2012-06-19T11:35:54-05:00 2012-06-19T11:37:06-05:00

Earmilk Interview: Portable Sunsets

Combining beachy aesthetics with android sensibilities and techno beats, Portable Sunsets (real name: Peter Segerstrom) releases his latest LP, Mercy, on Daedelus's label, Magical Properties, today, living up to his self-ascribed genre of "sunset techno." The LP combines hazy, beachy feelings with a taste for the danceable to create the perfect addition to your summer soundtrack -- this album is like, dripping with sunshine. It could probably provide solar power for your entire city. I interviewed Peter about the new LP, how his musical style has developed, his influences and background, his current tastes, and the beach. Purchase Mercy at Boomkat.

EARMILK: Your album Mercy is out June 19 (and I listened to it accidentally on purpose on repeat for about seven hours on a bus ride), want to tell us a bit about what you were thinking with that LP?
Peter Segerstrom: You listened to it for 7 hours? I hope you still like it! Hmmm. With this record I wanted to make something well-rounded and diverse. Something that would play through well as a whole, because those are the kinds of records I listen to. I really like long players that can just roll for an hour.   
That being said, there was a point a couple years ago where I was attempting to think very holistically about making an album, in some ways trying to overconceptualize what a record is supposed to be. This record came together pretty organically mostly because I was working on these tracks at the same time over the course of 8 or 9 months. I wasn't really thinking about how they would sit together but just thinking about each one as its own world… Just hoping that they would.

Portable Sunsets - "California"

EM: How has your music been shaped by working on Daedelus's label?
PS: That's a good question to follow the previous one. A few years ago while talking to Alfred about music, he gave me a piece of advice and a word of caution as well. He basically told me not to worry about genre and to try to sidestep any expectations of how a piece of music could be received. And in turn, not to be surprised when you write a song that goes on to have its own life. 

It was something like: tracks are like kids, you raise them and then send them out into the world and they make their own decisions.  

Aside from that, it's been really great working with Alfred and meeting the other people on the label. I really dig LDFD and Trent (Galapagoose) is hilarious and a super genius. I think it's pretty bold to have as diverse a roster as he does in this age of diamond precision sub genrefication. 
EM: When did you start making music?
PS: When I was about 19. I wanted to be a writer or a teacher, but that was basically because I was really bad at playing saxophone and guitar when I was little. I sort of put the idea of making music aside until I read an article about Christian Marclay making locked grooves with records. There was a used clothing store a few blocks from my house that sold old vinyl and I went and bought some records and used scotch tape to make some loops. I made like 2 of them and it was like a slap in the face. Just a completely concrete realization that there was this other way to start making music. And that was exactly what I wanted to do.
EM: Who were some of the first artists or scenes that inspired you?
PS: I was kind of goth in high school so I was listening to Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy, Joy Division, The Sisters of Mercy, and that stuff. Then after that I found the Metalheadz crew and Drum and Bass… Goldie, J Majik, Photek, Lemon D… My friend bought this compilation of Metalheadz stuff and he put it on and it was like being teleported to a seedy alley in the movie Bladerunner or something.  The music was so different than anything else that was around at the time and still. I don't think I've ever really let go of the idea that with electronic music you can make something that's just a world unto itself.  
EM: What's your process like for making a song?
PS: Usually it's just a couple notes or a texture that will get me going in one direction. I try not to start with a beat because I feel like that sets up a rhythmic structure that facilitates a pretty traditional relationship between the melodic components and the beat. Luke Abbott said something in an interview a while ago about the reason he uses modular synths. Something about how he didn't want to be like: here's the bass sound and here's the lead synth. I totally agree. Tracks usually start with the weirdest thing, the supporting stuff just fills in naturally around that.  
After that I pretty much just listen to it a lot and add a bunch of stuff and then take about 90% of that away.  Just adding layers and then removing things that aren't necessary.
EM: What are your live performances like? You've played in a lot of different environments, it seems.
PS: Yeah, I'm working towards a live set that can function in a number of environments. I like the idea of DJs playing 45s at 33 or something like that. I really like singing and I think that totally changes what people perceive when they watch you play.  
When I was in school I was really fixated on developing systems that could adequately allow the performer to improvise. The way I play live now is sort of a balance of things that are sequenced and things that can be totally spontaneous… 
EM: What's up with you and the beach?
PS: Ha! I just like it. You could say a bunch of artsy stuff about tides as forms and phasing and white noise and the horizon line. I think sunsets on the beach are the best thing. It's pretty simple. I grew up in the mountains but when I was little I lived in San Francisco in a neighborhood called "The Sunset." After school I moved back there and lived about 2 blocks from the ocean. Around dusk pretty much every night you could see people come out of their houses and walk to the beach to watch the sun go down. There would be lines of people standing on the dunes just above the beach.  It was like church or something.  Ironically the Sunset is a really foggy neighborhood but when the fog lifts the sunsets are unreal.  

EM: How has your music evolved over time?
PS: That's a tough question.  I think it's gotten more layered, and I think my ability to mix sound is a lot better than it used to be. Like I mentioned above I took Alfred's advice and I am less attached to genre than I used to be. I think I'm pretty influenced by external factors, so over the course of a year things will get pushed in one direction or another, but I really enjoy honing the craft making electronic music in a direction that isn't strictly towards the club or towards some academic goal. 
EM: Who/what is inspiring you at the moment?
PS: All the people on Border Community are definitely doing really great things. Nathan Fake's preview stuff for his new album sounds super great. Holkham Drones by Luke Abbott is a really really insanely awesome record. The Idiots Are Winning by James Holden is one of the most mental records that exist as far as electronic music goes. I have some friends that run this online magazine called K-hole and they are doing really great things right now. So much of electronic music is about the future and they are total futurists. I've also been reading a lot about Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, the whole mid 70s to 80s New York scene. That stuff is pretty amazing. Just the confluence of all these hyperactively brilliant people. They all had really interesting and unique takes on performance and that's something I'm really looking at right now. If you watch videos of Iggy performing, it's just so rare to see that energy these days.  It's interesting to think about how to do that in our era. 
EM: What albums have you had on repeat in 2K12?
PS: Aside from the above references? A lot of house stuff. Moomin and Christopher Rau. I went back and have been listening to Silent Introduction by Moodymann. There are a couple absolute gems on that record. I got pretty obsessed with Anika, the singer Geoff Barrow worked with. Oneohtrix Point Never's records are really solid. I really dig Replica and Returnal. Oh, and Arabian Horse by Gus Gus. That record start to finish is incredible. The caveat is you have to have a tolerance for diva vocals which, of course, you should.  
EM: What're you dreaming of right now?
PS: For my next record I am thinking about moving back towards more sample choppy work. I really dug Even White Horizons by Akufen and a few years ago that inspired me to write a max patch that is one of the funnest things to play with that I have made. I've been dreaming of tracks made up of hundreds of snippets of different samples that all slowly evolve over time. Sound oceans of detritus that turn into music...
In general? I always dream about my grandma's house where I spent a lot of time in my childhood. What else… The revoking of corporate freedom of speech, the diffusion of the idea that we need health care and not health insurance, and for some CEO of some mega corporation to just suddenly realize what a good idea it would be if they dumped all their money into green energy and turned the energy industry on its head. The fact that it's 2012 and we are seeing advertisements for cars that get 35 miles to the gallon is a farce. We have had myriad technologies around for so long that could be absolute game changers for the way we travel and produce electricity, but that change would have to overcome mountains of complacency from groups of people who profit from the status quo. I seriously dream about some guy realizing that he's been a total asshole his whole corporate career and using his financial assets to engineer the economic landslide that puts us on an actual course towards sustainable energy production.
EM: Any last words? 
PS: Thank you!

Dance · Electronic · Experimental · Interview


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