We have a series of firsts here. Next month audiovisual artist Ari Russo, who records expansive electronic music under his last name, will release the first record on Luke Wyatt’s Valcrond Video imprint not by the label boss himself. In another first Truants caught up with Russo for his first interview to coincide with this project. In a lengthy chat we discussed slumbrous inspiration, the wonder of VHS and how he’s waiting for his favourite drink to kick his ass.
Hey Ari, how are you? What have you been up to lately? “I’m doing good. this is all pretty exciting stuff with the album. I’ve been working with, in parallel with it, this live video-processing thing. Luke Wyatt [aka Torn Hawk], the guy whose label the record is coming out on, I’ve been doing live video for his music sets, cause he does a lot of video stuff but it’s difficult to make that happen if he’s focusing on music. So I wrote some software that’s sort of a live audio-visualiser and I’ve been using that and ramping that up too. So there’s all this exciting stuff going on, outside of work. Work is going pretty good too. I’m doing good.”
Good! Can you tell me a bit about yourself? “I’m originally from New Jersey, I’ve been living in New York for 15 years or something. I’m a computer programmer for a living, and I’m trying to get that merged with my interest in music. I grew up playing in a lot of bands, rock bands, noise rock stuff, and then when I was in college I started doing electronic music. It kind of got pushed aside for more practical stuff for a while – I never really stopped doing music, but now I’m trying to bring all these things together, and make music more of a central point again. This is actually my first interview for this, so I’m not quite an oiled machine yet.”
That’s okay, we’ll be gentle. So how did you meet Luke? “Just [through] mutual friends, I was roommates with a girl that he used to date a couple years ago, and we kinda hit it off. We’re both from New Jersey, I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff, we have similar tastes, so he and I just hit it off, and we’re always talking. We’re both the kind of people that always spit out ideas, it was just a matter of time before we found something to work on together. Last year when I was writing and recording all the stuff for Wild Metals, he was starting to think about getting his label [going]. His label had previously been mostly his stuff, like a kind of quote-unquote vanity label, he had started thinking about it, I had been playing him stuff, it started to make sense that he would put it out – so that’s how that came about.”
You’ve actually prefaced my next question – I was going to ask how do you feel about the fact that yours is the first release on Valcrond Video that’s not by him. “How do I feel about that, it’s good. Some people might feel pressure because of that but I guess I’m the kind of person – I like a degree of pressure. I believe in the album, and what I do generally, and I kind of like that aspect of it, to be honest. I haven’t put out much music recently, and even when I was putting out music it was all like DIY CD-Rs and stuff, so I can’t really imagine another situation. I’m pretty happy about that, how it’s worked out.”
A lot of his music – he’s put stuff out on L.I.E.S. and they have a particular aesthetic – a lot of it is quite scuzzy and “lo-fi”, but what i noticed about your record is that it’s remarkably pristine. I’m not going to say polished, but it sounds clean, if that makes any sense. “It’s interesting, cause some of my older music isn’t quite like that, that’s just what I was inspired to do. And it’s interesting because… I mean comparing it to his, I agree that it’s very different sounding, the use of the word scuzzy is funny. I think there is sort of like, that thing to his music that’s very different, but there’s a philosophic similarity about our music, too. I think it’s interesting that they can be so different and yet, before the record was finished, I would play something for [someone] and they’d be like “oh you’ve gotta meet Luke Wyatt!” They didn’t i knew him. Weird stuff like that. There is some kind of similar thing, but it’s very abstract. I think it’s funny to think about, now that we’re working together, it’s interesting to play that off people and hear how they react to it.”
It’s a really stirring record, and you’ve got a couple of different styles, but it’s tied together quite well. Can you talk about how you put it together, and how you distilled it down to those four tracks? “That’s an interesting question. that one might be hard to explain, it’s one of those artistic, “how did this really happen” things. My process, there are some intellectual aspects to it, technologically, but when it comes down to that kind of thing I’ll just keep sculpting it, and it just starts to hum at a certain point and it’s like, “this is right”. Something will speak to me and say “these are the songs”. I have other material too that I was working on that’s pretty solid, but for some reason those four songs, it’s like it reached a certain point and there was a magic wand that came out of thin air and blessed it – those songs are the ones that should be on the record. I don’t know. it just sounded right to me. I’m trying to think of it in more practical terms – I try and keep a balance of tempo, it felt very balanced, those four songs, in some way. You know it’s very dense, and I considered putting more ambient stuff on it, but it didn’t work when I tried it. For some reason those four songs just sounded like they needed to be together.”
“PM Entertainment”, the main synth going through it, it’s got this really lulling feel to it – it reminds me of Scarface and films like that. Is that the sort of vibe you were going for? “I wasn’t overtly going for that, but I can see what you’re talking about. Other people have mentioned Michael Mann. I think the drums are pretty different from that stuff.” It’s very much the melody.” I mean I can see what people are saying. It wasn’t something that I was consciously trying to do, I don’t really approach it that way. I just kind of start sculpting it and it just goes somewhere – originally that track was mostly drums, and that synth just happened over time.”
It’s always funny to learn how these things happened, when as a listener you hear something and you make a decision about what it is and then that’s just not how it happened at all. “Zishethe” – is that a reference to Zishe the Strongman? “No. I don’t even know what that is.” Oh really! “I assume it’s some literary reference. I mean it sounds familiar. One night while I was working on the song I woke up, I had a dream with that word in it, and that word was very present in the dream. I don’t remember the details, but I woke up and wrote it on a notepad that I had next to my bed exactly how it’s spelled and that became the title of the song. It was a week where I was particularly engrossed in writing the track.” I have the craziest dreams so anything about dreams and how they impact on our daily life is really cool to me. When I googled it, because i thought it might be a word that meant something, i got all these references to Zishe the Strongman, it’s this sort of inspirational thing for children about this Polish strong guy, and it’s based on a real strongman from a circus or something like that. “That’s kind of cool.”
Stream: Russo – Zishethe (Valcrond Video)
That track went up on XLR8R today, that’s pretty cool. How do you feel about that? “It’s great to have it up there – I’m happy that people are listening to my music more now. It was a tough decision as to which track to put up, you know we have the vinyl coming out so we couldn’t just do the whole thing. I’m thrilled to have more people listening.” Musically, you don’t have that much out there. “Interestingly, I have a lot of backlog of unreleased music that hopefully I’ll start putting out there, even if just online.” I was listening to the stuff on your Soundcloud from 2003 and 2005, it’s quite timeless. It’s very ambient and you could probably release that today and it could sound like it was made this week I think. “Thanks! Yeah, I have probably and entire LP worth from 2005, and maybe another LP of stuff between then and 2011 or something. There’s a lot of stuff where I was just preoccupied with other things. I never stopped – I was working on music very intensely, but it never ramped up to the point where I was like, here’s the release. It just was disorganised a little bit, but working very intensely on it. So I have this huge backlog of stuff that now looking back I could say, well this should be an album, and now that “Wild Metals” is coming out and I can introduce myself with that, it takes a little pressure off and I feel like I’m going to figure out a way to release that other stuff.”
And at the same time are you working on new music as well? “I am. I’m also working on a live set, which might become part of the same process, working on the live set and new music. My goal is to start playing some live shows in a couple months. Hopefully that’ll work out. I don’t want to say too much before it actually comes together! But I’m optimistic about it.” What do you imagine your live set will be like or do you have any idea yet? “Probably some kind of improvisation based on these tracks, and some older ones, and some new stuff. But live improvisation using samplers and synthesisers and drum machines. Hopefully not too much equipment to carry round!”
Another thing I was going to ask about the record – is it just me or are there live drums there – an actual drum kit? “There’s everything possible. I didn’t sit down at a drum set and sample that, but there are single drum samples that I made of my playing, and there’s all kinds, there’s me hitting sticks together, just little guitar percussion things, I did a lot of different things in the process of making the album. There’s also analogue drums, there’s old digital drum machines. It runs the gamut. I think that’s part of why the tracks sound so different from each other, because my process is so chaotic, each track that I start I approach in a completely different way. I don’t have a formula. There is a formula maybe to the composition of the tracks, but not what instruments I’m using. So it’s the whole kitchen sink. I use anything that I can possibly think of that’s not going to take up too much time, and throw that at the wall and see if it sticks.”
What’s your setup in terms of where you do your recording, and what’s the space like? “These days, for this album I have a little studio set up in my house, I’ve been collecting synths since the late 90s – the price of synths is getting a little unreasonable, I was lucky to get some cool stuff. I have a little modular setup too, and just some random drum machines, and a little bit of studio outboard gears.” Is it all soundproofed or do you have to stop recording after 8 at night? “It’s not too bad, I live in a particular place where the neighbours are relaxed, I don’t really push it because they’re nice people. It’s not too much of a concern. And I work on headphones sometimes – I’ll just work wherever. I’ll be on a bus or whatever and I’ll just find different places. I mean that might affect the way the tracks sound different to you. The “PM Entertainment” track, I was in Los Angeles for a couple weeks last year and I did that all there.”
When it comes to videos, “Purple Earth”, I mentioned Scarface earlier but that one for me was more sci-fi, like Total Recall. What’s your approach to the visual side of things and how do you put it together? “There’s a lot of VHS material in there, old stuff, and for me I wasn’t necessarily trying to come up with a retro or a nostalgic ambience. I’ve been collecting VHS for a long time, since I was in high school, and it’s just a source of cheap material, and it’s kind of off the wall to me. A lot of YouTube videos have a particular context, where they’re tied into something that’s going on right now, I mean there’s a lot of weird YouTube stuff out there too. But with VHS it’s removed, it’s cheap material. I just buy the tapes for nothing or people are giving them away. I made the video cutting up from that, and was using material that seemed to harmonise with the music well, and that’s just how it came together. For some people they have a strong nostalgia and I can see why people would say that, but that’s really not part of the process.”
I was reading an interview with Luke where he said: “I think people misunderstand my video expression as existing in the context of this facile 1980s nostalgia movement, which by now is probably over for the kids anyway. I approach VHS as just a useful medium for generating compositions and mushing footage together; it’s like acrylic or oil paint, just different tools for different tasks.” Would that be the same for you? “I hadn’t read that interview. I would say the same thing. I’ve been collecting VHS forever. I mean there’s so much material out there, it’s like a whole other YouTube. We think of YouTube of being this enormous mass of video, but VHS, people were trading these tapes for business purposes, businesses [that] don’t even exist any more, entire industries [that] don’t even exist any more. And there’s all this material out there, and it’s readily available for people who want source material for stuff. So I don’t feel like I’ve exhausted it, [but] I’ll try other stuff. The other video stuff I’m doing is much different. I should mention too that my live set is also going to incorporate that audio-visualiser software that I wrote. That’s going to be a central component of it. Glad I mentioned that.”
In the same interview Luke talks about how he doesn’t try to recreate his records because there’s no point, they’re completely different experiences: “Accept live performance as a different beast and approach it as a parallel pursuit, rather than subservient to the recorded product. Do not try and create a simulacrum of your recordings in a live setting. Build an entirely different attack.” Is that the same kind of think you would be doing? “Those recordings are sort of concrete; I’ll have to answer that once my set is more concrete. It’s going to be a little different just that it’s not the same time as the recording session. So yes.”
On a side note, Office Fern is the name of your project? “I’ve used it for a few things – I have a Tumblr, I used that as an excuse to start digitising a lot of the VHS material I have. I just made a Tumblr where I have just few-second clips of a lot of the weird VHS stuff that I have. I use that name for that.” I love the name because, for me, it implies a sort of artificiality you get with office plants – they’re in such a sterile atmosphere they’re almost pointless. Is that what you were going for? “Yeah. I think the contrast of plants in that environment – plants are so insanely beautiful and to use them as that, and to keep them artificially living I’m trying to get at that. I also want to leave that open to interpretation.”
The artwork for Wild Metals kind of reminded me of the Jam City album. “I haven’t seen that one.” It’s like an office concourse and a motorbike has crashed into it and you can see all of these office plants around, but it’s almost like a jungle – it’s that corporate environment with a sort of simulacrum of nature rather than anything real. That’s what I took from it. “The one album cover I saw that after we had finished everything that reminded me of it was Joy and Pain by Maze, which is an R&B album, classic. I also listen to a lot of R&B and stuff, that’s maybe not as directly related to this style, but I kind of like that connection. The title track on that is classic. I felt good about that connection, there’s something nice from the past to tie it too.”
That’s pretty much all my music questions asked, but we like to finish on these questions: what would your drink of choice be? “Like an alcoholic drink?” Anything at all. “Orange juice. My alcoholic drink would be tequila on the rocks.” Oh wow, like you’d just sip it? “Yeah, I love to sip tequila. If you have a bad experience with it, it teaches you a lesson, maybe I haven’t had that experience yet.” And when was the last time you danced? “Probably some time on the weekend. There’s a lot of dance music shows these days that I’m going to.”
Russo – Wild Metals is out on Valcrond Video on June 16
Words by Aidan Hanratty, 30 May 2014. Leave a comment
Sd Laika’s reemergence is a compelling and emphatic one, but it might not really be a return so to speak. Comprising of unreleased material created before conception of the album itself, That’s Harakiri is only the second release of Peter Runge, who’d first surfaced as Sd Laika with the Unknown Vectors EP for Visionist’s Lost Codes imprint back in 2012. Since then, we’ve seen grime revive itself into a genre of several generations with a myriad of strains, due in no small part to the efforts of Visionist amongst others. Between maturing club nights and war dub phenomenons, concept albums and entanglements with dubstep inter alia, there’s no doubt about the vibrant health of grime both in the UK and beyond its borders. Based on the eastern side of Wisconsin (as opposed to say, East London), Runge has appeared inactive since his debut release, save for the Idiot Thug mix foreshadowing That’s Harakiri. For all that can be said about grime’s development, there’s been little experimentation on the foundation laid by Runge during his period of absence, and That’s Harakiri is the first to really dig deeper into that niche of grime’s experimental untapped potential. It comes by way of Tri Angle Records, a label that’s seemed to constantly reinvent itself, most recently in a darker, more demented form courtesy of Evian Christ’s Waterfall EP, though That’s Harakiri is perhaps their most turbulent entry yet.
Harakiri is a form of ritual suicide that stems from samurai honour code, known more commonly as seppuku in its country of origin, Japan. The procedure generally involves the subject slicing open their innards in a kneeling position, often with a skilled and trusted aide standing by to perform a decapitating coup de grâce, though it’s known for things other than its gruesome severity; traditionally, honour is paramount in Japanese culture and the largely historic form of suicide is meant to preserve that honour, or to mitigate the shame of any wrongdoing. It’s also known for the precision and steadfastness it takes to complete properly – aspects such as making sure one keels over forwards in death by folding the sleeves under the knees, not crying out in pain and having a clean-cut beheading are all as much a part of the ritual as the death itself. Runge’s album resonates with some of these principles quite resolutely: That’s Harakiri really is Runge disembowelling his ideas onto the record, and its relentless pandemonium is meticulously measured with the compulsion of a Chaotic Neutral. It’s an album that balances the dichotomy of graceful discordance and savage obligation as harakiri itself. The crux of seppuku, however, is its function of securing one’s own legacy, an act of finality. As such, Runge’s resurrection may well be for the purpose of setting his own affairs straight once and for all; he’s delivering an album, built from fragments of a distant past, perhaps as a resignation of Runge as we know him.
The somewhat ironically named “Peace” with its distorted grime strings gives us a taste early on of the undertones of horror and tension that run through the album. But even at that, you don’t actually need to dive into the music to get a sense of what That’s Harakiri is about: “Great God Pan” is named after the Arthur Machen book which is the most obvious nod to the art of the horror novel. The whole album does have a sense of Lovecraft about it by creating a threatening, immediate and tense atmosphere but without any real gory moments. In comparison to Blawan’s His He She & She for example, which is punctuated with Wilhelm screams and vocal samples about hiding bodies under garages, the influence is much more subtle but is still intrusive enough to induce unease. This is best heard in through what seem to be bicycle bell samples in “Gutter Vibrations” and the carnivalesque staccato of “You Were Wrong”. Sd Laika’s awareness that the unknown can create a tense, thrilling atmosphere is obvious, especially in “Don’t Know” where the loud-quiet dynamic lends itself to the general unpredictability that creeps through the album. All this ultimately makes the album a fairly manic listen but doesn’t leave you feeling exhausted.
Of course, Runge didn’t write That’s Harakiri after reading a bunch of Lovecraft. While “I Don’t” and “Peace” owe a lot to the classic grime sound pallette, it would be selling Runge short to simply call That’s Harakiri a grime record. The low end that runs through the record brings to mind Andy Stott, particularly the recent Millie & Andrea LP, which also sits at a confluence of styles. It gives the album a somewhat apocalyptic vibe which is apt considering the terror Runge is clearly trying to invoke, the record is named after ritualistic suicide after all. Ritualism appears again by way of “It’s Ritual” which offers up the most structurally straightforward track on the album but effectively conveys the sense of doom through its techno stomp. More than anything else though, That’s Harakiri is led by ideas. Runge happily wonders down any new and unusual path his outlandish imagination can conjure up, no matter how murky or insurmountable they may seem. Almost all of the tracks are beneath the four-minute mark in length on the half-hour long album, though rather than come across as underdeveloped, they rarely betray any limit to potential. Runge will take an idea or motif and mess around with it in multiple ways, leaving them open to interpretation, similar to the approach Zomby takes but for an aversion to the latter’s sparseness. At times, the motifs may be familiar, such as the iconic synths and eski clicks of “I Don’t” (which also make an appearance on “I Feel Cold” from the Unknown Vectors EP), and they’ll be pulverised and fired down a completely unconventional avenue – it’s disorienting, bearing witness such calculated and purposefully heavy-handed manipulation of vaguely recognisable sounds. “I Don’t” is That’s Harakiri’s undoubted highlight, the simple but menacing vocal sample asserting that it’s not really one for anyone of a nervous disposition. Very rarely do Runge’s impulsive trials fail to impress, yet “Great God Pan” sees him incongruously linger too long in the same area. Contrarily, “Meshes” cuts out at the very instant it hits top speed.
There’s little in the way of traditional structure holding together the unpredictable seizure of an album, however its opener plays the part of prologue magnificently well. “Peace” feels like a reprise of everything the album is plus everything it isn’t, a dizzying first glimpse into Runge’s mind where each PS One start-up fuzz melody, every backmasked string section is a shard of glass from a mirror constantly in flux between breaking and reassembling. Accompanied by a faint, warbling voice in the back of our heads, it’s a fascinatingly confusing and controlled piece of chaos that foreshadows the rest of the album from an eye of the storm perspective. As for structure on a micro level, the tracks on That’s Harakiri take fewer cues from song formulae than they do rollercoaster blueprints. “Gutter Vibrations” and “Peaked” might be the biggest offenders in this regard, incongruous and fidgety as they are, and being offended and repulsed aren’t distant reactions to certain points of the record, simply for its sheer disregard towards anything expected of it. The creeping, machinistic “Remote Heaven” sits nearer the side of convention on the relatability scale compared to most of the record, and it wouldn’t sound out of place amongst the works of Logos, whilst “Percressions” is the stark outlier closing the album with a slight nod to R.I.P-era Actress. Runge doesn’t come up short when it comes to subverting listeners, so we arrive at the end to see him flip the switch and push an interlude-like snare-clap percussion jam alongside some kicks and echoey stab melodies. At first it’s the least condense thing on That’s Harakiri, until it swells and it swells uncontrollably, like metallic reverberations down a well, before bursting back to its basics. Materialising out of thin air, it immediately announces itself as a highlight, and in fact it feels like it really shouldn’t be the end of the album – yet here we are.
Apart from his name and where he’s from, we don’t really know much else about Sd Laika or his background. All this makes discerning his influences more interesting. His obvious engagement with grime despite living thousands of miles from its epicentre, his fascination with ritual and horror, his flirtations with techno all make That’s Harakiri an engaging listen. An apparent lack of live shows and little fanfare about his releases mean that its likely that Sd Laika is simply a bedroom producer with a lot of talent. He says himself he never thought these tracks would see light of day, so its refreshing that Tri Angle sought to treat us by giving them a full release. Tri Angle’s reputation as a platform for new talent regardless of sound continues to burgeon with That’s Harakiri. It is obvious that this is an album that was never intended to be an album, but where it lacks in cohesiveness it makes up for in well developed ideas and imagery. Sd Laika has been lumped in with the current resurgence in grime we’re currently witnessing, but geographically and stylistically he is detached from this. That’s Harakiri’s unique pool of influence beyond the music is part of this and ultimately make it one of the most imperative releases of the year.
Words by Antoin Lindsay and Tayyab Amin, 28 May 2014. Leave a comment
Spring is a great time of the year for hip-hop. It’s that time of the year when rappers start pumping out tracks to fuel your parties and act as your means of celebration. Summer albums are being revved up, singles are dropped like it’s nothing, and the internet waits to see which songs gain momentum to receive the coveted title of “summer jam”. As summer approaches, it’s time to take a look at some spring favourites that stood out this year.
Stream: YG – My Nigga (feat. Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Rich Homie Quan, Meek Mill)
YG was the spark of spring with his album My Krazy Life. It’s the ratchet version of Kendrick’s Good Kid, Maad City. With nearly just as much storytelling ability and skits as Kendrick, YG was poised to strike gold with hits like the anthematic “My Nigga” and “Who Do You Love” featuring Drake. YG’s been around for years and already capitalized on the mainstream with “Toot it and Boot it“; a hit with currently-rising Taylor Gang singer Ty Dolla Sign from 2010. Since then, YG has been making a name under the ratchet sound along with DJ Mustard (who’s the key to the summer, just Wikipedia his discography) with a few notable releases. While My Krazy Life is a convenient encapsulation of YG’s sound, it’s encouraged you download his mixtapes leading up to that release for the sake of all the gems dropped along the way to YG’s journey to stardom.
Stream: Sicko Mobb – Fiesta
The bop movement needs to be addressed. It’s been around since last year and was highlighted in a Pitchfork feature in August 2013. Bop is dance-centric music based in Chicago that’s (as described by P4k) ” a physical representation of Chicago music in 2013: the warped yet indelible imprint of house, mutating under hip-hop’s influence into juke, growing more combative and experimental and shifting the focus from ass to feet via footwork, with rap ultimately reigning supreme”. It’s pretty much the opposite of the drill scene that became so popular in 2012 courtesy of Chief Keef and crew; much more bubbly and happy, not as much gang-banging. Since then, it’s popularity has surged to become one of the most exciting sources of music in the past 6 months; starting with Sicko Mobb’s Super Saiyan Volume 1 mixtape. There are plenty of bop artists, Breezy Montana and Lil Chris are certainly other favorites of the scene. But Sicko have found something special in their near-incomprehensible lyrics, melodic production, and uninhibited enthusiasm. Their catchiness is undeniable, as heard with their breakout hit “Fiesta” (released on Youtube May 2013), a simple viral hit with over 2 million views as of May 2014. The entire Super Saiyan mixtape is filled with hits and a perfect feature from fellow Chicagoan/Glory Boy Lil Durk on “In My Maserati“.
Stream: John Walt – KemoWalk
Bop is also responsible for an interesting offshoot of its movement that’s drifting towards something that sounds like a bouncier take on Chief Keef’s classic “Citgo” as heard here with the song “Kemo Walk“. Chicago’s DJ Moondawg put out a compilation of bop music that’s worth checking out and this mix off Soundcloud is also a good introduction to this viral movement. Bop has lingering effects, especially considering Super Saiyan came out in December (Breezy Montana’s Rise to Fame, which is also a great bop release, came out in October 2013) and is still getting heavy circulation in the US. Chicago is one of the most exciting sources of music over the past 2 years, now being responsible for two major (viral) movements of contradictory sounds. Continue Reading →
One of the more exciting things New Jersey has for itself right now is its multi-linear, infectious, and a lot of the time horny brand of club music. For a scene that now extends over a decade, only recently has the once-local phenomenon and its immediately identifiable sound infiltrated the conception of club music on an international level. While the influence of an East Coast tradition on contemporary, say, European club production is palpable, for certain brows of electronic music fandom the origins of the scene that only continues to grow in Jersey; and the makers who comprise it, might still remain unrecognised or hidden behind newer interpolations. After a busy week of playing out, Mike Gip (one of the more under sung yet prolific torchbearers of Jersey club) was able to lend us his ear for some quick questioning. Gip, Jersey’s proclaimed “handsome DJ” and part of DJ Sliink’s Cartel Music collective, resides in Long Branch, a hub of club music located on the central coast of the state.
Stream: Hardrive – Deep Inside (Mike Gip Remix)
TT: Hey Mike, what’s good? “What’s up, how’s it going?” Good. I wanted to talk about your recent slew of shows. It seems like you’ve been pretty busy, even just last week between the RBMA night and the House Party at Webster Hall. How’d those gigs come about and what were the crowds like? “It’s been crazy. The House Party at Webster, I was actually there the week before and that’s when Sliink asked me to play at the next show to represent Cartel Music—I was definitely interested. So that’s how the Webster gig happened. For the Red Bull one, Star Eyes just hit my email, gave me the details and said it was gonna be crazy with various genres and styles being played. I guess the RBMA night was an underground sort of crowd, which was good, there were people still turning up. Webster was a crazy turn up, you see people of all ages and nationalities just having fun.”
What was the biggest club/crowd you’ve played for thus far? The biggest I’ve played so far was an event at the Brooklyn Bizarre, there must have been over a thousand people there.
Also on the bill at Bounce Ballroom were [Jersey producer] Fiinesse and other dancers. How did that work, did they just come out with routines while you were playing? Also, do you find that dancing is an integral part of Jersey club culture in general? “Pretty much. Whenever we have club parties it’s always people on the floor doing dances. The dances at Bounce Ballroom were not exactly choreographed, but there are of course Jersey-specific dance moves, where people take turns in circles and things like that. Dancing is absolutely an important part, at least in Jersey, I can see why it might be hard to catch on elsewhere, but it’s still an important part here.” It just seems like some of those moves are perfect bodily representations of what the music sounds like. “Some of the moves have specific names and are inspired by certain things, like ‘paddy cake.’ You know the guy from Grease? ‘Rock your hips’ is kind of Jamaican inspired.” “Sexy walk?” (Laughs) “Yeah.”
What pulled you into club music initially? Did you start playing music out and then get into producing, and then further with Cartel? “It’s actually the other way around. I was always a fan of Baltimore club, like Blaqstarr and other early producers. I would listen to them and one day decided I wanted to try making it, I was at least 11 years old. From then I let it sit to the side until I matured as a person and was able to interpret music-related things better. In 2008, I started hearing the Jayhoods, the Sliinks, the Tim Dollas and realized it was different from the Baltimore stuff that I was introduced to when I was younger, it was something Jersey had for itself. I’ve been calling Sliink my big bro since a year into me being a producer, and I still don’t know exactly how or when I officially became a Cartel. He produced a track with my vocals called “Booty Bounce Anthem” and we’ve been kicking it off since. He’s been almost like a mentor, guiding me and stuff. One day I went to Irvington and hung out with the guys over there and they asked if I wanted to be a Cartel. I was like ‘yeah, that’s fine with me.’ Cartel is a brotherhood type of thing, really tight.”
Stream: DJ Sliink – Booty Bounce Anthem
Your also a new resident of Thread, how is that series going? “I love it, it’s crazy. Ezrakh, DJ Reck, DJ Rell, Nadus…those nights are the definition of Jersey club music, and underground music in general. We play so many types of music.”
Can you describe your hometown of Long Branch in your own words? “It’s different, and depends what part of Long Branch your’re talking about. The part I’m from is kind of the urban part—I see it as a baby Newark. The more resort-ish side I guess you can say, the part where tourists go for the beach is the west end of Long Branch and is what I think a lot of people think of when they think of the town as a whole, that’s where a few clubs are too.”
I assume most of your sets consist of club and hip-hop. Are you ever seen playing outside of this combination? “Absolutely. Right now I’m getting into the Nola bounce thing and actually have some of that stuff ready to be released. It’s also a crowd-reading thing, like if people wanna hear Moombahton I’ll play it.” It seems that Jersey producers, by nature, need to be on a rap tip. I say this because a lot of remixes are of rap songs. Who have you been fucking with as of late? “It seems weird, but right now I would have to say Juicy J. He’s about what I’m about, you know? I’m always going back to his original stuff, not just the recent Wiz Khalifa-featuring stuff. I saw him not too long ago in Sayerville, he’s crazy.”
It seems that every publication is doing their Jersey feature now, where they trace the evolution of Jersey’s interpolation from Baltimore and talk about faceless appropriation by artists who are enjoying more success then those who’ve been in the game for a while. What are your thoughts on this relationship? “Everyone hates it when I voice my opinion on this. Personally I don’t respect much of it, but it is what it is. I’m glad that they’re furthering the genre sort of and introducing it to more people, but I do believe in giving credit where it’s due. They should somehow show people where they got the music from, because it is a new sound for a lot of people, but we’ve been doing it. That’s just me.” You can tell when a track was made by someone from Jersey as opposed to someone from out of state/country, whether that’s because of the sounds used or general technique heard in the track. “It’s dirtier, grimier. Those guys’ stuff is smooth.”
You must be familiar with European labels like Night Slugs and Pelican Fly and what club music is becoming over there. “Absolutely. I’m actually really cool with DJ Slow. I do notice a Jersey influence on the music coming from there and I like it a lot. But like I said, in the grand scheme of things, it would be cool to see more room and credit given to us in some way or another.”
Do you see yourself reaching out to labels to put music out? “I’ve reached out to Mad Decent in the past, but they’re focusing on touring events and shows as opposed to releasing EPs and what not, which is fine. It would be dope to release music exclusively through a label as opposed to just handing out music by yourself on SoundCloud.”
Besides Newark, the seeming and generally agreed-upon birthplace of the genre, where else has Jersey club been taking root? “I mean I’m really the only club producer in Long Branch, but a lot of music is coming out of central Jersey generally speaking—there’s guys in Neptune, Lakewood, Toms River. There’s Plainfield too.” What are your plans for the summer? “I’m planning on touring actually. When it comes to label affiliation, I’m still unsigned but I do have a few people looking at me. In two weeks I’m going to Los Angeles. I’m gonna link up with [promoter] Adam Weiss there. I got a booking out in Berlin too.”
Your favorite drink and the last time you danced? “Henny. Last night I danced too.”
Words by Michael Scala, 21 May 2014. Leave a comment
For Seven Plays, each week one of our contributors will keep a personal music diary for seven days, then hands the feature over to another Truant at the end of the week. The idea is to keep sharing great music with our readers, but with a more individual touch than our more objective posts and reviews. Our third installment comes from TT heavyweight Tobias Shine; everything from lethal Jersey, South African dance music, Prince, and much, much more.
Saturday: Marcus Mixx – The Spell (Ron Hardy Club Mix)
“Hey yo, I’m Tobias and I’ll be carrying you through my week of listening pleasure! My brain is mush right now thanks to Kowton and Tessela laying rest to the club last night and I’m also kinda deaf in my left ear so what I write about this may be a little off. It’s amazing that this slice of pure bliss was only properly released to the world in 2006, despite its creation circa ’88. This one is just vibes on vibes on vibes and completely nails the scat melancholia brief. The flip (‘Without Make Up’) is beautiful as well. Just going to smoke about five ounces of weed and bathe in those claps.”
Sunday: DJ Lag – Ghosts on the Loos
“The dance music of South Africa has a history as long and dense as Chicago’s and I’ve only just started journeying down that path, but DJ Lag’s brutalist style feels so current. I could have picked any of the raw af trax on his kasimp3 page (which is a great resource for SA stuff) but this one sums it all up pretty well – dread atmospherics and that relentless, punishing drum sound. The way the tracks slowly build creates such high-pressure tension but never releases, the sounds just slowly suffocate the atmosphere around them. Kwaito is so dope because on the other side of super minimal stuff like Lag, DJ Lusiman and DJ Snaxxzo you have the more euphoric sounds of people like Big Nuz and DJ Spoko (who will put out an EP with Lit City Trax soon). Also highly recommend the interviews and mixes (here and here) Okzharp did for Blackdown’s blog after a trip to SA, whole lot of amazing music and information in there!”
Monday: Dexter Duckett – Pure Massacre
“Since Soraya shouted Air Max in her Seven Plays, I gotta show love to another Australian producer doing it big at the moment. Dexter is a kid from Adelaide with fire in his belly and a whole lot of cool ideas in his head. This one had me and my girlfriend ballroom dancing together, which is weird because this is track is super sinister and those twinkling bells makes the whole thing really chaotic and paranoid. Anyway, really feeling all the stuff Dexter is doing – stay tuned to TT to find out more about him.”
Tuesday: Beyonce – End of Time (DJ Big O + DJ Sliink Rmx)
“It’s no secret that Jersey is the best but it doesn’t get much better than Sliink and Big O going in on a Bey banger, those vocals fluttering so beautifully around the stereo field. Jersey has such incredible impact and momentum and is obviously lethal in the club. This is an oldie but there are so many people making sick trax at the moment: Irresistible, Problem, Kay Drizz, Yung Kidd, Albyy, Uniique, Tricks, K Deucez, King Tiger Z… the list goes on.”
Wednesday: Prince – Erotic City
“Ugh, I feel like this is such a missed opportunity. Like, yay, Prince – TIP! But whatever, I can’t deny that I’m obsessed with this today so it would be against the rules to leave it out. :~( On repeat, one after the other after the other. AFTER THE OTHER. Haven’t rinsed a track this hard since I rediscovered “Crush on You” the other day.”
Thursday: DJ Karfox – Fodencia Massacre
“The music coming out of Portugal at the moment is just so, so good. You would have heard of kuduro, the most visible producers being Marfox and Nigga Fox, but there is a whole school of kids working underneath them, taking up the fox name and heading to soundcloud who are making incredible stuff. There also seems to be more happening than just kuduro. Fodencia (translating, fittingly, to ‘fuckery’) is a super raw and stripped back style of tarraxo or tarraxinha, which people sometimes describe as a slowed down kuduro. (Tarraxo usually runs at around 90-100 bpm, kuduro at 130-140). I know, the genres can be confusing, their multiplicity compounded by a long history and development as well the music’s intercultural nature (being a mixing pot of, from my understanding, Angolan, Portuguese and French traditions). Fodencia is based around staggering triplet structures which make the whole thing sound really broken and wonky but also make it really, really fun to dance to. I also love the way these guys work with vocals, this one is a perfect example but how about this Nervoso and Onorato trak that uses a screaming girl as its hook!? SO sick. If you’d like to learn more about fodencia/tarraxo this article and this compilation, compiled by Marfox himself, are a great start.”
Friday: Iron Soul – Chinese Water
“Been rinsing Iron Soul, which is Kromestar’s earlier grime moniker, heavily recently. I haven’t heard many other producers in grime who work with soul samples and chipmunk vocals, except maybe Blackjack, but it just works so well. You can hear Mssingno’s happier days in there somewhere. Iron Soul was also capable of super cold, industrial stuff (see: Vulcan and Whistler off the South Side EP) and brings the Eastern vibe on this beauty. It’s just that classic starry-eyed melody that makes you feel all special and sad at the same time, like all the best ones. I actually wanted to choose ‘Art of Music’, which really tugs at the heart strings, but I couldn’t find proper audio anywhere. :(
That’s all from me, I hope you enjoyed my picks! Handing the feature over to my boy Matt for next time.”
Read our previous instalments of Seven Plays here and make sure to catch Matt Gibney on his Seven Plays flex next week.