The Haxan Cloak on His Electronic Drone Metal: "I Want to Be the Most Intense Thing on the Bill Wherever I Play"

We caught up with Bobby Krlic at Basilica Soundscape. He talked about collaborating with Björk, sonic warfare, and what he's working on next.

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Sep 15 2015, 9:40pm

Samantha Marble

Photos courtesy of Samantha Marble

As the clock struck midnight and sheets of rain lashed the pane glass, The Haxan Cloak (AKA Bobby Krlic) took to the pulpit this past Saturday for a closing performance at Basilica Soundscape, a festival of experimental art, music, film, and literature in Hudson, New York that just wrapped its fourth year. The event takes its name from the Basilica, a former forge and later glue factory where the weekend's performances took place. Built in 1880 with industrial architectural grandeur, it is now a performance hall and secular cathedral to the avant-garde, thanks to the joint leadership of ex-Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur and filmmaker Tony Stone.

Krlic's dark and deafening set—which followed performances by Actress, HEALTH, Jenny Hval, and Wolf Eyes earlier that weekend—skittered between ambient textures, drone reveries, and staccato blasts of static that jerked the faithful upright, providing them with just enough of a beat to uncross arms and unlock knees from the incantations of less rhythmic clerics earlier in the night. Later, the Los-Angeles-via-London producer dropped Madonna and Basement Jaxx at the afterparty, because even priests of the dark arts gotta let their robes down sometimes. THUMP caught up with him in the belfry to talk about Tri Angle Records, sonic warfare, and what he's working on next.

THUMP: What are your impressions of the Basilica thus far? Anything in particular about the acoustics or the aesthetics that you're excited about?

The Haxan Cloak: It suits my music really well. I love the paintings they've commissioned [Dan Colen's "Tar and Feather" series]. When I was writing my first record and doing a lot of visual research to inspire me, I was looking at photos of old abandoned American factories so it feeds in really well with what I was thinking about for a long time.

Do you have anything special planned for this particular space as far as the live set?
I'm playing some unreleased material I kind of wrote with this in mind. It's also quite special because it's going to be the last time that I perform this material.

Why's that?
I've toured with this material a lot over the last couple of years. This is a good show to draw a line before the next phase of this project.

You're the first electronic act closing out the festival. Have you noticed that the metal/noise and electronic worlds are coming together more and more?
It's something that's happened to me quite a bit. I've closed out All Tomorrow's Parties few times before. My music is performed electronically but I don't necessarily see it as a completely electronic project. I'm a guitar player first and foremost—I'm classically trained—and there's loads of acoustic instrumentation on the records. It's just that the way it's presented currently is using electronics to play it back.

You're performing live tonight and then at an afterparty in a DJ format. How do you navigate between those two modes, both live music performance and DJ culture?
It's a tough thing to be welcomed into both worlds. I'm lucky that I can tread water in both fairly easily. One thing that I've always been really firm about is that I've never changed my set for an environment that I'm playing it. If someone books me, they're booking me. I don't feel like an artist should bend to their surroundings. It's a stronger impression if you can command the space and make it yours rather than be malleable.

You were a co-producer on Björk's last album, Vulnicura, and toured with her doing live electronics on stage. What did she bring to the studio and did it surprise you?

What she's bringing is constantly educational and really, really inspiring. For someone who has been around as long as she has, she's still so enthusiastic and humble, eager to learn and seek out new material. As much as she's seen and done in a lifetime so far, she doesn't give you the impression that she's seen and done everything. If I'm permitted to have a musical career at that age, that's something I'd like to take with me.

Any plans for future collaboration?
I can't really say.

How did you meet Tri Angle Records label boss Robin Carolan? Do you feel like a good fit for the Tri Angle family?
He came to me about five years ago, having heard my first record on Aurora Borealis. At that time, the first Holy Other EP [With U] had just come out and he asked me if I'd do a remix. Robin was in London at the time and we had a mutual friend, Ben Power from Fuck Buttons, who introduced us to each other. I told him about the premise of the next album [2013's Excavation] and he asked me if I wanted to do it on Tri Angle. It didn't seem like an obvious fit and I enjoyed that.


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I liked the fact that he could see something about what I was doing as he was curating the label that I couldn't necessarily see, and I thought that was really interesting. I trusted him implicitly, his vision. I was probably one of the first darker electronic things to come to the label, and it's definitely evolved even more. Now we've got Lotic and Rabit and more industrial-sounding stuff. So I definitely feel like it has its home now, and I definitely feel like a Tri Angle artist.

Have you begun working on the next album and do you anticipate releasing it on Tri Angle?
It's really in a formative stage right now, but I've actually just moved from London to Los Angeles. I did that because I knew I'd be working on new material and I wanted to see what a change of environment would have on writing, especially such a diverse change of environment.

So from the cold and rainy weather outside right now to Katy Perry's "California Girls," right?
I like it because Los Angeles is kind of a façade and there's a real darkness. The 60s Manson murders, for example. A friend gave me Mike Davis' City of Quartz as a welcome gift. I also really like the LA noir of Raymond Chandler.

You're partial to field recordings—what's caught your recorder's ear lately?
Anything really. One time recently I was dragging my suitcase over bricks through a train station and I liked the sound. I recorded some of the train sounds out here in Hudson as well. You can craft so many sounds digitally these days from synthesis—and that's a totally valid form of creating—but when you record sounds you also get what's around the sound you want to capture because there's always the environment. When you start to edit pitch it around or just fuck with it, the environment around it changes. That's just the happy accident of field recordings and manipulation. You don't get that from pure synthesis, that's key to a lot of the sounds that I make.

The dread sound on Excavation has echoes of early dubstep, especially releases on Hyperdub. Being from the UK, is the history of dub and its more recent manifestations part of your head space?
Not really. Not to say I don't like it, but it wasn't really something that I was trying to channel when I was writing the record. I still see what I do as rooted in the whole drone/metal thing, and I wanted to put an electronic twist on that.

But I agree with you in hindsight. I was surprised and pleased that a lot more electronic and dance publications and festivals picked up on what I was doing. I always really liked that music, it's always really nice when people invite you into that room. There are not so many people familiar with the metal end of the spectrum so I feel quite lucky in that sense.

What's your relationship with your audience? When performing live, you're not a DJ trying to get people to dance. Does it feel like an intentional antagonism?
Absolutely. I've always strived for intensity. Some of it is definitely meant to be more therapeutic and immersive, and then out of that you get sharp bursts of really aggressive frequencies. I like that dynamic.

You also use frequencies below the range of human hearing. Sonic Warfare, the audio theory book by Steve Goodman [aka Hyperdub label founder Kode9], discusses how advanced military research uses that technique in combat. Are you trying to wage sonic warfare?
Yeah, for sure. I want to be the most intense thing on the bill wherever I play. The thing that is terrifying to me is indifference. I'd rather somebody have an extreme reaction of any kind than just kind of shrug.

Your labelmate Evian Christ produced a track on Kanye's Yeezus and you contributed some ideas to that session although they didn't make the final cut. If you were to get your production into a mainstream pop act, would you consider that an act of infiltration?
Absolutely. We're in an interesting musical climate where I don't think pop exists anymore. Definitely the distinction is being diminished. Yeezus, like it or hate it, bridged a gap between something that didn't exist before. A lot of people have taken a page out of that book recently. If something came along and it felt right and I was really proud of what we created, I don't feel like just because there's the label of pop on it, it doesn't make it any less powerful or an expression. It's just about being honest about your intentions.

Your first album [2011's self-titled debut] was about the journey toward death and your sophomore release was about the journey after death. What comes next?
This is what I'm going to have to find out. It might be a step backwards in time.

Reincarnation?
Possibly. Maybe I'll do a rewind and go somewhere before the first album.

Greg Scruggs is a freelance writer on music, culture, and cities with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. Follow him on Twitter.