White Car announced their arrival in 2010 with a self-titled EP on Rainbow Body Records.
An arresting meld of EBM, industrial, raw Chicago house and smacked-out lounge-funk, it prompted comparisons in these pages with artists as diverse as Cabaret Voltaire, Hieroglyphic Being, Ike Yard and Stereo Image, but was clearly possessed of a verve and a vitality all its own. The follow-up No Better EP was easily one of the strongest 12″ statements of the year – a cinematic, jackhammering electro-pop attack that put us in mind of Borghesia produced by Morgan Geist, or Drexciya if they were a product of 80s no wave New York rather than 90s techno Detroit.
The duo of Elon Katz and Orion Martin will release their debut album later this year on Hippos In Tanks (Hype Williams, Laurel Halo, Games et al), and we’ll be mightily surprised if it’s not a blinder. Having recently recorded a FACT mix – a suave and telling blend of the likes of Controlled Bleeding, ESP, Severed Heads and Front 242 – Katz took time out from crafting his LP to talk to us about White Car’s origins, his distaste for goth-by-numbers and his numerous side-projects.
What’s the division of labour between the two members of White Car?
Elon Katz: “We both work together on the imagery and visual representation of White Car. In the studio, the division is heavily weighted though – I make the music. Orion is oriented towards music as a drummer and a listener/appreciator. He is painter and an incredible artist (orionmartin.net), so his opinion and insight help mold what you hear on a White Car track. He can help steer ideas into directions I might have overlooked. It’s like having a good editor who also wrecks electronic percussion.
“He has no patience for making electronic music though, it’s too tedious for him. He makes an appearance on the recordings if there is a rhythm I hear but can’t quite program or if I want a more human rhythm for a sound, but this is usually a rare occasion. Although Orion does not play a vital role in the studio and the creation of the music, on stage we are equally important: his energy and our relationship are irreplaceable.”
What was life like for you prior to the formation of White Car?
“I am not into all this triangle/cross/symbolic-branding/occult shit a lot of bands have been doing – it seems empty, contrived and trite to me.”
Were you always into the dark stuff, or did it hit you at a certain time?
“I would say I like the weird stuff really, but yes, aesthetically the portrayal of darkness in music, literature and film has always been more interesting to me. I laugh during most horror movies, so what is dark to some people is not exactly disturbing to me. I find humour in darkness even if it’s not there. But if I have to choose between light and dark, I will usually take the latter – there seems to be more dimension to it. Blunt representations of darkness are typically distasteful to me though and I am not into all this triangle/cross/symbolic-branding/occult shit a lot of bands have been doing – it seems empty, contrived and trite to me, a quick way to be cool and edgy. I think it’s important to texture the duality: laugh at darkness and scowl at happiness. I am not a depressed person, but I’m not exactly happy one either, I’m more angry than anything else but I lack a taste for aggression and malice.
“I also don’t approach making music with the intent of making it ‘dark’. I do not sit down to record thinking, ‘how do I make this jam so dark?’ – what you hear are the scales and harmonic structures I am drawn to intuitively. I have so little factual knowledge of music theory and composition that what comes out is always somewhat of an experiment in songwriting, I tend to focus more on my sound palette and tone. I like the combination of harmony and dissonance. I guess for most people dissonance evokes feelings of fear and/or darkness, but for me it doesn’t, I’m just hearing texture and environment – a unique timbre. I don’t think White Car is that dark, it’s more mutant, paranoid, sticky, and funky.”
“I don’t think White Car is that dark, it’s more mutant, paranoid, sticky, and funky.”
What’s the aim of White Car? What are you trying to demonstrate or evoke with your music?
“That there is no escape from the lash of beat. I am a prisoner in the Techno Dungeon and so are all of you. Come with me.”
When did your love affair with industrial and EBM begin?
“My love affair is with most all electronic music really and has been going and growing ever since I heard [Aphex Twin’s] ‘Girl/Boy Song’ at around age 10 or 11, but the love for industrial music is pretty new. When I met Aaron David Ross [of Gatekeeper] in 2008 we quickly became friends and he exposed me to a lot of music I hadn’t heard before. I had never even heard of these bands, I was into stuff like Warp Records, Wire and Fela Kuti and had only heard ‘industrial’ things like NiN, KMFDM and guitar-based Ministry. I have always loved funked-out syncopation and I was really into punk stuff like Oi!, UK ’82 and Street Punk when I was younger, so hearing something like Cabaret Voltaire was mind-blowing; electronics, funk and punk. My most perfect amalgamation. How had I missed this stuff earlier on…?”
“Hearing something like Cabaret Voltaire was mind-blowing; electronics, funk and punk. My most perfect amalgamation.”
A Chicago house influence seems to exert itself in your work. Is that fair to say?
“Yes! You want this party started right?”
How, if at all, have your dwelling-place and surroundings affected you and the kind of music you make?
“Immensely. I think it was merely serendipitous that I happened to get into Wax Trax and Chicago house when I was living in their birthplace, I could have discovered this music anywhere really and it was due time, but being here has given me some insight into the physical environment that was behind those records and in turn I was probably drawn to them more than other records I was hearing. Being in an environment that is so flat and gets as cold as it does here has really affected me. I go through periods where the city really inspires me and I am full of ideas, but I also have times where the city silences my every thought with disgust. Chicago is a very transient place but I do love it.”
Any contemporary acts that we might not be aware of who you’re into at the moment?
“Beau Wanzer, Total Accomplishment, Innergaze, Cccandy, INC (previously known as Teen INC.) and Cleared. Beau is my buddy here in Chicago, we have a project called Streetwalker. His record is on the mix we did for FACT…it’s on Nation. He is also in this duo with Nation’s leader Traxx (AKA Melvin Oliphant) called Mutant Dance Beat; they have a 12” on Discos Capablanca. Total Accomplishment is this amazing new project from SF. It is straight up body-clocking New Beat with crazy processed vocals, my new favorite project, they have a few demos on Soundcloud right now but I would look out for this band this year!
“Innergaze is this duo from NYC who self-released this record called We Are Strange Loops, really amazing beat music, awesome sounds. INC is from LA, the brainchild of brothers named Daniel and Andrew Aged – dreamy syncopated MIDI fusion heaven! Cccandy I don’t know much about, think it’s a French guy living in Berlin. His record ‘Lonsome Berlin’ is the shit! I can get bored by contemporary minimal wave stuff pretty quick and his record is really inventive and amazing! Cleared is the project of my friend Mike Vallera with this percussionist Stephen Hess – it’s slow and beautiful music, their record just came out on Immune Recordings. Also, just about everything on the Catholic Tapes label is fucking amazing! Personal favorites are Positive Shadow, Alex Barnett and Fielded.”
How did you first become involved with Hippos In Tanks?
“[Label boss] Barron asked me to make a mix for his radio show on KXLU. The first track I put on the mix was a Krisma track, and I guess Barron’s mom heard it from the next room or something and reminded Barron that his father use to be their manager in the 80s. He told me this and we started talking a bit more and hit it off, I did a remix of Von Haze for him and then we started talking about doing a record. We get along well and I’m happy to be making records with them, I like their roster very much.”
“It’s about time molestation, the way the hands of the clock touch us in ways we do not wish to be touched and how we cannot forget.”
Tell us about the video for ‘No Better’ that Dan Lopatin [AKA Oneohtrix Point Never] directed. How did that come about? Did he have carte blanche as to the content or did you feed into the process?
“When Hippos in Tanks suggesting having Dan make a video I was really excited. Dan and I have mutual friends and I am a big fan of OPN, I knew he would make something really great. We didn’t really talk about what he was going to make, I told him I was more excited to just let him figure it out and see what he came up with. He definitely created a video I would not have made but I think that’s why I enjoy it so much. Orion and I will be taking on the responsibility of directing our own videos in the new year with the help of some good people.”
Speaking of which: what are you looking forward to in 2011?
“I just put out a tape with my project Streetwalker, which is Beau Wanzer and myself playing an assortment of dominantly analog gear. Streetwalker will be recording and releasing a full-length in the spring and playing live and DJing in NYC in late March. I’m in the process of recording White Car’s debut LP to be released on Hippos in Tanks summer 2011. I’m also working on a tape with an older project called Aguirre and more solo experimental recordings. White Car is planning to be on tour in fall 2011. I’m excited for the year and what it will bring.”
Can you tell us more about the forthcoming album?
“I’ve been working on it for the last eight months. It will be done in a few months and out sometime in July or August I suspect. It features something like eight new tracks and a few from this last year reworked for the LP. The record is about time and detail and sex and technology, and is largely about affect. The single is called ‘Now We Continue’ and is about time molestation, the way the hands of the clock touch us in ways we do not wish to be touched and how we cannot forget. The sound is pretty similar to my EPs but maybe taken to more extreme measures at times. Some of the new material is more subdued, some of it is more flamboyant. Each song is fairly different from the next and there are many characters and attitudes on the record, some of them mine, some of them not. I’ve been listening to more classic house and techno so I think that influence is starting to really show in the tracks. I think the LP will offer a wider approach to what I’ve already been doing. The sonics of this LP will be greatly enhanced, I will be mixing the tracks in a beautiful studio and taking special care to make it sound really full.”
“The drug trip kind of fucked with my mind at the time and I started recording all these really weird electronic folk songs…”
At what point in your music-making life did White Car really begin to take shape? What kind of musical projects were you involved in prior to White Car, and what new creative opportunities did White Car afford you?
“Before White Car I worked on two projects called Aeylen Orion Auspex and Aguirre. Aeylen Orion Auspex was a solo project I started in high school after a friend and myself had a psychedelic experience where I experienced intense terror. The drug trip kind of fucked with my mind at the time and I started recording all these really weird electronic folk songs. I did a release on a SF/Denmark CD-R label called Slow Glass Records called Crowmagnons. The project was an original Disaro artist before this whole witch-house/drag craze and the label starting doing vinyl. I remember hearing Salem on MySpace in 2007 through the Disaro page and being pretty amazed…shows how much can change in four years. Robert never put an AOA release out even though we had planned two. The music was really personal, almost too much so, diary music that became depressing for me to hear and I told Robert I was done with the project and didn’t want him to release it. I don’t really want anyone to hear that music, it’s self-indulgent and embarrassing. Disaro is a totally different label now and I am glad to see they are doing so well, all the best to them!
“Aguirre is actually about to release a full length cassette with the awesome NNA Tapes label. I would describe it as heyday 90s Warp catalog high on granular synthesis. That cassette should be out by the end of winter. I’m very excited for it!
“White Car really took shape in early 2009. I met Aaron David Ross of Gatekeeper and Night Gallery at my school. We had a bunch of classes together and we started talking and hanging out. We shared lots of interests in music and production. He and Matthew Arkel (GK) really helped me figure out good tools and working methods for making electronic music. They were listening to older stuff- italo, industrial, EBM, acid house, synth soundtracks, Kraftwerk, Vangelis, new age, techno. We shared many past interests and bonded over our childhood music obsessions and how funny they were to us now. They exposed me to new ways of listening and thinking about music and culture. They introduced me to a handful of people who had the same musical appetite that I did, and were as obsessed with electronic music as I was becoming. Chicago’s synth community is amazing and inspires me all the time.”