You can dance to Thug Entrancer's music, and you could play it at the club, but there's always the danger of making everyone in the crowd get all weird and depressed. The Denver-based producer's latest album, Death After Life—out now on Oneohtrix Point Never's Software label—is more club-educated than club-friendly; he's just as influenced by free jazz as he is by house rhythms. Furthermore, it bears a resemblance to OPN's own work, sounding unwieldy, alien, and wholly synthetic.
"If you add a beat to something, people will be much more open to all the other weird shit you sneak in there," he told THUMP. On Death After Life, he indeed balances backbreaking, meticulous sound design with a genuine attention to making bodies move. "I love how subversive rhythm can be," he adds. Intrigued by this, we caught up with Thug Entrancer to chat about moving from Denver to Chicago, both cities’ music scenes, the force of the beat, and his own musical enlightenment.
THUMP: You recently moved from Denver to Chicago. What were the first days like?
Thug Entrancer: My partner and I moved out there with pretty much nothing but an air mattress, a few boxes and the excitement of existing in an entirely new space. I had only been to Chicago twice before the relocation and had lived in Denver my entire life. The first few days were pretty surreal and intense. Living on the South Side near Hyde Park gave us a good perspective on how the city functions and really exposed the segregated history that drives a lot of functionality within the city. With our routine completely turned on its head, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands and the drive to immerse myself into the unfamiliar.
How does Chicago differ from Denver in retrospect?
Thug Entrancer: I think Denver feels like the antithesis of Chicago in most ways. Denver has a sense of constant growth and development; Chicago is suffering from intense urban decay and the social issues surrounding it. That's a vague generalisation, but I think it describes a lot of the motivation behind the art and music happening in the two cities. People are very laid-back in Denver. A lot of artists collaborate across many different mediums and genres without much regard for what's "happening". It has a very experimental identity reminiscent of the early Fort Thunder/Wham City days - a sort of "anything goes" type of attitude. I think artists in Chicago really work within the historical context created in the city. Because that context is so influential, you find a lot of dialed-in people working within micro communities. Most artists I encountered in Chicago were very down to earth individuals who were very much on their grind.
Was it a wise step, or do you regret moving?
Thug Entrancer: I think moving out here was the best thing I could have done. It allowed me the time and space to really dig into the history of what I had been creating and working towards my entire life.
How did you meet Oneohtrix Point Never? Did you know him before moving there?
Thug Entrancer: Dan [Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never] actually contacted me online about collaborating. We had never met before, but [we] had some mutual friends and ran in some of the same musical realms.
Had you been familiar with his work as Oneohtrix—or with his ten other artist names—before?
Thug Entrancer: I had been familiar with his work prior to the introduction. He has a really great reputation among artists. I think he's paved a remarkable path for progressive creativity, especially with his latest Warp release. Tying it back to Denver, I think because of the city's small isolating landscape, when someone finds out about a new artist, the whole community here absorbs and embraces them. Oneohtrix Point Never was definitely one of those artists who infiltrated and inspired the scene here. I'm not sure if he's ever performed in Colorado. I might have to ask him about that one.
I've been reading a lot about your new album, Death After Life. A lot of people reference its ties to juke, footwork, and house, even though it's not a very dance floor-friendly album, although it does hint at club influences. I think of it as "club-educated."
Thug Entrancer: I completely agree—it's somewhere between the mental and physical. There's definitely a pulse to it, but the pulse is always referencing the emotion. The two sources sort of push and pull each other through Death After Life. I like the term "club-educated." The record is sort of archeological in that sense; it develops as I'm developing.
Do you dance when you go to a club? Do you go to clubs at all?
Thug Entrancer: I don't really go to clubs, and if I do, I'm there to listen. I try to dissect how people are producing sounds. I love clubs though, I love the collective energy. I think dancing is the most universal language of our time, it's so powerful.
On and off I was reminded of 80s movie soundtracks. Where do you draw inspiration from? Music you like? Movies you like? Artists you like to follow?
Thug Entrancer: I think a lot of those references are tied to the technology I work with. Working within these sort of fixed structures has the tendency to add a sort of cold and sparse feeling to the work. It's definitely a conscious decision on my part to work with vintage synths, though. I do think I'm probably subconsciously influenced by these scores because of my experience with them. I feel like those haunting soundtracks have a great deal of influence because they are paired with a visual element that locks you into an emotional reaction. Most of my inspiration is drawn from my daily experiences and interactions really. I just try to translate them into this electronic framework built off the relationship between myself and dance technology.
DAL was largely composed live in single takes with little overdubbing. I really wanted to limit myself in order to define a comprehensive identity. I also try to practice being present when I'm creating, so the record is conceptual in the way that it's about focusing on what you can control. Focusing on what's happening right in front of you.
When did you start working on DAL?
Thug Entrancer: The record was constructed over a span of about two months, recorded in the summer of 2013. Nearly every day, I would get off of work and produce for hours. My process starts with a loose idea, like a rhythm I have in my head or a melody I'd like to play with, and then I just sort of dial it in. Most of the tracks on DAL were composed back to back, so there are very few out takes from that session.
In a recent interview with Groove Magazine you’ve mentioned that the album is mostly free jazz-electronica centered around house music. What does this refer to?
Thug Entrancer: That comment [refers to] being influenced by the two genres. When I first moved to Chicago, I had high hopes of breaking into the free jazz scene there. As much as I loved everything that's happening regarding free jazz in Chicago, I ultimately found myself far more enamoured by house music. I think it boils down to the inclusiveness that comes from house, I love how subversive rhythm can be. If you add a beat to something, people will be much more open to all the other weird shit you sneak in there. It goes back to rhythm being universal I think.
“Death After Life III” is a great example of that subversiveness. It sounds like a simple juke track but ends up in an entirely different space. I tend to spend a lot of time getting a specific sound, but really my focus is more on where that sound is headed and how it develops over time. I really try to fight this misconception as electronic music being static; I want to it to be a living, breathing thing.