There’s a beautiful sunset up here, says Pantha du Prince when I call up to his room from the hotel lobby. It’s the night of his show at Gloria in Cologne. A few days ago Rough Trade, one of the world’s pre-eminent indie labels, announced they’d added him to their roster. So I’m curious to meet Hendrik Weber, fashion conscious resident of Berlin & Paris – the man designated by the press as the cross-over standard bearer for minimal techno.
Hendrik’s room is about the size of a postage stamp. He is crouched over his computer, preparing his live set for tonight’s show. He steps onto the balcony for a moment and makes a sweeping gesture. “This is what I love about Cologne. It has another whole world on its rooftops.” The sky is fading to a dirty yellow, and on some of the angled square rooftops below, plants in tubs sprout up haphazardly.
Hendrik offers the bed to sit on and then, almost reflexively, puts on a pair of boots. The boots are slouchy black leather and ankle high. He is wearing non-descript cotton pants and long-sleeved tee. His hair is not ‘done’. He says it’s been a hard week and mutters something about how there is no minibar.
The Pantha du Prince project has been described as ‘philosophical’ or ‘intellectual’ in the media – words fleshed out in his press releases, in which names of film makers and authors are dropped hither and thither. Some of the cultural references he claims seem superfluous in the context of his music. But there are plotlines that Hendrik is sticking to, and he looks concentrated as he formulates quotes about cutting up nostalgia into tiny pieces.
Since Pantha remixed Animal Collective, who are signed to Rough Trade, it’s not so unbelievable that a German techno bloke like him would be invited to join the roster. Hendrik says the band were surprised when he told them of the album deal; and that when Trevor emailed him with the offer, he could hardly turn it down – because the first record he ever bought was on Rough Trade.
“Which record?” I ask. He is evasive. “Oh… I couldn’t pick just one. There were so many.” Perhaps it is because he is tired, but the citylimits of the Pantha project seem to end abruptly just behind the wire fence . It’s like the music he’s currently working on is a spot-lit stadium at night time, and beyond the lights there is darkness.
As such, he seems to feel that his former creative processes are almost irrelevant, even those of his last album as Pantha du Prince, but especially concerning his work with the Hamburg band Stella, for whom he played bass in the late ‘90s. He says he never took any creative lead in the band and spent most of his time with them mediating arguments.
When asked about the Ladomat act’s cover of ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, he cringes visibly, saying he doesn’t like Fleetwood Mac at all. Fair enough – though the Thomas Geiger remix of the Stella cover had a certain raw charm. And the Stella track ‘Bad News Entertainment’ was an interesting record to play in techno sets, with its 2step beat and squelchy bassline combo. The vocals weren’t so great, but hey. Hendrik should listen to Kirk Degiorgio’s Fleetwood Mac tribute show on RBMA Radio – he might feel less pained about that chapter of Pantha’s prehistory.
After the angst of Stella, Hendrik perks up at a mention of the Chills’ Pink Frost (which he sampled for the Diamond Daze record), but when asked if he’s ever been in touch with Phillips, he responds with a dull stare.
Pantha seems to be a project that clones microscopic cells for a kind of minimal techno pop art, not one that dives deep, chasing up and locking onto references and DNA chains. Hendrik even refers to ‘Pantha’ in the third person, like an actor keeping his script at arm’s length. And in the end, Pantha is a character that really comes to life amid the grandeur of a rave, not in the theoretical discourse of a lazyboy.
But one very dearly wants to believe the theory, when the list of musical references and influences is so impeccable. Listen to Pantha du Prince very carefully, and try to breathe in the microscopic fragments of Wim Wenders, Octave One, My Bloody Valentine and Durutti Column that you know must be hiding there in between the semi-quavers.
The Pantha du Prince album Black Noise will be released on February 8, oh-ten, with contributions from Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear of Animal Collective and Tyler Pope of !!! and LCD Soundsystem. A lion’s share of the LP is based on nostalgic acoustic music recorded in the Swiss alps.