Podcast 632: Erika
Deep, dark, Detroit techno—live.
Podcast 632: Erika
Deep, dark, Detroit techno—live.
Erika Sherman‘s XLR8R podcast is her first recorded live set in over five years, and it’s comprised entirely of her own music, stretched and morphed into just over one hour of dark and twisted Detroit techno. It’s a complex operation, founded upon four synths, three effects units, a drum machine, and a hardware sequencer, and it’s a side of her that’s seen only a handful of times a year, as her focus has moved towards DJing.
“It’s riskier, and it’s more work than a DJ set, so many things can go wrong, and I have to do a setup, soundcheck, and tear down,” she said. “But it’s more special than a DJ set. Chances are, nobody has heard the majority of what I’m playing, because I’m always writing new material.”
Sherman’s is one of the Motor City’s lesser-sung names, a behind-the-scenes operator most widely known as co-founder of Interdimensional Transmissions, one of Detroit’s essential all-time labels and a long-standing pillar of quality within the local music community. Founded over 25 years ago, the label has released work from I-f, Justin Cudmore, and, most recently, Eris Drew, among so many more—including Sherman herself, who has released two EPs and her only album, Hexagon Cloud, there as a solo artist. Sherman’s work as Ectomorph with Brendan M. Gillen, Interdimensional Transmissions’ co-founder, is also scattered across the label, after she replaced Drexciya creator Gerald Donald in the much-celebrated project in 1997.
Elsewhere, Sherman is also recognized for her work on No Way Back, the Detroit party institution celebrating the “lost art” of Midwest raving, first held in a crumbling building over a decade ago. Up until 2016, she also ran her freeform streaming radio station, erika.net, which became one of the first iTunes presets, running 24/7 for 17 years—but she’s since moved on, moving herself towards the spotlight to earn the recognition she’s so long deserved. Besides touring more frequently across North America, she’s also releasing her own music, establishing the Erika name in the process.
At times sparse and unsettled, Sherman’s XLR8R podcast is a demonstration of her expertise in analog synthesis. It sees her leaning on dark ambient drones and deep hardware beats to create rich soundscapes, subtle, slick, and at all times deeply psychedelic.
What have you been up to recently?
My life is a balancing act between administrative work—record labels and parties—making music, and traveling, and I’ve been active on all fronts lately. For Interdimensional Transmissions and Eye Teeth, we’ve been preparing a string of releases, including Eris Drew’s debut EP, out last week, a series of trippy techno records from Israel Vines and, a bit further out, more records in the Acid Series and a second album from myself. We are also quite deep in organizing the Return to the Source weekend in May, where we produce four parties—No Way Back, Tresor 313, The Bunker, and Lot Mass.
Musically, I’ve been in the studio here in Detroit with BMG (a.k.a Brendan M. Gillen) working on some remixes and new music for Ectomorph. I’ve also been developing a new, more improvisational theorem around my solo live set, and getting into more collaborations. On the performance side of things, I just joined Circle of Live, and there are two new studio projects as well, one based in Berlin with Jay Ahern, and the other with Noncompliant called Nachthexen.
How was 2019 for you?
Like all years, full of ups and downs. It was a bit lighter on gigs, so I had more time in the studio to finish music. I readied a solo EP for Eerie Records, and spent a lot of time in Berlin developing the collaboration with Jay. I had a series of really fun DJ gigs playing with Antenes, who is basically my trippy techno sister; we both have really enjoyed playing together. On the downside, I tripped on a stair and severely injured my ankle the night before a month of traveling, which made gigging difficult and painful as I could not really walk properly, drive, or carry anything heavy. However, every promoter and club was super kind (especially C12!), making sure everything was as good as it could be; things like providing a stool in the booth, and extra help moving gear cases.
You haven’t released a live set since 2014. What’s made you come back to it now?
Well, I just figured it’s time. My set constantly evolves, and it’s been through several different lives since then. None of this music has ever been heard outside of the club, and I think it’s cool to put something out that is so different from my DJ sets, which people do get to hear periodically.
Where and when did you record this set?
I recorded this live in one take in my home studio in Detroit just last week, with the cats and plants as an audience. I did it the same exact way I would do a live set in the wild, using only the portable gear I bring to shows.
What sort of setup are you using?
The most important piece of gear in my setup is the MIDI sequencer, Genoqs Octopus. This is where I do all of the sequencing and programming, so while I am doing things like modulating synth sounds, adjusting effects, and riding the mixer during a set, the sequencer really is the main instrument I am playing, and the one thing I couldn’t do without. I use an Elektron Analog RYTM for drums, where I’ve loaded a bunch of samples recorded around my studio of my 808, 909, and drum sounds I’ve synthesized on other gear. For strings and pads, I use a Waldorf Blofeld, for bass a Moog Minitaur, and there’s also a Waldorf Pulse 2 and Make Noise 0-Coast. I add a Moog MF Delay pedal for echo and feedback, and a Strymon Bluesky for reverb, and I run everything through a line mixer.
How much of the set is pre-prepared and how much is improvised?
I have a bunch of sequences stored in my Octopus, and a pretty good idea of where I have them saved. For a set, I improvise the mix and arrangement, playing through stored sequences in an order that feels right, layering them to create songs, and shifting through them to flow through a set. Even if I am doing a few shows in a row on tour, each set comes out sounding very differently, as there is not any pre-determined timing, and every room and audience is different.
Can we expect to hear a lot of unreleased and new music from you?
Everything in this set is unreleased, and pulls from the many different projects I’ve been working on lately. In addition to new solo tracks, there are elements of Nachthexen, the collaboration with Jay, a remix of Altstadt Echo, and my record for Eerie. Versions of many of these songs will be released in one form or another over the next year, but some of them will only ever be heard in this format.
What are you looking forward to this year?
Pretty much everything I’ve mentioned so far—furthering musical collaborations, releasing records, and Return to the Source. Everything but doing my taxes!
XLR8R has now joined Mixcloud Select, meaning that to download the podcast you will need to subscribe to our Select channel. The move to Mixcloud Select will ensure that all the producers with music featured in our mixes get paid. You can read more about it here.