BYO OutsideInsight: Pantha Du Prince talks Pop Music and Profound Art.
By Joshua Manning
The second interview in our OutsideInsight series is with German Producer Hendrik Weber, better know by his stage name Pantha Du Prince. A true conceptualist, with a fascination with concepts both scientific and emotional, Weber has produced some of the most forward thinking techno music in the history of the genre. Some, including myself, would call him somewhat of a visionary. Hendrik took the time to chat with me about his empirical approach to emotional expression, Australia’s unique position in the world, gentrification in Berlin and the artists that walk the tight-rope between pop music and profound art.1
It might seem like a wide question, but I’ve heard you talk about people getting lost in the emotion of your music, and I agree with them. It’s very beautiful. But if you look at it from a purely technical perspective, it’s very carefully constructed. Do you think this process of construction diminishes your own emotional connection to the music?
No, actually it creates more connection. At least for me it does. But emotions can also be very restraining and very enslaving. They can be very powerful and make you lose your identity and way of conscious behaviour. I think for me it is a way to deal with my emotions. To create music is to deal with a certain overflow of energy that has no place to be otherwise. So I am basically outsourcing something that I can’t get rid of otherwise, and I create an environment for people to step into and give way to probably the same things that I am feeling but they can’t really live without it, those things being…
Destructive? Or distracting?
Yes distracting, It can be very distracting and it can also be very brutal. And the music can be very brutal. There is always a brutality that leads to something new. Distraction from yourself can be a very hopeful thing.
I just asked about your connection with the music because I’ve heard you talk previously, for example, about how This Bliss was about the experience of travelling in high speed trains. It might not seem like a very beautiful or emotional experience but I wouldn’t put it past you to find a deeper beauty in that experience.
This Bliss is not really about high speed trains but, when I created it, it had a lot to do with being on several different transport systems, looking at why you’re on that transport system and this constant nomadic feel in your life. A constant non-relation to your surroundings. You have no fundament, you have no home. This Bliss is very much about having no home and just being taken by experiences. High speed trains, planes, cars, people, emotions. Basically not being your own boss, just being taken by the constant bliss of the situation and how this bliss can also create destruction. You can completely lose yourself in that [bliss] and get completely destroyed.
I guess a lot of your writing comes from taking those technological and scientific concepts and finding the emotional connection to them. I mean the travel theme of This Bliss, and the concept of Black Noise is right there in its title. Is this something you often do, you deconstruct these theories and concepts? Do you feel you think in that way?
I wouldn’t say I necessarily deconstruct them. I’m just trying to help people understand, and myself. I am always trying to understand what I am doing and I think something basic we often forget in science is that there is a whole other level to science. There is the level of experiencing science. What happens when you experience actual black noise? It is not only feelings. It happens on so many levels of perception. I think with my music [so far] you have been very focused on the emotional part, which I can understand, but at the same time there is a part where you just listen to sounds and how they unfold and what parts of the song use what sounds and where that sound comes from and why it is there. So you can also perceive the music on an intellectual level and, as you said earlier, in terms of construction. There are a lot of questions that you pull from the music that science doesn’t ask. Science doesn’t ask these questions and it cannot give you the answer. It is a pure, rational thing. I am very fascinated by science because it is the way that we, especially in the western world, try to understand everything, where 80% of the rest of the world - and I think Australia is a special example of [a different approach] within the western world - is trying to perceive the world in not only a scientific way. I think this is a constant paradox that we live with in the western world, that we cannot explain what we are doing only with science but we keep on doing what we are doing anyway. It has a certain logic in itself [without scientific explanation]. I think, for example, if you look at how we are so focused on creating softwares and new technologies and then look at other parts of the world where the understanding of our existence is of more importance. This is very important for me in my work, and still the science is very important to me [also]. It is still for me about an imperialistic approach. So I am basically my own study [of the human condition], my emotions and why they are there.You realise that emotions are like human beings themselves. They are creatures and you can tell their stories but you can also send them away if you don’t want them. But you need to understand what the creature is and be very strong in yourself to send that emotion away. It is something that I find very fascinating, this self-observation as to why you’re creating. Then the creation itself creates a new approach because you ask me questions now, for example, and I have to think about what I am doing [in creating music] and this is all leading to a very fascinating conclusion that hopefully people can get something out of. Not only drinking and taking drugs.
Well I find myself listening to your music at all times of the day. I don’t find it particularly the type of music I listen to when I want to party. You mentioned that you think Australia is one of the few western nations that is taking less of an empirical approach and more of an emotional one. What were you making reference to there?
I think Australia has a very special location on the planet. I don’t know. I guess I don’t know that much about Australia, but how I see it is that it has more potential because it is young. Your culture is young but still you’re also embracing, and struggling, with the ancient culture in your country. The ancient culture is still there, and I feel like there is a certain potential in that position on the planet and the way that people perceive their society, their country and their connection with the nature there.
Yeah our ancient culture definitely has a really strong connection with the land and their natural environment.
And I feel like a lot of Australian’s feel the same even though they have no ritual by which they have steady access to this power source of nature, but [despite this lack of ritual] there are a few people who know how to translate this connection. There is so much space down there, and so much space for ideas. It is not like in Europe where if you have an idea you have limitations all the time. You have to fit into a certain box to survive because there are so many ideas in one spot that you always end up in a concurrent situation with other creators or with people who do not want you to realise this idea. And then there is this long tradition of culture that can also be very… Well I mean I love it but at the same time it can also be very limiting. You always have to deal with it. There is always a [cultural] reference basically.
Do you feel that Australia, having that different approach and opportunity as a young nation…
Sorry to interrupt but I think it has also to do with a certain openness. With Australia, whenever I come there it has an openness, because it is so far away it needs to remain open in order to interact and that’s something you don’t have to do at all in Europe. Say in Berlin for example. You always have access to everything. Everyone comes here. Everything is happening. You can just go to the next street and have access to whatever you want and you live under the impression that you will always have access to everything all the time. I think this is something that most people that live on your continent need to do, to stay open, and that makes it, sometimes, a little bit easier.
Q Yeah, I definitely think that because of our isolation the stuff that comes from Europe or the US, especially in music, gets a greater appreciation because we don’t often get the chance to appreciate that in a live setting. Part of you believing Australia has such strong potential is because of it being young and I’m wondering whether you think that this potential can be attributed to a smaller microcosm, say a city. Take Berlin for example. I find Berlin to be a very open and creative environment and having only been united recently its also a very young place. Do you think that potential exists to a degree in that microcosm?
Yes. Of course it is different to Munich or Zurich or London or Paris. Thats why so many people are attracted by Berlin because you have, or at least you have the impression of, this [openness] . But I think it is already very limited. But of course the city is so big. I mean it is spreading out through a very vast territory so people will always find new spaces and you can still consider yourself as being in Berlin even though you need to drive for one and a half hours to get to the city. It is like LA. So yes, there is still space in the city, but the rents are getting so high and you have this problem of urbanisation and people have to adapt. The gentrification of the city is massive and Berlin is changing so fast it is unbelievable.
I guess I also wanted to talk a little along the line of the sound that you have, it has been labelled by some as ‘Cosmic House’, but you just talk about it as techno. What interests me most is that, despite a lack of new material in recent years, it still remains incredibly unique.
Yeah it is. I’m surprised actually. I thought there would be more people doing the same thing.
Do you think that your individualistic approach to things was a driving factor in constructing music that is so wonderfully unique in an industry where there is so much uniformity?
I mean the problem is that most people think of being successful and finding success financially, economically, and music is a very easy path to fame and money. A lot of people just start [making music] with this idea in their head. There is this stupidity in the industry. People don’t think about longevity or making art, they just think about making things big in the shortest period of time. So if you start with this idea and you have people around you who think like this, especially in the anglo-american market, it is very draining and you just produce boring music. If you have another approach to what you do and how you do it then it is more alive and spirited in the end. I think it has a lot to do with art, how you perceive a market and marketing yourself, and how you position your own work. It has a lot to do with the emancipation from what people expect of you and what people expect from an artwork. I always said from the beginning, from the first interviews about my first works that you have to be recognised for what you do but you have to hold your position as an artist [as well] and this can result in the most interesting music. For me, I cannot listen to all this stuff that comes out. It is so easy to create music now, with the technology that we have, that of course there is so much nothingness. There is so much that is just not worth listening [to], that is so not worth giving even a second of appreciation. There is just nothing [in it] that carries me. But of course there is also a lot of stuff happening that is super interesting. But then when I listen to the music from the early 2000’s, everything [that is being produced] now seems very conservative compared to the music that came out from 2000 to 2006. I mean everything that is popular now is something from the notion, from the approach, of the music of the 60s to the 90s. I feel like there was a time, especially at the beginning of the 2000s, where there was a shift of time and a shift in technology that created a massive amount of music that was so influential on me. Even now, some of the people who are 22 or 23, who I work with on the Bell Laboratory, if you play that music to them they are like “wow”. There was so much music, especially experimental music, that was so amazing, and I really hope that this approach comes back. I feel like it is coming back now, that people are trying to dig deeper into the experience of music, and not only having a good time. I think music can still give the opportunity to have an experience that could change your life.
You said you’re a bit surprised that there haven’t been more people come out and do something similar to what you do with Pantha Du Prince. Do you feel like you have any contemporaries at the moment? There are a lot of people who would put you and Four Tet in the same kind of area. Do you feel there’s others?
Yes, I see my friend [German producer] Lawrence as part of this. I see many others as well. I mean it would be unfair to name a few now and not others but there are many artists who have a sense for musicality and at the same time an overall impact on the industry. In a way it is pop but at the same time it is profound art. I think of Animal Collective. I think of certain people, even the guys from the dubstep field. There are many, even in the noise area. [So often] it is always so quickly about being successful and holding a certain status and you can hear it in the music that they are just interested in selling records. But these people are people who are very, very interested in music, music history and listening to new music and are still able to broadcast their music to a bigger audience. So this is why when you name Four Tet, Animal Collective, Caribou, people like this [I identify with them]. I relate more also to people like Frank Bretschneider and Old New Plateau, where you have an emotional impact but at the same time you have an experience that goes beyond pop. You have a sonic level that is leading to other places that are not just emotional. I thought that there would be more people [doing what I do]. I really thought that I could just step aside at some point and other people could take over, but it hasn’t happened yet. I will try to make it happen.
Read part one of BYO OutsideInsight: Giraffage Talks DJing in Space here.
Catch Pantha Du Prince at this year’s OutsideIn Festival at Manning House on 29 November 2014. Save the date y’all.
Tix available here via Oztix.