He may no longer be a “menace to society,” as a judge once put it, but Kris Menace is still as passionate about music as ever. “Nonsense!,” he tells me when I ask him what he thinks about the claim that “unless you're writing new software and using customized gear, you're not writing new music.” This may sound strange coming from an artist who’s collaborating closely with leading developers like Waves and Arturia, working with personalized hardware and who owns an equipment park that would make some of his colleagues turn red with envy. And yet, music, to him, is still all about impulse, spontaneity, gut feeling and intuition. Accordingly, his work refuses to be reduced to a single sound or genre.
It is an open-border approach which expressed itself fully on his staggeringly expansive 2009-debut Idiosyncrasies, a three CD-box, which was one third artist album, one third compilation and one third remix collection for artists like Underworld, Air and Moby. Idiosyncrasies virtually exploded with ideas. It defined a vivid and energetic style now generally known as nu disco. It explored the borderline between hypnotic ‘70s sequencer-workouts and contemporary club culture. And, on a track like “Scaler,” which put insights gained from personal studies into psychoacoustics to good use, it even dared to venture into the realms of experimental sound art. No wonder acts like Depeche Mode and Kylie Minogue soon came knocking on his door.
A full three years after Idiosyncrasies, Kris is now back with his new full-length Electric Horizon. Heralded by a spacey video for first single “Falling Star,” directed by UK audiovisual act Hexstatic, the album both deepens and expands the style of its predecessor. The disco element is still present, but it has been wrapped into eclectic arrangements filled to the brim with shimmering strings and quirky sound effects. Occasionally fanning out into Kraftwerk-style electro and house, it constitutes a completely convincing vision of what berlin-school electronics could sound like today, with “Falling Star” hypnotically circling around a single theme for its entire seven-minute duration. Machines are always tools, never a means to an end here—even in the 21st century, there’s no substitute for talent and passion.
Its definitely more exciting to play around with the knobs of an original vintage machine than using a mouse. I guess its the same as watching a woman on the web or having her lie right next to you.
There’s an undeniable cosmic feeling to “Falling Star”...
Kris Menace: Well, it was written on a night spent gazing at the stars. I’d been talking philosophy with a wonderful female friend of mine and the topic of falling stars had come up. So I went into the studio straight after that encounter and finished the track within a mere two hours. It reminds me of these science programs from the ‘80s which I really love. And it’s great that Hexstatic immediately picked up on the idea in his ‘70s space trip video.
You like finishing tracks quickly, don’t you?
Almost all of my tracks were created on a single, special day. The music on Electric Horizon was created just for myself without once taking the audience into consideration. That’s why each track is special to me, delineating fresh musical territory. When I start working on a new composition, I’ll deal with recording and mixing simultaneously. This is vital for me in a bid of creating a unique sound for each single piece. I like it when each song sounds different but one can still recognize that the same person wrote them.
How important are tools and equipment important in shaping your sonic signature?
There’s so much software, hardware and gadgets out there that you’re quickly overwhelmed. To me, that’s a real problem in creative terms. I don’t like to be distracted and instead enjoy playing with a particular idea until it feels right. And whether or not you like to work with a Virus Polar or a Jupiter8 is purely a question of nostalgia. Faith can move mountains, especially since it’s so much more fun working with an original synthesizer.
But it’s really just a placebo effect.
Precisely. Although you can use a contemporary synthesizer like the Virus to rebuild the sound of a classic one like the Jupiter8 or to even improve on it through the use of its effects, one still can’t help but feel the Jupiter8 has got to sound better. I would even go as far and claim that if someone’s good enough as a producer, it’s impossible to tell whether he’s using a hard- or soft-synths. It is definitely more exciting to play around with the knobs of an original vintage machine than using a mouse, however. I guess it’s the same as watching a woman on the web or having her lie right next to you.
How do you translate the feeling of having a woman lie right next to you to music production?
When you’re really feeling what you’re doing, then you’re going to get great results no matter what! My philosophy is to allow yourself to use everything at your disposal as long as it feels right. It’s not just a question of equipment. Your gear may influence your work. But whether or not that means you need to own everything that’s out there is an entirely different question.
I find it interesting that you still seem to believe that progress is not just a question of gear. Your track “Scaler,” for example, is progressive purely in musical terms.
Two years ago, I was going through an experimental phase and dealt intensely with sound effects and psychoacoustics. A friend of mine sent me a demo which made use of a particular sound which kept growing and growing. I asked him for the arrangement and experimented with the sounds. I thought it fascinating that this kind of eternal return had been used in the realms of classical music, but never in terms of sound. Around the same time I finished “Scaler,” I also wrote a track called “HZ & Tone”, which was composed entirely of sinewaves and wave-sounds. I really took them to the limit (laughs). Today, there are plenty of songs based on the same idea and psychoacoustic principles. I still get a kick when I hear my idea used in a different context.
But rather than exploring that idea further, you’ve taken Electric Horizon into an entirely different direction.
For ages, I’ve wanted to get classic synthesizer music into the 21st century without resorting to kitsch. And yet, Electric Horizon is not a concept album as such. Most of the tracks came about just by me having fun producing music while working on a variety of projects at the side – like my vocal album. The tracks on Electric Horizon are the kind of music I would like to listen to, yet can’t find anywhere else. There are elements from disco, there are pads and melodies which remind me of trance without actually being trance – minimal beats, bass lines, dreamy, classical and yet fully contemporary. I do admire artists who can keep working with the same idea throughout their entire career, but to me, things quickly get stale.
Did I just use the word trance? Oh dear…(laughs)
Well, it’s not that far-fetched. After all, there are quite a few reminiscences to different styles and eras in your music…
I’m a child of the 80s. It’s a decade which seems to have left a strong impression on me as a little boy. I am who I am because of the things I’ve experienced. I may be a pretty reflective person in general, but when it comes to music, I just follow the flow. I’m integrating lots of different influences simply because I grew up on R&B and disco. It was my sister who raised my interest for electronic music and techno. My mother used to listen to classical music and my father enjoys disco and jazz and used to be a record collector. So I have plenty of connections with many different genres and find it hard to define my own stuff.
But to be honest, I really couldn’t care less. I just like doing what I do for as long as I can...
Menace "Raise & Fall" (Blood Music)
Menace "Hz vs Tones" (Blood Music)