All photos by Zach Sokol
The first time I met Galcher Lustwerk was on the balcony of a Soviet-era hotel in Krakow, Poland, where Unsound was hosting one of its main events during the 2015 edition of the music festival. As we were shooting the shit, a middle-aged Polish woman suddenly climbed up over the bannister, having scaled at least three stories. She started speaking broken English somewhat frantically, "Party? This party? I escape my husband. He sleeps, and so are the children. I love this music."
While I started bugging — was she escaping a horrifying domestic situation? — the artist replied without missing a beat: "Hey, I'm Galcher. You good?" (I was filming a documentary at Unsound, and there's video footage of part of this interaction.)
His mellow response to the surreal party crash made it clear that the supposedly "mysterious" producer was anything but aloof. The guy was modest, thoughtful, and perpetually chill — not unlike 100% Galcher, the 2013 release that put his name on the dance music map.
100% was heralded as an instant-classic, and rightly so. The hour of all-original material for mix series Blowing Up the Workshop came out of nowhere, with few details about its mastermind and his wonky name. But Galcher's inaugural release was a fresh and cohesive listen from start to finish, a crystalline vision full of silky synth tones, minimal padwork, and earworm lyrics that congealed somewhere between spoken word and rapping. It was a supremely-realized project, one that most artists spend entire careers attempting to achieve, and this was the beatmaker's "let it speak for itself" introduction.
Soon, Galcher and his label/collective White Material Records became one of the buzziest crews in techno, with copies of their "no bullshit" 12-inches selling out and then flipping on Discogs at an exponential price hike, and 100% getting placed at the top of several Best of the Year lists. For a while, Galcher was intentionally incognito, appearing in press photos with his face obscured and offering little about his background. But over the past five years, he's slowly but surely come out of his shell.
Since 2013, he's released a handful of 12" EPs, put out five records under his Road Hog alias, two as Studio OST alongside collaborator Alvin Aronson, and completed a full-length album titled Dark Bliss that came out last year. Not only does his handsome mug now appear in photographs, but he's more assertive about how he wants people to perceive his work. This Friday, June 22nd, he'll release 200% Galcher, his second LP, and though the title may suggest otherwise, the producer says it's not a reboot of his debut from half a decade ago.
"Whatever you think I am, it might be different now because this is what I'm on right now," he told me over a lengthy interview at my apartment. Galcher feels that his first proper full-length was slept on, partially because White Material quietly dropped it without any promotion, and he wants to rectify that with 200% — starting with the calculated album title. "I wanna pique people's interest again, really," he says of the branding. "I'm thinking practically when it comes to putting it out there and making sure enough people catch wind of it."
The artist is quick to state that the LP is not a sequel, though — and it doesn't really sound like one. If 100% embodied the ebullient, hypnagogic sensation of walking home at dawn (after all, it opened with the lyrics, "The sun, the sun is shining through…") then 200% is best equipped for listening at dusk after a heavy day. Filled with MIDI bass and horns, way more abstracted lyrics, and even some autotune, the record is a simmering slowburn with less quick-fix gratifications than its predecessor. But, as always, it sounds like nothing but pure-play Galcher — a step in a new direction without jumping the shark or deviating from the unrivaled path he's carved within electronic music.
The production wunderkind talked with MERRY JANE about his aural evolution, how he gets into the "flowstate" — that meditative-like groove where you don't even notice yourself working — and how cannabis has positively benefited the dance music community. Whether chatting with a distraught Polish woman or drinking beers on a roof in Brooklyn, Galcher lives up to his album titles, and always keeps it 200.
MERRY JANE: You told me earlier that you've been reading a lot lately. When you were making 200% Galcher, did you read anything in particular that influenced the record?
Galcher Lustwerk: I made the album over the past year — it took probably nine months. During that time, I read a lot of self-help books — nonfiction books that have some sort of purpose to them, where I could apply the knowledge that I learned from the books to real life.
I like to look for books like that, so if I'm like dealing with something — whether it's a business challenge, like I need to learn how to do marketing better, or I need to learn how to handle my emotions better in times of stress or anxiety — then I have a resource to help me. Also, I guess reading for me is more like studying. I read, I take notes, and then I read the notes over and over and over again so I can absorb the things I took from the book better.
Are we talking like stress management books or ones that offer tips on time management?
Yeah, I've read all those types of books. I feel like the most recent one I read that's popular is this book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. It talks about being in a flowstate and just staying there. This is what I'm trying to do with music: get into that flowstate.
Yeah, like that vibe where you don't even realize you're working because you're so deep in it. My friends call that "the funk."
The funk? [laughs] Yeah, I'm trying to get into the funk, man. It sort of just manifests your subconscious into the form of a song. Deep Work is kinda trendy in the tech circles and stuff, but it talks about ways you can sort of control your environment in order to optimize your efficiency and efficacy while working. It's full of tips and tricks — that's what it's best for.
Have you found these books to be effective?
Yeah, but I was already trying to do this stuff. The book sorta was able to give me some more validation on whether [certain practices] are a good idea or not. For example, I actively block websites. I block all news sites except one day of the week, and I spend the morning of that day just reading all the news that I want to read. Within 20 minutes, I'm usually tired of it and I've had enough. So I can get what I used to get out of like checking the New York Times all the time in a single day now. I can compartmentalize all my [media and internet consumption]. That saves me so much time throughout the rest of the week. If you check Instagram or Twitter, you're gonna come up on some stuff and that's gonna kill your vibe, you know?
While you were making the new album over those nine months, was this a consistent lifestyle practice?
Yeah, I started doing this about a year ago — like being very strict about it and blocking things. There's an app that I use called Freedom that can lock you out of specific stuff, in case you get tempted. I block music news, too. And I only check Soundcloud once a week. Wednesdays.
But when I worked on the album, I would wake up every morning, have nothing to check, so instead I'd be like, I'll make a track. A lot of the time, I'd wake up, be lying in bed, and I'd pull my laptop on my chest and just make a song like that — before I'd even taken a piss [laughs]. And I found that I can make a track in about half an hour, so if I have like an hour to kill in the morning before work, I'll make two tracks a day. I wasn't doing that every day, but I was just consistently producing and starting new tracks. Typically, within 30 minutes I'd have something completed enough where I could figure out whether I should finish it later. It's practice. It takes practice to turn music-making into an effortless thing.
I know people who approach meditation the same way, where it's the first thing they do when they wake up.
Making music is kinda meditation for me 'cause I don't really like meditating. But I do like when I'm making music and I get into this sort of like mindless state where I don't think about much else. That flowstate.
After experimenting on your laptop in the morning and making these sound sketches, would you bring out other hardware when you revisited the work later?
Yeah. I'd cycle through equipment. On this album, I used some hardware like saturators, so I could run, say, a bass track through the gear, and it would make it feel real analog and juicy-sounding. And kinda dirtier. Not in like a lo-fi way, but like it's got kinda a [*makes high pitched noise*], you hear the physicality of the frequencies. You hear the electricity a bit more. I used these tools a lot with the vocals on 200% actually.
Would you work on the vocals in the morning, too?
No, the vocals were made more when I felt like it or when I'd listen to a song and just kinda imagine rhythms in my mind and be like, Oh yes, I think this could be good for a vocal, I'll try something... and then I'd just freestyle. Like a lot of the songs on 200% started as freestyle — all the lyrics and stuff — 'cause they're very stream-of-consciousness, like a lot more abstract, since I would just start spitting. And then I'd clean it up later, so like if the lyrics didn't make sense, I'd replace words or phrases.
I remember you saying in an old interview that you like to pay attention to other artists' hooks and the physicality of their vocals. The delivery more than the content. I feel like you've embraced that with your own unique flavor on 200% Galcher.
Yeah. Often times I'll record the vocal for the first time and the delivery will be so perfect because it was something that happened in that moment. Even if it sounds imperfect, I want to maintain how I said a phrase in a certain type of way, however weird it is. If it fits, I'm just like, It has to sound like that again, no matter how sloppy it was, it needs to sound that way...
Like the song "Template" — it's slow, auto-tuned. I talk about swiping credit cards versus using a chip card [laughs]. I would say "Rules Meant to Be Broken," too. Those tracks were kinda the most unruly ones when I recorded them. Both were pretty much built off the very first take because I liked all the growls in my voice or the way I delivered the ad-libs and stuff. I was just like, I can't do that again. I can't waste six months and try to re-do something special I captured on the first try.
I feel like with my tracks, the hooks are rhythmically more elongated. It's kinda like a motif that gets repeated throughout the track. I've grappled with how legitimate this is as someone who raps 'cause I'll just repeat the verse twice, you know what I mean? So the whole verse is like an entire chorus, and it's just a hook that gets repeated twice. I justify it because I want people to hear it twice; after, they're more likely to remember it the next time they listen. When you hear a whole verse twice, it's like hearing a song twice. You see that now with Migos, like "Bad and Boujee," or songs like "I Get the Bag." The chorus is literally a minute long, but they say it three times on the track, so you know it.
Who are some of your favorite rappers right now? I've heard Roc Marciano in a few of your online mixes.
I love Roc Marciano. I love rappers that are funny — that have a sense of humor — and I feel like he's got a great sense of humor. I also like Hoodrich Pablo Juan. He's an Atlanta rapper, just like a trap rapper, but he's got a cool cadence that sort of like tumbles over itself. Like all his lyrics kinda stumble onto the next bar. Listening to him is like watching the laundry spin around in the window. And it kinda fits with how he's smoking on copious amounts of blunts. I feel like my favorite song of his is called "We Don't Love 'Em." Also, I just heard the new Playboi Carti album. I think it's fantastic.
It's great. The track with Skepta on it is my favorite.
That's the one, man. The guy who produced that track's a really dope artist. Not Pi'erre Bourne, but IndigoChildRick. He's from Florida. I was listening to a lot of Slick Rick when making my album, too. He's cool because he's able to maintain his voice while the beats bang, and his voice is not louder than the beats. I think I was trying to achieve something similar with my music. I listened to that a lot, but I listen to rap like only a third of the time. I listen to a lot of other stuff too.
Sure, sure. I follow your Soundcloud "likes" now and then and I got really into Quavius because of you.
Yeah, yeah. Lustwerk Music put out a Quavius record, and he actually sent me some new stuff recently so I want to put out another one. He'll have his time.
Obligatory question — do you feel like 200% Galcher is a sequel in spirit to 100% Galcher.
No, it's not. It's not a sequel. I'm not sure if it was the best idea, but I basically [titled it] that because of recognition, like people remember and recognize 100% Galcher. I feel like Dark Bliss, my first full-length album that came out last year, was slept on. I think part of the reason is that we decided to not promote it ahead of time. We just dropped it right away. So for 200%, I wanted to do it a different way. I wanted to promote it and push it, do interviews like this… But even the name 200% is something I did just for promotional reasons pretty much.
People will pay attention to the name.
[laughs] Yeah, more people will pay attention.
But this is also a totally different album.
Yeah, but I want to see how that plays out. I want to hear how people will compare it. I want an excuse for people to talk about the past and the present. I want people to notice the differences, or even like acknowledge the differences, to show that I've changed and grown. I'm not just going to be doing the same, you know, "hip-hop house" — or however people described [100% Galcher] when it came out. So much has changed in the landscape and the industry. After putting out [Dark Bliss], an album that sort of summarized what I was working on for five years, I wanted to hit them with another one [*snaps fingers*] and just see. I want to tell people like, Listen, whatever you think I am, it might be different now because this is what I'm on right now.
What distinguishes 200% Galcher from last year's Dark Bliss LP?
I think I'm less self-conscious than I was [with the last one] because I was getting those jitters from putting out my first full-length album. Now that those jitters are over, now that the dust has settled a little bit, I'm like, You know what? I'm getting too stressed out. For this new album, my stress level was the lowest it's been, as low as it's been since like Tape 22 or 100% because I feel like I have nothing to lose at this point. I've proven that I can impress people with my production and my vocals — now I'm ready to have fun and just let loose and like swear more, and be a little more random because I like that. I like rappers that are funny, as I said. Have you ever listened to Ween?
Yeah dude, Chocolate and Cheese.
I feel like they're a stoner thing. Ween has like joke songs, you know? I love that about them. I want to make joke songs. I'm not saying that there's anything on 200% that I consider joke songs, but… I like to take it less serious. Keep it light — keep it heavy but keep it light. Mix it up.
I try to make sure that the lyrics can be interpreted no matter what the mood is. Like you can listen to the lyrics and they might appear shallow if that's how you want to see it, but there can be a secondary read into all those lyrics, a deeper level of interpretation. I make sure whatever I write makes some kind of sense in my mind. It may not make sense to someone listening or to someone without all the references, but to me, all the references are in place. Everything I say is a reference. Every lyric has either a biographical reference or there's a cultural reference.
For example, in "Rules Meant to Be Broken" I say, "break bread, shake feds." Shake feds is an homage to Mac Dre — he has a song called "Shakin the Feds." I often reference something or make an homage to something in my lyrics. And for the people [who get it], that's the best shit. I would like to imagine it as building a lexicon, kinda like building an encyclopedia of sorts. It's fun to imagine like a big brain map of the album, seeing a web of all of the references connecting.
In a way, it sounds like you're describing an art exhibition, or a curated body of work, more than a record. Does that resonate with you at all?
Yeah, it does. With the actual music itself, it feels like a body of work. But when it comes to packaging the music, I think of the industry.
Right, again the name — 200% Galcher.
Yeah, exactly. I'm thinking practically when it comes to putting it out there and making sure enough people catch wind of it. I feel like in the past I've tried to compromise at certain moments in the process of making music. There are certain weeks or months where I'm like, I really want to make a club track, I really want to make a track that has a banging kick drum and is something that DJs can use, and it'll be so cool… But that thought process isn't good for me. Ultimately, all my music has to be hook-y. I feel like I come from the pop world in that respect, where I need some kind of hook or little lick, some melody, or like some odd drum sound — or, you know, something that's not very conducive for DJing.
Your music has always felt very cinematic to me, and I know you're a film buff. You hipped me to Tenebrae years ago! What were you watching while working on the new record?
I've been on a real big noir kick. I'm showing that in my press photos, like I'm behind Venetian blinds. It's kinda got a noir vibe to it. I'm not sure how much it translates to the music because I make music in a vacuum, more or less. When I'm thinking about movies, and think about movie-making, I don't think about music. And when I make music, I don't think about movies. But my music does have an aesthetic connection with film, like noir movies, spy movies, heist movies. There's a connection there to the "Galcher brand," so to speak [laughs].
Let's go back to how you've changed since putting out 100% Galcher five years ago. It's nice to hear that you practice positive lifestyle habits, like curbing your media consumption.
Yeah, I'm just working things out. I don't think I was working on myself before. When I first started DJing, touring, and traveling, I realized how much more I needed to work on myself, you know? I think there was a confidence when I made 100%, and as soon as I started getting recognition, the confidence started to fade. But now it's getting back to where it was. So I wouldn't say I'm more confident now, but I'm back to where I was at the start. I'm back to that "pretend like no one's watching or listening" mode.
I just like everything I put out, and I assume no one's going to listen to it. That's my assumption when I make anything. I'm not saying the music is made just for me; it's for other people, too. I want to share it. But I want to make music with the mindset of not catering to anybody. That loner vibe. The Jason Bourne thing.
So this is a cannabis and culture publication, as you know. I've got to ask, do you support legalization?
Yeah, I think weed is fantastic. I think it opens people up to music; it opens people up to their emotions better. I notice 'cause it's pretty prevalent where I run through, and a lot of my fans are stoners.
I think weed is good at getting people elevated, or lifted, and I want my music to do the same thing. One of the overarching themes [in my work] is like a feeling of... not weightlessness, 'cause that's kinda describes a different musical genre, but like a feeling of ascension. Like being picked up by a cloud and taken to another place.
And I think cannabis does that to people on the dancefloor. Ten years ago, I had to play mainstream songs just to get people on the dancefloor, but I think now people are open to just going on a trip, going on a ride. And I think cannabis helps facilitate that for both DJs and clubgoers alike. It's seen as way more positive than alcohol in the community, too.
Should people listen to 200% Galcher while high?
Oh yeah, you should listen to it stoned for sure.
For more on Galcher Lustwerk, including where to order his new record, visit the Lustwerk Music website
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