Herrmutt Lobby do things a tad differently. A group of musicians, artists and self-proclaimed nerds whose love of technology has helped shape their musical output as much as the hip hop they pastiche and make, they’ve quietly been releasing records since 2006 on labels like Thin Consolation and Eat Concrete – making these low sloping kind of beats and putting them out on EPs with names like Bassfudge Powerscones. What’s particularly interesting about them is the manner in which they make music. Utilizing their own Ableton patches like Beatfader (a plugin let lets you assign different sounds to the parameters of a crossfader so you could essentially play a beat simply by moving the fader from left to right) and MIDI controllers, like last year’s Beatsurfing App – which they were involved in conceptualizing – they create a large portion of their tracks live, using the humanized performances to capture something special.
The methods of production aside, their latest EP for Eat Concrete, Haters Gonna Hate, starts like one of those stutter bound collections of heavy set hip hop instrumentals with the big drums and ascending sirens channelling a little bit of the G-funk era on the first two tracks, ‘Alt of Ctrl’ and ‘Computer Club’. But it flips at the third with ‘Major Grubert’ rearranging some of those squalling lead lines over those kind of space-opera, DMT-hippy type, almost straight jazz beats. Deviating through bass solos and arrangements that feel a little akin to the fluency of Heavy Weather era Jaco Pastorius, when you get to the outro of ‘Camel Toe Hoes & Other No Nos’ it’s hard to recline back into the simplicity and directness of the EP’s opener. But that’s all part of the journey and it’s probably the best thing about it as a record. The way that you can get completely lost in the folds of one track and then swallow a new direction so easily on the next proves that their one of the more original troupes operating in the current beats climate.
To celebrate their EP and give us a chance to generally commend their exceptional outlook, we asked the guys to make us ‘something special’ and this is what they delivered: a mixtape they calledDevastating To Your Ear. It’s made of pretty much 100% their own material with a family size grab bag of acapellas thrown in and mutilated over the top. Turned out to be pretty damn special to be fair.
Sonic Router: It’s probably best if we talk about the relationship of the people within Hermutt Lobby first… So as I understand it, it’s a pretty loose group of people operating as a musical collective, right?
Herrmutt Lobby: Most of us are long time collaborators in different musical projects. We used to play together before Herrmutt Lobby was launched in 2003. Today there are two Belgium based members that drive the project on a daily basis but the complete crew consists of more or less 10 people working with us at a slower frequency. Their contribution is varied, covering topics such as electronic design, 3D printing, software development, music theory, drums, sound design, and so on. We also have some external partners for matters such as management, communication or iOS development.
Our original goal was to play live electronically with 3 or 4 people. But after a few years of doing live shows using Ableton and a ton of controllers to play live with loops and generative patches and other such techniques, we decided to stop for a while and develop specific tools for playing music as an extension of physical movement. Since developing tools to play live became so important to us, we rapidly received a lot of help from those who would later become members of the crew. Most live in Belgium, others in Moscow, London or Istanbul. We also collaborate with MCs from LA, Brooklyn and London.
Can you introduce us to the people who worked on the upcoming Haters Gonna Hate EP?
On this EP it’s mainly the 2 main members, but there are also some Arduino sounds produced by Chantal Goret – one of our lovely side geeks – and naturally an intensive use of our MaxforLive and Beatsurfing tools.
Can you describe for us a bit about how the musical processes work within the group? Is there a main person driving the direction of the productions? Like, how does it work when you guys are making music together…? know it’s very much a live outlet, are you just jamming and then editing material down to make tracks? How does that side of it work?
When producing in the studio, everything is possible from real time experiment to old school sequencing. Sometimes we drop tracks recorded in one take like the joystick space funk. There is no problem about writing stuff in studio, although we try to break our habits but our core activity is the live set. Then everything is played real time through a network of MaxforLive devices interconnected with up to 15 controllers. We shot a video especially for you that demonstrates at a simple level some of those techniques.
You guys were instrumental in the creation of Beatsurfing and a bunch of other live performance software?
We thought up the Beatsurfing ‘concept’ and wrote the specification test for the app and wrote the prototype for upcoming features. Beatsurfing is a collaboration between Herrmutt Lobby and Yaniv De Ridder, a very good developer and interface thinker, and Julien from Vlek who takes care of communication. Over the years we’ve been in contact with a lot of the big software companies, but till now we’ve preferred working with friends.
Silly question I know but are you using all those patches and plugins you’ve created to construct the music you release? Is that an important part of the process, creating software that enables YOU as musicians and performers to grow?
Indeed it is, but everything is driven by our childish excitation when a new idea comes up and we start to “weave our threads”, and discover the result. The first attempt of a Beatfader was thought of and built within few minutes and we found this first successful interfacing attempt very addictive… almost like beginners luck! An important source of inspiration comes from seeing other artists use some of our tools, like Mr Torzo aka Mango aka Modul.
The name ‘Herrmutt’ in Herrmutt Lobby comes from the signature on Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain a urinal with R. Mutt tagged on it (that and a play on words on “Helmut Lotti” – a cheesy Belgian singer who started his career as an Elvis impersonator). Marcel Duchamp broke a lot of rules and questioned the certainties of his day regarding art and virtuosity, questioning the very act of creation. In today’s music “industry”, the spectator is essentially reduced to being a mere consumer. The creator or “artist” is often simply a stamp on a marketable product at best a mark of value. Music making can then seem like answering a huge questionnaire, with a few blank spaces to complete… but is that really art?
It much rather resembles a ready made, pre-digested, plastic wrapped model provided by the industry, for “musicians” to reproduce. We are not interested in participating in such a model. We believe that artists should ask questions and unveil new territories. Re-appropriating one’s “tools” is a necessary step to distancing oneself from these prefabricated models. The “industry” will continue to sell the same old shit as the next big thing… but some will remain critical about the way they produce and perform, asking rather than answering. Is the old school sequencer asking us 16 questions we can answer with sound or silence? When we see 16 steps that can be turned on or off, is selecting which step is active an activity closer to asking or answering?
You’ve been releasing music (as solo artists and as a collective) for a good few years now, what keeps you driven to create new music? Like, is it just the result of friendly interaction?
Yes, to a certain extent it is the result of friendly interaction. I remember when my first vinyl dropped in ‘97. It was a kind of commercial dance music [laughs]! But it was already the result of a collaboration between 4 people. The three others taught me a great deal between ‘94 and ‘97. Helping beginners now is a way of giving back, like we were helped by experimental musicians and engineers back then, passing on the flame so to speak. So what still drives us? Learning new things, criticizing our complacent methods of writing or playing, thinking of new challenges, learning new drum patterns, studying harmony, building hardware and continuing to teach one another as much as possible!
For the last year we’ve also been working on incorporating a drummer to our live sets. It’s very exciting! We also enjoy producing beats for MCs! And naturally after all these years producing, it’s a whole new world playing electronic music in real time. We know that we have things to learn for years and years before being able to play what we have in mind.
Can you tell us a bit about the mixtape you’ve made us? There’s a lot of Herrmutt material in there….
This mix contains 100% previously unreleased material: three cuts from the “Haters Gonna Hate” EP on Eat Concrete, and the remaining material forthcoming on a series of EPs.
What’s next for you guys?
This month we’re going to start investigating the new multi touch screens from Wacom, then in March we’ll be dropping a Beatsurfing update and a selection of our MaxforLive devices will be made available shortly afterwards.
We also have a lot of live sets and EPs planned for 2013. First, an EP with Non from Shadow Huntaz. Two other EPs with MCs are nearing completion: the first with Gajah and the second with Strange U. There’s an EP with the Lobby’s drummer also involved with the Mind Safari free EP and another Bretzel Zoo EP with our friend Cupp Cave are also in the pipeline.
After these 5 EPs we’ll be releasing a video live set. We’re also working on an incredible project with our friend from Moscow, a new kind of electric drums. Alongside some others softwares based on the leap motion. Very recently we’ve also started exchanging ideas with Onyx Ashanty, who has a unique approach to live sets. We will certainly be looking influence one another a lot in the next few months.
2. Big Pun Fat Joe -Twins (Bretzel Zoo Remix)
4. Bretzel Zoo – Sound of Sea
5. Bretzel Zoo – Croyance
6. Non + Herrmutt Lobby – Raw Tragedy
7. Herrmutt Lobby – Polleur City
8. Mf Doom – My Favorite Ladies (Bretzel Zoo Remix)
9. Gajah + Herrmutt Lobby – Black Knight
10. Kool Keith – Blue Flowers (Bretzel Zoo Remix)
12. Herrmutt Lobby – Alt Of Ctrl
13. Ill Bill – Gangsta Rap (Breztel Zoo Remix)
14. Strange U + Bretzel Zoo – Life Is A Malfunction
15. Herrmutt Lobby – Camel Toe Hoes & Other No-No’s
16. Herrmutt Lobby – Mol Solo
17. Herrmutt Lobby – Tean Overtone
18. Bretzel Zoo – Astro Coach
19. Herrmutt Lobby – Computer Club
20. Herrmutt Lobby – Puma De Noel
21. Herrmutt Lobby – Aboudious
Sampled interviews: Hermeto Pascoal, Sun Ra, Fix Tean and Lee Perry.
Artwork by Christophe Lieutenant.
Herrmutt Lobby’s Haters Gonna Hate is out now on Eat Concrete.