Interview: Pleasurekraft

With firm reputation for standout productions since (the now iconic) “Tarantula”, the evolution of the Pleasurekraft sound has since moved towards a tougher, atmospheric blend of melodic techno.

Built on big room drums, soaring breaks, and smart, unpredictable vocals, this self-dubbed “cosmic techno” has found support from a range of scene heavyweights, including Adam Beyer, Carl Cox, Nicole Moudaber & many more. Now, after years of hits, Pleasurekraft have recently released their debut album “Friends, Lovers, & Other Constellations,” a project with the unmistakeable Pleasurekraft fingerprint throughout its 11 tracks.

An album that merits continuous listens to reveal its depth, and filled with cinematic and cosmological references throughout, “Friends, Lovers, & Other Constellations” is not merely music for a clubbing, but something akin to a musical mission statement. On this statement, and so much more, Pleasurekraft sat down with us to discuss the release, his visual approach to sonic creation, the state of the industry, and more in this far reaching (and somewhat rare) interview.

“I want to sneak political, existential, cosmological references into our music which attracts a certain type of listener.”

What was the original seed planted that ultimately became “Friends, Lovers & Other Constellations”?
Believe it or not, it came from a cinematic vocal I always wanted to use which ended up in the opening track “Interiors”. It took a life of its own when the record didn’t feel like Techno as the vocals didn’t lend themselves in that way. When ‘Interiors’ came together, I was so bored with doing Tech-House. It all felt so monotonous and unimportant. A certain level of this comes with experience and artistic maturity. I wanted to make more than just dance records. I went to school for film so there are cinematic references all over the album. When it came together, I thought the demographic who would listen to techno music would be thrown off by the record – which in a way is a good thing – you never want to be predictable – even though many artists (including sadly us at certain points in the past) are. So I figured the only way we could get away with releasing “Interiors” was by making it a foundation of something more conceptual in nature – like an album.

Even though a lot of people who listen to Techno won’t get it, it is as personal a record as I have ever worked on. Sonically, it’s so far removed from anything else we’ve done and I’m incredibly proud of this record – which is something I would not say about many Pleasurekraft records – especially some of the older stuff – there’s definitely several records with our name on them that I would love to go back in time and delete from our catalogue. Not just because musically I don’t think they stand up to continuous listens, but also because they’re just dance records – and at this point in my life I’m just not interested in making dance records. I want to sneak political, existential, cosmological references into our music which attracts a certain type of listener. Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing hands up in the air and everyone having a visceral reaction on the dance floor as much as the next producer does, but, everyone else is making music that is a soundtrack for 18-24 year olds to pop pills and dance to in dark rooms around the world, and that’s totally fine if you want to do that, but I’m just not interested in that. At the end of the day, a lot of consumers/fans just look to dance music as a form of escapism, and that’s fine, but to me escapism is what drives commercialism, and reflection drives art, and I’ve always been more interested in art that’s reflective.

At what point in your career as Pleasurekraft did these things enter your mind? That you wanted to make more personal, or “substantive” music?
From the onset. Even with a record like ‘Tarantula,’ which made us “big”. That was a weird record. 20 labels turned it down. It was already playing with conventions of the genre. Then, once that record came out and we got recognition, we were getting a lot of requests from great artists and labels, so we wanted to keep it going. Even if you look at the “Harmageddon” remix we did for Green Velvet, the original track had no spoken word vocals in it – but the name of the track itself just gave me this idea from the Book of Revelations, and I had always loved this Johnny Cash spoken word recording of him simply reciting excerpts from it – so I sent a version of the remix with Cash’s vocals in it to Curtis (Green Velvet) just to see what he thought of the idea – and he loved it – so he just re-recorded those vocals himself and voila – a remix that is essentially an original was born.

On a record like ‘One Last High,’ I wanted to make a record from a speech given by Steve Earle’s character from The Wire. I had been a huge Steve Earle fan for a while and once he showed up in The Wire (a show I think stands with Michelangelo’s David and Monet’s Water Lilies as a pinnacle of human artistic achievement), I knew I wanted to sample it. Out of context, the sample sounds like its promoting drug use but in context it’s actually about his struggle to stay off them.

Then, obviously ‘313,’ which has this lovely vocal from a rapper who I saw an interview of discussing the history of Hip Hop, but what he says can easily be said about Blues, Jazz, or Techno – all music that formed within the Black community. He talks about how, back in the day, African American’s were playing piano, guitar, horn or, as he says, “some shit like that”. But in the end they made do with the only instrument they were left with – the record player. It was such a natural fit to use in a techno record – with 313 being the area code of Detroit – the birthplace of techno in case people didn’t get the reference – and I still play this record almost every set!

I’ve always been poking at this idea of sneaking things into our music that isn’t obvious . I have friends who tell me the vocals in our tracks are too serious but I’m just not interested in the other stuff anymore. The first few years of Pleasurekraft was working through this tension between making stuff that you feel like you need to make due to fan expectations or genre conventions, and what you want to actually say as an artist. Dance music (like hip-hop) is such a disposable genre of music – where a record that has been out 3 months is considered ancient by most standards, and I just want to make records that people can play and feel vital for years to come.

How do you see this trajectory playing out in your future career? Have you given thought where your music will continually evolve toward?
The answer depends on the day you ask me! There are days when I look at the industry, and the people in it, and I feel like so much is driven by self righteousness and this ego-centric sense of entitlement that I just want to do something completely different for the sake of my own sanity. I hate to sound reductive, but they’re not creating world peace or curing cancer yet they carry themselves like they are. Most of these people don’t even make their own music! I’ll read quotes from some of the “icons” in this industry on Twitter, or interviews where they’re giving “advice” to aspiring artists like, “all you need is talent and hard work…blah blah blah,” which is complete bullshit. What you really need is thick skin, and the persistence to drive ahead even when you see inferior music clogging up the charts. Marketing hype based on image, & management and agent connections will trump talent every single time. It’s the ugly truth I’m sorry to say. Anyone that tells you otherwise and says talent first is perpetuating a myth that everyone in the industry with 2 brain cells and a pair of eyes knows is not true.

So if the idealistic part of me was to give up and coming producers advice it would be this: Fuck what anyone else told you you should do or how you should do it. Fuck all the icons. Fuck the gatekeepers. Storm the castle and kick the fucking doors in. Make the foundation of this house run red with the blood of all of us stale motherfuckers clogging up the pipeline. Forge something new and better- dare to dream where those before you forgot how to dream long ago. Show the world there is a better way and don’t you dare let fear of hard work and failure stop you. What you really need in this industry is thick skin and the ability to stay focused on your own art and not mind that hype trumps talent.

…it’s funny how this directly coincides with the notion that, within a Capitalistic system, even if you don’t have anything you will still someday get something, just because that’s “the way the system works”. What they don’t understand is, those people at the top, it’s in their best and only interest to not provide any opportunity or open doors to anyone as it would ultimately be detrimental to their own brand and bottom line. So, in my view, all these bits of business “advice” and “good nature” are actually motivated by the complete opposite of how they are ultimately ingested. The thing about Capitalism is that competition is its primary myth. It’s really about consolidation…
Oh yeah! For everything people say about the EDM scene, at least those fans are more inclusive and chill than the Techno fans who are so image conscious. It drives me nuts how holier than thou they can be, from the artists down to the fans. It’s mind numbing and depressing.

Then again, sometimes I will read comments on my work online and see that a person clearly “gets it” on an emotional, intellectual level beyond the just “that record is sick” because its catchy or heavy. I think there is a fan base out there who loves coming across dance music that is substantive. I have to believe that or otherwise what’s the point of continuing to get up every day and make music and travel the world playing for fans if you don’t believe that there is a connection to be made with what your music has to say.

I agree. You can talk about this template based approach to virtually all corners of life but in particular within the creative scene as it increasingly aligns with business necessity. I find the idea of the template to be incredibly distressing, given that the entire point of creation is to smash said template. That said, I still am on the fence about increased activism in club culture, specifically for this reason. I don’t want nightlife to follow this humourless, overly politically correct ideology (essentially) driven by profit motives. In my view, even heavy activist scenes in politics and society are just fronts for personal niche profiting…it’s tough but capitalism breeds cynicism so I rarely find purity in the motivations of others…
I go through this dilemma also but, at the end of the day, I don’t think it is an either/or argument. It’s an and/both argument. There is a wealth of content that fills the escapist approach. If one record of mine that has something extra to say is thrown into a three hour set I don’t think that’s overdoing it. I don’t care if everyone can find what I am making, or like it, I am more concerned with those who actively want to seek it out. There are also those people who don’t even know they are into this but they hear one of these records and it sparks their interest into finding out more about something that the record had to say – whether it’s Arthur C Clarke’s vocals in “Lagrange Point” or Casey Gerald’s in “The Gospel of Doubt” – so much of the stuff I got into as a kid was from the music I listened to turning me on to those things – even when those things had nothing to do with music in the first place! And that’s what I’m hoping the album will do for those fans that dig a bit deeper below the surface.

Who are some other artists you feel are working today with a like-minded approach to yours?
To be honest, the only one I can think of is Moby. I know he isn’t a “Techno” artist per se, but he is constantly talking about Animal Rights, the environment, political awareness and things like that. Also, although I know his music itself doesn’t incorporate many vocals at all – at least on social media Chris Liebing is great. He certainly is a guy who is very vocal about how to make the world a better place on social media and by how he carries himself.

The fact that I can’t think if many more people than this shows that this is hardly trending in the genre. which is fine as it allows our music to help fill this small void and hopefully grow a techno scene that doesn’t just want vocals about partying and fucking.

Moving on a bit to your album, you reference TV & Film a lot in your work and I also know you studied film in university. How do you construct your work from a visual perspective?
You don’t devote your time and money to study cinema for four years if you’re not a visual person. When I work on a record, if I cant close my eyes and visualise the sonic landscape, I stop working on it. Music is 100% visual to me. The entire album is a soundtrack to a film that’s in my head. This is one of the reasons I look to visual media so much for inspiration. The name of the album is actually the name of an art retrospective of Eric Fischl‘s, one of the only modern painters I really love. The title lent itself so naturally to not only the existential themes throughout the album but also an overt reference to all the cosmological things as well.

Throughout the album there are such references from films like “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “Network”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, and more. “The Gospel of Doubt” I originally heard as a Ted Talk before I reached out to Casey and he was gracious enough to re-record all the vocals for me! I don’t know if many 18 year olds are going to be too into this project but if I can reach .00001% of them, or turn one person on to something that they become passionate about, then I’ve done my job as an artist.

There are so many entrance points in our data driven world, that you actually never know what could be that spark that ultimately makes the difference in someone’s life, putting them on to some higher way of experiencing art, activism, and creativity. There’s no reason why subtle odes to cinema or philosophy in your music can’t/shouldn’t be that for someone…

Still speaking on the visual element, how much influence do you have on the practical and on-site visuals of your work and performance?
I do all the videos and the art direction that you see associated with Pleasurekraft and Kraftek. I have an incredible graphic designer who works with me, so I can sketch things out and he creates them from scratch based on my sketches and references. Even when it comes to things like press pics, there is actually a clause in my contract thats says clubs/promoters are not allowed to post any overt pictures of me besides the abstract silhouette photo you usually see and this was inspired by my affinity for the band Tool while growing up. They never put themselves in their music videos, and even in their album art you never got a clear image of what they looked like to the point that even when they did a Spin magazine cover -they had a black line drawn over their eyes, so no one could see their full face. I mean this is the antithesis of everything that marketing an artist or group is about. And the beautifully simple reason was because they believed so deeply in the idea that what was of supreme importance was the art, not what the artist making it looked like – who they were was insignificant to the message they were trying to convey. With social media and the constant cult of personality these days, I find it a necessary approach. I don’t want to be that artist with pictures of me with shades on, looking off into the distance pretending to be having deep thoughts about whatever – I’d rather have artwork that has nothing to do with what I look like because I am insignificant in this equation. The music is all that matters. In this sense, with how particular I am, I know I’m not easy to work with when it comes to this kind of stuff [laughs].

“Friends, Lovers, & Other Constellations” is NOW AVAILABLE on Kraftek Music

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