Supreme Cuts is thrilled to be totally chilled
For a couple of guys making a big buzz with a decidedly downtempo strain of electronic music, Austin Keultjes and Mike Perry come across as wildly overexcited about life. In fact, the men known to fans as Supreme Cuts are so jacked about what’s happening for them professionally at the moment that they end up panicking their publicist, who’s listening in on their conference call with the Georgia Straight.
“Okay, okay—I’m going to level with you,” Keultjes practically gushes, on the line with his musical partner from their home base of Chicago. “Everyone we’ve wanted to work with has hit us up in one week. And by everyone, I mean literally everyone that we’ve ever dreamed of working with hit us up in a week. So we’re just working a lot, and it’s been great.”
It’s when they’re asked for a short list of those names that their publicist jumps in to warn that that’s not an option at this point. He returns again a couple of seconds later when Keultjes accidently reveals the name of a Windy City rapper they’ve spent the week collaborating with, that information evidently embargoed for now.
Consider this a sign that things are definitely happening for Supreme Cuts, whose debut album, Whispers in the Dark, has proven to be one of the underground’s most rewarding releases of the year. To its chagrin, the duo has been called everything from ghetto house, scuff, and cloud-rap to Chicago’s latest entry in the footwork scene.
Influenced by everything from Black Sabbath and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to Three 6 Mafia and Brian Eno, Perry and Keultjes are more apt to describe themselves as Pink Floyd with dance beats. Gloriously chilled out will also do as a starting reference point for Whispers in the Dark. There are moments of almost serene beauty, with “(Youngster Gone Off That) Sherm” laying bird chirps and field hollers on top of a pillow-soft bed of synths, and the gauzy “Ciroc Waterfalls” marked by Zen-like recordings of quiet water drops.
Supreme Cuts doesn’t hesitate to mix things up, however. The ultra-cool “Intermission” comes on like scratchy ’20s jazz beamed in from deep space, while “Belly” brings a good dose of sweaty R & B to the party, thanks to sampled retro vocals. One of the great things about the record is that it sounds completely analogue, that being one of the group’s greatest tricks.
“We made the whole thing on a computer,” Perry admits. “We take a lot of samples from field recordings, especially around town. We walk everywhere, so it’s hard not to catch little things and want to put those things in songs. They are things that are sort of in the back of your subconscious all the time.”
“But we play all the synths ourselves,” Keultjes adds. “So that’s part of the organicness or humanity of the record. We use natural synth tones. It’s just that we can’t afford $12,000 synthesizers yet, so we’re using computer versions of our favourite synths: Junos, Jupiters, and that kind of stuff.”
Funny, considering all the praise that Supreme Cuts has received, that Perry was initially convinced he and Keultjes had made a record that would immediately sink into obscurity.
“My expectations were that no one was going to listen to it,” Perry says bluntly.
After Keultjes chimes in with “I thought people were going to think it was boring,” his bandmate continues, “It’s been cool to hear people enjoying it and listening to it all the way through. We wanted to make an actual record, as opposed to doing singles or a four-song dance EP.”
For an indication of just how much thought Supreme Cuts put into the album, consider this: Whispers in the Dark is, they argue, a concept record, even though the only actual singing comes in the form of ghostly samples.
“The whole record, to give it a context, is all based on the end of The Simpsons,” Perry says. “You know, where it’s the Gracie Films part? The whole record is based off of that, inside that movie theatre. Some people get it, some don’t. It makes sense to us.”
Evidently, plenty of folks do indeed get what Supreme Cuts is doing, even though Keultjes and Perry aren’t exactly making the kind of electronic dance music designed to appeal to the average Skrillex fan.
“We made the record completely for ourselves,” Keultjes marvels. “It’s a record with no bangers and no lyrics at all. The fact that people can relate to this or immerse themselves in it is pretty exciting and really cool. We’re just humbled by it.”
Humbled, that is, in a really excited way.
“I’m not going to say that it’s going to cure you of leprosy or anything,” Perry says with a laugh. “But it’s meant to take you on a journey.”
Keultjes continues: “I think there’s ups and downs, which kind of really mirrors life in the minor to major switches that we do. Also, because there are no lyrics, it makes it really accessible to people from all different languages. Our music is kind of vague, and more about raw emotion than concrete, material things.”
Now if only the members of Supreme Cuts could be taught to be more vague about things when they’re on the phone, at least until they’re at liberty to spill some of their secrets.
Supreme Cuts plays the Biltmore next Thursday (August 16).
Follow Mike Usinger on the Tweeter at twitter.com/MikeUsinger.