Black Asteroid's 'Grind' Video Reveals Rick Owens Design

Bryan Black talks about befriending the designer, fixing Prince's synths, and his forthcoming album

Philip Sherburne WRITTEN BY
Philip Sherburne

As menacing as Bryan Black's brand of techno may be, there's also something unmistakably luxe about the music he records as Black Asteroid. So it's fitting that goth-futurist designer Rick Owens' clothing is featured in director Matt Kliegman's new video for Black Asteroid's recent single "Grind," including a $60,000 fur coat from Owens' appropriately named Hun line. "He just told the New York store to let us have whatever we wanted for the video, like a loan," Black says by phone from a hotel in Berlin's Friedrichshain neighborhood — a vegan, "bio and earth-friendly" hotel, in fact. (Presumably, Black wasn't wearing any of Owens' leather pieces when he checked in.)

Black's relationship with the designer began "by accident," he says. "I was just on YouTube and I found his shows, and it turned out that he's been using my music for a while. I didn't know that. Even as far back as a Motor single I did for Kompakt, called 'Ice,' which he used in one of his runway shows. I just wrote to his PR company and he wrote back to me, and we kind of became friends."

In this case, friends with benefits. Previously, Black says, "I knew of him, and I just knew that I could never afford him. The bell went off in my head that I could possibly work for clothes, and that's kind of been the relationship. I'd rather not have a fee — I'd rather just get some nice clothes from him." In return, Black regularly DJs at Owens' Spotlight parties, which the designer described to Vogue as "nothing fancy, just a late-night dance party" in a "dark, seedy" club. "They're pretty crazy," Black confirms. "Usually it's in a leather bar, and the music's really dark, and the club is dark. Rick is always in the front, headbanging the whole time, when I'm playing. For him, it's really therapeutic. He loves dancing, and he always tells me to play harder. Most people tell me not to play so hard, and he's the opposite. He's quite extreme when it comes to techno."

Black's forthcoming album — his solo debut, and first long-player since his duo Motor's Man Made Machine, in 2012 — will actually be less extreme than some of his work, he says, despite featuring vocals from Nitzer Ebb's Douglas McCarthy and the members of Cold Cave. "There'll be a few ambient songs; obviously, it's not your typical techno record, which I'm constantly trying to avoid," Black says. "I'm on this kick now with really fat, analog, modular-synth bass lines and kind of rock'n'roll elements in the drums. I've been doing this now for my last few songs. The album is going to be very similar: very expressive, modular synths, big kick drums. I've been collecting all these raw, analog sounds, then editing them in the computer. I've been very careful never to use a preset or a sound that somebody else has; I try to create every sound from scratch. I'll have another single called 'Metal' in April on Electric Deluxe. It's like heavy-metal techno — it's techno, but it's got the spirit of metal music. All the synths have been wired through guitar pedals."

The fusion of techno and metal is second-nature to Black, who got his start making industrial music in the Minneapolis duo haloblack. "I got ino the industrial scene back when Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, that thing was taking off," he recalls. "Trent Reznor was on the cover of SPIN in '92 — it was like the next big thing. It fell off, but at the time it was really exciting. I love the energy of rock'n'roll, but I hate the fact that you're stuck with bass, guitar, drums, and vocal. You're stuck with four instruments; why limit yourself to those? With industrial, it was rock'n'roll with this whole spectrum of sounds. It was more expressive. So I got really into sampling and making electronic music."

It was through haloblack, in fact, that Black landed a job working at Prince's Paisley Park studios. "We were one of the few bands in Minneapolis making industrial rock, electronic music," Black says. "One of his people invited us to play at his studio. He had, like, private parties. Next day I get a call that Prince wants me to come into the studio. Either he filmed our performance or he was watching in the darkness somewhere — he does that, he likes to check out talent. So I was offered to work with him." Part of Black's job description involved sampling elements from Prince's back catalog to be triggered in live performance, and on the road, Black served as keyboard tech — no easy job, given the Purple One's stage antics (and fondness for high heels). "Often, he would walk on top of his keyboards, and he would break keys," Black says, "so I had to open up the keyboard mid-performance, swap out some keys, and make sure he had everything working all the time. It was stressful, but I learned everything I know about music production from him."

Back to Black's other heels-wearing mentor: Black says that his album will feature a cover designed by Rick Owens. "It's funny, because he's not a graphic designer, but he just gave me some photos that he'd done that work well with the music. I have these really strong images to play with now. I'm hoping we might also do some sort of physical product together, some kind of collaboration for the album. Just to have something really unique, really beautiful." And, presumably, really black.

Watch SPIN's premiere of Black Asteroid's "Grind" video above; the EP is out now on Chris Liebing's CLR label.

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