The Fader Interview
By Jeff Ihaza
Galcher Lustwerk makes the type of engrossing house music that you can listen to continuously for hours, even by accident. Sonic landscapes unfold carefully and subtly, making way for the centerpiece of his music: hushed, stream-of-consciousness rapping. “Put On,” from 2013’s 100% Galcher mix, for example, is a rhythmic blend of hip-hop and house that makes perfect sense considering both genres’ roots in black communities. That early signature style made Lustwerk one of the more well-regarded electronic producers working today.
On the newly released 200% Galcher, Lustwerk, 30, assembles a collection of songs that find him delving deeper into hip-hop influences. His rapping is more confident, and the production more sleight. It’s a shift that’s especially interesting when you consider the fact that Galcher’s 100% mix was at the ground level of what would eventually emerge as a dominant sound in electronic music. Much of the gauzy atmospherics that define endless YouTube playlists designed to “chill out,” can be traced back to Lustwerk, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find him in any algorithmic sorting of that style. But 200% Galcher is neither more of the same nor a striking departure; it’s a subtle evolution.
On a recent afternoon in June, I met Lustwerk at his apartment in Ridgewood, Queens, where he was putting the finishing touches on fliers for the album's release party. Only days after they were unceremoniously swept in the NBA Finals, he proudly wore a Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirt, repping his hometown team.
Growing up in Cleveland, were you influenced at all by the hip-hop coming out of the area?
I probably came later than most people to a lot of rap because my parents wouldn't let me listen to a lot of the parental advisory stuff. So it wasn't really until middle school that I listened to a lot of rap music. Before that, it was just Bone Thugs and Naughty by Nature and the things that sort of trickled out in the ‘90s. And then I got super into it in middle school and high school. More into the underground-sounding stuff, like Talib Kweli and Company Flow and Def Jux. Stuff like Quasimoto; The Unseen was huge for me. I loved the pitched-up vocals and the secret persona thing. I think that's influenced what I do now. Like, being able to say something completely different from your normal personality and just be like, “This is a guest rapper because I don't know any rappers. So here’s another rapper.”
And how did you get into making electronic music?
I got FruityLoops in middle school and then I had an app called Reason and I used an app called Acid and then I got Ableton around 2003; I was in high school so it was a really old version of Ableton. I was trying to do electronic music because that was more of what I was into in general, more than rap. Because a lot of the rap music had parental advisory [stickers], I looked at other black music that didn't. I gravitated towards Massive Attack and Tricky and the British stuff like drum and bass. That was the stuff I was super psyched on and wondering like, Damn, how do they make those sounds? and wanting to learn about production. Through that I got into Warp records, like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. That's when I really got into electronic music.
It's cool that you were trying to find black music that didn't have those parental advisory stickers on it. Something that strikes me about your music is how, at least to me, there's never any doubt that a black person made it.
Yeah. It’s like a little more swaying in the pocket or something like that. Yeah.
On this new record you have a track called “Niggas,” which i imagine you wouldn’t play in a club full of white people.
[Laughs] Yeah. No, I don't think that's a track to be played out at all. That’s why you get the instrumental versions. I think the reason I did that song was because I wanted to do something kind of impulsive and I was at the time I was feeling, like, you know, when you're a black person making music, inevitably someone not black will take it and reap more rewards off of it. It's just historical facts, it's happened with every genre music and so it was like a self-affirmation or a reminder, but in a sort of a jokey way too. I just wanted to say it like dozens of times over, the part that I can own for myself. As petty as that might be, it's part of a cache that black artists can carry.
To me, the 100% Galcher mix was the beginning of the explosion of the sort of ‘lo-fi house’ sound that has gotten really popular. Between then and now you seem to have gotten more comfortable leaning into the rap side of things. Is it something that feels natural at this point?
I’ve been more selective up until now about what vocal tracks to put out, just because I do a lot of like heavily lyrical stuff too [that] I keep to myself because I feel like it doesn't quite fit the framework of the rest of this stuff. Maybe it's a little bit more down to earth and less elevated-sounding. But yeah, I've been more comfortable lately in deciding on putting a track out.
There was a lot of pressure at first like after that first mix. So many people wanted that sound that people just did it for themselves and kind of ripped it off. You know what I mean? Like they were like, “Well, if he's not doing it then I'll try and go for that sound and capitalize off of it.” I've waited it out because I like seeing how it fairs, you know? Within five years, people have tried and it kind of hasn't worked out for them. They end up moving onto a different sound or whatever. I saw that other people were trying my sound out and it made me more confident that I can just kind of go all in on the version that I want to do for me.
How do you get into songwriting, from a lyrical perspective?
My friend Alvin Aronson, who is also on White Material [Records], was like, ”You need to make your vocals like less literal.” That was what he told me. And I was like, “Oh yeah, that's a good idea.” Ever since then I kind of veered off into trying to get almost as absurd as I can; not absurd in a stupid way, but just as stream of consciousness as possible and letting the things that bubble up — like, whatever phrase or term or combination of words — come up, letting it come up and deciding if I want to do something with it or not.
One of the songs I liked the most was “Template.” It’s a really sexy song when you think about it. How did you get to an idea of like thinking of a girl, or a lover, as a template?
It's not about a girl, though. It's about a template. That's what it's about. I was working on Ableton and making a template file and I was like, Sick, I got all my drums. And I was really happy about it and was riffing on the mic and I just kept going. That song is basically a freestyle.
Now that you’ve put out two projects full of rapping, would you say you're a rapper?
No, because I don't want to do features ever. Like people have asked me to do vocals on their song and I just don't want to do it that way.
Would you make beats for a rapper?
Yeah. Yeah, that'd be cool. I'm down to share my instrumental knowledge. But the vocals, it feels too tied to, like, hip-house. It can get corny real fast. If someone were to put my vocals on like a different beat, it could end up sounding like Pitbull pretty easily, you know what I mean?
What have you learned about rapping over the course of making Dark Bliss, and now 200%?
I'm still kind of winging it, really. I think on the next record I'll be more more surgical about it. I kind of want to try and make a real polished vocal track. Like maybe get someone else to mix it, just to see how it sounds. I might like it, I might not.