In our year-and-a-half on the information highway, we had the good fortune of witnessing what was at once a very prolific time, a very confusing time, and a very exciting time in underground music. Instead of quoting ourselves, we combed through the 100 features and profiles we've published to bring you some reflections from the folks who inspire us.
Underwater Peoples' Evan Brody
I cite this moment when Sawyer and I were sitting outside our sophomore dorm room at college. We said to each other, "Man, we’re bored. We want to do something more exciting." --Interview with Jenn Pelly, May 2011
I see politics and art as separate trajectories. There's a political dimension to music, to the extent that it would be a disruption of the regime of the sensible... but it certainly isn’t collective mobilization against the state in the name of radical equality. The protest lyric is a poor substitute for radical political thought or a new idea of politics.
AZ: Is that why you have protest lyrics in your music?
The idea there is that sums up the impetus, lyrically, of all genuine art. It's an explosion. It's a Molotov cocktail in the fuckin' police station. It's rights for that which can have no rights, to the extent that it anticipates a world to come-- not this world. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander & Ric Leichtung, July 2011
All of these things operating in synchronicity: like ringtones, flat-screens, theater, cuisine, fashion, sushi. I don’t want to call it “virtual reality,” so I call it Far Side Virtual. If you really want to understand Far Side, first off, listen to [Claude] Debussy, and secondly, go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Afterwards, go to Starbucks and get a gift card. They have a book there on the history of Starbucks-- buy this book and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what Far Side Virtual is-- because people kind of live in it already. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
I remember during the [Harald] Grosskopf panel at Unsound Festival, Laurel Halo said something interesting about grappling with a world that is completely and totally inundated with technology. There's something about dealing with period technology that makes us feel more human or more relatable. Something about getting the whole machine purring feels very cosmic and brings technology back in harmony with art. --Interview with Daniel Gottlieb, June 2011
AZ: It’s funny that there are indie bands coming up now that would kill to use the equipment that was frustrating to you back then.
I like the idea of it as well, but there are too many problems! --Interview with Blondes, Emilie Friedlander, & Ric Leichtung, May 2011
People like to ask me where I live, and sometimes I give different answers. There is a new 7” coming on Baselic records, and the label guy asked me what city I was from. I was with a friend, and we were talking, and he said I should say I was from Djakarta. So I did, and then it was on many websites. On the High Wolf MySpace, it says that I am based in Brazil. Many times people think I’m from Los Angeles. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, March 2011
Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell
I’m very flattered that people like my old stuff so much but really, it was me and Lol [Elliott, from Cleaners] in the kitchen! We were broke but inspired and enjoyed listening to it. But I think the biggest pleasure we got out of it at the time was that I used to make homemade beer, and Lol used to make these candles, 'cause he didn’t have enough money to pay his electricity bill. So I used to swap some of the beer for some dope that someone else used to grow, and we would make our own music on cassettes that Lol stole. And I thought one night-- stoned, drunk, listening to music by candlelight--, "We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves tonight, and it’s cost nothing!" That was sort of the epitome of anarchy for me: generating our own everything. It was fantastic. --Interview with Richard MacFarlane, June 2010
After getting a sense of his musical tastes, I finally asked [Speculator's Nick Ray] what kind of music he played (I hate to assume genres these days). "Pop," he replied, then let a beat pass before explaining. “But not in the popular music sense. ‘Pop’ is no longer defined by what’s actually popular; it’s defined by a structure. You know, melodies, guitars, catchy hooks.” --Marissa A. Ross, December 2010
AZ: Recently you’ve toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink. How has that been?
He’s one of my best friends, and it was totally effortless. I think artistically we are the same. It’s like "skillful non-skill." The greatest advice that he’s given me was, “Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t figure it out.” --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, January 2011
The core concept of now age is we're living in “ghost-modernism.” It's not really like post-modernism; it's beyond that now. It's gotten to a point where the past is just recapitulating itself through kitsch and nostalgia. Every new gesture is just an imprint of an old gesture. We're haunted by so many other past styles and tastes in so many ways. I'm interested in the creation of a new relationship to time, where it's not being recapitulated, but instead looking into the present moment and really seeking out music, materials, structures, people, fashion, and whatever is within this lens of the present. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, November 2011
I've always had a powerful sense of the space-- physiological, emotional, spiritual-- invoked by music. I've always used music that way in my life, using it to create, augment, and enrich experiences. I don't think of myself as a songwriter at all, because what I'm after is some distillation of that effect, creating environments with certain properties and relationships. So often those moments in music that have powerful effects on me are fleeting-- like an outro, or a couple bars right before the second chorus. I'm interested in evoking those spaces so that I can stay a while. --Interview with Michael C. Powell, September 2011
NNA Tapes' Matt Mayer & Toby Aronson
Matt: With harsh noise in general we both noticed a shift in the mid '00s. Like Toby mentioned, a lot of the dudes doing the harder noise started doing ambient, which seems like a total 180 shift. It created a lot of interesting results, where the noise influence would rub off on the ambient and vice versa, creating this cool hybrid. And now where we are in 2011, it's all become smeared together.
I feel like the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I’ve always really liked lyrics, and I’ve always really liked vocal stuff, and playing a lot and going to noise shows, I’ve felt in some ways unwelcome. There’s this unwritten rule saying, "You can’t use lyrics that people will understand." I thought there were supposed to be no rules. [Noise] turns into the most codified, regimented form of music, which is not what it should be at all. When Gowns first started off, some people didn’t know how to take us. They were like, "This band might be cool if they didn’t sing." I wonder if it's something about the idea of masculine, abstract sound experiments, and not allowing a range of emotions to come through. For a lot of people who are doing experimental music, at some point it becomes like, "I built this Max patch that does this." It's about the experiment, and the set of parameters. You’re supposed to be tuning out everything but your ears. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, June 2011
Emeralds' Mark McGuire
We have always somewhat embodied our surroundings and our heritage in our sound. In Ohio, there’s a huge middle class, and a lot of people work their whole lives... there’s always a feeling of struggling, and the feeling that Cleveland's like the joke of the world... We're not a cultural mecca; it's not where all the big stuff's happening. There’s definitely a lot of people out of work, and there’s poverty: it makes people, it's a tough city. But people from Cleveland are proud that they’re from there... It's this kind of tense, dark, and industrial place that has a lot of hidden beauty and a lot to offer, and that comes across in our music. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, February 2011
I got an e-mail once after I was like, "Holy shit, I'm going on my first tour!" I put it on Facebook or something, and Dominick Fernow wrote to me saying, "Congratulations." He had just joined Cold Cave, things were happening for him, and he was like, "Best of luck to you, thank you for having the courage to succeed." It occurred to me that for so many people, it's very hard to feel okay with success, because success is not cool. It supposedly tarnishes your thing; it ruins little pockets of scenes and the self-importance that comes from thinking you're the only people in your town that are doing something. That's what stops a lot of really talented people from sharing their music and turning it into a career. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
With 2,175 posts in 16 months, you're bound to miss something. We've gone ahead and gathered some of our favorite tracks from now and yesteryear that didn't get much play, but deserved it.
Hubble: “Nude Ghost”
Ital: “Only For Tonight (Dubout/Saviour’s Love Megamix)”
The Rebel: “Prove It”
Born out of a two-month struggle of mastery over a MiniMoog and a Revox reel-to-reel, Harald Grosskopf's recently re-issued, 1980 Synthesist LP took its name from the idea of a salubrious synthesis of man and machine. With its images of ladder-climbing, weightlifting, and wrestling, this video for album cut "Emphasis" reads like a low-budget, blue-screened advertisement for the Western capitalist virtues of self-empowerment, and self-actualization. No FourSquare checkins or iClouds in sight, but we do meet a tinfoil-colored, cyborgian überfrau at the end, and she looks an awful lot like the Synthesist that appears on the cover of the original LP (Harald). --Emilie Friedlander, Altered Zones
Grab Synthesist LP re-issue + Re-Synthesist CD from RVNG Intl. Video by Headroom Films. Recently, Altered Zones got together with NYC electronic duo Blondes to interview Harald Grosskopf. Read our conversation here
Perhaps best known as the drummer for Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel (with Manuel Göttsching), and Cosmic Jokers, Berlin's Harald Grosskopf was a German electronic music pioneer in his own right. Recorded in the Summer of 1979, his debut solo LP, Synthesist, was the euphoric, arpeggiated culmination of a two-month struggle with a finnicky Minimoog and a Revox reel-to-reel. The record, released the following year by Hamburg's Sky Records, was all but forgotten until Brooklyn label RVNG Intl. decided to re-issue it, along with a bonus disc of remixes by a handful of analogue synth revivalists, including Blondes, Oneohtrix Point Never, CFCF, Stellar Om Source, Arp, and James Ferraro. In April, Harald flew out to New York with guitarist and longtime collaborator Axel Manrico Heilhecker to perform Synthesist live for the first time ever at Manhattan's Le Poisson Rouge, with guest appearances by Alexis Georgopoulos (Arp), Laurel Halo, Julianna Barwick, and other millennial admirers. The AZ editorial linked up with Harald, Axel, and Sam Haar and Zachary Steinman of Blondes the night before the show at a restaurant in Greenpoint to talk synthesizers, Timothy Leary, and the origins of the term "krautrock."
Sam: Is it weird playing your old stuff again?
Harald: Actually, in the beginning, about four months ago, I was so over this old stuff. My idea was to take the original tapes [from Synthesist] and cut samples from it. So I was trying to hold of an 8-track, half-inch tape recorder, which is very hard to get. And I got one, but the machine was fucked, so I found some dude who was able to fix it. I tried to reconstruct it, but then I started falling in love with the music as it was. I hadn’t heard the record in 15 years. And suddenly this interest-- it was very nice. And being able to reconstruct it and improvise with it was really satisfying.
Sam: How did you get in contact with RVNG Intl.?
Harald: You know Manuel Göttsching? He put us in contact. Everything was arranged via the Internet; it’s fascinating. In the old days, it was like 500 envelopes with tapes. Everybody can do it now, and it’s faster. And free, basically.
"I had to come up with song titles for the album. I never liked that process. For me, music as an abstract language is hard to consolidate into a few words. Still, the task was at hand and what immediately settled upon me while recollecting the recording process in West Germany was my intense interaction with the electronic music equipment. Over that time, I had 'synthesized' with the technology, hence the title track and album."
--Harald Grosskopf on the inspiration for the title track of his seminal 1980 album, Synthesist. Stream the whole album and read the track-by-track breakdown of Synthesist from the man himself at Self-Titled.
Grosskompf will be playing Synthesist at New York's Unsound Festival tomorrow (Friday) at Le Poisson Rouge with the help of Laurel Halo plus recent remixers Arp and Blondes on stage. Curated by FRKWYS, the night will also see performances by Emeralds and horror film composer Alan Howarth. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones
In the spirit of Harald Grosskopf's Synthesist, Christelle Gualdi, aka Stellar OM Source, assembled a mix that captures a time of transition in electronic music, taking us on a tour of prog, New Age, and pop from all over Europe. The mix features Jan Hammer, Peter Schäfer, and Synergy, sounds that have acted as a sort of schematic for Gatekeeper, James Ferraro, and Oneohtrix Point Never. Need proof? Listen to Blondes' remix of Grosskopf's title track, Synthesis:
Cruise on over to Self-Titled to listen to Stellar OM Source's mix, grab RVNG's reissue of Harald Grosskopf's Synthesist packaged with remixes by Blondes, CFCF, Keyhole Voyeur (James Ferraro), and Oneohtrix
A hybrid between a reissue label and a stable of nu-garde Brooklyn artists, New York's RVNG Intl. imprint is marked by a heightened appreciation for music as an active dialogue between past and present-- not to mention an unexplained distate for vowels. Their illustrious FRKWYS series, which began with Volume 2, featured spirited transgenerational exchanges between Excepter, Arp, The Psychic Ills, and a group of A-list electronic masters as varied as Chris & Cosey (of Throbbing Gristle), Anthony Moore (Henry Cow), Hans-Joachim Irmler (Faust), and Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins.
Now that RVNG is reissuing Berlin electronic composer and Cosmic Jokers/Ash Ra Temple percussionist Harald Grosskopf's legendary 1980 Synthesist LP, it would seem fitting that the label pay lip service to the inspiration this Sky Records cult favorite has provided to the pilots of the contemporary synth revival. When it drops next Tuesday, the new master of Synthesist will be accompanied by Re-Synthesist, a recreation of the entire album composed of remixes by some of Grosskopf's most ardent millennial admires, including Oneohtrix Point Never, Blondes, Stellar Om Source, CFCF, and even Mr. Jim Ferraro. Check out Blondes' lightly smudged rendition of title track and album centerpiece "Synthesist" below (but not before scoping the original, because it's perfect!).
Synthesist LP re-issue + Re-Synthesist CD are out February 15th via RVNG Intl.