The Exchange is a periodic in-depth look at the artistic motivations of musicians and collectives. We try to approach this from a more cultural and societal perspective, aside from the necessary musical one, because we cannot deny the influence of modern age bringing ideas from all over the world which broaden our horizons. It is a fact that we can learn a lot from movements that are foreign to us.
Rhys Fulber, Los Angeles
2018 has been a year so far in which legends of the Techno, EBM, Industrial, and even Hardcore scenes have re-established their legacy after a renewed interest from the younger generation. The recognition has come from a will to dig deeper and discover the origins of the high bpm sounds, making their return for a couple years now in sets and newborn labels. Meanwhile on Sonic Groove, a legendary label ran by Adam X since the 90s, business as usual has been going on, meaning the label has not seized to bring out influential works for the dance floor from established producers. One of these has been Rhys Fulber, easily one of the world’s most accomplished electronic producers, who has made a return on the label with the album Your Dystopia, My Utopia after his 12” Realism. Fulber has contributed much to the Industrial and EBM scenes with not only his work under his own alias, but also in various formations. Front Line Assembly and Noise Unit are some examples of Fulbers’ collaborations that still appeal to the imagination of the upcoming generations of producers.
In this interview, we have the honor to speak to Fulber about some deciding points in his career, and how these influences have led up to the crafting of Your Dystopia, My Utopia.
Z – Thank you for this interview. In the intro we have named some of your many collaborations over the years, of which the earliest are heavily influenced by the quick immersion of synth sounds and other electronics in (post-)industrial music. How have you experienced this change in the possible industrial soundscapes through the incorporation of electronics in the 80s and your contribution to this?
I think you mean in regards to current new material out there then yes. Its somewhat surreal at times to hear these sounds in a new, younger context but it is also exciting because it gives the sounds I loved new live and it is exciting again. I do not mean my contributions specifically in this case, but more that whole movement getting new life. I did see an artist perform at Säule recently where the sounds reminded me very much of an old industrial ambient record I worked on, but its hard to tell if it is a specific influence or coincidence. Either way there is a certain comfort in it, like returning home after a long journey.
Z – Did the Industrial aesthetic, which had a unifying theme in all things “gross, atrocious, horrific […]”* against the backdrop of post-Industrial Revolution society, appeal to you as a beginning musician in Northern America? Or was it more the DIY culture that spoke to you?
What first brought me there was the love of electronic music. I was very much into Kraftwerk and early, more experimental OMD records when I was young, and this seemed to take it all to a darker next level. I also loved the subversive and obscure subject matter that gave it an almost educational quality. I also grew up around punk rock, so the DIY quality was already installed in me from that, so this just brought it all together; a convergence of punk and electronic music; two things that shaped my early years.
Z – The Front Line Assembly and Intermix output sound incredibly fresh, although produced decades ago. It also has this relationship, at least to me, to beat music, and later on trance and early techno music, especially heard in kicks, chord progressions, and usage of vocals. How would you describe the red thread in these different palettes? Was the moment you recognized a sound getting more mainstream/remixed also the urge to distance yourself from it and go yet another way, maybe because you didn’t like your music being used in such a way?
I think what makes music stay fresh is enthusiasm. When music is made quickly and enthusiastically it stays in the sound, regardless of genre, so that could partially be the case there. Also it was the compositional methods that connected all those projects, the set up we used, and as we got better at it, we wanted to bring in new influences to keep it evolving. It wasn’t so much moving on when something got more attention as it was just learning and expanding the sound. We started listening to a lot of techno (R&S Records etc.) pretty early on after spending time in Belgium around the New Beat explosion. The music we were into influenced those artists who in turn influenced us in a symbiotic circle.
Z – With the newer project Conjure One you have explored a more cinematic, down-tempo range, drenched with beautiful vocals. Nevertheless a contrast from your earlier EBM works, it shows the same detail and love for music and it lies quite close to the output as Delerium. Are there other, more surprising elements that can we witness in Conjure One which stem from your earlier projects?
Out of all the projects I have done, I think Conjure One was composed in the most different way. Most of the musical elements were mapped out in raw form, usually just on piano, before the production was started. So rather than grooves and sounds, everything was started almost purely from a musical standpoint, arranging chord progressions, etc. The manipulated voices and textures were the common thread with the earlier works and those were usually added last. That is also how it differs from Delerium, though they share similarities. Delerium was composed very much like FLA, just with different sounds.
Z – Now Your Dystopia, My Utopia seems to go full circle. Vocals, textures, synths, 4/4 beats, soundscapes, drones. What can this album teach to the current generation of musicians? Can we anticipate more releases being made for the millennial crowded dancefloors?
I had friends suggesting I make some harder edged electronic music again, so I started jamming some ideas and it just developed from there. It felt natural and liberating because I was making it freely without worrying about anything other than energy and tempo, and now I can’t stop! I have some material that didn’t fit on the album I really like as well as many more pieces still in the pipeline. So there is lots more coming.. I think the one thing I could say to younger musicians that I relearned working on this last album is being yourself and finding your own style is the most important thing, and music should flow freely and not be over thought, at least in its composition. Toil over a mix for weeks if you have to, but the initial ideas should almost write themselves…
* Industrial Culture Handbook – RE/SEARCH, 1983