Interview with Perturbator (Worship the Gods of VHS)

Those of you who have been paying attention to us recently know we reviewed a few different dark synthwave bands in the past few months, in fact we've pretty much been going through a fad.  But around here that's what you want to see, it means we're giving you more of that hard-hitting somethingrather journalism you crave.  And we like to gluttonize ourselves on self-serving comments that often make no sense, so it's best to occasionally step back, take a look at what we've been reviewing, and get some more information from the bands themselves.  In this case we decided to interview the legendary Perturbator, who's probably the most important act in dark synthwave currently.  Sure, there are others like him, but Perturbator isn't just interested in the sounds and textures of all of that abandoned goodness of the 1980s before digital was around, he's interesting in giving the listener a story and telling it through his music, which is one of the reasons why his work is so alluring, with not a single track serving as the old "space filler" while you move ahead to more purposeful work.  Getting a chance to chat with him was a welcome experience, here's how it went down.

 

Deaf Sparrow -  I always feel stupid starting off with a question like this, but it's interesting to me since I have a classical music background myself. I'm always curious about this sort of thing.  What kind of background do you have in music, if any (classical piano, earlier bands, etc.)?

Perturbator -  I've dabbled a lot in Metal before Perturbator. Was a guitar player in little and unknowns prog and death metal bands from Paris and I'm currently reforming a Black Metal band.

DS - Interesting, you see?  Not so stupid.  Sometimes you can be surprised by what people have done based.  Can you tell me about some of these former bands you were in and this black metal project? So you obviously had some work in music before, but how exactly did you get into doing synthwave? I assume Perturbator had a start before it became the primary project. Anything before that hasn't been published? Did you have any formal training on piano or did you simply just start to write and learn yourself?

P - My first real experience in music was when I did guitar work in a prog metal band called I The Omniscient, but the band is now dead due to personal matters, though it was really a fun ride. Currently I'm recording and writing material for a Black Metal project ex-band-members and I just recently formed called Architeuthis. Musically it has very little to do with Perturbator really. When I The Omniscient split up, I was in a really weird moment in my life. I didn't know what to do, studying was not going well for me and there was nothing going on socially too, haha! Later I realized that I needed to create something personal in order to feel less shitty. That's when Perturbator was born, I took everything that I loved and grew up with, put all of it in a blender and wanted to make music out of it. Of course it took time and a lot of practice before getting to a result I was really satisfied with, but I still uploaded all my early works for those who are curious to hear it ! I play everything by ear too, in fact, I suck at naming any chords, keys or notes.

DS - I The Omniscient is pretty interesting, actually, gave it a listen.  And nothing beats naming a band after a giant sea beast that does, in fact exist, unlike one that doesn't.  Don't be so hard on playing by ear, it's actually an incredibly useful skill.  When I first started piano lessons that's one of the things my instructor exploited because I was so good at it, I could pick up advanced songs without any knowledge of the scales or anything and play it exactly as it sounded, provided I could at least hear it first.  It means you have a natural gift with music, something inborn that is impossible to learn, and it definitely shows in your work.  Since you talked about how Perturbator has been almost a release for you, emotionally perhaps, let's go from there. We've encountered several bands of the so-called 'dark synthwave' movement (Gatekeeper, Dance With the Dead, etc.), but your direction seems much different, less of a focus on playing music from a dead era and more of telling a story. Do you feel you have a story to tell the listener with each release or do you simply create whatever comes to your head?

dangerousdays page 9P - I always had a soft spot for concept albums. I feel like an album that just has a bunch of songs (even if they're great songs) has no purpose, it must tell a story or evoke something to me. When I started Perturbator back in 2012 with the idea of making movie soundtracks, I realized finding movies to score was harder than I thought it was. So I just decided to make soundtracks to movies that didn't exist. I still have the same mindset today and I feel like it became a huge part of my way of writing music, thats why I want every new album to sound and feel different from the previous ones, while still keeping the same "style".

DS - It sounds like you made some attempt at possibly contacting companies, directors, or someone involved in making films. If so were they underground films, B-Movies, or something with a bigger budget? If you did speak to someone, tell everyone about it.  Did it go anywhere at all, for example?

P - I did at the beginning but I quickly learned that I needed to get better at music and mixing in order to get a film score job. Although it's getting better these days, I get more interesting propositions now than ever. I wanted to use my Perturbator albums to showcase what I was capable of in terms of production, basically. One funny story is that I got to chat with Sean Young (who played Rachel in Blade Runner), she almost ended up recording some lines of dialogues for Dangerous Days but that didn't happen for some reason. Still, she heard my music and was willing to help me so that's very cool.

DS - Haha, yeah that girl was in Dune too, and Ace Ventura Pet Detective (the first one).  That's awesome, man.  That's how things like that begin, though, anymore getting that kind of job, or any job of substance really, is partially luck, partially who you know, and you already know someone.  So back to concepts in your albums.  Your work is dense with concept, which is awesome because it makes it more interesting to listen to it again.  Tell people about some of these concepts, let's start with your newest, Dangerous Days, and then your last one, I Am The Night.  What were you thinking when you decided on how to approach these albums?

gator2P - Most of the time I  take cues from cult classics, like you can obviously tell that Dangerous Days was inspired by Evilspeak, Sexualizer by the story of John Holmes and stuff like that. But like I said most of it is just a melting pot of a whole bunch of things I love, so I can get inspirations from Phillip K Dick stories as well as just a cool picture I find on Tumblr, for example. I'm not as a good writer or movie director as I wish I was, so my goal is just to find that perfect balance between having something relatable but making it feel fresh and new for a themed album.

DS - It's definitely clear you've seen a lot of things I grew up with,  Looking at your Tumblr page, and the album art of everything you've done, it's very clear you are aware of old B-movies and VHS culture. Some of your song titles remind me of films like Alucarda (which My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult is fond of), Ms. 45, stuff like that. What are your favorite flicks and which of them have gone into your work in particular?

P - Ms. 45 is one of my faves, man. There're just so many exploitation and sci-fi movies I've seen that it's actually getting really hard to do a list of my favorites, haha. I'll just put there a few of them: The Exterminator, Class of Nuke 'Em High, The Warriors, Savage Streets, Fear City, The Wraith, The Stuff, Re-Animator, Pieces etc. As for the ones that go into my sound, I mostly go about the more obvious ones like Blade Runner, Terminator, Suspiria, Halloween and such. But really I could talk about these kind of flicks all day, I just love this stuff man, haha.

DS - Yeah man, it's obvious you know your underground films. Tried to get the wife to watch Love Me Deadly the other day, but she couldn't make it hahahaah. So we watched Terror of Frankenstein instead, which was pretty damn faithful to the actual novella. Also just watched Stagefright, definitely recommended. It was a surprisingly good slasher. For Dangerous Days are there any other movies you looked to for inspiration? There are a ton of post-apocalyptic films I could think of you might have seen, just poking at that idea a bit more out of curiosity.

P - Haha Stagefright is so good, enjoyed the hell out of this one ! Well, Dangerous Days was mostly inspired by Evilspeak, like I said, for the concept and Tetsuo for the visuals. And obviously there's some Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner thrown in for good measure, because that's just how the "Perturbator universe" works, haha.

DS - So good to see a like minded person who doesn't forget about these things, much of modern culture, especially the current generation, is too interested in consuming and forgetting.  What a shame.  I actually hadn't heard Sexualizer until you mentioned it earlier, digging it.  There's a more romantic quality to the sound, you so easily capture that entire era, it's incredible.  So, anyway, back on track, it seems you finally released you first hardcopy release with Dangerous Days. This kind of music, I've found, is often transmitted primarily via digital means, which is what you did at first (correct me if I'm wrong). How did you manage the switch to hardcopy and how did Blood Music hear about you?  Pretty cool to see a metal label branch out.

P -  I simply got approached by Blood Music Records. As a fan of metal music, being able to release my electronic project with them was an outstanding opportunity, as they are well known in the metal scene for releasing high quality physical formats (especially vinyl). That's about it really.  How did they find me?  I don't know at all, haha. But I'm glad they did!

DS - So here's a question that's obvious but needs to happen.  Your sound would be spectacular live, if done right, so have you had any live performances yet?

P -  I'm going to do my first DJ Set in Germany this October, and then another one in Paris in November. As for live shows, I'm still trying to figure out how I'll do it and working on it !

DS - Strong recommendation when you play live, it would be mind-blowing if you had some sort of visual presentation to go along with the songs. I imagine something like that would take forever, if you had something unique made, but I bet with your knowledge of all these films you, or someone else, could piece together some awesome montages to fit the song themes. For this kind of music it would be stellar.

P -  Yeah I'm definitely working on that man. Since I come from metal music, electronic music live performances can easily be very boring for me. So in the future I'll do my best to make it more entertaining than just having me pressing buttons and turning knobs onstage.

DS - You know, that's the interesting thing about electronic music, especially something this dense.  You'll hear people criticize it because you "don't use real instruments", which live makes sense since you are "just pushing buttons", but knowing electronic music personally I'm aware how much time goes into this stuff.  It's not easy by any means.  So how about you? How much time, generally, do you put into recording your work? Just curious how long it usually takes you to write a song and put it together. Do you play around until you find a melody you like or have you actually taken direction from other music to create your own?

P -  Thats hard to tell, sometimes I can spend a day and end up with a killer track, and other times it can take to a couple of months in order to get the magic out of it. Lately I've mostly been taking my time, making it perfect you know? But I tend to believe that the time you take to make a track has nothing to do with the quality of it. Heck, there's tracks like "Future Club" and "Miami Disco" I just wrote in 5 or 6 hours only, and they seem to work well. It's funny cause I once debated with someone who told me that "electronic music is easy, you just press a button" (I was really pissed off that day). No it's not "easy", god-damnit ! If you want to find a unique style, write original tracks, make an album and do quality stuff with mixing and mastering then you need to spend a lot of effort on it. Electronic music is just like any other music, it takes passion and it's only easy when you've worked your ass everyday for some years in order to get good at it.

DS - Maybe should have covered this earlier, but I thought of it now.  How did you come across the artist who did that frikken awesome artwork for Dangerous Days? What was the process for creating the image, or did you leave it all to them?

P -  Ariel wrote me a message via facebook after I released I Am The Night, he showed me his works and I was stunned, I immediately fell for his comic book / neon / modeling style of drawing. So I asked him if he could do the artwork for Sexualizer based on a picture of me (haha). When he showed me the finished artwork, it exceeded every expectation I ever had ! We quickly became good friends after that, and with each releases, Ariel and I have cool brainstorming sessions where we exchange our ideas concerning the visual aspect of the next album. He doesn't do music but if Perturbator was a band, he would definitely be the other member because of his outstanding visual contribution to my music.

DS - That's great, and one of the wonders of the internet, because how would you have found him otherwise (or he you)?  Well, really appreciate you taking the time to do this.  Looking forward to future work, especially the visuals after what you said, and seeing where Perturbator goes after this!  It's been a great talk.

P - My pleasure!

 

Interview Conducted by Stanley Stepanic