"If for any reason I ever lose my hearing, I can still do this. I can still move on with my creative work," says Jakub Alexander, the Ghostly International affiliate and artist. He holds a cement sculpture up to his webcam on our Skype call. The five pound, seven inches tall casted figurine is the physical embodiment of his music as Heathered Pearls. "A lot of people put a triangle on their album cover," he says, "I can't do that. I want to put the effort in."
For Alexander, music and visual art ride in tandem. They speak the same language, tell the same story, and bear the same vision. The sculpture he's showing off is the visual pairing for his forthcoming release Body Complex—an LP full of heavily repetitive ambiance with an atmospheric finesse, due out on Ghostly International on August 7. "I think this has always been in my head," says the Poland-born, Brooklyn-based artist. "For at least 20 years of my life, I have been obsessed with brutalism and architecture. I wanted to make something that would go beyond this record, so I thought if I made a sculpture, it could be the first piece of many. I could make a huge sculpture garden and add other pieces that I visualize while I make music." Body Complex is the first building block in his 'complex' of music and artificial structures.
"But," he adds, "I think Detroit sparked a lot of this."
While living in Michigan, Alexander was no match for the pull from Detroit's techno offerings. At 15, he was frequenting the warehouse raves that now act as pillars in Detroit's dance music legacy and starting points in the careers of Kevin Saunderson and Terrence Dixon. "In high school, I could get a ride to Detroit no problem," he says. "I remember finally getting my own car so I could drive to raves myself. That was huge. I had this little Honda Civic. It took me to so many shows." His partiality to afterhours events resulted in dozens of long drives home on the cusp of dawn, where music is at its deepest and the city its emptiest. In the shadows of Detroit's illustrious Renaissance Center—a beacon of brutalist architecture in its own right—Alexander's visually inspired sound creation was coming to a slow boil.
"There's a little bit of Hamburg and there's a little bit of Amsterdam, but it's mostly Detroit," he says of Body Complex. He clarifies that the LP is by no means a recreation of Detroit's techno heyday, but rather a personal reflection on his former city's darkest hours. Body Complex drifts on the outskirts of the dancefloor, extracting nostalgia you never knew you had for a place you've never even been. "Any dance tracks are focused on the beginning of what really made me fall in love with Detroit techno—the depth, the melodies." Breaking from his starry-eyed sentiment, he adds, "But I was never thinking that I wanted to go to raves for the rest of my life. That's for sure."
Fate has a funny way of doing things, though. As Alexander was throwing parties and compiling music under his site Atmosphere—dabbling in DJing along the way—he met Matthew Dear and Sam Valenti IV of the influential dance label Ghostly International. Since 2002, Alexander has been embedded in the industry. "I've been with Ghostly for 13 years," he says, citing a stint as the Ghostly intern. "When Matthew [Dear] decided to pursue DJing full time, I took over his monthly, started doing the retail and distribution, and for the last few years I've been the A&R."
Ghostly International is the independent record label, arthouse, and technological pacesetter also from Michigan. Home to artists like Matthew Dear, Shigeto (who Alexander grew up with), and Tycho (who Alexander once managed), Ghostly interweaves music and art into a seamless output of music consumption. The website's shop is full of Detroit themed tees, ghost-icon stamped coffee mugs, and even Alexander's Body Complex sculptures, which you can buy for $130.
It is at Ghostly and only at Ghostly that something like Alexander's Body Complex and his debut LP Loyal has the ability to develop and flourish. "It's truly an arthouse here. You have that small amount of extra budget to do additional art. You're not sitting there picking out graphic designer and photographers, you have the control over both," says Alexander.
"I wanted Body Complex to have a double meaning. I wanted it to have a human element—everyone has his or her own complexity. But also, the 'complex' is that of a place—like, apartment complexes, suites, condos, and the abandoned," he explains. Track titles like "Sunken Living Area" and "Interior Architecture Software" are the places where each song lives. Although conceptual, each track's flickering ambiance is intended to rouse your imagination with images of a structural backdrop. "Some people are like, 'Oh, it's too deep, it makes no sense,' but Ghostly gets it."
That being said, Alexander was also able to recognize that sometimes even a label as willingly malleable as Ghostly isn't fitting for a new artist. In 2004, Alexander created his own label, Moodgaget, as his way of combating this. "When I met Ghostly, I was giving these compilation CDs away. They were full of artists that would never get signed to Ghostly because they have one or two songs and had no desire for a full career in the industry," he says. "Learning from Ghostly helped me explain to these artists just what they need to do if they really want to do it. A lot of them don't care, they have five tracks but don't know what to do with them. Moodgaget becomes their home. It's kind of like the breeding ground for people that want to be on Ghostly of Minus. Or don't."
Body Complex is just the beginning of Alexander's quest for cement-city greatness. The unification of sight and sound is although nothing new to the dance music industry, in Alexander's hands, it's taking its own unconventional shape. That is, if he can ever get the rest of the world to truly understand it. "Whenever I have enough time to explain it properly, it doesn't seem so dreamy and kooky..." he trails off. "Kooky. Kooky? What am I, 80?"
'Body Complex' is out on Ghostly International on August 7, you can preorder it here. Heathered Pearls will perform at Verboten in New York City also on August 7 for his album release party.
Rachael is now spending all her money in the Ghostly store on Detroit paraphernalia, find her on Twitter.