Juan Mendez, the LA-based producer, DJ and designer known as Silent Servant, died last week (18 January) aged 46.
As news of his death was made public, heartfelt tributes poured in from fans, friends and admirers, all paying their respects to the influential artist and Sandwell District member. Many of these dedications were also in tribute to The Soft Moon’s Luis Vasquez and Mendez’s partner Simone Ling, who allegedly also passed away in the same incident, as the LA Times reports.
Mendez, who was born in Guatemala, will be remembered most for his boundary-pushing contributions to techno, darkwave, electro and industrial. His decades-spanning, multidisciplinary career included his role in the needle-shifting Sandwell Collective, as well as the launch of the Jealous God label, which he founded with Karl O’Connor and James Ruskin following the disbanding of the collective. As Silent Servant, his productions and DJ sets weave through the dark, psychedelic strains of techno, often underpinned by a hypnotic emotional depth and his favoured post-punk aesthetics. “I always try to make things that sound somewhat timeless,” he once told The Creative Independent. This emotive, universal artistic approach was also reflected in his work as a venerated art director and graphic designer, both for his own labels and projects, and for others.
In November 2023, Mendez’s last release as Silent Servant, the now “eerily titled” (as HEALTH’s John Famiglietti appropriately dubs it below) In Memoriam EP landed via Berlin’s Tresor Records. It was described as a “deeply personal memoir of a 30-plus year career spent exploring and absorbing the shadowy side of music” and a “carefully crafted elegy to people, places, and times past and the lasting effect they have on the present”.
That closing statement, about honouring who and what has come before, is something that is fundamental to Mendez’s artistic journey. It’s fitting, then, that we honour his legacy in dance music through the eyes of those he touched. Here, 9 artists reflect on the Silent Servant productions that reconfigured their relationship with music. RIP.
Josh Cheon (Dark Entries)Silent Servant: Live at Honey Soundsystem (1/04/13)
I booked Juan to play our Honey Soundsystem party in San Francisco and he brought the dark gems for me, many of which I would later reissue: Charlie Spacer Woman, Boytronic Bryllyant, Severed Heads’ Dead Eyes Opened. I feel this set embodies what he did best: bridge post-punk, EBM, wave, and techno effortlessly. This night was extra special as he played a song by Sumerian Fleet and I ran up to the booth asking if it was a demo by Bauhaus. The next morning I woke to an email from Sumerian Fleet wondering if I would like to release their debut album, they had no idea Silent Servant just turned me on to them a few hours prior.
We first met online in 2012 and chatted about my label, and he sent me reissue ideas. We would meet in San Francisco at the Tropic of Cancer show later that year at the Independent in San Francisco. I brought a bag of records for him and he especially loved the Lives of Angels LP – he put it on his Top 10 of 2012.
Juan was always sending me suggestions of records to reissue and gave me a push when I was feeling hopeless tracking down an artist or hitting a hurdle. Every performance of his that I witnessed was so inspirational. It made me think outside the box, and blended genre lines.
Phase FataleMoral Divide (Endless)
I’ve chosen Moral Divide (Endless) from Negative Fascination. This song has everything from the pacey minimal synth rhythm box beats, trippy synth patches, and shoegaze or ethereal guitars and atmospherics.
On every listen, it reveals something different about itself with many different layers of visions and emotions, plus the dichotomy of gentle and harsh soundscapes. It’s incredibly versatile and can be played anywhere from home listening to techno warehouses, goth clubs, house parties, and weddings. I bought the album in 2012 from Heaven Street, Brooklyn. It was one of my first techno records as it really connected the dots between these different subcultures in a beautiful, artistic way.
Juan and I met each other through the Wierd Records parties at Home Sweet Home in New York City. We both had a crossover between the post-punk/wave and electronic worlds. He was actually supposed to remix my old band, and then we reconnected when I moved to Berlin. He supported my music from the beginning, and was so kind and encouraging.
Juan has taught me a lot about production, DJing, art and just life. He really helped shape my path in music, and I’m forever grateful for that. Even something as simple as when to add the open hi-hat or how to seemingly glue together opposing sounds in a track. I admired the way he could play a Chris & Cosey track into Jeff Mills to some crazy industrial techno, and then back to Chicago acid house. No one else could do it the way he did and make it sound so cohesive and classy, yet so energetic and captivating. The way [he could] blend all these seemingly different genres yet tell a story and run a thread through them on the dancefloor.
He also added and kept strong the artistic and visual aspects into his techno records, which showed that connection and representation of the music itself. It’s equally as important as the sound – and uniquely his style. You see that in Sandwell District and Jealous God which are very defined and opened the door for more focus on artwork in dance music. I’m just honoured to have him as a dear friend, to have worked together and gleaned so much from him.
John Famiglietti (HEALTH)In Memoriam
I’m choosing his latest release, the eerily titled IN Memoriam. I think it’s just a perfect piece of techno – especially the opening track M-87, which is my favourite record of his now. I first heard it over the Thanksgiving holiday last year. Not as exciting as other times I’ve heard different Silent Servant material first, which would be at a warehouse party around 3AM.
I don’t remember ever meeting him, I just knew him. It was hard to remember a time before when I didn’t know him, as we’ve both been in this scene for such a long time.
In terms of his influence, I listened to his [and Broken English Club’s] Violence and Divinity EP quite a bit during the making of our album DEATH MAGIC, and elements of dark techno definitely seeped into that record.
Helena HauffSpeed and Violence
I was already a fan of his music but somehow I just missed this release as it came out, and only discovered it about a year later. The record was quite hard to find then; I paid about €25 for it, which seemed a lot at the time. Another DJ introduced me to the track – I can’t remember if it was Phuong-Dan at Pudel, or Morah in Athens.
I fell in love with his music and it was fantastic being able to meet him, share music, and DJ together. He will be sorely missed!
Robin Stewart (Giant Swan/RS Tangent)Mad Youth
I could have chosen ten tunes at random and they’d all speak to Juan’s ability to weave that hypnotic thread he had such a deft hand on. This track, Mad Youth, is one of my very favourites because, for me, it perfectly combines the groove, the danger and the sexiness of his sound. He was always the most low-key of the Sandwell lot, so when he presented music with them it always felt a bit special, you know?
The riff in this tune is just so effortless, like so much of what he made. I remember hearing him spin it many times in his sets and it would exact this complete control over the dancefloor – the pads and the swooshing noises that circulate around this oily, almost delicate riff just holds you there. It’s a masterful tune.
I honestly don’t remember the first time I heard Mad Youth, probably around 2013 or so. I was at university and was just putting together the links between early DNS releases and the Sandwell stuff that was coming out, Rrose and Kalon and bits like that. I probably didn’t properly connect with it until many years afterwards. I definitely recall playing it on repeat again and again one night at home, probably out of my tree, just drinking it in thinking, ‘How has he done that?’.
I don’t know when exactly I was first introduced to Silent Servant. I just remember seeing his name on stuff and thinking it was cool, like a baddie or an anti-hero/superhero name. He was just always there. For anyone getting into techno around that time – the turn of 2010 and onwards – he was just a fixture that made reliable tunes and was a really good DJ.
The first time I saw him play was in 2017 I think. He was just fantastic, spinning all these proto-wave records in between warping techno – so unique with those bridges between soundworlds. We met that night and just immediately related with our friends in common and bands and stuff.
Everyone will share these aspects of meeting and getting to know Juan, but he was so genuine in his enthusiasm for that universality of music and art, how it amplified our interactions and experiences. He was truly peerless in that – he stood out because he was just so fucking cool with it. He got it and could see it in others. He was always supportive of Giant Swan, even before we connected and whenever we’d meet along the road he was engaged in whatever we were doing and showed so much unconditional love for all of us working together playing music and muddling through. He was right there with us being that example.
He was just my friend, and I can confidently say he influenced everyone he was even marginally close to; anyone in this line of work knew his name even if they didn’t know his person. He would always check in, reach out if we were in the same place at the same time.
He was just so solid. It’s all so unbelievably sad. I read on X [formerly known as Twitter] as the news was breaking that said something like, ‘this was our Buddy Holly’ and as silly as it might sound, I really felt that. His loss is seismic. He was so important to us all and the loss of the three of them is so cruel and tragic. It won’t ever be ok. He lives on through his music and his friends and we were lucky to have had him whilst we did. I’ll miss him.
Simone Marie Butler (Primal Scream)The Strange Attractor
If I had to choose one track I’d probably go with The Strange Attractor – but it’s very tough to choose though, to be honest. So much amazing work.
I think the first time I heard a track from Silent Servant was when Negative Fascination came out. I remember hearing Invocation of Lust and it completely mesmerised me. Hearing this and The Strange Attractor made me instantly fall in love with his ability to make techno that you could play in the middle of a set that has this darker, emotional edge to it. Something with this otherworldly feel to it, cinematic almost. His scope of style within techno and electronic was so broad too.
Silent Servant could do that blistering peak-hour thing but then everything on either side of that. His remixes also perfectly meshed with bands like Boy Harsher, the KVB, Drab Majesty and Battles. His remixes were literally always superb. His remix of one of my most fave tracks ever – Love by Luke Slater – takes it to another place completely. I think that’s what a great remix should do. I find that massively inspiring.
A few other remixes that floor me are Sliotar by Edit Select, Aphelion by Tommy Four Seven and Lookitthat by Røhåd too. Just incredible. He created this amazing sound that encapsulated darkwave and techno, and the beauty and emotion you can create when those two things merge. It was very intricate but emotionally charged. His attention to creating certain moods in clubs and spaces was incredible, and his tracks are always very much part of my sets when I need to dial in the vibe he created. He just knew how to create those moments where you absolutely want to lose yourself in a club through the music.
Feels like a massive loss to the electronic community and my deepest condolences go out to his most dearly loved.
Daniel AverySandwell District: fabric 69
As an artist, put simply, Juan made records that inspired me to make my own. There are so many moments to choose from, but the Sandwell District fabric CD is precisely how I want techno to sound.
I once asked Silent Servant what a record was, as he was playing a reliably beautiful set. The next time I saw Juan he had bought me my own copy of the vinyl. Such a kind, thoughtful and gentle soul.
He will be sorely missed. Rest in power.
Marcel DettmannThe Silent Morning
I loved all of Juan’s work from his early JASPER tracks on Cytrax to his band projects Sandra Electronics (together with Karl O’Connor) and Sandwell District. I chose The Silent Morning EP because that was the first time I heard about him as Silent Servant.
I first found The Silent Morning in the days when I was working at Hard Wax. I checked out a pile of white labels and that was the moment when I discovered Silent Servant. The first time I met Juan, he visited me at Hard Wax to get a bunch of new records. Afterwards, he joined me for a Klubnacht at Berghain. This basically was the start of our friendship.
Juan is what I would call a real artist. His expression of art had multiple layers. He was a great DJ, producer and visual artist. I worked with him on different projects the past years which always inspired me. I will miss him a lot! Rest in power Juan.
Russell E.L. ButlerThe Strange Attractor and Live at Honey Soundsystem (1/04/13)
I’ve chosen a track and a mix. The Strange Attractor for the spaciousness [of it], the dubby nature of the bass, the frenetic percussion, the ingenuity.
In terms of the mix, I’m pretty sure I was at this party, but there were so many times that I saw him play in San Francisco that it all kind of blends together. Another thing about grief that sucks is that it fucks up your memory. Either way, this demonstrates who I knew him to be. I don’t remember when I first heard Negative Fascination, but it spoke to my deep goth sensibilities and my fresh interest in techno. I felt seen by that record. However, it was either too expensive or sold-out. When I first met Juan in San Francisco at a show I mentioned this and either that night or the next time I saw him he went to his car and gave me a copy of Negative Fascination and the 12” mixes. Didn’t want anything for ’em.
What I remember most about Juan is his kindness. I respected him so much but he never made me feel like I was beneath him. He helped me get my Black Jeans record (still a rarity) into shops in LA and New York, and to DJs he knew like Veronica Vasicka. He showed me that no matter how big you get, what’s most important is being kind; what bell hooks would call living by a love ethic.
I’ve taken that lesson and brought it into every interaction I have. You never know what someone is going through and that small gesture can interrupt the darkest of times. I’ll be eternally grateful for that. I just wish I could talk to him in a loud room again so he could place his hand in front of his mouth to direct his voice at me to make sure I knew what he was saying, like he did many times. I’d give him a hug and whisper ‘Thank you, I love you’, and I know he’d say it back.
A GoFundMe campaign, raising funds for funeral and travel costs and other expenses for Mendez and Ling’s families has been launched. Find it here