Anti-Social Music: A Q&A with Beau Wanzer

Beau Wanzer occupies a place in music between brooding melancholy and sardonic humour. Between 12” releases and EPs for the likes of L.I.E.S and his more introverted exaltations for his self-released albums, his music travels between the dance floor and the cognitive in a flurry of creative activity that hasn’t subsided since his first release in 2013.

As an artist and producer, Wanzer mitigates the solemnity of the modern electronic aesthetic, hiding elements of cultish horror soundtracks under a veil of 80’s industrial noise appearing in a  contemporary Techno aesthetic. From an arsenal of grooveboxes and synthesisers, Wanzer coaxes lucid rhythmical pieces from inaccessible machines, facilitating corporeal demands.

Originally from the deep south of America, where images of Chainsaw massacres run parallel with the sweltering sounds of soul and gospel, Wanzer had found his way to  the music of Skinny Puppy which grew into an obsession for Sleep Chamber, and older music like SPK and Throbbing Gristle. He bought his first synthesiser, a Juno 106, and after a brief, but educational  visit to Chicago, he started delving into the sounds 303’s and 909’s within the realm of House and Techno.

He eventually moved to Chicago to pursue his studies in molecular biology and it was there he would start releasing music as Mutant Beat Dance alongside Chicago mainstay, Traxx (Melvin Oliphant) which would soon fork off into other projects and his solo work. Releasing records through Rush Hour, Jealous God, L.I.E.S and their sister label, Russian Torrent  Versions, Beau Wanzer’s sound thrives in the darker hues of Electro, EBM and Techno, honouring those early pioneers who would persuade monstrous sounds from beguiling machines.

Behind his formidable beat constructions, hides an appreciation for B-movie horror soundtracks with titles like “Hoedown” undermining the pensiveness of the sounds with a jocular sensitivity. Within this dichotomy, Wanzer’s music is unique, and ever since releasing his first record, he’s been a fertile creative presence, with a slew of releases to his name, releases that have remained consistent in their style and sound, while pursuing an individuality through each release. 

That extensive discography is sure to increase during a time of pandemic and isolations, and an email to Wazner, finds him working on some pensive new material. Between his day job as a molecular biologist and his extensive creative output, Wanzer’s free time is precious, but he’s obliged nonetheless to answer some questions over email and before we get into the music, there were a few burning questions I wanted to ask Beau as a molecular biologist and a scientist…

Hey Beau. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. First off and a little off topic, I would like to ask the molecular biologist and scientist part of you; what do you make of the Coronavirus?

It’s something that should not be taken lightly. It’s very serious for people of all ages and will forever change the way we interact with each other in the future. It will affect our society on a social, economic, and biological level. I think the most important thing right now is to remain strong both mentally and physically. It’s hard for everyone. A lot of people had other issues they were dealing with before this and with the addition of the current state of the world, it’s going to be even more difficult. As cliche as it might sound, I think we need to be there for one another and send love to everyone. People sometimes forget that we are all part of the same ecosystem.

Do you think the measures that are currently in place are justified?

This is a difficult question because every country has dealt with it on different levels and different time points. Some have acted fast to minimize exposure, while others are more concerned with economic impacts rather than public safety.  I think that socially distancing yourself is key, but also not going to make it go away in the next months. I think that the U.S will have the most casualties due to lack of resources and how our government has handled it thus far.  A lot of people are selfishly meeting in parks, going to coffee shops, and congregating in crowded areas. I think that a lot of people won’t take it serious until it affects them directly. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In your opinion: what is the actual likelihood of an antiviral drug making it to the market?

This also depends on many factors. Available resources, time, money, and the entire scientific community working together.

This is essentially about music though so let get on with it. Are you still based in Chicago?

Yes. I’ve lived in Chicago for 20+ years.

Chicago is a city steeped in history when it comes to club culture and electronic music. I believe you moved there just as you started making music. Did that legacy have any significant effect on you around that time?

I was actually making music long before I moved to Chicago….but yes….it’s history def had an impact on me. My first job in Chicago was working at a record store called Weekend Records and Soap around 2002. A lot of the music they carried had an influence on me. It was co-owned by Jim Magas and Bridget Wilson. Jim Magas was part of the early 90’s midwestern No-Wave scene (Lake of Dracula, Couch, etc)…he eventually started releasing under his solo project MAGAS on Adult.’s Ersatz Audio.The store carried a wide variety of music ranging from noise, experimental, dutch electro, techno, and everything in between. We carried a lot of things that most shops in Chicago did not carry. We had Invasion Planete, Bunker/Creme, Stillebene, Clone sections in the shop. It was an amazing place. Unfortunately at the time people weren’t buying a lot of records and the rents were increasing…so the shop had to close.

Are you somebody that goes out to clubs at all if he’s not playing and how do you think that changes your ideas on electronic music?

I rarely ever go to clubs if I’m not playing. I tend to go to more DIY spaces/shows. The club scene in Chicago is bleak and not interesting to me. Clubs in Chicago do not represent a lot of the true talent. The only way you are going to hear new and interesting music (both in Chicago and visiting acts) is if you are in a basement, loft space, bar, or someone’s apartment.

Your music as Beau Wanzer however seems to stem from a European dance music tradition, with industrial, synthwave and EBM influences. What was it about those sounds that drew you to the music initially and what does it continue to inspire in your own music?

I’m inspired by many different types of music in general. In regards to those specific genres…I guess I started listening to a lot of that stuff in high school. Like most angsty teens I wanted to find the most extreme music? This was pre-internet so I had to order a lot of music through mail order catalogs like Isolation Tank, Malignant Records, and Cold Meat Industry. It would be hit or miss b/c I would order based on the descriptions…not know what it actually sounded like before receiving it in the mail. The term ‘industrial’ can mean so many things….it’s a blanket term, much like ‘experimental’. That’s why I connect with it the most…it can be anything.

Did you have any musical training before you started making music?

Nope. I don’t have any musical training.

How did you go from getting your first synthesiser to making this kind of music and at what point did you arrive at something that solidified an artistic sound for you?

I got my first synth (Juno 6) when I was a teenager and have been recording music ever since. I think I’ve always done the same thing more or less in terms of sound. A lot of the recordings that have been released even today are as old as 99. I think my sounds hasn’t really changed all that much. I’m under the mindset that you should record whatever you want regardless of current trends/etc. It’s more authentic and true to yourself.

And somewhere in there, there is also some connection to horror cinema. I’ve read that it brings a dichotomy to your music, where you like to counterpoint darkness with a sense of humour. How do you usually approach a new song in an effort to have both those elements?

Again..I don’t really think about it. I grew up watching horror/cult films so for me it’s just something that naturally comes out in my music..it’s not intentional…it’s just how it happens. Same with incorporating humor. I don’t take myself seriously and that carries over to the music I make.

Listening to a track like Mob Boss or Hoedown for instance, there is something quirky reflected in the music too, but then on something like Seedless Grin, the darkness tends to overwhelm the humour. How do you usually know which way a track will go and how much control do you have in the final execution over these two very different sides to your music from the start?

I never feel like I have complete control over anything and that’s important. When recording a track I don’t know how it will end up. I just go with the flow…it works out, great…if not I’ll just record something else.

I’ve read that you make music by putting a bunch of machines together, hitting play and recording a stereo channel. Is that still the case?

Yes…but mostly with my solo stuff. I hate editing and don’t have the patience for it. I want to write, record, and then move on to the next track. I rarely spend more than a couple hours on a track.

At some point you were recording one track a day, and while your output is prolific, I’m sure you are not releasing all the music you record. How do you know a track is good enough to put out?

I don’t. What I normally do is send the label 20-40 tracks and have them pick. I have about 150+ unreleased songs, if not more. I never think any of it is good….which is why I rely on other ears to choose.

Why do you feel it’s necessary to record so much music?

It’s not out of necessity, it’s just what I enjoy doing.

You’ve worked predominantly with L.I.E.S and their sublabel, Russian Torrent Services. Is that usually your first port of call or do you tend to have a label in mind while you’re listening through these tracks?

Nope. It is usually sparked through friendship first and foremost. For example, Juan (Silent Servant) and I became really close after playing a lot of gigs together. After getting to know him he asked if I wanted to do a record for Jealous God. Same goes with Nation, Suction Records, Dark Entries, BREW, etc. It’s more sharing a common interest in music and building a friendship based on that.

How did you get involved with Ron Morelli and how has he and/or the label shaped your output since?

I met Ron when he was touring with DJ Overdose, Novamen, and Manhunter around 2006. I set up a Halloween show for them with my friend Jim Magas at this weird place in Chinatown. This was way before Ron even had a label. We kept in touch over the years and when he started LIES asked if I had any tracks….so I sent him a bunch. I think LIES has shaped a lot of people’s sound over the years….but I don’t know how much it specifically influenced me. I like Ron’s approach of releasing though….just don’t stop.

Tell me about the albums. Are they simply the pieces that didn’t quite conform to the idea of the 12” or do you have distinct themes or concepts that form around each LP?

I don’t have any concept in mind. I usually send close friends a bunch of tracks and ask them which are their favorite, dwindling it down from there. That’s how the albums come together. I need other ears to hear them before I put it together.

Is there usually something that ties these tracks together, and how would they usually differ from something you’re working on at the same time for a 12” or EP?

I’m never recording to work on a specific release. I just record and wherever they end up is where they end up.

Why do you self-release these?

It’s important to have your own outlet and vision. It makes it more personable.

I imagine during this time of self-isolation you’re working on more music than ever before. What are you currently working on, or preparing to release?

I’m not preparing for anything specifically. In these times of self-isolation I would like to work more on music. Somedays I record and somedays I can’t get into the headspace. A lot is happening right now and you shouldn’t force creativity. I haven’t really been making anything with rhythms since this self-isolation has taken effect. Mostly ambient, tape drones, and other atmospheric dittys.

What kind of effect do you believe this unprecedented time will have on your music?

I’ve always been a bit of a recluse before all this. I don’t know how much it will effect my music, if at all. I think a lot of my music is already a bit claustrophobic and anti-social already. Maybe I’ll make a comedy record.

How do you think this will shape the electronic music arena for the foreseeable future and where do you see your place within it directly after?

I’m mostly concerned about my friends who rely on music full time or run labels. I’m in the position where I don’t have to depend on music for my source of income and I’m very grateful for that. It’s almost impossible to make a living wage off the niche music I make in the United States anyway. I know a lot of plants are shut down and it’s going to have a huge impact. It’s important that everyone supports one another. I’m confidant that this will pass and in time we will get back to our lives….although the previous ‘normal’ with be much different. Everyone is and will be affected by this. I had a couple releases planned this year…but now on the back burner until everything returns to semi-normal.