Features Reviews

Your Humble Silent Servant

Silent Servant
Silent Servant AKA Juan Mendez. Photo Credit: Silent Servant.

It didn’t take me more than a few bars to get into the work of dark techno wizard Silent Servant, a man who seems to mine everything from Brian Eno and Joy Division to Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration and any given Skinny Puppy and John Carpenter soundtracks to create catchy and resolutely debased pieces.

I first heard of Silent Servant through his affiliation with Veronica Vasicka’s Minimal Wave Records, and what struck me was that for all its disconnection and abrasive qualities, Servant’s work is utterly human and inspiring. He taps into a brutal and raw nihilism that still manages to be warm and comforting despite, or because of, its ferocity. He might be a silent servant of some dark lord (whether actual or metaphorical), or he is the forthright master of a domain laden in uncertainty, fear, resolute insecurity, and probably blood; but overall he’s a guy who’s tapped into the human psyche.

Perhaps it says more about me than anything else, but I tend to find authenticity and true human connection with artists of any medium who occupy the margins, the darkness and the corners of existence that are apprehensive about unmitigated, perhaps unwarranted, happiness. Even the much brighter Italo Disco and its adherents and descendants I so love are skeptical creatures whose whimsical joy is more cynical than it appears. They want you to party, for sure, but they want you to earn it.

Servant’s “Speed and Violence,” from 2014’s Violence and Divinity split with Broken English Club, released on Minimal Wave’s techno imprint Cititrax, marches along like a collaboration between Puppy and Carpenter. The bass synthesizer chugs along repetitively over a constant and nervous drum support. Atop them is a macabre, minor-key melody line provided by a string synthesizer, joined by barely intelligible chants from a disembodied provocateur. This is the part of the film where the stalker reaches the height of his craft.

My favorite song of his is “Moral Divide (Endless),” from the 2012 album Negative Fascination on Hospital Productions. This cut, like the whole album, is a brilliant showcase of Silent Servant’s adept skill not only at techno, but at combining that with ambient and industrial to craft something wholly haunting and wholly beautiful. And yes, wholly and authentically human.

On “Divide,” a repeating, dissonant two-note blast, sounding a bit like the delicate, throbbing machinations of some factory equipment, carries the tune as a slightly more excited drum pattern skitters along underneath. Amid all of that is the slow-burning strings that move apace in a mournful, capitulating fashion. It’s as if they gave up, surrendering their autonomy to a confused arrangement of pencil-pushers and metal objects.

There’s nothing brutal in the arrangement, though. Don’t get me wrong. I imagine if you ask those relative few who still work in factories in the Western World, you could find someone who feels “Divide” perfectly expresses the personalities and emotions running rampant at some soul-crushing, specialized machine shop in a suburban industrial park. Big steam machines, this ain’t.

Much of Negative Fascination exists like “Divide,” although some cuts, such as “Temptation & Desire” pick up the pace a bit and get a little dirtier, bringing in more of the industrial sound with which Servant is sometimes affiliated.

Silent Servant is the alter ego of Juan Mendez, a Los Angeles-based producer and visual artist. In 2013 Mendez told XLR8R that he grew up listening to New Order, The Cure, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. I can hear all of them in his work, but I can’t help but also hear some Swans and Ministry in there.

He made his name as a member of the erstwhile Sandwell District, purveyors of a darkly cinematic atmospheres replete with moments of a crushing absence of resolution, an abundance of anxiety, and all that other stuff you feel while waiting for a timely subway in Brooklyn after 8 p.m. (Seriously, why do nearly all of my friends live in Brooklyn? Don’t they realize it sometimes takes me 90 minutes to get home after 10 p.m.?)

After Sandwell dissolved in 2011 he formed the Jealous God label with Regis and James Ruskin, according to Resident Advisor. The label serves as a great outlet for their brand of electronic avant-garde and other types of wonderful experimentation.

Although, as I mentioned before, it seems the bulk of his Servant releases are under Minimal Wave’s expert purview.

In addition to all of that great work, Servant also is known for his DJ sets, which are just as cataclysmic, dismal, and vulnerable as his own music, but with a tad more Ministry of Truth.

This is from an LN-CC Recordings in-store set in 2014.