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The Re-Generation Of Humans

Thanks to the prolific pacing of Peter Ricq and the creative energy of his cohort Robbie Slade, the electronic music duo is keeping the beat alive. 

by Gregory Adams

Peter Ricq is enjoying an especially prolific year — though, to be fair, the Vancouver-based multi-hyphenate is generally on his grind. Nevertheless, here’s a recent breakdown: Ricq’s longtime house-pop project, Humans, have just returned with Man Like Death, their first beat-bumping full-length in five years; he’s in the midst of a multi-single rollout with electro-organic party-starters Gang Signs; he’s also spreading his wings as Peter Press Lee, a self-described “angel of death” connecting the worlds of goth, country, and acid rap through a booming, baritone croon. And that’s just the musical side of his psyche.

While Ricq’s technically enjoying a few days of rest at a friend’s wedding in Portugal when RANGE catches him on a Zoom call, there’s a work component to the trip, too. You see, Ricq is also a movie director, having first delivered the gore-glopped zombie horror-comedy Dead Shack in 2017. Once the wedding wraps, he’s off to France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival to screen a proof-of-concept trailer for his planned follow-up feature, a “Pacific Northwest thriller” called Dark Tide

“It’s about a fisherman who gets shipwrecked on an island,” Ricq teases of the project. “He meets an old captain who’s living on the shore of the island, and they have to put away their differences to fight this creature that’s haunting them at night.”

The survivalist scenario found in the proof-of-concept trailer is unsettling, featuring quick cuts to bloody beat-downs, maggot-infested meals, and some kind of ritual sacrifice. That said, the Gulf Islands-set scenery is staggeringly lush. While Ricq notes he caught glimpses of B.C.’s Salish Sea while traveling with various musical outfits, he explains that the horror film was inspired by more artificial circumstances. Specifically, he started brainstorming plot points while he was surrounded by fibreglass fish at a sea-themed bowling alley Gang Signs visited while on tour. “We were drinking at the bar underneath a huge, flipped-over canoe. It’s not like we were being clever,” he suggests of Dark Tide’s origins, though confesses that he’s long had an interest in “nautical shit.”

A proper timeline for the film somewhat depends on the reception at Cannes. Ricq’s also attempting to secure funding for an animated feature based on his acclaimed Once Our Land comic book series; the fantastic beasts of its first arc have just been reprinted in trade paperback form. A few to-be-detailed comic book NFTs are set to drop soon, as well, while he further flexed his illustration and storytelling skills with his recent, cute-as-heck kids book, Ghosts Are People Too. It’s a lot of work to keep track of, but Ricq has a simple answer as to how he’s avoiding artistic burnout: “I just manage my time really well.”

“People ask me how I do so much. It’s because I try to finish things as quick and efficiently as I can,” he continues, explaining how he’ll generally burrow into projects one at a time, rather than spread himself thin while multi-tasking. Keeping that focus is key to executing his various visions. “A lot of people nitpick things for years and years; sometimes they never release [their work]. I’m the opposite. I just try to finish, learn as much as I can, and move on into the next thing I’m doing.”

When it came to Humans’ Man Like Death, Ricq and co-conspirator Robbie Slade learned that they wanted to make music on their own terms. Their last album, 2018’s Going Late, suffered from lack of promotion at their previous label, Ricq says, while the big tour they launched in early 2020 was shuttered just a few dates in when COVID restrictions ramped up full-force. Then Slade moved back to his hometown of Nelson, BC to start a family. Though the chips seemed stacked against Humans, Ricq ultimately wasn’t too worried. 

Back when they began Humans in 2009, Ricq and Slade were inseparable. Despite the literal distance put between them through Slade’s big move, a brotherly comfortability locked the relationship back into place whenever he would pop back into Vancouver to work on new music with his bandmate and producer Jason Corbett (ACTORS). Following a bit of a pause, the self-released Man Like Death has Humans sounding refreshed, whether working effervescent house arpeggios on the title track, or exploring throwback soul with a breakbeat-driven twist on first single “Beggin.” “When we first started making music, I was telling Robbie that I wanted to have those big, Motown wall-of-sound beats in there,” Ricq says of the latter, adding, “I just wanted to get that bit of rock and roll energy back in there.”

You could argue a throughline to Ricq’s various projects is people overcoming adversity. Take how Humans’ latest album finds the duo uncaged and flourishing as DIY musicmakers, or how Dark Tide will apparently — terrifyingly — feature shipwrecked souls uniting in an attempt to skirt death. “Sometimes my stuff is dark, but there’s always a twist,” the artist admits, pointing to a recent Peter Press Lee single, “Chiseler,” as proof paramount of his positive outlook and relentlessly creative spirit. 

“It’s about a guy who takes over the life of this cowboy who [is not taking] advantage of life,” Ricq reveals. “So, he kills this [cowboy]; he takes over the guy’s home; he takes care of [the cowboy’s] wife and kids. He goes to town and he starts a band; he brings people together! The [cowboy] wasn’t doing anything [with his life]. He was very unmemorable; no one knew his name — this new guy, everyone knows his name. Even though it’s a dark theme, it’s about telling people to take the time to appreciate others. Be present and enjoy life at the fullest, because people do care.”

Humans perform Friday, August 11 at the Pearl in YVR | TICKETS & INFO