We get better through constant change. Reassessing ourselves in light of new information learned or experiences we’ve been through, making the appropriate change to our behavior, personal philosophy, and style. As normal citizens, these adjustments are easier to do than for someone in the public, or lord help them, the internet spotlight. Fred Warmsley stepped into the public spotlight as Lee Bannon in 2013 as one of the main producers behind Joey Bada$$ neo-’90s hip hop sound on his Summer Knights mixtape (though he’d been making stellar beats for years).
Lee’s productions were nocturnal, muffled, and off kilter loops that called back to classic RZA compositions—perfect for Joey’s high verbosity rappity raps. One short year after Summer Knights came out, Lee signed to the famous left-field British electronic music label Ninja Tune, and released Alternate/Endings, a solo album devoid of hip hop beats, but filled with hardcore, dark, and intense drum and bass .
To Pro Era fans, the stylistic change was hard to comprehend, but Lee’s always followed his creativity down different sonic rabbit holes, burrowing into diverse musical interests and coming out the other end with something unique and exciting. Lee occasionally returns to hip hop production on loosie tracks for other artists like Mick Jenkins, Milo (as Scallops Hotel), and Wiki, but as of 2015 he’s been more focused on ambient and new age music as Dedekind Cut (named after a complex mathematical term).
When you’re playing shows on tour are you playing the ambient stuff from $uccessor?
Dedekind Cut:I have like three show vibes. I have a more sit down and just take it in ambient live set that involves a lot of stuff from $uccessor, and a lot of unreleased stuff that has a new age vibe. Then I have a DJ set where I just play jams. Then, the other one is a live set that involves, past, present, and future [music]. That set features a lot of gear, like two drum machines and some effect boxes.
How do you decide what set to do?
Dedekind Cut:It depends. Sometimes I’ll just come to the soundcheck, talk to the promoters, and I figure it out then. Sometimes I check the event page on Facebook and see what people are talking about. It’s just trying to read the vibe beforehand.
What’s the difference between ambient and new age music?
Dedekind Cut: I look at new age music as like, it’s not as strict as ambient music is. New age is a pretty vague term, which is exciting.
So it’s not new age music in the way that a lot of people think about it, like devotional music?
Dedekind Cut:I think both genres have that kind of medical use, like it could help with stress and put you to sleep and in that vibe or whatever.
Is that different from “meditation music” which is one of the tags on the album’s bandcamp page?
Dedekind Cut:I guess it depends on how you listen to it. I’ve listened to it in a bunch of ways. I’ve listened to it in the background when I’m trying to get work done, you know, aiding the situation. It kind of puts a firewall in my mind so there’s no pop ups basically. There’s other times when I fall asleep to it, or just put it on and think about what I’m going to do that day, and it helps 100%. It was also very therapeutic making it.
Did you have a different themes you were trying to reach for in American Zen, as compared to $uccessor?
Dedekind Cut:They’re kind of both made in the same time frame, it was just that one worked better for the LP and others worked better for the EP. Like American Zen was more of a nature thing going on, more so than $uccessor.
What’s the theme, or the vision behind $uccessor then?
Dedekind Cut:$uccessor is like the birth of something new. It’s the first album for me as The Dedekind Cut. It’s not necessarily ambient, I’d more call it new age. The drums are much more worldly, not a lot of your traditional rhythms. For American Zen I worked with this dude named Mason Youngblood who went to Columbia and has his masters in ornithology. He collected all these nature sounds from North Carolina, and brought them back up [to New York], and I put those in this program called Max MSP, and I used that to process them and turn them into the sounds on American Zen.
Just working on that blank interface that Max MSP offers must be a lot more freeing than working in a grid like Fruity Loops or something.
Dedekind Cut:Oh yeah! I’d been using Renoise before to kind of segue into that. Renoise is like this sequencer that goes up and down instead of left and right.
Do you visualize the music you’re trying to make in your head before you sit down at your computer?
Dedekind Cut:Not so much. I think I used to have that process but now it’s much more of putting stuff together and whatever comes out just kind of comes out, and if I enjoy it at the time, and it makes me feel a certain kind of way. I used to be the exact opposite, I used to try and dream up something, but working that way I found that I was often trying to duplicate someone else.
Can you describe what the artwork for $uccessor is?
Dedekind Cut:Have you heard about the Fletcher Ranch in Philadelphia? It’s for like inner cities kids to ride on horses and stay out of gangs and stuff like that. It was kind of paying homage to that. I love what that was all about. Actually the test pressings [of $uccessor] are going to come out and they’re going to be like a thousand dollars a piece, and I’m going to donate that money to the Fletcher Riding Club, because they’re trying to raise money to save the ranch because they’re being charged with cruelty to animals because they have horses in the city. Plus I love the idea of someone of color on a horse, something you normally don’t see being portrayed in the media, like a person of color making ambient music.
You know the most horses in LA county are in Compton?
Dedekind Cut:That’s nuts.
Can you talk more about the juxtaposition of the cover?
Dedekind Cut:Yeah! So I got a lot of flak, even now, because I’m trying to dedicate the Dedekind Cut stuff with all the energy that I have from people, like Discogs, I had to tell Discogs that the Dedekind Cut has nothing to do with my other stuff. This is a whole different thing. Because as as soon as you make it associated with Lee Bannon, or make it an alias or whatever, it messes us the whole flow of it. It messes up the Pandora similar artists.
Like right now it’s working, if you type Dedekind Cut into Spotify it’ll come up with similar artists like my contemporaries, like Rabit or all the way up to Brian Eno or Steve Reich, and that’s who I want to be showing up, not like Flying Lotus, no disrespect, but that stuff used to show up for the wrong reasons.
Are you ever going back to Lee Bannon?
Dedekind Cut:Ummm… maybe in the future, who knows, probably not though. As of right now, I want to continue making stuff as Dedekind Cut, making stuff under that moniker, fleshing that out.
What prompted your name change?
Dedekind Cut:In 2014 I was kind of tired of how the label [Ninja Tune] was pushing the name [Lee Bannon]. In my head it felt kind of like because I’m black, and because I’m making left field music, my agent was only trying to book me with Flying Lotus or Kaytranada or Teebs, which is cool, but it’s totally different! I’m not trying to do a beat thing, why not get me in with Tim Hecker? I just got really pigeonholed. I’ve had long talks with Dom from Hospital [Records], and I’m cool with a lot of them. I could release this project on a bigger label, but I’m choosing to release this with the people I’m releasing it with for the integrity.
t’s pretty wild that the first project you put out as Dedekind Cut was the harsh electronica of Thot Enhancer. Was that just a huge release of creative energy?
Dedekind Cut:Yeah! A lot of that, and stuff like 3M was stuff labels told me to cut out of other records. Like a lot of Thot Enhancer was what I really wanted Pattern of Excel to sound like. I thought about putting it out as Lee Bannon, but I put it out as Dedekind Cut because I kind of wanted a clean break from Lee Bannon.
Everything that I did as Lee Bannon past Alternative/Endings was sort of forced marketing to make me some sort of festival ready thing, and it backfired because it’s not genuine. I think there’s a reason 3M and American Zen and my other independent releases out sold Pattern of Excel and my other major label releases, it’s because I think it’s genuine and it’s coming from a genuine place.
Are you not proud of Pattern of Excel and the other work you did as Lee Bannon?
Dedekind Cut:I mean…to some extent, it [Pattern of Excel] was the ending to that. I still look at my best Lee Bannon work as Alternate/Endings, as I’m sure most people do. I kind of just wanted to end that chapter. A lot of people don’t realize also that Dedekind Cut isn’t just me, sometimes it is, but a lot of the times it’s a duo or a group. I can actually go home from the studio and listen to my music now and be happy with it. I think I know myself now a lot better than I was 17 making hip hop beats for 2DopeBoyz or whatever.
That’s great man. A while ago you posted on Instagram or Twitter about the sort of eraser of people of color in the larger narrative of ambient music.
Dedekind Cut:Oh yeah, and it’s not the ambient, or whatever, community, that isolates people of color, I think it’s the press that goes out about ambient music. I don’t want to put out any names, but they’ll write about ambient music in this high brow sort of way and write about this other music as a joke. I don’t think my aesthetics match with that. The way to fight through that is just to make music for the people, and not for them, as corny as that sounds.
Can you talk about NON Worldwide?
Dedekind Cut:I think it’s more than just a label. It’s a necessary thing, especially for people like me, you know, people of color making music that’s coming from a community of people who have things to say, actual, relevant things to say, at a time when it’s needed.
Yeah? Do you think there’s a social or political aspect to ambient and new age music?
Dedekind Cut:I mean there can be, and in my case there is. Let me give you an example, Pitchfork just dropped an ambient essentials list, where there’s not one person of color on it that’s black, except for Alice Coltrane, which I thought was kind of cool because I don’t think of that [#17 Turiya Sings] as an ambient album, and Laraaji’s album is also on there too, but that’s it.
I think if I come in with my perspective of that music, coming from where I come from, which is a different place than a lot of other ambient artists, then I think that should be interesting. I’m glad I’m not the only one, I’m glad Chino [Amobi] from NON exists, and different people are coming out and not just saying there doing “post-Dilla” beats or whatever, but really taking it out there, a little bit deeper, or something that’s different than hip hop.
One weird question, but I went to school in Davis, and we went to Sacramento a lot. You don’t live there now, but you grew up in Sac, what effect do you think that town had on you?
Dedekind Cut:Oh damn. Well I grew up with a lot of creative types there like Zach Hill and DJ Whores. A lot of those dudes were around and I was a lot younger, but to me they were the coolest at the time I was growing up. I think the result of that led to what I do now. It’s crazy to think that I used to shop at Records, the record shop on the cover of Endtroducing, and now I’m on a remix comp for DJ Shadow, who’s also from Sacramento. The type of parties they were throwing out there at places like Townhouse and Press Club also shaped my sound a little bit. Those places could be ridiculous now, but when I was there, those were the spots.
I saw you play a show opening for Ratking and Trash Talk at Harlow’s in Sac maybe two years ago.
Dedekind Cut:Oh yeah! Trash Talk and I were talking about this, because they’re from Sacramento too. Harlow’s was this trashy club when we were there, now it’s not. The scene has changed so much. That show was just kind of like a homecoming show for our friends.
Do you like Sac?
Dedekind Cut:Oh yeah! I would totally move back there. It’s super peaceful, but I think where I’m at now, New York has been super crucial to shaping what I sound like now, and just introducing me to other people and other cultures. Things get super cut off in Sacramento. But who knows, maybe I’ll move back eventually. I think it’s kind of like a mini melting pot of electronic music and punk music. That’s how you get people like Chelsea Wolfe and Death Grips, and whoever else, Trash Talk, and it’s all from this five mile radius.
You gotta put yourself in there too.
Dedekind Cut: I guess. It’s kinda cool. It’s kinda like Bristol in the U.K., with Portishead and Prodigy coming from this remote or random place.
But then everybody from Sacramento left!
Dedekind Cut:Hahaha, yeah. You know what’s funny? Nobody really listened to any of these people before they left. I remember going to a Death Grips show, and it was me and my friend Kevin, at the Press Club, and that was it. Then they went to L.A., and started playing more shows in L.A., did Low End Theory, and it sparked from there.
A lot of people leave to New York or L.A., even [DJ] Shadow. But I still love Sacramento. One of the hidden tracks on American Zen is called “Folsom Lake 04’,” and that’s Folsom lake in Roseville, and that’s the year before I graduated, and that’s where we had some crazy times. I’ve always liked the outdoors-ey, Northern California type vibe. It’s always been conducive to creativity I think, especially with all this ambient stuff I’ve been doing as of late.