One Minute I'm On, Next Minute I'm Gone: Galcher Lustwerk Interviewed
, October 15th, 2013 04:52
The exquisite, atmospheric and subtly lysergic house music of Brooklyn's Galcher Lustwerk tells stories with few words and fewer sonic gestures. Ahead of his set at White Material's label showcase at Unsound, he speaks to Josh Hall about storytelling, noise and the New York electronic scene
Last week saw the release of the fourth 12" from New York's White Material label. Along with Ron Morelli's L.I.E.S., White Material seems to perfectly encapsulate a peculiarly New York zeitgeist that pairs furiously DIY sturm und drang techno with strung out, pharmaceutically addled experimentations. Thus L.I.E.S. can at once be home to Beau Wanzer and Jahliyya Fields – and White Material can put out releases from both DJ Richard and Galcher Lustwerk.
Brooklyn-based Galcher Lustwerk's music sounds like an aerial view of a convertible rolling along the neon-lit streets of a middle American city. It is hazy, dimly lysergic music that favours atmosphere above all else. Across this year's Tape 22 and Lustwerk's hour-long, utterly exquisite all-originals mix 100% Galcher (which you can download from here), the tools remain pretty constant: gently warped, highly melodic pads, pared down house rhythms and, the most easily recognisable element of all, Lustwerk's voice. The artist half raps, half intones, pulling out narrative threads based around car journeys, aborted parties and drugs. Stylistically the vocals mine a rich seam of spoken word house, operating in the same sphere as, for example, Kerri Chandler's 'Back To The Raw'. Instrumentally, meanwhile, Lustwerk seems to be singlehandedly attempting to claw back the notion of 'deep house' from the risible soft-porn-backdrops-on-YouTube brigade, clearly nodding to tracks like Larry Heard's 'Can You Feel It'.
The White Material label, which to date has also released music by label co-founders Young Male and DJ Richard, has a striking, workmanlike, pseudo-Protestant aesthetic that favours tools, monochromatics, and simplicity. The label operates under the motto "Working Man's Techno", conjuring images of noble toil and mechanical prowess. No artists are listed on WM004, the release instead being credited to the label as a whole, but it is immediately obvious which tracks are Lustwerk's. The Quietus spoke to him via Skype to find out more about the release, White Material, and his work.
Whereabouts are you based at the minute?
Galcher Lustwerk: I'm in Brooklyn, in Fort Greene. It's right outside downtown Brooklyn. It's been going through gentrification a lot. I live with Young Male. We have a pretty good deal. It's in a pretty nice neighbourhood.
And where were you before?
GL: Providence, Rhode Island. I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio.
What took you to Providence?
GL: I was going to school there. That's kind of where I met everybody. That's where I met DJ Richard, Young Male, [and] Morgan Louis, who was everybody's mentor. He has a new track on the new White Material record.
The choice not to name the producers on 004 obviously harks back to times when your decision to buy would be based on the label rather than the artist. Was that the intention?
GL: Yeah, and also we all kind of worked with each other on these tracks, more than usual. We were bouncing our ideas around more, and perfecting the mixing and the mastering. Just all working together and giving each other feedback, and figuring out which four tracks could define us cohesively, as a collective. But I think all the tracks are really different sounding. It's cool to hear the similarities of what we've vibed off, and the differences in each other's styles, because we all have pretty different styles.
Is that a new approach for you, or is White Material generally quite collaborative?
GL: We all just work on our own for the most part, and then listen to each other's stuff from time to time. But me personally, I only share my music with those guys and a few other people.
Was that always the intention?
GL: No, I just didn't know that many people to send it to. I've tried sending demos out over the years, but it just wasn't the right time. Now it's kind of the right time. All of the puzzle pieces are fitting together all of a sudden, especially in New York with all of the new labels.
How long have you been recording as Galcher Lustwerk?
GL: Since the beginning of 2012. I've been making music for over 10 years though.
What was the deal before that?
GL: I had other stuff, but it was just me trying things out, working it through and figuring out what I was interested in. I wasn't really focused anywhere. The Lustwerk stuff is me starting to focus my sound.
Does that sound now come naturally to you?
GL: Yeah. I mean, there's so many bad tracks for the few good tracks I have. I just start with a beat, or start with a sound, and keep going until I find something that I like. It always ends up having similar characteristics.
Have you always used your own voice?
GL: I think I have. I've given it a lot of thought. I used to do more melodic stuff, and I used to do more actual rap – like traditional hip hop vocals. I think my method of storytelling has led me to this point, at which I want to pare down my style. I think I give the lyrics more thought, and then when I try to perform the lyrics over the track I'll try it over and over again, and eventually the lyrics will sink into the track by the way I project them. The lyrics are usually the last take. So after like five times, saying it over and over again, your voice starts to relax and you get into the groove of the record. Personally I don't raise my voice; my voice is usually lower, more casual.
Do you pitch your voice down?
GL: Sometimes I pitch it down, sometimes I pitch it up.
Were those live vocals on your Live at Chester's set?
GL: Yeah. I was using the microphone they had there, and the effects on the DJM-800, and doing live freestyles over some of the tracks. Some of them were freestyles, and some of them were taken from other tracks. But I was kind of just winging it, because I didn't really know how my voice had sounded in the club, so I was messing around with effects a lot. There was a lot of fooling around on the mic.
Are live vocals a new thing for you?
GL: I've done it a couple of times. Trying to do the rap thing for a while I did a couple of more rap shows, where I just played a beat and rapped on top of it. I just think it's more interesting when the DJ is engaged with the audience in a different way. In a lot of hip hop situations, if you go to the club in the middle of America, oftentimes DJs like talking over their tracks a lot, or interacting with the audience a lot, or doing really crazy, obnoxious scratches. He'll play up himself, and be the MC, and the performer, and the music provider. So I was interested in trying to incorporate the vocals back into the mixing.
Also, I'm really into Matias Aguayo's style. I saw a YouTube video of him and I thought, "Damn, that's a good idea, I'm going to rip that off". So I kind of ripped him off a little bit. I'm gonna start doing that more. I'm gonna do that at Unsound. In New York it's hard to find a good DJ setup to do that in, but in Europe it's a lot easer.
What sort of bills do you tend to play on in New York?
GL: Just little parties. There's a lot of people starting new nights at bars, kind of divey bars, and small sized clubs. I did a show with Torn Hawk from L.I.E.S. and Quinn - Young Male - at Bossa Nova Civic Club, which is a new spot. That place is pretty cool. They have a fog machine there. It's crazy being in a bar and there's just mad fog. It's a real moody atmosphere; it's cool.
How are you feeling about Unsound? A lot of the lineup is more explicitly experimental. Is that something you feel comfortable with?
GL: To be honest, it's more comfortable than a traditional house and techno environment, I think. You're just around people that take more chances, and do their own thing, and would appreciate seeing likeminded artists do the same. Also, a lot of stuff that was going on in Providence while I was there was experimental, and noise, and a lot of warehouse shows. I'm excited to see more of that; I've been missing that in New York. But I just don't really go out that much in New York.
Is that experimental scene the environment that White Material has come out of?
GL: Yeah, for sure. All of us have lived in Providence at some point. All of us affiliate ourselves, or have been involved in, noise or experimental type things. It was pretty tough doing electronic music at the time. If you had a laptop it was like, "Oh, this dude's lame". You had to have analogue equipment, or a cassette player, or effects pedals, contact microphones. People were getting real DIY with it, which was pretty tight. We've just been used to a lot of weird shit, so we're trying to take our experience and make it our own.
Do you have quite a clear aesthetic vision of what you want the label to be?
GL: I'm not really involved in the aesthetic decisions so much as DJ Richard and Quinn are. But I think the aesthetic vision is totally awesome, and I support it. But I think it will evolve over time. Whatever they're into it'll morph into, and be all about the output. The music is definitely the main focus; not necessarily the visuals.
I wanted to ask about these "working man's techno" talking points that have come to define White Material.
GL: Quinn has this story, and I think he can tell it better. I really resonate with it because of growing up in Cleveland – it's a very working class, blue collar environment. I do agree that making this music is like using these tools and manipulating them. It has a very workman's feel to it, when you sit down and you have a drum machine in front of you, and you're like, "Alright, I'm gonna make something out of this."
Do you feel that's reflected in the way that the label operates as well?
GL: We're just really getting it together. We don't have people working for us. We're just doing it ourselves. We all have other jobs, side jobs. Some of us work full time. I don't really do that much of managing the label. I'm just grateful for them to put me on it.
You've known them since you were living in Providence, but how long have you been working with the label?
GL: We've always been friends, and always shooting stuff back and forth. I was in a couple of bands with DJ Richard in Providence, so we've always been sharing our musical discoveries and being into the same stuff.
Were there key records in that relationship where you felt your tastes change?
GL: Morgan definitely influenced all of us. He's from Rhode Island originally. He's been around, and he was a resident DJ at some parties. He introduced us to a lot of techno, deep house, even hip hop stuff, disco stuff. He's real knowledgeable.
When you were doing hip hop were you also producing your own beats?
GL: Yeah. I've always been more into the music side of things. The vocals are like… I don't know anyone else, there's nobody else around, so I'm just gonna do them myself. I'm always into the Neptunes, and Pharrell putting his vocal on shit. It's cool having the producer do the vocals, because they kind of have their own idea about how they want their voice to sound mixed with the track.
It's interesting that you talk about your ability to tell stories lyrically. It's struck me that vocally it seems to be primarily about conjuring atmosphere. Do you think there is a Galcher Lustwerk atmosphere that you're trying to catch?
GL: Yeah, there's definitely an atmosphere, but I think it's kind of vast. I definitely want them to sound atmospheric, whether it's claustrophobic or more wide and airy, or heavy, or whatever – as long as it feels like it's setting a space. But as far as the lyrics go, I just like really paring it down. I just like setting the tone, setting the stage, the vibe, and letting my imagination fill in the spaces. The music itself already communicates a lot too, I think, and the vocals are a supplement to that.
You have that lyric, "this lifestyle will do things to you," on the 100% Galcher mix. What kind of a lifestyle is that? And, similarly, how much of your lyrical content is a character piece, and how much of it is autobiographical?
GL: It's kind of autobiographical, but with a lot of exaggeration in places. There's moments of flourishing. It's kind of in the tradition of rap music in general - having the story be a bit more colourful is always nice, and I kind of want to play up the drama sometimes. But generally it's autobiographical. I just try and keep it real simple. Being in a club, driving in a car, flying in a plane – they're all pretty normal situations.
When you are adding those embellishments, are you trying to portray a way in which you would prefer your life to be?
GL: There's no preference, really. I like to be pretty neutral about it all. But I want it to be cinematic, and have a feeling of immediacy. So whether I'm saying something or alluding to something, I'm just trying to place some subtle mystery or drama into the story.
Do you feel much of a connection with other zeitgeisty New York labels like L.I.E.S.? They and their artists seem to share a similar aesthetic.
GL: It was cool to see Torn Hawk play, and I've seen Svengalisghost play too; he's really cool. As far as the music itself goes, and the style, I think it's all just coming at the perfect time. L.I.E.S. is dope enough to just put out all the stuff that's coming through. There's a lot of creativity in music now in general. It's not just us - everyone's finding their own thing that they're into, whether it's electronic or rap, or pop, or experimental, or whatever.
Are you aware of how well-loved the 100% Galcher mix has become over in the UK?
GL: Not really. I don't know how. When I was first getting into electronic music I was into all the brothers making music – Roni Size was really big at the time. I was really into Roni Size, Massive Attack, Tricky, Goldie, and then I got into Underworld and stuff like that. Aphex Twin and all that stuff. There's always been cool stuff coming out of England, so it's cool to see the interest coming out of there.
How did you get in touch with Blowing Up The Workshop [who put the mix out]?
GL: Matthew [Kent, also a Quietus writer] just messaged me on Soundcloud I think. I was putting together a mixtape; I was going to put out a hip hop, free download mixtape. So I had a bunch of tracks that I was just holding onto, and he reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do a mix, so I just put them all into a mix. I think it works better as a mix than it would have worked as a mixtape. It's cool when it's just one chunk.
Had you been working on those tracks for some time previously?
GL: Some of them are really new; some of them were almost a year old. It's all within the span of a year that they were made.
Do you consider yourself to have quite broad taste? I'm thinking particularly of the Max McFerren track on the Densinghour mix. That mix seems to flit through so many different styles that become gradually heavier. Is that indicative of your taste?
GL: First of all, Max is really cool. You should check out more of his stuff. I listen to all types of music. I don't really follow the current techno landscape, but I kind of dip in and out, and absorb a little chunk over time.
Is that because there's not much that interests you there?
GL: It just takes me a really long time to get into a record, I think. I really have to sit down and listen to it for weeks. I definitely like browsing, and checking out what I like, and once I get it I really want to sit with it, figure out why I like it, and figure out whether it fits with whatever else I'm playing. It's all different, but in my mind there's a particular range of vibes that I want to express.
What's your production setup like?
GL: I have a drum machine and a Waldorf synth. I have a little Yamaha sequencer, and a MIDI controller. But sometimes I just use Ableton on the computer, and sometimes I'm sampling random stuff and resampling. I've been really into recording my mixes lately, and taking loops of blends that sounded nice, and maybe resampling a piece of that. I'm all over the place. Whatever I've got in front of me, I'll make something on it.
After the new White Material 12", what's next?
GL: I've got some tracks that I want to put out somewhere at some point, and also a lot of tracks that I'm saving for the next White Material release, which may happen spring or summer next year.
Are there plans for a more live set?
GL: I have to figure that out. I think I'm gonna make new tracks on something really portable and play them back, then get a couple of effects pedals and a mixer. I'm just really gonna try to throw something together, bang something out. I'm just focusing on consolidating. I like really small.
Do you see yourself continuing long term with White Material?
GL: I'd love to put stuff out on other labels – it's just finding the right label. I'm gonna take my time. I'd also like to see the environment more; study things more. But as far as White Material goes I'd love to keep releasing with them, keep representing them, and supporting them, travelling with them. We know a lot of really talented people that just haven't been given the light of day.
So there are definitely plans to expand the White Material roster?
GL: Well there's me, there's Quinn, DJ Richard, Morgan Louis, who has a track on 004. It's mad speedway music. Then there's Alvin Aronson, who's amazing. He's gonna put out a record too. And I'm sure there's going to be more people down the line.
Galcher Lustwerk plays alongside DJ Richard and Young Male at the White Material showcase at Unsound Festival Krakow, this Friday, October 18th (details here). All three play in London on November 8th, at the Waiting Room (details and tickets here).