#102 - Stare5 / Bryan Zentz
With a tracklist that’s bound to put a smile on any techno fan’s lips we find Bryan getting it together with Vatican Shadow, Mad Mike, Cosmin TRG, Mark Broom, Truncate, Sigha, Polygon Window, Robert Hood, Phon.o, Ryan James Ford, Bryan Chapman and Antigone as well as previewing a couple of tracks from his new ‘Void Swimmer’ EP.
Bryan Zentz is a music fanatic, producer, DJ and artist living in the Pacific Northwest of the US. He has been making electronic music for over two decades, releasing on labels like Minus, Plus 8, Soma, EXperimental, Definitive, Jericho, Intec, CMYK Musik, Thoughtless and many more. Recently he’s remixed Patrick Zigon’s ‘Absurdistan’ (Biotop Records) and is working on a full-length album for Zigon’s Traumraum label due later this year. As a DJ and live performer, his sets have taken him across the world to legendary venues like Twilo (NYC), Fabric (London), Womb (Tokyo) and The Rex (Paris), as well as festivals like I Love Techno and the Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
His Stare5 handle began as a tribute to a friend and graffiti artist who unfortunately passed away (Stare was his preferred tag and 5 was his favourite number). The pseudonym also became Zentz’s screen name in the mid-90s internet chat room era where he met, amongst others, Felix Da Housecat and ended up releasing two EPs as Stare5 on Felix’s Clashbackk label. Both releases focused on a tougher, stripped down, Detroit-influenced sound, reminiscent of early Axis, M-Plant and Purpose Maker releases, as well as being influenced by a synth he was using at the time - the Roland Alpha Juno 1 and its chord memory function. A few other Stare5 releases have popped up over the years with different sounds on different labels (CMYK Musik, Circle, Thoughtless), but as Bryan states “it seemed fitting to bring this moniker back home to a very Detroit-influenced sound once again. That era of music is something that has always influenced me and I have always returned to as a fan.”
So get ready to feel the full-force of Bryan’s love-affair with the Motor City techno groove.
‘Void Swimmer’ is released 23 February on EPMMusic.
Q&A with Bryan Zentz
1. How did you approach the mix? Was it a different process to how you would DJ in a club?
It’s definitely the same approach in selection and how I go about getting from the beginning to the end of a set. It’s all music I’m excited about. There’s a lot of new stuff there as well as some nods to the past that I feel are relevant to the overall picture. It’s different from a club set in that I did the mix in Traktor vs. when I play in a club I mostly use CDJs and sometimes vinyl. Playing for an audience is more of a spontaneous and collaborative thing—trying to find that common ground and feeding off of each others energy. I also often tend to go back and forth between techno and house, but wanted to keep this particular mix more in the techno realm.
2. How did a young Virginian skate-boarder and hardcore/punk artist into hiphop and graffiti discover techno?
Virginia was definitely an unlikely place to get in to techno! I think the first time I actually heard techno (without realizing it) was hearing Inner City. I remember sitting in a Burger King one time and the video for “Good Life” was playing on this TV screen. I remember thinking “wow this sounds kind of upbeat but there’s this kind of melancholic undercurrent going on” I really loved that. We had some good hip hop radio stations and they would often play hip-house and acid-house. I was also into a lot of industrial music. Techno seemed to not be too far off from industrial and even had some direct connections with Jeff Mills in Final Cut and Alan Oldham’s old band. I discovered LFO, 808 State, as well as the New Beat and Bleep stuff. Compilations were a big part of it too. I discovered a bunch of artists through the Tresor comps and the Serious Beats series. Blake Baxter’s “Brother’s Gonna Work it Out” is something I’ll never forget hearing on Serious Beats!
Also, Washington DC is about three hours north of where I am from and they had a pretty healthy club/rave scene going on. I had some friends who were making ravey type music that travelled up there to perform and they would report back what was going on. Another friend, Brian Adrenalin was one of the first DJs in our area to play techno. He was from DC and turned me on to Polygon Window, Dark Comedy, CJ Bolland etc. We would go to this record store in VA Beach called Birdland that had a little techno/house vinyl section. Incidentally this is where I used to buy a lot of my old punk records when I was younger.
3. What were the bands you played in at the time? Did anyone break out of the local punk scene?
The band I was in was called Disarm (not the more well known one from Sweden). We were all punk kids who skated and listened to a good amount of metal too. Eventually the drummer and I quit to pursue skateboarding more. While the band never became very well known outside of the local scene, right after we left they got on the cover of Maximum Rock and Roll magazine. Later on I moved to Richmond VA and some friends of mine were in some well known bands from there that definitely broke out like Avail, Grip, and Four Walls Falling. In fact it took someone from the techno world to clue me in to how big Avail are: when I first met Tim Xavier in Chicago he was like “Oh yeah Virginia—Avail are legendary!” that blew me away. Those guys definitely helped put Virginia on the map and have a lot of respect.
4. How did you first come into contact with the Definitive/Plus8 family?
Plus8 was one of the first labels I ever sent demo tapes to in the early nineties. It was one of the first labels I discovered that I could relate to musically. I had the From Our Minds to Yours CD with Speedy J and Fred Gianelli. Fred also had that industrial connection with Psychic TV and WaxTrax. Richie was one of the only guys to take time to listen, call me back, and give me feedback. Though they didn’t sign those early demos, he said he really liked them and I think he could see where I was coming from. I was also making some housier tunes at the time and happened to shoot him a demo of those which became the first Barada EP on Definitive.
5. What for you separates Bryan Zentz releases from say ‘Barada’, ‘Stare5’ or your ‘Faculty X’ and ‘BoomBox’ monikers?
Back in the day it seems like it was pretty common for artists to use a good number of aliases. This was when I feel techno was more of a faceless genre. A lot of labels wanted you to sign an exclusive project/name with them—so sometimes it was out of necessity. They also are a way for me to categorize the sound of a project or give it more context. Barada was for house/acid/disco stuff and was exclusive to Definitive. I picture it as more funky, cartoony, and having a little sense of humor. Stare5 started out more angular and was my take on the sound Hood and Mills pioneered. Faculty X went down a deeper path and was inspired by my interest in the parapsychologist author Colin Wilson—reflected in some of the song titles. Honestly BoomBox sounded pretty much like Barada. Eventually I just started using my real name and have left that open to whatever I guess.
6. Post ‘EDM’ have you seen a growth in interest for house and techno music amongst the younger generation in the US?
Yes totally. A few years ago I went back to college for graphic design—I was generally the old geezer in class. One of my classmates (Reid, who is in his twenties) and I started talking about metal/hardcore/punk etc and became friends through that. We were talking about bands like Converge and Sunn0))). Somehow he really got into techno the following year and the next thing I know, we are talking about DJ Stingray and he’s telling me about his trip to Berlin and seeing Zadig play at Tresor! Shit, I’ve never been to Tresor or Berlin for that matter and here’s my classmate schooling me! Haha. Kind of surreal. Now he’s DJing himself and throwing some of his own nights. It’s really cool to see that happen—and though we are from different generations we have a similar musical path. I wouldn’t attribute that to EDM per se, but I know that it’s out in the public consciousness these days. People are now more familiar with the term “house music” whereas before the general public had no idea what that meant. People are maybe more open-minded now. It seems like a lot of folks from other scenes (like noise for example) are gravitating towards techno which is interesting. Some of my favorite electronic music these days seems to be coming from that corner.
7. Why did you feel the time was right to revise ‘Stare5’?
Last year a couple of friends of mine randomly brought up those first two EPs from Clashbackk. They had them on vinyl but wanted digital versions and encouraged me to make that available. I recently uncovered the DAT tapes, so we’ll see. I’ve kind of kept that alias around in one form or another, but when going back and listening to the trax for Void Swimmer, it felt like this was the right time and sound for that moniker to resurface.
8. Describe a perfect ‘non-music’ day?
I don’t think that’s possible! Any perfect day would involve music in one way or another; whether making it, taking a trip to the record store, or just listening. My job is full time, so I definitely don’t take for granted any moments to work on music. Outside of that a perfect day could involve: going for a good bicycle ride, browsing the book store, reading at a cafe, getting my meditation on, hanging with friends, or re watching episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
9. What’s next for 2018?
I’m excited to be releasing some stuff again and re connecting with some folks in the techno world. I’m currently working on an album for Patrick Zigon’s Traumraum label which should be finished in the upcoming months. Other than that, just trying to make more music this year and stay creative…
EPM Podcast 102 Tracklist – Bryan Zentz
Enslaved: “Synthesis” ByNorse Music
Roogunit: “The Chains” Mote Evolver
Vatican Shadow: “Crown Prince Hamza” Hospital Productions
Cosmin TRG: “Afterburn" Sportiv
Mad Mike: “Planet X” Submerge
Kolde: “Vision of Metalezia” Kolde
Mark Broom: “Z Beats Mix1” EPMmusic
Truncate: “WRKTRX3” Truncate
Hush & Sleep: “Dimensional” Ellora
Sigha: “Down (Function Remix)”
Stare5: “We Will Not” EPMmusic
Crucifix: “Annihilation” Corpus Christi
Benales: “Element#12” Sino
Robert Hood: “I Am” Dekmantel
Distant Echoes: “Pain” Dystopian
Bryan Chapman: “Perpetual Purification” Monotony
Polygon Window: “Quoth” Warp
Phon.o: “V3R5U5” Cold Recordings
Antigone: “Ostinato II” Token
Jeff Rushin: “Incoming Goods” Stockholm LTD
Johannes Heil with Markus Suckut: “Gospel Two” Odd Even
Stare5: “The Adverse Within” EPMmusic
Ryan James Ford: “Beltline” SHUT
Neglect: “ ‘Arroyo Hondo” Boomarm Nation Family