“I don’t need to disparage most electronic music, but in a lot of it, people begin by putting a kick drum on every single beat,” Nelson Bean says. “I can’t do that. I try and make it a little bit slinkier.”
Bean, aka Black Hat, has a new release coming out next week on tireless Chicago indie-experimental label Hausu Mountain. So does Davey Harms, using the new alias World War (he’s also recorded under his own name and as Mincemeat or Tenspeed). Both artists make electronic beat music, a genre usually associated with techno. But neither Bean’s Impossible World nor Harms’s Soundsystem is designed for dancing.
Bean is based in New Orleans, where he’s just started attending medical school, but he was born and raised in Oakland. “My parents were huge jazz fans; they weren’t music professionals, but my dad plays trumpet as a hobby and my mom plays guitar,” he says. “They were taking me to shows pretty much as soon as I could sit quietly through a gig.”
Bean learned music theory and the double bass growing up; after going to school in Los Angeles, he moved to Seattle. He joined a band, but it disintegrated, as bands are wont to do. He moved into electronic music because, he says, “I had musical ideas that I wanted to get out, and the best way I found to do that was electronic music, because you can do it on your own.” Creating music on his own also meant he could create music for himself. “When I make the music, I’m not thinking about a dance floor at all. It’s more for the folks who are at home listening. I don’t even really think of an audience.”
Black Hat’s new Impossible World, Bean’s second release on Hausu Mountain, embraces that sense of isolation; it sounds like it’s intended not for a club but rather for the space between your eyes and the back of your head. Bean says he likes “odd rhythms,” and Impossible World is filled with broken blurps and limping clicks. “Digital Playpen” is a dreamy rush of melody over skittery beats, sounding like some of Aphex Twin’s more lyrical efforts. The eight-minute “Unfortunate Statement” has a simple keyboard melody and an itchy, staggering beat, both of which are diced up, varied, distorted, slowed down, and rephrased. It’s like having a song stuck in your head that you can’t quite remember, and that keeps falling apart as you try to run through the tune. “Far Gone” flickers on the edge of ambience; tinny computer voices noodle in and out of washes of sound, like little Atari characters bumping about in a Vangelis track.
Davey Harms’s music is less introspective, both in composition and effect. While Bean uses a mix of computers and hardware to build his tracks, Harms records everything in one take with keyboards and effects pedals. Impossible World sounds carefully composed, each beat and note in place; Harms’s Soundsystem is all clotted jackhammer noise and repetitive sirens hammering at your skull. “War Dudes” starts with what sounds like a helicopter blade trying and failing to spin up, adds a drainlike gargling sound, and then throws on car-alarm feedback and other equally abrasive elements. It’s like “Sympathy for the Devil” scored for industrial appliances.
Some of Harms’s songs, such as “Same in the World Red,” seem like they could almost work as dance music if they weren’t quite so loud and choppy and irritating. In the past, he says, laughing, “I’d put together tracks where I’d think, ‘This is a dance track or a techno track.’ And then I’d send it to friends who are techno people, and I’d say, ‘What about this one?’ And they’d say, ‘No, it’s good, but it’s not what you think it is.'”
The electronic music Harms says he’s most excited by at the moment is footwork. “That’s the most interesting stuff happening in techno right now, as far as I’m concerned. It’s totally different from what techno has become, which to me is kind of boring,” he says. “There’s some good stuff, but four on the floor is not interesting to me at all.”
Bean and Harms agree that 4/4 beats are monotonous. But despite that shared antipathy, Soundsystem and Impossible World don’t sound much alike—and neither overlaps much with other electronic Hausu Mountain releases from this year, such as Khaki Blazer‘s repetitive fractured soundscapes or Fin‘s almost-but-not-quite pop songs. The label’s output is united not by a single sound but rather by an interest in seeing all the places beyond the dance floor that different beats (and other sounds) can take you.