On the surface, Pyramid Club inhabit the darkest corners of Atlanta. Chris Daresta and Matt Weiner’s mysterious industrial-techno project is often shrouded in billows of fog as the two hunch over clattering drum machines and grating synthesizers. The spectacle leaves the listener wondering what viscous hedonism and gothic energy propels the duo on their winding exploration of such frigid music. This version of Pyramid Club, drawn as much from their stark album art as their shadowy stage presence, is only a facet of what makes the group so magnetic. Behind the ghoulish vocals and invasive beats, the project is simply a collaboration between two individuals who see industrial-synth music as a refuge for outsiders and an outlet for weirdos who just want to dance.
Daresta and Weiner’s new EP, Cyclic Obsession, is the group’s first proper release, but as anyone who has been around Atlanta for the past five years knows, these two are always busy with something. Between geeking out over obsolete musical equipment, they somehow find time to run DKA Records with James Andrew (Tifaret), as well as work on their own solo projects, Anticipation and TWINS.
Recently, I sat down with Daresta and Weiner, and between discussing the dinner combo at El Mexicano, we found some time to talk about running DKA Records, what to expect from the new EP, as well as the killer releases DKA has planned for 2017.
The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How long has DKA been around?
Matt Weiner: 2012, the first release was in 2013. Chris was regularly DJing and we were booking more shows together. And we decided to use all the money we raised from events to release a record. The first record we ever released was the Dylan Ettinger/Goldendust split, although the Fit of Body tape was supposed to be released first. The first 12″ that we did was the Profligate EP. It took us a while to make us our money back on that, but it really helped us get bigger records in the future. That was a big reason that High-Functioning Flesh decided to work with us. We were going to put them on a comp and they were just like, “Can you just put out our record?” We didn’t really have the money for it, so we had to spend our personal cash, but that ended up selling out pretty fast. So that was when it started to feel like real label.
Were there any other big challenges at the start, apart from the lack of money?
MW: That’s really the hardest part. Also getting the records out there and getting people to notice.
Did you have a plan for that?
MW: It mostly happened naturally. We relied on artists to contact journalists they knew, and we had a few contacts.
From the outside, DKA seems like a smooth running machine, does it feel like that from the inside?
Chris Daresta: Between the three of us — James, Matt, and me — we all have skills that make it work pretty well. We all have backgrounds in art, graphic design, and recording. I’ve worked in a record store for a while and Matt has worked with a bunch of labels with CGI and other stuff. We’re also all nerds and have read so much about other record labels. Between the three of us we could give a complete history of Factory Records or Rough Trade.
MW: We all take it very seriously, but we’re not on some crazy mission. It’s just what we feel compelled to do. This year we’ll have six — maybe 7 — releases out, so things are picking up in that sense.
CD: We don’t really push our artists too hard to put out records. We don’t make anyone rush — we get it when we get it.
MW: Yeah, there’s no contract or roster or anything like that.
How much oversight does DKA have over the actual music on the records you release?
MW: We usually have a few notes. We generally ask people to put out records rather than get demos from artists we don’t know.
CD: We’ve definitely gotten a few records where we ask them to add an instrumental part or something like that. There are things we look for, but we give them the creativity to do what they want as long as it fits in whatever the DKA mold is.
MW: Yeah, most artists are already in the ballpark. Like the Multiple Man record was great, but it was mixed like shit, so I asked them if I could mix it. Or the Boy Harsher record had a lot of slow songs, and we asked them to put a few more uptempo tracks on there.
CD: I think in the next few years, we’re going to do stuff that’s still in the industrial-synth vein, but branching out a little more.
So you do see the sound and goals of DKA expanding in the next few years?
MW: Yeah, definitely. I want it to be more varied. We’ve even talked about things that aren’t fully electronic. We just haven’t seen anything that fits yet.
How do you see the ATL industrial/techno scene as compared to when you started the label?
CD: There are definitely newer acts, but it’s still really small. There’s people coming out of the woodwork who will send us projects, and then we’ll be like oh we’ve seen that kid at shows or talked briefly. I think a lot of people might be working on stuff we just don’t know about.
MW: In general, there seems to be more of an audience for it, more than new people doing it. At least from what I’ve seen within the traditional sense of whatever industrial/techno is. I don’t see a lot of parties revolving around that idea, but whenever we do book it, I’m usually pleasantly surprised at the turnout. I couldn’t necessarily say that was the case a few years ago. I think Atlanta as a town, it’s going to take a lot more for it to be recognized for having a scene for techno music. It’s such a niche thing.
So you think it’s still a very local/regional scene?
MW: Yeah, it’s more or less the same people who play here and come through here.
CD: I think there’s more integration of some scenes now. When we started doing DKA parties and shows it was a lot of our friends and maybe some people from the noise/experimental scenes. But now you see more people in rock bands and punk bands who come to shows. Also people like Coco and Clair Clair, kids from the fringe, experimental hip-hop scenes. There’s definitely more intermingling of people.
MW: Ultimately, our music is about dancing and being hedonistic, which is what a lot of rock and punk is about anyway.
If there was one thing you could change in Atlanta, what would it be?
MW: Transit. It affects everything, from how easy it is to get to a party and then worrying about how much you can drink with driving and all that. But also, more small to medium-sized venues, and more people booking stuff. Just more of everything. It’s all there, we just need more of it.
CD: More dancing at shows in general. Don’t be afraid to cut loose.
Is that an Atlanta only problem?
MW: Definitely not. New York crowds can be the worst unless it’s like 2 a.m. at a techno function.
CD: People are more uptight maybe because of the internet. When I was a little bit younger going to shows and stuff, people would go crazy.
MW: Now you’re going to end up on a Facebook video.
CD: Yeah, I remember going to punk shows where there was always a naked dude or people would be in costumes. I kind of miss how that was. I’ve always appreciated the people that just show up and start dancing. I doesn’t matter if they’re kind of weird or whatever — I’m stoked when I see them. You’re into it, you’re crazy, you might be on drugs, but it takes a lot of guts these days to have fun at a show, because somebody might film it.
MW: That’s why no cell phones is such a thing at actual proper dance clubs.
CD: We’ve always pumped in fog at the goth nights, and that makes people feel more comfortable. If we had our way we would fog out every show. But the 529 or Eyedrum, might just be like, “Guys, you can’t fog out every show.” But, I would like to see more people dancing.
Does spending so much time on DKA keep you from working on your own personal projects (Pyramid Club, Anticipation, TWINS) as much as you would like?
CD: Yeah, there’s definitely times where we have to pack records when we would rather be practicing.
MW: Especially for me, running two labels, there are days when I can either fulfill orders and write up press releases, which I don’t mind doing, but I could also be working on a song. So it’s definitely a balance.
Do you ever feel like you are going to have to cut back on writing or performing as DKA grows?
CD: I don’t feel like running the label hinders me from playing or practicing too much. There are those weeks, but we do find a balance.
MW: Yeah, when we log into Bandcamp and it’s, like, 85 orders to fulfill, it’s like, “Shit, we got a lot of work to do.” It’s also difficult because the label doesn’t pay our personal bills. But, I’ve been performing so long that I don’t need to put more than a few hours into a set to feel okay about it. It might not be exactly what I want to be presenting, but it’s close enough. I guess my set would probably be more developed at this point.
CD: It keeps it dangerous.
MW: Yeah, I learned to play music through improvisation, so it keeps it exciting.
CD: If Ian Mackaye can do it, we can do it. If it ever got big enough to hire people, we would do it.
MW: As long as you genuinely want to do it, you’ll find a way.
Can you talk a little bit about the gear you use in Pyramid Club?
CD: We definitely both like talking about music equipment. At least one third of the DKA email threads are gear talk or music equipment talk, and I’ll be at work all day and see 20 missed messages and I’ll have to go through it because there might be something I need to know, but it might be a bunch of questions about keyboards.
MW: I’ve pretty much had the same setup for the past five years, but it’s pretty versatile equipment, so you can always find a new way to work with it. It’s both of us using MPCs (Music Production Controller), just syncing them by hand, just pushing play at the right time.
CD: Even though a lot of things are sequenced, the midi sequencer controls everything, but I’m not synced up to Matt’s drum machine and he’s not synced up to mine, which kind of makes it more like a band. We don’t just hit play and do it — we have to bring different parts in at the right time.
MW: Sometimes there’s not a right moment — we just feel it out in the moment. We could practice it one way and live it could turn out a completely different way, but that’s what’s cool about the project.
CD: It still has the possibility of fucking up. It’s like a bass player not coming in or a drummer missing a part. That could totally happen.
MW: It probably has, but we would be the only ones to know. You roll with the mistake and turn it into something else.
CD: When you’re in a band you have to think on your toes, and be like, “Oh, I fucked that up, but how do I get back on track?” And I think we’ve both had moments like that, but you work it out.
MW: There’s times if you hold down the note repeat button, but it’s also the tab tempo button, so you can accidentally change the tempo of the track mid song and then you have to abandon whatever you thought you were going to do, and now it’s this. It’s one of the things you have to deal with when working with technology that’s kind of outdated at this point, but still relevant.
CD: We find excuses for why we want to keep our MPCs over newer equipment.
MW: In some ways, it’s just all I really need.
CD: Yeah, I guess the basic setup for each of us is MPC into a mixer with some effects chained to it, either on the MPCs or on the synthesizers that we use. We usually have two or three synthesizers apiece, and then Matt sings. I’ve talked about singing but…
MW: You’ve done it once or twice, but we can’t get Chris out of his shell.
CD: I’m shyer.
Did you have any recent musical inspiration for the new EP?
CD: Not really. Maybe some newer bands. Obviously a lot of the bands we work with inspire us. Boy Harsher and High-Functioning Flesh are bands we’ve worked with and played shows with, and we also look at their gear.
MW: Yeah, I think in general, we both somewhat have a sense of what sonic territory our sound could occupy, especially given our equipment and what we know to do with it.
CD: But, also our love of Cabaret Voltaire. It’s definitely a huge influence.
What’s the proper food/drink pairing for the EP?
CD: Well, lots of our practices are fueled by El Mexicano. So I’m going to say the dinner combination plate. You pick and choose your own adventure on it. We spent a lot of time before and after going to El Mexicano and drinking some tequila or a margarita.
Is Pyramid Club more Mad Max or Death Race?
CD: That’s a hard one, I’m definitely into Mad Max, especially Road Warrior, with all the leather-clad biker dudes. Mad Max and Road Warrior are definitely part of our aesthetic. But, one of our early songs actually sampled Death Race — I don’t know if we’ll get in trouble for saying that. It’s the sample for “Heart Throb.” The heart throb came from Death Race. Maybe the lo-fi style of Death Race.
If you had to cover a pop song as Pyramid Club, what would it be?
CD: If it had to be Top 40, maybe Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” Maybe something from Human League. But I’d rather cover something weirder.
MW: If it was in the Top 40, I would say “Blue Monday,” only because it wouldn’t be that hard to do.
CD: I just keep thinking of karaoke songs. Maybe “Like a Prayer” would be fun and weird. Maybe Enya’s “Caribbean Blues.”
Before I let you go, can you talk at all about any 2017 DKA releases?
MW: We have a side project from High-Functioning Flesh called Din, who just put out an EP on Ascetic House. We also are doing a co-release with this label in Italy called Avant of this woman in Berlin called Sally Dige. It’s like really awesome Depeche Mode style pop — like very big production, big pop songs. Also, we just got the pre-masters for this guy Celldöd who was on the last comp, and we’re going to do an LP from him.
Pyramid Club’s Cyclic Obsession EP is out now via Unknown Precept.
Pyramid Club will perform on Fri., Jul. 21 for Night 2 of the Irrelevant Music Fest at 529. Also performing will be Boy Harsher, Lord Narf, Cube, Sequoyah Murray, Pamela_ and her sons, Fit of Body, and Ian Deaton. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $12-15. 18+ to enter.