Inspired by a DVD sent by David Serlin, who penned this loving tribute to the Scopitone in an early issue of Cabinet. Believe he sold me on such campy celluloid by deeming it "the Dead Sea Scrolls of music videos" or something similarly biblical.
(This one might be my favorite, as the woman has a set of furry panties that match her poodle.)
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Well, onto The Future Will Come. "Happy House" came before it. Where were you when you did “Happy House”? It has this domestic aspect to it...
You mean...why is it so happy?
It’s because of you (points to girlfriend). That’s not true.
My girlfriend thinks it’s about her.
It’s such an ultimate girlfriend song. Actually, three people have told me that they have used it as their wedding song, which is really nice, actually.
“You’re so damn excellent” is such a weird way of saying whatever. Usually, it’s couched in something else.
It says something that people would have a really hard time expressing themselves. Especially if you’re a self-centered hipster. Like we are. You can’t be excited and honest about anything. But I really actually think that’s why it resonated with a lot of people, our peers. And that was…there was a conscious decision to do that, to approach the entire album in that way. In a way that Nancy and I both were like: “We’re going to do a vocal-oriented album, it became apparent that the one thing we had to write about was this very specific thing of personal romantic relationships and uhm…we made the decision to be as honest and sincere as possible, at the risk of sounding trite and especially operating in the hipster world and electronic dance music world where lyrics and vocals tend to be couched in irony or some kind of surface.
Dance music is always very physical and temporal, not emotional and monogamous in relationships. It’s anonymous. To be domesticated is just…
It was the experience…the hipster turning 30 finally kind of thing. But “Happy House” was done at the same time the whole album was done. It wasn’t done before. It’s funny because we had picked…it had been so long since I released anything. What could we put out that’s deeper, won’t be a single, that just gets me back on the radar. I had no idea. I loved the song but I had no idea it would resonate the way that it did, the dance twelve of the year in that world, basically.
And all the financial success that that brings.
That I could kick back the rest of my life, a million free downloads yet again. I didn’t know. It sidetracked things actually, well, you can’t put out an album right after that now. You have to let it play out. It was definitely the theme of the entire album though.
With anyone in mind?
It’s an amalgamation of previous relationships. And Nancy and I have known each other for so long, so well about these things that it was easy. We went to this wooded studio in Woodstock, New York to do the vocals. We would sit on a couch and write back and forth to each other and laugh. So much of it was about our experiences being musicians and living that kind of impermanent, nomadic lifestyle. And you’re not…just personality-wise you tend to be much harder to deal with, very self-absorbed and that kind of thing.
Nancy had a longtime boyfriend who lived in Belgium, Steph of Soulwax. And so…(forgets train of thought) A lot of it, but more so than even being impermanent, which for us is not necessarily true. Everyone around here at DFA is a little bit older and more into being at home. People are married and have kids. So everyone that tours here won’t go away for too long or bring their wives and girlfriends. For me, Nancy as well but for different reasons, it was just about being this type of person who seemed totally baffled by relationships and never having them work out for any long period of time. I feel like on my end of it, it was…some things are very specific for sure.
So what’s specific on the album then?
The ballad “Human Disaster” that’s a very specific thing about a specific person and a situation for sure.
The way it’s set up, it’s a crash and burn and having “Happy House” completes yet re-creates this cycle.
That was an intentional thing in sequencing. The way that we wrote the songs and what songs we picked, it was supposed to tell a story that we had written out.
It was like that Bergman film, Scenes of a Marriage.
That’s what the idea was. The conflict and coming together and that kind of thing. That’s why “Happy House” is at the end, to leave it “happy,” a Hollywood ending. That’s why “Tonight” is the last song on side one, a much more positive coming-together kind of thing. “Happy House” is the last song on side two.
Did you hear back from Dubtribe Soundsystem about it? Did their sample come first?
That was…I actually had all the rhythms written for that song and we wanted to have a piano on it and just lifted the piano from that song. “That goes perfectly on there.” I never tried to find or make any claim that it was anything other than that. It was funny, guys on blogs and messageboards love to point it out. Somehow, this whole culture…I can’t read that stuff it makes me so crazy, that whole culture, there’s this whole thing where people priding themselves on pointing out where you’ve stolen from and that it somehow discredits what you’ve done. Where in fact, since the beginning of pop music, that’s all anyone has done.
Half of Shakespeare is where he took things from and how he put them back together.
Sunshine, the male of Dubtribe, they were hippies. He got in touch with me and told me how much he loved the song. So I’m going to have him do a remix which is a big fuck you to all the guys on the blogs upset. Someone actually wrote me to say “I’m going to tell on you. I’m going to write to Dubtribe and tell them what you did.” And the funny thing about “Do it Now,” it’s literally the piano part (which they sampled) and then the rest of the track is “I Am Every Woman” by Chaka Khan. It’s just those two things put together. (Laughs)
It’s like that Saul Bellow quote: “You’re aloud to steal anything that you’re strong enough to carry out.”
Exactly. That whole culture of…it’s a very American thing, a male thing. It’s an upper-class, over-educated, too much time on their hands, of getting into that world of being an uber-critic. It’s just been a long time problem of hipsterdom. People are so terrified of actually standing for something, being a fan of something. It’s much easier to pan something. It’s the go-to thing for critics of our generation. It’s an easy default. When in doubt, go to the pan. Somehow being negative and critical of something, people think you know what you’re talking about.
Or you could only be enthusiastic about something if you’re a-historical.
This is dangerous territory for me to get into but Hercules and Love Affair, it was my favorite album of the year. But when Pitchfork picked “Blind” as their number one song of the year and much of their dealings with Hercules, it felt like this affirmative action sort of thing. Finally, we can show you we’re not homophobic. Seeee, we like gay stuff, too. That’s a huge element to their approval.
Or like when Pitchfork got into Clipse.
Trying too hard to show that you’re not racist or homophobic. When in that world, it’s always been…racism and homophobia are pillars of rock, of hipsterdom. Of people coming from this collegiate, upper middle-class world. Which is fine. That’s where people have come from. But it’s not fine when it plays out…they’re the first people to say “I’m no racist, I’m not homophobic, I’m not sexist.” But in all of the things that they do, all of those things seem to creep out.
With disco and people discovering disco, James Murphy and I always talked about how disco edits, the whole point is to take out “the gay part.” The gay flourishes are always taken out and you’re left with this very rock thing that’s easy for people to like. DJing, the more indie-rock the audience, they’re so turned off by anything gay. Like, really turned off.
It's like when I wrote about disco edits and talked about how straight and white it has become. No black people, no Puerto Ricans, no gay people, it took thirty years to get white-washed. Back to topic though, was Nancy as big a part on Less Than Human? She seems to be such a big part of LCD.
In thinking about that, she has sung on very little LCD stuff. Little yells here and there and then she plays keyboard in the live band. Nancy is on many songs of mine in the past. (tape cuts off)
Does the relationship play a big part in terms of…?
For sure. That’s where all of this stuff came from. It’s always the most intense emotional things that you’re writing about. You’re not writing about “It was sooo nice when we cuddled on the couch and watched TV.” It’s great but it doesn’t make for compelling songs. The times when I’m most compelled to write is when I’m nearly suicidal probably.
I’m in a relationship now and you have to re-examine your sexism. I’m more in touch with my sexist side as well as my feminist side as now I can see the other side.
I’ve always been into having girlfriends than being like “I’m this music guy on the road sleeping with different girls every night.” Which has made for much more interesting material and references. You figure all that stuff out and it becomes…yeah. That’s what so much…for both Nancy and I.
Is she in a relationship?
I feel like I shouldn’t say. She’s with me on this campaign.
What I like about this album is how, in the past you’ve had this polar thing between human-robot and this time around, the polarity is between men-women. It’s transferred to this other thing.
There’s still robots. I’m taking the position of a super-sexist robot, criticizing a girl for being a girl, falling for typical male tricks. Desire will be your undoing. He’ll treat you like the rest. The relationships remain dysfunctional. For me, it was a clearing out of everything, the last number of years. This is everything that has happened.
Do you work through the crappy bad relationships to purge it?
Well, you linger on the bad parts. Otherwise you keep doing the same things over and over again. It is cool to have this public domain for this art project where you can purge all these things. Now I’m pretty much perfect, I would say.
(To Juan's girlfriend) Do you agree?
I’m like the ultimate boyfriend now...But it’s hard living in the shadow of something like “Happy House.” Like James always living in the shadow of “Losing My Edge.” He goes: "I’ll never make a 12” as big as that."
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Here is the first part of the full transcript of my interview with John MacLean a/k/a/ The Juan MacLean. In this first part, we chat a bit about robots, Six Finger Satellite, and of course, the nadir of 80s television, Small Wonder.
Were you much of a sci-fi fan or a comic book fan growing up?
I was a big fan of sci-fi, but with a limited scope. I was not into the fantasy world-related stuff at all, but Philip K. Dick was always one of my favorite authors of all time. Obviously, his writing technically is sorta awful, but the ideas and themes of alienation were big. The cosmology was stuff that I really got into and the offshoots like Blade Runner. It ended up being enormously influential for me. Thematically, that movie has played out in so many of my songs. Setting these scenarios for some being that doesn’t know whether its human or android or not, the polarity between the two. I’ve always used that theme or allegory of robots and androids to represent my own feeling not exactly “human.”
That goes back a ways for you.
To the earliest days of my music career.
Was Six Finger Satellite your first band?
My first and only band. I feel like I’ve had such a charmed music career, two of them, that 6FS…I graduated from high school and with money I got for graduation, I was going to buy a motorcycle and take off. Instead I went and bought a guitar. I just want to be in a band, so I taught myself to play the guitar. Made the band and made 6FS.
Was it a RISD band?
Nonono. We were so far removed from those people on a social level. There wasn’t a single band. We made our first demo after being together for a year, a year of learning how to play basically. Sent a cassette to Sub Pop and they signed us. We were signed.
Did the robotoic aspect of it ever play out live?
Devo was a big influence. We had the uniforms and were very strict about not smiling or showing emotion on stage.
Was that aesthetic was your contribution?
That was my thing. Devo, PKD stuff, Kraftwerk was a huuuuuge one, pretending they were robots and singing about being robots.
Songs about factories...
The uniforms they had we copied. We had shirts with very strict regulations in the band. When you were on tour you had to be in uniform all the time. We had our uniforms with the 6 emblem, your name underneath and we would sell them as merchandise on the tour as well.
Now with YouTube, I keep finding weird Italo disco like The Droids and it seemed like there was this giant movement of robot-pop. Why is it always European though? Never American? Why doesn’t America like robots?
There’s a definite social and cultural aspect to it, because Americans are…there’s such a focus on individuality and personality and originality and those kinds of concepts in these bourgeouis notions where kids grow up being told that they’re better, everyone is above-average, everyone is in the 99% percentile. But this idea of being an automoton or robotic or you’re part of the factory or the machinations of everything else.
Is it anti-Communist? You can’t have that crop up...
Very much so. Whereas that’s a very European –especially German—thing. Efficiency and the factory and that kind of thing. It’s a sentiment that Americans can’t…it doesn’t resonate at all in our culture or in the arts. Literature tends to be about the opposite, about individuality.
America’s lone obsession is Small Wonder.
Never seen it. I never watch TV.
You should check it out, a girl robot that lives with a family. Just terrible.
For me to it’s always a way to hide behind the idea of robots, without having to see that you’re expressing these really human emotions.
Was it funny to be on Sub Pop?
Of course. We were signed to Sub Pop, the first non-NW region band to be on Sub Pop. It was Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad, all those guys. The Xmas parties were quite humorous. All those guys in grunge attire and we would show up in uniform. Then we made a ten inch EP Machine Cuisine that was entirely electronic in ’93.
I remember putting it on and thinking it sounded like NIN.
(Laughs) That at the time, there was no context for that whatsoever. And we made it with Steve Albini. And there’s no guitar, drums, or live instrumentation.
With Juan, why did you want to re-enact it?
My first twelve-inch, there are some tangential references to Italodisco with “By the Time I Get to Venus” was very informed by the Boney M song “Nite Flight to Venus.” It’s where I took Venus from. That song was the template for the very first thing that I did. I was really into Italodisco at that time.
Boney M is a funny phenomenon to me: huge in European, but in America, they don’t even register.
It becomes this esoteric reference.
The robotic thing is a studio construct now though?
Live, not at all. Live has been an attempt…because 6FS was primarily a rock band and part of it was being antagonistic and willfully contrarian. Totally contrary. So when you’re in a rock band immersed in this post-rock indie rock, to bring out keyboards and dress up in these Fascistic uniforms and march around on-stage and pretend that you’re robots, it definitely got a rise out of people and was controversial. In dance music though, the opposite is true, especially if you want to re-create it live. It’s so horribly boring to see somebody start up a laptop or something and try to play live electronic music. So it seems like bringing this punk rock live chaotic element to it is much more interesting.
In the lag of time between 6FS and Daft Punk, what was it like to see their success, to see it come across?
It’s seems to be the theme of my entire music career. To be too far ahead. It is finally gratifying to actually be for once making the music that is of the day, right now. It actually feels a little alien in some ways. After awhile, you do get tired of having to wait 5-10 years for people to say “Wow, you guys were doing that.” And then they went and did it at it was HUGE! But Homework was a huuuge influence for me when it came out. It was fine because I had made Less Than Human and that’s when DFA was signing its deal with EMI right at the same time. The album sat there for a year waiting to be released while they negotiated the deal. In that time is when Human After All came out. It wound up getting released a month after Human After All. It was so hard to take. The name of it and everything.
Rather than being five years too early, you were five minutes too late.
Basically. A hair too late.
I saw Kieran Hebden at that Björk/ Dirty Projectors mash-up the other night, who reminded me of something I recently wrote for Wax Poetics #34: The Jazz Issue about funky Moog drummer (and Jaco backer) Bruce Ditmas. Since it's not available online (and good luck finding mp3s), the text is below:
The name "Bruce" tends to hang around my family tree: it’s my youngest uncle’s name, my mother’s second husband’s name, not to mention her favorite Super Bowl halftime performer. While mining a vein of odd records that wound up in an antiques mall in South Texas (including hand-painted synth records, Italo no-wave 12-inches, and French electroacoustic LPs with 3-D glasses attached, all with the original Wax Trax price tags still affixed), I naturally gravitated towards one in a glowing red sleeve with “Bruce Ditmas” and “Yellow” written in a kinked wire font. If the long-haired beardo in Cazals cast in yellow wasn’t enticing enough, then his array of gear was: drums, Moog drum, Mini-Moog synthesizer, ARP 2600 synthesizer, electric congas, cuica, percussion.
The Atlantic City-born Ditmas backed everyone from Judy Garland and Babs to Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, even appearing on Jaco Pastorius’s Jaco album from 1974. Around 1976-77, he began dabbling in electronics and drum machines in earnest, collaborating intently with abstract vocalist Joan La Barbara (the future Mrs. Morton Subotnick). On his own, Ditmas was no doubt digging the fault line between jazz chop-shop noodling and proto-techno klingklang, all in the shadow of Mt. Patrick Gleeson.
Released in 1977 by Wizard Records (responsible for another Ditmas record, a mesmeric flute album by Carl Stone, and two early La Barbara efforts), Bruce extends thanks to “Trevor and Kim’s foot” though true gratitude goes to guests La Barbara and ECM trumpeter Enrico Rava. Opening cut “Surprise Hotel” was written by Rava and is his lone appearance. It’s also the busiest most jazzbo cut, with La Barbara on “voice with instant flanger” (though “batshit chitter” is more sonically-correct). “L’Unita” --with its wiggle, gurgle, twitter, and spurt-- could be spliced into a half-dozen decent disco edits. As is, though as is it uncannily mixes well with Paul McCartney’s similarly navel-gazing synth doodle, “Temporary Secretary.”
On the second side is where Ditmas relaxes his jazz muscle and does deeper exploratory work. He references Fritz Lang on the minimal “Dr. Mabuse” while the sprawling “Aural Suspension” combines his analog wow with drum break butter. “Soweto” remains a singular concoction though: crawling through La Barbara’s Afro-alien mewl, Bruce slows what sounds like Ann Peebles’ rain blops until it feels like cough syrup.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Treehouse is back in effect! Once again, it's going down on a Wednesday --tomorrow to be exact-- at Frank's Lounge (upstairs) in Ft. Greene, near BAM at 660 Fulton St. It'll be myself, Eric and Piotr, along with special guest Thomas Bullock of Rub-N-Tug, A.R.E. Weapons, Laughing Light of Plenty, Map of Africa fame (Beta Blogheads will no doubt recall an epic conversation with the man from a year or so back). Hopefully, I'll be able to unpack my boxes in time to find some killer jams for the dancefloor. Regardless, Thom promises "to get a bit esoteric on the night, growing up from protoplasm to full-grown dancing ape."
"Hey dude, I'm getting ready to box up a shit-ton of records and I saw on your splendid mp3 site that you have a picture of your movers carrying records downstairs. Any recommendations on what sort of boxes I should get for carting vinyl?"
"Uhhh...that pic is from Google, and those are beer crates."
Which is to say, mind the gap.
"Uhhh...that pic is from Google, and those are beer crates."
Which is to say, mind the gap.