Deep within the Tech infused city of San Francisco live a band of live electronic-infused beats and low rumbling bass against beautiful synth craft, rich guitar textures and riffs. With outstanding smooth bold vocals and lush harmonies they’ve performed at Burningman, SXSW and Decompression. I was introduced to their sound by Turbo Drive event creator Devon Dessott. Let’s hop in our neon infused Camaro and drive along the flashing lanes on a one way road to infinity…
Interview Meikee Magnetic
What part of the planet were you born and where do you reside now?
Conrad Schuman from Florida, a little place called Gainesville, FL and moved to San Francisco Summer of 2007. Stef Ku from Taiwan and Santa Barbara, now in SF bay area. Veli-Matti Matilla from Finland and resides now in SF.
Go into the creation of Beautiful Machines and how the concept was formed:
(Conrad) I have always been interested how music and visual work together especially in cinema. The way you feel with music, exploring the connection there and building something that feels like a euphoric, futuristic tangent. The love of sci-fi, technology, creators, makers, innovation nu wave, dance is central to the sound that is created. We formed through connecting on craigslist, I had a previous incarnation but didn’t have the proper ask and that group fell apart. So I refined what I was looking for, and armed with that knowledge found what I consider to be my closest friends/family and bandmates more than I could have ever imagined.
You fall into the genres of Electronica, Synthpop, Rock, Pop, Indiewave and Dance. Tell us who your line-up is and their role in the project.
Conrad Schuman: songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and synth explorer
Stef Ku: keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals visual creator
Veli-Matti Mattila: drums, light and visual controller
Congrats on your music video ‘Real Love’, very well done. Where was the shoot location and how did you do the casting?
We shot the video at Lennon Studios in San Francisco over 2 days. I wanted to have a dance crew so I knew one girl who did dance improv and flash mobs who is also in a group called Velvet that does primarily Janet Jackson choreographed dances. I asked her if she and her group would be interested after I saw some of their moves.
What was the experience like working with Director Ryan Castañeda?
Ryan is an advocate of guy-liner, a great guy, very intelligent and has that dark wave edge that I think helped congeal the idea for the video. He was fun to work with, professional and worked with us on our limited budget.
How were your performances at Burningman, we’d love to hear about it:
Our first performance was playing on our Mutant Vehicle (MV) called Tunnel Vision of Love during the day. Our drummer, Veli, hand built and welded our band van blue beast the week prior with our help making infinity mirrors to place all over the van. The day before when we were schedule to play, a huge sand storm with tropical storm-force winds tore through so we never ended up meeting up. Would have still done it. The following day we met up, drove around and like a piper gathered little pods of people wherever we stopped to have impromptu concerts with a great reception. Saturday night we were scheduled to play at Dustfish (one of the oldest, if not the oldest burning man camps on the Esplanade, the central circumference road that outlines the playa) at 3AM. That night it was below freezing and we were huddled around a fire, underdressed for the elements, besides the necessary fur. Decided to reschedule for the following day of the Temple burn. We played, no dust storms, had people coming from the center of the playa saying they can hear us from half a mile or more away. Felt great to play to the people of the dust. Beyond those performance experiences there is some kind of magical ferry dust in the air there. Maybe it’s the creative force of 65,000 people contributing to a new expression that has culminated since it’s inception in the late 80s. I was a difficult skeptic going there, after hearing of burning man stories from everyone all year round, I had built a wall of intolerance. The first half of the year is spent in anticipation PBM (Pre-Burning Man). Following that is the Post Burning Man talk and decompression that follows. I can say that some of my skepticism has been laid to rest. It’s not what I expected, but what has come to follow truly has been something revelatory. Some people never fully adjust back into the prescribed societal norms and general malaise that keeps many of us half-conscious throughout our lives, never realizing what powers are exerted over us, directing and leading us, and our inner thirst for connection (not in the direct sense), never quenched. Fortunately for me, I had an “experience” while I was there and not of the drug-induced sorts. Something beyond, something that has and will forever change the fabric of my being. It happened at Burning Man, but has I would not say that it “was” Burning Man. It was a chance encounter… if you believe in chance, or perhaps you are more of a fatalist. Regardless of imposed titles, the experience I had has continued to flourish – like a crystal growing in water, or perhaps a chia pet, since that’s a bit cuter image. The vision has become clearer and what is to come is unknown but certain.
There is a surge of Indiewave happening, do you see more growth in the scene with events like Turbo Drive?
The evolution of musical styles and what directions become popular is hard to say. In general I think if there is something novel going on that people can connect with, people will be attracted. I think ‘Turbo Drive’ has that potential and Devon, its inceptor, has his finger on the pulse. Great venue to be doing that, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time but also in the future. It was awesome to play the same stage that Prince played and so many other greats.
Tell our readers how you were received at SXSW, I heard you had some interesting adventures:
This was our first time performing at SXSW, and an adventure it was. It’s not all about playing some huge stages for us. This is all about mega amounts of people exploring many venues, bars and halls with all types of music happening all at the same time, all day for a week+. Our first of 3 shows was at The Jackelope on Dirty 6th Street. We traveled with a kind of musicians collective called Balanced Breakfast who organized the lineup of local San Francisco bay area bands. Don’t expect an amazing sonic experience in this turbulent cauldron of mayhem. There were sound issues, technical difficulties, inability to hear through monitors, etc. However, we had crowd surfing in one of the tightest crowds during our performance. People there bring the energy.
What’s in your ipod?
To be honest, nothing. I stream everything now. However, what I have been listening to lately spans a great many genres. I have a resurgence in classical, symphonic and film scores, composers like Hans Zimmer is a real a favorite, Danny Elfman (love Oingo Boingo, Beetlejuice), Alan Silvestri (The Abyss, Back to the Future), there are so many. Some indie wave pop favorites are M83, TV on the Radio, Bjork, anything a bit avant or interesting in the arrangements. Classics such as Peter Gabriel, Queen, Bowie and Zepplin. I love diving back into lots of new wave/dark wave/industrial: New Order, Sisters of Mercy, NIN, INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen and My Life with the Thill Kill Cult. Then I like a lot of timeless music – swing era stuff, crooners and soul music. I like to dive into any one genre field and see the innovators and resonators emerge and those connections.
Stefanie, I admire your love of the synthesizer. Which softsynths are you using live AND what new synth do you have your eye on?
(Stef) Mainstage is my live performance command center. Aside from the Logic instruments, I also have plugged into Mainstage Native Instruments Massive, Reaktor, Kore 2, Sylenth, and a Waldorf softsynth called Nave. I’m very excited to explore Alchemy, a synth that came with the new update of Logic / Mainstage released late August. As well, dive in further with the midi mapping software of my newish controller, the Akai Advance 61. On the controller side of the live setup, I also use a wireless keytar made by Alesis. There is a Roland Gaia in our studio that used to be part of the live setup, however at the moment the live setup consists of the controllers and softsynths. I’ve always felt a strong fascination for true analog synth. We had a brief love affair a decade ago and I’m feeling there is no better time to revisit this than now. I would say that innovative control, cross modulation and gentle yet powerful sound is what I am focusing on.
What are your favorite new gadgets and technology?
(Conrad) So many and so many new ideas. So many new soft synths and controllers of all kinds such as Guitar Wing or ACPAD. For guitar, I really do love Line 6 Pod HD 500X. I’ve had some fun times creating unique new sounds that sound like a hyped out guitar or a hybrid synth and to me they sound very rich compared with Pod’s previous incarnations. For a band like this, traditional guitar sounds just don’t cut it. I want new spaces to explore in live creation. Veli uses Ableton with a series of drum pads, controllers and writes his own programming and macros controlling our ever-expanding light and visual show.
(Stef) I’m into gesture controllers, such as the Hot Hand USB controller. I have a vision of a custom controller, some kind of hybrid keytar bass with built in lasers. I got to experiment with some customizations at Burning Man this year and built a rig that consisted of a mac mini and a keytar monster made of cardboard, white fur, a midi keyboard and two controllers. That kind of intense creative environment inspires so much and the ideas just keep flowing. Earlier this year we got to explore the PL2 micro analog synth and the Crystall Ball by Naonext, a gesture controller with five beams that can be used to control light and sound. Waldorf is coming out with a Nave (wavetable synth) for the Eurorack, which I’m looking forward to explore as well.
Give us the low down on future plans:
We have arrived at something we are going to attempt, which is less like a traditional band releasing and album and supporting it with a tour, and more of a concept project. We’re steering away from convention and producing cross-platform, multi-media, and innovative productions. We still love to perform live, and that will be a part of the plan, but the music and production means are changing. We’re going full concept album as our next major release. However, we are doing this differently. Albums like The Who’s Tommy, Pink Floyd ‘s Dark Side of the Moon, Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers, serve as an archetype. We are diverging even from this idea. What we want to do is do a collaborative of 13-15 songs each telling the story of our with cinematographers, producers, opera vocalists, modular synthesizer experts, technologists, futurists, animators and artists. The work will explore the concept of The Singularity and our future – the point at which machine intelligence surpasses our own, is merged with human intelligence, and the beginning of a new epoch, which will fundamentally transform our existence forever. When this happens, we can’t begin to understand or even make predictions about the advances of technology, our understanding of the universe and its laws and the nature of existence. The project aims to explore concepts of artificial intelligence, genetics, information systems, human endeavor and reactions, the unknown, fears, awakening and new forms of consciousness. We want this to exist in multi-media format and as experiential and interactive events and concerts in unique places, stages, environments both natural and man-made. Ultimately through this journey of creation, which has already begun, we plan to uncover new ways of being and coping in this revolutionary new world we are all participating in consciously or unconsciously.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Dark Beauty the magazine and online curator, procurer, sharer and expresser of counter-culture information of the arts shines its gaze on the bold, the creative, with emphasis on cultural Noir and Nuevo. Aesthetically beautiful – beauty denoting harmony in nature. I am an advocate of Dark Beauty. Dark Beauty as a term conjures imagery of elegance, sophistication, and demure.