Berlin Meets L.A. in Live Electronic Duo Howling

Howling on the rooftop of Ninja Tune's L.A. offices
Howling on the rooftop of Ninja Tune's L.A. offices
Jonny Coleman

Howling is the musical offspring of two minds based 6,000 miles apart. Adopted sons of the sister cities of Los Angeles and Berlin, Australian-raised Ry "Ry X" Cuming and German-born Frank Wiedemann of the sterling house duo Âme make up the Howling project, an anti-pop experiment that has grown into a fully formed concept which seems, in many ways, to be just getting started. Howling were in town to play a couple of shows and to record new material to follow up this year's Sacred Ground LP and a handful of EPs and singles that have emerged over the past few years.

Last week, Howling performed a special sunset gig for an intimate audience on the rooftop of the Ninja Tune offices in Echo Park. Wiedemann and Cuming were joined by a live percussionist and glided through a modest handful of tracks for the early bird crowd. The next night, they performed to a more feral audience at Lot 613, before Wiedemann dropped a DJ set under his Âme moniker. We got their thoughts on Berlin, Los Angeles, and the state of live electronic music.

Did you meet here or in Berlin?
Ry X: We met here, actually, but we spent most of the time connecting and making music, in the beginning, in Berlin.

Frank, as a European, what's your take on L.A.?
Wiedemann: I've been here four or five times over the years. I had a very hard time at the beginning in L.A. I probably didn't understand the concept of the city: being that huge and just the cars, cars, cars. Then when I met Ry he introduced me to the nicer parts, like the outskirts like Topanga Canyon and all these beautiful places. And from that perspective, I could have a different view on the city. it's an interesting city, but I probably wouldn't move here.

Ry, what is attractive to you about Berlin?
Ry X: It's run by the people, man. There aren't many cities that are run by the people where the community is deciding what happens. And Berlin is still constructed that way. Politically, socially, it feels like the decisions are made — not always [Wiedemann laughs] — but predominantly with the community and the people involved.

And it's a really artistic place. People can express themselves, whether that be in the way they dress or the way they feel about the world, politics, and no one's going to really stand up and judge them. They're gonna accept it. That's in Berlin and not necessarily in the rest of Germany [laughs]. You can come out of a club at 2 p.m. the next [day] and there'll be a police car there. And he won't be there 'cause he wants to fuck you over. He's there because he wants to make sure everyone's safe. And that's beautiful. And that's not L.A.

Have you had any problems with cops in L.A.?
Ry X: The amount of times I've been fucking pulled over in this city because of the way I look, been handcuffed against the wall, my car is searched for drugs or weapons.

Do they think you're a hippie or a terrorist?
Ry X: They think I'm both: a hippie-terrorist.
Wiedemann: The world's first hippierrorist.

What do you think about claims like "L.A. is the next Berlin"?
RY X: No. It's not. You can't really grow the same kind of thing here. You can't have a Bar 25 in L.A. But I will stand up for L.A. and say that the best artistic community I know exists here. The greatest artists I personally know in my life are here, collaborating with performance artists and filmmakers and photographers, because I've been based here and know those people.

Berliners love to come to L.A. Not all of them. But for those that do, it's exciting and different. I think the balance of having different culture and having different communities and different art worlds to jump in and out of is really crucial. You get into this mindset if you're in one place of, "It has to be this way." And I think that's the beauty of what we do. I come in and don't have the rules of deep house and techno. But in my head, I come in and say, "Why don't we do it like this?" And Frank is like, "That's a great idea. Let's try it." Or I'll come in with a concept that might be some kind of weird droney, dreamy thing, and Frank's like, "I'm going to put a kick drum underneath it," and I didn't think of that. In the beginning — now I think about kick drums all the time.

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Are you planning on recording more music?
Ry X: We're going up the coast to my place to make some music for a few days up in the mountains. And we're gonna make new music, so we're not stopping.
Wiedemann: We actually can't stop making music. When we're together, we have to do things like sound-checking or rehearsals and stuff. And that is necessary to do, but we'd actually just love to make music.

These past 10 years, there's so much maturation of live electronic artists like David August, Nicolas Jaar, The Acid [Ry X's collaboration with Adam Freeland and Steve Nalepa], basically the type of artists that are playing the Sacred Ground festival you curated [last month in Berlin]. Are we at the dawn of a golden age of live electronic music?
Ry X: Oh, it's already happening. And it's here to stay, I think.
Wiedemann: The thing is that the house beat is now established as something that can live in the pop world. It's OK to have a four-to-the-floor kick drum.
Ry X: But it doesn't have to be smashing every time. If you're good, you're gonna cut through the bullshit. Who can do it with musicality and the technical stuff and the players and the ideas, you know? Plenty of people are amazing producers inside the computer, but you could never take them on the road. It takes a certain mindset and skill set.


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