Objekt is TJ Hertz — a Berlin-dwelling producer who's gained notoriety with a series of carefully crafted dancefloor focused 12s for a select group of reputable labels. So far so typical, But Objekt is light years ahead, with a fresh broken techno aesthetic, taste for Detroit electro flavours and a conceptual vision more interesting than most denizens of the German capital.
“What Sandwell District and [Donato] Dozzy were doing seven years ago was really great, but the downside is that it fed this current wave of dreary techno that is coming out now. There are still some great records being made, but the current climate and the ‘techno establishment’ itself is so conservative that it is hard to listen to. Part of what I was attracted to with purist techno was that sense of austerity, I loved that, but how many more reverberated clonks can you hear on a record?”
TJ Hertz is out of time. Not in the literal sense, but as a producer, there are few others making similar music to him. Over the course of a handful of EPs as Objekt, the Berlin-based artist has mapped out a sound that takes influence from IDM and electro, makes some reference to techno’s dynamism, but which also sounds distinctive and hyperactive, laden with intricate twists, ticks and effects.
At times it feels like Objekt’s music is almost too clever for its own good, but before that opinion is allowed to take hold, speaker-totalling bass and spiky rhythms kick in to render it null and void.
It would be simplistic to attribute Hertz’s sense of musical adventure and hyperactivity to his background, but it’s possible that it played some role. Part-British, he was born in Tokyo and his mother is from the Philippines. He spent 12 years living in the UK before relocating to Berlin to work with Native Instruments in what he calls “a very technical role — there are only five of us doing this kind of work”.
Hertz also had a relatively unusual teenage hobby. While other boys were off smoking behind the school bike shed or trying to chat up girls, he had learnt how to drum.
“Until I was 18, I was quite an avid drummer, almost semi-professional,” he explains over Skype. “I did a lot of gigs as part of a jazz quartet, playing at weddings. All the music I was checking out at the time was by virtuoso drummers.”
While in college, Hertz got into what he describes as “standard alternative rock bands” like Radiohead. More importantly though, he became “sick of carrying drums around and ended up side-stepping into electronic music”.
Warp and the IDM sound piqued Hertz’s interest. So did Surgeon’s take on techno and he credits the Birmingham DJ/producer’s 2007 mix, ‘This is For You Shits’ for blurring the lines between acts like Autechre, Aphex and Squarepusher that he was enamoured with, and underground techno artists like Monolake and Surgeon’s own British Murder Boys project. “He really bridged the gap between dancefloor techno and the IDM stuff I was into,” Hertz says. “I had made some brief forays into techno before that, but Surgeon’s mix provided the real inroad for me.”
While he did explore techno, he found himself listening to music that was “increasingly staid and purist”.
“I got really bored of it, the same with IDM,” he admits. Given that he is based in Berlin, what does he make of the wave of techno purism that came in after minimal’s demise during the late 2000s? Hertz doesn’t hold back in his response. “What Sandwell District and [Donato] Dozzy were doing seven years ago was really great, but the downside is that it fed this current wave of dreary techno that is coming out now. There are still some great records being made, but the current climate and the ‘techno establishment’ itself is so conservative that it is hard to listen to. Part of what I was attracted to with purist techno was that sense of austerity, I loved that, but how many more reverberated clonks can you hear on a record?” he asks.
Hertz is also relatively cool on the idea of Berlin being a techno hub where everyone works together as one big Berghain-loving community. Nonetheless, the job at Native Instruments was fortuitous and he says that being based in the German capital has helped with his music-making. “When I moved here perhaps I was a bit naive and expected to see techno robots walking down the street,” he laughs, but adds that “Berlin is very relaxed and you can get things done here — it doesn’t have the same kind of tunnel vision mentality that life in London can have.”
Despite being based in the world’s techno capital, one of the biggest influences on Hertz’s sound is the pacey electro sound of the early 2000s. It’s audible on ‘Ganzfeld’, the track from his recent ‘Hynpagogia’ split release with Dopplereffekt, and on the bone-crushing rhythms of ‘One Fell Swoop’ from his debut album, ‘Flatland’.
Hertz says that Two Lone Swordsmen material from that period, including releases on their Rotters Golf Club label and the US label Satamile, and artists like Dexorcist and Bass Junkie continue to shape his music. Refreshingly, he doesn’t claim to have collected every release and only found out about this sound in retrospect. “In the past few years I went back to these records and discovered them. It’s definitely an influence now, but it wasn’t at the time that they were released,” he admits. Hertz also says that he discovered Drexciya “pretty late in the game”, but he points out that they are “a big influence” and that he was honoured to do the ‘Hypnagogia’ release with former Drexciya member Gerald Donald aka Dopplereffekt. So what does he make of some observations that in places, his debut album sounds like Drexciya?
“‘Interlude (Whodunnit)’ is the only one I can think of that is a homage to them, but I was amused by the comment that it sounded like Dopplereffekt covering Skream’s ‘Midnight Request Line’,” he laughs.
Hertz is also switched on to the current wave of electro. He does not pretend to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of it — “I have a targeted interest as opposed to being a member of that scene” — but thinks that the simplified party electro of recent years has been replaced by more interesting releases.
“It’s a genre full of tropes — the big 808 drums, robot vocals — but I like the way that a lot of the releases on Shipwrec, Solar One and Frustrated Funk are bringing the weirdness back,” he explains.
The traces of electro weirdness are pervasive on ‘Flatland’; ‘Ratchet’ is a twitchy electro workout, infused with the glitchy percussive strands of IDM and shimmering, glowing synths, while ‘One Fell Swoop’ is a more straightforward, wiry electro breaks workout.
But he brings other influences to bear on the album: 'Dogma’ and ‘Strays’ see Objekt make references to drummy, tunnelling techno, but in his hands it turns into the offbeat swagger on ‘Dogma’ or turns into the angelic vocals haunting a pulsing, runaway groove on ‘Strays’. At the other end of the spectrum there’s ‘Agnes Revenge’ and ‘Agnes Apparatus’, gloomy ambient tracks.
The glitchy, cut-up influence of IDM also features heavily on ‘Flatland’ and Hertz says that it influenced him as much as Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. Does that mean that he felt a need to dig deeper on the album and provide his audience with a more cerebral experience?
“I hope that this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but I like the idea of IDM and I like the idea of making electronic music that you have to think about,” Hertz says. “I have a soft spot for the metallic, robotic and austere,” he adds, before qualifying this remark. “It’s funny how all of the adjectives that you could use to describe techno, IDM and electro could also be used to describe other forms of electronic music. I mean, even trying to classify electronic music in the first place is such a microscopic process — the differences to an outsider between say Detroit techno and electro house are probably tiny, but for people like me, they are huge.”
What’s most impressive about ‘Flatland’ though is its fluidity. Every few bars, Hertz introduces or takes away an element, edits or changes something. This striving for constant change is central to his production technique, and explains why he has only put out a few EPs and how it took him two years to make ‘Flatland’.
“My working style is one of revision after revision,” he explains. “The tracks start off very rough. It’s like chipping away at a block of stone and as you progress you get stranger and stranger shapes and as soon as you try to carve one thing you’ll suddenly see different faces. It’s hard to pinpoint the sketches, where one starts and the other ends, but it’s about making sense of the music that comes from this process,” he believes.
The key difference between ‘Flatland’ and his EPs is that the album doesn’t stick to the dancefloor approach and strays into abstract and ambient directions. Was the fact that he could work outside of the dancefloor something that he was conscious of when he made ‘Flatland’? “Yeah, it was definitely on my mind,” TJ says. “Having constraints can make you more creative and I certainly find them helpful and useful. Without them, I find myself floundering and wondering what purpose the tracks had outside of trying to make people dance,” he says.
Thankfully, Hertz had set himself some ground rules; the album is named after a novella of the same name by Edward Abbot, which satirised society and politics in the Victorian age, but which is also about a two-dimensional world. “Mostly, it’s about spatial dimensions,” TJ explains. “All the inhabitants in this world are 2D and they can only see one another in profile but any of the people in 3D can see what’s going on. Each track on the album can be perceived in different ways, observed from different angles. I didn’t set out to write a concept album, but I like to have something to draw on.”
When Hertz came to piece the album together, he was also presented with the challenge of programming it in the right way. Finding the right home for ‘Flatland’ also proved a challenge. He had been friends with PAN boss Bill Kouligas for some time, but had not thought of asking him to release it. Instead, TJ went about shopping it to a few labels, but with no success.
“I was finding it really hard to find a home for it, a label that would be able to handle an album release and which would fit with the music. I was really struggling to find a suitable home for it, so I sent it to Bill but thought that his schedule would be full up. This was back in March, but he asked me to jump in.”
Hertz is happy that he chose to go with PAN in the end as he feels that Kouligas’ brief for the label is simple. “His remit is to release music that he really likes and because of this, PAN has reached a critical mass. I guess for some people it has become a ‘buy on sight’ label or that at least people would be more inclined to check a release because it is on PAN,” TJ adds.
The popularity of PAN and labels like Hospital, Blackest Ever Black and Opal Tapes shows that there is an appetite for experimentation in electronic music, but Hertz remains sceptical about the proliferation of limited-edition vinyl and cassettes smothered in noise.
“There are parts of ‘Flatland’ that could be considered ‘experimental’, but experimenting is only good if there is some focus, some purpose,” TJ believes, adding that “there is so much experimental music about, but I would prefer if producers experimented within their own form rather than ticking the experimental box. It’s become fashionable for the sake of it to experiment — but I’d much rather if people fucked with formulas instead of buying a distortion pedal.”