Interview with Concubine: „The most important transaction is in the ear canal.“

An interview for DJBroadcast regarding the release of their debut.

Photo by Mortlock Photography & Media
Photo by Mortlock Photography & Media

Concubine was formed one Berlin winter, when Rick Bull (aka. Deepchild) and Noah Pred shared not only the same neighbourhood, but also a certain musical neurosis. Thanks to working as a collaborative project, they rediscovered their artistic freedom and joy of pure creativity. Their debut album is built on improvisation and intuitive creative processes which stream along tight house beats and ubiquitous synthesisers.

Both Bull and Pred have been active in the game for quite some time. Deepchild has released a mixture of techno and house records since the beginning of the new millennium. Noah Pred owns Thoughtless Records and has put out out many of his own releases, along with several collaborations with Soultek, Mateo Murphy and Pablo Bolivar. Nevertheless, some time ago, both of them reached a point of certain catharsis and eventually closed themselves in the studio. This lead to their first collaborative debut, where their mutual passion for various music styles beyond house and techno can be heard, as well as experimentation in the realm of sounds and melody without being burdened by some ponderous concepts. And thanks to their previous experience, outstanding production skills and generally being a good match, it sounds pretty good. And on top of that, it’s available as a free download.

How long have you been working together and how did it start?

Noah: We’d known each other for a couple years, but it wasn’t until Rick moved into a flat a couple blocks from me that we tried jamming. The first attempt didn’t go so well – I think we were both hungover or something, because what we did that first time was so bad I thought we might just not be a good fit in the studio together. A couple weeks later we tried again, which is when ‚Luxend‘ came together, and from there on we were locked in. We started doing sessions on a weekly basis throughout that winter and between our travels; each session since then has resulted in a new track.

Rick: Noah’s description is fairly apt – though he’s omitted the fact that I’ve traditionally been petrified of collaborations, primarily as I’ve felt that my composition process can be somewhat erratic and personal. Noah’s workflow seems to have a certain degree more focus and poise than my ramshackle freeform methodology; the irony being that after our first nervous session, all subsequent collaborations flowed almost effortlessly. It’s been a profound and joyful artistic exchange – a reminder for me that there’s a lightness and synchronicity when musical exchanges are uncontrived and accommodating.

In the description of making the album, you mention that working as Concubine frees you from musical neuroses. Did you both feel that way when you started working together and where does the neurosis come from?

Noah: I think we made a conscious decision to approach our sessions as intuitively and instinctively as possible without getting hung up on ideas about what should or shouldn’t work, or would or wouldn’t be appropriate for certain contexts – just doing what felt and sounded right purely for the joy of the creative process, and seeing where it took us.

Rick: Particularly as club DJs and producers based in Berlin, it’s easy to become affected by some of the myopic tendencies that often dominate the scene – to be bound by its overbearing self-awareness and hipster politics. Early last year it felt as if both of us were approaching a certain burnout point. Despite our history and profiles, we needed a way to rediscover a sense of sonic playfulness. Concubine was a space where we could place ourselves with relatively little to prove, either sonically or in terms of club politics. It was a chance to rediscover an unburdened approach.

How has the collective intuitive work on Concubine enriched you as musicians? Would you say that you will continue being generally more playful and focus on the creative process itself even when making solo music in the future?

Noah: Absolutely. That’s another benefit of collaboration – it always seems to provide perspectives and methods that have the power to inform each artist’s solo work, although never quite in the same way. I think it’s safe to say this project has already had an impact on my solo process.

Rick: Agreed. It’s always surprising to see the ways in which collaboration actually does effect individual work – and often this unfolds or ripens months after a piece is complete. One of the beautiful experiences I’ve had with such things is forgetting who may have been responsible for a particular element of a track – the blurring of memories can be quite lovely, and always educational.

Noah, you’ve released few records of collaborative projects before (together with Tom Clark, Pablo Bolivar and Tim Xavier). How does working with Rick differ from your past collaborations?

Noah: I only recently rediscovered the power of collaboration. Before I realized I could make electronic music I used to play in psych-rock bands, and part of the initial allure of electronic production was the ability to fully realize my compositional ideas without having to appease anyone’s ego – except of course for my own. In recent years I’ve been able to collaborate with some other artists who I’ve respected for years, and the respect is mutual, so the process in the studio is coming from a place of mutual trust and confidence. With Rick it’s just been super fun. Every track has come together so fluidly, sometimes it almost seems too easy. I think we’ve both been astonished by what’s come out of our sessions – even the shortest jams have been incredibly fruitful.

You are both known for your solo house and techno productions. With Concubine however, many more influences can be heard – from krautrock-like meditative beats to ‘80s synth pop and disco. How much did you let yourself go with Concubine? Did you have any kind of sound in mind when you started?

Noah: I think it all stems from the intuitive approach we took – really just encouraging whatever ideas came up in the process and following through with them.

Rick: It’s great that these influences are evident. The jamming experience was peppered with moments of “wait, listen to this…” or, “do you remember that?” I remember pulling out bits of 2-step and boogie-down to play Noah, talking about our favorite Detroit techno pads, etc. I guess you could say Concubine has been a way for us to share and consolidate our nerdy musical histories and smear them with our own fingerprints.

How important is the element of improvisation in your work?

Noah: Absolutely crucial. Improvisation is the seed of all our work to date.

Noah, in an interview conducted by Rick for DJBroadcast, you mentioned that you’d like to remind people of their cosmic heritage with music. Did you follow this approach also while making the Concubine album? It sounds quite spacey with all those synth layers and field recordings…

Noah: For me, that’s the whole reason for making music in general: to create experiences that have the potential to remind people (and also make me feel, in making it) that they’re part of something far bigger than the rather narrow focus we all tend to obsess ourselves with day-to-day. And you can’t get bigger than the cosmos. I don’t personally interpret the spacey synths and dubby sounds as a direct reference to that, but I can see how that might be a takeaway.

Rick: Music is just one tool, one shared passion, one part of a wider process of learning “what it means” to be human that I’m deeply invested in. At its root, I feel like music has helped us examine our tiny place in the scheme of things. It’s helped us find mental silence. It’s a reminder that we are part of a deeper ecology. Music isn’t necessarily an end point; it can be part of a deeper conversation about what makes us human, and how we can (hopefully) tend and care for each other more tenderly.

Do you use a lot of analogue equipment like synthesizers? What will you use for your live shows?

Noah: Sure – we’ve used Rick’s Alpha Juno, SH-101, Volcas, and Monotribe, along with my Microbrute and RYTM, and a buddy’s TT303 on a couple tracks as well – so there’s plenty of analogue gear on the record. Our live set features a range of synths, drum machines, and controllers with Live. At least half of the outboard gear for that is analogue. We’re not dogmatic about these things.

Rick: It pains me to recognize that irksome gear fetishism has reinforced so much dull sonic puritanism of late. Revisionist notions of the “correct way” of doing things are boring and problematic. Digital, analogue, hardware, software – it’s largely unimportant to us. TR-808s are fun, sure – but it’s worth remembering they carved their place in music history because they were not intended to be used in the way they were – they were hardware outcasts! I think there’s a great lesson here. Judgmental purist attitudes are largely unhelpful. Embrace whatever tools avail themselves, and let them reveal their stories.

In your PR text, you quote Marshall McLuhan’s “medium is a message“ claiming that music is never just music but carries a meaning, a message. Do you yourself try to perceive music, art or other „media“ in a larger context? And do the tracks on your album carry some intentional messages or concepts, or is it rather intuitive?

Noah: I don’t know that there are any preconceived messages or concepts in the music, and in fact, I think many art forms can be most enchanting when they leave room for the observer to project their own meaning into it. But I think Rick chose that quote in reference to the album being a free download.

Rick: We’re both McLuhan fans, and this classic quote of his resonates rather deeply for myself, almost as a mantra. The music we’re sharing is as much about the way in which it’s exchanged, shared, produced, as it is about the songs. When J-Lo sings “despite all the rocks I wear, I’m still Jenny from the block” it could be argued that the medium of delivery tells a slightly different story. We’re all subject to these deep contradictions in the music world. Concubine is a way to throw open some of these questions into the public sphere. What does it mean for us if our music is free rather than monetized? How do we enter into a wider cultural conversation about music, its performance, its communal value in such a saturated sonic universe? In this regard, the medium is very much the message.

You will release your collaborative debut digitally and for free. The reason behind it is to “break some personal assumptions about the way the ‘industry’ works, or ‘should’ work“, as Rick described. Considering you are both well-established DJs and producers who have been in the industry for quite a while, what bothers you about the contemporary industry?

Noah: After exploring other avenues, it just seemed like a good opportunity to raise some questions about the subjugation of musicians in a profit-extraction economy rampant with thirsty middlemen: why are musicians still exploited for the profit of a chain of “industry professionals”? Why give corporate entities like Apple or Amazon a cut of our work? Or Beatport, for that matter? Especially when thousands will resort to stealing it anyway, why present retail barriers at all? Increasingly, musicians themselves are only seeing payment from gigs, and the most important transaction is in the ear canal anyway.

That said, I love that this industry provides so many free-thinking, free-spirited, passionate and creative people with meaningful (if often underpaid and unstable) work – and I love the sense of solidarity we all share in it. But there’s a certain disillusionment with deeply entrenched dynamics and power structures that are well worth questioning – dynamics that are rooted in the culture at large and have a negative impact far beyond the music industry itself.

So if you would have the power to rearrange some of those mechanisms or dynamics within the music industry, which would they be and how would you would you change them?

Noah: I don’t know that I’m qualified to make large scale proposals here, but I believe that a lot of people would love to see less mediation between themselves and the artists they want to support. It’s almost a microcosm of the global economy, where established entities tend to accumulate the most capital. It would be nice to see a system where there’s a better balance of power between artists and fans, with less profit diverted in between.

Rick: I feel that there are already swaths of different mechanics and micro-models for artists to explore and experiment with. What’s lacking, perhaps, is a deeper paradigm shift or re-imagining of the relationship that art and community can have together – very much as Noah has mentioned, mirroring global economic trends and assumptions. It feels as if arts practice is becoming more rarified, stratified, and focused on short-term aspirationalism. Conversations about non-financial models are largely absent, as are conversations about arts-exchange, longevity and development over decades. Often, we’ve supplanted notions of the arts as „voices of the community“ with ideas that certain arts are tools to reach a certain end. I’m more interested in an ongoing conversation, a robust political dialogue, and using our work nourish and sustain conversations which extend far beyond the club floor.

For this to happen, we need a conversation comprised of many voices, across cultural strata. I think we could probably benefit from consciously forgetting many tropes of the contemporary music industry. Believe it or not – music and dance existed before they were met with remuneration, before they were recordable forms. There are profound lessons in dreaming of a music world more expansive and empowering than the one we’re spoon-fed to accept as gospel. Burn the gospel. Light new fires.

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