Deniz Kurtel and the Traveling Introspectacular LED Experience
Hop in Deniz's van of lights and rubbers.
Deniz Kurtel greets me with a big hug behind her trailer, parked a stone’s throw away from the east river. It’s the first time we’ve met but she embraces me like an old friend. She motions for me to follow her up the ramp into the back of her darkened trailer. Normally I would hesitate to accept such an offer, but Deniz’s warm demeanor and velvety Turkish accent are hard to deny. Inside the tiny trailer it’s pitch black. I trip over a dozen wires, stumbling into an alternate world. I’m surrounded by a ceiling-high vortex of vacillating LED lights. Purple, Green, Red, Fuchsia, Blue. Each transcending through the perfectly cut prisms of glass and mirrors. Kurtel calls the hidden light sculpture, her traveling Introspectacular LED Experience, which she is driving across the country on tour for her latest album, The Way We Live. The lights go out momentarily and we begin the interview in the dark.
“When you look at the trailer from outside, people can’t believe you can come inside and experience this,” she laughs. Kurtel built the sculpture in two weeks for Miami’s Art Basel back in November and decided to show it afterwards at her friend’s club the Electric Pickle. It seemed natural to bring it on tour, although it was something she never planned on doing. Out of a big sheet of mirrored plexiglass, Kurtel sliced long rectangular strips and frosted the edges, placing tiny LED bulbs inside to build the seven-foot high structure.
“The diffusion and reflections from the mirrors behind the see-through plexiglass makes the space feel so much larger than it is.” She motions to the mirrors, which reflect countless Kurtel talking heads back towards me. “It was a big challenge to make this thing in the trailer. I spent hours trying to make it completely straight. The first time I drove it everything started bending.” She’s been constantly updating the sculpture since November, bringing an interactive component to it. Audience members can control the pace and colors of the LED lights using a midi-interface. The keys on the midi-interface send a signal to her Ableton software to produce different notes pre-assigned to certain colors.
“This is the first time I’ve done something where the audience can directly control the lights. I like creating these hypnotizing environments where people get completely channeled and distracted from the real world.” she says. “The way I’m interpreting it is facilitating an inner journey. It’s not just about the patterns it’s about the distraction to connect with your inner self. People sometimes come in here to meditate.”
Her tour kicked off in Miami, brining friends from Wolf + Lamb along for the ride, but finding parking for the trailer along the way has been a bit of hassle. In D.C. Kurtel and long-time pal Gadi Mizrahi from Wolf + Lamb found a spot to park the trailer overnight in front of a church. She expected something might happen like graffiti, but rubbers and fresh cum were the last things on her mind.
“We get there in the morning and we’re looking around like wow, nothing happened. Then I go to the front to unhook the hitch and I found a used condom carefully placed on the actual hitch, like it was left as a gift,” she says laughing. “How can people be so reckless to have sex outside of a church, but be so responsible to use protection? Then these kids came out from the church and they started asking questions about the piece. There was nothing but this condom on the ground, so I had to pick it up with a stick in front of everyone.”
Before she met the creators of the Wolf & Lamb label, Zev Eisenberg and Gadi Mizrahi who introduced her to music production in 2005, Kurtel was studying Economics and Statistics at Columbia University. Fields she said in her Turkish circle are considered more realistic and more lucrative in life, than art. However, she cites them as giving her a solid foundation in design principles and geometry. “I liked what I was studying, but I never felt this kind of drive that I feel now. Even on this tour, I’m not making any money. I actually lost money, but it’s my passion, like nothing I ever felt before.”
When she first met Zev and Gadi the trio clicked immediately and headed to the Burning Man festival. The fire and the fury were ignited. She knew she wanted to be a creator and a part of that world.
“It was pretty intense the first few months when I started making music. I was doing it all day and night, my style was a bit darker than what Gadi and Zev liked and this album is a lot darker than my last.” She said. “I’m actually kind of worried, the clubs that booked me will be scared of it.”
Her career in many ways has been ass-backwards. Kurtel tells me the whole performance thing came way quicker than she was comfortable with. She was signed onto the Crosstown Rebels label without ever performing live. Her first live performance took place in NYC’s Pacha club, known for its “Bridge and Tunnel” crowd and over-eager men in gold chains fist-pumping and grinding with 16-year-olds. Starting out at the city’s biggest clubs, she is now slowly devolving to more intimate venue settings. “The music I’m making now is way less popular. I love going to these big clubs and playing slower stuff."
The Way We Live, off of her home label Wolf + Lamb revisits certain elements from her debut album, Music Watching Over Me, with its dark dance beats, but brings a sexier hip-hop pacing this time round. It’s a return to her roots, she says. Each of the 12 tracks is a collaboration with other artists from Wolf + Lamb, most frequently her longtime pal Gadi Mizrahi. “The Marcy All stars ”—Soul Clap, Tanner Ross, Thugfucker, Voices of Black and San Francisco-based trio Pillow Talk also make appearances throughout.
“I’m very content with how much I grew since the last album,” she beams. When I ask her how she feels being a part of a canon of electronic artists rarely traversed by women, it’s obvious Kurtel doesn’t really care about all the gender shit. “Career-wise, I feel that sometimes people just assume, even from my name, that I’m a guy before they see me. Even when they book me, when I show up they say I thought you were a guy. It’s kind of funny, I don’t get offended. It’s like this in a lot of different sectors," she tells me. “Women are getting more and more involved, just like in a lot of jobs, it’s just a matter of time.“ However, when clubs try and pair her with the rest of the fairer sex, Kurtel tends to stay away from the clit club. “I don’t like when they try to book me for a Girls DJ night, I usually turn that away. I don’t like that angle, like All-girls remixes and stuff. I don’t think that there needs to be a distinction.”
Her Introspectacular Traveling LED Experience is headed out West. Cum, but don’t put a condom on it.
- Vice Blog