Perturbator mastermind James Kent talks the conscious upping of darkness on his gothic new record Lustful Sacraments.
Perturbator, the moniker of Paris-based electronic music producer James Kent, has for the last decade been the leading light of a movement that unexpectedly threatened to swallow up rock music and dominate it – synthwave.
Sonically and aesthetically, Perturbator’s mix of melodic tones, pumping beats, and exaggerated futuristic sci-fi looks set a standard for a wave of imitators. As James will tell you though, Perturbator is not exclusively a synthwave outfit. When Perturbator emerged with his first release in four years and first album in five, the jet black Lustful Sacraments, an embrace of gothic trademarks and deliciously dark danceability showcases a move that continues to distinguish the project from its sea of contemporaries.
Don’t get too comfy – James Kent tells us how this is the start of a Perturbator that won’t sit still for too long.
This album obviously sees a large directional shift for the sound and aesthetic of Perturbator, where you have at various times in the past spoken about the limitations of the so-called synthwave scene. How vital and conscious was it to break away from that with this album?
It was completely conscious and on purpose. I would even say that I started this shift with my previous EP New Model, which was a bit more modern-sounding, more industrial and cold. I simply wanted to make an album that sounded like Perturbator and kept the DNA of that, but that DNA was never the synthwave tones and 1980s references that made up the surface level. I didn’t want to make it sound like those anymore as I’ve already done a lot of those. This is a love letter to other styles of music that I love.
You became one of the faces to the public of that movement as it was gathering steam. With that being the case, is there much pressure to remain ahead of the competition and not get bogged down in the same tropes?
I never really considered myself part of a scene. I’m a very individualistic kind of person, and I never really considered myself to be big or a poster boy for a scene either. I don’t even listen to synthwave to be honest with you, so I didn’t pay attention too much to the artists that perhaps started writing that. The music that I listen to really that is new is black metal, so it’s hard to compare myself to that.
With that being established, what was it that led you to goth and darkwave sounds this time around instead of any other potential area of electronic music?
It’s mostly because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always loved it but I’ve only recently started seriously toying with the idea of doing it. I’d done stuff with side projects that included guitars and those kind of choruses that have a gothic sound, and I felt like it was time for me to incorporate that into Perturbator. I just really love that style of music.
Do you feel like it’s maybe a less nostalgic record than some of your early releases that carried those 1980s reference points, or is it moving to a different area of something you grew up on?
It is definitely less 1980s-orientated and is more of a melting pot. There are soundtracks in there, there are still industrial sounds, so it’s a bit of everything. I didn’t really consider my previous records to be too nostalgic, it was not the goal of Perturbator to make you feel like the 80s were better, it was just an aesthetic choice to have that 1980s flair. This album has maybe just a bit more in the way of different influences.
The stream of Perturbator releases has slowed down significantly since The Uncanny Valley and New Model, after releasing almost an album a year prior to those. What fed into that larger gap between releases and how has that extra time affected the creation of ‘Lustful Sacraments’?
Yes, it did. The reason was that I simply needed more time to find some inspiration as the previous albums had a lot of the same themes and synthwave flair, and the newer albums I plan on changing styles all the time and always wanting to do something a bit different. It just takes a bit longer to do that and reinvent yourself. It’s much-needed time.
Did you learn much from the creation of New Model in exploring new textures and atmospheres that you’ve been able to apply to this album?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve learned a lot of things from New Model. You learn things from every album but that was sort of like a milestone for me personally, because it did help me learn how to do things like drum programming, changing technical stuff that I now know and have the keys and tools to make the music I want.
This album also sees an upping of the guest vocalists. Was that out of a desire to amplify the pivot into goth territory by reinforcing those gothic focal point hooks within songs?
Yeah that’s totally part of the stylistic shifts. It is something that I had to implement in my music and had to learn again, having to think about writing choruses. It was part of the journey of discovering what this album was going to sound like, changing that part of the writing approach and the sound palette. New Model made it easier in learning those things technically.
Your older albums obviously carried a stream of pop culture references to horror and sci-fi movies of that period, whereas this album aesthetically has shifted to more of that gothic architecture. Are you someone who thinks in imagery, and are there new non-musical references to the album this time around?
Yeah definitely there are, it’s just that they’re more subtle. The previous albums were all quite tongue-in-cheek with those things, the exploitation movies and Linnea Quigley and all that stuff, which I still love. Now it is less movie-based and less self-referential but there are inspirations in Lustful Sacraments like Metropolis, Caligula, Eyes Wide Shut from Stanley Kubrick, all these things where I’m not taking samples and putting them on the album but they are present within the album’s mood.
With that being the case and the album sounding a lot colder and more insular, are you still having fun with it in terms of playing up the classic vampiric side of a record like this?
It is, it depends on your definition of fun I guess but it is pretty fun to do. It’s always pleasant to make an album anyway, I love working on track titles and things like that, but that stuff is all here in service of the concept of the album.
What’s going on in terms of the conceptual ideas of Lustful Sacraments then if that is the case?
Well it’s an album about self-destruction, it’s an album about hedonism. As a whole it’s a look at a fictional society where people lose themselves in their never-ending craving for pleasures, whether it is lustful, whether it is money or greed, and that is pretty much the premise of the album.
It’s interesting that in that way it can be an album about excess, but that classic synthwave sound and look is far more excessive where this is quite nihilistic and intimate. Would that in any way be related to the events of the last year where everything has been far more insular necessarily?
Not at all actually, because I started coming up with the theme for this back in 2017. I of course would not have guessed that COVID would arrive. I can speak for my own music-making process in the sense that nothing has really changed for me in the last year. The pandemic and lockdowns didn’t stop me making everything at home in my own studio like I always do. It would really suck if Perturbator was a band, the only thing is that we cannot rehearse right now with my live drummer but much less than a lot of artists out there.
When it comes to taking this album on the road, are there many new dimensions needed for the live show to practically bring these songs to life?
We are going to improve the live show for the next tour. We’re going to add some guitars as the album has those guitars, which I will be playing myself. There will be more lights, something a bit crazier going on there upping the ante, and maybe more vocals because I do a bit of that on the album too. The usual formula seems like it works but we’ll be improving on it.
Are the live shows going to be drawing on all eras of Perturbator bringing it all together?
Yep. It’s kinda complicated but it will have a bit of everything. I’m re-adapting a lot of tracks so that the changes between tracks are not too jarring stylistically, which is another thing that is a bit of work but it’s gonna sound cool.
Alongside the album there is also the gradual release of the Excess EP featuring other artists such as Pig Destroyer, She Past Away & others remixing that track. How did you go about recruiting those artists and are there any products of that that you are particularly excited about the outcome of?
We sent an email out because Excess had been released a couple of years ago already and we wanted to re-release for the album with a twist on it, to make sure it’s not just me re-releasing songs and not adding anything to it. The idea was to make every version of it a very different style. Most of the people on there are friends, Pig Destroyer included, and I really love all of those covers. They’re all really unique.
This album is also your last release as part of your very long collaboration with Blood Music.
It’s very banal, it’s the end of the contract that I have with Blood Music but Blood Music want to close their doors. I’m not desperately seeking to get away from them but I have started my very own label which is called Music of the Void, on which I will be releasing future Perturbator stuff. It’s part of becoming more self-sufficient, being even more unaffected by what’s going on in the rest of the world.
Going forward, how important do you feel electronic music is to the creative and popular longevity of a genre like heavy music which you have long been aligned with?
Good question, I think they’re both very similar really with their obvious differences. What I love about electronic music is that you can literally do absolutely everything you want. It’s not bound by what you can physically do, it can be ambient, it can be dungeon synth, it can be EDM or techno or elevator music. I’m pretty that because of that it’s here to stay, and metal is here to stay too where a genre like black metal or death metal is always finding ways to reinvent itself. It was not really a novelty even back then for bands like Type O Negative, Killing Joke or Faith No More to always be using synthesisers and adding those things to the mix of rock music, and today more and more people are using computers and making music with computers so it’s just going to blend more and more.
To follow up on something you said earlier, is this gothic darkwave direction of Lustful Sacraments maybe just around for this record where this is the start of Perturbator changing sounds from record to record?
Yeah I would say so. It is very likely that the gothic style will just be for Lustful Sacraments, and going forward I will try to explore other things. I still don’t know myself where I am going to go, but I’ll figure something out. It is not impossible that I might make things here and there that are in the same style as Lustful Sacraments but they may be sparse and put in the same box as the Lustful Sacraments release. This is going to be the challenge but it’s what I want to do.
Lustful Sacraments is currently available via Blood Music – HERE. Perturbator will be on tour with HEALTH, Author & Punisher and Hangman’s Chair on select dates. See the tour routing below.