Once upon a time _ Interview with Kangding Ray
Under the name of Kangding Ray, David LeTellier makes some of the best electronic music you will ever hear. The latest release on Stroboscopic Artefacts is a quantum leap in the development of his sound; fusing the abstract musical ideas of an outsider to rough techno rhythms.
This is only the end of the beginning..
So.. I heard that you were interested in noise bands and jazz. I was wondering if there was a coincidental connection as you did a remix for Battles, who feature John Stainer – the original drummer from Helmet? Battles also had Eye from The Boredoms on their last album too. Did you listen to those bands back in the day?
Yeah, I started off in bands and mainly played guitar in noise / rock / industrial groups. I played some drums too, but I was only good at keeping a straight beat, so guitar was my main instrument. I listened to those bands of course – Haha – it’s a nice connection to the 90’s, that’s true!
When I was 18 / 19 I started to study architecture. That took nearly 8 years to complete. Even though I’m fully qualified, I don’t use it really. When I originally came to Berlin in 2001, it was because I had to finish my studies. I worked in a few offices and had a regular day job, but I was just doing music on the side.
Is it a bit of a cliché when people try to connect your architectural past with the music? Would it be realistic to say that its main influence was the financial security it gave you to be able to pursue your ambition?
Yes. Anyone who has worked in an architectural office knows that it is not the glamorous conceptual activity that everyone imagines it to be. It is more practical stuff like answering Emails. The creative part is part of it, but it’s not the main thing. You are constantly working in reality as opposed to something like music, which is pure and creative. I don’t consider them something which can be compared. They are not equal at all and are quite different.
It sounds cool though, when people try to join them together! Haha! It would probably be an interviewer’s wet dream if a butcher was making heavy metal – and consequently that possibly explains the urge to make connections with architecture.
Is it difficult to control your image in the media and get the truth out there? Do you care?
Yes – Haha!
Well.. Architecture as a form of creative activity is probably transposable to music. People like Iannis Xenakis have done it. I knew him from my studies and of his close relation to rhythm and conceptual forms – and Philips Pavilion, of course. The link here is a beautiful conceptual connection, but it has nothing to do with the daily work of an architect. It’s another cliché that style has to be sound tracked by experimental, electronic, techno types of music.
But, yeah, interesting question. At the beginning I didn’t think about it at all and it just happened the way it did. I realise the media is reflecting back to me what it sees. It’s not the exact truth though, but I have to accept it. You can do the Burial thing, be hidden and no-one knows anything about you, or as it happened with me; people know my name, my background and whatever. There’s no point trying to hide it now, so I allowed the media to construct my image in a way. Trying to control it is pointless. Maybe eventually – Haha.
So, when did you start creating the music that we know you for now?
My first bit of electronic gear was a sampler, the Akai S2000. I bought it towards the end of the 90’s when I was starting to get bored with my drummer. I wanted to get rid of him and I spoke to the other guys and said that we should use the money from the concerts to buy a sampler and incorporate some electronic beats. At least we’d be playing on time and there will be no complaints. You can tell the machine to “fuck off and shut up” – Haha. The band exploded not long after, mainly due to this and I kept the sampler. I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy analog synths and things like that. I have a nice studio now, but it took a long time to accumulate it. When I started, I had almost nothing apart from the sampler and so I used a lot of recordings. It was the cheapest way of doing things, sampling different materials and hitting stuff. I had no drum machine, so I just did everything in a rough way. There was a lot of editing.. it was almost like musique concrète.
Did it take long to refine what you were doing and achieve quality in your production approach?
Yeah, it took a lot of time. I remember sitting in my little studio in Berlin with a small 13 inch G3 and a wave editor, for hours and hours for months and months. I made 3 demos which I finally gave to Raster-Noton through Carsten Nicolai of Alva Noto, and they liked it, but it was in 2003 and they told me that they wanted to release an album too. They said they would only release it if there was an album of the exact same quality. So it was a lot of pressure to have a first release with Raster-Noton and then to keep the same quality up for the rest of the album. It took me another 3 years after that. It might have been more than that actually – Haha. There was a lot of work behind it.
The first time I heard of Kangding Ray, I was listening to the Pruitt Igoe release on Resident Advisor and I figured that I must have been onto something good because Lucy had left a comment saying that it was one of his highlights of the year. When did the relationship with Lucy and Stroboscopic Artefacts begin?
Everyone from Stroboscopic Artefacts came to the Raster-Noton evening in Berghain last year and that was the first time we met. He sent me an email before about wanting to release something on SA. I really liked the Monad series, but for me it was difficult at first as I had never done an only digital release and although I had done remixes on other labels, I’d never released on any other label but Raster-Noton. But then I met Lucy, Dadub and everyone else. It really came at the right time and was a great proposal as I really wanted to expand my sound in other directions. I really like the label.
Pruitt Igoe was a kind of ironic comment on my architectural background. It’s actually the name of an architectural project in Missouri. I don’t know if you know the history of it, but it’s very interesting. It was a social housing / urban renewal project in the 1960’s. At the beginning it wasn’t segregated and was mixed. Then it went bad. Lots of violence. All the white people left and it became a massive ghetto. They had to close the whole thing down and eventually demolish it. This is considered the end of the modernist architecture era. It’s a fascinating story. It’s a great metaphor for a conceptual record. Hope for the A side – Rise – and Destruction for the B side – Fall.
Lucy always seems like a bright-eyed guy whenever I see him on film. He seems like he’s a bit of a headhunter – constantly on the alert for potential..
Yeah, he is. He’s really curating his label. Like, he gave me feedback on my tracks and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. Also, he’ll say whether a track isn’t suitable for a particular project or that it’s better for another series etc..
The quality control on Stroboscopic Artefacts is superb. There must be a shallow grave out in the woods somewhere, filled with hours and hours of MP3’s that never made it – Haha. There’s definitely a distinctive sound and they always seem to be pushing forward with the music. What do you think you will bring to the table?
Hahaha – yeah, that’s right!!
Well, the fact that the Monad series was digital, it inspired me to work with analog equipment as much as possible and make it as raw and rough as I could. I felt that the core material should contain as much soul and dirt from the beginning. Lucy asked me to bring a radical attitude. I’m not from the Techno world and my only experience of it is from clubs. I don’t know the rules and can come at it from a diagonal direction. I don’t mind doing something that is dirty or not perfectly mixable.
With the new technology now, it doesn’t matter anyway. There’s always been a certain depth to my music. In the past it was mellow, pure and maybe soft. I basically want to do what I do in a straighter way and make it more danceable. It’s been a very natural development for me. When you see my discography, yeah, Monad is very different from my first album – which is totally ambient and slow, but I think it’s a logical progression.
The reaction for the release has been incredible. I was looking on Soundcloud and you got over 2500 plays in 3 days. You’ve been playing around Europe recently, so what’s the feedback been like? Have you been testing out new material?
Yeah – it’s pretty impressive. I’m really happy to be with SA. I’ve been playing the tracks for a little while now. Corsica Studios in London was really crazy. It was massive. Really nice gigs and there’s a great response to the tracks. They are definitely rough. I am actually surprised by the energy that comes out of these tracks – Haha.
I have all the tracks split up into their separate parts, so when I play live I can decide which elements come in. It’s always different, but the overall structure stays the same. It’s very easy to swap the kick or the bassline from track to track, so it keeps it fresh. People often say that they recognise a particular track, like they know it.. But in reality it’s probably got elements of everything in it.
So it’s live musique concrète?
Yeah – Haha. It’s like live remixing.
Ok – Now, this is a bit random, but I wanted to ask you about a French cartoon that I used to love. It was called “Once upon a time..” (Il était une fois..) and was dubbed into English. It was about history from early man to all the scientific discoveries and there was another series on how the human body worked. We’re about the same age so I figured you might have seen it. It was probably where I got my interest of history from.
Yeah, I remember it. That’s right. I haven’t heard that name in a long time, but I definitely watched it. It opened a lot of doors for me because I really liked history and science as a kid.
The reason why I asked was that I sensed that you had an interest in history and politics from the press release of your album OR. When you played in Greece recently did you get to see any influence of the difficulties that they are going through?
That was very interesting. I wanted to play there almost as a political statement because I wanted to support these young crazy guys from Greece who are starting a label right now in the middle of this. It’s brilliant and brave at the same time. I just wanted to go and see what was going on. I wanted to do the remix and help them in a way. Greece is in a really difficult situation, but you realise that this situation has been made by our system. It’s fundamentally dysfunctional. It just so happened that in Greece it was more intense. There were a lot of factors involved, like the corrupt political and economic system. You would think that the prices are going down.. But the price of everything is increasing. A beer for instance is double what it costs in Berlin. Every product costs too much. The distribution system is itself corrupt.
I admire people who stand up and carry on in these types of situations. It’s definitely the moment where things can be changed.. and radically changed. I can’t really say that I was in the real world while I was there as I was playing in a nightclub for people who can still afford to go out and drink expensive vodka and tonic. These are the people who are still managing even though they are saying things are getting tough. They have lost their jobs and can’t afford an apartment anymore, so they move back to their parents. Most of them are just surviving in a way. You don’t know how, but they are. The people who are getting into real trouble are those who were on the edge before. The poor are becoming a big fringe of the population and are getting pushed closer into poverty each day. That’s the consequence. It’s automatic. People go on. It’s the same spirit everywhere.
I also played in Japan not long after the Tsunami and Fukishima disaster. You realise that you can’t give up. We go on living whatever happens.
Do you get to take a break from it often? I’d imagine that there is a never ending list of deadlines due to your multimedia work and music?
Haha. It’s all separate. I try not to mix everything together though, so I keep the installation stuff under my own name. I just dedicate phases to different things. Right now I am doing music, so I’m producing new stuff for Raster-Noton and a future release for Stroboscopic. I have to schedule so that I can disconnect myself from Kangding Ray and do other things. It’s difficult to have proper breaks right now. I hope to get a holiday this summer, but basically I never stop from one end of the year to the other.
Do you get to go out in Berlin as a clubber or a fan? Is there a risk of diluting yourself as an artist by immersing yourself in the culture and paying attention to what is cool and popular at the moment?
I do go out of course, but I’m away most weekends playing. It’s not like I go out to Berghain and party the whole weekend. Most of the artists that I know do the same. It’s far more boring and quiet than the crazy Berlin nights the tourists dream of. It’s kind of normal. Sometimes if a friend such as Dave – Function – is playing in Berghain.. I’ll go there and just enjoy the music with no responsibility. It’s time off and it’s good to be able to experience the club as something other than a working environment. It’s great to have the same experience that other people have on the dancefloor as this is the feeling that you want people to have when they hear your music.
So what is next for Kangding Ray? Are you going to stay connected to Raster-Noton? Or are you going to be full-time Techno from now on?
No, I’m continuing with them. I’m doing some new stuff for them at the moment, so it’s definitely not finished. They are a great label to put records out on. I’m doing some pretty serious stuff for them right now, which is influenced by the new developments of my music. I’m really looking forward to that. It will be more beat orientated. I’ve finished some new tracks for Stroboscopic too, but I can’t say much more about that at the minute. There are a couple of remixes coming out too.. One of them is for Violet Poison. I’m taking it very easy though. It’s been an experience to try and do all this outside of the Raster-Noton environment. Monad is not even out yet and the reaction has been great. It’s a different context and different audience too. It’s great to have the opportunity to expand in this way. There is a German word that describes this situation perfectly – Erweiterung. This development is not formulated, but is rather a continuation.
Kangding Ray – http://www.kangdingray.com/
Slices Interview with Kangding Ray http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhJORcOxpdA
Stroboscopic Artefacts – http://www.stroboscopicartefacts.com/