Svengalisghost and 51717 have revealed full details of their new Shadowlust project.
Both are abstract house and techno producers who recently made waves on some of the scene's most talked-about experimental labels. Svengalisghost, or Marquis Cooper, is a Chicago-based producer with two EPs on L.I.E.S., while 51717 is the project of a New York's Lili Schulder, who released an album on Opal Tapes last year.
Together, their music melds 51717's penchant for scuzzy techno with Svengalisghost's EBM-influenced sounds, marked by its analogue-focused sound and Schulder's vocals. The duo will release a single highlighting album opener "Iris," and their debut LP, Trust In Pain, will follow suit in November. We caught up with the duo for a chat about how the record came to be.
How did you two meet, and what made you start working together?
Cooper: I became aware of Lili's 51717 project during my initial days of posting music on SoundCloud. I think at the time I only had two tracks up and my Mind Control EP had just dropped. She happened to like one of the tracks that was a little more non-linear than the stuff that had just been released. I was immediately transfixed by the haunting vocals on her tracks, and her productions had a very lucid tempo that made me feel as if I was floating through some electronic forest. Two days later we connected via Facebook, but I still didn't know she was 51717 until she asked if I would check out a track she was working on, and if I was interested in writing some vocals for it.
Our first collaboration was concocted through the magenta mist of the internet. I wrote a poem and percussion overdubs for her track, and then sent her a track to add vocals to and synth overdubs, which became Futuretense. At this point it wasn't anything more that just guest spots on each other's projects, but i had always wanted to have a group with a strong frontwoman, with vicious vocals and a seething stage presence like Wendy Williams and Sinan Leong from SPK combined. One day, after an IM session, we found the resonance of some North Korean brutalist architecture highly inspiring and this gave birth to the name Shadowlust—but it was almost more than a year later that we finally got to record music in the same room together, during my extended stay in New York after a few cancelled gigs that now, I am sure happened for a reason.
Lili: I became aware of Marquis and his music via Ron. When I heard the Mind Control EP, I was curious as to who was behind the hypnotic, unconventional tracks—definite left-handed music. Meanwhile I had been working on some solo tracks. There was one instrumental piece that I was considering for 51717, but something seemed to be lacking. I was living in Chinatown at the time, always walking over the bridge late at night. The song had a slow build, it was icy and muddy and overly feminine which I wanted to balance out somehow. I was at a loss.
Amidst this artistic turmoil, I came to the demo for "Highheelsleeze." Before I even heard the song, I was drawn to the imagery suggested by the title, and upon listening, I was immediately transfixed by the menacing vocals. This was the fire that I needed to balance the track. I sent Marquis a message asking if he would be interested in contributing vocals to this instrumental track, and I was so pleased to hear his enthusiastic response! This ended up being our first collaboration—the song "Trust in Pain." From there, I was very curious to continue collaborating remotely. Our shared preference for nocturnal living certainly helped make a remote collaboration become rather prolific in a very short amount of time.
How was the album recorded, and what was your studio setup like? The album sounds mostly analogue.
Cooper: It was recorded of the course of two months during a frigid New York winter (although as mentioned our first session took place at [a friend] Alex's basement with mushroom candies and wine. The sessions that wound up on the album were recorded at Redlite Mountain East, AKA Furr City, which is the Studio of SSPS AKA Black GiGi, who is my longtime friend from Chicago and the only reason why Ron Morelli even knew about my music. The gear used was hardware (Evolver, Mopho, DX200, DR-5, Electribe ESx, Alesis Nanoverb and Electrix MOFX for Lilli's vocals and her DR-5.
We purposefully held all the sessions after the sun was on the other side of the planet, under the glow of red and blue lights to set the mood. All the tracks were formed and recorded on the same day in usually one or two takes, with a track for the vocals and the music. Immediately after we finished take i would leave the room and smoke while Lili would do two vocal overdubs at most, which I later panned and chopped during post production. But the original track was never touched after the completed take. All the music for the album was recorded in Ableton.
Lili: We would always record after dark, and each song was written on the spot with one or two takes at most. There had been a psilocybin-induced jam session at our friend Alex's place on the Sunday before Christmas that was actually the very first time Marquis and I had ever recorded together in the same room. That session was more about breaking through the first gate and seducing the unknown elements that would provide inspiration for the album. We laid down a whole hot mess of sounds onto four-track that evening. These sounds arranged themselves into three distinct songs the following day on the WTBS radio program, where we played a live and improvised set. I sang as though my voice were painting a calligraphic poem. "Iris" is inspired by the death poem of Shushiki, the 18th century Japanese poet, and "Citadel" from Basho.
In terms of setup, on my end it is painfully minimal, as I like the challenge and boldness of focusing on my vocals so that each word is sung with proper intent. I am also writing these songs while keeping in mind live performance. I wish to be fully present and engaged with the audience when performing these songs. I play the synth pads on my Dr Rhythm DR-5 to help guide my voice melodically and rhythmically while singing. But I play maybe three notes at most. It is inspired from my practice in a Balinese gamelan ensemble back when I lived in DC.
What do you think each of you brings to the project, and how does it differ from the work you do separately?
Cooper: With the Svengalisghost project I have no balance to maintain, so I can sporadically alter the arrangement without any consideration to the song when i record, because it's all in my mind. Working with Lili, i have to become receptive to the need for her vocals to have the proper space to exist and as we have specific points during the songs that she has to sing, or play a chord. I have to actually commit the songs to memory for the live shows, which is something i don't do with the Svengalisghost show.
Lili: My solo work is very moody, very lunar and abstract. I am a landscape painter. In Shadowlust, I am actively stepping into the role of singer. Marquis' rhythmic work is the architecture, creating a sacred space for my breath to be free but at the same time provoked and constrained, snaked into the form of a song. I think we work well together because of our shared philosophy of entering each new creative possibility completely blind—sans voir.