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Silently Serving at the Altar of the Dancefloor

words T.
18 July 2022

Silently Serving at the Altar of the Dancefloor

Words T.
Photography Nedda Afsari

The Platonist school of thought advocates the notion that human behaviour can be traced back to three sources – knowledge, desire, emotion. DJ and producer Silent Servant embodies this same triangular force field as he channels his musical alchemy. Imposing an uneasy continuity on divergent mechanical elements, he infuses an often sterile genre with an expertly-dosed melodic warmth.

Building on the tension between both ends of the spectrum – the ebb and flow of calm and rage – Juan Mendez has synthesised his own idiosyncratic vibe by subtly paying homage to the bleaker aspects of the post-punk era he spent his formative years listening to. Peppered with nods to clanky, industrial-tinged EBM and references to the more ominous and interesting aspects of Neue Deutsche Welle, substantiated by a nuanced take on minimal warehouse techno, Juan projects his sound against a haunting backdrop of floating ambience, only occasionally pierced by tranced out and at times haunting vocal interludes.

Juan Mendez emerged as a constituent of the volatile Sandwell District collective, with a pedigree in art design and a successful streak as the head of the highly heralded electronic music label Jealous God. Not until the age of thirty-eight did Silent Servant dedicate his efforts to full-time DJing, carefully sculpting a new, unconventional identity – an iteratively danceable spiritual doom that seems to be in a constant state of mercurial fermentation, brewing away to culminate in thunderous, pummelling lashings when you least expect it.

Silent Servant’s sound is rooted in an unwavering willingness to experiment. Circumventing outworn clichés and backed by a conceptually well-choreographed yet deliberately understated avant-garde approach, his oeuvre is pervaded by a resolute, uncompromising honesty. This authenticity serves as a catalyst for the creation of his own modern style, one that invigorates the tried and tested of the electronic with a timelessly transgressive vitality.

“To create something interesting that does not bore is still the objective. Creating something that is true to myself, but to have the courage to edit and moderate that same work.”

Quite a few moons ago, I had the pleasure of witnessing a Silent Servant set at Berlin’s Berghain. It was inspiring to experience Juan’s knack for keeping things in perpetual motion, traversing between sonic worlds yet preserving a sense of immediacy, intuitively knowing when a track is about to overstay its welcome and seamlessly moving things along. There is an almost tactile element to a Silent Servant set that lesser techno, and electronic music at large, is more often than not devoid of.

Some claim true originality does not consist of a new way of doing things, but a new vision.

In the case of Silent Servant’s peripheric visionary work, the relationship between drawing on inspirations, emulating others and confidently trusting his own creative instincts is based on the notion that old always creates new. This framework serves as a compass to help Juan never lose sight of his true north, as well as creating boundaries and limitations which in turn aid in calibrating his focus.

With the zeitgeist ever-changing – and having had a profound impact on some of the more transgressive artists who have been influenced by his music – Juan is adamant about keeping his ear on the ground. He proactively nourishes his curiosity in order to maintain a childlike sense of wonder over new sounds, which in turn fuel and inspire his own creations.

Asked about how his approach has changed over the years, and how the challenges of creating electronic music have changed over time, he considers them still the same. The constant objective is still the drive to create something that is true to himself yet informed by care and moderation, so as to maintain an inherent relevance.

“Emotion is the one thing that humans excel at that machines cannot.”

As far as the selection of his material and the factors that determine his choices are concerned, Mendez does not deem to have a preference as to old versus new. His choices are about keeping momentum going to create some kind of emotion, which in turn offers much needed respite and sanctuary.

Juan likes to remain focused. Considering his approach to his sets, Juan agrees that he sticks by a general process of curation – ensuring that he plans enough so that the bases are covered, yet deliberately not bringing too many options with him in a bid to avoid distractions and reduce reaction time pondering alternatives. After all, man is only as faithful as his options – and Silent Servant wants his options to be determined by personal connections rather than mere aesthetic choices.

If there was to be a Silent Servant credo carved into stone, it would be that the only constant is change, and stasis equals death.

“If the record is not working, mix out of it and keep things moving.”

While Juan does not necessarily consider himself to be big on improvisation, dull routines fill him with abhorrence and power his intrinsic drive to keep his EBM permutations moving. Meandering in chillingly captivating hypnotic circles that are chugged along by a manic inertia and persistently throbbing tribal-like basslines, they create the feeling of being trapped in amber, ethereally floating while bound to a cross for somatosensory stimulation.

In essence, Silent Servant is dark, moody and appealingly mysterious yet still an immensely dance-friendly oxymoron. Anyone exposed to one of his stealth sets would attest to the same.

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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