The Return of Huerco S.
a.k.a. An in-depth interview with Brian Leeds, who never actually went away, but is about to release a new album from his most celebrated moniker.
Not many electronic musicians can make it through two separate hype cycles with their credibility (not to mention their sanity) intact, but Huerco S. (a.k.a. Brian Leeds) isn’t the average artist.
During the early 2010s, some of his earliest releases were lumped in with the “outsider house” trend, and while that tied him to a genre descriptor that nobody, including the journalists who used it, actually seemed to like, it also helped the Kansas native to find a literal home in a fertile NYC scene that also included artists like DJ Python and Anthony Naples. The latter wound up releasing several of Leeds’ records—under a variety of different monikers—on his Proibito label, and while many of them were focused (at least loosely) on the dancefloor, it was an ambient album, 2016’s For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), that unexpectedly took the name Huerco S. to a whole new level.
Easily one of the most critically acclaimed electronic music LPs of the past decade, For Those of You was hailed as an instant classic, with Leeds held up as one of the leading lights of ambient music’s so-called “revival.” (For what it’s worth, that “revival” is still ongoing, and framing it as such largely ignores that the music has been around for decades and never actually went away in the first place.) Within a matter of months, Huerco S. went from being a critically respected, albeit still somewhat obscure house producer to someone whose songs were dotting popular “chillout” playlists and being celebrated by people (and critics) whose usual engagement with electronic music was casual at best.
When presented with these kinds of “crossover” moments, many artists look to capitalize on the momentum, moving quickly to serve up another helping of whatever struck a chord with audiences. Leeds, however, went the opposite way, setting aside the Huerco S. alias entirely as he set up the West Mineral Ltd. label and released two full-length albums under a new moniker, Pendant. At this point, nearly six years have passed since For Those of You was first released, and while the name Huerco S. certainly hasn’t been forgotten—before the pandemic hit, Leeds was still DJing under the name regularly—it’s fair to say that it’s not exactly clear what the project is about these days.
Plonk, a highly anticipated new Huerco S. full-length that’s scheduled to drop on February 25 via Incienso—Anthony Naples’ current label, which he runs alongside Jenny Slattery—should help to shed some light on the situation. Although the LP is being touted as something that reflects “the mournful sodium glow of cities at night” and “street corners that light up with painful moments of clarity you wish would disappear,” I was looking for something a bit more concrete, which is why I phoned up Leeds over the weekend for an interview. Over the course of our conversation, he discussed the new album’s genesis and what he’s been up to over the past six years, but also touched on the pandemic, audience expectations, the meaning of “plonk,” what drives the West Mineral Ltd. label and two of his biggest inspirations: rap music and cars.