Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Artist Review/Interview: Black Hat

Black Hat at Electric Tea Garden, 4/18/13. Picture by Marz at No Sleep Seattle.

For more than a year now, Black Hat (aka Oakland transplant Nelson Bean) has been dazzling Seattle's independent music community with his genre-defying brand of ambient electro-noise.

His first proper release, Spectral Disorder, came out last May on Seattle's very own Debacle Records, and it established Bean as an intensely capable musician with a highly articulate and distinct vision. Back in March I described his sound as consisting of  “soul-shaking tribal and industrial themes”, but part of what makes SD awesome is its diversity. Bean seems just as comfortable sculpting music with a percussive core as with tone-based material, so that although songs like “#000000” and “Spectral Disorder” are rhythmic and chaotic, large parts of “Northwest Passage” and “Callas” sound like unsettled dreamscapes. The only true constant here is a pervasive feeling of suspense, and as such, the record actually feels really big despite its brevity.

Covalence, his second EP, was just released on the 17th of this month (April) and it takes an even more expansive approach than its predecessor. It starts on roughly the same footing, with “Ashe” sounding almost like a more subdued version of “#000000”, but the core of the EP finds Bean experimenting with new textures and instrumentation. On “Jaune”, he trades tribal beats for a harp sample and syncopated twilight clicks and tweets, and “Lattice and Cormorant” (my personal favorite) features gorgeous fluttering beats and thick, trance-inducing static (am I the only one who imagines an old movie projector here?). The two remaining tracks, the aptly titled “Arabesque” and “Singing Point”, have a middle-eastern bent that reminds me of Muslimgauze at times. Both are very dark with an atmospheric intensity that revisits the uneasiness of Spectral Disorder. Overall, these tracks showcase Bean's growing maturity and confidence as an artist and I'm really excited to see what he'll do next.

"Lattice and Cormorant" "Singing Point"
Recently, we got a hold of Nelson to talk a little about his work:

NGD: How long have you been making ambient music and what first drew you to it?
BH: I guess I've been making ambient-like music for the last couple years. I initially moved up to Seattle with my band from college in which I played bass, though Black Hat started New Years 2012. It initially began as a way to flush out musical ideas I'd had knocking around in my head for a bit.

NGD: Why did you choose the Black Hat moniker?
BH: I chose it due to it's multiple connotations: the bad guy in the movie or the hacker who does malicious things.

NGD: To me, Covalence sounds slightly different than Spectral Disorder. How do you compare the two records?
BH: Well, Spectral Disorder was a collection of the first tracks I ever made so I would say the process was a bit more naive in approach. I was literally learning the hardware and software I was using as I made the tracks. The material for Covalence was made immediately following Spectral Disorder, so I would hope that the tunes show a little bit more development with regard to approach and technique.

NGD: How did you get hooked up with Field Hymns?
BH: I fell in love with the label after getting my hands on a number of tapes. I submitted demos to Dylan McConnell (the man behind the label) this past autumn. He enjoyed the material enough that he wanted to release it. It was a little strange for me as we had never met in person until this past weekend when I was down in Portland to play a gig.

NGD: Just out of curiosity, do you remember which Field Hymns Tapes you really liked? Any other records you’re really into at the moment?
BH: They were Oxykitten Octagonal Wax and Charlatan Meets the North Sea. Recently, I've been listening to a bunch of acid techno, punk and north african music.

NGD: Is there a full-length slated for the future?
BH: I'm hoping to put out a full length LP with my friends Doug Kaplan and Maxwell Allison (2/3 of drone band Good Willsmith) over at Hausu Mountain. I'm very much looking forward to completing that project for them hopefully for release later this year. Also, working with Further records on a 12" EP of more dance-oriented material for release later this year or early next year. If you're interested in keeping up with what's going on make sure to follow me at disorder 

NGD: When’s your next show?
BH: I will be playing Sunday May 5th for Debacle Fest along with some truly great acts including Hieroglyphic Being and Prostitutes. Should be a very fun time!

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