Chants deals out jagged club music on ‘Crushed Lollipop’

Chants is producer/drummer Jordan Cohen from Madison, Wisconsin, who’s gearing up for the release of his new EP The Zookeeper.

In the past he’s released on imprints such as Hush Hush Recordings and Dutty Artz, but The Zookeeper is his first for The Astral Plane’s label arm. He’s already firm family there, having contributed to both their mix series and the Heterotopia compilation.

Outside of his main solo work, his remix game is pretty strong – everyone from Ben Aqua to Iggy Azalea – and he’s also done work with vocalists including the promising MC WebsterX out of Milwaukee.

The Zookeeper sees Chants engaging more directly with the club than ever before, albeit in a seriously abstracted way, where warped grime interlocks with strange piano-led interludes. It’s fucked-up floor music for fans of Sd Laika, Bloom, Mumdance and the Her Records crew.

Trust us, the whole thing is gold, but our favourite track is ‘Crushed Lollipop’. You may already have heard it on Gage’s Rinse FM show, and now we’re premiering the full version. Jagged percussion and huge piledriver bass thrusts give way to drunken synth lines. It sounds like a machine being pushed to its very limits, and then some. Listen below:

I’ll let you introduce yourself first!

My name is Jordan, and I make electronic music under the name Chants.

What music did you listen to growing up, and what’s your background as a producer?

It’s a twisted road, but I started as a drummer and came to production late. As a kid I listened to whatever was on the R&B/rap radio station in Milwaukee. Then in high school when I was trying to figure out the drums I was into a lot of metal, jazz, and drum & bass. Starting in college, I spent a lot of time playing in a New Orleans-style brass band (and still do), and immersing myself in that music and culture was pretty life-changing. I also met some musicians who were much better than me but very open-minded towards electronic music, and was introduced to things like Autechre & Telefon Tel Aviv. I started teaching myself how to produce on a friend’s computer and have been obsessed ever since.

Coming to music as a drummer, I was initially very concerned about things like chops, being able to execute. Gradually I swung the opposite way, and I think I’ve reacted against that mentality in my music. Being able to play well is fine, but it’s a distant second to the ideas and purpose behind the music.

How did you first hook up with The Astral Plane, and how did The Zookeeper EP come together?

They approached me to contribute to their mix series when it was only a few months deep, and we’ve stayed in contact.

So, after WebsterX’s song ‘doomsday’ came out, I was working on beats for a few different rappers and vocalists and experiencing some creative frustration with that. It just wasn’t where my head was at and it wasn’t coming out naturally. I made ‘Crushed Lollipop’ in one session and that felt amazing. After I had a few tracks together I sent them to the Astral Plane crew just to get some feedback…luckily they were into it, which really motivated me to finish the EP.

Who are some of your favourite producers working at the moment?

Sd Laika’s album came out two years ago and I don’t think I’ve heard a better album since. I’m always inspired when I listen to M.E.S.H., Lotic, Eaves, Kid Smpl, SHALT, Kazuki Koga, and many others.

I was intrigued to see David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten as an influence on the EP, what was it about the novel that fed through into the music? I guess they both cover a lot of stylistic ground…

That’s definitely a part of it. The title came to me after the music was done, thinking about the A.I. who is trying to save the world by wiping out humanity. It would be nice if we make it that long before doing the job ourselves.

But I read that book without knowing anything about it or having read anything else by him, and so it was a welcome surprise when it started to shift into these different genres. It happens in a way that feels new and not like a mash-up, and I like music that works in a similar way.

‘Crushed Lollipop’ is pretty wild – how do you go about creating the textures that you use in your music?

I spent some time gathering audio material for this EP before making the tracks. Just sounds that I thought would fit together texturally. Some of it was through online digging, some YouTube sampling, and some recording on my phone and an old portable cassette recorder I picked up. Then when I sit down at the computer I can just focus on altering & arranging those sounds, adding synths, etc.

You’re a drummer as well – how does that feed into your live setup, and how do you translate your music to a performance?

I don’t DJ, so my set consists of only my tracks & remixes, and I go back and forth between my sampler/effects setup and playing live drums. It’s pretty disruptive if I’m playing a club night with DJs, but it’s fun for me. It moves some air in the room and adds something human to the music, and people seem to respond to that.

How do you see the role of the internet in terms of connecting musicians and allowing underground scenes to flourish free from geographical constraints?

If it weren’t for the internet, I would never have been able to connect with all the people that I have, nor would I be making the music that I’m making. I have a huge amount of respect for the kind of culture that comes out of a ground-up IRL scene, which I learned from my experiences in New Orleans. But on the other hand I live in Wisconsin, where there is a very limited amount of people into what I’m into. And some very interesting records have come from people interpreting the music of a geographically distant culture, as long as it’s done from a place of awareness & respect. Obviously it can go the other way too.

What’s the music scene like in Madison? And where would you take us if we came to visit for the day?

For a city of its small size a lot of brilliant musicians and producers have passed through here, but many of them end up moving away after they finish school or to go someplace bigger. I don’t feel part of any particular scene here so I don’t play out very frequently, although I do feel hopeful that there’s an uptick in DIY venues lately. It was pretty barren for a while there. And in the fall I’m opening for Colin Stetson in a barn, so there’s that.

The food scene is definitely stronger than the music scene. I would take you to Salvatore’s Tomato Pies and the beer room at Jenifer Street Market.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m slowly working on a new EP, I want it to be more club-focused but more abstract & spacious at the same time.

Anything else we need to cover?

Thank you for asking me questions about my music.

The Zookeeper is out 29 April on Astral Plane Recordings.