Cover Story: Galcher Lustwerk
Cover Story: Galcher LustwerkDecember 19, 2022
The enigmatic American electronic producer Galcher Lustwerk on the importance of career control and managing his artistry a decade on from glorious debut release, 100% Galcher.
When I jump onto Zoom with Galcher Lustwerk, he’s just woken up. He’d already been up earlier that morning but went back to bed – a pandemic habit, he says. Real name Chris Sherron, Galcher Lustwerk has a laid-back demeanour. He’s easy to speak to with an open, though slightly reserved, energy. Perhaps not a surprise considering that his artist persona also has more than a hint of obscurity. After his recently re-released mix/album 100% Galcher first dropped in 2012, Chris was thrust into the limelight, picking up Mix Of The Year on two of the biggest platforms of the time. “I was very shy of social media and stuff,” he admits. “There were many times, between 2014 and 2017, where I started a Facebook profile or Twitter account and deleted it a month later”.
Chris had already been immersed in production for a few years when 100% Galcher hit the streets, but that body of work was pivotal in catapulting him onto the world stage. Across 15 tracks he showcased his unique sound that has captivated a loyal international following. For many, it was their introduction to Galcher Lustwerk, and, as the title states, the compilation embodies what he is all about. Now, 10 years later, he’s able to set the record straight after being misrepresented during the period when that release dropped. “[With the re-release] I was able to write an essay in the liner notes and get the story properly told, because I do think through interviews and stuff, things get mis-translated somehow,” he tells me. “You can’t just read a bunch of interviews and form a picture of someone – each interview is gonna kind of portray them differently.”
“So I feel like I was able to really just control how people hear the story behind it,” he adds. “Just understanding that it took me more than 10 years of making music to do that mix. There was a lot of work, and a lot of people, behind the scenes that made it happen”.
The notion of control and managing his artistry is very important to Chris. With a firm grounding in visual art, as well as his music, he has a very hands-on approach to the Lustwerk project, ensuring that the ethos and visual identity is consistent across all of his releases. Of course, when one is interviewed there has to be a degree of surrender, allowing the person conducting the interview to interpret what has been said. But, this can lead to the aforementioned mistakes in translation. For instance, he was labelled an “art school kid” that somehow got a break and appeared from nowhere. A whole swathe of his history negated by a misrepresentation of where he’s coming from and what he’d been doing prior to 100% Galcher.
As can often happen, people take what they read for gospel and an artist will be pigeonholed and categorised according to what has been reported about them. So the re-release of Galcher Lustwerk’s 100% Galcher on Ghostly International is not only a chance to celebrate the impact of the mix, which has also been lovingly remastered, but to also rewrite the narrative that was established back when it first appeared. “We were pretty much outsiders, going to parties in New York and wanting to do what they’re doing,” he explains, discussing the crew he hung out with while studying at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Heads like Young Male and DJ Richard (founders of White Material), were among those he connected with in Rhode Island, a college town where it was notoriously difficult to establish a DJ career. Transient crowds and simply being a much smaller town made it a challenge, but one which Chris says made him a better person.
Tracing his timeline back further takes us to his childhood. Chris grew up middle class, in a domestic environment that encouraged and nurtured his artistic abilities. His father was an administrator at Cleveland Institute of Art, so he’d attend workshops and camps for free there. Art was a key feature in the family home, he gravitated towards comics and, eventually, CD covers. As someone who has a self-confessed ‘nerdy’ disposition, Chris says he felt like an outsider at the Catholic school he attended. This, combined with being a person of colour, led to feelings of not belonging to the status quo. “I isolated myself pretty early on, just socially,” he reveals. “And through the teenage years I assimilated into various things. I wasn’t sure what my identity was.”
Chris’ great-grandfather forced his children to go to school in the era before the historic Brown versus Board of Education case, when American schools were still very much segregated and Black people were not welcome in white establishments. “I feel like that sort of trickled down to how my parents wanted to raise me. I just found out recently about this term, PWI — primarily white institution. When I found out about this, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my whole life,” he explains. “They come from a place where you really want to work hard to get the best you deserve. And that comes with some sacrifices, like growing up with mostly white friends and always feeling kind of left out”.
He credits this upbringing with forging independence within himself that is still evident today and feeds into his musicality and music-making process. We discuss the fine line between independence and isolation, and how such a way of being can lead to unhealthy and limiting habits. In a world still reeling from the aftereffects of the pandemic, there are many people of a less social inclination still having to force themselves out there to socialise.
“With that in mind, it’s hard to relinquish control of your music to people,” he admits, before going on to describe the murky world of “Soundcloud labels” that were active around the time of 100% Galcher‘s first release. “All these labels were popping up, and they’d message you like, ‘We’re from the UK’ or ‘We’re from Austria or wherever – we want to put your record out’. And I’m like, ‘Okay, first off, what’s the cover gonna look like?’ and ‘What do you want from me?’ kind of thing. So, it was really hard to trust people for a while early in that process.”
Through his childhood interest in CD cover art, Chris began to find that it was techno covers that were most intriguing. His earliest forays into electronic music centred around a largely British contingent: The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Underworld and he also namechecks Tricky as an early influence. His very first CD purchase was the album Vegas by US group The Crystal Method. After nine years of playing saxophone in his adolescence, he moved on to fully invest his time into DJing and making electronic music when he went to RISD.
He did some writing himself, and followed all the popular websites and blogs of the time, also taking great interest in reading books about music, and artist biographies. As someone who is well-read, I ask him how it feels to be interviewed himself and he notes an interesting connection to Beatportal. “I think the most interesting thing about Beatport is that I remember they used to have a Traktor-style mp3 player,” he quips. “And I don’t even think you could beatmatch with it. I think it just had a crossfader and a playlist. I used that way back when I first started to DJ. One of my first gigs was a Sweet Sixteen party in Ohio, and I remember using that software, and it’s crazy to come full circle with this interview.”
Musically speaking, the Galcher Lustwerk vibe feels casual and easy going. It’s not trying too hard to convince you to have a good time and it transports you into an imaginary world, where the listener is invited to be the creator. There’s an open-endedness, a mystique to the music, which gives it its allure. Chris himself says that his music needs to sound effortless, to encapsulate what it’s all about. When pushed to describe his “sound” (something artists no doubt find irritating, though he didn’t show it), Chris tells me, “I just kind of make music and then figure out if it’s a Galcher track later. It’s kind of a humour thing, I think there’s like a level of humour to it. And there’s also a level of it being slightly unpolished in places, so it feels spontaneous”.
“A lot of times when I arrange music, I’m literally recording the first take of arranging the tracks, and I just use that take,” he adds. “So there’s an effortlessness, a sort of ease”.
That ease and smoothness can be linked to his production process, which is similarly unfussy. Chris has optimised his studio setup (which he kindly shows me during our chat), so that he can get up and running rapidly. “I’m mostly just focused on having everything turnkey. So I could just flip a switch, press play and start jamming,” he explains. Everything is within arm’s reach, which means he can work efficiently, without too much stop/start. Among his key pieces of gear is a stream deck, which is used for video games. “I want the studio to be ready to make music as soon as inspiration starts and be able to do it in like 15 minutes in the morning,” he adds, revealing that was the process with 100% and 200% Galcher. Both were made when he still had a full-time job at a graphic design company. He would wake up, work on the music and go to his job. “I was always concerned with getting the most out of my time,” he concludes.
Crucial to the ingredients list that makes up his instantly recognisable sounds is his distinct vocal delivery: that casual, seductive drawl. Layered over the top of his instrumentals and you get a sound that is almost without comparison. It’s Black, it’s American, and it’s indicative of Chris being at a stage in life when the identity issues he experienced as a youngster have been eclipsed by the certainty of knowing who he is and what he wants to represent. “I’ve done indie music, and I’ve done more alternative-sounding stuff, but it always comes back to wanting to connect with all the Black artists that I appreciated coming up,’ he says. “It was cool to see Black artists on stuff that wasn’t just rap. Seeing Tricky and Prodigy was like, “Oh man, these guys are doing their thing in this scene.”
He then tracks the lineage of electronic music back to the Caribbean and sound systems, their influence on the UK, and how that has connected back to the States. Speaking with Chris is fascinating. We chat for over an hour, and could easily have gone on for way longer. It’s easy to ascertain, from his admission of being nerdy, that he knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. For example, on the subject of his vocals, he cites contemporary rap and how, “There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening with production and rap music right now.”
“They’re getting real maximal and frantic, and sci-fi and woozy,” he continues. “Even the flows are getting kind of funny. There’s this sort of, I don’t want to say lazy, but it’s this style that flows over the beat in a particular way – a lot of artists from Detroit are rapping like that now. But yeah, it’s fascinating to me just as a fan.”
Back when he made 100% Galcher, he was bumping artists like Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa, echoes of which can be heard in the repetitive nature of the hooks on a lot of tracks. “I was listening to a lot of rap that had very repetitive subject matter,” he tells me. “They’re able to find different ways of talking about the same shit and I just love this kind of focus. I don’t mind talking about the same things, you know; I’m not really trying to teach anything. It behaves as an instrument in a way.”
For Galcher Lustwerk fans, this is the kind of insight that will have them foaming at the mouth with glee. Being able to hear the artist himself peel back the layers and reveal his influences and inspirations is always going to be fascinating. Of course, it only gives you a small window into the complex and nuanced process of creativity, but even so, there’s a satisfaction in knowing a little bit more about his reference points.
We also discuss the way in which the Lustwerk sound has been wrongly categorised as “ghetto tech” or “ghetto house”. On a personal level, Chris finds it uncomfortable because he grew up middle class, but there’s also the notion of lazy labelling that is derived from the narrow perception that Blackness means “from the ghetto” or “urban.” Terms which are still hotly debated in the music industry because of their connotations. “I grew up pretty middle class and so I have a more aspirational, mysterious, luxurious, kind of secret agent vibe that I’m trying to make sure comes across,” he says. “I want everything to feel like it’s a world of adventure and mystery”.
In a roundabout way, Galcher Lustwerk is like one of the comic book characters Chris was fascinated by when he was a child. A mysterious alter ego that goes on adventures in his own world, stimulating the imaginations of those who engage with his creations. But Chris also experiences a degree of uncertainty in how his work is being received and by whom. As already noted, presenting himself in the public eye has been a challenge, and this continues to manifest itself today. “I feel like in the Tiktok generation it’s getting harder to sense where the support is coming from. SoundCloud comments were a pretty reliable test of whether something was popular at one point in time, but now it’s not like that,” he reasons.
Creating for a living, channelling your being into your music and travelling the world to DJ is a dream for many, and certainly a pathway that most artists are grateful to have achieved. But there are always challenges to face, one of them being that today’s less tangible measures of success can often lead to self-doubt. Simply knowing that someone has connected with your music and enjoyed it can be enough to cast away the dark clouds of self-criticism and doubt, but it’s not always that easy to see, or feel, that positive feedback.
“I guess you could have a viral Instagram reel or Tik Tok and you get that burst but everything just seems kind of muted,” he continues, citing the visual, and often superficial, side to music promotion where a model-turned-DJ would likely get more props than him – not so much criticising, more highlighting a fact of the social media age. “If I could just keep putting stuff out, keep DJing and keep pushing my sound, I’m confident that I’ll make it through,” he concludes. “But yeah, it’s hard. And what I’m trying to say is, it’s just hard to feel the love sometimes these days. But I feel like I’m maintaining.”
The reissued and remastered Galcher Lustwerk album 100% Galcher is out now on Ghostly International. Buy it on Beatport.
Marcus Barnes is a freelance music journalist living in London. Find him on Twitter.