Pantha du Prince interview: ‘Some moments are too strong to not be told.’

05.08.10

Under the name Pantha du Prince, Hendrik Weber composed one of the standout electronic albums of the last 12 months, ‘Black Noise.’ His third album, first on Rough Trade, it took the emotional punch and structure of Dream Pop and placed it in the sonic template of Techno. Added to this, his work (and it is, very affirmatively, work) deals with space, history and clever stuff like that in a way that is actually engrossing and cool, rather than a bit pained. So, yeah, we’re really into him.

We met backstage at a recent festival. In person he is really quite charming, offering me and the photographer wine and hunting down seats, before conducting a very interesting interview, in which he talked excitedly in clipped, precise tones about the bunch of interesting things that go into his music and all the interesting stuff he has on the way.

You’re playing Standon Calling this weekend. Are you a festivals fan? Or do you hate them?

Actually it’s both. I hate them and I love them. And sometimes you have the situation where it’s just too big and you feel part of this entertainment industry which brings you from A to B, and then you set up and you leave from B to C and then you go home. But this is good because the festivals are paying well; it pays your rent somehow. So I do the festivals, and we choose the festivals that we like. And sometimes it’s really nice when you have five, six friends with you, and then some festivals you do alone and it can turn into a horrible thing. But it can also be nice to be alone you know, when there’s troubles, because it’s easier to sort things out, there’s no communication troubles. There’s all kinds of levels with my relation to festivals. But I like to do a proper sound check for example, and this is what you don’t have at festival. Sometimes it annoys me, and sometimes it’s like a challenge, like tonight it was really a challenge to set up in like 15, 20 minutes. Normally this is impossible, it was only possible because I was not too drunk and the technicians were kind of helpful as well.

“I’m just following the music basically and the atmosphere. Just connecting things, transmitting.” – Hendrik Weber

Your fans are quite a devoted lot. What’s it like going out and going, most of the people in this room don’t know, say, ‘This Bliss’ inside out?

This is basically the point of festivals, you know. A lot of people get into the music who wouldn’t have thought of before. So there are also two sides to this. You have people who know the music. Like yesterday in Brighton there were 100 people, it was a really nice and intense atmosphere. It was really nice, they came to see, and they knew the songs they know the some of the background, but you have to go on somehow. I’m really sceptic about festivals, some I like, some I don’t.

Do you think what you do is completely genre-irrelevant? Or do you think of yourself as working in a continuum, that there is a stream of artists like Arthur Russell who are doing interesting things with Noise, Indie, Dance, Pop even?

Actually, I was thinking about Arthur Russell when I set up tonight. Because yesterday, I started with a cup of glass and I put ice cubes inside the glass, this is how I started my set yesterday, and I have contact mic on the glass, and you here what is going on in the glass. And I played during the whole set with the ice cubes in the water. And this is something you can’t do at a festival, you know. And I like this challenge sometimes. Sometimes it’s just a pain in the ass. But I’m still trying to find a way to develop something with the audience to make them attentive in a way, I mean tonight it was pretty much straight forward, where yesterday was like floating for a while. It’s like the atmosphere takes you and the music to other places. I’m just following the music basically and the atmosphere. Just connecting things, transmitting.

Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise album trailer from Rough Trade Records on Vimeo.

Do you find your music sounds better during the day or during the night? Or how does night or day effect your music?

It’s always better during the night. It’s like, during the day… no day situation could convince me so far. But it’s, when the sun is going down, when you have a little bit of twilight, that could be good. But, I had no so good experiences with daylight things. But daylight I can’t see my buttons and this is really a problem. I can play my things but I can’t really improvise. I need the LEDs to show me the way and this is only possible in darkness.

What do you see music as being like in a month, or in a hundred years, in ten years?

I hope the human ear will develop and develop new brain structures and receive music in a different way, and receive room in a different way, and time in a different way, so I think we are at this changing point at the moment. You know, you have music here one tone is here, one tone is here, and you move your head, and its more like a room experience, you go outside and its dark, inside its light, I would love to play with this like zones in the room. And I think this is a new challenge for popular music, to develop more the room as an experience not only the sound that is coming from left and right.

“This is only possible in darkness.” – Hendrik Weber

I bet there are some amazing new technologies that could do that.

They’re still developing. There’s nothing perfect at the moment. There are speakers that can project sound at different areas, you have a lot of things developed from like the Fraunhofer institute in Germany. They’re all trying. I’m following the development technical wise. You have to see different levels in the pop music. It’s really interesting at the moment. I want people to get more open. This is what I hope.

I was wandering if you could tell me a bit about, what are you scared of, what keeps you awake at night? This is a question about paranoia really.

I can tell you a story from yesterday. We went into this hotel, and I came to the room and it was worse than a prison, you couldn’t really move. There was one bed, there was one table. I immediately left because, I was like I don’t mind what I’m paying but I can’t stay in this room because it’s just taking over and I won’t be relaxed. It can be a struggle sometimes being on tour.

Are there any global things that make you worried?

I still believe in the human brain somehow, and in the human sensibility. There a lot of things that worry me. Capitalism really worries me. People running after money really worries me. And just forgetting about everything and just focusing on material stuff. And the media is just constantly “KKKUUURRRKH” on us. I’m really worried about Macintosh, about Apple. It’s really terrifying. This is a new fascist movement somehow. It’s a very joyful thing.

The joyfulness is very creepy.

I mean its really creepy, the joy in it. The self control you’re losing by these machines. It’s like you’re giving yourself away. It really worries me. I mean there are tons of other things. Like environmental wise, I mean in my youth I was part of this eco movement. When I was 12 or 13 we organized demonstrations against a car rally in our woods and stuff like this, and so there is still this side of me. The album is also, on a very abstract level is about keeping the senses open, about this sliding mountain that you discover, you discover how nature is so massively powerful. Also with the ash cloud now, I had two gigs that weekend. It’s so fragile what we are living in. It’s a fragile thing and you have to be aware. To rely on certain things, we have to learn to not rely on certain things.

I find the whole blended contours, friendly-functional branded thing creepy. It’s like ‘Our designers know what you want … Now love us.”

Yeah it’s working! Forget the brands. This whole car fascination, this makes me angry. The car industry makes me really angry. A lot of stuff makes me really angry. There’s a whole list of things, just to name one would be ridiculous. I have a lot of anger it’s just I try to not go on the barricades and throw, and be a terrorist or something. I try to be the, I don’t know, it’s a very subtle form of terrorism I use. For my artwork you know, if you look closer into it, if you want to have a discussion about it, it’s in there. People can recognize this or not. There are certain seams I try to touch with the cover artwork and the whole concept of things. And you can read it in there. This is also a release of anger in some ways. I try not to put it in a direct, I cut my arm and I’m bleeding to death kind of way.

What makes you euphoric and what does euphoria feel like for you?

Rain makes me euphoric. Snow makes me euphoric. And speed by the way.

The drug?

No, not the drug. Speed itself. You know, like you can go on speed up and speed up to a moment where you’re not existing anymore.

How has your summer been?

I had quite a nice summer, playing around the world, playing America, Europe, all around the world. It’s being really to have time off during the week in between, so I just go for swims in Berlin, in Berlin you have these nice lakes all around, and trying to work on remixes. I’ve done three or four so far, so it’s been a good summer.

Which ones have you been working on?

A Trentlemoller remix, a Blonde Redhead remix and a School of Seven Bells remix also. It’s been a really good communication with the material also.

Any of your installations on the way?

Next week there will be an installation in basement of the TV Tower in Berlin, it’s a special sound installation, it’s an installation of sounds created in the space under certain conditions and in communication with the TV Tower and its history and the environment. I used the air-conditioning machine, which is falling apart. It’s a very nice project, it’s a huge room and the architect is amazing. It should be a good thing – it’s prepared in my head and you can see there are certain things that need to be seen.

“Rain makes me euphoric. Snow makes me euphoric. And speed, by the way.” – Hendrik Weber

Tell me about your practice of creating installations works.

I try to give a new view on the room, on the specific place. Let’s say, a precise view on this room. It’s also based on this, and how certain materials create certain sounds. It’s about how a thing can also be a sonic thing, how the borders of the thing can border the air and have a telling sonic relationship, how can you create a physical thing from sound? And how is this thing sounding? What I do in the TV Tower is a certain thing – how the history is transformed? It’s about how the moment transforms in the room, in the moment, how the perspective changes in the certain capped moment, or take layers away, to crystallise or take away, how these coincidences are also in the perspectives of the viewer, and how these things come together. There is certain secret in the moment, and I try and tell it in a momentary story.

History seems very important to your work.

It’s there, it’s everywhere! You need to keep it in whatever form. I can’t help it! It’s just going down the street – it’s like collecting, trying to make things visible that might be slept on – some moments are too strong to not be told.

There are various interesting ideas about politics and history in your work, from the coverart of ‘Black Noise’ showing a town destroyed in a landslide to your installation works at various politically charged sites.

I mean, with the landslide, it has a certain political aspect to it, definitely. An environmental sensibility. Focussing on these like, these issues of how we reflect our environment and how nature is more powerful, that has certain political ideas to it too, that has definite political aspects to it, be aware of hidden frequencies, keep your sensibilities awake, don’t be distracted by consuming! In an urban environment you’re constantly distracted, which is a good thing, but it is also a very dangerous thing, so to keep our urban structures alive, you have to dig deeper into the Gulf of Mexico, so it has a political dimension, but it’s not the focus. It’s there in an abstract sense but I don’t want to push it there at all. It’s there, there are these layers inside, but there are also a thousand other layers.

Tell me more about future releases.

There is a remix CD out next year of remixes that are done and will be done, there is a new 12” out in October or September with a new version of Lay In The Shimmer, with two totally new songs. You should listen to it! It’s the next step, maybe. And I’m still trying to get the recordings together that we did for Black Noise to release, so basically drones and jams outside, a very – experimental, an electro acoustic journey. And there’s starting recording for the next album, we already look at the schedule for this. We’re looking at a studio in Southern Germany, full of analogue synthesisers and really old machines. It’s a purely analogue studio – for the last 15 years, no computers were allowed in this place, and now we have the chance to finally get there with our laptops and try to make something. These are the plans for the future. Many ideas, nothing set yet.

OK, last one. Any tips for the summer?

Don’t go to the south! It’s too hot! Though the paradox thing is that I go to Ibiza for a few days.

This weekend, Pantha du Prince will play Standon Calling.. Get tickets now.

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