The project of Oregon-via-New Mexico producer Santiago Leyba, it’s a wired, tension-filled three track release that pays homage to a barrage of regional influences and the idea of affective response. Minimalist mechanics run the show, as syncopated gears whirr and whine above a pulsating, hypnotizing bassline that is vaguely reminiscent of the classic hardware tracks popular in industrial-tinged venues around the world. We spoke to the eloquent Leyba via email about movement, his enigmatic presence and more. Read his intriguing interview below.
Where’d the U.S. Hard moniker come from? Was the un-Googleable aspect intentional?
Since I started “seriously” making music, I generally have kept a running list of song titles and names for potential projects. Certain images, or combinations of words pop into my head from time to time, and the way I deal with the uncertainty and irregularity of that process is to write it down and keep it as a part of a larger collection of ideas I could possibly draw from.
I came up with “U.S. Hard” by attempting to think of a phrase that functions not so much as a title or name, but as a general framework to inform the intentions and sonics of this project. The music I spend my time listening to is, in many different ways, abrasive. Genres aside, I am attracted to sounds that are raw, abused, or difficult. The intention of the phrase “U.S. Hard” is to, in a sense, explain where I’m coming from, but I’m only going to do that in the most vague and unspecific way possible. I prefer being a face in a crowd. Not being able to find me on Google is unintentional, but maybe indicative of ambiguity of the phrase itself and the relative lack of information about the project.
There’s not a whole lot out there yet about you. Fill in some blanks? How’d you get your start producing? How’d you hook up with Blankstairs?
True, I think it makes sense to begin by saying that I used to play drums in a rock band. We spent a lot of time and energy practicing, going on tours, playing local shows, and producing a full length album from 2010-2013. My three bandmates and I were also in school full-time during this period. I got a copy of Ableton Live in early 2011 and began there, my first coherent productions from Ableton were rap beats and industrial-dance type songs, I remember I did a cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” for some reason.
Seeing and meeting people like Bobby Draino, Jeff Johnson (The Numbs), and Wyatt Schaffner (Soul Ipsum) was really important for me in my consideration of this project as a live act. In the latter part of 2013, after producing a few tracks I felt good about, I made an account with Soundcloud and began putting my work out on the Internet. U.S. Hard’s first “official” performance was a DJ set after Geneva Jacuzzi’s performance as part of the 2014 Reed Arts Week. I borrowed two shitty CDJ-1000 MK1s and a mixer that was held together with gaffer’s tape and DJ-ed for about two and a half hours, really fun. After continuing the DAW route for a bit, I bought a Korg ESX-1 off Craigslist and started sampling and working on a live set. At this point U.S. Hard had settled into a raw, 4×4 techno/house sound. Shortly after this Wyatt (Soul Ipsum) asked me to play the release show for the Magic Fades / Soul Ipsum collaborative work “Zirconia Reign” on Richard McFarlane’s impeccable 1080p label. Warren from Blankstairs had generously lent his PA to the show and after watching my set introduced himself. Shortly after, I met with Warren and Nathaniel (Blankstairs) to talk about a release and sent them some demos.
How would you describe your project? It’s seems to be rooted in the idea of simplicity, as your bio says you’re interested in getting bodies to move (the simplest of affective responses) and your music has this very minimal German techno aesthetic to it. Can you elaborate on that a little more?
U.S. Hard, as a project, is rooted in percussive sounds. There is a strong and explicit presence of repetition (kind of a given, I guess) and, despite the fact that I’m venturing into broken beats as we speak, the production is most often subtended by a straight 4 or 8 beat kick drum pattern. Although my productions are extremely syncopated and, uh, quantized (so to speak)—I’m interested in breaking that down at points and disrupting the organization, or potential familiarity, of the track. I want to create dynamics by different means, rather than doing something more standard like a filter sweep, or a reverb fill, etc.
The important distinction in my mind, relating to the project, is that the end point is to make bodies move, not to convince them. This distinction is oddly important to me. There is a certain similarity to something like Night Slugs’ Club Constructions series; the stripped down approach, reducing the track to its driving force, and taking a stance towards melody. I love melodic compositions and the people who produce them, but for my project it is something that I’m aiming to implement only with the most conservative approach.
As far as the austere, potentially impersonal, or minimal sound I think that comes from far closer than Germany—it comes from from things like Strider’s World, VII Chapter, and Master Organism. That being said, Berlin (in particular) is a place I’m interested in because of people like DJ Richard, Draveng / Saskian Recordings, and Palms Trax—not necessarily because of heavyweight minimal DJs / producers.
What’s the Portland electronic scene like and how has it influenced your body of work?
Electronic music in Portland seems to be really important right now. Ecstasy, and Club Chemtrail bring out some big names and offer opportunities for less well known acts, like myself, to join the resident DJs. There is a newer space called S1, in the basement of a shopping center, that has had insane programming so far. I played there back in June with Fugal and Strategy—crazy bunker vibes. There are a lot of amazing people I’ve met here who really inspire and support me: Soul Ipsum, DJ Rafael & Ecstasy, Felisha (S1), Alex (ASSS/S1), Katie (Rosenka), Jeremy & Mike (Magic Fades), Chris Cantino, Gary Tyler, Muscle Beach Cru, Dylan (C Plus Plus), Matt (Karmelloz), Matthew Doyle, Vektroid, Metropol, and more. Not even just in Portland, but Seattle and Tacoma have really interesting stuff going on too: Secondnature, As-DFS, Basin., Novacom, Fugal, etc. Generally, the influence that I’ve derived from these groups and people has less to do with specific critiques or conversations about my work, but rather the fact that they have given me the opportunity to take chances and supported me in those risks.
Future plans? Upcoming stuff?
I’m leaving Portland in September for an indeterminate period of time to visit my hometown of Albuquerque, do some research for some paintings that I’m producing and taking the time to get some serious work done. I have a bunch of material that’s yet to be released, so it will be nice to spend some time getting weird out in the desert, sampling, working on U.S. Hard and making paintings. Along with the U.S.Hard material, I’m also doing a collaboration with Metropol and working with my friends Marcus (Markus L.) and Dimitri (Diesel K) on a little collective venture named FACTORY ULTD. DJ Rafael is doing a remix for one of my tracks and Gary is working on a video for “Junk”, so I’m excited for those to drop. Hopefully, I can get out to the East Coast before the year is over to see some folks and play some shows.
U.S. Hard’s EP is out August 26 on Blankstairs.