populist approach. He created a public personality that’s completely different from his mad tinkerer era. It is as if he became a Scientologist.
YOU WILL NEED: Yeah, I remember that’s when he was doing these whole repetitive acid lines, and would just like open and close a filtration system for ten minutes, and it was a really religious experience.
ZS: It had been also the same time we got into Manuel Göttsching and E2-E4 , so those were two things that really influenced us. It is kind of embarrassing to admit that we also first heard E2-E4 in this art installation at Peres Projects. Within Berlin. In a room with, like, this neon pyramid that spun, and E2-E4 in the background.
You guys lived within Berlin for a bit.
SH: Simply for a few months in 2008. I’ve already been into kosmische and krautrock for a long period. Well, before we were in university and discovered, like, Neu! plus stuff.
ZS: We actually didn’t make anything that was ever released while we were here.
That motorik, rhythmic issue is more Kölsch, whereas Berlin kosmische is floaty.
SH: I discovered the Neu! stuff to be really floaty, though. I don’t know, maybe I’m betraying my lack of knowing, but I think the metronomic, kind of pulsing, moving forwards slowly, type of jamming out and slowly unveiling—I saw that in all those various groups, and then really got into that will. And then I was into Basic Route for a while. I was really into Pole in the early 2000s. And ˜scape Information. I was feeling Ricardo Villalobos a lot. We were living different parts of the Declares before then. I was living in Ca, he was living in New York. And had been talking about how we wished to start a music project.
So , you conceived the act before you created the music.
SH: Yeah, we were, like, all of us wanna make music together once again. And then we just had to figure out what that was going to be.
ZS: Then we were all, “Yeah, let us meet. Let’s go to Berlin, and—I don’t know, work on something there. ”
YOU WILL NEED: “It’s cheap. ”
There’s a strain of minimalism that runs throughout your influences. Were you also interested in the originators of the genre, such as La Monte Young?
SH: Yes, I’ve always been into that, yet more conceptually. La Monte Youthful was really into the physicality of it, really into the phenomenon of it.
He’d play for 24 hours and some people would stay for it all of. While Blondes is almost a rejoinder to the pummeling ideology of dancing music as a whole.
ZS: I am not sure exactly which pummeling you’re talking about: whether it’s like the EDM pummeling or the techno pummeling. Are you currently saying it’s not durational music?
The communal connection with Blondes is separate from the dance. Of course , I don’t know if you hear that in what you’re doing.
SH: I don’t know. To do some thing that’s just a “dancing experience” says to me that it’s just like giving something in, like a form or a language that people are preconditioned to comprehend as a dancing thing. We are simply taking the individual forms and manipulating what we have, so it’s a lot more about the actual process of that modification and building something out of that will. But we still do the big creates, and tension release, and pound out some stuff. It doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it.
ZS: I mean, you can, but what makes it cerebral is that you’re listening to all things as we do it. All these things take place at once and then it’s changed—it’s like a slowly evolving sort of structure to a lot of tracks, whereas I feel like most dancing music is a little dictatorial.
Where is the line attracted between composition and sound design?
YOU WILL NEED: When we play live right now, we’re mixing every component there on the board, or two small boards. You can’t really hear what’s going on, stuff can kind of get away from you.
ZS: Yeah, all of us kind of need the immersive atmosphere ourselves. We’ve been toying with the idea of playing in the front of house.
YOU WILL NEED: Where the guy sits that normally mixes the music group, because they have the best sound, they’re sitting in the sweet spot from the whole sound system, and why are you up on the stage?
Maybe the audience ought to be there.
SH: [laughs] Yeah, and you’ll observe it—it’s like a tradition of electronic-acoustic music. The composer will sit down at the back and he’ll dim the lights so he can mix correctly for the sound system. In some ways, yeah, we’re toying with the idea due to the fact we don’t really feel like a stage act, we feel more like a sound system act, you know?
ZS: The performance is not as important. It might actually be interesting to have no one onstage and just lights going, and us in the booth. Like sensory, sensuous formalism.
Do you see yourselves perhaps disappearing? Silly Punk manages to put on a show for some reason and yet anonymize at the same time.
ZS: There is a history of that with Orbital or…
YOU WILL NEED: Kraftwerk too. At the rear of the screen, with the robots close to it.
Yet Kraftwerk is essentially a comedy behave.
YOU WILL NEED: What’s interesting in my experience more is Berghain. You go there and you don’t see the DJ. He’s not on a big stage along with lights on him, you know? He’s just kind of in a DJ opening off to the side. You’re not staring on the DJ—you’re experiencing the sort of sonic atmosphere and the music and you’re dance and that’s kind of what comes out to you, too. Some people might like seeing us turning the knobs plus seeing how and what we’re developing, you know? But I don’t think it’s necessary. I think the main reason I want to get it done is to have the best spot of monitoring the sound system, because what we’re doing, we’re spending all this time turning knobs, adjusting sound and we’re not even in the best spot to know it.
Watching electronic music live can be an alienating experience: it’s like watching a movie. Or filming a movie. I have the sense that you’re trying to build a sense of group connection once you play live.
ZS: Yeah, for certain. I think there is definitely some sort of clairvoyant feel to it. You can kind of sense it—we’re not really even looking up frequently, but we can kind of just feel between hearing what you’re actively playing and then how that’s feeling after which seeing the audience—how the general reaction can be.
SH: Especially when you’re like creating with loops or developing grooves, and it’s really transforming them and developing them and having them places and discovering new places. We were talking about this prior to; everyone’s kind of on a journey collectively. Like, we’re on a journey, plus we’re trying to figure out what we’re performing up there too. [laughs]
Therefore you’re as confused as they are usually.
YOU WILL NEED: [laughs] In some ways, yeah. They’re gonna be, like, “Oh we’ve found some thing! ” and we’ll be, like, “Oh, let’s work with this plus twist this into something, ” and when we’re all in that collectively it, can be this really innovative spirit.
ZS: Usually, if we’re happy, people will be. It’ll do well. ~
Blondes’ Swisher is out now upon RVNG Intl.