Music to get lost in: ‘Thoughtforms’ by Nalepa is electronic spelunking

Electronic producer Steve Nalepa.
(Eliot Lee Hazel)

Nalepa, “Thoughtforms” (Airspace).

Producer Steve Nalepa has been a stealthily influential electronic music creator, scene builder and sound technician for years. As co-founder of the TeamSupreme beat collective, he’s organized online cyphers that, using assigned source material, test beat-makers’ skills at producing unique tracks. Established producers including Kenny Segal, Mr. Carmack and King Henry earned early attention through their work for the collective.

An expert at Ableton software, the Highland Park-based Nalepa has taught a generation of producers how to craft beats. He’s also composed film scores and built onstage Ableton rigs for artists including Drake and the Weeknd. As a member of the Acid, he’s released acclaimed records for Mute.

All of which is to say, Nalepa’s skills are as deep as they are dynamic, and “Thoughtforms” illuminates a new realm within the Nalepa universe. Eleven plaintive instrumental tracks draw from ambient, Chicago house, new age and German minimal techno. Back in the day the record would have been perfect for the so-called “3 a.m. eternal” zone where exhausted ravers retreated to revel in the post-dance floor ecstasy of the Orb, Future Sound of London, Aphex Twin, Mike Ink and Spacetime Continuum.


The record’s hardly a nostalgia trip though. Tracks such as “A Study of Dreams” and “Whirlpools” deliver of-the-moment comfort and warmth — a kind of salve against the politics- and climate-generated chaos currently overwhelming the world.

As a companion to “Thoughtforms,” Nalepa “rallied up some heavy homies to make some really nice work,” as he explained in a recent text message. Most prominently, he tapped self-described “interventionist/immersionist performance artist and sculptor” David Henry Brown Jr., who of late has been crafting ridiculously elaborate Instagram self-portraits as David Nobody.

The videos are wild: at various points David Nobody poses with live caterpillars, machine-driven brushes that cover his face with dollops of paint and hallucinogenic mushrooms planted on his head and neck. He affixes doughnuts, marijuana buds and pill dispensers to his face. Nalepa’s track scores these profile pics with what he characterizes as “arpeggiating synths colliding with shimmering effects, waves of droning shoegaze and jacking Chicago house beats.”

Elsewhere on “Thoughtforms” Nalepa composes beat-free washes of noise that suggest guitar band My Bloody Valentine and Cologne, Germany, producer Reinhard Voigt’s work as Gas. An album that rewards deep, high-volume listening, “Thoughtforms” is music to get lost in, one that you inhabit as if spelunking through a grand cavern.