This week, Small Talk chats with James Kent, AKA Perturbator, a Parisian musician who blends retro eighties synthesizer style, modern EDM percussion and a dark futuristic mood to make some of the most varied and layered electronic on the scene.
Alright, first things first: who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Well I was James Kent, a little teenager from Paris who had a simple life and spent nights watching science fiction and horror movies from the 80s, Until the night my laserdisc player fell on my head and put me in a coma. A bunch of mad scientist decided to re-animate me and replaced all that was dead in me with synthesizer circuitry. I am now Perturbator, from Nocturne City. And I am programmed to tell my story through synth music.
You've been making music as Perturbator for a couple of years now, not for a very long time. What other music projects have you been a part of, either before or after the synth-surgery?
Before that I was the guitar player in a progressive / death metal band called "I The Omniscient". We only made one EP and splitted. I also have another project that just started called "L'enfant De La Forêt" which is more ambient / trip-hop.
Yeah, and what's really cool is that as different as L'enfant De La Forêt is from your work as Perturbator, it's still recognizably your beats even with such wildly different influences.
Thanks man, I appreciate that alot. I still consider it a side project but maybe i'll take it further someday. Right now i'm focusing more on doing new stuff with Perturbator which is my main thing.
Would you say you're surprised by how far you've come in the short time you've been releasing material as Perturbator? You've been getting a pretty good amount of exposure recently, through things like the release of Hotline Miami and Gamespot's "Year In Gaming 2013"-it must be making the scientists proud.
Definitely! I wasn't expecting that much exposure when i first joined the soundtrack of Hotline Miami, that was amazing. Thanks to them, it also helped me a lot and was a great motivation to improve my sound. I think of it as an exchange, when people like my music i want to go further with it and make even better music for them, systems upgraded.
Something you do that has been a little out of vogue lately in the electronic scene is you tell stories through your albums, with releases like I Am The Night and Sexualizer. A lot of electronic artists release concept albums, but why tell a cohesive narrative?
Well I do this because i really think you have to be in a specific mindset to enjoy what /i do. I agree that music has to speak for itself but a wider audience can be lost sometimes in the amount of vintage synths and modern EDM mixed in a Perturbator track. So the stories are a way for me to say to the listener "this is what I had in mind when I made that album". I try to make something different out of each releases so it also helps me focusing on what the releases should sound like. But i'd rather talk about a "plot" than a "story" really. Mostly because I don't want to force people to think about it when they listen to the music and I try to leave the text open to interpretation. They are here just to set the mood basically.
There's a very specific mood to your music, for sure-you've self described it as "dark and retrofuturistic", and whenever I see your music online it's inevitably tagged as 80's. Why the match of that specific time period and that kind of tone for your music? Especially considering how high-energy a lot of it is.
Probably because i only use vintage synths from the 80s in my music and most of my sounds are definitely influenced by movies like Blade Runner, Alien or Total Recall for examples. I'm talking about those "gritty" looking science fiction movies from the 80s that showed us very dark cityscapes and had a more pessimistic vision of our future (while nowadays future is showed to us in a more "all white and minimalistic" way). Still, i like to mix it all with more modern sounds, so basically i see my music as a modern revision of that "dark retrofuturistic" mood.
I can see that, especially with how you mix EDM beats and retro sounds. Actually, it sounds a lot like a Cyberpunk style; speaking of which, any response from the team at CD Projekt Red about any collaboration for the Cyberpunk 2077 game?
Yup! It was pretty vague actually, they've seen the edit I made of their trailer with my music and told me that they haven't decided about who they'll feature on the soundtrack yet but they'll keep me in mind. So it's neither a "yes" or a "no". Only time will tell me!
Speaking of video games, I have to ask: what came first, the Hotline Miami game project or the Sexualizer EP? A lot of people have noticed the cover art has quite a few parallels to Hotline Miami's content.
The "Sexualizer" EP definitely came after Hotline Miami, it was a little tribute to it actually. My own way to say "thank you" to the devs and to my new fans that discovered me with the game. It was also a way for me to finally release the track "Miami Disco" officially!
How do live shows with you usually go? Things like audience interaction, stage set up, and general atmosphere.
I don't do live shows yet. I've only did gigs with my Death Metal band a couple of years ago. But it's only now that i'm working on doing my live sets as Perturbator. It's quite hard for me cause i'm a bit of a perfectionist and i know that i won't be satisfied with it at all. I'd like to have wicked anime visuals playing behind me, arcade machines exploding everywhere and cyberpunk girls doing aerobic onstage while i'm playing but i know that's pretty impossible right now. Well I just have to roll with it.
That sounds like a really hype show, so I hope it happens sometime. What about general fan interaction? Any crazy or ridiculous fans, any really cool experiences?
I try to keep as close as possible with my fans, they're all really cool and I know I wouldn't be what i am now without them (sorry that's so cheesy, haha!). Some of them creates stuff around my music, like glitched versions of my artworks or music videos, for example, which I always find really touching. What amazes me with them is that they all come from different backgrounds, like some of them are really into extreme metal, others are gamers, electronic music listeners, indie developers, writers, graphic designers etc... I don't really know what that means about my music but i'm very happy with this and the support they give me is outstanding. I'd like to thanks each one of them if i could. Also i've never stumbled upon "THAT" crazy fan that has my face tattooed on his torso yet. So nothing too "crazy" already haha.
Also i'd like to add that I eat babies, just to balance out all that cheesyness.
Where'd you get your name from? More than once, i've told people about "Perturbator" and i've gotten some pretty uncomfortable looks-was it meant to evoke this kind of response, especially considering what perturbed means and your style in general?
Haha! Well it's a throwback to the 80s. When every action flicks was named like "something-ator". (Terminator, Exterminator, Interceptor, Predator, Vindicator) And i like the term "perturbed" so that's just it. I don't know, I kinda wanted it sound badass. It definitely sounds out of this world and it goes well with the music anyway so that's cool. As to how it is supposed to be pronounced i can't help you. Say it like you want to say it really.
Oh and I stumbled across a cool band the other day, they're called "██████". For real, this is not a joke. How am I supposed to tell that to my friends ?
It definitely sounds badass. If you had to sum up your entire style in one word-a word nobody else has used to describe it yet-what would you say?
Mhhhh...that's one hard question... "Odd" ?
"Odd" is a bit less fitting than "badass dark and retrofuturistic", but it's a pretty good word regardless.
Haha yeah well, it's hard to find the one word no one used you know!
Going back to what you said about cool new bands, is there anything interesting happening in the electronic scene that you think should get more exposure? A movement, a specific person, anything.
Yeah, "GosT" ! check out this guy. He's really cool.
Are there any up and coming artists in a field aside from music you think deserve some spotlight?
Definitely, check out Ariel Zucker Brull, he makes amazing illustrations. Also filmmakers Jason Eisener, Adam Wingard and David Sandberg.
What was the first time you can remember that you made music?
Oh man, that goes back to when i was like 6 years old playing synths with my dad I think. It sounded like shit but it's still considered as music right? Also i've made a lot of music at an early age with my two best friends Leo and Dylan.
Leo and Dylan?
Haha yeah, respectively Bass player and Drummer from our ex-band "I the Omniscient". They're like my best friends since forever.
Coming to a close here, what sort of plans do you have for the future? Anything new in the works, or anything waiting on the back burner?
Oh man, I have written down a huge list of musical concepts I want to try. I don't want to spoil anything but lots of cool collaborations, new ideas, movies and games soundtracks, and of course live shows. But right now my next album "Dangerous Days" will hit sometime this year and I hope people will enjoy it as much as they enjoyed the others.
You can find James's work as Perturbator at http://perturbator.bandcamp.coam/ and https://soundcloud.com/perturbator, his project L'Enfant De La Forêt at https://soundcloud.com/lenfant-de-la-foret, and his facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Perturbator.