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Yen Towers' New Record Is Another Compelling Journey in Monochrome

Simon Formann, best known as guitarist for the now-defunct band Lower, opens up about his new techno release 'Bidders Must Justify Their Price.'

Colin Joyce

Photo by Kristian Emdal

Simon Formann mostly spends his time exploring gray areas. Whether he's slinging sonic stormclouds as a guitarist for the very recently disbanded post-punk act, Lower, or conjuring industrial bummer jams in Age Coin (a project once self-described as trying to mirror the experience of "feeling really low in a corner of the club), the Danish musician has offered up many vibrant studies of monochrome. The music he's contributed to interrogates the bluster and turmoil of life's turbulent times, and even his more club-oriented project Yen Towers is no exception.

Returning to Posh Isolation, Copenhagen's most prolific purveyor of grim recordings, after releasing a tape under the Yen Towers name on the label back in 2014, Formann's back with an even more fully realized vision of his twilit techno endeavor on a 12" called Bidders Must Justify Their Price. A press release indicates that Formann in some way intends for the distortion squalls and jittery drum programming to be reflective of the financial exchanges hinted at in the record's title, but even if you can't pick up on the capitalist interrogations, the creeping frigidity of the intersecting synth lines on tracks like "BID I (Bug)" is still compelling in its own right.

In advance of the release, Formann took some time to answer a few questions about the record and his own relation to the club—given that his most prominent successes have come as a member of what's nominally a rock band. Check out the interview below alongside a full stream of Bidders Must Justify Their Price.

THUMP: So you've obviously been working on Lower material for a long time now, but this is the first proper Yen Towers record. Did you have any stated goals when you were making this record?
Simon Formann: I put out some tracks on [Posh Isolation] in 2014 as Yen Towers, so it's been around and in my head for some years. The process of finishing the new release was a bit tedious though, but it's done and done. Parts for the tracks came together during the past two years, so I can't really say they are informed by anything in particular like that. Loke from Posh Isolation pushed me last fall, so I collected the outlines and put together these four tracks.

Most people aware of your work know you for your involvement in rock and noise scenes, but this project is more dancefloor directed. What's your relationship to club culture like?
Well, I like a drink as much as the next man. Copenhagen is in a good spot now, a lot of talented people doing their thing, and their thing luckily being something similar to mine. Going out is good at the moment, though I don't go as often as I used to.

A lot of techno along these lines is really dim and depressing but this record seems even more so—is that something you were trying to achieve with this release?
Hahaha, really?!? It wasn't something I aspired to, but I see where you're coming from. Generally I try to aim for something a little more nuanced than something to cry to, something die to.

How do you see this music relating to what you were doing with Lower? I think that a listener—if they wanted to—could find something dispositionally similar even if the music is sonically very different.
Maybe there are some similarities in the melodic work or the overall atmosphere, but otherwise I don't know. Actually I like using recordings of Anton's drumming, he's a big inspiration. I keep all the raw takes from the sessions we did with Lower, lots of strings, horns, drums and perc.

I'm always curious when people put a lot of grit and grime and distortion on their techno tracks—is that a necessity of your recording process or is it something you intentionally made a part of your work? Do you feel any affinity for producers and labels who do similar things—like L.I.E.S. or Modern Love? Or is it more rooted in the history of industrial music?
Well, some of it is definitely a necessity. The tracks coming together over a relatively long period of time means a lot of different recordings and gear is in the mix, which naturally distorts the picture. That being said, I think it comes down to feel and texture for me, as well as technical abilities. As much as I love the Dolby informed, 3D hi-end sound design thing, I always end up smothering each track, resampling, rerecording, a lot of inserts heavily compressed and distorted, stuff like that. I try to balance it, gritty-yet-sleek.

Who'd want to live in a world without L.I.E.S., Modern Love and the history of industrial music?

Techno albums tend to be broken down between more abstract, "narrative based" forms and tracks that are more built for DJs to play in clubs—where do you see this album falling on that spectrum?
Well, I don't really consider this release an album. I spoke to a friend who runs a booking group called Fast Forward. As you can imagine, their [music] is fast and forward, and he told me: Nice tracks, really dig it mate, would never play it out! Even though it might seem dance floor directed, having all the right signifiers, it might not work very well in that particular setting, and it's something I'm very aware of. Whatever life these tracks take on once they're out, I'm perfectly fine with that, be it floorstopping dj-tools (not likely) or as something you can weave your finger in the air to in the kitchen (more likely). Ideally I'd like a combination of the two, for the contemplating players out there.