Electronic music artist End.user (aka Lynn Standafer) announced a surprise show via his Facebook literally ten hours before he was supposed to go on stage. Google said the venue was an eight and a half hour drive away, and I didn’t think twice. This is the guy whose work helped cement my love for drum & bass, and who is solely responsible for getting me into breakcore. I’d been staring down the barrel of an eleven hour drive for the chance to see him perform—anything closer was a no-brainer. Within two hours a friend and I were barreling down the road like we were outrunning the zombie apocalypse.
Six hours later we pulled up, and found the location pleasantly surprising. The venue, 37th and Zen, is small without being close, set up in such a way that there’s not a bad seat in the house, and has a sound system that remained clear even when there weren’t many people on the dance floor. And at the end of the bar, there he was—beer in hand, relaxed and seemingly amused by everything around him: the DJ behind him dropping some laughably ridiculous dubstep oldies mix (“I think I hate it,” he said, “but I kind of love it.”), the fact that people there didn’t recognize him . . . and how my friend and I had come tearing into Norfolk, VA, at full throttle from Pittsburgh to immediately start pounding beers beside him, both of us ridiculously wound up from our drive. The other DJs still seemed a little shocked that he was there; he was openly appreciative of their camaraderie, commending them for having a close crew that wasn’t constantly trying to outdo each other. Conversation with him meandered over a wide variety of topics: what it’s been like living in Belgium; his upcoming US tour with fellow musician Bong-Ra; his eclectic collection of tattoos, and a potential worst case scenario for the next morning: “Mom’ll be in the kitchen cooking breakfast, and I’ll stagger in and say something really existential, like, ‘Do you think turtles have souls? Because they hide all the time—’” Then, with his face in his hands: “I just made myself think about that.”
There were a number of times through the initial interview where I caught myself sitting there grinning at him, having completely forgotten to keep transcribing what he was saying. It made sense, in a way—the artists I’ve met who lean towards harder or darker forms of expression have overwhelmingly been the most personable, and Lynn nonchalantly outstripped all of them. Off stage, he was hysterically entertaining, disarmingly unassuming . . . And then he got on stage and all but leveled the club around him.
I’d say it was surreal, but surreal comes off as too soft a word. His entire demeanor changed to one of intense focus; everything from his facial expression to the set of his shoulders reflected his concentration. The effect is a subtle one—but once you notice, it’s hard to look away. He didn’t try to command the attention of the room through antics or force of personality; it’s not about theatrics here, but purely about the sound. If and when the music moved him it pitched him forward, so he himself became a mark of emphasis for the beats and drops. Then he looked up, scanned the crowd, and made faces at me when he caught me watching, the switch so startling it felt a little like the floor’d fallen out.
It didn’t escape me that this was around the point where my friend’s opinion of him went from, “Hey, he’s cute,” to, “He’s hot. Oh God he’s hot. Did you see him? He’s hot.”
I’ve been listening to End.user for years now, and trying to build choreography to his work from the point where I picked up enough dance knowledge to start stringing combos together. But there’s a difference between listening to the music on computer speakers—no matter how nice—and listening to it on a full sound system while so close to the sub you feel the bass in your spine. The overall effect was less giddy fannish glee and more of a full-on religious experience. I haven’t danced that hard—or that coherently—in years.
It’s thinking music—and while it’s definitely not for everyone, the construction of each work makes it absolute brain candy: the hard dichotomies of melody versus the jackhammer hit of the drumline; chaos folding to order, then pulling to chaos again; ethereal vocals against a gigantic turbulent bass roll; a steady beat that turns on and shreds itself, then reforms—and over all that, an unrepentantly hard, tightly controlled burn. The sound flirts with outright dissonance but never quite gets to full aural discord; it smooths out, but never enough to let you fully relax. For the die-hard bass junkie, it’s better than catnip.
Getting to see him live was one thing; getting to talk to him about his work and artistry was a whole new layer on the cake. Lynn made his first recording at age eighteen and said that now, at thirty-three, hearing it again is like hearing it for the first time. The musician’s life hasn’t always been easy on him—he recently had surgery to remove blood from behind his eardrum, and said it’s been harder to find & produce something interesting than it was when he was younger. But the project to restore his enthusiasm—that doubtlessly is resonating the strongest for him at this time—is the experimental collaboration The Blood of Heroes. Concocted & constructed by a dream team of musical heavy hitters, the songs as a whole thumb their nose at simple genre definitions. I’m content to call the finished product heavy, though my favorite description comes from Ohm Resistance’s release notes: a “soundtrack to post-solarflare humanity.” They’re at turns rough-edged and broody, aggressive and abrasive without posturing, with an industrial crunch, metallic sharpness, and crisp electronic finish. The first (self-titled) CD The Blood of Heroes was released in April of 2010; the remix CD, Remain, came out at the end of November. Their touring plans unfortunately fell through and there’s no official projected release date for their third album, but Lynn hopes he and Kurt Gluck (Submerged) will get a chance to mix some new things this summer.
The way he described the direction their work is taking made it sound like a study in opposites: much more atmospheric, yet more metallic; more organic, yet more electronic; relaxed but on edge, with a melodic ambiance that builds into thrash. For him, at least, this next album brings more of a focus on really feeling what the other musician is doing. He told me they’re working more as a single unit than as separate musicians, where each does their own separate part—and as a result, the songs are each coming out eleven and twelve minutes long. “It’s heavy music you can really feel and get into, you know?” he said, but added that they really didn’t intend for people to dance to it. (I laughed at him and asked if he thought that’d stop me.)
The collaborative work done for The Blood of Heroes has helped with his solo work, as well: “It’s like a reminder to me—that I can still have fun doing this, can still enjoy doing it.” He expects his next album as End.user—two years in the making—to be finished in the next couple of months, but aside from saying he didn’t feel a particular attachment to any electronic genre, he didn’t elaborate on what exact flavors of heaviness it would encompass. He’s also been loading his recently-acquired soundcloud with song fragments, unreleased tracks, and full mixed sets, and said it’s been helpful with collaborations as well as getting people involved in the creative process as it’s happening.
I had to ask him about the Middle Eastern influence in some of his work as well, as the songs showcasing that influence were the things that, for me at least, propelled him from “that guy” to “Oh God that guy here you’ve gotta listen to this.” Lynn told me he was in Berlin when a Pakistani friend sent him some samples to work with—some Sheila Chandra, some bits from Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. The resulting track, Not So Distant Drums, was passed around and praised as “Bollywood breakcore,” and he was encouraged to turn out a full EP—the aptly-named Bollywood Breaks. John Peel of Peel Sessions played it, and the next thing he knew, BBC Radio 1 had requested he come on and do a mix based on Switch and some of the tracks. Most DJs go on Radio 1 and stick to the genre/sound they’re best known for. In Lynn’s case, he eschewed genre lines completely: “There is a lot of stuff that I think people hadn’t heard outside of their respective ‘scenes,’” he said. “There always seems to be, really. (…) In the mix I remember playing some stuff from Amit, Pigface (Burundi), some old break/jungle stuff from Alec Empire, and I think I even played part of ‘Thieves’ by Ministry. It all went well together so I didn’t really think twice about it. But was cool to play that sort of stuff all together to an audience that normally wouldn’t hear that on BBC Asia. (…) So it was a great time, good experience.”
All and all, we spent around fourteen hours in the car for an hour-long set and a few hours at an afterparty with a handful of guys who got decidedly, endearingly nervous when I broke out my notebook. (Together, they were fascinating to listen to: musicians who’d been part of the electronic music scene for years, talking technically about genres, songs, equipment, and trends.) Would I do it all again? Hell yes. Do I think anyone with the remotest interest in harder electronic music should find a way to get to one of his shows? Definitely. His touring schedule with Bong-Ra is listed below, and he’s only in the states for the next few weeks—don’t miss out.