Over the last twelve months, Heartthrob has also been taking his laptop live show on the road, bringing his own dark and smiling take on minimal techno to venues such Watergate in Berlin and Mutek in Canada. Recently Heartthrob has also signed on to do a lot of remix work, including resets of Troy Pierce, The Knife and Depeche Mode.
RA caught up with Heartthrob in London before his live show at Fabric this month. The interview went something like this:
Why did you move from the States to Paris? How come you are not in Berlin like the rest of the M_nus crew?
Well, I have a boyfriend, a romantic relationship.
Did you meet in Paris?
No, New York. He works in fashion for Marc Jacobs and they opened a boutique in Paris. We both wanted to live in Europe, and when this opportunity came up around a year ago I was starting to travel a lot around Europe doing live stuff so it really made sense to come here. We both like Berlin but Paris is a really interesting city. Busy but quiet. My French is terrible so I’m at home working on music a lot.
How does living in Paris affect your thinking and creative output as opposed to living in the States?
On so many levels it’s positive. I lived in New York for eight years working a full time job as a press agent and doing music non stop in the evenings and weekends. I really enjoyed the city and the energy in New York but it was almost impossible to have a balanced lifestyle.
What do you think of the indie dance rock scene in Paris? Labels like Kitsune, Ed Banger…
I know it through my partner and his work. I don’t know many artists or CDs but I do enjoy it when I go out. I do like to hear other things, you know, especially now I’m totally consumed with production. I don’t go out so often in Paris participating in that scene, but I like what’s going on.
When did you first meet Richie and join the M_nus roster?
I guess it was about six or seven years ago. I met Magda in New York in 1999. She was DJing at a place called Flamingo East – this was a few years before she started working with M_nus. I kind of showed up at this place alone and introduced myself to her. I was really taken with the music she was playing - a cool mixture of Midwest techno, Dan Bell Plus 8 stuff mixed in with some real funky type stuff. We sort of became friends I guess. Magda had some roommates from Detroit who were really great dancers – a real funny posse. Seventy percent of the group were women. It really is kind of rare to have a posse of chicks. They were so much more fun than hanging out with a bunch of techno guys, you know, being nasty and stuff.
You must have had interest from other labels before you chose M_nus.
A. Yeah, Jay Haze has been really supportive of my work. The deal with M_nus happened so naturally. I was not sending demos out. I’d been making music for a while but really only keeping it to myself. It was a quiet passion I had. Especially in New York where most people don’t understand you’re an artist that produces techno music, so I spent many years just doing it. I made a really big decision in my life to do this thing, you know? I’m thirty years old. I left a job I had for five years to do this thing so it’s, well, precarious. But I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had complete confidence in the other people in the label.
Hard or soft – which direction does your music lean toward?
I guess my sound is getting darker now. It’s funny – I play my music to people and they say “That’s so dark!” and I’m like “Really?” It doesn’t seem that dark to me. Some of the stuff that I make is pretty upbeat and high energy at times, and it has a sense of humour to it too. I’d like to think that I’m capable of the full spectrum. With the darkness I find there is always optimism, you know? It’s like when you’re on the dancefloor, it’s not just empty; you’re persevering through something. A catharsis. An experience. It’s not communication of straight happiness; it’s sort of the ability to go through an experience, and that’s why a lot of people go out. They want to be taken somewhere.
How do you keep the Heartthrob sound original?
I think with any group of artists working together, represented by a label and a sound, there is a pressure to work within a certain scope of ideas. But as an artist you really have to make what you want to make. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. You cannot really cancel your ideas, otherwise you’re not experimenting, you know? When I produced ‘Baby Kate’, I was so unsure of it. It was a melody that I thought was really interesting, but when I presented it to Rich, Magda and Troy, the reaction was, uh, mixed. Some of them liked it, the first response was ‘God, that’s really dramatic. That’s a lot of melody!” Often times with minimal techno tracks it’s stripped down percussion and groove, and this is more lyrical, you know? It’s a different kind of idea. With those qualities it did not appeal to some of the artists, and did appeal to others.
Where did the track name ‘Baby Kate’ come from?
It’s funny – it’s about Kate Moss!
Do you play any of the Baby Kate remixes live?
No, that’s for the DJs to play. I play my own variation of it. I have the files in Ableton Live set so I can change it around a bit. When I perform I want some spontaneity. It’s kind of loose – I have an idea of where I want to start and then I see what happens. Sometimes it’s really great and loose, but it depends on the crowd. I would rather have moments that are not pristine and over-produced.
Which countries are the most responsive to your live sets?
London was fantastic, but London is a music city. It always has been. Spain is really cool and Italy was nice with all of us being there for NYE. We had a stage. To see a huge crowd of people together is really great. I also like some out of the way places. Belgrade was great with eight hundred or so people. I have a lot of fun in the smaller places.
A question about studio stuff. With the advances in computers and software, are you using anything analogue these days?
A. Yeah, I use some synthesisers from the eighties and some modern ones too. I use a Macintosh computer and Ableton Live, but that’s pretty obvious. Everyone uses that. I use Pro Tools a bit too. I do most of the arranging in the computer and a lot of the writing on the synths. A combination, you know? I don’t have many synths – one is an Elektron Mono Machine.
Does Richie ever give you guidance or direction?
No, never. He never really tells me how to produce. Most of the time I run things past Richie and ask him what he thinks of it. He either likes it or he doesn’t.
Do you do things differently for different labels?
I think its better to release specific things and not flood the market with a bunch of records. I don’t feel the need to release a lot of music. I like to hold onto things and use them. They can be special to me. Of course I don’t always agree with A&R people or other people’s taste. There are tracks that I adore that I would love to put out. But I’m new to this anyway. I want to take my time.
I read somewhere that in your early days you used to play dress up with your sister and have a bit of fun.
It wasn’t so much dress up as choreography. At the time I was really young, seven to ten, and there was this film with John Travolta in, I cannot remember the name, but along with Fame that was a big influence. I had to go to these dance classes with my mother and sister and sit there and wait and watch them dance. I was a kid, you know? Young and totally bored. So I thought I could dance too. I started taking dance classes, which led to me dancing for a long time.
Do you dance out with any of the M_nus guys when you are out and about?
Oh yeah, me and Magda have a dance troupe. We have moves that we’ve created. We put on a good show, you know, with lots of lifts. One time I dropped her on some steps and she bruised her leg. I was really drunk. We have a new rule now: safety first.
Imagine a seedy dancefloor full of sweaty bodies and you’re playing the final set on the Saturday night at Sonar 2007. What would you play to destroy the dancefloor?
Chaka Khan’s ‘Feel Free’. If I had the opportunity I would play this, but it’s a bit tricky with a live set! I’ve loved that track since I was young. Prince was also a big influence.
Any word on a Heartthrob vs. Prince Project?
It would be a dream. I really like the drum machines he used at one point. His production was so contemporary sounding with the synths and basses. You can’t really touch it, you know? He does his thing and I do my thing, where we would meet would be interesting. But he’s a king, you know?
Are you content with your work right now or is the best yet to come?
For me it is just the beginning. I still really want to push it. This last year has really been my first full time year as a producer. I’d love to continue doing this as long as I can. This is what I really enjoy – the music that I do and the music of my peers that I’ve been listening to. I’d like to grow with this and hopefully do some work that I really believe in.
Any new releases from yourself out soon?
I recently did a remix for Troy Pierce on Underline, a Grace Remix from his Enemy Love album. That should be out soon. But the next thing out on M_nus will be ‘Versus’, a new M_nus thing with Troy Pierce and me on one side, and Gaiser and myself on vocals on the flip. Right now my production focus is on a new M_nus EP and then an album, and then after the album things will move in another direction. Magda and I also have a band called ‘Judy’.
Other artists I have spoken to say the industry feels a bit reluctant towards artist albums. What do you think of this notion?
Yeah, it’s true. A lot of people in the industry do think the same thing or have a similar attitude, down tempo tracks etc have to be on the album. It’s nice to also hear my older tracks, you know? There are so many releases every day. One of my aims is to produce tracks that stand the test of time.
Finally, could you explain what a mantrap is?
A mantrap is a move you do by stepping on someone’s shoe and then you ‘Mantrap’ them and kiss them. It works most of the time. I haven’t used it recently, but it will make a comeback.
That wouldn’t be a M_nus thing, would it?
Oh, it is definitely a M_nus thing. Troy likes it.
Heartthrob 'Baby Kate Remixes' is released on M_nus in February 2007.