Imagine a world where techno music was not immediately associated with pulsing neon lights and rave-y dance parties. Imagine, instead, that techno has been translated into a vehicle for intricate storytelling.
That's what Kansas City's Huerco S. - the stage name of 22-year-old producer Brian Leeds - aims to do with his debut full-length Colonial Patterns
. Except his music isn't actually techno - more like experimental electronica, or fuzzy dance music, with flavors of ambience and whispered distortion.
, released in September, is a high-concept, low-budget collection of songs: Inspired by pre-Columbian American history, Leeds has woven a historical narrative into layers of synths, recorded in fractures on cassette and vinyl. The album creates a misty soundscape that sounds like it would be more at home playing at an art installation than in a club.
Ahead of the Huerco S. show this Saturday at FOKL, we chatted on the phone with Leeds from his new abode in Brooklyn.
The Pitch: You relocated to Brooklyn earlier this fall. This is kind of an obvious question, but what motivated your desire to move?
: Well, I was born in Emporia, Kansas, so a few hours away from Kansas City, and I've been in Kansas City for my entire life. Basically, I felt like that [moving] was the natural thing to do. Kansas City is great, but it's hard there, to be a musician or an artist.
In the past, you've talked about how
Colonial Patterns is both parts pre-Columbian American history and Kansas City jazz legacy. How did you arrive at the intersection of those two things?
It's not so much that it was entirely being influenced by Kansas City jazz - I guess I was more influenced by the fact that I lived there and it was kind of like a desire to bring that to more people's attention, kind of the same thing with the history aspect. But I think it was more about the improvisational part of Kansas City jazz that I wanted to represent, you know? I'm just really into history, and obviously within history and art, things repeat themselves. It's just only a matter of time, you know? I felt like somebody else was going to do it, so I had to do it.
I'm new here, so you'll have to forgive my ignorance, but of all the different sects of the music scene here, it doesn't seem like the experimental or electronic stuff here gets a lot of attention.
Oh, no, not at all. I think that there are some DJs playing stuff in like, Westport, but it's nothing that I would be into or consider really... It's just a lot of like, older dudes, to be honest. There's not a lot of youth involved in the electronic music in Kansas City that I can see - or that I did see, at least.
Given your background, growing up in Emporia and living here, how did you end up getting into experimental electronic music and the kind of music you're making now?
I've always been curious. I've just been into loads of different things, so just naturally, I would kind of search out these kind of new ideas and sounds. We live in the information era, so it's really not that hard to find a lot of different stuff, so if you're willing to spend hours and hours in front of a computer or something researching stuff, you can come up with a lot of things.
Were you ever really surprised that Kansas City hasn't found the producer side of things yet, the experimental stuff that you're into now?
Not really... . I mean, I don't want to sound pretentious or anything, but there never really was a scene there. I think people are far more interested in other kinds of music, and that's fine, you know? That's why I had to leave.
Your music is often referred to as "experimental dance music." When you were creating this album, did you imagine people dancing to your music? How do you envision your songs being consumed?
Well, some of my them [my songs] are different, a bit more functional. I operate under a couple of different aliases, and some of them are definitely more straightforward in that they're meant as DJ tools, the records are meant to be played out and danced to.
But with the LP, with Colonial Patterns
, it was a bit more... I think with the album format proper, you have so much more mobility. You can actually more around and form a narrative. I don't think it's necessarily a dance album. It's not, at all. It's definitely meant to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home or on headphones. I think it's definitely kind of a listen-by-yourself kind of album. I think you can listen to it with other people or whatever, but it's definitely something that needs to be heard and consumed by yourself.
You're young, this is your first album, and you're getting a lot of attention for it. Is it weird performing this live?
To be honest, I haven't done a lot of sets since the beginning of this year when I was in Canada. I'm a DJ as well, so I just play records. I still am - as much as my album may be experimental or leftfield or whatever, my DJ sets can still be quite classically informed in terms of dance music. I will play ambient and noise music records sometimes, but I do love disco and house and techno, so these are the kinds of things that I'm playing, especially in Europe and stuff like that.
I am doing a live set on Saturday, so that will be interesting. To be honest, I don't really know what I'm doing. I just want to leave it up to the whole improv side of things.
Are there any opportunities that have come your way since you released
Colonial Patterns and moved to New York?
I'm going back to Germany for New Year's Eve, and I'm playing some parties. I'll be in Berlin for a bit. It's just the fact that I can travel more, because that's basically how I have to work. Even in New York, I don't play that much. I'll maybe play like once or twice a month, but the money is in Europe. That's more sustainable, it's more of a job there. Which is kind of weird, that I have to go to Europe to have a job. Just getting various gig requests. I had someone in St. Louis - almost like a music conservatory there approached me, and it seemed very high-end or academic, which would be kind of hilarious. We'll see.
Huerco S. is at FOKL this Saturday, December 21. California's YYU and local electronic duo Maxine and Cleo join the bill. Details here.