It was front-page news in 2011 when Marc Houle, Magda and Troy Pierce announced they were collectively leaving Richie Hawtin’s Minus label to develop their Items & Things imprint, originally a sub-label under Minus’ auspices. The trio of serial collaborators’ reason for departing Hawtin’s camp was rooted in their wish to build their own musical future together. Almost three years later the threesome and Items & Things have been slowly realizing their dreams on their own terms, quietly redefining minimal techno one blip at a time. Houle has kept particularly busy, taking part in a series of collaborations in 2013 with Miss Kittin (Where is Kittin? EP), Click Box (Razzamatazz EP) and an album with synth-pop act La Folie.
“I love making music with other people because it’s such a great feeling when they add stuff that you wouldn’t think of,” offers the Berlin-based Houle. “I’m not sure if it’s had an impact on me but it’s a nice change and anything new in the studio is a good thing.”
This month Houle presents his first solo release since 2012, the Fusion Pop EP. The release features two original minimal cuts and remixes from Magda and I&T artist NYMA. His latest effort arrives during a period of extensive touring, which finds him crisscrossing the world nearly every weekend.
“Traveling around a lot gives you lots of time to think about things, so I’m always making notes to reference when I get home and start working again,” he explains. “Also when you’re away from the studio for awhile you just can’t wait to get back in and make lots of music. So I’m doing this interview right after three crazy shows in Argentina. I’m pretty exhausted from all that partying but it was a really great time playing for people who love music a bit weirder than normal. It’s such a crazy country!”
Houle’s one-man live show continues to evolve in tandem with his forward-thinking and often unconventional production style. His performances leverage the diversity of his DJ sets by utilizing an array of hardware to create a unique experience. “It’s been a very slow change over the years,” Houle says. “[The live show] became more energetic over time and definitely more eclectic. I’ve learned to play different feels and styles depending on the people dancing in front of me. Over the years I’ve brought different pieces of gear with me — synths, drum machines and now microphones — to enhance things and give me more options. I think these days you need to be flexible. In the future, I think I need to concentrate more on the visual aspect of things. It’s almost becoming as important as the music.”
Houle’s Boiler Room set filmed last year in Berlin is a perfect snapshot of his live set. During the hour-long affair he dropped 15 sinewy tracks, running the gamut from minimal to house, even sprinkling in a few classics from his Minus days (“Borrowed Gear” and “Sweet”) into the mix. While the show’s host didn’t recognize Eddie, the mascot for the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden emblazoned on his T-shirt, the iconic group’s early albums serve as the soundtrack to his constant travels.
“I’ve been wearing Iron Maiden shirts since I was little,” says Houle. “Live After Death was the first album I ever bought and wearing the shirt gives me a level of comfort. I don’t listen to their new stuff, but I still listen to the first five albums all the time on the plane.”
The next project on the horizon for Houle is the upcoming release of his as-yet untitled sixth artist album, the follow-up to 2012’s Undercover. “We’re mastering it right now — it’s got nine tracks that are all over the map, and I really really like it. It’s a step forward for me but it’s still my style. I’ve also been playing them out recently to good response, so I’m pretty excited about releasing it.”
“I’m lucky that I can dedicate all my time and efforts to making myself a better musician. It’s still amazing to me that people like the weird stuff I do.”
While the next year will likely be focused on supporting his upcoming full-length, Houle is keeping his creative options open because “you really never know who might end up at your place at 5am one night ready for a spontaneous session.”
Despite — or perhaps as a result of — his success Houle’s words exude a sense of humility, mainly because he’s grateful to be able to make a living producing and championing the offbeat, underground music he love so much. “I’m lucky that I can dedicate all my time and efforts to making myself a better musician,” he concludes. “It’s still amazing to me that people like the weird stuff I do. So thank you!”
Marc Houle’s Fusion Pop EP is released April 24, 2014.
Featured image by Gaetan Tracqui; inset image by Maxime Chermat