The day I visited Laurel Halo at her East Williamsburg apartment it was literally raining ice in the streets. Falling, sparkling shards is a strangely appropriate image under which to address Halo, who is 25 and released her first EP, King Felix, on Hippos in Tanks in the US in November of 2010. (More …)
Berlin and Belfast seem like an unlikely musical alliance, but the space and distance between them have only worked in electro duo Moon Unit’s favor. With Paul Mogg (synths/machines) living amongst it in Germany, and Ros Blair (vocals) based in Northern Ireland, they’ve closed the chasm between these two countries with their progressive, dark electro rock band born out of a track created over the internet last year. One track turned into several, and the band was born. (More …)
“Oh, la morale!” Christian Pahud is chastising his friend and bandmate, Guy Meldem, who has just returned from a quick shopping spree at Uniqlo. Guy is sheepishly unwrapping a pair of crisp blue jeans from a fluffy wad of tissue paper. “Yesterday, we went shopping,” explains Christian, “and he bought this crazy pair of purple skinny jeans and I was like, ‘There’s no way you can pull that off!’ and he gave me this whole speech about it. Now he just went and changed them for a regular pair of jeans! Typical.”
Let us begin by saying that this type of morally bankrupt behavior is not indicative of Christian and Guy’s music. While both guys have various musical projects, together they form Larytta, an experimental pop band born out of their mutual love of underground rock and Timbaland in their native Switzerland. Larytta are on the forefront of a new pop movement, taking their cue both from newer post-punk bands like Liars and interesting mainstream pop odysseys like Britney Spears. They’re pushing the envelope as far as it can go while remaining completely catchy and fun. Larytta’s new album, Difficult Fun (Creaked Records, 2009) is chock-full of the sort of robotic instrumentation that’s so en vogue in the cultural musical landscape right now.
What’s interesting about Larytta is that, like a lot of European bands, they look toward America in a lot of their music and presentation, while strongly retaining their own cultural identity (they have the cutest Swiss accents, even when they sing). Christian and Guy were on a quick promotional tour behind Difficult Fun when ’SUP met up with them in their Cobble Hill sublet, where we spoke of Missy Elliott and robot bands taking over the world.
What is it like to be in a band in Switzerland? Is there a large electronic music community? Are you guys big fish in a small pond, so to speak?
Christian: I think that in Switzerland, Larytta is pretty small. There’s a huge electronic scene there, but it’s more of a minimal techno thing. We have some quite famous people. Maybe you know this guy called Luciano?
Christian: This guy, he’s from Switzerland, and right now he’s one of the biggest DJs in the world. So yeah, the scene there is really more oriented toward minimal electro stuff right now. We have a lot of friends who are doing this kind of music, so the idea behind Larytta was ‘Okay, all these people are doing minimal electro, so we’re going to try and make—’ (pauses)
Christian: Yeah, the opposite! Maximal electro! Yeah, that was the first idea when we came up with this project and then we turned it into something a little bit more poppy. In the beginning, we didn’t sing at all. Then we tried it for one song and were like, ‘Ah! Maybe it’s funnier to sing.’ We’re big fans of R&B stuff on one hand, and on the other we came from this rock scene. I’m still playing in a rock band and Guy was playing in a punk band. We’re also big fans of experimental stuff. The idea was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to try and make some sort of mainstream music,’ and it turned out very experimental at the same time. We call it ‘in between music.’
Guy: Doing music [in Switzerland] is quite easy because it’s a smaller country but there are a lot of venues, so you can play in many places. But it’s hard when you try to push your band out of your country. Switzerland is not very well known musically, so it’s harder.
Why is it harder though? Your songs are in English, so there’s no language barrier.
Christian: I think it’s in terms of credibility.
Guy: More in the rock scene though. In the electronic music scene, things are changing.
I wanted to ask you about that: Guy, you used to be in a punk band and Christian is in the math rock band Honey for Petzi. Obviously people form rock bands all over the world, but you hardly ever hear of rock bands from that part of Europe, yet there is so much electronic music. Why do you think people tend to lean more toward electro?
Guy: I don’t know, maybe it’s just cultural. Like in Germany, they’ve been doing a lot of electronic music for ages. Maybe it’s because rock didn’t really start in Europe. Except for in England.
The album is very much influenced by contemporary R&B. Specifically what artists made you appreciate that era in pop music? I feel like there’s a mid-to-late-’90s R&B renaissance just around the corner.
Christian: I think mostly Timbaland’s early work.
Guy: Even his late work. Up until the last Justin Timberlake album, I think it was very nice. After that I think he went a little too far into the commercial aspect of things, in my opinion.
Christian: When you look at Missy Elliott’s early stuff, it’s so crazy to think that this kind of thing went mainstream, because it’s totally bizarre. When that came out it was like, ‘Okay, this is good for us, because we’re not totally into mainstream stuff. This sounds weird and maybe we can do stuff like it.’
Guy: We agree on this kind of pop music. It was quite funny because at one point Timbaland was putting way more experimental stuff on the radio all over the world than every electronica band in Germany or wherever. He was pushing it way further than anyone.
Christian: Same with Pharrell Williams’ music. One crazy, crazy song is “Drop It Like It’s Hot” with Snoop Dogg. It’s crazy. That song is totally musically bizarre. It’s completely exigent and it’s this mainstream pop song!
Timbaland is this era’s Phil Spector. In terms of his loyalty to his aesthetic, the music that he’s made and the people he has influenced, he’s doing in the 2000s what Phil Spector was doing in the ’60s. He can work with any kind of artist and make any kind of music, and it will contain the same values and be totally crazy.
Christian: In the ’90s there was a lot of underground and indie rock, and on the other hand this really shitty mainstream music. Then at the end of the ’90s, mainstream music rediscovered the idea of being intelligent, in a way. It was a lot like in the late ’60s, when musicians started to cross themes. It comes in waves like that.
It’s totally a double helix, when mainstream is popular, underground sucks and vice-versa.
Christian: Yeah, I think the end of the ’90s and the beginning of the new millennium was a little hard for the underground, but the mainstream started to be intelligent again. And right now, it’s changing again. It’s hard to hear really good R&B stuff right now, I think. Except for—[turns to Guy, in French]—who’s that girl that goes, ‘La la la la, la la la…’?
Christian: Yeah, Cassie [laughs].
This is going to sound weird but I have a hard time telling a lot of those girls apart, like Ciara, Cassie, Amerie. When Timbaland was making music with Missy and Aaliyah in the late ’90s everyone had really big personalities, and I think that might be what’s missing from R&B right now. Even all those Hype Williams videos were so insane, like “The Rain” with Missy in the inflatable trash bag. Even Rihanna is really boring now.
Christian: I’m not a big fan of Rihanna.
I mean yeah, but when “Umbrella” came out I think everyone had a moment where they hoped that that was the direction things were going to be taking. It sounds like an R&B version of the Knife. But I think the best example of the mainstream pushing things forward right now are the last two Britney Spears albums.
Christian: We were really disappointed actually, because her last album came out a few weeks before ours, and we were like, ‘Fuck, Britney Spears is doing exactly what we set out to do! She’s making weirder stuff than we are (laughs)!’
Oh my God. That’s too funny.
Guy: There’s that one song off of Blackout (Jive Records, 2007) (begins to sing), ‘I’m miss American dream since I was 17…’
Oh, “Piece of Me”.
Guy: Yeah, that song is so good. The lyrics aren’t even like, pop lyrics. They were quite deep. That song has this crazy synthesizer that just blew away Justice.
Christian: Yeah, we were pretty sad when that record came out.
She probably scheduled it to conflict with your album. Like, a Kanye and 50 Cent thing.
Christian (laughing): Yeah, totally. We were also really big fans of that first Destiny’s Child album.
Wait, the first self-titled one or the first popular one?
Christian: The first big one, The Writing’s on the Wall (Columbia, 1999). In terms of rhythm, it’s amazing.
I still play that album all the time, and it stands up. At the time the late ’90s were really weird because the fashion and everything was so bad, but in retrospect I think it’s going to be looked upon as a fairly important era in pop music. Everyone was making so much money; people like ‘NSYNC and Destiny’s Child were literally selling tens of millions of records in a matter of weeks. The labels didn’t care what they did. They were like, ‘Oh you want to make some crazy alien music? Whatever, go for it.’
Christian: Yeah. I’m also a really big fan of TLC.
I heard some DJ play “Silly Ho” at SXSW a couple of months ago. I was so excited! The vocoder rap on that song is so ahead of its time, way before Akon and T-Pain and all those dudes.
Guy: Yeah. We do idea-based music like that. One of us, or both of us, will come up with just an idea and we go from there.
Speaking of, how do you guys come up with song ideas?
Christian: Well, mainly we start with a beat. Sometimes one of us will be at the piano or the guitar and trying to find a melody to try and build the song a different way, but mostly it’s beats. I think you can hear it on the album; the more poppy stuff is based around melody and just building rhythm around it, whereas I dunno, the more hip-hop stuff is just created with beats. Do you want to know like, how we work together?
Yeah, what’s your dynamic, I guess?
Christian: He cooks and I make tea (laughs). Guy is more into the construction of the songs and I’m more into sounds, I think. It can change, but that’s pretty much it. Most of the time we’re doing small stuff on our own, then we try to put everything together and create a real song. That’s when it starts to get boring too, because we’ll be like, ‘Wow, this crazy beat is gonna be a hit!’ Then we try to build a song around it and we’re like, ‘Ugh, this sucks (laughs)!’
Maybe you should just get super conceptual and just do beats!
Guy: We were thinking of doing something way more hip-hop, like just have the same beat for four minutes.
Christian: Whenever we start a song we’re always our own biggest fans. We’re like, ‘This is going to be so crazy.’ Then we try to achieve the song and we realize we actually have to work!
Guy: Then we hear the song like, 2,000 times and we’re like, ‘This song is so boring.’
Your music is very ambitious though. What’s your ideal live setup?
Guy: Well, we try to play as much live as possible. We play samplers, synthesizers and guitars.
Christian: We use loopers, especially for the vocals. Then everything else is on Ableton Live, which we use in a very classic way. It’s funny because sometimes we don’t do it very well, but it’s livelier then having everything pre-recorded. But our dream would be this new thing we were talking about: We have all these MIDI files and we know that you can control mechanical stuff by MIDI. We were thinking about controlling robots with MIDI.
Guy: Having all the stuff we use in the set (drums, guitars) and have them all onstage with robot hands playing everything at the right time.
Christian: I know that there’s a MIDI robot that can play the guitar. You just enter the note and it plays.
What if they start a band using artificial intelligence and rebel against you? They’ll be jamming in the garage while you sleep.
Christian [laughing]: I want to use robots for some of the drum parts. Just like pieces of a drum kit with mechanical robot skeleton hands playing everything!