The ever-evolving artist shows yet another side of his sound.
TJ Hertz has never stopped moving. From the beginning, each record has felt like a departure from the last. At first this meant weaving through established genres, like when the mutated dubstep of "Cactus" followed the soaring techno of "CLK Recovery." More recently, it's meant moving beyond established sounds completely, drifting through tempos, moods and styles of rhythm with his signature sound palette—steely, gleaming, abstract—as the only constant. His new LP, Cocoon Crush, is his most unclassifiable record yet, but you sense it's only the latest stage is this ongoing process.
Hertz's style as a DJ has stayed in a similar state of flux. For a while high tempos and angular rhythms felt like a common thread. Then he set out to conquer tempo entirely, equipping his USB for entire sets at any speed between 70 and 150 BPM. On a given night he could be mind-bending or party-rocking, or both. He's nursed fetishes for both blog house and drum & bass. As with his records, a certain futuristic aesthetic ties it all together—the rest is completely unpredictable. On RA.650, Hertz highlights another obscure corner of his sound: mesmerizing club tracks unanchored by steady beats, or as he calls them, "no-kick rollers."
What have you been up to recently?
For a start, I've been pretty busy with the album. The music itself was finished and mastered in July but then of course there's all the other stuff: the artwork, press release, interviews, photo shoots etc. And I'm still DJing a lot, though I'm trying to take more weekends off these days just to preserve my sanity.
When and where did you record the mix?
At home, a few weeks ago, on three borrowed CDJs (thanks Bill and Chris), two turntables and a Xone:92.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
In my sets over the past year or two I've grown increasingly comfortable going into extended wormholes where I'll spend 30-40 minutes layering all kinds of broken, trippy, floaty, confounding, sometimes polyrhythmic tracks on top of one another—tracks that still have a danceable pulse but where the rhythms shift focus, and you sometimes you can't even tell where the "1" is at all.
If I follow this thread to its most self-indulgent extremity I end up in my "no-kick rollers" folder, which contains what it says on the tin—propulsive club tracks with no kick drum—and I've had a lot of fun recently, when faced with an adventurous enough crowd, delving into this folder and trying to keep people dancing for as long as possible without playing any tracks with kick drums.
It's not a new concept—techno producers have been making arpeggio tracks for decades and Barker made a particularly stunning EP earlier this year specifically consisting of tracks like this. But I've been collecting material in this vein for a few years now and have always wanted to make a full-length mix of it—and have only recently felt I might actually have enough tracks to make it work. Stringing tracks like this together in a musically coherent way is quite challenging, since without the kick drums you're often entirely reliant on melodic elements to keep the momentum going, which poses difficulties not just in maintaining a steady energy level but also making sure you can avoid horrendous key clashes and so on. It also really helps if you can mix tracks in on 3+ turntables to allow you to fill in the gaps left by the lack of kicks. So it took quite a lot of planning and quite a few takes to get it right.
The result is, IMO, probably not something you'd wanna stick on over dinner—it's a more challenging listen and less obviously "party" than other mixes I've done, and it gets quite sparse at some points and intense at others. But it's definitely unlike any mix I've done before and I'm really happy with it as a piece of music and a proof of concept.
This podcast has a distinctly mellower vibe than what we've heard from you before (possibly related to your recent crowd-sourcing of "propulsive club tracks with no kick drum"). Do you make a conscious effort to deliver something new with each mix or record, or is it more a matter of what you happen to feeling at the time?
Ha! To be honest I really didn't expect so much response to that thread—it blew up to such an extent that out of mild embarrassment I decided to make a conscious effort to stick to music I already owned for this mix rather than exploiting my own social media followers for music tips. I did end up using one or two of the tracks from that thread, the Sunareht for example, but mostly it served to replenish my (by now utterly depleted) "no-kick roller" playlist for the future.
Anyway, as for trying to deliver something new for each mix: not necessarily, and certainly not with club recordings. But I've been promising RA a mix for a long time and did feel a certain pressure to do something special. To be honest I didn't think RA would end up being the home for this kick-less mix (I thought it might be too niche for such a wide audience) but I generally have so little time to record mixes that having agreed to do a mix for RA I figured if I didn't record a mix like this now then I'd never get around to it at all. So here we are. I'm not sure I'd call it "mellow" though.
Around this time last year you were scouring Twitter for another rare specimen of club track: blog house that has aged well enough to be played today. Do you find social media valuable as a tool for digging?
I actually find 90% of my music on Instagram these days. It's amazing. You can search for #techno and then use the app "Shazam" to find out what all the tracks are. You need a second iPhone to hold up to the first one but it does work if you turn the volume up loud enough. It doesn't work on blog house though for some reason so that's why I consulted Twitter.
Tell us something we don't know about Cocoon Crush. In terms of the creative process and the finished product, what's different about this album from Flatland?
Something you (maybe) don't know: the cover image is a photo of an Aechmea Blue Rain suspended in fizzy water. Kasia Zacharko did an incredible job with the photos, there were so many beautiful variations that picking one for the cover was agonising. Luckily we were able to use some of the others for the inner sleeves.
Differences from Flatland... there's a few things, but I think the most significant is that this one was more purpose-built. Flatland started life as a series of works in progress collected over a few years, whereas with Cocoon Crush I had a clearer idea from the beginning of what I wanted to achieve. It's slower, weirder, a bit darker and more complex, and the pacing is more deliberate and considered. The sonic palette is definitely more open as well—cleaner and brighter and more natural, less crunchy. Overall it feels like it's shed a bit of youthful exuberance from the last record and is more aligned with where I'm at today.
What are you up to next?
My main project at the moment is putting together a live set for summer 2019. This is something I've been saying I'd like to do for years, but I only recently started thinking about how I could actually approach it. It's equal parts exciting and terrifying to be figuring this out as I go along. So far though it's been a really rewarding challenge to get my teeth stuck into. I'm particularly excited about working on the visual/production/lighting side of it, which is something I've never really had to consider when touring as a DJ.