From the very beginning, Pulshar's Pablo Bolivar and Sergio Sainz Vidal (aka. Aphro) agreed that the music they wanted to do together had to be hypnotic, deep, sexy, spatial and in some way obscure and mystic. Music with lights and shadows, and strongly connected to feelings. And those celestial soundscapes have never been in better form than on their latest album Blood And Mathematics, released this week on Loco Dice's Desolat imprint.
The LP's layers of evolving sounds and rich ancestral textures are also concepts feeding the images and visuals that Aphro creates. An artist since the late '80s when he started with graffiti and then graphic design, Aphro's work strives to create a cosmic world with a strong link to ancient origins. It's a theme that continues with their record label, AvantRoots.
In THUMP's interview with the Barcelona-based duo—conducted from the confines of their Catalan recording studio—we take an absorbing glimpse at Pulshar's graphic, visual and musical world.
THUMP: Blood And Mathematics. Straight off the bat, I've got to know the origins of this rather unusual title.
Aphro: Well, the title involves the concept of opposites. A fight for balance between elements: inside-outside, man-woman, fire-water, night-day, love-hate and so on until infinity. It is the classic yin-yang concept. Pulshar as a duo has that balance because we are quite different kinds of people.
Pablo: Blood And Mathematics comes from the idea of creating music with machines. People are made by flesh and bones. We have a heart, feelings… ups and downs. When we are in front of the machines, we have to put soul into them. Then, there are points when the machine has a soul and we turn into a machine ourselves. Electronic music is, in some way, a kind of alchemy.
There is a very strong vocal component to the album. It's haunting. Where do you think vocals take their place in dance music, which is so predominantly beat-driven in house and techno?
A: Pulshar acts and thinks mostly as a band, so the vocals are a natural part of it. The voice works as a guide that accompanies you alongside the track. Sometimes it tells a story. Other times the lyrics are reduced to just a few words that work like a puzzle with a hidden meaning, like a haiku.
P: Sometimes it seems that a dance track with vocals is automatically tagged as more commercial than the ones without them. I suppose it's because it could fit better with the classic idea of pop or rock. So, following that theory, it connects to a wider audience. Vocals connect faster to the human side of the listener. But when we made Blood And Mathematics, our mood was closer to Shuggie Otis, The Cure or Keith Hudson than any dance act.
A: We were once playing in big festivals where they didn't have any microphones. There were around 30 electronic artists and no one used a live vocal. That day I thought, "Okay, it won't be easy" [laughs]. There are some DJs that think that vocals are not 'underground' enough or don't want to play tracks with vocals because it's not 'macho' enough. Honestly, we think there is still territory to develop.
So do you even consider your work dance music? It's undeniably electronica. But this is music I want to listen to with my eyes closed rather than my hands in the air. What genre does Pulshar fall into, if any?
P: Blood And Mathematics definitely can't be defined as dance music in the current definition of the term, despite the fact that some tracks could be danced to in a slow or trance way. As you said, our album fits better in an intimate situation, or at least in a not overly social one. But we like to make dance music as well.
A: Unfortunately we can't help you with our genre. It's true that our debut EP, Babylon Fall Collection, could be tagged as dub techno. But after that, our music went in a wider direction. Today someone could say anything like "electronic blue-eyed-soul" [laughs]. We leave that for the writers. We've always felt Pulshar is among many worlds. We enjoy that.
P: We let the people feel what they feel without genre prejudices. We feel like an electronic band, or just a band who makes music in an electronic way.
You produce textures with no persistent beat. You're creating, as well as enhancing, moods and atmospheres. Where does the inspiration come from?
A: It could come from our place of birth. Cantabria is full of mountains, grey cloudy days, rain and wild sea, which puts you in a deep and sometimes melancholic mood. You have to hibernate. Outside it's dark and not friendly, but at same time you secretly love that goth weather. Also, the weed helps [laughs]… but we are not outside under the palms, tanned, with chicks and smiles on our faces. We chose the deep side of the music, to get lost inside it.
P: We prefer the kind of music that requires a certain deep mood, like the movies. Ambient film soundtracks are also important to us.
I've had your music strongly endorsed to me as "a longtime after-party favourite." What is it about your sensibilities that sync so well with those precious moments between closing time, sunrise and beyond? The hours of the night where there is no structure or form, just the exact point in time?
A: We really like your comment because you do a good job of defining our mood and spirit. We took our name from the word pulsar, which is a highly magnetized, rotating star that emits a beat of electromagnetic radiation. So from the beginning we wanted to create ethereal sounds and undefined space; our own galaxy. As you said, a galaxy doesn't have structure or form. The idea we have of it is: it just floats. Just like the music. It's an abstract fucking thing.
P: Pulshar works better when you want to enjoy the music calmly and feel like getting lost in it for a while. It could be any moment of day depending on the situation and lifestyle, but it's true that after sunset and before sunrise would probably be a good time.
How and where does your style currently fit in with Desolat? It's a label with no status quo. Where no one artist sounds like another.
P: We sent Loco Dice our first album Brotherhood at the same time he was releasing the first vinyl on Desolat. That time the dub techno sound was the connection. Then we made Inside, which has a lot of hip-hop and downtempo influence. As everyone knows, Dice has roots in hip-hop. So he perfectly understood our beat and sound. In many ways our music mixes the instrumental side of hip-hop with the techno feeling. And the great thing about hip-hop is that it takes samples and influences from every kind of music. In our case, the blues.
A: It's about the heartbreak feeling and mood. And the psychedelic side, about the atmospheric and "high" feeling. The genres sometime work as the frontiers and have no sense. So I guess we fit on the label because Pulshar could be the electronic music from Desolat that you can listen before or after the party…or something! As they told us several times, it's not a marketing thing, but more simple: they just really love our music and want us on their label.
Your track with Guti is the one special appearance on the album from another artist. What was the process of creating "Running Away" with him, one of the rare classically trained performers in your genre?
A: He was playing jazz and rock when he was in Argentina. His friends are people from bands and his brother used to play with a reggae band. So he understood our roots and sound, and also our position inside the dance world as the "weird guys" who played before him or tINI [laughs]. We became friends easily and then he moved to Barcelona. We shared a flat for some months, made a lot of sketches. My hard drive is full of unfinished tracks! At that time he came to Pablo's studio and played keys over some tracks. We started to work together on it. It flowed easily. Guti is full of energy in the studio. He's always crazy and it's fun to make music with him.
All of this talk about atmosphere and ambience… in your own opinion, what is the perfect environment to listen to Pulshar and why?
A: A lot of people say to us that they were making love with Pulshar in the background [laughs]. Others who work at home, they said it's really good for concentration. And one day a friend told us that he was in a boat, going from one small island to another in the Philippines, and the driver was playing us!
P: I think about driving among snow mountains in Cantabria. Or watching the sunset in Cadiz. Or, no surprise, but we really enjoy it at after-parties, just before the day comes, lying on a sofa with the people you love.
As noted, Aphro runs a one-man creative studio located in Barcelona focusing on designing memorable and peculiar imagery for music, start-ups and culture institutions. He has shared with THUMP a fuller gallery of his illustrative work. His portfolio can be accessed by clicking here.
You can follow Christopher on Twitter: @theCMprogram