We went back to our early rave days, and ripped a bunch of acappellas from vinyl we bought in flea markets. We had a rule that we wouldn’t sample anything recorded beyond 2000.
At the heart of Darren Aronofsky’s neurotic ballerina tale Black Swan is an obsession with perfection, beauty and the moment. The three themes are echoed on the movie’s classically-inspired, electronic soundtrack featuring Chemical Brothers, among others. According to Travis “Machinedrum” Stewart, one half of Sepalcure, their contribution “Outside The Lines” appears during a “particularly scandalous” scene. On their recently released eponymous debut, IDM veterans Stewart and Praveen Sharma use old house vocals as glue to mix ambient warm-ups, glitchy, breakbeat centers and dubby, wobbly flourishes into nuanced, unitarian music that sounds futuristic but feels familiar. It's with good reason. The duo has a long history with each other and New York’s shape-shifting music scene. As Machinedrum, Stewart has been an in-demand DJ and producer with a knack for infusing bass music’s intensity into soulful footwork and juke styles reminiscent of UK garage and 2-step. His 2011 album Room(s) found its way to many electronic aficionados’ year-end lists. In addition to being a musician and DJ, Praveen has been a promoter and Internet entrepreneur, hosting parties around New York and maintaining PercussionLab.com, a DJ hub now in its tenth year. As Braille, Praveen also produces house music with romantic undertones; and as one half of Praveen & Benoit, he explores more exotic, folky textures. Talk of collaboration eventually became Sepalcure when the two found themselves in between projects and Praveen's girlfriend Sougwen Chung was away from New York. Sepalcure–a mashup of words signifying tomb, flower and healing–adopted the name from a piece by Chung, who contributes artwork to the group. Their 2011 Love PressureEP received enthusiastic support from many DJs, most notably the BBC's Mary Anne Hobbs. Capitalizing on the momentum, Stewart and Sharma holed themselves in a studio in 2011 and recorded the ten tracks on this album. While they obsessed over live instruments and layering sounds, the duo gave little thought too much else. Titles like “Carrot Man,”“Pencil Pimp” and “Eternally Yrs” were spontaneous decisions. Adding to the album’s ephemeral aura is the fact that Stewart now lives in Berlin, with no return date set. We touched base with Praveen in New York recently to discuss their current success, their immediate future and how a subway ride led to a record deal.
How did you guys connect?
Praveen Sharma: A few years ago, I hit Travis up online, we became friends on IRC, actually, back in the dial-up days. Not too long after, we started doing shows together. We never recorded anything until later, after we’d known each other for like seven years.
What was different, or special this time?
The process was a lot faster. This album was done in four weeks basically. Two weeks in my studio in Brooklyn writing and two weeks in the studio in Berlin. The majority was done in a couple weeks. It also felt a lot more natural than anything we'd written before.
Did you get it 100% right?
Oh, yes. What we’ve always done with Sepalcure is it’s always been a side project for us. This album is the first time we put ourselves totally into it.
The vintage house vocals are a nice touch.
It’s been an obsession for me and Travis over the last couple of years. We went back to our early rave days, and ripped a bunch of acappellas from vinyl we bought in flea markets. We had a rule that we wouldn’t sample anything recorded beyond 2000.
The album feels very concentrated, if that makes sense.
We love that, when it’s a cohesive sound. The majority of what we’re working on has to be done in one or two sessions, tops. It’s about capturing a moment. After too long, it becomes a different song.
That kind of recoding also produces a more immersive listening experience. How do you feel when you listen to this album?
I don’t, really. I listened to it so much while we were working on it, writing it, recording, mastering and right after it was done–and then I just stopped listening to it.
How did you get signed to Scuba’s Hotflush label?
Dave Q from Dub War [one of the first dubstep parties started in 2005] is one of the reasons Sepalcure got signed. He and Alex Incyde used to run Dub War together. I sent some stuff to Alex and said, “I’m doing dance music again.” I saw him on the G train, I live in Fort Greene, and he said, “That stuff was great. I gotta send it to Scuba, he would really love it.” And I said, “No, it’s not finished!” But he sent it and next thing you know we were getting a call from Scuba [Paul Rose].
What were some of your favorite gigs from 2011?
The Unsound Festival, we played the first one before we even got signed, so it was nice to come back. Berghain in Berlin was great… that place is insane.
I’ve heard. No one ever seems to come back. At least not the same. When can we expect a new Braille album?
Hopefully I’ll be done with a new Braille record by spring.
Any Sepalcure remixes coming up?
We don’t do many; we’ve taken a break. But we are having remixes done for the album. It’s all being finalized now, so I can’t announce it yet.
Will there be another Sepalcure album?
I have no idea what we’re going to do next, I’m not sure if it would be an album or EP, but it wouldn’t be too different from what we’ve done here. I think both of us are itching to do something different. It’s a matter of timing; with Travis living in Berlin now, we only get so much time together in the same studio. That’s how we do things, when the time is right.