White Car makes dark and broody industrial house music with a menacing streak. The band’s productions – Vortex funk meets darkroom boogie – are cold, calculated and composed. What you hear is what you get. And what you hear is hard. We skype-call White Car head honcho Elon Katz to talk about his slew of side projects, Chinese underground music and painting a house white.
Your love and use of analogue equipment is well-documented…
When I first discovered electronic music and started to play with it, I was using computers for the first five years and then I started to buy real analogue hardware instruments, real synths, real drum machines and so on. It’s moved from the computer to outside the computer. I still use computers to record and to do all the editing. My music is still very much written on a computer but the sound doesn’t come from a computer at all.
You sent me some of your most recent releases. Can you explain what the difference might be between you recording as White Car, you recording as Aguirre, and you recording as Streetwalker, your project with Beau Wanzer?
Aguirre is kind of an earlier project, that I started in 2005 with a buddy of mine I went to high school with. We really got interested in a lot of electronic music together, listening to a lot of Warp and Planet Mu records, stuff like that. Post-rave, UK stuff. White Car is a solo recording project that is based around taking these genres of electronic dance music that are very specific to the context of where they came from, and then morphing it into my songwriting and bringing these movements of electronic dance music closer to singer-song-writer territory. It’s not club music, but it very much uses all the ideas from past eras of club music to kind of start its foundation. And then my solo recordings is experimental electronic music, much more abstract and working with ideas of texture and sound. White Car is more of a cultural party fun project whereas my solo stuff is made with modular synthesisers so far so it’s much more about picking up sounds and then trying to make them happen.
In a very broad sense, your music tilts towards the dark side, which might seem odd for someone who comes from California…
There’s a lot of darkness in California. There’s no short answer really. It’s not a personal extension of ’my’ darkness. I think that the darkness you hear in the music is the story that it tells, more than who I am.
White Car is […] based around taking these genres of electronic dance music that are very specific to the context of where they came from […] bringing these movements of electronic dance music closer to singer-songwriter territory.
What story does it tell then?
It’s the story of humanity, human beings. Ignorance, oppression. America is kind of in a state right now where people are worried. It’s not a full-on depression, but there’s definitely a sense of darkness in the country right now with being at war for 10 years and the economy going under. Some people live in darkness and some people in light. I think that the stories I’m drawn to in terms of those I want to tell as a songwriter tend to be stories about darkness because it’s hard to learn from happiness. A lot of people say you learn more from your mistakes, and this is kind of the same thing. You profit more from being with darkness. I’m not depressed, but I’m intro- verted and I do have a pessimistic look. I don’t really look at people and have faith in them, and I think that comes out in my music. But I wouldn’t say dark, it’s such an overused word. It’s more paranoid, multi-faceted in its darkness. In the same way a Cronenberg or a Lynch movie is dark – you’re more intrigued by its darkness than turned off by it. There’s humour to it. And I think darkness is funny. My sense of humour is very black and very dark and I think that bands that take themselves very seriously in how depressed and how dark they are? That to me is fun.
Coming back to White Car, when did you start recording as a unit? The first songs, the first EPs….
The first release was the White Car EP that came out in February 2010 on Rainbow Body Records, a Chicago label run by a guy called Chris Sloan and I had met the guys from the band Gatekeeper, and we had really connected. I started hanging out with them more, playing with their gear, they were playing me a lot of music I hadn’t heard before. I got really inspired by a lot of it. And that was how White Car came about. We played our first show in June 2009, together with Gatekeeper.
You write most of the band’s songs right?
I do yes. Orion (the other half of White Car) helps with the visual side of things, he plays electronic percussions. He is an editor, which is more helpful than anything else at this point in time with where we’re at with music-making. I’d say that in the last 10 years the most innovative instrument has been laptops and computers and being able to make better recordings in your house. Everyone’s a solo artist now, no one’s in a band anymore. That’s why there’s so much music now. But everyone’s recording them- selves and half these people don’t have anyone in there helping them make their music. That’s what Orion does, he’s an editor. He comes in and listens to it and says “I like this part, I don’t like this part, this makes me think of this, this makes me think of that. We kind of understand each other’s language so well that I kind of understand where he’s coming from with all these ideas.
You’re working on your new LP at the moment. It was supposed to be out in August right?
It was supposed to be out in September. It’s gone through a few different versions, it’s a work-in-progress. Working on the music by myself mostly, there’s a sense of isolation to it. It’s hard to gage when its done. But right now, the release is set for late February 2012.
How important do you think Chicago’s past underground scene was in shaping your current sound?
I don’t think that this music is only discoverable in Chicago, but being there, being in proximity to it and being in proximity to people who hold it really close to them made me revere it more. There are a lot of people there who are really interested in the history of Chicago and Chicago music and are interested in making sure that people hear a lot of the older records. So, just in terms of a physical thing, you can go and find good Chicago house records in almost any record stores, which may not be the case somewhere like California or Ohio.
The image of a white car always fascinated me, there’s some mystery to it.
Can you describe your recording space? Is it mad scientist type lab or clean-cut minimalist studio?
Oh I’m pretty organised. But, you know, there are a few cables flying around. I’m at a stage where I’ve been using a lot of the same stuff for three years now, and I’m trying to switch it out. But I’m in the process of also being broke, so I’m trying to figure out how to build a better studio for nothing. But it’s pretty clean: three or four keyboards, synthesisers, a couple of drum machines, some processors, a computer and some racks. It’s like, you know, a small room’s worth.
What’s behind the name White Car?
It’s literally a reference from a Cabaret Voltaire song. There’s a song on the last record Code called White Car. The song is about wealth and extravagance and the darkness of having money, which has always been interesting to me. I guess I resonated with that song. And the image of a white car always fascinated me, there was some mystery to it, some pre-conceived notions about it. The image of a white car is very creepy to most people, it’s always associated to kidnapping, or human trafficking. Plus you have to have money to keep it clean.
If you were guest editing our white album’s music special which icon would you want to interview?
There’s a good Chinese band called White. I would look into them because it’s very interesting to think of China’s underground scene. I think they’re from Beijing or Hong Kong.
Last one: what’s your plan tomorrow?
I have to paint a house. White….White Car’s forthcoming album ’Everyday Grace’ is out on Hippos in Tanks in February 2012.