Five Minutes at MUTEK with Blondes
- Words: Shawn Reynaldo
- Photo: Miguel Legault
As always, this year's edition of MUTEK offered a potentially overwhelming number of shows, parties, workshops, panel discussions, and more. Amidst all the activity, XLR8R also wanted to take the time to sit down with a few of our favorite artists, both to get their impressions of the festival and to check in about what's happening with their music. Brooklyn duo Blondes has hit the road pretty hard since the release of its self-titled debut LP earlier this year, and during the group's first appearance at MUTEK, members Sam Haar and Zach Steinman sat down to tell us about their evolving gear fetish, getting lumped in with indie acts in the US, and why their music is so much more popular in Europe.
XLR8R: You guys put out an album earlier this year. Do you think of it as your debut album, since it was largely a collection of former singles?
Sam Haar: Sort of? [Laughs] Yes and no. I mean, it was in the sense that it was an LP, and we promoted it, and were touring on it, so it functioned like that. But, it was a collection of singles, so it wasn't like a long-player "statement."
Zach Steinman: But the making of it was a journey, the same way an album would be.
You've been touring, and most of that touring has been in Europe.
SH: A chunk of it, yeah.
ZS: Almost... all... of... it. [laughs] With the exception of playing here at MUTEK and Philadelphia. We played at Making Time in Philadelphia.
SH: We played a show or two in New York, if that counts.
ZS: We opened for Matthew Dear. And that's just about it, we've been going back and forth.
Does it feel weird to have your music not catch on home, and to have to go to Europe to find an audience?
ZS: I kind of like that. Not to say that I wouldn't like if it caught on [at home], but it is interesting. I'm not disappointed.
SH: I think it makes sense. The kind of music we're making...
ZS: It might make more sense to European bodies.
SH: In general, people in Europe have been growing up with dance music. Here, there's a smaller crowd of people that have been into it, and it's starting that younger people are getting into it now, too. It's still more niche—maybe not "EDM," but [the rest of it].
In the US, do you guys feel like you get lumped in with more "indie" acts?
SH: It definitely used to happen. Honestly, I don't know if it's like that anymore, because we haven't played in the US in awhile. [laughs] It definitely was like that.
ZS: I think it's still true. I think it's easier to categorize us that way for some people, but I don't know why. It doesn't necessarily make sense.
SH: I think it's probably because we didn't come out of the house and techno scene, which has been very established in the States.
ZS: We did come out of playing in noise venues or DIY spaces, so that's probably where that whole following started.
Would you guys like to see more "proper" DJs getting excited about Blondes' music? Do you guys like walking that line between worlds, or would you prefer to be part of the more established electronic-music scene?
ZS: I think walking the line is a really interesting place to be, rather than just trying to make really popular bangers. Next up, we're going to try a bunch of different ways of playing and we'll see what happens.
This is the first time you've played MUTEK. Were you aware of the festival before?
SH: Yeah. I came here five years ago. I studied technology, art, music technology, so it was like a field trip. [laughs]
Were you excited to play, especially since you're not coming from the traditional techno world?
SH: Yeah, it's cool to be recognized by people who are really into hardcore electronic music.
Are you working on new material, or do you have any releases planned?
SH: There's nothing formed yet. We've been busy playing, and then we've been taking a break because we've been working a lot the past year.
When you're onstage, there's no laptop. Have you always been so gear oriented?
SH: Yeah, the project has been defined by that a little bit.
ZS: Initially, we tried with a computer, but it was [not good].
SH: We started producing stuff at first when we were, like, "Let's do a dance-music project." It was just really bad. [laughs] We'd always played music together, we'd just jammed when we were in college, so it was, like, "This doesn't make sense." I feel like working on a computer is more individual, and then we'd [have to] pass it back and forth, or something.
Over the years, it seems like your live setup has grown, at least it seems like there is more stuff on stage. Have you developed a proper gear fetish?
ZS: I think we're about to evolve that even more.
SH: It's slowly evolving, where we get a piece of gear here or there.
ZS: It's actually stayed fairly consistent, and I think we're about to change that.
Do you have your eye on anything in particular?
SH: Some analog drum machines. I feel like the gear fetishism has always been curbed by the fact that we really like to have the same setup in the studio and live, so it has to be really practical. It's like, "Oh, that looks a little too big," or fragile, "I don't think we can travel with that," or [it's too] heavy. Maybe if we had tons of money, sure, [we could] build up a really nice studio and then only take some of it. But a lot of it, it's like, "Can we travel with that?" or "Does it fit in the cases we have?" [laughs]
Stylistically, your music has a really heavy kick drum, but there's almost a serene sort of quality to it. Is that something you strive for?
ZS: I think we're attracted to those sorts of sounds—serenity. I think we've evolved the kick drum to be bigger.
SH: That's a product of playing club systems. It's really satisfying, to be at Ministry of Sound with a big, nice kick.
ZS: Ministry of Sound was incredible. That soundsystem... just dropping the bass was...
SH: During soundcheck, we were just cutting the bass out and putting it back in, for like 20 minutes. [laughs]
Have you ever experimented with making shorter songs or things that have a less epic scope?
ZS: We have not really approached writing in that way.
SH: A lot of our tracks have been made as singles, so you want it to be a nice thing on its own.
You make singles, but they're not really hook driven. It's more of a journey. Is that by design?
SH: There are some things that we consider the "hooks," like a piano loop or something. I think whenever we make something that's more hooky, we say, "That's too cheesy, we can't use that."
ZS: Sometimes we'll have something that's really stripped down and we'll think it's really hooky, but then it's like, "This sounds cheesy. We need to add more layers."
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