Music Features

Primordial Void’s Marcel Sletten Releases Mammatus Clouds

Marcel Sletten. Credit: Jason Thrasher.

When musician and composer Marcel Sletten moved to Athens about two years ago from Lodi, CA, he knew of our indie pop history, but much less of our town’s rich history of experimental music. However, he immediately began making his mark to such a degree that it’d be unreasonable to not quickly include both him and his label, Primordial Void, in that history. 

For a slice of the music scene containing seemingly endless micro-niches and weapons-grade pretension, Sletten is refreshingly direct, plain-spoken and palpably enthusiastic. Among his initial exposure to Athens’ current scene was a friendship he made online with Taylor Ross from Surface to Air Missive, and he says, “…and then I was also a fan of some of the more contemporary bands here like Antlered Aunt Lord and The Dream Scene as well. Of course, I love all of the older stuff, but I got into those three bands pretty much at the same time, so I became kind of fascinated with Athens’ contemporary underground scene.” 

Although not immediately discernible in his own music, Sletten is an unabashed fan of some of the latter 20th century’s pop masters, including Fleetwood Mac, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. Working exclusively with his laptop, his MIDI keyboard and “Ableton, Audacity and the occasional synth website,” Sletten’s noted lack of wearing his inspirations on his sleeve is largely structural. 

“I think that’s… just a reflection of my setup. I get really inspired by artists like [the aforementioned] but when I actually make the music that’s in my head, it’s all super dreamy, reverb-drenched synth jams, because that’s kinda like my go-to,” says Sletten.

Jason Thrasher Marcel Sletten

He’s also inspired by huge works that are quite focused, noting that his 2022 album Irish Words and a Bottle of Myrrh, as well as his brand new-full length Mammatus Clouds, were each inspired by mega-works such as Tusk and Get Happy

The release of the new album, which comes out May 5 with a show scheduled for May 6 at Tif Sigfrids, will occasion Sletten to play his first shows out of town, too. To date, he’s got performances scheduled for both Queens and Brooklyn, NY the week following his Athens release show. 

Speaking of performances, Sletten breaks down the mystery of what’s actually happening behind his laptop screen when he plays. “I alternate between triggering a collage of samples of my own sounds and riffing over basic tracks in Ableton. It’s all live sound manipulation… But, basically, I’ll have the basic track of one song and manipulate that endlessly through pitch-shifting, reverb and echo effects, etcetera and then have these Bitcrushed noise synths that I use to riff over the basic track,” he explains. The use of some prerecorded elements isn’t a hindrance to the immediacy of his live performance nor a prescriptive determinant of his presentation. 

“What I do live is very improvised and rarely rehearsed that much beforehand. I like to surprise myself during the performance, so I can never tell how a new version of a track is going to go. I’m into stuff like the Dead, too, so I like applying that element of improvisation and jamming to computer music,” he says. “I’ve had some chaotic performances because of this, but others go amazingly well and I get into some pretty great droney psych grooves. It’s essentially a free-form version of what I already do in the ‘studio,’ i.e. my bedroom.” 

Mammatus Clouds features a wide breadth of Sletten’s explorations, including the primitive futurism of “That Means A Lot” and the Japanese koto of “Ghost,” each of which are outtakes from his 2022 album. Beyond these are the soft pop charms of the Cocteau Twins-ish “Pressure Drop (featuring Reed Winckler),” thrilling classical trills (“I’m Your Rider”), harsh EBM (“Russian Hill”), Salsa-dipped hip hop (“Pach”), ambient drones (“Dunsmuir I,” “Dunsmuir II” and “Dunsmuir III”), and others. 

When asked if he’d deliberately composed tracks for this album as a singular concept or found himself tasked with compiling existing tracks until the record was full, he responded, “A bit of both… I definitely incorporated older material on this album, just like how I did on Irish Words, but there was also a plethora of fresh material that was all recorded within a single week. I tend to work like that sometimes. These very manic bursts of creative energy come to me at the most random moments, but I think at that time I was really going through some heavy emotional stuff as well.”

Sletten is curious and excited, both of which are personality traits often in short supply among musicians who, as a class, can find themselves rewarded for aloofness and similarity. He says, “I think the music coming out of Athens and New York right now is the most exciting thing to me, personally… I feel like overproduced indie pop and faux-underground club music are the biggest bummers right now.” 

Always forward looking, Sletten is optimistic and goal-oriented. “I mainly want to continue to work on my own music and organize live shows, but I definitely have some special releases lined up this year by some very talented people, most of which are Athens-based, so that’ll be exciting. The label will turn five in August which is crazy to me, so I want to do some sort of festival either here or in New York to celebrate.” 

Sletten and I discussed many things, any of which could have taken this story in a different direction. But those stories are still to be written and will come in time. And while he’s not exactly a beginner, Sletten’s story is still in its early chapters, and there’s much more to be written about him, his label and his work. 

WHO: Marcel Sletten Album Release Show
WHEN: Saturday, May 6, 5 p.m.
WHERE: Tif Sigfrids