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We go access all areas with Matthew Dear, and even get invited into his house to check out his unreleased material and his dog, Artie
Words: Aaron Gonsher
Photos: Cheyenne Bosco
Matthew Dear is leaning intently towards his computer screen, scrolling through the jumbled mass of unreleased content marinating on his hard drive. He was in the middle of deciding which of the songs from his upcoming album to play for Mixmag when he veered into this treasure trove.
How many B-sides and rarities does Dear have ready to unleash? “I don't know. At least 75.” Dear grins and chuckles a little to himself, a little self-consciously, it seems. “I'm constantly making music.” Some tracks haven't been opened in nearly a year, and yet here they appear fully formed, rattling the room with a polished élan. As he cycles through files, caught up in the moment, Dear cues another track, smiles into the camera, and cheerfully laughs, “Exclusive!”
Such a backlog shouldn't surprise fans of Matthew Dear, the founder and figurehead of Ghostly International who has made not one, but four names for himself, releasing music under both his own name and the stylistically disparate aliases of False, Jabberjaw, and Audion.
He is defined by prolificacy and yet the quirky quality of his music rarely falters, frequently stepping outside the strict genre confines to thrilling and chilling effect. However, as Dear sits in his home studio, flanked by synthesizers and discussing his musical influences, electronic music can't compete against the specter of Kurt Cobain.
“I remember everything about when 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' came out. I remember the store I got it from, the mall that store was in, and then just going out to my brothers car and listening to the song over and over.” Dear shakes his head wistfully at the memory. “I think it was an old maxi-single, and I'd just rewind it every time the song ended. It was such a jarring feeling, like nothing I'd heard before. And suddenly everyone wanted to learn the guitar intro to 'Come As You Are.”
As if to prove his inclusion in that demographic, Dear quickly grabs a guitar and picks out the iconic line. On a roll, he plays more Nirvana, first 'Polly', then 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. It's Friday afternoon, more than ten hours away from Dear's headlining performance at Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival, and yet he's already in performance mode.
As Dear chats, his dog trundles into the room, an excitable, sloppy bulldog named Artie, after New York avant-dance icon Arthur Russell. The talk veers towards the eternal digital versus analog argument, and Dear takes a surprisingly realistic tact.
“Digital gets ragged on. But, you know, half of the DJs around since the 90's probably have back problems right now,” he says. “Add in the new flight expenses and risks for a foreign DJ lugging records into the states, and it's just not that feasible of a medium.”
The discussion comes around to the details of Dear's forthcoming album on Ghostly, which he mentions offhandedly. “For this album, I took all the stems for songs I had put together and took them to a mixing house, where we broke down each song and came up with something entirely new structure-wise.”
That other half of that “we” refers to Nicholas Vernhes at Rare Book Room Studios in Brooklyn. Dear adds, “The name of the album is 'Beams." He plays 'Earthforms' and comments on the track, saying "it's probably the most rock thing I've ever done, a nod to Nirvana, maybe, more so than my electronic past.” He plays a song called 'Ahead of Myself', featuring a looping groove and hesitant percussion, as well as the planned first single, 'Headcage,' co-produced by Fever Ray collaborators Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid. Nine hours still to go until showtime, and it looks like Mixmag are on course to get a full album premiere.
Dear is driving around Brooklyn, picking up the rest of his band along the way. The group begin to discuss the vagaries of cat scratch fever. Dear quickly looks up the disease to check its legitimacy while stalled at a red light. “Yeah, it's a real disease,” he says. His tone turns cool. “It's also a Ted Nugent song.”
The band makes their way to the rehearsal space they share with School of Seven Bells to load up the van. Even in his omnipresent all-leather outfit and imposing boots, Dear more than pulls his weight in pre-show lugging and set-up. As he unloads, Dear looks back to the camera to say, “This is rock n' roll right here.”
The band arrives at Public Assembly in Brooklyn, across the street from an eclectic assortment of food carts that includes an ice cream sandwich truck. The front room where Dear and his band are playing is for Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival, but the backroom at Public Assembly is hosting an anniversary celebration for the famed German industrial label Tesco, meaning the drudgery of setup is intermittently punctured by harsh discordant noises not unlike a plane landing on your forehead.
The band decamps to Blue Bottle Coffee and Dear talks more about his upcoming work. “Nicolas Jaar and I have a song that's about 50% done,” he says. Earlier in the day he had gushed over a forthcoming collaboration with lead singer Johnny Pierce from the Drums, giving him an opportunity to address his own strengths and weaknesses vocally. “I'm not a vocalist, by any means. I treat my voice as part of the texture of the song,” he says. “I'm definitely not going to go out there and hit a run.”
Back at Public Assembly, the mood during setup is quiet and dutiful, with Dear taking significant time to link his pedals, synthesizers, and computer. “Usually if I'm on tour for a while, I enjoy the process and quiet,” he says. “But because we haven't played much recently, today is a bit more stressful.” Soundcheck begins and the band clanks, gasps, and gurgles through two songs before heading their separate ways until showtime. What is Matthew Dear going to do before a big headlining show like this? “I'm going to go home and probably nap,” he says.
The sounds of Jacques Renault ooze from the front room of Public Assembly, priming the crowd. At 12:30 Dear appears onstage, dapper in a sleek cut blazer and shocking blue bolo tie. He's tooling around with gear and seems antsy, but the nerves seem to disappear when the show begins. “I get more excited than nervous,” Dear clarifies later. “That excitement turns into nervous energy, though, as if to say, 'Let's go already'.”
A dancer clad in black lace undulates in time with a grainy noise soundscape, holding a harsh white light that illuminates the other band members as they take the stage. The intro is strange, punctuated by Dear repeating yelps of, “I can't breathe,” and then the show accelerates and doesn't look back. Dear sings with a David Byrne-like fervor of delivery and jolt of exclamations. Synth elements overwhelm, and there is virtuosic trumpet playing on practically every song. If the audience expected more linear grooves, they don't show it.
Dear explains further when he says, “The only dance records I make are as Audion. I've always felt the music under my own name isn't as suited to the dance floor as others would like it to be. When we reconstruct the songs for the stage, though, they tend to get a swift kick in the ass and end up being more danceable than the album versions.”
He even plays a slow dance, albeit a serrated and nasty slow dance. He dances with tambourines, cowbells, and maracas, all enveloped by teeth-rattling bass. You can hear the jitters of Liquid Liquid and the abrasive guitar scrapes of Nirvana intertwined.
As the show ends and Dear throws Ghostly t-shirts into the sweaty crowd, it's easy to realise that this might not be 'dance music', but you can sure as hell still dance.