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Music by VICE

The Magickal World of Todd Pendu

We chatted with the downtown New York impresario behind Pendu Sound Recordings.

by Vincent Brunetto
02 November 2012, 9:00pm

If you live in New York City and you're into dark shit, you've probably been to one of Todd Pendu's parties. Todd is the man behind Pendu, one of the creepiest and most aesthetically pleasing lifestyle brands around. It's a record label (Pendu Sound Recordings), a publisher, a blog... Todd literally does whatever he wants, and he's just now starting to get the credit he deserves. Last week, he invited me to his space to chat about dark magick, running a record label, and the power of Satan.

Noisey: Congratulations on the CMJ showcase. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and some of the feedback you’ve gotten?
Todd Pendu: Basically I realized that I had enough bands to put on a showcase and at the time Von Haze had been in the UK for a while and I found they were going to be coming back to New York for the first time in a year and a half or so for CMJ. When I realized that they were coming back and that I had Starred, plus I had recently taken on this new band called Tempers as well, so I was like wait a minute I think I can actually do a showcase. I had already talked to the venue Saint Vitus about keeping a Thursday open because I had ideas for a couple things but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be and since I had that date open I asked if we could just do a Pendu Sound Recordings showcase and they were like yeah let’s do it. I invited Lauren Dillard to dj because her and I have worked together since 2009 doing parties and stuff and she’s a big supporter so I just had the whole crew; all the people that are just part of Pendu so we put it on.

Black Marble played as well, how’d that come about?
They are just good friends. We chatted about working together so we have some ideas for the future but for the showcase they wrote and said hey we’d really like jump on that so I kind of made it Pendu Sound Recordings with friends! I’m a huge supporter of those guys, I put on their second and third shows ever and they played my CMJ showcase with Impose magazine last year as well so it just made sense to have them again.

So I guess for those who aren’t familiar with you, Pendu is more than just a label, You have a bunch of other things going on. Can you tell me a little bit about your other ventures outside the label?
I consider Pendu more of a lifestyle brand in the sense that it covers everything that you do in your daily life. It’s about music, what you wear and basically how you live. It captures a certain feeling or vibe, whatever you want to call it. I have Pendu NYC, which puts on shows and parties, I also did Pendu Disco for a long time. It’s kind of like this outreach where it’s not about genre, it’s more about people who are in a certain kind of energy. The best way I would describe it is anything that feels like it’s going to the next level is what I’m interested in, it doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. If it’s electronic music or pop music or noise, whatever it is as long as what their doing is reaching out and pushing boundaries and trying to do something really exciting, I’m interested. I feel like the through line is always about what I call the Ekstatic which is like music that gives you this certain type of rush or feel.

Ekstatic is also a magazine you have out?
Ekstatic Vision is kind of an outpost and a way to curate what the rest of the world has going on. I can kind of guide people through the way I see things without it necessarily being related to the bands I release and the parties I put on.

How did you decide on starting a label?
It goes back to when I first moved to New York, I brought an online project with me that was a ongoing art project and I had been doing it for a few years putting up different artists, kind of like a web gallery. It really wasn’t going where I wanted to take it so I knew I needed to do music; that’s what I used to do when I was living in Florida. I’ve thrown shows and all that kind of stuff. I came up with an idea from a John Cage quote “getting rid of the glue”, where they were talking about this new movement in art. That phrase kind of stuck with me, and that phase of what was going on in New York with bands like Excepter and Big A little a, so I started reaching out to them to put together a compilation. The compilation LP I put out then was a 300 edition and it kick started the record label. It also kick started all of my New York live shows.

The whole aesthetic of Pendu is very in sync. What were your influences in creating this unique vision?
Surrealism and Dadaism. Basically they led me into everything. Between those movements and me studying the artists involved in those movements like Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters. All of the characters coming out of that made a huge impact on me early on. They completely are the key to understanding how I see stuff and what I’m looking for. It’s a way of not going back to what they were doing then but it’s a way of finding that energy now but adding magic, alchemy and eroticism. All of those things are involved. I was also really drawn to satanic imagery as a kid. I grew up in a Christian home so I was completely drawn immediately to the Satanic Bible and all of that kind of stuff which I don’t take too seriously at this point in any particular way, but it was a breaking point for me into a different way of approaching the world and finding my own kind of spirituality that was further outside of any kind of Christian background.

You’ve been working with Sasha Grey and her project aTelecine for a while now. How did that all come together?
It was Vice’s Shot By Kern on Sasha Grey that I had seen her. I already kind of knew who she was because I had some friends who were talking about this new porn star. In about 2007 they were all talking about her like she’s this next thing. She was wearing Misfits and KMFDM shirts so of course everybody was like who is this porn star that is into underground music that seems interesting? So I had heard her name in that context alone. Then I saw the Shot By Kern where she famously asks the question; how many porn stars are existentialists?. I was like ok this is really getting interesting, now she’s talking existentialism, so I Wikipedia’d her and when I did that at the bottom it said she’s also in a noise band called aTelecine. Coming from my background obviously I was like ok now I am really interested so I looked it up and I found her on Myspace, back when MySpace was a thing. They had maybe 150 friends or so on there and two tracks on it, so I listened to both tracks and they were both really ominous and dark and interesting so I was like ok this is the real deal she actually makes cool shit. I knew I had to write her so I wrote her on her MySpace.

So you sent her a Myspace message?
Yeah and somehow she had looked through my website and saw all of the original artwork I had been doing. She asked if I would be able to do a record like that for her, she said she wanted to do something that wasn’t porn related. She wanted me to do the artwork and everything for it so I was like yeah definitely, let’s do a 7 inch. It took about a year before we actually put it together and around January of 2009 we finally released it as a 300 limited edition and it sold out in the same day. I put it up on my Paypal account with a little ‘buy now’ button and it was gone. I thought obviously there is some interest in this, let’s see if we can keep going. We put out a record in 2010 and in 2011 we began a trilogy of records which two have been released and the third is slated for probably December as the finale for the trilogy. It’s been a long process since we have started working together. We also released two full length digital only albums so it’s been something like 7 records we’ve done together which is kind of amazing. Finally this year Unsound festival kind of convinced them to come out and play their first show. If we go back to 2010 when we started talking about their first show and finally two years later they did it. It was really an exciting thing for a lot of people to see her take that next step. The porn field has definitely had that classic want to be pop star thing happen before but there was really no history of anybody who has become as famous as she was as a porn star making music that’s totally un radio friendly. I love it but it’s not something you would imagine your average 16 kid driving around in the suburbs wanting to buy that record, it’s not really like that. I think it’s really interesting that she has gone there because she can turn heads and those kids can be exposed to something like that for first time and there's no way you can expose them to that otherwise.

Do you think the music they are making can find a place in the evolving independent scene we are seeing today?
Yeah, I think that’s what happening to them. They did a track called “4AM” that I have kept up on my Soundcloud and now it’s getting hit like crazy. We’ve had 10,000 hits in the last day and a half now; it’s crazy. That song itself could be a single somewhere, somebody could remix it and it could turn into a dance track, there is a lot of potential for what they do beyond this closed idea of being a noise group, without outwardly being a pop band. I feel like people could grab pieces of it and do things with it to change it into whatever. It’s kind of a great thing to be able to have all this potential around something rather then just being closed off and it’s done.

You have done releases on vinyl, tapes and digitally. How do you feel about the different mediums available to release music on?
I’m for all of them. I think all of them are interesting from different perspectives. Cassettes are limiting for people who don’t have cassette players and nowadays lots of people don’t. They can be fun for a particular audience that enjoys collecting tapes and has tape decks and there is without a doubt a certain sound you can get from tapes. It is a great thing but I don’t expect the world to go buy tapes so they can listen to music; that’s not really fair. Putting out a digital version that enables access to everyone I feel is a really great thing. Vinyl is kind of the same thing it has a very special sound but not everybody has a turntable. If something is on vinyl I want to hear it on vinyl and if it’s on tape I want to hear it on tape but I don’t feel there is a hierarchy.

What’s your main outlet for creating?
I do Chaos Majik which I have been doing since around 2007. Chaos Majik was a follow up to another project I was doing called Ghost Moth. Basically Ghost Moth was a free electronics unit with a famous jazz player Daniel Carter who started back in the 1970’s loft scene and played with Sun Ra and all these amazing people. We did Ghost Moth for a while but Daniel’s schedule is really busy, so getting him for a gig or setup to record was very difficult to do. I wanted to play more often so I started Chaos Majik that kind of is an extension of my spiritual practices put through analog electronics. I use light sensitive oscillators, candles and strobe lights to trigger sounds and create these large and looming soundscape pieces. They are kind of like art installations in a sense; I’ve done a full on one where I actually did it at a convent that is now closed down but for a while they were doing art shows. I took over the main chapel space and had a girl come out and disrobe so she was completely naked. I then laid her out on this alter and put all these candles on her and then used her and the candles to create this big dramatic sound; it was quite the spectacle.

What is your spiritual practice?
It’s totally individualist. The closest school of thought would be the chaos magick school of thought. It’s something that I feel resonates the idea of finding your own path almost to the extreme. I do have beliefs that there are currents of energy and I do believe that we use words and images to manipulate those currents. I almost like to say it’s like existentialism times magic; taking a lot of the ideas of being a human is in someways a nothingness and at the same time I don’t believe that this is the only thing that exists. It get’s complicated; I don’t want to go into all of the details because that’s a whole other conversation. I do believe people should find something spiritually, whatever that may be at the same time when things turn into ideologies that become destructive like Christianity, I’m kind of anti.

One of your bands that has gained a lot of acclaim is Starred. How did you decide to work with them?
I found them because I had seen a video they had done with Grant Singer who is a film maker. I was completely blown away so I posted it up on the Ekstatic Vision site and Liza from Starred saw that it was up there and told Grant who wrote me on Facebook thanking me. He had mentioned that Liza sent it to him so I looked her up on Facebook and saw that we were already friends. So I figured I would send her a message saying how much I loved her video. From that a conversation started about them not having a label yet so I was like yeah I’m really interested in this. We Skyped a bunch of times, talked about ideas and they sent me the music they had for the record which was phenomenal. It’s probably my favorite record that Pendu has put out yet but I feel like I say that all the time.

Do you have a favorite Pendu Sound Recordings release?
I don’t really. I don’t release that much, being that I’m limited in my resources it’s got to be something I’m blown away by not something I’m just kind of interested in. But Starred was kind of special in a way because it’s not really a particular style at any point throughout the whole record. It’s kind of Americana at times, it’s kind of electronic at times, it has so many features. Liza’s voice and the way that she sings resonates immediately to me. I was like this has potential to go anywhere, people can listen to it as background music and people can listen to it as the only music. I really like something that can go anywhere, so we got that going. They ended up coming out to New York to do a V Magazine shoot. When she was doing that she found out a film was being shot here and called Matt and they ended up moving here. It worked out perfect and we didn’t even know it was going to be like this, it all started from this video I saw and turned into this whole thing. It feels really natural. I think we were all into the idea that nothing was forced, it just felt right. There is a double 7-inch coming out next year which will be four new songs.

Be sure to pick up the newest from Pendu Sound Recordings: Von Haze's Kar Dee Akk Ake LP and Starred's Prison To Prison 12'' EP are both be available now, and you can grab them right here.