Joel Eel

Exclaim! - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - by Daryl Keat­ing

WHERE IS THE LOVE? RIGHT NOW IT’S ON TORONTO’S DUN­DAS STREET WEST, WHERE JOEL EEL (BORN CHOL EUL) HAS AN APART­MENT-CUM-STU­DIO that he cur­rently shares with DJ friend Waseem Dab­doub (aka Wasser­man) and Bruno the Dog (a dog). It’s spit­ting dis­tance from Bambi’s — one of the only con­sis­tent venues in the city for proper elec­tronic mu­sic — and the more re­cent ad­di­tion of la­bel and record store In­vis­i­ble City.

It’s a tight lit­tle trip­tych of cre­ativ­ity that could lead to some in­ter­est­ing part­ner­ships down the line. “I feel that hav­ing a stu­dio around here will open up a lot more col­lab­o­ra­tions,” Eul says. “Maybe be­fore a show, I might jam with some­one or hang out up here after­wards, who knows?”

That would be noth­ing new for Eul, though. For his lat­est al­bum, Per­form­ing a Crime, he called upon long-time friend Brian Wong (bet­ter known as Gingy) to help flesh out the record. In or­der to fi­nesse ev­ery­thing, the two hun­kered down for 15 days in the Treat­ment Cen­tre, a dif­fer­ent stu­dio run by Matthew But­ter­worth. De­spite hav­ing ac­cess to “ev­ery synth and drum ma­chine you could think of” for that fort­night, Eul didn’t touch a thing.

“The ideas were al­ready there, and it was just about mak­ing ev­ery­thing fit well, son­i­cally,” he says. “I didn’t want to use equip­ment just for nos­tal­gia’s sake. It was more about the ideas, and whether or not those ideas trans­lated with the equip­ment I al­ready had.”

While his pre­vi­ous setup fo­cused heav­ily on 909 repli­cas and a com­pli­cated mod­u­lar setup, Eul (who might be one of the few who haven’t gone deep down the mod­u­lar rab­bit hole) chose to limit him­self to two patches — Shapeshifter and Mu­tant BD9 — and Elek­tron’s Dig­i­takt drum ma­chine/sam­pler, for the guts of the al­bum.

“The record is prob­a­bly 90 per­cent Dig­i­takt and 10 per­cent mod­u­lar,” says Eul. “I wanted to see what kinds of sounds I could de­velop with just one in­stru­ment. Ac­tu­ally, I just used all the de­fault sam­ples from the Dig­i­takt too [laughs]. I was also trav­el­ling a lot [through Lon­don and Ber­lin] when I wrote the al­bum, so some­times it was just about us­ing what I had with me. Re­strict­ing my­self came from two rea­sons, re­ally: one, out of con­ve­nience, but then also see­ing what I could write with­out get­ting too com­plex.”

Still, prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant in­stru­ment that Eul used on Per­form­ing a Crime is one he has with him at all times: his voice. Hav­ing played in “shitty” punk bands since the age of 14, lyrics are some­thing that he’s al­ways used in mu­sic, so it seemed only nat­u­ral to keep that up. “I think it adds an­other layer to the mu­sic and helps a lot in putting forth an idea,” Eul ex­plains. “It also re­ally helps to dis­tin­guish me from what other peo­ple are do­ing. In­dus­trial techno, EBM, ev­ery­thing in that vicin­ity is hy­per-mas­cu­line. Con­cep­tu­ally, and through lyri­cism, I tried to re­verse or re­move the bar­rier of those stereo­types and add a dif­fer­ent flavour.”

Just like vo­cals aren’t par­tic­u­larly fre­quent in EBM, con­cepts are even rarer, and no­tions of ro­man­ti­cism are rarer still. Yet Eul has de­liv­ered on all of these with Per­form­ing a Crime, and some­how man­ages to make a thought-pro­vok­ing record that’s also club-ready. “It’s a love al­bum for the dance floor,” says Eul. “It’s about how one can be seen as a crim­i­nal while in a re­la­tion­ship. You might be do­ing some­thing that is pos­i­tive in your headspace, but it could be pro­jected in a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. It’s touch­ing upon my own ex­pe­ri­ences from be­ing in re­la­tion­ships, but also ex­plor­ing ex­pres­sion to­wards in­ti­macy and how that’s been di­luted too. The ti­tle track is re­ally the core con­cept of the al­bum, but there are other ideas on there too.”

The opener, “Sap­phire,” tack­les panic dis­or­der, some­thing Eul was di­ag­nosed with last year, while “Man of Colour, My Ma­chine” looks at the shells we’ve all been dealt and how they al­ter peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of us. “Leather Love Let­ter” too has some­thing to say, “that one goes back to the metaphor of ‘you can’t write on leather,’ so you can’t ex­press your love on a ma­te­rial that’s kind of coarse,” says Eul. “It’s con­vers­ing about how love is a di­min­ished form of ro­man­ti­cism these days. You don’t get long, ex­pres­sive con­ver­sa­tions any­more, it’s very short: like, ‘hang­ing with bae,’ and ‘IRLY,’ just the acro­nym and not the ac­tual words.”

Eul has pulled off a neat trick here: he dove head-first into the wires, and pulled out some con­cep­tual heart­break, not to men­tion sol­der­ing it to a style that’s never been one for sen­ti­ment. “I think it’s very dif­fi­cult to see po­etry in some­thing that’s ag­gres­sive,” says Eul. “This kind of mu­sic is im­me­di­ately in your face, so it’s hard to see an idea be­hind it. There’s a real chal­lenge in draw­ing some feel­ing from equip­ment that is kind of cold, and the lyrics do help with that, for sure. I don’t know if peo­ple will nec­es­sar­ily feel like this is a love al­bum, but to me it ab­so­lutely is.”

“I don’t know if peo­ple feel like this is a love al­bum, but to me it ab­so­lutely is.”

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