Until the last few years, Nate Young's relationship to the dancefloor was tenuous. For all the talk of a so-called "technoise" movement in the late aughts and the wider trend of noise dudes fixing their busted drum machines into patterns more suitable for the club, his work over the last several decades with the esteemed Midwest freaks in Wolf Eyes and on his own as Regression remained delightfully and deliriously abstract. Things changed when he met David Shettler (AKA Viands), another Detroit-based weirdo who'd grown up immersed in the vibrant techno culture of his hometown. In 2010 they formed Moon Pool and Dead Band, an amorphous exploration of the edges of the club.
The pair met first met as neighbors in Detroit and started working on music together one drunken night when Shettler discovered that Young had a collection of electronic instruments. Their initial impulses were maximalist—at least from a gear perspective. They experimentally (or perhaps haphazardly) plugged in a host of synths, noise gates, and drum machines into one another and conjured whatever sounds they could. "The first song we made was soooo bad," Young remembers when we spoke via email earlier this month. "Like Basement Jaxx meets Mr. Oizo. Then all of a sudden things got good."
Since then, they pared back, but kept the dancefloor in their sights. Guiding their minimal electronics more toward the structured putter of techno, they added a herky-jerky locomotion to the otherworldly electronics they were using. Though some of the oozy synth lines recall Young's other work, there's a sense of stumbling movement to the Moon Pool material that feels unique to the project. If Young's music can sometimes feel like watching the corpse of electronic music rot, Moon Pool is its magical reanimation, the joyfully awkward movement of two dudes Weekend At Bernie's-ing their hometown's most prominent musical export.
On October 28, the duo will release Humanizer, their second LP for Chicago's Midwich Productions label. Today, they've returned with a video for the title track that gets at the freaky fixations they bring to their version of dance music. Check out the video below, alongside an email conversation with Young and Shettler about the strange joys that come about when techno gets weird.
THUMP: How did this project first come together, and what was the original idea behind it? I've seen some posit that it was a reaction against laptop-driven methods of live electronic performance.
Nate Young: One night, we got drunk on my porch and [David] found out about my synth collection. The next day he asked me to come over and help him with some music. It was obvious from the start that we both wanted to plug everything in at one time. The first song we made was really bad…then all the sudden things got good.
David Shettler: There might have been a quip about these jerks checking their email on stage at one point, but I don't think it's healthy to be looking at other people's bags when attempting to explain your own. Plus that isn't even really a thing anymore is it?
When Nate and I met, I seem to remember him being impressed with how many cables I had. "You have enough cables, no one I know has enough cables." I'd been playing with rock bands and backing up old soul singers almost exclusively until that point and these people would always humor me… "Oh well let's let Dave have his drum machine song." Some people distinctly said, "Fuck synths, that sounds like Nintendo!" It was kind of a strange Detroit thing to be a total musical Luddite at the time.
This is some of the more overt dance music either you have made. What are your relationships to club culture and more mechanistic forms of dance music traditionally speaking?
Young: Growing up I really never had a connection with techno. I saw it happening but I was cruising by on my skateboard listening to Zeppelin, Ramones and Beefheart. It really wasn't until way later with Demons, like 2006, that I started to understanding and appreciating how commercial pop/dance music was made. I was using a "real" instrument to make fucked up sounds and could finally relate on some level to bands like Kraftwerk and Madonna.
Shettler: I love certain underground dance music, I have since the 80s. [I was] a little suburban dork hiding my headphones under my pillow hearing Derrick May and The Wizard all night while my parents thought I was asleep. All the radio DJs mixed back then, they beat matched, they scratched, they played anything that bumped. It's almost a cliche to talk about [The Electrifying Mojo] and the radio in Detroit, but it was an anomaly and had a huge effect on everyone. I love and always will love Detroit Techno, Moodymann, Daft Punk, Omar S, Chicago House…the list is theoretically endless, but not all encompassing.
I have, like, famous rock [friends] that take the piss and send me pictures of "House Music Pizza" or whatever in Amsterdam it's like "okay guys very funny haha" but they're not from here. They don't know. You think dance music is hilarious when you're from Akron, Ohio or whatever, but here it's serious business and culture. That being said I also am appalled at the pop culture take on electronic dance music. An expression that says, "I'm an electronic douche bag, I want to bang chicks and spend my parents money and drive an Audi really fast— dude check this Tiësto drop."
Can you explain the title of the album Humanizer a little bit? It hints at a sort of man/machine balance.
Young: I like to imagine a machine that makes humans, or makes you more human.
Shettler: Sometimes I think I've read so much dystopian speculative literature that I see ghosts of the future walking amongst us. I am almost hallucinating this sort of They Live scenario walking around with my kids in the town where I live. I see these ladies with giant diamond rings talking into their Gucci watches. It's strange and slightly disturbing, but it never enters a dangerous realm. But I've always been fascinated with this sort of Simakian scenario where human life is going to become this precious thing where these androids will be fighting for the last human baby on Earth to survive and the dogs will be telling stories of the educated fools around a campfire.
It's almost a parallel with culture and academics and experimental music and the sort of last of the underground culture warriors, interesting people fighting to survive amongst the emerging "normals" culture. Everyone in this race to reach mediocrity, listening to boring music that's force fed to these bourgeoisie, purebred assholes. When I was young I was so completely cut off from counter culture until I discovered the radio. That was my humanizer. I know now that it's human think about sex all the time or to swear or make lewd jokes or to want to make loud abrasive art or abstract art to not travel or to know how you're going to eat next…or to just question authority! It represents getting to that center—[to understand] what it truly means to live in the world and not be some coddled infant.
I'm interested in how that coincides with the hopefulness of the final track. That's something I've not heard in any of either of your works before really.
Shettler: I wrote "Hospital Quiet" the afternoon after [experimental pioneer] Richard Pinhas called me stupid on Facebook for really liking an album he played on called Adonia by Ose. He said it was shit…maybe because it's borderline accessible. I don't know what goes on in his head, but he'd said I was stupid for liking it so I immediately said to myself "Well, you're fucking stupid for being dark and dissonant and impossible all the time" and sat down and played a nice, pretty major progression on my Korg Trident, filter wide open. I played it for Nate and he looked puzzled and I think was just like "Fuck it, why not?"
I added a vocal months later in Nate's studio while having a massive weed-induced, adderall-OD flashback panic attack and ate all the food out of Nate's fridge right after. I still owe him a giant salad.
There's gestures at techno structures obviously, but there's still a whole lot of other weirdness littered throughout. Could you ever see yourselves just trying to make a club track that a techno dude in a black v-neck could play at peak hours or does that not interest you in any way?
Young: Well, I cannot really answer that until it happens. So now that you mentioned it, I guess I am more interested in that sort of thing. I mean, would people dance to this?
Shettler: I made that record by myself, it's called "Hot Burrito." When it dropped, I would get texts in the wee hours: "Kenny [Dixon Jr., AKA Moodymann] is playing Hot Burrito in Chicago right now" or "Marcellus [Pitmann] is playing 'Hot Burrito' in a warehouse right now" I felt like I'd made a real record. I guess it was a hot track in Berlin that year.
Moon Pool isn't for DJ tools. Not that I don't wholly appreciate DJ tools but just the nature of us getting together and being philosophical about sound is going to open everything we do up to something more (or less) than a sweaty dance floor…hopefully. I don't think our music is meant for normals. We did attempt to make a sort of dancefloor music but maybe about to the extent that Miles Davis was trying to make festival rock.
You both have been involved in a lot of bands over the years—what does this give to you that none of your other projects do?
Young: Dave got a bullet shot thru his window while I tuned my synth for the first time. I am not saying it has changed the way I write songs, but it has threatened a bit of the ignorance or chaotic magic that had become my staple. Moon Pool started as pop band in my eyes, and has become really fucked up sounding,
Shettler: I really just like spending time with Nate. He has an innate seriousness about his art that I find hard to come by. He's one of the most DIY cats I know. He's self taught, but he transcends this "Let's start a band and have a name and go on tour and make t-shirts, and our video has to be funny so we can go viral and blah blah blah" mentality. Fuck that. Do you really like art? Well, let's make something artful, and let's take ourselves seriously. And why can't our art reflect the bleak fucking nature of our society.
And we're adults. There's no schoolboy jealousy over who's jamming with who or "we need to be doing something." Honestly, we haven't really worked on anything since this record was in the can. But does that mean we're "breaking up" or some kid shit like that? No. We're both the type of person that just does this shit.
Moon Pool and Dead Band's Humanizer is available for pre-order now on the Midwich site.
Colin Joyce is THUMP's Managing Editor. He's on Twitter.