The shift from black metal guitarist to electronic producer isn’t necessarily a common path in music today, but a desire to create dark, synth-driven concept albums based on futuristic, ‘cyberpunk’ story lines is precisely what led Paris-based TuneCore Artist James Kent to pursue Perturbator.
With seven releases under his belt, Kent dropped his latest, The Uncanny Valley, earlier this spring as a follow-up to his 2014 full-length, Dangerous Days. It’s a tour de force of intensely layered synth wave tracks that tell the story of a religious group using technology to win (or steal?) the hearts and minds of vulnerable citizens.
Sounding a little like a sci-fi movie? Yup. James was kind enough to answer some questions from across the pond about his musical upbringing, his love of sci-fi and cyberpunk culture and more:
I read that your parents were music journalists. How did their profession impact the way you consume music? How did it change the way you read about music?
James Kent: That’s right, they are. I think it gave me more of an analytic approach to music listening. As a child, I was able to express exactly why I liked or disliked certain bands or musicians, and as I grew older, my passion for it grew bigger too. I was always looking out to hear new music that I could fall in love with.
I rarely read music reviews though, and I prefer to make up my own unbiased opinion about an artist or a release usually.
What was your first introduction to actually creating and writing music yourself?
I believe I was about seven or eight years old. I used to play the synthesizer we had at home, a huge Korg.
To be honest, what I was doing was complete crap, but it introduced me to crafting music. I was no longer a spectator nor listener, I could make it by myself. It was – and it still is – a very empowering feeling.
I got my first guitar at age 11, and I learned to play some of my favorite tracks on it – Tool, Slayer, Megadeth… After I felt comfortable with the intrument, I became bored of playing other people’s songs and started to delve more seriously into making my own sounds.
Tell us a bit about your black metal career and how it paved the way for Perturbator.
It’s not very fancy really. I became guitarist for a couple of bands, local stuff. Played a couple of live shows in nasty bars. It was okay for a while, but I was never truly pleased when working with other people.
Too many limitations, too many egos to please. I was looking to do something by myself without caring about if people around me liked it or not. Electronic music seemed like the best option at this time.
In terms of musical influences, what are some unexpected artists you look to for inspiration?
Unexpected ? I don’t know, maybe some jazz artists like Miles Davis, Christian Scott or Pat Metheny. I listen to and find inspiration in a lot of music genres. I think metal might be the most obvious one, but I also love funk, disco, soundtracks, shoegaze, old-school rap, etc.
What is it about the cyberpunk culture/genre that has spoken to you as an artist? How do you try to translate it using music?
I actually can’t quite put my finger on why, really. I love how pessimistic yet awe-inducing it is. It is timeless, it looks old yet speaks to the future. It is otherworldly and mysterious, yet still reminds us about the dark aspects of reality.
Science fiction has always been a great vessel for imagination and powerful ideas. I am not even sure myself how I translate it into music exactly. I just use unusual sound palettes that might remind you of some strange sci-fi movie you’ve seen when you were younger.
Some synth addicts are very particular about new and old instruments. Do you have a preference in the varying equipment you use? What has shaped this over time?
I’m a really “it’s not the tools, it’s how you use it” type of guy. I don’t like to boast about owning X or Y piece of equipment, and I believe good writing abilities are stronger than any piece of gear one can ever own.
It’s actually funny to me how some people take pride in that type of stuff. I do own a couple of vintage hardware synths at home but I still use software, samples and in-the-box production techniques pretty shamelessly. I just don’t want to restrain myself.
What kind of steps have you taken to improve or advance your live performances?
Well, I’ve been investing in a lot of stage stuff – fog machines, LED bars etc. Hired my own lighting engineer, etc… I just want to keep making it larger, more of an experience than a live show. It’s about making the lights, the sound, the fog and the colours all come together to create an impressive atmosphere.
Tell us more about The Uncanny Valley. Does the record follow a concept or contain any similar themes as past releases?
The Uncanny Valley is the followup to Dangerous Days, storywise. It takes place after the events the latter one sets up. It’s an album about a religion using powerful technology as a tool to recruit fanatics and ultimately force their ideology upon everyone.
How did you link up with the guys at Blood Music? How has the experience with the small label been so far?
It’s actually just one guy, and he linked up with me. He came to me, and although I was on the defensive at first, I can safely say today that signing with Blood Music has been the best choice I’ve made in my little “career”. Everything has been just insanely great!
What are your plans for the rest of 2016 after the release of The Uncanny Valley?
Keep doing shows and maybe start working on something else? Another release. I’m not sure yet, I’ll just go with the flow for now.