Germany’s Hendrik Weber aka Pantha du Prince makes a certain brand of blissfully disturbing minimal techno tempered with a somber knisterpop approach - a totally unique combination that has earned him the respect of critics and dancers alike. Last week, he presented his philosophical and romantic view on electronic dance-not-dance music at the second Red Bull Music Academy Thursday takeover during the Montreux Jazz Festival. We sat down with him just before his show for a quick chat.
The concept of 'techno music' has constantly evolved since the term first came up. What do you make of it today?
First of all, I think techno music at the moment is just an infrastructure. Basically, it’s not a musical term anymore. It used to be more like straight, technical funk. Nowadays, it is more of an infrastructure where you have certain beat patterns that you can call techno music. But in the end, it’s a social and economic infrastructure. The name ‘techno’ does not have anything to do with content anymore. It can be anything, from soul jazz to new music, to electro-acoustic music. It’s not the description for a musical genre anymore. It’s the description of a structure within which you move around. And it’s dance music. I think that’s the general term that I can use for techno music.
So how do you think club nights have changed along the way?
I understand now that going to dance parties and clubs have become habits. People don’t go there because they listen to techno music from 128 bpm to 135 bpm. They go to a club to have a certain experience. This could be at any speed and on any musical level. For me and these days, it is basically describing a room. As far as Germany goes, for instance, the music is still more conservative than, say, in Britain or even in the US. But this conservatism is also something that is probably really far ahead. It has a very static and stoic-like movement. That’s why I think that, in this sense, Germany is a good example for this kind of music because it has a certain continuity and German people like to be continuous. They have a certain approach to the world that involves stability, security and discipline. This is still very present in Germany and, for sure, this is also reflected in the music, this idea of being attentive to certain details or to a certain conceptual approach. The focus is more on the development of the mind and not so much on being the big guy controlling the masses with his EQ. When a German DJ plays, he takes his ego out of the equation. Germans can do that because they have this history of guilt, at least my generation. So you try to strip yourself of your ego because you’re ‘guilty’. I think this also has a lot to do with this idea of not wanting to be a subject that is well known, of not wanting to be a guy with a face and a name playing this music. Recognition is not important in Germany. So the fact that people could express themselves without showing their faces was a very successful concept when it started in Germany. And it came straight from Detroit. It began first with the African tribal rhythms over there, then it came to Germany and included more robotic, constant rhythms (like Kraftwerk), then it traveled back to Detroit and back and forth again. It’s that very continuity, maybe it’s the same that has to do with cars as well… I mean, it is just a very hypothetical idea of course.
Based on your personal experience, how would you explain the contemporary sonic sensibility for experimental productions?
Well, I was totally into noise music for a long time, I was mainly into the more minimal stuff. You have dance music and then you have this kind of minimal music and this idea of revolution. Noise music was about denying pleasure, which then gives you pain. And this pain in turns gives you a certain lust and a certain pleasure to follow a story. There is a development in digital techniques that nowadays makes it easy to focus on different levels and different stories and combine these levels. Because of technical developments, you are able to tell different stories at the same time and on different levels.
When a German DJ plays, he takes his ego out of the equation
I always used to miss this kind of "twist for my head’" feeling when I was in a club. It was like eating a burger: it’s tasty, you eat it and then afterwards, you feel shit. I had the same type of feeling happening while in the club: it was predictable… you’d hear this track, OK, then there would be the break: 1,2,3,4,5,6, OK, and now everybody get your hands in the air.
There is a world where you can enjoy a certain sonic environment, where you can sit down and have a certain contemplation going on around you. And then, there is another world where you just move your ass because you want to dance and you want to freak out. You want to somehow express yourself. For me, the only way to continue being a musician or a music producer was to make it interesting, to make it challenging, so I tried to combine these two worlds. I had dance projects and I had electro-acoustic music projects. Then I thought, 'Why can’t they be one and the same, and be enjoyable for people who want to dance and for people who want to stand in the corner and listen?' A bit like me, really: one night I would just stand in the corner and listen to dance music and the other night I would dance, maybe because I was drunk or in a good mood. When I really liked the music, I would think, 'This guy really has a vision, he is really playing and not fooling me. He is giving me the idea of something new, of a democracy.' You had the sense that there was a communication that was non-verbal and that was just there. Sometimes I would start dancing, other times I would not dance, I would just listen.
With Jeff Mills I’d rather listen than dance, for instance. And with Pan Sonic, I’d rather dance. Even though Jeff Mills is playing for a huge dance crowd and the others are playing for a listening crowd. This is the schizophrenia that interests me and the music that moves me.
Could you tell me more about some of the production techniques you used in your latest album?
The basic idea was to start with an atmosphere that you would analyze. You would displace yourself in an environment where you’d also displace your acoustic senses while still listening to music. It is field recording with music playing. We would do the recordings in the mountains or in the house. I would process those kinds of claps that come with the movement of the house, for instance, and take that sound and put it eight notes down. For me, it’s about having this massive amount of recordings. You remember the place and the moment you recorded them, you go into the sound and see what different elements are there. With field recordings, there are always lots of frequencies on top of each other.
I tried to somehow focus on the sounds and see what was there. I didn’t have to do much, the music was already there. It’s a bit like looking at the blow up of a photo where you find something you had not seen before and you discover a story... one in a dark parking lot, on top of a guitar tone, on top of a bass frequency made by someone walking by the microphone. The randomness of moments that you collect condenses the place where you recorded them. When you come home, you get a new perspective on the material, on the situation and on the moment, so you also have the possibility to condense that moment in your city perspective, in your studio. I can just start telling stories from these field recordings because they are in the microscopic structure of the sound.
Any future projects on the horizon?
I have other projects that are not as Pantha du Prince. I did something with a friend. We will probably release that. It is free play, it is experimental and strange music that is also listenable. It has nothing to do with dance music. There is probably only one track with a beat. But since we have collected all this material, we are trying to do something with it.
Pantha du Prince's 'XI Versions of Black Noise' remix compilation is out now on Rough Trade. His remix of Miracle Fortress' 'Raw Spectacle' is available for download via XLR8R.