In certain circles, Todd Pendu is more closely related to ears and eyes than any doctor could hope to be. The Brooklyn-based nightlife impresario and record label honcho is probably best known for throwing the New York Ear and Eye Festival, his now-defunct music festival known for celebrating local independent culture and being really, really loud.
And while the festival is no more, your ears aren’t safe from Pendu. His record label, Pendu Sound Recordings—just one of his many cultural tendrils—is another outlet for the dark, challenging artistry he’s become known for. Acts like horror-art chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe and aTelecine, the semi-industrial brainchild of former porn star Sasha Grey, give the label a sexy, spooky vibe not entirely different from the one Pendu himself gives off.
Sure, the guy named himself for the hanged man in a deck of tarot cards and sports long hair that wouldn’t be out of place at any number of metal shows, but there’s more than brooding and black leather to what Pendu does. Incorporating ideas of eroticism and magick, Pendu takes a brainy approach to the darker sides of culture, letting those experiencing it explore and discover the art instead of putting it on display with all the lights on.
Whether it’s his bands, the parties, or exhibitions he throws under the moniker Pendu NYC, his web magazine Ekstatic Vision, or simply the bevy of often-naked beauties he’s frequently seen with (known as “Les Femmes”), Pendu’s entire oeuvre has a sinister and sensual feel to it that makes it easy to want to get closer and find out more.
Marc Santo: You made a name for yourself throwing the New York Ear and Eye Festival. How did that come about?
Todd Pendu: I wanted to give people the opportunity to see just how much excitement is going on in New York, so I took all the local labels and all the local bands and showcased them under one roof. Anyone can throw a New York event with The Strokes or Interpol, but I wanted to do something far more grassroots with emerging artists and interesting bands. I had industrial labels next to indie labels next to noise labels, and everyone was walking around trading cassettes, ’zines and all sorts of crazy homemade shit. The Internet has removed our connection to artists and objects, and I wanted to remind people how great objects are, and introduce them to the artists who make them. I did this festival three years in a row, and they’ve all been huge, but I decided to discontinue the series.
MS: Aside from festivals, you’re known for throwing some of the city’s more interesting parties. What is Pendu doing differently?
TP: One thing I like to do is grab bands before they become popular so people aren’t walking into an environment they’re already aware of. I offer people the chance to be exposed to something for the first time, and I think people come because they know it’s curated and always thought out. When people walk into a Pendu party they should feel like they’ve walked out of the real world and into an environment that is unique. It’s a dark place, with dark scenes and dark sounds, but I’m really trying to redefine what “dark” means. Some people associate dark with negativity and evil, but I see it more like an ambiance that inspires us to be more adventurous. It’s like going into a forest without a flashlight. You have to move slowly because you don’t know what’s around the corner. You’re not presented with all the answers right away, and there’s a thrill that comes with having to feel your way through it all. That’s the type of environment I’m striving for.
MS: Your aesthetic has a lot of occult undertones. What draws you to this?
TP: I like the idea of helping people break the strictures of what they know to be the organized way of doing things. It’s a way for us to move into deeper, more interesting territory that encourages creativity and losing oneself in a state of frenetic energy for the sake of joy. Pendu is a French word that means “the hanged man,” and it comes directly from the 12th card of the tarot deck. The card is about mysticism and finding one’s creative energy, so I feel like it relates to what I’m trying to do.
MS: Your website references a number of occultists, including Jack Parsons, who in addition to being a prominent rocket scientist, was also a practitioner of sex magick. What exactly is sex magick?
TP: Sex magick is probably the least understood and most controversial discussion on magick. To me it boils down to the fact that something inherently interesting happens to the mind and body at the moment of orgasm. Parsons was about using this moment to lead to something more spiritual than just a physical feeling. Personally, I’m more involved with what people call chaos magick, which is relativeness, or the idea that there is no right or wrong way to do something—there’s only your way. It enables someone to take an idea and build it into something positive or negative. There are techniques where you draw a symbol that represents something you’re trying to achieve. If you can focus on it during a sex act to the point where at the moment of orgasm you receive that symbol in the subconscious, it will essentially activate its presence. Whether someone wants to believe that’s magick or not becomes an individual personal belief.
MS: Why is eroticism so much a part of what you do?
TP: I think eroticism has the ability to de-intellectualize us and lead us deeper into our primal urges. We can get so wrapped up trying to explain, analyze, and understand everything, that we forget to draw out our instincts that come from deep within. I’ve been inspired by some of the Surrealist’s ideas on eroticism because they inverted our known analytical reality, flipped it upside down and forced us to look at things that disturbed our natural intellectual self. It wasn’t meant to be pornographic. It wasn’t just about a girl’s body or something of that nature. It was about going into the subconscious and exploring new worlds. It was meant to stir our inner emotions and transport us to a far more creative place. Eroticism does this to people. It enables us to get back to ourselves as human beings with human experiences, and I’m interested in using it that way.
MS: Tell me about your record label, Pendu Sound Recordings.
TP: As of now I have two major artists: Chelsea Wolfe, who’s getting quite a bit of critical notoriety, and aTelecine, which is a project from the former porn star Sasha Grey. aTelecine is a soundscape project that’s based on the ideas of Coil and Nurse with Wound, and Chelsea is a bit broader, encompassing everything from Current 93 to Mazzy Star. They’re far away from each other in a number of different respects, but both create immersive environments with their music. They’re together on a record that’s coming out soon, and Richard Phillips just did a film with Sasha that used Chelsea’s music as the soundtrack.
MS: What brought you to Sasha?
TP: I saw on Wikipedia that she had a noise band and that interested me right away, so I contacted her through MySpace. We started a dialogue and she asked if I’d do a record or her. As I got to know more about her ideas, I kept thinking how amazing it was that this porn star—who’s also in the mainstream—makes noise music and wants to release it on an underground label that’s hardly known. She had 15 labels contacting her, and you would think she would have chosen someone like Universal and not some obscure Brooklyn label, but she didn’t. She’s the real thing.
MS: You’ve been nominated for some nightlife awards, and your label is getting critical attention. What’s next?
TP: I’d like to be more effective. The mainstream is no longer held back by the strictures it was held back by in the past. We’re witnessing an amazing shift, but the mainstream still only gets what’s put in front of them. There’s so much good stuff bubbling under the surface that doesn’t have the kind of spotlight it needs to be received by this audience, so I want to use my energy to get it in front of them. People are busy working 50 hours a week. They don’t have time to dig and research all these cool things happening, and they don’t need to. I want to give it to them and I want them to turn off their TVs and their computers and come out and have an experience. That’s my dream.