Track by track: Pavel Milyakov breaks down Masse Métal

© Oleksandra Trishyna

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As Buttechno, Pavel Milyakov has become a staple in Russia’s underground techno scene. Since emerging in 2010, he has founded the Johns’ Kingdom collective, soundtracked runway shows for fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy and released on revered labels like Cititrax and трип (trip). His new record, released under his given name on cult favourite The Trilogy Tapes at the end of April, sees him swap the dancefloor for more experimental fare.

The culmination of a years-long research project that included a flagship performance at last year’s Berlin Atonal, Masse Métal deals in creaking industrial soundscapes instead of pounding rhythm. While not the first time Milyakov has set out to explore territory beyond the club – last year’s La Maison De La Mort, for example, saw him try his hand at ambient – it’s one of the most extreme departures from his Buttechno project the Moscow-based producer has made to date.

While the album isn’t the most soothing of lockdown listens, as Milyakov himself says, Masse Métal speaks to the sense of precarity and, well, doom, that has become heightened during the current crisis. The album is built around samples Milyakov collected of military drills and broken machinery, always backed by a constant sense of unease. Together it evokes arid, man made wastelands and the bleakness of post-industrial capitalism, posing questions about humanity’s relationship to nature and itself.

We caught up with Milyakov shortly after the record’s release to discuss Masse Métal and talk through some of the album’s key tracks.

This album is the completion of a research project you’ve been working on – can you tell us about that project?
This album is an archive of sounds that I recorded for my latest audiovisual performance called Masse Métal. I started collecting and producing from 2017-2018. The first time I performed it was in the Foundry gallery space in 2018, and then at Berlin Atonal in 2019.

The performance had to put the spectator in a special anxious state, where you feel that you’re just one small part inside of a huge industrial mechanism. The Atonal performance took place in the big hall of Kraftwerk Berlin, which is really huge – a 20-metre-high concrete industrial space – so the first time I went there I felt that it was the right place for trying to represent this feeling. This kind of atmosphere in such a huge industrial space reflects the problem of human self-determination in the modern world.

This problem was also represented in the art of the Russian futurist movement in the early 20th century, right after the explosive growth of industrialisation. They used quite minimalistic and innovative tools combining experimental media – music, cinema, poetry and theatre – together. The accepted wisdom among government leaders at that time was that humanity should subjugate natural processes with the help of new industrial tools and factories. Even though times have changed, we see that this tendency is still here and we see how it affects the earth and our lives.

Milyakov's sketch for Masse Métal artwork

There’s much less of a focus on groove for the majority of Masse Métal. Instead, it favours texture and field recordings, what attracted you to this style of production?
For me, danceability is just one of the sonic tools that can be used for different reasons. In this work, I used different tools. I selected the ones I see as the best to represent the concept and to create the right tone and atmosphere. It’s the main reason to use any kind of structures or genres in my work. It could be any genre and any kind of structure, but they should match the overall concept and idea.

Besides the research project, how does the process of making an album like Masse Métal differ from making a project under your Buttechno alias?
In recent years I’ve been trying to move towards creating more complex works, using not only sound but different media and performance practices as well. So this album is only one part of a more complex work.

This record was made before the current crisis began but has been released in the midst of it all. Has the transformation that’s taken place across the world changed your perspective on this record at all?
It seems that this project and its sound reflects the current world crisis quite precisely. It feels like a soundtrack to these times, full of anxiety and fear, but at the same time it keeps hope for a future change and transformation.

We all know that the world will never be the same and that we are going through a transformation in the world’s mentality. I hope that globally we will change the way we treat nature, rethink the way we use resources and change the way we treat each other.

Stroyevaya is a process when a large number of soldiers are marching together under the rule of the general. So on this track, you can hear the general’s voice, who commands them. It’s the opening track of the release because this voice is organising chaos in a way, trying to make these soldiers act like they are all small details of a bigger mechanism.

The Desert Symphony
I see this track as an image of a post-apocalyptic desert, with just some metal remains hitting each other in the dust-storm sounds. Slow, abandoned and completely without any sign of life. Quite possibly a future landscape.

Metal Ambience II
This track is full of the sounds of giant machinery, trains and metal hammering. I see it as a dialogue between sounds inside the track, you can hear how these huge “beings” speak to each other.

Industry Machine ’87
Contrast is a good tool to achieve interesting dramaturgy inside the album. That’s why we hear very intensive pieces alongside very quiet and slow ones like this.

Black Sea
This track is the darkest and deepest [on the album], it sums up the whole thing. It shows the abyss where entropy is leading the world. The abyss is the end of everything, but at the same time, it is definitely a start for a new life. So it’s just the endpoint of the cycle.

Masse Métal is out now via The Trilogy Tapes

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