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Dylan Scheer became Via App three years ago, when she was living in one of Boston's longest-running DIY venues. The vinyl-sided, three-story home sits on a back street in a dense neighborhood where unlicensed basement shows were once common—at least up until a few years ago, before the latest wave of gentrification. She and her roommates would book local noise and leftfield techno acts, though bigger names would swing through for secret shows after playing less-cool venues like The House Of Blues. "They would come by after their show and play to, like, ten people," she tells me, sipping a can of Modelo at a desk scattered with blinking samplers and synthesizers. It's a Wednesday afternoon in August and we're sitting in the bedroom-slash-studio of her brownstone duplex in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. "East Coast noise and basement-show scenes are kind of what I know."
In 2013, their shabby show space, with its exposed piping and graffiti-covered walls, was the target of a bizarre police campaign to squeeze unlicensed residential venues out of the area. "He messaged us and said that he was 'looking for the pit.' His avatar was a guy with a green mohawk, and then in MS Paint letters on the side it said, 'What's the point?'" A team of Boston cops had created an embarrassingly bad fake profile to locate and infiltrate one of the shows. "He said he was 'pissing something wicked' from all of the green beer he drank on Saint Patrick's Day the day before." When one of her roommates naively sent out the address, an indignant cop, under the guise of fire concerns, showed up at their door step threatening to stake out the house if the gig went forward.
"All we had were these show spaces," Scheer says, "and when they started cracking down on that all the artists left. The joke is that there was then this huge migration and everyone ended up here in Brooklyn."
Last year, like everyone else, Scheer packed up and moved to Brooklyn. She quickly dug herself into the borough's young electronic avant-garde, one that ties aspects of punk's confrontational attitude to techno's party ethics. The movement is anchored by a constellation of venues and club nights that includes Bossa Nova Civic Club, which has become the de facto headquarters for the scene, and the nearby Palisades, where Scheer plays so often that people call her the unofficial resident.
She also loves playing in the cramped, low-ceilinged basement of Trans-Pecos, a weirdo music and arts space that opened in Queens last year. "It feels like a simulation of a house basement show, and it works really well," she says. Another favorite is Nothing Changes, a Wednesday night residency in the Lower East Side where kids in metal shirts and faded back patches gather to hear a mix of harsh noise and abstract techno; it provides a vivid illustration of the New York noise scene's exodus into extreme dance music. Then there's No-Tech, a low-key bar night in Williamsburg "where you can play whatever you want and it'll start conversations."
Scheer's biggest gig to date was a 3 AM slot at Aurora Halal and Zara Wladawsky's Sustain-Release festival in September, where her alien sound design and mind-bending sample work made her stand out as the weekend's weirdest, and most promising, young artist.
There's been a lot of ink spilled over what to call or how to characterize these emergent strains of unkempt and unconventional techno. "I don't think there's such a thing as 'tech-noise,'" she says when I ask what she thinks of the term. It's ahistorical, she says, in that it frames the phenomenon as a new development, ignoring three decades of noisy, gritty, chaotic dance music. It also sets up a false binary. "The dichotomy ends up being that dance music is all clean, and the fact is that it's not. Noise and techno have been tied aesthetically for a long time."
Whatever you call these sounds and their associated pockets of youth culture, it's hard to deny the electric feeling that's animating the Brooklyn underground. "There's something in the air right now that's really exciting," Scheer says. "I'm hearing dance music that is challenging, and people go crazy for it." The best part is that she doesn't have to worry about clearing the dance floor by veering too far from traditional techno formats. "They're open to the really freaky stuff—extreme BPMs, long breaks without beats, sudden changes, intense, jarring or manic elements. They don't necessarily want it to be clean or easy."
Scheer's more recent productions aren't so much noisy as they are dissonant and a little disturbing. Every element, from her industrial drums to her heavily abstracted vocal samples and otherworldly synths, is a tiny disturbance that will make you cock your head and screw up your face. There's the gentle hum of garbled signal swirling in the mix, like insects teeming in the distance. With it comes subtle shifts in feeling.
Scheer's two official releases so far are tapes: one through the Baltimore-based Lupin Tapes and a second via 1080p, the left-of-center Vancouver label that was RA's "label of the month" in December of last year. 7 Headed, her first 12-inch, is due out later this month. It's a classic 1080p record, with iridescent—even silly— textures and melodies that might be catchy if they weren't so weird. Scheer recorded the four tracks in real-time with samplers and synths, not even using a computer to arrange loops afterwards. Her off-the-cuff, sometimes spastic songwriting is part of what makes the record so fresh.
There is generally nothing smooth about Scheer's music, from the sound design to the song arrangements. She uses disruption as way of keeping listeners from drifting too far out. "I think escapism isn't always a good thing," she says, referring to the techno tendency to turn off your brain and get lost in a groove. "A lot of times thinking about things is more necessary."
She's a huge fan of Total Freedom, the unofficial king of confrontational DJ sets, who, when asked by RA's Andrew Ryce what he expects from an average club gig, said he wants everyone to "get their coats and go home unhappy." Like many of her contemporaries who entered the scene through extreme music like noise and industrial, Scheer thinks that the larger techno movement prioritizes continuity and comfort at the expense of bold, dynamic statements. "It's always all about flowing and blending and doing it seamlessly, and I don't think that's necessary anymore. It almost represents resistance to change.
"I read about this party that Total Freedom threw where there was no dancing allowed, and when you start dancing he would stop the music," she says, chuckling at the thought of it. "I think it's really interesting when people break the format of DJing—even just stopping and starting and being disruptive, or changing the way that you pace things." While many people are happy excelling at somebody else's game, Scheer is interested in the bigger question of whether the rules are even still relevant. She, like Total Freedom, wants to shake out dance music's cobwebs. "It's important to disrupt conservative habits in club culture," she says.
One such habit, she says, is the culture's fear of deviating too far from time-tested dance floor formulas. "I try to keep my stuff active compositionally, flip the switch on entire parts often. It feels like a reaction to the monotonous, obedient functionality of form," she explains. Too much of an emphasis on utility will keep you from being truly creative. "Like it's functional if it passes this production test, if it fulfills some straight task and is undisputedly categorizable as house or techno," she says. "But tracks can go hard in more roundabout ways, risk more—and ultimately reap greater rewards."
The logic of functionality is pervasive and often oppressive, in the sense that it privileges effectiveness (does it work on the dance floor?) over something more subjective, more abstract. "It's not that I don't like more adherent techno and house and stuff. I just think there's so much more territory to explore," she says. While many of her bookings have come from within Brooklyn's eccentric house and techno underground, she's sought inspiration from outside of it to keep from getting walled in by club music tropes.
There are two young Baltimore acts she's particularly excited about: J.R.H.N.B.R.—the solo project of her friend Keke Hunt—and the duo Odwalla88, both of whom build live shows around a combination of poetry, performance and brutal electronics. "I'm drawn to their way of treating samples," Scheer explains.
More than just an arrangement of textures and frequencies meant to make your synapses fire, Scheer's interest lies in the way samples can be used "like characters on a stage." It's a move she refers to as going "beyond phenomenology," in the sense that it's no longer just about the pure pleasure of body music. "I expect to be immersed in thought, not just raw emotion, and for me a successful set or recording can achieve both. I'm interested in something more than just how you perceive music sensorily." At such an early point in her career, she's poised to play a key role in a new phase of machine music, one that embraces poetics and performance as much as something more visceral.