Conducting Experiments & Discovering Artefacts with Huerco S
I’m sitting in a dark room, bathed in the blue light of my Macbook screen, waiting for Huerco S to come online and talk. At 2:59, I’m one minute early, and in a two second span where I look away from my computer, his screen name suddenly appears, synchronized perfectly with the clock changing to 3. He’s ready.
Huerco’s sudden onscreen manifestation seems like an apt metaphor for the career of the mysterious young Kansas based artist, whose last several years have seen an eclectic outpouring of releases such as this year’s vinyl only “No Jack” EP on Wicked Bass Records, a cassette full of rough gems on the perpetually rewarding Opal Tapes label, and future productions emerging plentifully out of all the internet’s orifices – sometimes released immediately and accessibly to Huerco’s Soundcloud page, sometimes posted to Tumblr with a tantalizingly vague promise – “12” out soon”. Other times it’s just a slo-mo found footage YouTube video accompanying his unique brand of ethereal, post-hailstorm house music.
Huerco’s productions all seem to emerge from a hazy, genre-defying knackered house sensibility that alternates between crushing to uplifting. They’ve got trace elements of Detroit and shrapnel fragments of techno as well, but the end result usually falls somewhere into a minefield of conflicting genre tags. Huerco’s eclectic choice of remix projects is also cause for some confusion, as most of the artists he reworks sport un-gooogle-able names like MCMXCI and 51717 that sound more like leftover lines of HTML code than dance music projects. The fact that his edits and remixes are sometimes labelled “ruff rubs” or “new age reductions” doesn’t simplify things either.
Even the name itself draws upon a folkloric ambiguity – “Huerco” was the term that 16th century writer Giambattista Basile used to classify a tusked beast hiding itself in dimly lit forests waiting to consume humans. Depending on the tale, the Huerco ogre could be evil, benevolent or indifferent, a harbinger of death or a shrugging apathetic golem. So which one is our Huerco? “I’m a monster” he laughs. “A mannish, hairy beast feeding on the traveller that ventures just a little too close.”
The pseudonym functions as Huerco’s main resource for creative output, but it’s not his sole production persona. “I have other aliases that I’d consider less personal, only in the fact these aliases generally serve a very functional purpose. Sometimes I just want to make a techno track, no bullshit, just something for the dancers.”
It’s interesting that Huerco would be occupied by worries about being pigeonholed, or that an alias is needed to put out a release without expectations or reputation preceding the final product. His forthcoming remix of Jay Weed’s “Tunnel” (slotted for a 12″ release on Tom Kerridge’s forthcoming 2084 label) sounds worlds apart from the nineteen minute “Untitled” track on recent Opal Tapes cassette release. The former immediately kicks off into a pummelling techno excursion, swelling with a rising and falling synth line that feels vaguely foreboding – an unnameable John Carpenter monster lurking around the corner, panic and sweat and urgent movement gripping the direction of the track. Meanwhile, Huerco’s Opal Tapes excursion sounds like nature sounds recorded from the bunker of a Sun-Ra worshipping cult – a percussion-free drift through space, infinite variations of a single signal beamed out across the galaxy. Safe to say, they come from extremely different places.
Still, anonymity seems to be somewhat personally important to Huerco, and though his real name is floating around the internet somewhere, he’d prefer to keep it to himself. Lurking for an internet footprint doesn’t reveal much either, other than slight evidence of a Nina Kraviz crush. Maybe this ambiguous identity is reflective of a desire to move past preoccupations with credentials and status, instead leaving expectations at the door and focusing on pure creativity instead.
Here’s what we do know: Huerco grew up in Kansas City, and transitioned from playing in a grind core punk band to electronic music back in 2006. “I think I just got a bit tired of the scene and making music as group. Some friends of mine were really into jungle and the more house-y strains of drum & bass like early Hospital records….these were all new to me so I was instantly taken. I think i picked it up because it was the opposite of what I’d been involved in for so long. I wanted something more tangible, less abrasive and more sensual.” Unfortunately, the dance music landscape of Kansas wasn’t exactly overwhelmingly supportive at the time. “There wasn’t a dance scene at all, it was definitely rock/indie driven. We would just jam DJ mixes in the car, that’s all the scene I had.”
Huerco’s rise to prominence is happening at an interesting time in dance music, one much brighter than riding around the Kansas suburbs blaring Logistics CDs. More than this writer can ever remember, idiosyncratic artists such as Kassem Mosse, Delroy Edwards and Oneohtrix Point Never are reaching an increasingly large audience, partially due to an increasing awareness of labels which fall outside the genre of traditional 4-to-the-floor house and techno, including Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S or Will Bankhead’s The Trilogy Tapes, with the term “outsider dance” increasingly being used by journalists to describe these artists and labels that don’t easily fit within pre-established boundaries.
What does Huerco think about the term ‘outsider dance,’ and does he consider himself part of it? “I’m glad people are maybe delving deeper and realizing these more ‘experimental’ strains of dance music, but I have slight objection to the term “outsider.”” he counters. “Outsider art has always referred to artist who made work outside of artistic academia, and possessed a certain amount of naivety. I know precisely what I’m doing when I’m making these songs. So no, I don’t think “outsider dance” exists. People have been making experimental music forever.”
I ask Huerco if the term ‘outsider dance’ conjures images of a bit of a unflattering image, suggesting that making experimental music equates one with a Henry Darger-esque shut in scrawling thousands of dongs in a notebook. “I just think that it could be a little discrediting to so many artists”. He pauses, and then a minute later, continues: “I don’t know… everyone is just trying to compartmentalize everything…I guess, i can’t really think about that shit too much, you know. Just keep trudging.”
Though non-traditional, Huerco’s releases have certainly found a large, appreciative audience. Does he believe that house or techno have been are currently as de-centralized and unhinged as they’ve been? “With time things are only going to become more convoluted, so I could understand why things may seem ‘unhinged.'” he responds. “But then again, I wasn’t into house/techno in 1993; I was 2…so I have no idea. I certainly don’t want to beat a dead horse, I’m just going to keep tinkering away, conducting experiments, & discovering artefacts deep deep below.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard Huerco use the phrase ‘artefacts’, which he recently defined as “things that are lost in the mix, something that only becomes apparent after listening to the same loop for an hour” in a recent interview with Truants blog. It’s a very meditative, hypnotic way to create music that calls to mind experimental works like the crumbling repetitive beauty of Basinski’s Disintegration Tapes. I was curious whose work he finds himself immersed and lost in, but when it comes to his own music listening proclivities, there’s nothing that really pulls him deep into the work of others. “I can’t say I’d listen to someone’s song for hours obsessing about a loop. That really only occurs when I’m working on my own work,” Huerco mentions. “It’s more of a tool I use myself. Listening to samples or synths and layering them, brushing off the dust, finding the artefact, then presenting it to the public.”
Unreleased tracks like “Prinzif” embody this idea of dance music as an artefact, which starts with an antiquated Detroit-influenced thump, darting in and out of silence over its six minute span, distortion, silence and needle crackles aplenty throughout. Only at four minutes in does it break out into anything resembling a dance track, and even then it’s confusing – like an Omar-S production rubbed raw and bloody, bubbling over with a brimming infectiousness that would be difficult to place in any kind of time or location, were it not for the YouTube upload date. The segmented nature of the track made me curious about Huerco’s production routine. “Right now my laptop’s all fucked & let’s say if I’m working on a piece and I go to save the file, then re-open it everything is corrupted and/or completely gone. So that means I generally work on 5 projects at a time. It lends a lot to cohesion. I’m working on these songs all at the same time, using a lot of similar instruments and samples for varying tracks. I build them in batches or sets. They’re family.”
After reading about a variety of producers returning to analogue projects because of the comfort of working within limitations, I enquire whether the unhinged amount of choices available ever starts to feel overwhelming. “No, that’s the beauty of working with a computer.” Huerco responds. “I want to do everything.” Freedom to sample feels like an important part of how Huerco constructs musical textures. “Elma”, a track from the Opal Tapes release, punctuates every spare second of space with its vocal mantra, which raises the question – Is Huerco’s reliance on vocal samples just another version of a percussive tool, or is there a political, emotional or personal significance to sampling?
“I’m really open to sample whatever. I mean “Press On (ruff rubb)” uses vocal samples from Martin (Fox’s mid-90’s sitcom featuring Martin Lawrence). But even when sampling things such as strings or a random hit, I look at these things as instruments to be played… not just a sound that’s going to be pasted into the mix.”
Huerco’s DIY culture motivated, sample anything attitude is commendable, but there are those who might disagree with it. After all, Theo Parrish once famously reminded people that “the curtain that supposedly hides all this is the bullshit illusion that dance music has no race, no gender, that its about the celebration of some sort of utopian concept. This mere notion wasn’t even circulated until some white folks were made to feel uncomfortable at a party they had no business being at”. It’s a daunting statement to respond to, and Huerco seems contemplative. “I’m not sure if i could really touch on that subject. Race or sex has never crossed my mind while creating art, if anything that’s the reason I never felt it necessary to have my identity like super known, you know. That attitude surrounds so many in the art world I think. Everyone’s out there feeling like someone owes them something because they’re getting ripped off. I definitely understand where they’re coming from, but that seems like a very dated concept. Still living regionally, not globally.”
“I certainly don’t want to beat a dead horse, I’m just going to keep tinkering away, conducting experiments, & discovering artefacts deep deep below”
The ‘anything goes’ approach to creativity that Huerco embraces seems to include being open to a variety of inspirations, some immediately understandable (Detroit & Berlin), while others are a bit more esoteric. Thematic influences for his upcoming LP include “arcology, early Mississippian mound builders and Kansas City”. What exactly do large structures that combine architecture and ecology have in common with Huerco’s tracks? “Each song is something along the lines of a building. With the allotted space and time I’ve got, I’m trying to create something massive… looking at the waveforms as already existing, I just have to carve out what I want.”
Another odd influence that he references is mound building, an ancient tradition of constructing earthy mounds for ceremonial purposes. “I’m really fascinated by pre-Columbian America, more specifically the earthen mounds that were built at Cahokia.” Huerco states. “The largest, “monks mound”, at it’s base, is supposedly the same size as the great pyramid of Giza. It’s kind of incredible how many Americans have no idea this place every existed. Shame. The mounds serve as a reference point not only physically like the shape of the waveform or even song progression, but as something more spiritual.” Getting deep for a second, he continues. “The natives built these to be closer to the stars, maybe I’m just trying to get a little closer too.”
While full of high hopes, it’s still notable that Huerco is young. Though he’s inspired by the “futuristic… unrelenting glow” of Tokyo, he’s never been there. “Just my imagination getting the best of me” he concedes. However, a recent New York show alongside fellow dance outcasts Teengirl Fantasy and Blondes is setting the stage for more travelling. “As a young artist I feel like I’m really coming into my own & 2013 should be a pretty eventful year with a slew of releases and finally getting out on the road and touring more. I’m doing some dates in mid January with Anthony Naples spanning Canada & the East Coast”. Huerco will also be releasing a 12″ under the Royal Crown Of Sweden moniker, with a Steve Summers & Bookworms mix accompanying it on a new label. He remains optimistic about America’s future in dance music. “I’d like to think (the American dance movement) is getting more recognition” he says, “I think you’re also seeing a lot of people starting their own labels out of frustration with having to deal with an almost entirely European dominated industry; Real DIY attitudes here. Labels like Future Times, L.I.E.S, UNO, NNA Tapes & Wild Oats all deserve a mention.”
Currently in the process of crafting an LP that’s “definitely less ‘dancefloor’ oriented”, Huerco speaks about how the finished product will incorporate expansions and rewordings of tracks such as “Hiromi’s Theme” and “Untitled” from his latest Opal Tapes release. “I suppose really it’s just a collection of my work that’s a little further reaching, not necessarily focusing or concerned with percussion while maintaining rhythmic properties. Allowing the more textural elements provide the rhythm and drive. I wouldn’t call it a house or techno record at all.” Does this mean Huerco is moving away from the structure of more traditional dancefloor oriented tracks? He seems to think so: “Looking at the songs I’ve produced you could definitely say they’re getting less & less dancefloor oriented. At the time I just wanted to make what I thought house was, this is what I think house/techno is now. it’s all relative.” What’s an ideal listening environment for the forthcoming material? “There’s variety, so I’m not sure I could pick one place in particular seeing how different songs interact with different spaces…I’d say 3am-10am. Getting stoned with your best friends, needle on the record, melt.”
Finally, what would Huerco like to see dance music moving towards? It doesn’t take him long at all to answer. “I’d like to see a move towards all encompassing ancient techniques and alien sounds, always moving forward. Do whatever the fuck you want.” The way Huerco’s productions twist the world around him into a vortex of movement, history and emotion filled music, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else than embracing the unlimited possibilities in front of him.