Returning to China after just recently playing Shanghai in March, shadowy techno producer Rrose is one of the international acts at next weekend's two-day electronic music extravaganza, BEME. Rrose (like that, with two Rs) is a techno producer named after a conceptual character (Rrose Sélavy) created by Marcel Duchamp in the 1920s. Rrose put out four releases on a label called Sandwell District, which was set up by Function and Regis, plus Silent Servant, all names that will be known to those who delve into the more serious underground side of techno.
The label became a really big deal for a while, before closing abruptly at the height of its influence. This is what Resident Advisor said about it, back in 2010:
"Sandwell District is, without doubt, THE underground Techno label of the moment. With support from all quarters (they count Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, Len Faki and the Berghain crew, Laurent Garnier, Miss Kitten, Jeff Mills, Sleeparchive, Speedy J, Troy Pierce, among their many devotees) they have not just blurred the boundaries of techno, but have dissolved them and re-built it in their own unique image..."
Rrose put out some of the last releases on the label, straight-up pieces of deep, driving techno that sound like they were drilled out of the bed of the ocean. They garnered massive praise, but almost nothing is known about the artist. No one really knows his name, where he's from, what else -- if anything -- he's released and how he got mixed up with Sandwell District. Oh, he often DJs in drag, that much we know... Here's one of his releases, "Prism Guard", via YouTube:
As far as I can find, he's only given one previous interview, a few questions for Resident Advisor when they released one of his mixes. He's said he's not interested in giving interviews or discussing his music, but the Shanghai-based promoters VOID helped us persuade him and we got Rrose to talk to us via Gchat ahead of his Shanghai show in March of this year. We're reprinting the article here in case you missed it up in Beijing, and are interested in hearing him elaborate a bit more on his stuff.
Here's what s/he had to say, plus some streams of his/her music. S/he's playing live a week from this Friday on the first night of BEME. For fans of underground, Detroit- and Berlin-influenced techno, or those just interested in the conceptual end of electronic music, this is one for you.
SmSh: Tell us a little about Rrose, how did the identity come about? [Ed's Note: Rrose's name is a reference to Marcel Duchamp's alter ego, Rrose Selavy, itself a pun — in French it sounds like "Eros, C'est la vie".
Rrose: Above all else, I like the arrangement of letters, both in look and sound, but the various layers of meaning also attract me. And I like the fact that it points to something in the past, outside of (and perhaps opposed to) techno music.
There aren't many photos of Rrose, so here's the cover from the re-release of his "Merchant of Salt"
SmSh: I wondered whether it was a reference to Duchamp's readymades, which have always struck me as the sculptural form of a sample in music, perhaps the first use of a sample in art. When did you come across Duchamp's Rrose? Do you have a background in fine art?
Rrose: I wouldn't say I have a fine art background, exactly. Most of my knowledge of art is self-taught. Though I have worked on many sound and video projects that have found their way into galleries and museums. I guess you could say I have a foot in that world. It's hard to say when I came across Rrose... 20 years ago?
SmSh: Duchamp used Rrose Selavy as a playful alterego, but your music does not sound playful. Is it fair for me to say that?
Rrose: I suppose playful is not a word I would use to describe the music, but perhaps there is an element of playfulness (albeit dark-tinged) in the approach with the artwork and titles.
SmSh: Maybe in the way you have taken a female identity, or perhaps one of a transvestite. Is this a statement, some commentary on your music, or just part of a desire to remain anonymous or androgynous?
Rrose: Whenever a person enters a stage, they become a character, and by extension, a symbol. They can choose to remain "themselves" (a slippery notion) or sculpt their image into something different. My feminine stage presence is a playful protest against a highly masculine musical genre and (of course) an homage to Duchamp's Rrose.
SmSh: You had four releases on one of the great techno imprints of recent times. How did that come about? How did Sandwell District come to hear your stuff and offer you those releases?
Rrose: I am an old friend of Juan Mendez, AKA Silent Servant. I sent him the material for the first Rrose project (Motormouth Variations) looking for advice, since I had become disconnected from the techno scene for several years. I didn't expect Sandwell District to release it. Needless to say, I was honored when they asked.
SmSh: You’ve put out two releases of reworks of Bob Ostertag. He’s a very politicized man. I wondered whether there was ideology or any political dimension within your music, or are you doing the opposite — trying to take listeners to a space outside politics and thought. [Ed's Note: Ostertag is a jazz musician and experimental sound artist who became involved in the leftist movements in South America in the 1980s, before returning to music later in life].
Rrose: Bob's life is an inspiration, but my collaboration with him involved material that was not injected with any external or "real-world" political content. With the Rrose project, I am attempting to create an immersive space that deals directly with the faculties of sensory perception. I am not sure it is possible to ever fully escape politics and thought, but the struggle seems to be worthwhile.
One of Rrose's big tracks from last year, "The Surgeon General (No Child Left Behind)", on his own label, Eaux.
SmSh: "... an immersive space that deals directly with the faculties of sensory perception"? Speak a little more about that. Where you'd like your music to take people?
Rrose: I hope it will take them to a place that's impossible to describe in words. Nothing more specific than that. Well... I guess I often think of creating a juxtaposition or interplay between a meditative state and a violent or oppressive (oppressed?) state.
SmSh: Do you think there's any other genres that have the ability to do this in music. I don't see many electronic styles trying to move people in this way...
Rrose: You find this interest in elements of the "noise" scene as well as the "avant-garde" music world. I also think of it as one of the core elements of techno in its purist form.
SmSh: What about your own label, Eaux? Can you give us an outline of what you want to use it for? What have you got planned for it in 2013?
Rrose: Eaux is simply a vehicle for me to release Rrose-related projects with relatively little outside intervention. I don't plan too far into the future — when I have something I want to release, I release it.
And his release "Wedge of Chastity"
SmSh: Your music is made up of many layers and textures, it seems very tactile, if sound can be tactile. How do you want it to affect the listener?
Rrose: I'm concerned with perception above all. I hope to confuse the listeners' faculties such that they question their place in space and time. While making them dance, of course.
That's it. Not too much in the way of words but like the man says, it's about the music, not the persona. Check the tracks above, or for a crazy Dadaist film by Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy, turn on your VPN and look at this:
Rrose plays BEME on Friday, October 25. All the details right here.