12.09.2018 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva
French-born, Berlin-based producer David Letellier (aka Kangding Ray) is renowned for his complex, emotionally charged sound aesthetics that blur boundaries between techno and a more experimental sound. In August, I had the chance to witness the anticipated premiere of their collaborative live project with Sigha under the moniker Neon Chambers. With this alliance, not only the fusion of the signature sounds of the artists, but a much deeper exploration of sonic territories took place.
This Saturday, David returns to De School, accompanied by JP Enfant and UNRUSH founder Mareena, which was a good reason to catch up with him and hear more about his latest discoveries and the meaning behind his music.Q: Three weeks ago, at Berlin Atonal you made your debut as Neon Chambers in collaboration with Sigha. The live project was often listed as one of the highlights of the festival. Did everything go as planned?
A: Yes, I have to say it actually exceeded our expectations. We are both known for this dark techno style. At first, we thought we would follow this direction, but as we started to work together, doing these long studio sessions, it started to go in a very different way than we expected. We went beyond our own styles, and it got even more interesting. This collaboration became something special, something we both couldn’t have done on our own.Q: So the project started off as modular jam sessions with James. Can you tell us more about how the whole concept developed?
A: We have known each other for quite a while now, but we never had the urge to start something together. Then we received a proposal to do some shows as b2b DJs, which we decided to turn into a much bigger and interesting live project. We started to work together, and just built the concept from a scratch. It became almost a complete music & art project with visuals and even some sort of commentary on social media.Q: You are known for giving your albums a heavy conceptual bent. Your performance at Berlin Atonal was supported by visuals composed of Instagram posts edits. Tell us more about the idea behind it.
A: There is this irony in concerts becoming valued whether it’s “Istagrammable” or not. People want to document their lives and the shows they go to, which puts a distance between us and reality. At the same time, that’s what brings people from all over the world together through similar ideas, through hashtags for example. We wanted to show both of these aspects: the madness of being addicted to this, and, at the same time, actual realization of complete globalization.
It’s very interesting for us to link it with the way we have been doing music. When we started to work, we were really attracted to this idea to deconstruct the music codes we have learnt. What is techno? What is rave? What is trance? What is house music? When you start to analyze a code and kind of deconstruct it, it becomes a kind of material. That’s what we did with Neon Chambers, we basically took the same material, the same code, the same tools and we worked on our modular systems to break and deconstruct them into a new shape.Q: Your performance was clearly a result of the long sonic journey you went through. Do you think it had an impact on your own style under the moniker Kangding Ray?
A: It’s a bit early to say because we are just at the start of it, but it definitely will. James and I had long discussions about how this project actually forces us to get out of our comfort zones. So now, I think we won’t be able to go back to our studios and work on our solo projects without this knowledge and being aware of the possibilities to explore different paths. Not that we have been very conservative in our solo shows; what each of us does is already pretty experimental and leftfield, but this collaboration showed us that we can go even further in terms of sonic exploration, concepts and deconstruction.Q: Are socio-political factors something you see as a fundamental part of your works?
A: It’s always been part of my reflection; I think a lot about music the way I think about the world. I try to see the big picture and incorporate it into my music. The problem with electronic genres such as techno is that we don’t have lyrics to convey the meaning. It’s not like hip-hop or rock, so you have to find other ways to do it. I often write my own press releases, look for the right images or transmit these ideas through my social media presence. I guess it is also the attitude towards music itself, sort of work ethic and regularity, being very strict in the way I approach sound research and production. In the end, I use all these little elements to convey the ideas.Q: Aside from your experiments with Sigha, what have you been up to lately?
A: I’ve been trying to work on this SUMS album (he laughs). This is the project we’ve been working on for quite a while. It’s a bit difficult to work on it continually because we are both very busy and Barry is always on tour with Mogwai. Slowly, we are bringing together all the pieces of what will become a record. It’s great to be on stage with my two friends and band mates again and just make some noise with a guitar as well. It’s a nice change from being behind the CDJs or drum machines. That’s a very good feeling, that’s really where I come from.
I am also preparing the next Kangding Ray release, but I’m a slow producer, who’s never really happy with the result. So, I’ve been busy for a while, mostly just constructing things over again and coming back to the start, and then starting new things… (laughing) it’s going to take a bit of time.Q: Is this what you meant by saying in one of your interviews that you need to “suffer” the track before you know what it’s about?
A: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess I’m never happy with the first try. I might come back to it in the end, but I need to go through the whole process until I can be sure I want to release it. Once it’s pressed into a vinyl record, there is no coming back.Q: You discovered techno after moving to Berlin. Can you tell us more about your first encounter with the German club scene?
A: I was connected to the breakcore scene, which was very active in Berlin in the early 2000s, and those were the first electronic shows I’ve been to. The squat scene, dark basements, very underground places where you had to get through the window and go deep down. There you could find the shows where people were making noise on machines. It felt somehow connected to the punk rock scene I was familiar with back in France, but much more advanced, strange and forward-thinking. At the same time, I had my first proper club experience. I think the first techno club I’ve visited is the old Tresor, which used to be near Potsdamer Platz...but these are blurry memories.Q: That’s when you started to produce?
A: I had no intention to make dance music back then. I had my sampler and a guitar, and I was just making sounds. I was much more influenced by the electronica scene such as Boards of Canada and Autechre than the Detroit sound which was played in Tresor that time. When I started to produce, it was more about making some sort of weird experimental leftfield electronica. And that’s what my first two albums were like.Q: Who do you consider as your biggest music inspirations?
A: It’s hard to name a few. I guess one of them would be Trent Reznor. When I listened to Nine Inch Nails in the 90s, their productions were advanced strange stuff he was doing with machines and a guitar. His productions were very influential to me. Also, My Bloody Valentine changed my idea of what was possible in terms of sound and, of course: Aphex Twin.Q: You are known for releasing your music exclusively on Raster-Noton and Stroboscopic Artefacts. What is the reason for this loyalty?
A: I like stability, and I prefer focusing on music rather than thinking too much about my career. I just make music and whoever wants to, can listen to it. But next year there might be some changes…we will see (laughing).Q: You performed in the Netherlands quite a number of times and after the night in De School you already have a couple of performances planned during ADE. What are your personal impressions of the Amsterdam scene so far?
A: I love Amsterdam, it’s definitely one of my favorite cities to play in. I have this weekend in front of me: Bassiani on Friday, De School on Saturday, then Berghain on Sunday. These are probably my top 3 clubs in the world, so I’m a lucky guy. I really look forward to it.Kangding Ray is playing in the basement on Saturday, September 15th, alongside JP Enfant and Mareena. More info and tickets here.