For the past two decades, 42-year-old DJ Scott Herren’s flipped the switch on numerous music projects, jumping from one alias to the next in a varied catalog of intricate beat tapes. Each new venture in ambient music is as gripping as the last as Herren deftly crafts impermanent melodies and hypnotic drum patterns. While the vibe might seem mysterious, especially with his slower tracks, he lays it all out everywhere else.
One moment he’s glitching his way through boombap-inspired beats in Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, and the next he’s pushing you into an auditory abyss in Forsyth Gardens.
Born in Miami and raised in Atlanta, Herren’s affinity feels borderless, taking a little bit of this and that from the important locations in his life. The drowsy tones and booming bass of the Dirty South, the clean cut polish of Miami EDM and the industrial grit garnered from his years living in New York City all worm through dozens of albums, EPs and collaborations.
His latest album Sacrifices, released back in May under his genre-warping alias Prefuse 73, adds a familiar but welcomed chapter to his catalogue. At this point in the game, the twists and turns are to be expected, but still remain captivating. The arrangement on “Her Desire is to be Left Alone” has the signature dips and lingering melodies as its predecessors. The sudden switch ups are more restrained.
Herren’s last project before this was a collaboration dubbed Fudge consisting of him and Boston rapper Michael Christmas that resulted in the 2016 album Lady Parts. Hip hop isn’t unfamiliar territory for Herren; in the past he’s worked with heavyweights like MF DOOM, Mos Def, Ghostface Killah and others. Between that and playing at shows like the now defunct LA electronic music showcase Low End Theory, the brief distractions have given him time to breathe and rethink his process.
We hit up Herren back in June to ask about how he’s progressed over the years and comparing himself to others in your genre.
You just came back from playing a few shows. How was that?
I played two in LA, and those were great, and then the one in SF was just really weird. I played this like really big space and it just wasn’t promoted. I mean the space was huge and it was weird to just play in a space where you know usually a lot of people show up and then it’s just like, it was just weird. Just because of the sort of money I could tell they put into hiring me and then the amount of money they spent promoting it was like zero. So I mean I really think I was in San Francisco and not a whole lot of people knew I was there.
You were one of the last performances of Low End Theory this year. How did that performance feel?
Yeah, in LA. That was great. Yeah there’s like eight more or so. Kinda crazy. I’ve been playing Low End since it started. I was thinking like I might’ve played one of the first ones in LA, I can’t even remember. I remember when it started just going out there kind of regularly and the fact that its ending is kind of bittersweet, you know? It’s gone through its kind of ups and downs I guess.
The guys that do it—Daddy Kev and DJ Nobody and Gaslamp Killer who isn’t a part of it anymore—all three of them really did a great job of just kind of making like every single Wednesday of every week since they started dope. It’s really hard to think of like when they didn’t bring somebody out on that bill. It’s kind of unbelievable cause that doesn’t really happen anywhere else.
Your latest album Sacrifices follows in the footsteps of your previous work. When did you switch up styles from a produced sound back to what previously would’ve been called lo-fi?
To be honest I think it’s the technology that I had. I used to only work with analog hardware, not because it was cool but because that’s just kind of what I learned on and just kept on using it. So I never really used or leaned on computers as anything more than the recording process. But mostly everything was made on hardware and then I would record on computer when I was like on the very end of it. This [time] in particular I had a really stripped down studio, and I wasn’t living in the city of anything, I was just living upstate for almost a year. I was just sort of stuck with like my laptop and a bunch of controllers—some analog stuff but nowhere near like almost 100 percent of the record being completed that way. So I think that added to the lo-fi aspect of the earlier records, this was done mostly like inside of a computer for time.
During a time when a ton of producers have endless options at their fingertips, why do you think some are flocking to a more barebones sound?
I don’t know cause I hear so much different stuff. I think it’s really easy with technology to make a lot of sounds, and like people that are brand new to it just to make a pile of loud-sounding records. With the limitations you have with sort of analog and lo-fi, in a way you have no choice of how the sample bitrates are and what like connects. With technology everything is much easier, there’s like way less limitations. You can connect everything a lot easier and I think that’s the biggest difference between those sounds.
You have a pretty storied history with hip hop via collaborations with rappers and other producers. What inspires you to explore different genres?
The original thing is—and the thing that’s sort of undeniable—the background that I come from. The first music I was ever able to make and the people that I was around and what I listened to when I started was hip hop. I wanted to make hip hop records but the thing was when I started I didn’t have like the right kind of tools. I didn’t have sequences, I didn’t have anything. I just had samplers and tape decks, instruments, nothing to make what I wanted to make. That definitely shaped the fact that I was bringing in all these other influences. Things were kind of taking off then like post rock and just stuff that wasn’t as indie rock, like things that were adding more influences into it. I just started ended up making music that was in-between those lines. That’s sort of the way it happened. Just sort of a natural progression I’d say.
Do you see yourself maintaining that relationship with hip hop?
I think under the name Prefuse I’ll stick to like beats and various forms. I think I’ll always do that because it’s kind of an addiction. Making beats is the sort of thing that’s impossible for me to not do. Even if I’m working on something very quiet for another project, I promise you the outtakes will always have like me making a fucking beat out of that really part cause I’ll be like “ah that’s dope” and then I’ll be like “wait that’s not what this is.” So I have to like have a little bit of restraint. Like I said I’m an addict. I always sort of beatbox my way through a melody even when there’s not a beat there. It’s strange. I’m pretty strange. It’s similar with most beat makers, or most people who do any kind of electronic that usually has some sort of beats in it. I don’t know but there’s also a lot of electronic music that I just don’t listen to.
What are some creative projects that have peaked your interest?
Well I’ve always been attracted to things that I don’t understand. Instead of disliking things I don’t understand I always like to just listen to and I just have repeated listens. I like this dude William Basinski and I like Grouper. I like just very strange atmospheric music because I always wonder “How in the hell did this turn out so pretty?” cause it sounds so dirty. I think a lot of my other influences I sort of wear on my sleeve but stuff like that inspires me. Just stuff that I can’t figure out. It’s just sort of a mystery.
What are the some influences you draw from?
I don’t know. I think a lot of friends. Like a lot of people think we sound similar. I don’t know if it’s exactly pulling. I think we all come from a similar place. People like Teebs, Dimlite—nothing that’s ever been purpose. People compare me to Flying Lotus nonstop since he came out. That would be impossible because I was making music already and then he came out. I saw him and loved what he did but it wasn’t as if he was ripping me off or vice versa. Those things just sort of happen. People say that, they compare, contrast, but there’s so many things that people say that I just do not sound like. I just don’t think I sound like Flying Lotus in any era. I just think you could be like that sounds kind of like him but together as a whole, I think we kind of just do two different things. I always sort of been into him in that sense.
Why do you think people like to lump artists together like that?
I think it’s because a lot of the people that they say sound like each other sort of stay away from like trying to be convincing. With electronic music or hip hop, most people that compare all us aren’t doing like EDM—EDM music that sort evolved post 2008 or whenever it got really big. You know, Skrillex big. The thing is this stuff has nothing to do with that shit. There is no huge fucking drop, and if there is a drop it’s completely confusing. I think it comes from more of a straightforward blend of like beats, style, just the crazy side of Aphex mixed with like Dilla beats. That’s sort of a way to like think of it as a fundamental. That’s not the direct combination. I’m just saying that that’s something that would make more sense.
What differences or similarities do you see from region to region?
I think its always pretty different for every place. I think every spot when you break it up, there’s always like five people that just are out there. They’re just totally doing their own thing like blending in a lot of modern classical elements and then hip hop elements. Just straight over-the-top hip hop. It’s just everything. Or even if it’s over-the-top, it’d be like still over-the-top but blending in all these other elements that just counteract with everything. A lot of people are thinking of new ways to make music always.
Do you ever see yourself playing around with other genres or just circling back to the familiar?
I wouldn’t mind doing something with a legacy rapper that’s still interested in doing something. I would love to do just a project and it doesn’t have “weird” or anything like that. Just like a project with like Pharoahe Monch or someone like that—something just ridiculously dark and visual. I think that he would be the perfect person, I just don’t think he would want to. I think he would just be like “Nah, I’m cool” but I’m just assuming. I don’t know.
Your music tends to blend well with any situation. What mood are you trying to convey to other people through your music?
I think that would make sense. I think makes total sense. Since that was the way that was made, just being sort of isolated. The title’s kind of like draw your own conclusion but it’s sort of direct. When I was telling you about the technology that I had was really stripped back cause I was living upstate for a minute, it was like I had to sacrifice so much shit I would usually just grab for with my right hand, put it in front me, tap that in, I didn’t have any of that. I’m like, “what the fuck do I do.” So it took a lot of like thinking and holding back. I could see how everything could just submerge into your environment, in a nice way. In a non-obtrusive way cause I have a lot records that do the total fucking opposite of that. I’ve albums that are probably just the worst hangover music you could ever imagine.