Techno Tuesday: Pleasurekraft discuss their artistic transformation
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
The transnational duo of Kaveh Soroush and Kalle Ronngardh have been staples of dance music’s cerebral underground scene for years as Pleasurekraft. Known for their eerie, techno-driven sound and heading the Kraftek label, the duo have taken a darker turn in their musical style of the last year. Most recently, Pleasurekraft released “Dopefiend” on Adam Beyer’s Drumcode label, on which they will release their forthcoming Maskara EP. We sat down with Pleasurekraft’s Kaveh Soroush to discuss the outfit’s artistic evolution, and what inspired their recent stylistic transformation.
You’ve clearly undergone a significant artistic transformation over the last year, from eerie, lighthearted tech house and techno to a darker – and at times, forlorn – realm. I first notice this shift with your Tiger Stripes collaboration, “Primed.” From this listener’s standpoint, your evolution was solidified with the All Bite No Bark EP. What release do you consider to be the turning point in this process?
Well firstly I have to point out that it’s funny to hear that you first noticed it with “Primed” – because although I have liked Tiger Stripes work for a while – it wasn’t until I heard his “Sisters EP” on Desolat that I was like “wow – this has a really organic dark undercurrent” (especially on “Keep A Movin'”) that I hadn’t heard in his earlier work – and it was from then that our relationship really blossomed. So I guess in a way hearing that EP and hearing how his sound had evolved perhaps had an osmosis effect on us mentally. That’s not to say we hadn’t made dark stuff before of course – I mean everyone wants to be a revisionist historian after the fact and say that “Tarantula” was some big mainstream crossover dance record because of its immense success – but that record – if you listen to it without knowing everything you know about it now – had a lot of darker elements in it, and that hook that its now infamous for was just eerie and weird – how it took off really caught us by surprise more than anyone else because even arrangement wise it was such an antithesis to a typical big tech house record. One of our other records “313” from a few years ago to me is still one of the darkest and hardest records we’ve ever made – but yes generally speaking we have gone through a sonic metamorphosis of sorts you could say. In addition to being increasingly inspired by techno producers – it’s also the fact that “tech house” (whatever that really means) has just become so stagnant and boring that I literally have not been on Beatport’s Tech House page in at least 6 months. You know you’ve changed when the genre you’re most commonly associated with isn’t even on your radar anymore. And yeah as a whole release probably our All Bite / No Bark EP on Octopus was the final nail in the tech house coffin of our careers – and then with our Defiler EP on Nicole Moudaber’s MOOD imprint we continued that trajectory – and now I’m just super excited for everyone to hear the Drumcode stuff we have coming out between now and the end of the year (as well as our follow-up to All Bite No Bark on Octopus – “All Indians / No Chiefs” – mid-september release date).
What catalyzed this shift for you? Does the overtly ominous direction of your recent work stem from a shift in your inspirations, or are have you used the platform you earned with bigger tracks like “Tarantula,” “Sinister Strings,” and your “La La Land” remix as a vessel to now release the type of music you’ve always wanted to make?
Some of the catalysts for the shift I alluded to above – but it was never : “ok now that we are somewhat established with these other records let’s do other stuff we have really been wanting to do”. It wasn’t like that at all – it was just a natural transition for us into writing harder and darker material. In fact there’s probably a good chunk of our fan base that is disappointed with this shift – because the person who loves our track “Carny” (RANT ALERT! (big inhale!): a song I regret ever releasing as I think it’s so far from anything else in our discography and I just fucking hate it and deleted it from all usbs/laptops because it’s not even an option to hear it if you come to a pleasurekraft show so you might as well save those 10 seconds it takes you to write that request in your phone and hold it up for me to read for something that’s a better use of your time cuz it’s just not gonna happen! (big exhale – sorry had to get that out)) – as I was saying – the person that loves that track of all our records – is probably not going to be too into the Octopus / MOOD / Drumcode stuff we are doing (though I do love fans with a broader musical pallete!) . And that’s OK!
When you first taste success there is an inherent inclination to follow the same formula because clearly what you did resonated with the public – but if you live and die by that philosophy you’re just going to repeat yourself and I don’t think there’s too many artists who place art above commerce that would be comfortable with that scenario. I know there are fans that come to shows that hold up their phones for some of our older big records like “Got A Feeling” or the aforementioned “Carny” – but I just feel like – OK – you paid your hard earned money to get in to the club – you have already heard those songs a million times on your iphone/ipod/soundcloud etc etc / why not trust the person who made those records to give you a new musical experience? I honestly feel like in a 3 hour set so many of the records I play from other producers are so much better than ANYTHING we have ever done (even if hardcore Pleasurekraft fans disagree) that instead of being open to hearing something new – some people would rather spend the majority of the night holding their phones up with requests – it’s like – “you’re fucking missing some amazing shit while you’re busy trying to request old tracks with your phones!!!” And I totally understand the other side of the argument – that those are the songs that made you famous so those are the songs that people want to hear when they pay money to come see you. But then what is the point of being a DJ? All the art and skill of DJing and creating a musical narrative flies out the window and you’re nothing but a jukebox robot up there doing what other people want you to do. Sorry – but music is much too holy a thing to be made into something so predictable and formulaic.
How has your evolution affected the artists you sign to Kraftek, if at all?
I think when you own/run a label its only natural that the sound of the label will reflect the specific style that you are into. As a result of our sound becoming increasingly harder and darker – the label has followed suit – and although not every release is emblematic of the shift (I love so many styles that it’s hard for me to pigeonhole the label into just one distinct sound) – the majority of the releases are much more techno than deep or tech house. I think the last Kraftek release is a good example of 2 originals that I signed early last year (Fabian Argomedo’s “Carolina EP”) that are solid tech house groovers, but I wanted to get a remix that was more consistent with what I play live and with the direction I want to take the label in – so I asked one of my favorite young producers – Toronto’s Weska – to do a remix – and it turned out incredible.
Your style has never been in line with that of the typical ‘tech house’ artist, and is clearly more inspired by darker techno currently. That being said, do you ever see yourself returning to the jaunty eeriness that characterized much of your earlier catalog?
I think the “jaunty eeriness” as you put it is something of an undercurrent that still exists in our techno stuff – perhaps not as overtly as in our old work – but i would LIKE to think that even the techno we make now isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill techno either! So I’m not sure about needing to return to that eeriness as I think that’s still present – but I certainly don’t foresee us ever making another tech house record (unless its a special collaboration with another artist).
What do you see as the trajectory of your musical narrative?
To be honest I feel like if I knew the trajectory of our narrative I wouldn’t be interested in doing this anymore lol. I feel like words like “trajectory” are for other people to use about our work or us to use about someone else’s work – but for us and our work it’s all about the journey – if you told me 5 years ago when we started that we would shun the genre we’re most well known for and would be releasing on Sian’s/Nicole Moudaber’s/Adam Beyer’s labels I would have said it was improbable – but its this artistic evolution that keeps things fresh and interesting.
Did you expect fans to react to your transition the way that they have?
I don’t want to use gross generalizations like the word “fans” because it has an implication that it’s this single amorphous mass that acts in some uniform way – but we’re lucky that its a large group of diverse people spread across the planet – and while some of them may like the “old pleasurekraft” – there are also new fans we have gained from entering this new territory – but probably my favorite fans (I know it’s like saying you have a favorite child so apologies in advance here) are the ones that love the old stuff and the new and are excited to hear each new release because they’re along for the ride with us. I fucking love that.
What other producers are you into at the moment?
I think from a production standpoint – Pig & Dan are just on another level completely. Those guys make records that we listen to and think – OK – we need to up our game cuz they just set the bar even higher. In all honesty I feel like they unknowingly are our biggest motivators to be better because their stuff is just that fucking good! To make techno records that have a raw and organic quality – yet sound that clean is really fucking hard. Usually the cleaner the sound – the more sterile and overproduced the record can sound – but those guys – so clean without sacrificing any raw energy – I’m just in awe. We already mentioned Tiger Stripes who is always a BOSS, and even though I know I said we are done with tech house there are always exceptions to the rule – and at the moment Berlin based Frenchman Clio is one of those exceptions. His Truesoul EP and another EP of his we have signed to Kraftek (“Numero 10”) are stellar. As far as techno guys – I think Enrico Sangiuliano is well on his way to being a household name (despite the fact that his last name is long lol) – his stuff is so dope, and you just think – “OK – surely his next record is not gonna amazing” and then it’s even more amazing than you could expect. Also love Roberto Capuano, Weska, and The Yellowheads (all of who are already on or will be on Kraftek!)
Tell me a little bit about “Dopefiend”.
I have three things to say. “Turn On. Tune In. Drop Out.” The music can do the rest of the talking.
Purchase “Dopefiend” here.