Heckadecimal is one of those few artists that are able to switch from Techno to Ambient, passing through the Electro genre without restraint...armed only with talent and a serious dose of audacity! Couldn't be by chance then that his new album found a home on Freddy Fresh's resurrected experimental Electro label "Electric Music Foundation". The wonderful “VHS Repair” offers a demonstration of savoir-faire, tinted with nostalgic sororities, so we took the opportunity to know more about this impressive artist, who is as much modest as he is creative.
Chris Nexus 6: First of all, nice to meet you Josh! It’s a great honor to have you onboard Electric Kingdom. Your LP, released few days ago on Freddy Fresh’s Electric Music Foundation, is a breath of fresh air on the Electronic scene in my opinion, so we judged it would be interesting for you and I to speak about it together. But before going deeper, introduce yourself a bit for us.
Where do you come from? How long have you been involved in electronics?
HeckadecimaI: I grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and have been in Minneapolis most of my adult life since 1998, with some time in San Francisco and Sweden in there as well. I started making music in 2000 with an MC-505, Gameboys, and mixer feedback. Then I got a Juno, a 101, and a couple drum machines. This was before everything became super expensive. I think I paid $500 for the 101, 606, and 707 combined. Wow, lucky man, not even the price of the 606 alone today I think! :) Yeah, and the 101 has gone back and forth a couple times between myself and my friend I’d gotten it from. He’s still got it but it’s modified now.
So what is your musical background? What are your main influences? Who are your favorite artists (past and present)?
I was an IDM nerd for a long time; it took me a while for dance music to click for me. I think Ceephax Acid Crew was a good jumping off point for me in the mid-aughts, and Drexciya. So we could say your first influences were Acid and Detroit Electro music, right? Do you keep on listening to these styles and do you listen to Electronic Music a lot? I would say my first influences were more british IDM, and later the music coming from Detroit and Chicago clicked with me. Aphex and Autechre definitely flipped some switch.
Do you have non musical influences as well?
I watch a lot of bad movies. My music is probably most informed by weird music, and musical moments. Ha ha, no doubt! I make music for animals and monsters, angels and demons, friends and lovers and other idiots.
Tell us about your first parties? How did you hook up with Raves?
I caught the end of the 90's Midwest Rave scene, and shortly after that Electronic Music in the US moved more to clubs and got boring. I appreciate the renegade nature of some of those parties, and seeing that happening more again is great.
So when did the idea for Heckadecimal come about? What were the key influences in choosing the aesthetics of your musical project?
The name itself is nothing important, just a joke that stuck. I’m not sure how or if I chose aesthetics, besides always being into psychedelic music I suppose. I’m not sure what my aesthetic is, hah!
But does your moniker Heckadecimal have specific significance? Something linked to mathematics perhaps?
Making music on trackers that used hexadecimal values, and joking with Bay Area lingo.
"I make music for animals and monsters, angels and demons, friends and lovers..."
Let’s talk about “VHS Repair”. What's the story behind this LP? I mean, it sounds like an iconic record and future classic. I wouldn’t believe you if you tell us that you wrote it in five minutes on the corner of a table. How did it happen? What inspired you?
After being laid off last year, I made a collection of recordings from the past few years and a private soundcloud playlist titled ‘unemployment demos’. After Freddy Fresh heard my 1st record through Paul Birken (another local legend and one of the nicest people around), he hit me up, so I sent him that playlist. He picked his favorites and we went from there. The last 4 tracks (Awareness Movements 1-4) were cut from a live set a couple years ago at a warehouse event that we (Always Human Tapes) put on; cheekily titled "Awareness Rave".
All the other tracks are from the past couple years, but didn’t come together as presented until Freddy hit me up. So it wouldn’t be true to say there’s some underlying theme that I had in mind while making it. As for the title and cover art, I’ve gotten into glitching video over the past couple years, and the idea of degrading something while calling it "repair" was funny to me. And I thought it worked with this collection of tunes. It seems like sometimes being laid off can be very beneficial, in particular when you are in a creative process and need time to make your ideas come to life. Maybe. I was certainly able to focus on some projects more.
Which instruments did you use for the album? Analog, hardware, classic instruments? What were your first intentions?
Over the years, it’s changed a lot, but for quite a while now it’s pretty much all hardware. Analog/Digital, I don’t care, there’s great grass on both sides of the fence. Ableton has become a glorified tape deck for me; I record to stereo and do some minor editing there and that’s all. I’m sequencing most drums and synths from the Social Entropy Engine sequencer, which I love. Occasionally I put more work into editing, for example the "Noface" tape we did on Always Human Tapes (a project with one of my oldest friends, Jens Thorsgard). He was visiting for a long weekend, so we recorded several hours over maybe 6 sessions that I spent several months cutting into a continuous 1 hour album. It can be fun getting things precise with a computer, but most of the time I feel more comfortable away from it. Yes, we have the chance to live a life full of too many possibilities and choices sometimes. So what you are saying then is why stay stuck to any kind of instrument, analog or digital, when we can experiment with both and mix them together? Absolutely.
Heckadecimal's current studio setup © Heckadecimal
So how long did it take to gather all these tracks and how do you judge them afterall? How would you describe your music?
I don’t know, I’m no good at that. I spent maybe a week going through recordings from the past couple years and editing them. It’s great coming across an old recording you’d forgotten about and it turns out to be something you really like and want to share with the world.
I’m intrigued about your general musical themes? Could you please explain us your choices?
I like to make spooky music sometimes. And sometimes I want it to be urgent. That and other stuff. It all depends on what I’m feeling, and I suppose what equipment I’m using at any given time.
In “Ejaculation Mecanique (Bonus effort)“ we can find Breakbeat, Broken Beats, and Jazzy influences over lots of drums. On “Aesd”, your sound is way more acid, while “Domav” focuses on experimental Electro a la' Freddy Fresh. There’s also Aphex Twin and Warp references on Awareness Movement for instance. From deep to abrasive sound textures and constructions, how do you explain this eclecticism in the music you offer?
I’ve always liked the album format. If something is good from beginning to end and has a nice flow, it can become something greater as a whole. The idea of making EP's is less natural to me, but a lot of Electronic Music is presented that way. With a full length I like being able to have different approaches and vibes, or different sides to a personality. And yeah, you nailed a lot of influences there, but my hope is to make this into something my own. Oh yes, definitively you have your own, insane style Josh! But you know how it works, we often need to classify music and link it to references to describe it, even if sometimes music escapes from our musical knowledges. Yeah, I’m not very good at describing my own output, but I always appreciate what others have to say about it.
Releasing on local analog label Electric Music Foundation is not chance. Has it been a dream of yours? What does EMF and Freddy Fresh represent to you?
It’s fucking awesome! Freddy is a legend not just around here, but all over, and he’s been super nice and supportive. Feels good. Agreed on that, Freddy is the MAN!! :)
“VHS Repair” is not your first output. You did many releases in the past on Always Human Tapes; a successful label specialized in cassettes founded by Ryan Wurst with help from TML and you. How is “VHS Repair” different from the previous releases you did, has there been a different approach at composing and producing this one would you say?
I think I’m getting better at doing my thing. For my tape "Anti-Human (Live) / Roasting Spit’", now that I think about it, I took a similar approach. One side is a live set (some material might sound familiar), and the other a collection of tracks from the previous few years that I was into.
VHS Repaired! :) © Heckadecimal
How did it all begin with AHT? What’s the artistic line of the label and what do you guys intend to do with it?
Ryan started it, then after meeting and doing some tapes and shows together, he asked Peter and myself to come onboard. It’s been a very organic process. We put out music from our friends and people that send us stuff of all sorts that we find interesting. It’s really fun but sometimes there’s so much. We slowed our release schedule but then you don’t want artists to wait too long for their releases. I mean, we’re doing this for them and want them to be happy with the whole process. So just trying to keep that balance. We all appreciate things from our own very different perspectives, but we all trust each other’s tastes.
Let's talk about your process in studio. Please describe your workflow a little for us.
I’m most motivated when I’m working on a live set. Playing live has always been my thing, and that’s become how I record too I guess. I love hearing mistakes. I mentioned I use the Engine sequencer, and I have a million synths and drum machines hooked up to that (OK, it’s only 8 tracks). I’m also pretty enamoured with the Machinedrum, and I like to grab bits in realtime and manipulate/remix things on the fly with its gritty 12-bit UW sampler. The Avalon Bassline is where the acid comes in (mostly), and its brilliant filter cartridges, and I often run the 0-Coast thru that, tracking the same sequence so the envelopes and filter tracking line up. That opens up the acid pallet a great deal. On this album you also hear a fair bit of Pro 2, Analog Four, Octatrack, Tanzbär, Evolver, Streichfett, MS-20 (love that especially for drums) and who knows what else. Some of that gear is gone and the workflow changes.
How about the Electronic scene where you live in Minneapolis? Could you describe it a bit? Has the sound of Electro/Techno been very popular, or has it been mostly underground?
The Midwest has always had a strong Techno and Acid presence, and Minneapolis its own microcosm within that. The clubs are still mostly homogenous pop EDM, but we have a healthy underground. In fact, there are some regular things that happen that can rival just about anywhere. We’ve always been known to have killer sound systems too. Yes, I've heard the best sound systems were on Drop Bass Network's parties, but I never came to verify ;) Well it seems that Midwest raving is alive and well. You really should come see for yourself some day! Even Furthur is happening again this August in Somewhere, Wisconsin. ;)
So what's in the pipeline for you in the future? Could we hope for a vinyl issue of your album?
I would love that! I’m planning on sending Freddy more material that may be appropriate for vinyl release, we’ll see. Next up is a record on Great Circles out of Philadelphia coming this fall, expect more distortion. In July I’ll be playing some shows in Philly, NYC, Boston, and Milwaukee, then Drop Bass Network’s Even Further festival this August.
Sounds great! Thank you Josh for your time and insight.