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
Close your eyes and clear your head completely. Steady your breath; match it to the crashing of waves upon the shore. High Wolf is warmly beckoning you onto his maiden voyage of psychonautical transendense. With him we will attempt to sail the world, the stars, and mind-soul in 80 days. Warm your face to the "Kenya Sunset." Let the sun's rays fill you with a deep inner-peace. Jump in the water with radiant abandon and feel its cleansing powers wash over you. --Ian Pearson, Altered Zones
Atlas Nation is available now from Holy Mountain
Big ups to the new Sun Araw TwitterZone for pointing us in the direction of this 11-minute burner of a jam session with France's High Wolf. "Shrine Time" finds the two holistic heads on some real contempo-casual mindspace, with Wolf on bongopad and strings while Araw cruises the keys, slowly grooving toward a frenzied, blown-out third eye opening. Here's to hoping for an eventual full-length collaborative ego war from these guys sometime. --Ian Pearson, Altered Zones
It's good to know that the little guy can still be as audacious as the bigs. High Wolf, the French improv/drone/free-form artist, has shown us that you don't have to be The Beatles or David Bowie to have your own Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Thin White Duke. On a forthcoming 12" LP for Group Tightener, High Wolf is splitting the release with an alter ego of his who responds to the name "Annapurna Illusion" at parties. There's a noticeable shift in mood between High Wolf's side to the Annapurna Illusion's. High Wolf's 23-minute contribution, "Amazonian Love Call" recalls the sounds we have enjoyed from him to date-- a humid combination of tribal beats, expansive guitars, and whispy synths. Annapurna shares in a similar jungle trance, but is harsher in tone. In "Blackdrop," the riffing is more urgent and forceful, the guitar abrasive, instead of lulling. --Daniel Gottlieb, Altered Zones
High Wolf/Annapurna Illusion split LP is available for pre-order via Group Tightener (limited to 500). High Wolf's A Guide To Healing 7" also just dropped from from Bathetic Records, and you can still grab last year's Ascension LP from Not Not Fun
Whether he’s based in Djakata, the Amazon, or Mars, High Wolf’s Max (last named withheld) is truly a citizen of the world. The French-born one-man drum-circle considers himself part of a global psychedelic music community that includes the likes of Sun Araw and Not Not Fun founders Britt and Amanda Brown, who released his debut Ascension LP last year. When he is not busy with High Wolf, Max spends his time running his own Winged Sun Records, and working on various side projects, like the more ambient Iibiis Rouge and the more improvisational Voodoo Mount Sister. I caught up with Max in Los Angeles the day after seeing him play a collaborative live set with the members of Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras. We discussed his recording style, his travels in India, and the importance of international friendships
AZ: What city are you based in?
Max: 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 Djakata. 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. Many times I’ve read descriptions for a record or a show, and it says we are from Los Angeles, or from the UK, and I think its funny. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. If I said I lived somewhere, and and that my name was "such-and-such," they really wouldn’t give a shit. Now with Facebook and MySpace and the Internet, you can know everything about anyone. Let’s say I go to your Facebook, and see that you have a boyfriend, and I see a picture of what he looks like, and you have a dog. Your dog is vegetarian, or whatever. When you don’t give that information, people get very frustrated, and start to ask me for the information that I’m not giving providing. It's not that I’m like, “Oh, its my private space." I think it's funny to play around with that.
AZ: How and when did you first start writing improvisation-based music?
Max: I started as a teenager. At first I did some stuff with computers, like ambient stuff, so it wasn’t really improvising. I didn’t know any real instruments. I realized that you can improvise even with electronics, that you can react to what’s happening-- just with your ears. That was the first kind of improvisation that I did. Then I started to try with guitars, and drums, and saxophone, and all different types of instruments. Then I tried it solo, which was easier than with other people because sometimes we didn’t have the same aesthetic.
High Wolf, the French-born, Djakata-based, Indiafile returns after last year's fine LP Ascension with another mind altering, pyschic whirlwind. "Free Your Energy Field," from his A Guide To Healing 7"due this March via Bathetic Records, begins with a deep tribal pulse that recalls the stylings of Not Not Fun labelmates Sun Araw. Soon, those Indian psychedelic influences take hold as drones melt into splashes of tablas, and expansive sounds emulating the sitar of Ravi Shankar and Hindustani music, soar over the top. Without noticing, you are suddenly awash in sound. And then it is gone again before you realized it had even started. --Daniel Gottlieb, Altered Zones
A Guide To Healing 7" will be available March 22 from Bathetic Records. You can grab last year's Ascension LP from Not Not Fun now, and you may as well check out High Wolf's own French label Winged Sun Records while you're at it
High Wolf's debut LP release, Ascension, is out now on Not Not Fun. Those familiar with his previous NNF tapes, Animal Totem and Gabon, need not worry: Max never once thought about abandoning the Amazon in search of another tonal landscape. He continues to immerse himself deep within the folds of jungle canopy, sounding more and more like a tribe of drum circle ritualists with every release. Like his Incapaulco CD-R, the new record sports a few tracks considered "radio-length"-- 4-6 minute pieces of droning ecstasy, long enough to bore holes into memory, short enough to hold attention throughout-- exemplified by this new cut, "Solar System Is My God." Look out for his split with Forest Swords out soon on Group Tightener, and his Shangri-La CD (Gabon reissue included) out later this summer on Maomoo.
Ascension is out now on Not Not Fun