Pris has been present and correct on the techno scene since 2013, initially making an impact on Resin and later releasing across tastemaking, singular labels such as Avian and Semantica. Pris’s music has always had a vulnerable quality weaved into powerful, dynamic tracks that became favourites amongst many of the vanguard of the scene and on vast, demanding sound systems. This unusual, sometimes wistful quality has evolved into an exciting new form through the medium of his new label, Empathy Corp, a striking mixed-media project founded alongside creative partner, Deejay Astral. The latest release from Pris himself, 'Sulphur City', has just hit stores. In a similar mould, and reflecting a philosophy that has evolved both emotionally and intellectually, Pris’s contribution to #PHANTASYMIX is involving, sophisticated techno that wears its heart on sleeve.
'Empathy' isn't always a word associated with techno. 'Relentless' or 'dystopian' tend to come first. What encouraged you to use empathy as a beginning point for the label?
Well, therein lies the issue! I’ve always found it a little odd how this is the image presented when it comes to techno but that’s not the techno I know, in my eyes, techno has the ability to portray the creator’s innermost feelings through sound design and there are so many more feelings out there other than dark and depressing. Some feelings, you can’t even put into words so I guess the influence comes from music that can make you feel the message being put across. It’s quite hard to achieve, but for me, that’s always the goal.
Tell us a little behind the visual imagery for the label? Who designed it and what does it represent?
The image for the label is handled by Deejay Astral who I run the label with. We came up with the idea to start a label together late in 2018, after realising we were making music that we weren’t quite sure which labels to pitch to and really enjoyed the process of running a label back when we were doing Resin (back then Sam was more involved in the art design but has a much larger role in Empathy) and inspired by the D.I.Y culture seen more these days we decided a new label was going to be the most rewarding thing to do. With the label, we discussed how much more rewarding it feels to sell a story rather than yourself. So there’s a bit of an untold backstory with the label that we don't necessarily want to tell with words but rather through imagery and through the music released on the label, its a fledgling concept but it's certainly a lot of fun to try it out!
There seems to exist, a sometimes uneasy balance between 'techno' and 'business', as exemplified in what I understand is everyone's favourite running joke on Twitter; business techno. Can we assume the 'corp' is placed with tongue firmly in cheek?
Well initially the name came more so from the fact that we both worked together at the same company at the time so would spend what time we could at work throwing ideas back and forward to each other and getting more and more excited about the concept, we both have a real aversion to anything corporate so when we came up with the name Empathy for the label we found the oxymoron between being empathetic whilst also being a corporation quite amusing and ran with it. I guess it's also a view on the commodification of dance music these days but we want to try and escape the current world were in and allow the label to exist in its own world where the way things are now might not be applicable in this world, giving us a lot more freedom to do whatever we want. We can have more of a “Oh yeah, but in this world that’s normal” approach to everything we do.
Tell us about the mix? Was it difficult to place music that suits the very specific sound and aesthetic of the label?
Well ive always just played music that I like, I get bored playing the same kind of music all the time so I like to sprinkle my sets with music that might not classically go with the music I’m mixing it with, but the older I get, the more interested I am in showcasing all the influences in my life that has lead to the music I make. I think that, in the past, techno especially has been way too protective about what techno ’should’ be which I think is counter intuitive because it doesn’t allow much room for growth. But with regards to the mix, I decided to record it at about 127BPM just to switch things up a bit, I have fun mixing fast and slow, but recently I’ve been playing faster than normal (much like many others have!), but actually, I’m having a lot of fun lately playing around with slower speeds to get more space out of the music being played. I also just had to chuck a Health track in there, for good measure!
I know your Dad is behind the initial branding and designs for Ministry of Sound, which is some of the most iconic imagery in British dance music history. Similarly, you write music with a visual identity in mind?
Dance music has always been a part of my life, maybe that’s why I go through phases of being quite jaded by it all but at the end of the day, it's in my blood! I would definitely say imagery is a huge part of making music for me, im always trying to paint a picture with where im at in my life, the feelings, fears and hopes that I have at the time of making it, sometimes I like to challenge myself by coming up with the concept and track title first and then making something to fit around that, it's an odd way of doing it but it helps keep things a bit fresh, I work better with a goal in mind rather than a blank canvas.
Have you ever taken one of the online ‘empathy tests’, such as The Empathy Quotient? They were initially developed as part of autism research, and many have since been discredited as understanding of that condition has broadened. Still, worth a go if you’ve ten minutes spare and a willingness to potentially be surprised...
I’ve taken whatever personality test passes my way! I mean come on, who doesn’t! Recently I found myself caught up in this astronomy hype, deep down I find it has to be bullshit, the location of the planets when you are born putting you on a path for the rest of your life seems a bit fishy to me, but I guess there’s so much we dont know still about existence it would be ignorant of me to slam it completely but I feel in this day an age where people are struggling more now than ever in history with the concept of identity and their place in the world or just generally trying to understand themselves and their feelings, things like astronomy, personality tests etc that allow people to get at least a loose objective reference point to who they are and what sides of themselves they need to address, can’t be all that bad, saying that I think the best thing for these sorts of issues is therapy but that’s not always readily available so whatever helps you shouldn’t be scoffed at.
To maintain a healthy career in dance music, at least some dose of narcissism seems increasingly necessary. Do you think empathy and narcissism can co-exist? After all, ego gets things done. I'm thinking of the unfashionable term 'virtue signalling', and the currency attached to that at this moment in time, but I'm asking you because I anticipate a more exciting answer than, “Bloody kids with their phones...”
Oh I totally believe the two can coexist, I think narcissism as a word has a negative connotation to it; Where do you draw the line between self love and narcissism? With narcissism being a dirty word, it leads to people being unable to love themselves in fear of being branded a narcissist, worried that they won’t know whether they’ve crossed the line into being hailed as selfish. I think it's perfectly possible to love yourself and others around you fully, I think if more people were able to truly love themselves they will be more able to love others around them and these negative ideas of narcissism will start to dissipate, emotionally healthy people are less likely to have toxic tendencies, the problem is it's very difficult to be emotionally healthy in the current global climate, not just in dance music, it’s a global trend. We're all here just trying to make the most out of our lives so let's not judge others on how they choose to go about it and just think more about what we as individuals are contributing to the current climate, as there’s no rule book to being a good person.
John Thorp, December 2019.