Photography by Magdalena Krzyzanowski
Via App, the Brooklyn-based DJ and electronic producer, is up for a challenge. That is, Dylan Scheer doesn't just make challenging music—but actively challenges the dilution of techno: Scheer leads a cadre of DJs renovating the underground electronic scene from a boys' club into something more welcoming. Her innovative vigor—as seen on 2016's Sixth Stitch on Break World— and legendarily experimental performances have opened up a playfully dissonant new sonic space whose warped energy is both infectious and invigorating. Ahead of Via App's performance at Brooklyn Bazaar on Saturday May 20, Scheer caught up with AdHoc to talk DIY geography, DJ technique, and future plans.
As an electronic musician, you’ve performed as both a DJ and a live musician. What’s the difference for you?
In doing both, I think about collaging different styles and attitudes into something narrative. I think these references are more traceable when I DJ. I have control over more variables when playing live, but I have a broader range to pull from when I'm DJing. My approach and experience are definitely more rooted in playing live, but also in constantly collecting and learning about electronic and experimental music.
You started the Via App project while in Boston, working in the DIY electronic scene there. How has living in New York changed your approach to creation, either in terms of material conditions or more stylistically?
There's more pressure for output. So that does change my relationship to the work—for better or for worse. There's a cool community of makers here. There are a lot of people who are really devoted to what they do, and who make work with unique voices. That is exciting to me and has probably influenced my sound quite a bit in writing to play as part of a night of varied sounds, and writing for New York venues. This isn't to say that those people weren't in Boston, but there were a lot of external factors like cop presence at DIY shows, conservative laws around clubs which made it hard to foster a growing dance music community. so I think my work moved at a different pace and mostly developed in my room.
What kind of venue would be ideal for Via App? What characteristics (architectural, demographic, or otherwise) would the space possess?
I've played my best shows in unexpectedly lit places so it is hard to pinpoint something architecturally. It is more about the people attending than the space itself, I've found. Inclusivity plays a huge factor in how well the night goes and the receptiveness of the crowd. Having women, queer people and people of color on the bill will always make for a better show and more diverse crowd, in my experience. The sound system and the functionality of the in-house setup are important too! I definitely prefer to play my sets loudly and to be able to hear detail.
Your work seems to skirt the overlap between techno, noise, and musique concrète. “String of Disappearances,” for example, seems content in its ambient aimlessness before trickling into a more conventional techno beat—almost against its own will. How does Via App as a project tinker with the conventions of techno?
In one sense, my live sets are my response to newer, uninteresting, boring ass "stock techno." I have no interest in upholding that strand of the lineage (dilution) or sequester myself to the techno genre. I want my sets and my music to be more challenging and to thoroughly engage and confront by abrupt variation in tension, tempo and time division, combining sounds that "shouldn't" be combined, and using sounds and gear differently than intended. Of course, all these things are integral to the birth of techno and the experimentalists and creators throughout its history. There have always been tinkerers and I think the products of that become convention over time. So the way we tinker develops with the landscape and technology, and breeds new genres.
Dissonance or (as Pitchfork called it, “discomfort”) figures in the teethy and gristly splices you assemble on your records. What sort of psychic spaces are you tapping into when you create? What environments are you responding to?
Sometimes the psychic space is so personal that I can hardly ascribe words to it, but it is what it sounds like. Other times I think of tapping into hive consciousness or transmitting some kind of message that didn't originate in me. I think of each piece contributing to the larger sonic story of the project which is still being written, and is inherently influenced by the times surrounding it. People who feel comfortable in these times could use a disruption to wake them up. Plus, the dissonance is pleasing to some.
You’ve previously spoken to the idea of the seamless DJ transition as “represent[ing] resistance to change.” Why push back against this convention?
What I meant was that holding smooth transition and genre-tight selection as the mark of a good DJ, or limiting the practice to those qualifiers seems puritanical. And like I was saying before, isn't how dance music initially grew. To me, technique is really important and indicative of the DJ's personal style, but technique doesn't have to be "smooth", and it doesn't have to adhere to expectations. You can have flow and synchronicity without smoothness—and you can perform methodical chaos. People have their own swing and can make it work in technique and flow, sometimes without staying in a limited tempo range or lining the kicks and hats up for every mix. Anyone with real style and ambition should be able to pick it up how they want to and can surprise you with what they deliver.
You’ve spoken on the demands you receive as a DJ and electronic musician to make your output both legible within the techno tradition and danceable. In what ways is this insistence on music having a “function” counterproductive to the art of electronic music production?
I'm down with functionality as a means to achieve something greater, but I wouldn't want it to be the end-all. It's cool making people move in different ways, and reacting to their movements with the development of the set. I like to experiment with those formulas, especially for live sets and DJing, but I also try to create work that sits in reference to techno, by nature, but would not be considered directly techno. Most of what I've been working on recordings-wise is not functional at all. I would like some of my recordings to work as a wrench in the spokes of a DJ set, a self-inflicted challenge to the DJ. I tried to do that with the BANK record.
On the topic of groups you work with, how was it releasing Sixth Stitch on Break World? Does that project resonate with yours?
I think Edaan's curation is on point, and he is always working quietly on boosting the next project. The music he puts out is critical, biting, experimental and story-telling. Both Elysia Crampton's Demon City and Bookworms' upcoming Appropriation Loops, for example, embody that. The works have a spirit all their own, respectively. They're challenging. I'm happy to be in such great company on the label and excited to see where it goes.
What's next for you?
I'm working on the next releases. And in the coming weeks, I'll be touring internationally mostly playing live. This Saturday is Not Waving, Silent Servant and Pye Corner Audio at Brooklyn Bazaar. After that I'll play Trip Metal, A Pay What You Want festival with a sick lineup in Detroit started by Wolf Eyes and company last year. Then I head to Europe to play the following, and later in June I'll come back to play Anthesteria Festival at Trans Pecos whose bill also features many of my favorite projects in the country.
Seeing as Via is a new hot app, do you think you’ll retain the moniker?
Via App performs alongside Silent Servant, Pye Corner Audio, and Not Waving this Saturday May 20 before embarking on an international tour. Upcoming dates are listed below:
5/20 New York, Brooklyn Bazaar
5/27 Detroit, Trip Metal Festival
6/02 Rennes, L'Ubu
6/03 Paris, Secret Location TBA
6/04 Zurich, Rhizom Festival
6/10 Berlin, ://About Blank
6/14 Mannheim, Disco Zwei
6/17 Leipzig, Pracht