Galcher Lustwerk made his name by simply rapping over beats. Well, speaking over beats, anyway, and sometimes kind of singing over them. Oh, and his aren't hip-hop beats, by the way; the Cleveland-born, New York-based producer makes house music. But also not, like, festival house, which is the context in which we're used to hearing rapping over dance music nowadays. Lustwerk's elegant, melancholy take on deep house is part of a tradition stretching from Larry Heard and '80s Chicago through 21st-century German labels like Dial and Smallville; it makes Disclosure's take on "deep house" sound like David Guetta in comparison.
The producer’s rise within the underground has been remarkably frictionless thus far: In the spring of 2013, before he had any official releases, he put out a mixtape of all original productions, 100% Galcher, on a blog called Blowing Up the Workshop. Moving like a midsummer river, the set wended its way through drowsy house cuts, watery synths, and beatless reveries, with Lustwerk’s own baritone providing hypnotic hooks and sketch-like vignettes. He rapped about the pleasure of the party, the pleasure of taking drugs, and the pleasure of the open road. Even teetotalers would have trouble denying the power of huskily muttered lines like, "Poppin' pills, rollin' bills, rollin' blunts, poppin' seals/ Rollin' trees, rollin' deep, takin' E, LSD"—repetition, like assonant rhyme, is a hell of a drug.
Not long afterwards, Lustwerk released his debut EP, Tape 22, on White Material, a Brooklyn-based label run by a couple of friends he met while studying at RISD, in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as a track called "Put On"—still one of his best—on a compilation EP credited simply to White Material. Aided by the buzz around those blink-and-you-missed-'em, limited-vinyl records, 100% Galcher ended up on a number of 2013 year-end lists, and he toured Europe a handful of times. But aside from a 12” for a UK label and a digital-only EP under a new alias, Road Hog, he has since kept a low profile, almost as though he was trying to slink back into the woodwork.
Speaking via Skype from his apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, he says that, suddenly faced with the possibility that he could actually make music "for real," he decided to step back and think about what he wanted and how to focus his energy, rather than promoting himself simply for the sake of capitalizing on hype. "It's like a wave, but it's a shallow wave, so I can still ride it easily without losing any momentum," he reasons. "In the long run, all I care about is making good music and not wasting time being in the public eye."
Lustwerk—who prefers not to reveal his real name—started making music on his parents' computer in the late '90s, when he was 12 or 13, using a program called Acid Music. He was far too young to go out, and Internet portals like Napster, YouTube, and MySpace were still a ways off. Instead, he discovered electronic music from Borders, the now-shuttered bookstore chain. "I used to go there all the time and look at the magazines and read the reviews, and then go to the CD section and try to find the ones they were talking about," he says. He slowly built up a small collection of '90s staples—the Prodigy, DJ Shadow, the Crystal Method, Fatboy Slim—each of which he would pore over for months on end.
It was in Providence that he hooked up with DJ Richard and Young Male, who would go on to found White Material, and discovered dancefloor-oriented electronic music through Morgan Louis, a local DJ. After a few years of playing house parties and bars, the crew eventually scattered—a few to Berlin, and the rest, including Lustwerk, to New York.
He still considers White Material his home, but last month he announced the launch of Lustwerk Music—not so much a label, he says, as a "formality" required by his distributor. The not-really-a-label's first two releases, the Parlay and I Neva Seen EPs, gather the bulk of the tracks from his 100% Galcher mix. But for Lustwerk, the records themselves are, in some sense, a formality as well. "It's more just so I could forget about these songs, because I've gotten tired of them," he says. There were other labels that came calling, but most of them wanted new material, and that's reserved for White Material.
He's currently trying to finish his latest batch of material—which is turning out to be much harder than it was when he was putting together the 100% Galcher tracks. "It's different when you're making music that you know no one's listening to," he says.
Pitchfork: How did you hit upon your style of rapping over house tracks?
Galcher Lustwerk: I've been trying to do vocals on top of tracks since high school, but it kind of sucked at first. I've always been trying to integrate hip-hop and raw vocals into techno, and I finally figured out how to do it well enough for people to enjoy. If you have an idea in your head and you work at it hard enough, you can make it good eventually.
Pitchfork: Did it take you a long time to learn to record vocals?
GL: I've just used this $80 microphone for so long that I now know how to manipulate my voice in order to get a good-sounding vocal through it. I went to Red Bull Studios once and tried to record a vocal on their $2,000 microphone, and it sounded like shit. I was just like, “Damn—maybe I only know how to do this one thing because that's just what I'm used to.”
Pitchfork: Cars turn up in your music a lot. Are you a car person?
GL: It’s funny you mention that. I miss driving. I grew up in Cleveland, you drive everywhere; living in New York, you don't drive. I get anxiety from not driving. Driving was my form of meditation. And I also miss listening to music and driving—that's the best way to listen to music. You just kind of zone out. Driving's so futuristic—you're barely putting in any effort, and this huge machine is pummeling down a strip of concrete.
Pitchfork: A lot of Detroit techno is about that idea, like Cybotron's "Cosmic Cars" and Carl Craig's "Landcruising".
GL: Yeah, Cleveland's not far from Detroit. We share a similarity in that way. Being in a car-dependent city, it's just a crazy thing that you do every day without even realizing it.
Pitchfork: Your EP under your Road Hog alias is called D.W.B. (Driving While Black). Did that title come from a specific personal experience?
GL: I've been pulled over before—I don't know if it was for any racial reasons, but I thought it was an interesting concept. It was around the time of the Eric Garner situation, and with all the current events that are going on in America right now, I thought it would be an interesting take on that. But I'm not trying to be political. It's more framing a scene.
Pitchfork: That EP seems to use driving as a metaphor for a number of different ideas. There's racism, obviously, but there's also a sense of freedom implied in the open road.
GL: Yeah totally. That's the thing about driving: You're alone but you're everywhere. You're standing still but moving really fast. It's just like perspectives constantly changing. It's also really American, too. Essentially, though, they're just tracks to drive around to. That's the main concept.
Pitchfork: What's the process of writing lyrics like for you?
GL: It’s pretty challenging for me, because they've got to be simple and catchy. A hook is more important than an overall concept or story. It's gotta be like a lick. I used to play saxophone when I was younger, and since it's a monophonic instrument, you can't do chords, you have to make do with just one tone. But when you're doing a solo, like a blues solo, you can come up with some catchy lick, and it doesn't even matter what notes you're playing—it can just be the rhythm plus a weird little legato or trill. It's kind of the same thing with vocals, if you just think of the vocal physically, as a sound.
I think that’s one reason people are gravitating towards Drake or Young Thug. Their subject matter is really derivative—it's not anything new—but the execution is super catchy. It's something that anyone could mimic in their own way, and it just feels good to say.
Pitchfork: I noticed that you hide your face in most of your photos.
GL: That's why I was nervous about this stuff. I'm camera shy. I don't necessarily like being front and center. I'd rather not have my face all up in everything. I'm not trying to be some mysterious producer or anything like that. But I am into, like, spies.
Pitchfork: Speaking of spies and pseudonyms—how is your alias working out for you? How do people respond to it?
GL: It's a weird-ass name, but I think it's helped. It's such an odd name that it sticks around. It's in that category of weird made-up names that techno producers use; someone was saying Legowelt's Clendon Toblerone alias was a reference to my name and how ridiculous it is. I'm certainly glad I'm not using my real name, which would be the most boring producer name ever.