In the grand tradition of Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and Ernest Hemingway, 17-year-old Bronx native Ben Deitz dreamed of becoming a writer. However, he soon realized all those guys had something in common–they were constantly drunk. Fresh out of rehab himself and not wanting to make a career of getting wasted, he began recording grinding breakcore tracks as Math Head, pilfering the moniker from a character in Paul Pope’s graphic novel The One Trick Rip-Off.
On tour in summer 2006 with his crew, NYC party rockers Trouble & Bass, Deitz had a revelation: He was tired of the breakcore scene and all the dreadlocked dudes that came along with it. Enamored with the burgeoning dubstep scene, he began producing wobbly, half-time bassline bangers, which can be heard on 2006’s The Most Lethal Dance (Reduced Phat), as well as 12”s for Ruff, Pitch Black, and Terminal Dusk.
Soon after, he started Passions, a project inspired by the emotion and drama of favorite bands like Nine Inch Nails and Joy Division. “You can still make dance music and have it say something that’s maybe kind of scary and very personal,” he explains earnestly.
To evoke the right mood, Deitz, now 25, takes further inspiration from the underground culture of 1920s Weimar Germany (“They were so open and free artistically, almost naïve. That can’t ever happen again,” he says) and cult films from the likes of Maya Deren (Meshes of the Afternoon) and Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising). What results are songs that seem to have been crafted in a factory–this is music to solder car parts to. A sense of danger and alienation lurks, yet early Passions tunes sound like Trent Reznor finding his dance legs. His debut 12-inch, “Emergency” (Kitsuné), features manic sirens and a thumping guitar, while “Afflicted by a Strangeness,” featuring Comanechi and Pre frontwoman Akiko Matsuura, is a chaotic synth odyssey that sounds like robots have taken over the planet. Recent Passions tracks evoke a gothic melancholia with slow, reflective power chords (“In Remembrance of”) and haunted-house acoustics, as on “Nobody,” which begins with a heady drum roll and an unintelligible male voice that creepily echoes off into oblivion.
Recently, Deitz has been holed up in a Brooklyn basement studio working on a forthcoming EP. “It’s really important to me to make an album that works thematically, not just a bunch of dance tracks,” he asserts, trying to mentally separate his two alter egos. Deitz is performing solo for now, but plans to turn Passions into a multi-person outfit. He has big hopes for live gigs, willing his audiences to “fight without hitting each other.”
“I want them to lose control,” he says. “I want to lose control. I want it to be this cathartic experience for me.”
Math Head’s Stab City EP will be out this winter on Ad Noiseam; his Passions album, Nothing, will be out on Rallye/Klee in early 2009.