Drawing upon the aural headspace of psychonauts like Aphex Twin, Burial, and Shackleton, the duo known as DEFCE deliver a monumental debut album/manifesto in the form of ‘Surface Tension’ for Ohm Resistance. Centered on a unique blend of techno, drum & bass, and industrial speedcore that the duo call “drumcore,” we chat about the philosphical underpinnings of their approach to music, genre, and death itself before jumping into a mindmelting guest mix that charts a course from Trace, Krust, Dom & Roland, and Commix before hurtling headlong into the likes of Machine Code, Noisia, Current Value, Dean Rodell, and Evol Intent.
Who are you and how did you two cross paths and eventually form DEFCE?
We are Jonathan Baruc (De Qualia) and Clement von Holstein (SHVLFCE): (De Qualia + SHVLFCE = DEFCE). We grew up down the block (dirt road) from one another, then later were both in Los Angeles. We cultivated a lot of our taste together; going to the same shows, sharing music, drugs and ideas. Eventually we had so much aesthetic taste in common it coalesced into a notion we agreed was largely unavailable and worth our time to cultivate.
What kind of musical background do each of you bring to the project? DE comes from metal, thrash and grindcore bands. FCE played violin until he was thirteen; his musical influences seed in classical music and cinema. Both our tastes met at drum and bass in 2007.
The album seems designed to introduce the sound that you guys have coined “drumcode.” For the uninitiated, define the term and give us a sense of what elements we might hear bubbling in the stew.
Drumcode seeks to unite the emergent and graceful nature of techno with the overall intensity of things like drum and bass and hardcore, while dissolving any boundaries between them. We also use the term to define a certain techno-infused pummeling sound when listening to some of our more contemporary influences such as Luke Slater, Emptyset, Monolog, N Vitral, Dean Rodell, Submerged, Switch Technique, Nufojah, Current Value, Radiance (by Surgeon), Hostage, Dadub, Plexor, The Third Movement…
What sort of political meaning do you see from your stated desire to “dismantle” techno, drum & bass and industrial music? Is this related to your larger concerns with death as outlined on your Soundcloud page?
We have no issue with death, we’re fans. Many lessons have risen organically just from collaborating on a very traditional form of expression. We’ve become slaves to these themes and hope the listeners experience them as we did when discovering the tracks. It was more about ‘not ignoring’ the themes we were naturally drawn to, rather than trying to hunt them. We know what we like.
Talk a bit about the title “Surface Tension” – it seems very rich with meaning. How do you see this as framing the project as a whole and at what point did this emerge as a working frame/title for the album?
For a good while we were running with Subdermal [as the album title]. FCE cut his arm open last year while the album was in production and realized he was wearing a skin suit of himself, which fanned the flames of the ‘skin thing.’ Eventually Subdermal was replaced with Surface Tension to incorporate our more psychological/emotional presence as well as our awareness of the ‘human skin suit’ situation.
As a whole, what do you see the album representing and/or standing for? It feels very cinematic and the promo material lists this as an “audio film.” What sort of narrative do you see the album telling and if it were a film, what kind of film would it be? Would it be along the lines of the video you guys did for De Qualia’s “Grasp”?
[It would be a film like] The Master, Synecdoche, Funny Games, Primer, Moon, Under The Skin…One of those movies that doesn’t quite resolve itself and forces you to create a personal resolution through your experience of the story. You don’t feel good after. You’re forced to re-watch and re-contextualize. A visual component is definitely under construction.
Live performance seems to be an essential component to your vision of the DEFCE project as well. Give us a sense of what that looks and feels like as an experience and where you have performed before.
A DEFCE set is the applied science of drumcode. All the previously mentioned themes apply; disciplined, pitch black. Burn The Machine was a great pilot for us as we comfortably fit between the breakcore extravaganza and techno tendencies of the festival. We largely credit that festival with our inception. Following Burn The Machine was the first Ohm Resistance Showcase which, naturally, fit the script. We now have residency at Gabber Noir; an event in itself that brings a new level of a class to very prototypical rave energy. Coming up, we have the seventh edition of our own series, So Fucking Future, which will take place on New Year’s Eve at Subland here in Berlin. So Fucking Future is another manifestation of our experimental industrial vision. We’re excited to premiere our album in a new land on the eve of a new year.
The music seems punishing on first listen but there is a subtle, gentle, hypnotic side to it as well. Is that a paradox/tension you are seeking to exploit? How does this fit in to the larger theme/structure of the project?
That duality is a strong representation of the both of us. FCE has a natural rawness and intensity, while DE has a massive attention to detail and a strong ear for subtlety. You can hear the tension between us throughout the album and we’re both deeply satisfied with the product.
Brooklyn and Berlin seem to have become sister cities to you both – what is it about each place that influences your sound? Is the reception to your music the same in both spaces?
New York can be a suffocating place if you’re trying to explore the harder side of music. The atmosphere of the city itself is pretty hardcore so we think people just want to go out to some nice house or dub to wash off their week… industrial speed core techno hybrid is usually not on that list. In Berlin it’s definitely still the underground but still a very colorful and liberating space. Berlin is the perfect incubator for DEFCE. FCE works at Subland, which has been a staple to the harder fringe of the underground scene here in Berlin for four years now. It’s an old WWII power station turned club. It’s really a spectacular place to explore the limits of hardcore and techno.
Last but not least, let’s get into this guest mix. Give us a sense of what kind of journey you’re taking us on and where DEFCE goes from here.
This mix has Kmag in mind. It’s an homage to our more traditional dnb taste and a chronicle in the saga of how we arrived at drumcode. We leave off where current day DEFCE starts.