Q&A: Pantha du Prince On Signing to Rough Trade and Why Collaborating With Panda Bear Doesn't Mean He's Gone Pop
Having already released two of the 21st century's most sublime minimal electronic albums--2004's Diamond Daze and 2007's This Bliss--on the esteemed German label Dial, it seemed like Pantha du Prince (a/k/a Hendrik Weber) had found a comfortable home. Then it was announced that the artist's third album, Black Noise, would be on the legendary Rough Trade imprint. The switch was both startling and strangely appropriate, as the notoriously pop-friendly Rough Trade has a secret history of releasing challenging electronic music--Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire both have places of pride in the label's catalogue. So what could we expect from a Pantha du Prince record on a new label? News that Weber had collaborated with former !!! member Tyler Pope and the Animal Collective's Panda Bear on the album made purists wonder if he wasn't veering into indie-pop territory. But never fear--Black Noise expands the sound palette of his previous efforts, but still finds Weber making the most startlingly organic and gorgeous electronic music out there. In anticipation of his first US appearance in over three years (at Santos Party House tonight), we skyped with Weber to ask about his favorite Rough Trade artists, his pre-Pantha music, and why Black Noise can make the head reel.
When you found out that the Rough Trade label was interested in signing you, what artists on that label did you think of?
The first people that came to mind were Arthur Russell and Young Marble Giants, and then the Smiths. Rough Trade's music was always very personal to me. In Germany, the label is something special, but not well known. There aren't many German acts [on it], but it was the natural next step for me. It wasn't weird.
Is there anyone on Rough Trade you would want to collaborate with?
Antony would be someone interesting to work with, using that voice.
I found this dark ambient project of yours, Glühen 4, recently and I was wondering about the move from that project to the more techno-informed Pantha du Prince alias. What prompted the change?
Glühen 4 evokes a certain dark touch but I think the music itself is more electroacoustic. I worked with this dance music company last year and the music was more Glühen than Pantha du Prince. Working with sound as Pantha is this combination of concept with dance and pop music. There's still this process orientation and layer, but then you go to other places with it. Glühen 4 is more like a poem and Pantha du Prince is more of an epic--it's more direct and more telling. Glühen is dry and abstract, a very simple thing. Pantha is based on connecting different genres and creating a feedback loop. It's very contradictory for me to work on an album like Black Noise, to put things together that might not match in the first place. It's playing with genres and subverting expectations in the clubs. I don't follow the rules of the clubs or indie pop.
For lack of a more scientific term, I find a lot of the sounds you compose with to have a psychoactive property to them. When my brain perceives these sounds, it's very aware of the space around each one of them, which creates this disorienting effect. How do you conceive of the space in your music?
Space is very important for me. A lot of the music I make I produce with just headphones. I always try to create a space on the space in the space. With the field recordings for Black Noise, I tried to get a new idea of space. So I went up into the Swiss Alps with microphones and headphones and put the mics in places where the reverb was nice. Or where you hear the wind. And then you put on the headphones and suddenly you have four microphones on your headphones and you're playing along. Or, you're playing what you're playing and you hear it four times. And then you try to communicate amid that. It becomes a completely virtual experience where you are displaced completely.
It's how I like to work with the construction of space in the listener's brain and how you can fool the brain in what is coming from right or left or in front of or behind you. Is it far or close to you? For me, it's also about fooling myself. I'm following the sounds and the places that I'm moving in. I follow my intuition and just try to make this listenable for other people. I'm not thinking what could this sound effect. In one place, it's a scientific thing to work with the sound but at the same time, it's also following the texture of the sound and trying to make the sounds more precise and pure. This might cause what you call "psychoactive."
What was the concept behind Black Noise?
I was thinking about the construction of nature in our heads and how nature is conceived of as a place to escape to for people in their heads and how landscape is a reflection. How can civilization grow and sustain itself? This idea of contradictions between civilizations and landscape, of escape and catastrophe. It was the story of this ideal that people have of nature as this place you can go "to get away." It's about this paradox of the idyllic place, nature being the most unreliable thing. Even on vacation recently, the news said it would rain for three days and I get there and it was sunny for three days. We are using nature as a "paradise," but it's not. Nature is strong and rude.
One of the highlights of the album is the second single, "Stick to My Side," your collaboration with Panda Bear of the Animal Collective. You've worked with the Animal Collective before (remixing "Peacebone") but do you think you will move more towards pop and the use of vocals?
Noah was a fan and we toured together, so it was a very personal thing to ask him to sing on the track. He uses his voice as an instrument, not as a story-telling device. That's what interested me, how he layered the voices. The record should have been more about voices, looking back. I don't know if I would go further down that path though.