"WE WERE IN THE middle of a session and we couldn't stop because the synthesizer was running like crazy and we wanted to record," Pantha du Prince explains over the phone from a small southern German village near Stuttgart, after missing our early morning interview call. "I'm sorry I didn't pick up the phone earlier, but I hope you will understand when you listen to the next album."
All is forgiven, for Pantha du Prince (AKA Berlin producer Hendrik Weber) has become one of the world's foremost purveyors of melodic minimal techno. His three albums—2004's Diamond Daze, 2007's This Bliss, and 2010's Black Noise—have catapulted PDP to the forefront of the recent wave of artists fusing shoegaze-rock textures with minimal's joyous, streamlined rhythms. This development isn't that surprising considering Weber's fandom for Creation Records, especially My Bloody Valentine. Oddly enough, although Weber's mother often played classical piano while he lay under it, his parents typically put him to sleep as a child by playing hard rock.
Weber's interest in rock gradually dissipated and he got swept up in Germany's torrid love affair with techno in the '90s. But he was never a techno purist, and he drew inspiration from the academically rigorous works of Tony Conrad and Arnold Dreyblatt. All of these factors, combined with a musique-concrète composer's love of the outdoors and its sounds, have filtered into PDP's elegantly constructed four-on-the-floor productions.
For his latest full-length, the lauded Black Noise, PDP traveled to the Swiss Alps to gather sounds. He combined these recordings with those of acoustic instruments and then transformed the raw data into an enchanted collection of song-based, orchestral techno that could be many rock fans' gateway drug to club music (albeit a muted, unconventional species of club music). Helping abet the crossover are collaborations with !!! and LCD Soundsystem's Tyler Pope, who plays bass on "The Splendour," and Animal Collective's Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox, who contributes vocals to "Stick to My Side," returning the favor of PDP's floor-rippling remix of Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam song, "Peacebone." Further, PDP's "Es Schneit" is based on Durutti Column guitarist Vini Reilly's 1985 song "Hilary."
One listen to Black Noise and you'll notice the preponderance of bells tintinnabulating throughout most of its 11 tracks. Their eerie beauty makes one wonder why more dance-music producers don't exploit the compelling timbres.
"I'm always looking for sounds... and I always end up with the bells," Weber says in thoughtful, measured tones; he speaks exactly how you'd imagine a German minimal-techno artist to sound. "I think it's the most neutral way to tell stories, in some sense. It's a little beside the point and out of tune. You can play with the resonances. Most of the time it's like mixed signals. It's not connoted with anything. It's just a very simple yet still subtle sound, but it has a great range. And it's an independent sound, not overused like the guitar is in pop music. Fucking it up, being dissonant or beautiful but still being strange and dangerous—this is what I like about the bells."
When Weber's making tracks, he thinks about trying to move dance floors and providing headphone ambrosia. At these tasks he succeeds, especially the latter. His songs' melodies possess both an aching melancholy and a mild euphoria; this constant tension between gravity and levity lends PDP's songs an integrity that stands up to repeated listens, a feat that's beyond most techno scientists.
"I try to think about both," Weber says. "I try to think about pumping the floor, but what really interested me in electronic music was that you don't need a band; you have the club in your head as the band. It's like playing in a band, but you play with the club in your head. [Black Noise is] more like a fusion of experimental sounds, very conceptual title and album, like a whole package."
Black Noise is a paradoxical phenomenon: sound that cancels out sound—its frequencies are too high to be heard but they can be felt. Weber views his art as a conflation of club music, pop songcraft, and experimental tendencies, but he seems to think these traits cancel one another and he admits that his music lacks a certain functionality. "It's not useful," he says, "but people play it in the club and listen to it, so why should I worry? But it's definitely tricky for DJs to play the tracks."
That may be true, but Pantha du Prince's music is guaranteed to give you a bell of a time.