Pantha Du Prince
The name Pantha Du Prince came to Hendrik Weber in a dream. It would have had to: The Berlin-based techno composer-producer (whose moniker is French for “the panther of the prince”) makes some of the otherworldly electronic music around. It’s dreamy, but not somnambulant: The new Pantha album, The Triad, pulsates hypnotically, drawing the listener into a rich, uncanny whole that keeps revealing new layers with each listen.
“It’s a fantasy character,” Weber explains of the alias. “For me, the name is an open metaphor for a certain atmosphere I want to transmit — a poetic transporter for the concept behind the music. There is a certain romanticism in it. I try to find something that combines ear, eye, body, feet, and all the other senses, and also transcends these senses and brings them back into a holistic experience. It’s an entry into a world that is fantastic, but also very down-to-earth.”
Weber has carved out a unique space, not only in electronic music, but also the indie world generally. An early star of the influential Berlin dance label Dial thanks to the stunning one-two of Diamond Daze (2004) and This Bliss (2007), Pantha Du Prince made the leap to Rough Trade for 2010’s breakthrough Black Noise, which featured a notable cameo from Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear of Animal Collective, on the single “Stick to My Side.”
The collaboration made a wider audience aware of what dance fans already knew: For all his floor-ready beats and theoretical approach (“A rave party for me is a psychosomatic organism,” offers Weber, whose background is in art history), Pantha Du Prince’s makes deliciously, approachably melodic music, full stop. “It’s layered and cinematographic,” says Weber. “I enjoy dancing very much, and I enjoy going through certain experiences of physical expression. At the same time, it’s not brainy music. It should work on all levels.”
That’s what The Triad does, in part due to a key decision that helped shape the feel of the album. “I wanted to use more voice,” Weber says. “The album is much more personal than the one before. Yes, it’s very heavily instrumental. But to give a space for this very direct, human appearance is also a liberating thing. It gives you the possibility to express more, and not be as self-contained. It’s a human touch — something that is soulful and more connected to a social environment. Black Noise was very much about me being alone in a small room in Berlin and composing. The Triad opens the structure to more human ways of interacting, not digitized ways of interacting. It’s not about Facebook; it’s about meeting up and jamming. I wanted to cut through the digital dust that surrounds us.”
Weber does most of his own singing on The Triad, and a handful of close collaborators also got on the mike. Though he’d been working on several of the tracks since 2012, recording in Berlin and L.A., the music began opening up once he headed to Swabia, in southwestern Germany, to record at the studio of friend and collaborator Joachim Schütz, whose setup included a full complement of vintage analog gear.
“They have all these amazing synthesizers there, from the CS-80 to the Synthi 100 to an ARP to various modular synth setups,” says Weber. “For Black Noise it was more about little snippets and samples, this combination of nature sounds and computer sounds. For The Triad, it’s not so much computer music; it’s more analog electronic music.” This studio’s natural surroundings provided inspiration, respite, and the occasional snack: “We were jamming and playing, and going for hikes in the woods, collecting and eating apples,” Weber says with a laugh.
The “we” was, you guessed it, a triad: Weber with Scott Mou, a.k.a. Mr. Queens, and Bendik Kjeldsberg of the Bell Laboratory, with whom Pantha Du Prince collaborated on 2013’s Elements of Light. “Three beings generated this album,” says Weber. “Most of the tracks come from my inner processes, but it was very important to have the other two. I worked in several setups, and you always end up with three people: Two people jamming and one person recording; or three people jamming and one recording. It was always this power structure of three. The cover art is something that is a basic structure in nature as well, and in digital reproduction. This is why you have these symbols and atmospheres on the cover that work with this energetic state.”
Beyond working out musical ideas, Mou and Kjeldsberg offered other kinds of inspiration. “Bendik is much younger than me, and it’s a very refreshing input,” says Weber. Mr. Queens, meantime, lends his ghostly croon to the glacial album opener and first single “The Winter Hymn,” and to “In an Open Space,” whose plucked strings and fuzzy low end slowly accrete sonic mass. Those tracks typify a wide-eyed vastness, intricate layers generated electronically but organic in feel, that permeates The Triad. Not to mention a newfound playfulness that adds light to the densely arranged tracks.
The title of “You What? Euphoria!” was borne of a studio misunderstanding. (Weber: “Wow, this was really euphoria!” Engineer Kassian von Troyer: “You what?”) “Chasing Vapor Trails” was written in a “classic painter apartment” with large windows overlooking Berlin that Weber, Mou, and Kjeldsberg lived in together while working on the album. “When you look into the sky it’s like you’re hovering like a massive spaceship,” says Weber. “Every day you have different vapor trails in the sky. It’s a formation that constantly changes, that you have breakfast to, listen to music to. It’s a visual and atmospheric environment that the record has.”
“Lions Love” is named in homage to Agnes Varda’s film of the same title — which also ties into the album’s concept. “It’s about a triadic relationship between a woman and two men in Los Angeles,” says Weber, who caught the movie at a Varda exhibit while living and working in the Pacific Palisades. “I wanted to have this vibe: Agnes Varda, this strong person in film history — Godard called her the originator of the Nouvelle Vague. She was together with Jacques Demy, and I also love his movies.”
Weber’s love of film shows up as well in the title of “Frau im Mond, Sterne laufen.” “Frau im Mond is a movie by Fritz Lang,” he says. “The album is a lot about concrete utopia, and Frau im Mond is basically about a concrete utopia. It’s one of the first science fiction movies ever — they are building a rocket. I love the movie’s style: Germany in the 1920s, so much of this new-age vibe of end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, where you had these spiritualist movements.”
To support The Triad, Pantha Du Prince will be hitting the road — in a much different environment than that which greeted Black Noise.
“At first it was really an underground thing. In New York ten years ago, it was for a hundred people,” says Weber. This time around, he’ll be concentrating on festivals. “It’s basically a production that comes with a visual aspect: costumes, with us wearing masks and different objects on our heads, a light show, and video — and, of course, a trio onstage,” says Weber. “I will always play my solo sets. I’m already working on a club setup now, a small solo setup where I can also play for 500 or 600 people. But these will be very rare this year.
“We try to keep it limited,” Weber concludes. “We’ll be playing mostly festivals. As soon as the album’s out, we will see the way it goes and what kind of audience it will generate. I think it’s opening us up to a new category of festivals. You don’t know what happens with an album like this. It can go anywhere.”