When form becomes protocol, Objekt instinctively resists
Objekt’s official website describes his musical wanderings thus: “adventures in machine music built to make subs rattle and feet wiggle; a convoluted mess of elektrology and teknology, 3-step, bass-core, post windmill, proto-minimal wankstep, gondola, shithouse, acid wonk, no more, no less. Constructed by TJ Hertz in Berlin.”
Within this melee of mindless genre babble – and after the tongue has been removed from his cheek – there resides more to this choice of musical description than the visible joke. TJ Hertz’s music as Objekt is constantly in flux, flexing and spring boarding acrobatically around conventional genre tropes. Though his style falls in line with the original application of the term techno as a genre, as in being ‘from the future’, he couldn’t be further, sonically and ideologically, from its straighter, less ambitious developments.
Using fragments of classic electronic influences and transforming them with extraordinary attention to detail, Hertz came to prominence through his unplaceable production (as such, it’s still surprising that he originally made his name through self-confessed ‘copycat’ dubstep, with 2011’s breakthrough Tinderbox and The Goose That Got Away both pastiches of
the genre). In the years since, his singular approach to sound design has earned the devotion of both hardware obsessives and casual clubbers, while the wealth of musical mutation at his fingertips has also brought him sharply into focus as a selector.
In April, I caught Hertz at Berghain, the home of contemporary techno. It’s hard here. No ‘bass-core’ or ‘shithouse’ mind you, but the institution’s commitment to transcendentally brutal techno means the soundtrack is traditionally hard, even on Sunday afternoons. Objekt isn’t conforming. Electro, broken beats and what could be loosely described as thrilling, hybrid transformations of techno are slickly presenting themselves. The pace changes frequently and there is no ‘Berghain techno’ to be heard. Over the course of five hours, it unravels as the most musically diverse set I’ve ever experienced on that dancefloor.
“I get quite anxious before pretty much whenever I play there,” he confesses, sipping his coffee in Berlin’s Melbourne Canteen. “But especially Saturday/Sunday. It’s not so much there is a pressure to conform to the sound of the place for aesthetic reasons or respect, but more a case of I’ve seen what goes down well and it is kind of a room that is built for that toughness. On the other hand, the energy of the person playing the room is always going to come through, so ultimately if I play four hours of loop techno it’s not going to sound like I’m having fun.”
It’s 10am and Berlin is absolutely sweltering in the heat. Our breakfast meeting fills me with relief at no longer having to move. There is also an inertly calming presence to Hertz that manifests itself in the pace he answers my questions. There is a consistent, considered lapse between my questions that never veers into discomfort or the kind of silence that causes conversations to end; it’s more of fail safe designed against getting caught short. Much like his DJ sets, describing him as an intelligent reactionary would be an apt portrayal. Therein also lies a small suspicion of the interview as a form of communication. He suggests he’ll “become more lucid after the first coffee” and confesses to not particularly enjoying the interview scenario. “I often come away feeling like I haven’t particularly articulated what I wanted to say. If I don’t need to do them, I don’t.”
In turn, I direct his mind back to the aforementioned Berghain set. In particular, a beefed up version of Unfinished Sympathy that got an extremely potent reaction. “It was kind of a statement of intent, I mean it was 3pm on a fucking Sunday afternoon, if you can’t have a bit of a play around at that kind of time when can you?”
It seems that ‘playing around’, or more precisely experimenting, has always been at the core of Hertz’s existence. Having graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Electronic and Information Engineering, his intensely complex approach to production should come as little surprise. Afterward, while working in the Berlin office of electronic music creation giant Native Instruments, Hertz initially tried his hand at producing functional techno, but nothing quite stuck.
Hertz has previously spoken out about his distaste for the more austere forms of the genre. It’s a topic that rears its head repeatedly in interviews, including this one. “I have a massive love hate relationship with techno,” he admits. “The time I was getting involved with this kind of stuff was quite fertile for people of my age. The techno scene in the last four or five years has re-solidified into something quite established and monolithic again, which makes it a lot less interesting for everyone, except people that want to make loads of money.”
“The techno scene has re-solidified into something quite established and monolithic again, which makes it a lot less interesting” ￼
His current production ethic involves a self-confessed slow pace of work. Hertz has previously stated that a new piece could pass through as many as 80 different versions until deemed complete. This makes the fact his 2014 debut album Flatland was released at all a minor miracle. It was released on PAN records, a perfect home for the synthetic, dystopian sound that is so prevalent throughout. Reviews were universally positive in the praise of the cohesiveness of the sounds, as elements of techno are twisted and turned into new imaginings of form and presented in panoramic HD. Since the album it’s no coincidence Objekt’s production output has heralded just one remix.
He explains: “In the last couple of months, the production side of things has fallen by the wayside due to personal things going on. After the album I was working on a lot of amorphous sounding, more cerebral productions that didn’t have any space in clubland at all. The trouble is, me writing an album is always going to take me a minimum of a year-and-a-half or two years because of how slowly I work. I don’t know if I can hold my interest in a singular enough concept for the whole time in order to see it through to competition instead of just writing and seeing what comes out. At the moment I’m not feeling the pressure and I think that’s fine.”
It’s perhaps this relaxed approach to production that has allowed his credentials as a DJ to currently take centre stage. Far from taking any old party on offer, a glance at his listings shows a considered approach to gigging. “A lot of it is trying to work out where I enjoy playing and what I always come back to is the fact I just like doing a mix,” Hertz explains. “When I first started out I felt really keen to establish myself as a credible techno DJ, but the idea of playing on techno line-ups in warehouses week in week out fills me with dread and fear.”
Techno as a source of struggle plays a huge part in the manifestation of Objekt, and it’s within this extremely malleable boundary he has found his musical voice. Yet he seems to have been more focused on its stylistic restraints of late, and fans will have noticed him using Twitter to vocalise his frustrations. ‘Life’s too short for techno,’ he stated in May, while a recent, more damning rumination tackled techno crowds’ increasingly uniform visual aesthetic.
While the relative merits of the ‘techno uniform’ – all black everything – are debatable, it’s a reflection of an ongoing evolution in Hertz’s own aesthetic. “I’ve become more colourful in my musical selections. I’d worked myself into a little bit of a techno rut towards the end of last year in that I was listening to way too much of it and not enough of everything else and realised that forcing myself to go out and buy albums was better,” he admits. “Doing that is more than just finding a new act I’m into, it’s more of a sustainability thing. It would be pretty easy to hate what I was doing if all I exposed myself to was the tools of my job. Buying albums stops that.”
Though there is positivity to be found in Hertz’s feed. Recently, he described the intimate Welsh festival Freerotation as a ‘profoundly beautiful experience’. It’s easy to see why. The intimate members-only event is fertile ground for the kinds of genre-blasting styles favoured by Hertz. Stories of his set this year are sure to be passed on through electronic music folklore, telling of the sweltering heat – Hessle Audio’s previous three hours broke the fan system in the beautiful yet boiling Baskerville Hall – and relative chaos of the entirety of the festival attempting to bulldoze through the last of their energy with Hertz. To the salve of the attendees that weren’t able to get in the room (crowds spilling out onto the hotel’s grand staircase were quickly dispersed by security), the set was uploaded online to mass praise.
Freerotation also feels at home with Objekt’s nearest and dearest who push at the seams of house and techno. It’s a festival that resonates with many of his peers, who often use it as their choice summer festival to hang around and party: the likes of the Hessle Audio trio, Blawan and Pariah. It’s a cluster of producers who, despite emerging under the ‘post-dubstep’ umbrella, have carved their own paths individually since.
“I don’t know if this group of producers is as cohesive as it was four or five years ago, or even if it exists as such anymore,” Hertz wonders. “A lot of these people came of age as professional musicians together and there is a camaraderie I guess.” He lets out a self-effacing chuckle as his mind wanders the past. “It’s nice looking back at how it was possible to get so far knowing so little!”
Objekt appears at Simple Things, Bristol, 24 October