Musicians draw inspiration from so many different places-other musicians, major events in their personal lives, political movements, drugs and spiritual experiences. Barrett Richards, who makes murky and experimental electronic music under the moniker Kastle, says one of his earliest inspirations came in the form of Herbie Hancock performing “Rockit” on Sesame Street, using an early synthesizer, the Fairlight CMI.
“Oh, man. His ‘Rockit’ video is crazy to this day!” Richards says. He remembers being particularly drawn to Hancock’s use of electronic elements in his tunes. His interest in keyboards and samples was stoked by his older brother, who taught the young Richards the basics of programming and introduced him to the Internet at a young age.
“I lived in a really small town outside of Pittsburgh,” he says, remembering that the web was his only source for the truly obscure electronic music he craved. “I would use an Internet radio channel, called ‘X Stream,’ run a cable from my computer to my cassette recorder and make my own mixtapes. I was a real big computer nerd back then.”
His early interest in computers and music has paid off. The DJ and producer is regularly name-dropped by some of the most respected left-field electronic artists making music today. He runs a tastemaking label, Symbols Recordings, and regularly tours the world-performing at festivals as large as Coachella and Burning man, and in smaller clubs, as he will do this weekend at the Back Bar SoFa.
His latest album, 2015’s Polytopia, is a collection of 6 spacey, yet danceable, tracks. The album blends the U.K.-centric genres of garage and grime, with sparse, glitch-riddled hip-hop rhythms. Tracks move along languidly, as moody synth patches burble and pop-recalling acts like Actress, a way-slowed-down Machinedrum, and, at his most-experimental, Oneohtrix Point Never. Polytopia has been called “dark” by some-and it is indeed more brooding than some of his previous work.
According to Richards, he never set out to make a dark Kastle record. Though perhaps the fog had something to do with it.
“I was living in San Francisco around that time, and I wanted to make something that was accessible to my club music and something you could listen to in the car,” he says, explaining the time leading up to his recording of Polytopia. “I wanted to do something timeless. I don’t do things dark to be dark but I’m a big advocate of duality in life. Duality was a major theme on that album.”
Richards, who is now based in L.A., is also a believer in following his gut. Intuition, he says, plays a major role in how he picks the artists he wants for his label. “If I feel a certain way about it, doesn’t matter what the genre is,” he says. “If you’re feeling it and if the feeling is good I will get behind it.”
Recently, Richards has gotten behind Kid Smpl from New York; French producer My.Head; WWWings, a trio of grime-inspired producers with a penchant for black metal iconography and the Amsterdam-based Moth.
If his sound and taste in label additions have become more diverse and avant garde, Richards says it is likely due to his fear of being grouped with mainstream electronic producers.
“I was being lumped into a bigger group of house music out there and it made me feel uncomfortable, like I was not being as imaginative as I wanted to be,” he says. “I definitely consider myself a left-field artist in the U.S. now and I plan on doing so going forward.”
Both as a label head and an artist, presentation is important for Richards. Like many of the albums on the gloomy indie imprint, Sacred Bones-Amen Dune, Jenny Hval, Blanck Mass-the cover art on many Symbols releases is somewhat standardized. In the same vein, Richards maintains SoundCloud and a BandCamp pages for Kastle, but says he plans to begin streaming his music through his own website, using his own media player soon.
“I don’t understand why no one has started going back to that,” he says. “It’s been really fun to be able to create a layout of what you want people to see-and you’re not limited to just SoundCloud. People forgot about presentation.”
Kastle plays Fri, 9pm, $10-$15 at BackBar SoFa, San Jose.