IN CONVERSATION WITH PHASE FATALE
Phase Fatale, the techno project of New York native and Berlin-based techno artist Hayden Payne, has become a driving force in the electronic music scene since its inception in 2014.
Known for his innovative sound and residencies at Berghain and Khidi, his DJ sets feature dystopian, gritty, and industrial electronics with post-punk influences, while his own productions showcase his deep understanding of synthesis and sound design.
From his debut album to releases on esteemed labels and the launch of his own imprint BITE, Phase Fatale has established himself as a trailblazing figure in the techno scene. This is also reflected in the successes Phase Fatale has had with BITE so far, publishing more than 25 releases, while pushing techno’s boundaries with emerging and established artists.
To celebrate its fifth anniversary, BITE presents Shedding Skin, an 18-track compilation that features Phase Fatale himself alongside other renowned acts like Pablo Bozzi, Unhuman, Reka, Silent Servant, New Frames, and up-and-coming talents such as Nastya Vogan, Mind | Matter, Omon Breaker, Gael, and more. This compilation is a testament to Phase Fatale’s enduring influence and the label’s commitment to techno of the highest quality.
Since your debut in 2014, you’ve been recognized as a techno innovator. Your musical style is known for its dystopian and gritty feel and industrial and post-punk influence. How did you develop this unique sound, and what inspires you to keep pushing the boundaries of techno?
At a very young age, I already got into post-punk and industrial music. I played in bands since I was a teenager, whether on vocals, guitar, bass, or synth. Then in New York, I discovered artists like Silent Servant and Regis that also blur the lines between techno and post-punk. Upon moving to Berlin, I saw more of this cross-pollination and hybridization of the two scenes. From our Fleisch parties in a dingy basement to Berghain, there was a connection musically between the sensual rhythmic pulses of EBM and ominous techno. That’s where I developed more my sound and found my niche. As tastes and music trends evolve, I still want to push the boundaries of techno and what’s en vogue and evolve my music one step ahead but still reflect the zeitgeist while staying true to myself and my vision.
Looking back at your journey from your early beginnings to achieving recognition as a resident at Berghain and Khidi and launching your own label, BITE, how do you perceive your personal growth, the evolution of your sound, and the progression of your career?
I started out more on the industrial side of techno reflecting this new combination of dance music and through that unique crossover was able to grow and stand out. Actually pushing “harder” music from early on. I originally founded my label with Florian Engerling in 2018 to gather like-minded artists and create a diverse roster with similar attitudes. It’s finally grown to the point where the label is touring the world with showcases. I think I was able to find a balance to touch on different spheres that my sound can fit into whether I’m playing a big room techno festival or an Italo disco party as Soft Crash and then back to home base at Berghain or Khidi where I can express my music freely. So being able to keep that catchy and emotional element amongst heavier walls of noise and depth is important to me. I always reference Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.
You’ve collaborated with Pablo Bozzi on the “Italo Body Music” project, Soft Crash. How does your music differ when working together, and how does the energy between you two manifest in the music?
While I usually am focused on heavier techno, Pablo is pushing Italo, wave, and early trance with his own edge. When we come together, I think we meet somewhere in the middle like some headier and more experimental version of Italo in minor key. We’re able to develop the other’s ideas in different ways that perhaps we wouldn’t come to on our own.
The music is deeply layered, nuanced, and a bit weird. Since we’re both somewhat introverted people, I think we use music to express what we cannot express normally, and these emotions come through in the music combined with our mutual love for 80s synthwave and cyberpunk. It’s like being romantically lost in space.
As a selector, producer, and curator, you’re constantly pushing new talents and sounds through BITE. What do you value and look for when selecting new artists to collaborate with or push on the label?
The first thing I’m checking for is cool, forward music. It’s a combination of cutting-edge sound design, smart arrangement, and fluid groove all while retaining a certain form geared towards the dancefloor mostly. It’s music that has some sort of story or message, something trying to make you feel or think not only boom boom. Beyond that, we are creating a community with the artists and somehow connecting all the dots.
“Shedding Skin” marks the 5th anniversary of BITE. What makes it especially meaningful to you and your label?
When the label started, I didn’t go in with the expectation to get big or for it to become a focal point of my life. But now here we are, and I’m happy about that. It puts a smile on my face to work with artists and develop together seeing how excited they are to make these physical releases. And when choosing the tracks for this compilation, I didn’t go in with a set sound or vibe in mind, although maybe subconsciously. In the end, they fit together in a mutant technoid way, with twisted vocals and heavy post-punk influences yet still fresh and club-ready.
The compilation features tracks from various mainstays as well as new artists on the BITE label. Can you tell us about the diversity of musical styles represented on the album and how you approached its curation?
I wanted to reflect all the different sonic aspects the label hits on showing our full spectrum. And also to reflect important places to me like New York, Berlin, Kyiv, and Tbilisi. So the label goes from harsh, minimalist industrial techno with early Pansonic influences like in tracks from Nastya Vogan or Gael to the goth-influenced techno of Alekzandra & Liziuz or Unhuman & Petra Flurr to floor fillers from legends like Ron Morelli or Terence Fixmer. I always have balance in mind to glue everything together even if there are quite a few different moods.
The title “Shedding Skin” implies a transformation or renewal. How does this relate to the music on the record, and how do you think it reflects the evolution of BITE over the past five years?
I think for many of the artists the past couple of years have been filled with a lot of turmoil and uncertainty. And this transformation is us growing and evolving into something more than before and trying to leave the past “skin” behind. I would say the same for the label as we have truly entered a new stage becoming more professional and connected, growing our sound and image.
Have you noticed a growing community around your sound, label, and aesthetics? If so, in what ways are you pushing this community forward?
Yes, I’ve noticed a growing community, especially since we’ve found a sleeker sonic/visual aesthetic for the label which evokes something more to feel connected to. I’m trying to show that this music can actually uplift and celebrate in the darkness. It’s not just dusty and black and white but brighter and layered.
And what can we expect to come from BITE but also you individually or in relation to other projects?
I think we have around 20 showcases scheduled this year so there will be plenty more including 2nd ones at Berghain and Khidi later. Plus, I’m working on some collab tracks with other label artists, new Soft Crash, as well as new solo material.
photography DENNIS SCHOENBERG
interview THORE DAMWERTH