When AM had its soft launch back in May, residents DJ Ketchup and MC Mayo kicked things off with a dance-tastic live set whose very first opening track, “Boy-U”, was by our guest today, Fennec.
His 2020 started off pretty well, with the release of his sixth full length ‘Free Us Of This Feeling’, a collection of eclectic house and electronic wizardry, both deep and very, very funky. With a growing discography of albums and EPs under his belt, including some soundtrack work, Fennec’s lushly layered compositions are characterized by fine samples, big beats and bright, moving melodies.
Lucky enough, today he shares with us a rare mix of truly divine deep house and newer gems, inspired by a party that never came to be, and including two tracks from his latest album. Fennec was also kind enough to answer some questions about his life and work. Read on, listen in and enjoy.
First off, I read in another interview you had moved around in the U.S. a fair bit and are based in Indianapolis for some time now? Can you tell us a bit about the city?
F: It’s got pockets of culture among its urban sprawl mixed with decaying neighborhoods next to hip designer homes. There’s some great art deco architecture scattered throughout the downtown area and the neighborhoods. I think Kurt Vonnegut’s dad was an architect here and there used to be a rich jazz scene with Wes Montgomery. Lately it’s more tech people and young parents trying to become flipper landlords.
There aren’t too many places for dance / house / techno stuff like there are if you live in NYC / LA / Chicago. Patron Saint is a club with decent events, and there are pop-ups here and there (not so much now). Pre-COVID there was a bar called State Street Pub with great, weird experimental shows and another place called Healer that had immersive art installations with their shows. Some great record shops and thrift stores though for digging (Irvington Vinyl and Square Cat Vinyl are faves for that).
And work? You are a teacher, correct? Hell of a year for that, to say the least, so I’m curious to hear more about that if you’d indulge us…
F: I was yeah, up until the end of this current school year I was teaching U.S. History and Current Events. I was doing remote teaching for just when COVID was really getting started and we all thought it’d be over by like, August. I made the decision months before that though to go back to school for a Masters in Public Policy so it kind of worked out in terms of taking a break at the right time.
I still work as a TA for an undergrad class doing some instructing and working with high schoolers has made that a pretty easy transition. Being on the other end of Zoom as a student I can totally sympathize with my students on the difference. It’s harder to build a connection between teacher and student when you’re remote, which was one of the best parts about teaching/school. I miss teaching in the classroom and the kids and hope to get back to it someday.
How about Chicago? What’s your connection there? I went years ago and would like to go back when things begin to normalize… Any tips or favorite memories?
F: If you’re in Indianapolis, then Chicago is like “the” major city that’s easily accessible so it holds a lot of shine and wonder in terms of entertainment and amenities. I like to think that Indianapolis being basically the midpoint between Chicago where house was invented and Detroit where techno was invented that there’s been some bleed or crossover in terms of culture (there isn’t at all… but I like to think that haha).
It was the first place I experienced a real club at Smart Bar and it definitely shaped how I approach and imagine my music. My first time there it was so unreal; it was completely dark except for a few red LED lights and there was smoke and the music that was playing was just exactly what I had been listening to on the internet. Like, even recognizing tracks was huge to me because I hadn’t really encountered anyone else in real life who was into that.
The moment that lives rent-free in my mind was hearing this Outkast “Elevators” acapella over some house track (either Mike Huckaby or Justin Long were playing at that point) and just losing my mind over it.
In terms of the trip to get there, can you give a favorite road album or two you might throw on for such a drive?
F: Honestly I’m more likely to put on a podcast like Marketplace, Planet Money, or 99% Invisible. For a road trip though I don’t think you can go wrong with any Girl Talk album especially if you need to inject some energy into the driver. DJ Koze’s DJ Kicks Mix or Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 are real journeys. Weezer's Blue Album maybe? I can imagine Khruangbin’s Hasta El Cielo would be tight to listen to on the road. Something continuous without many lulls should fit the bill.
I’ve noticed on Twitter you talk stocks sometimes. As a complete dunce, I’m curious how you got into that and if you have any hot tips? I’d like to get rich quick.
F: Hey, me too haha! Anyone who tells you they know exactly how to make money on the stock market is probably trying to take you for a ride. I’ve always liked to stay up on the news and if you can draw connections between events and human psychology then you can quantify those predictions with numbers. It should be said that the economy isn’t the stock market as the stock market is based on like, 50% legitimate business financials and 50% wishful thinking.
If you’re a naturally curious person it’s interesting because one minute you’re reading about how batteries work and the next you’re learning about the movie theater business. The best I could do is tell you how to not lose money, which is to keep some savings in an index that tracks the S&P 500 and don’t invest in anything you don’t understand.
There aren’t a lot of sure things or trends in the world, but climate change is real and climate mitigation are absolutely going to be necessary moving forward and there are a lot of opportunities now to be a part of that.
Between the sample-delic music and romantic album titles, I made associations of your work with The Avalanches, also noticing your single “Frontier Identity” as perhaps a slight allusion to “Frontier Psychiatry”? Is there anything to that or can you speak to your relationship with their work?
F: Wow, I honestly did not make that connection between the Avalanches’ title and that song title until just now haha. The title “Frontier Identity” originated from the poem that I sampled for that track; listening to the poem in full I came away with that phrase of being on the forefront of figuring who you are and what you want.
I probably got into the Avalanches around 2008 or 2009. I didn’t listen to any house/techno until probably 2014 or 2015, so the Avalanches along with J Dilla were among my first exposures to sample-based music. I had never heard sampling in a dense, collage-based context outside of Girl Talk’s Night Ripper. With Girl Talk though there was this distinct emphasis on a “party” aspect whereas the Avalanches exposed me to a kind of thoughtfulness and sentiment in sample selection and arrangement.
I'm curious to know a bit about your creative process, like what your home setup is like, how much time you find to devote to making new music or building a track? Loaded question, haha, but any insight here is much appreciated!
F: So, home studio setup is very bare bones. I just sold a bunch of equipment and guitar pedals out of not using them and to have more free, open space. I’ve got a laptop running Ableton, a few generic midi controllers for playing notes and knob-turning automation, and then the synth I’ll use to experiment with every now and then is a Yamaha Reface-CS which is really amazing for its size/price.
I try to work on something every day, even if it's just listening back to demo tracks I’ve done but sometimes I’ll flesh out a whole track in 30 minutes or so. Sometimes there’s a sample that I’ve been wanting to play with (I keep a playlist of songs that could be sampled) or I’ll go digging around in my sample folders for something I haven’t touched yet. I’m a huge packrat of sample packs and drum samples.
The other way is I’ll have heard something in a song and want to try to do something like that myself like, “Oh that’s a simple looping bassline let me try that,” or “What a great dreary mood, let me try to recreate that.” I would say 90% of my project files end up going nowhere and absolutely sound like they go nowhere too.
What’s next for you and your music? Any goals there? And any traveling you’d like to do when COVID gets under control?
F: I’ve been oddly productive the past year working with an idea for a new album. I was listening to a lot of Exotica and Lounge music from the 60’s and used that as a jumping off point for mixing it with some other influences. I have an album that I’d say is maybe 70% done that I’d like to put out next year. The initial intention was something short like, under 40 minutes and a bunch of short tracks, but it’s far beyond that now! I’d love to DJ out again and continue getting better at it.
Me and my girlfriend were actually supposed to be in Austin, Texas around now, but the move got postponed due to the pandemic so that’s still on deck for the coming year.