Pop and techno: they seem impossibly opposed. The former is light, fluffy and dominates the mainstream radio waves. The latter rarely leaves the confines of sweaty, strobe-lit clubs. It's rare, then, to find someone passionate about both. Enter Matthew Dear. Since the late ’90s, the American has been a figure in both fields, singing under his birth name and blitzing clubs with his brutal alter ego, Audion. He's even remixed Hot Chip and The XX.
“I never thought of pop as a dirty word,” Dear says. “It's just memorable melodies, really.” Looking at techno's early years in particular, there's plenty of this about. From 1988, with Innercity's massive chart hits Good Life and “Big Fun”, all the way through to Thank U 4 Letting Me Be Myself by Omar-S last year, techno has never been short of melodies worth humming.
More recently, though, the genre has seemed self-conscious and keen to distance itself from anything too mainstream. It’s at this contested junction that Dear sits, with his label, Ghostly International. When he isn't DJing overseas or recording vocals for like-minded artists, Dear is busy crafting albums – five thus far – of avant-garde pop, which have garnered comparisons to David Bowie and Depeche Mode.
The artists signed by him and Ghostly co-founder Sam Valenti have similar crossover appeal. “Com Truise makes beautiful synthesiser lines, but with something a little weird in them,” Dear says, audibly excited. “And Dabrye is essentially reinventing instrumental hip-hop.” In truth, like Dear himself, few of these artists are techno, but nor are they pop. That's what makes them so exciting. They're also a beacon of hope in the US, a country being swamped by EDM (electronic dance music). Originally a catch-all term for anything with a beat, the term has since come to denote a particularly frenetic, ear-bashing style of music made by artists such as deadmau5 and Skrillex. It's abhorred by most techno fans.
“It's good if kids can get in on the tip of the iceberg,” Dear says. “Hopefully, they'll dig a little deeper one day.” Unfortunately, many of his compatriots aren't giving the younger generation the chance to discover alternate forms of electronic music, uprooting themselves to Berlin or other European cities where techno has a stronger following. “It's a great career move,” Dear concedes. “But it's important that I continue to feel American.” As a result, he says he's built a “familial” connection with dance floors as widespread as Chicago, LA and Miami, simply through repeated visits. Let's hope he can bring the same magic to Melbourne.
Matthew Dear will perform at HOLEANDCORNER music festival on June 7, 2014.