Given the murky, weathered aspect of his music it’s hard to believe Software producer Huerco S., aka Brian Leeds, would be so open about his processes. Branding his sound as a kind of “Midwestern techno and house”, there’s none of the sexless, minimal body movement of Detroit or Chicago, but the ritualistic invocation of a past specific to his own region. His sound is that of his Kansas City home, and is one that’s very much of the mind, mired in a broth of tape hiss and vinyl crackle and loops that glimmer across its textured sonic layering; a computer signal mutates to echo a rhythmic groove, a decaying synth line surfaces and disappears just as quickly.
As a 22-year-old born and bred Midwesterner, Brian Leeds’ is a context rooted in the antiquated encyclopaedias of afternoons with his grandma; sound as object-fetish in his album Colonial Patterns, the degraded result of a childhood interest in historical esoterica. Spanish Conquistadors, lost cities and vanished tribes linger in an indeterminate space, sourced from YouTube and the internet; compressed, EQ’d and filtered to create an exaggerated sense of memory’s fading.
Dazed Digital: Is there a very strong concept behind what you’re doing?
Brian Leeds: Definitely. It stems from before, studying pre-Columbian natives and their communities and infrastructure. Then it goes into, maybe, the late 1800s, as far as the album is concerned. ‘Quivira’ is obviously a reference to this really famous lost city of gold somewhere in the Midwest, most likely where I’m from, Kansas. That’s something that Spanish Conquistadors would search-out forever, and ever, and ever until they went mad. But, yeah, there is a lot of emphasis on pre-Columbian America in general.
DD: I’ve never heard of Quivira. It sounds a lot like El Dorado, but transposed on to the American Midwest. It’s almost like this universal idea of the pursuit of the unattainable.
Brian Leeds: Exactly. I think that also goes to show that a lot of what they thought about the New World was that it’s this completely untouched resource, although, in some regards, a lot of people look over the idea that the natives had actually done a lot with the place and it wasn’t such a clean, pristine environment. They did build massive cities; they made roads, they did deforest places. I think it’s a bit strange that people don’t necessarily know that. That’s kind of like what I was trying to do with the historical elements [of Colonial Patterns]; bring these things to light. But there are definitely parallels between El Dorado and Quivira. They do both stand for a lot of the same things.
DD: In saying that people, generally, don’t know about how developed these places were before white settlement, do you think that was just a way to justify the oppression of an entire civilisation?
Brian Leeds: Yeah exactly, if you didn’t tell people that they’re actually quite civilised and have quite an infrastructure, I guess people wouldn’t feel so much guilt.
DD: There’s this idea that, in countries that have been colonised in recent history, those cultures lose touch with the land. Is your creative exploration and historical research a kind of effort to reconnect?
Brian Leeds: Definitely. I feel like, within the recording process, it has taken a bit more organically. Although I’m still using a computer, so that’s the contrast between the two. But I think, just in the song structure and the way that I wanted these songs to come across, instead of the really forced mechanical process, it happened quite naturally. I was doing processes but I think they were, once again, these really organic things that I would almost allow myself to do in this ritual-like way. That was a bit of a comparison to these natives from the city of Cahokia, in building mounds, using that work in parallel to the music and then doing these really repetitive tasks over and over again; essentially building and subtracting, very much in a sculptural manner and then applying that in audio format.
DD: Where does Huerco S. come from then? That seems to relate to your ideas too, especially if you’re talking about these Spanish Conquistadors in ‘Quivira’.
Brian Leeds: The town that I grew up in had a very large Hispanic population so there’s just a lot of going to school with them and a lot of slang and stuff. But actually, in Northern Mexico ‘huerco’ means ‘kid’, so you’re basically just a person. But also I found alternate definitions. There’s this Italian writer [Giambattista Basile] during the 1600s, or something around then, who kind of used it to describe it almost as an orc-like character. I feel like that is almost a better translation, the way he describes this hairy tusk; he waits out in these mountain-passes, for random travellers who would be venturing through and he will take them back to his murky deep, dark lair and, you know, have his way with them. I feel like that, in a way, is a very nice parallel to my music or something [laughs].
DD: In what sense? I could tell you the effects it has on me as a listener but I’m more interested in your intention as a producer. Is it to take people out of their comfort zone?
Brian Leeds: The beats can be pretty ambivalent and you go on your way or whatever. Or it could actually take hold of you and you’ll be somewhere that you have no idea or no intention of going.
DD: You refer to it as “Midwestern house or techno”. Is there a big electronic music scene in Kansas?
Brian Leeds: Not at all, when I referred to Midwestern house and techno, I guess, it’s another way of saying Chicago and Detroit, without having to say Chicago and Detroit [laughs]. I mean, those two are the Meccas for those respective genres of music and, although a lot of people wouldn’t consider some of those places Midwest, I think they’re fundamentally Midwest, definitely Chicago. Detroit gets a little further back east. But I’m taking these classic styles of dance music and taking some of their frameworks and then just turning them on their heads; just slightly skewing it.