It’s not easy to tell stories without words, but that’s exactly what local, mostly instrumental electronic artist Hex Wolves does.
He listens to the shapes, sounds and textures of the music he’s creating, and hears what it’s trying to communicate so he can sculpt it to have a beginning, middle and end, like any other story.
For his song “No Other Choice,” off his recently released album Center Remained As Ice, he found himself drawn to the slow, large cavernous sounds he was creating. It felt like a foreboding crawl with an implication of hope, but no guarantee. He leaned into this vibe, and the story that emerged was of a character moving toward the light at the end of the tunnel with optimism—but as they reach the end, the light isn’t there. Everything is closing in on them as they slide into nothingness.
It doesn’t matter that there’s no words to convey this story; the feeling of unease and trepidation is still felt on a visceral level.
“It’s really important to tell a story. That’s all music is,” Hex Wolves says. “That’s what separates an artist from a great artist—the ability to clearly convey that message in the story, and open people’s minds to that perspective. It’s not easy.”
Center Remained As Ice has a single story at its core that is both very specific, and vague enough to be open to interpretation. It’s about a main character’s journey, full of choices and consequences. The process of accepting them makes the main character appear to others to be cold and calculating, when in fact they have just let go.
The music on Center Remained As Ice evokes a cold tension, with grimy, retro electro-sounds—layered, but still minimalistic. The lo-fi quasi-techno beats and ethereal, even sinister synths bleed with constantly shifting emotions. As you listen, you feel a constant sense that the other shoe is about to drop.
It is soundtrack music for a movie that doesn’t exist. And it’s best experienced as a whole, with the listener taking in the movements and allowing the imagery to fill their brains with experimental electronic arrangements, noises and washes of robotic sounds. Hex Wolves always focuses on the big picture, never on flash or gimmick.
“I can get hung up on a sound that I think is really cool. You have to learn how to kill your darlings, and I’ve gotten really good at that,” Hex Wolves says. “It’s not good enough to be like, ‘That’s a great sound,’ if it’s not telling the story. That’s why I don’t work with the traditional song-making formulas. I don’t make pop music, which I totally respect. Pop music writing requires a very strong specific skill set.”
Originally from Seattle, he moved to L.A. and became an active part of the underground dark ambient abrasive lo-fi electro-scene there. Since late 2015, he’s been working with DTH X CMP records, owned by Nick Viola. The label has been putting out his music, but Hex Wolves also helps out—when he can—with building a collective around the label, mostly of the artists doing similarly experimental electronic music on the West Coast.
Earlier in his career, Hex Wolves would throw electronic shows in standard venues, but he quickly learned that this music worked better in off-the-radar, DIY warehouse spaces, where everything could be a little more unhinged and a little bit more punk rock, since this wasn’t exactly big house EDM. A half-serious motto at DTH X CAMP is “This is not for you.”
He moved to Santa Cruz late last year, hoping to get involved in the music scene, but was shut down from any kind of networking when the pandemic hit in March. Fortunately, he had such a large backlog of unreleased music, he’s been focusing on releasing tunes all year. He’s got his eye on bringing that grimy, punk-electronic scene to Santa Cruz when things open back up.
“It would be interesting to see who comes out of the woodwork in Santa Cruz,” he says. “I plan on bringing some people from the L.A. scene, test the waters and see who’s out and about. If they’re into worshipping machines or not. If they are, then they’re good people.”
For more information, check out hexwolves.bandcamp.com.