This year's Primavera Sound Festival takes place this weekend, May 28-31, in Barcelona, Spain. Get ready for all the action with the following playlist featuring many of the acts scheduled to play, including Arcade Fire, Blood Orange, Earl Sweatshirt, CHVRCHES, the War on Drugs, Jamie xx, Real Estate, Spoon, St. Vincent, and more.
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Articles on this Page
- 05/27/14--11:30: _Rising: Makthaverskan
- 05/28/14--08:25: _The Out Door: Techn...
- 05/28/14--09:50: _Festival Report: Pr...
- 05/29/14--10:35: _Show No Mercy: Quee...
- 05/30/14--09:25: _Guest Lists: Lone
- 06/02/14--11:45: _Festival Report: Pr...
- 06/02/14--12:25: _Festival Report: Pr...
- 06/03/14--09:05: _Electric Fling: Mis...
- 06/04/14--08:35: _Photo Galleries: RB...
- 06/04/14--15:15: _Festival Report: Op...
- 06/05/14--10:50: _Update: The Antlers
- 06/05/14--13:30: _Photo Galleries: Ro...
- 06/06/14--09:50: _Secondhands: Class ...
- 06/09/14--10:30: _Festival Report: No...
- 06/10/14--07:30: _Festival Report: No...
- 06/10/14--11:40: _Interviews: White Lung
- 06/11/14--11:40: _Articles: Texas Nev...
- 06/12/14--07:25: _Festival Report: Bo...
- 06/12/14--11:50: _Rising: Quirke
- 06/12/14--14:10: _Photo Galleries: Go...
- 05/27/14--11:30: Rising: Makthaverskan
- 05/28/14--08:25: The Out Door: Technique and Turmoil
- 05/28/14--09:50: Festival Report: Primavera Sound 2014: Playlist
- 05/29/14--10:35: Show No Mercy: Queer as Fuck: The Soft Pink Truth's Black Metal
- 05/30/14--09:25: Guest Lists: Lone
- 06/02/14--11:45: Festival Report: Primavera Sound 2014
- 06/02/14--12:25: Festival Report: Primavera Sound 2014: Photos
- 06/03/14--09:05: Electric Fling: Mister Saturday Night's Neverending Dance Party
- 06/04/14--08:35: Photo Galleries: RBMA Festival New York 2014
- 06/04/14--15:15: Festival Report: Optimus Primavera Sound: Playlist
- 06/05/14--10:50: Update: The Antlers
- 06/05/14--13:30: Photo Galleries: Roots Picnic 2014
- 06/06/14--09:50: Secondhands: Class Clowns
- Throw me in the air and sing the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud”
- Crack an imaginary egg on my head and start tickling my ears and cheeks while explaining in a high-pitched voice that I was being attacked by Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
- 06/09/14--10:30: Festival Report: Nos Primavera Sound 2014
- 06/10/14--07:30: Festival Report: Nos Primavera Sound 2014: Photos
- 06/10/14--11:40: Interviews: White Lung
- 06/11/14--11:40: Articles: Texas Never Whispers: Two Days on Tour With Parquet Courts
- 06/12/14--07:25: Festival Report: Bonnaroo 2014: Playlist
- 06/12/14--11:50: Rising: Quirke
- 06/12/14--14:10: Photo Galleries: Governors Ball 2014
Makthaverskan, from left: Maja Milner, Gustav Andersson, Hugo Randulv, Irma Krook, Andreas Wettmark. Photo by Jessica Lund.
The five members of Gothenburg's Makthaverskan came together as teens in 2009—and while they're all now in their 20s, an eternal teenage spirit defines their sound. They make visceral dream pop "inspired by the punk essence," says Maja Milner, 21, the band's piercing siren of a frontwoman. On Makthaverskan's latest record, II, Milner is in a perpetual state of frustrated yearning, stuck between freedom and restraint, like a misfit encumbered by suburban high school walls. And the band's limited technical abilities (and English) ensure that their power remains in its simplicity: "Fuck you" might be II's most recurring theme, but when Milner belts "It's not me you're dreaming of" across the heartbreaking single "Asleep", it feels just as painfully gripping as if sung in a crackly traditional blues ballad.
This is not the kind of booming voice typically found in bands that started out playing squats with drum sets made of cardboard boxes and kitchen pots, but so were the seeds of Makthaverskan. "The show itself sucked—the sound and everything was really bad—but people loved it," says Milner, recalling the band's first gig in Gothenburg. "They probably saw the potential in a group of young people who wanted to do something different."
Makthaverskan's initial impetus was to reject and invert the prevailing trends of internationally successful Swedish pop like Robyn, Jens Lekman, the Knife, Lykke Li, and Peter Bjorn and John. "The Swedish music scene was too cute for us," says Milner, who shows off a huge, spidery insect tattoo that covers her entire left inner-bicep during our Skype session. Instead, Makthaverskan was influenced by Broder Daniel, an alternative rock band popular in Sweden throughout the 1990s, who were themselves inspired by bands like the Velvet Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain.
So around the time Broder Daniel officially broke up, guitarist Hugo Randulv, 23, and drummer Andreas "Palle" Wettmark, 24, started Makthaverskan, hoping to keep Broder Daniel's angsty spirit alive. Soon came Milner and bassist Irma Krook. For II, they added 24-year-old guitarist Gustav Andersson, who originally made himself known to the band by getting up onstage and kissing Krook in the middle of an early gig. "Irma just dropped the bass and made out with him instead," Milner says. "It was fun."
While their youthful enthusiasm gained them instant adoration in Sweden, where they played the country's biggest festivals and signed autographs as teenagers, it's clear Makthaverskan have made a huge stride with II. The album is only now beginning to gain traction in America, and that is perhaps for the best, because soon after II's Swedish release last year, the band faced serious roadblocks. Palle, the drummer, was seriously assaulted on the street and hospitalized, Gustav dealt with illness, and their rehearsal space was turned into a bloody mess after an attempted robbery. "It seemed like everything was working against us," Milner says. "But in some ways, it made us more like a family again."
I spoke with Andersson, Randulv, and the now Berlin-based Milner when they had off from their jobs as a railroad ticket-taker, passport maker, and call-center worker, respectively.
"In Sweden, there was a big punk scene in the 90s, but then it died and everyone started making this baby-singing kind of music."
Pitchfork: Maja, why do you sing in English and not Swedish?
Maja Milner: Singing in Swedish feels unreal for me—I can't sing with the same passion in Swedish. My English is not so good, and I've been criticized for it. But my father is from England, and it feels natural. Also, I wanted more people to understand the lyrics than just the nine million in Sweden, in case it would be famous somewhere else. [laughs]
I had no experience singing before Makthaverskan, but being in the band made me realize I could actually do it. In the beginning, I just screamed. If I didn't start in Makthaverskan, maybe I wouldn't be where I am now, with my confidence in singing.
Pitchfork: What bands did you all bond over when Makthaverskan started?
MM: When I was in seventh grade, Hugo gave me the Smiths and Cocteau Twins records, and I gave him Broder Daniel.
Hugo Randulv: We bonded over a feeling that we didn't want to make music like what most of our friends listened to. A lot of the indie pop shows in Sweden were pretty lame and boring. They were all just doing the same thing, and we wanted to bring more aggression.
MM: The main reason we started Makthaverskan is because we were so irritated about this one band [from Sweden] that was so famous. And there was no real feeling, it was just… boring guitars. It sounded OK, but there was nothing interesting in it. We wanted to mess up a little bit and make more punk in Gothenburg. There was a big punk scene in the 90s with Broder Daniel, but then it died and everyone started making this baby-singing kind of music.
Pitchfork: When most people think of Swedish music right now, they're more likely to think of artists like Robyn or Lykke Li—are you into that stuff or are you working against it?
MM: We're against it. Well, we just don't care—it has nothing to do with us at all, and we don't want to be a part of it. Robyn is one kind of music; Lykke Li is one kind of music. They are only representing Sweden because they are famous cute girls. There's so much more in Sweden. We have more punk as well—like Holograms in Stockholm—but they're not getting as much attention.
HR: We don't relate at all to the commercial Swedish music that's being presented internationally. It's too slick.
Photo by Hilda Randulv
Pitchfork: You mentioned being inspired by the Swedish band Broder Daniel, can you describe the mutual idea that connects both bands?
Gustav Andersson: They have this feeling that everything is pretty hopeless...
HR: ... but they still create catchy, uplifting songs about it.
MM: Broder Daniel presented another side of Sweden—Swedish people are pretty good with making this impression that we are a perfect country but, at the same time, many Swedes are really depressed. Broder Daniel was the first band to make music for people who felt separated from the rest of society, and that's something that was missed in Sweden before. If you're an outsider, you really had nothing to relate to, or be a part of in music.
Pitchfork: Did you feel isolated when you started the band in Gothenburg?
HR: We were really isolated. We couldn't even go to bars or buy alcohol when we started. We just had to find something to do—it was that feeling when your grades in school are really bad and you have nothing to do and you're broke. You're so desperate, trying to go out and do something with your life. You're really eager to change your surroundings.
MM: Early on, we played the biggest festivals in Sweden and signed autographs. For me, at 16, that was weird. But obviously a lot of young people in Sweden were prepared for our kind of music and wanted it to happen. I realized only after that we were kind of big at the time.
HR: I've got a feeling that people who like Makthaverskan really like us. The band has a special meaning to them. The music is so easy to get—it's very direct.
MM: At our last gig, there was this guy who couldn't get in because he was late and he was laying down—obviously drunk—and crying, like, "Please, I need to see them!" I walked in to do the soundcheck and he was grabbing my leg and crying, and I was like, "What the fuck is this?" Our fans are really devoted to us. [laughs]
GA: At our release show, one of our friends was about to jump into the crowd, but he landed on his face and broke his jaw. It's insane. You're trying to focus on getting the songs right…
MM: … and you see people bleed. [laughs]
Pitchfork: Maja, do you find that you write most of your lyrics very quickly?
MM: Yeah. I'm not a poet. If I would sit down and try to write, it would be embarrassing and bad. The only reason the lyrics are good is because I don't overthink, I just write. It just comes out. I have it in me and then I just let it out quick, and that's when I create good songs. If I try too much, it always sounds like shit. Just do it quick, especially when it's punk music. That's the whole essence of punk—a fast feeling.
Pitchfork: The lyrics are extremely open and direct.
MM: Musicians try too much. They sit too long and try to make it rhyme, or find this really deep meaning. Then it becomes flat and sounds dishonest. If you just do it really quick with the first feeling you have and try to build on that, it's going to be a better song. Otherwise you lose the energy and the mysterious thing about it.
HR: The purest feeling is what we are aiming for—the core of the song. Also, we can't play our instruments that good, so we have to keep it simple. [laughs] We like really simple music. Music you can relate to instantly. Music that has melodies that can stick to your head. Simple stuff. We are simple people.
Pitchfork: The lyrics to "No Mercy" seems to really be sticking with people: "Fuck you for fucking me/ When I was 17." That's an intense situation.
MM: "No Mercy" is a typical case of what many girls experience. It's about the first time I fell in love, and the first time I hated someone very much. The lyrics are very honest, and it's something everyone's been through.
After the album was released, I thought, "Oh shit, maybe this is too personal." But it's a story about life. There are a lot of these men who have no personality and just like younger women because they are easy to get. I really despise those sorts of men. The song is about a guy called Anton, and he deserves every word. Now, many years after, he's still a person who I don't have very much respect for. He's a typical example of a person who's weak, so I feel a bit sad for him. But yeah, it's a big "fuck you" to all those men who are 26 and go out with 16-year-old girls. They should reconsider their life choices.
Pitchfork: In America, at least, feminism and punk have now had a pretty strong history of being intertwined. Has punk-feminism played a role in your life at all?
MM: Not really. I never wanted to combine politics and music. It's just obvious that everyone deserves the right things. I don't want people to say that we are a feminist band—that's a political thing you choose to stand for, and for me music is different.
HR: We are all 100 percent feminists, but we're not trying to spread feminist music.
MM: I've been very irritated about this—I've gotten weird compliments, like, "You have the guts to scream." It's ridiculous to say that I am brave because I scream. It pisses me off even more. There are so many men who do the exact same thing as me, and these people would never say that to guys. People think they're doing me a favor by saying I'm such a powerful woman, but I'm just a musician.
The world is so fucked up. People think there's a huge difference between men and women. There isn't. We have the same brain to create music. I'm doing electronic music now with a guy—I don't really listen so much to punk anymore, but I still have the heart of it—and people assume he's the producer, because I'm a girl. So if you want to call me a feminist for thinking that's weird, then yeah. Otherwise, I just want the same possibilities as anyone else to create.
In this edition of The Out Door, we explore how the demise of East Village Radio is a loss for experimental music, discuss the past, present, and future of avant-garde veteran Arto Lindsay, delve into the recent process of computer music legend Florian Hecker, and talk with guitarist Alexander Turnquist about how sickness might produce better songs. (Remember to follow us on Twitter and Tumblr for all types of experimental music news and information.)
I: Just Experimental Music: Jeff Conklin and East Village Radio
Jeff Conklin in the EVR studio during the final episode of his show Just Music
Experimental music thrives on surprise. Part of the thrill in many of its forms—improvisation, abstraction, noise, minimalism—is you never know what’s coming next. Since the same is true for free-form radio, it’s an ideal showcase for experimental music. In fact, it might be the only common listening medium that can truly surprise. When you cue an LP, hit play on your iPod, or stream files online, you have some say in how it goes. Even “discovery” services like Pandora are more about fulfilling your expectations than dodging them.
But listen to free-form radio, and surprise isn’t just part of the experience—it’s the essence. A good free-form DJ keeps you guessing and even confused, forcing juxtapositions between disparate sounds and threading connections between artists that you might never think to associate on your own. In that way, a free-form radio host is like an experimental musician. Both revel in posing the question: what if? And answering it.
All of which makes the closing of East Village Radio a blow to experimental music. For over a decade, this unique station housed in a tiny storefront on 1st Avenue and 1st Street in Manhattan has been a great source for all kinds of music. But I’ll remember EVR most for its support of experimental sounds. This impression goes back to the first time I visited the studio about a decade ago, when I watched Chris Freeman (of experimental mail-order outlet Fusetron) DJ a show he shared with Mark Morgan of noise-rock stalwarts Sightings.
In recent years, EVR’s experimental side has survived through Jeff Conklin’s Sunday night show Just Music, a consistent example of how radio can make omnivorous experimentalism an exciting, living thing. Conklin first pursued this on an earlier EVR show he dubbed Bring Out Your Dead. “I mixed Grateful Dead jams with modern experimental and psych stuff,” he tells me over Gchat. “It was partly inspired by an Arthur article where Animal Collective talked about their favorite Dead bootlegs, and I knew guys like Tom Carter from Charalambides and Mike Bernstein from Double Leopards were Deadheads, so I tried to make that connection.”
Conklin’s love of radio’s connective powers began long before his DJ career. “I grew up in love with radio, not just the songs but the static and noise you hear between stations,” he recalls. “I think I've subconsciously tried to emulate that with what I play on my show. I always tried to present the experimental stuff along with more accessible music in a way that it flowed, matching atmospheres and textures. Somebody who wasn't familiar with experimental stuff could hear a Byrds track segue into Sunroof! piece and not be scared off.”
Just Music also became a great spot for live sets—guests included Noveller, Bill Orcutt, and the late Arthur Doyle—despite the fact that its eight square feet of space could make things a little awkward. Conklin recalls a Sabbath Assembly performance in which band member Dave Nuss played while sitting on his lap. (Nuss, also of No Neck Blues Band, would later officiate Conklin’s wedding in the same space, to the strains of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme). Particularly memorable appreances included a phone call from Lou Reed, and a mesmerizing set by Jandek, whom Conklin calls “the only ghost to perform on EVR.”
Jandek performs on Just Music, March 24, 2012
Like the rest of EVR, Just Music had an international following. Conklin received correspondence about the show from Asia, South America, and South Africa, and guesses that he had more listeners outside of New York than within the city. But EVR’s unique sidewalk-facing location made its local audience tangible. At some point during every show, a passerby would ask Conklin what he was playing. Live noise sets especially attracted gawkers. “Those are also the ones that freaked them out easiest,” he says with a chuckle.
For Just Music fans, freakouts were the reason to tune in. “I’m thankful that I had listeners who didn't want to feel at ease, who appreciated being challenged,” he says. “I don’t think Spotify or Pandora can really do that.” That leads me to ask about the role of radio in the age of the web, a question Conklin has grappled with. “A lot of what I play is out there streaming on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, so why would people come to me and EVR?” he asks. “But if you find a radio show that matches your sensibility, you don't feel like you’re drowning in content. Also, the free-form radio platform can give you context. A good presenter tells you about a record, where and how it was made, who's playing on it. It’s those connections a curator makes between music that makes it human.”
There’s a human side of EVR’s demise for Conklin: Since 2010, he’s been full-time staff, writing blog posts, arranging guests for shows, and more. But he’ll miss Just Music the most (his last episode aired on May 18th; you can hear it here). “I played a lot of stuff that didn't have a chance on radio,” he says. “I always wanted to play at least one thing every week that station hadn’t played before, and that none of my listeners could’ve heard before, and that’s really hard to do.” Follow Conklin on twitter at @avantghettonyc and listen for him soon on WFMU, where his musical adventurism will no doubt continue. —Marc Masters
II: Arto Lindsay: Leaping Between Poles
Photo by Marcelo Krasilcic
After nearly three decades of making music in New York City, guitarist, singer, and composer Arto Lindsay moved to Brazil in 2004. That’s also the last year he released a solo album, but that doesn’t mean he’s been dormant since. In fact, he has performed new material so frequently that people began to ask if he’d ever play anything older, perhaps even put together an all-retrospective setlist.
Lindsay liked the idea—but for an album rather than concerts. “I wanted to start making records again, so this seemed like a good place to start,” he says, talking via Skype during a recent visit to New York. “I considered making a kind of grand narrative, bludgeoning my career into some sort of concept album. But then I just decided to pick the best songs from each solo record [from 1996 to 2004] and do a more normal, showbiz-y greatest hits record.”
Still, the resulting double-disc Encyclopedia of Arto Lindsayis more than a standard best-of. Its second CD presents live material recorded in Berlin and Brooklyn in 2011 and 2012. The jagged, impulsive guitar-and-voice workouts starkly contrast the smoother, nearly guitar-less material on the first disc. “I’m actually more interested in making leaps between these poles than coming up with some kind of middle ground,” he explains. “I like to hoodwink an audience into enjoying some awful noise, or seduce people in a language they don’t understand.”
Lindsay is talking about dialects—he speaks and sings in both English and Portuguese—but he could also be describing his penchant for wordplay. “If you use words to refer to something they don’t usually refer to, the feeling of instability is also a meaning,” he says about his lyrics, citing Earl Sweatshirt as his current favorite wordsmith. “If you’re constantly messing with what words mean, then that’s the message.”
Messing with meaning is a mark of Lindsay’s music, too. He’s created his own sonic language wherein a soft purr, a desperate yelp, a silky beat, and a noisy guitar blast can all sound logical together. “I chose not to learn conventional technique, but I’ve certainly developed my own techniques over time,” he says. “I’ve often placed my own playing in the context of people with a high level of technique, like Melvin Gibbs, who is a monster on his instrument. I love technique not for it’s own sake but for what it makes possible.”
Photo by Anitta Boa Vida
Lindsay began sculpting his approach in the mid-'70s, after graduating from college in Florida. Moving to Manhattan, he started the pioneering no wave group DNA, whose spastic songs could sound completely unhinged. But he insists the key to DNA's freedom was control. “We didn’t really improvise,” he says. “We’d do something really difficult, something fast or tight, and then we’d allow ourselves to burst out of that. We created forms of discipline and technique for ourselves. We weren’t interested in sprawling all over the place.”
After DNA’s demise, Lindsay carried that philosophy into his solo and collaborative work. He became more involved in improvisation, but used it to emphasize shape over chaos. “From the very beginning I tried to improvise form. We’d start, and that would be A, and where we went second would be B, and we’d try to get back to A,” he explains. “I still improvise like this. I’ve tried other things but it’s kind of my home style of improvising.”
Lindsay has found many like-minded musicians in Brazil with which to further his style. When I ask him who he plays with and listens to there, he reels off a long list of bands and artists who inspire him. His current recommendations include Metá Metá, Siba, and the young improv group Chinese Cookie Poets. He also mentions a fascination with a Brazilian dance music called Funk Carioca, and its recent offshoot Rasteirinha.
Dance has always been a source of inspiration for Lindsay. He cites choreographer William Forsyth as one of the biggest influences on his improvisation. “The mechanics of improvisation are interesting,” he explains. “You’re not just indicating points in time but you’re also indicating points in space.” This interest has led Lindsay to use a multi-channel system in his solo performances, which he controls with pedals. “I hit the guitar, and as it travels from speaker to speaker it gets a different effect in each speaker,” he explains. “That gives me another level of things to play with and react to, other than what I just did, or something that’s written in a song.”
As we continue to discuss space and dance, Lindsay returns to his fascination with Brazil. It comes partially from having grown up there: He was born in the U.S., but his parents moved the family soon after to do religious missionary work. An unlikely upbringing for a radical artist, perhaps, but the cover of Encyclopedia hints at a familial source for Lindsay’s leanings. It features a narrative series of photographs his father took as a college student in the 1940s. “Inside, you see him in a window and his friend is gesturing, ‘No, don’t jump!” explains Lindsay. “And then on the front cover he’s jumping, and on the back cover he’s lying there in the grass. It’s pretty wild—my dad pretending to commit suicide.”
Lindsay’s current take on Brazil is complicated—he loves it, but is keenly aware of its problems. “Brazil is an amazing place where people have figured out some things about living, despite crushing classism and racism and generally being shit on by the rest of the world,” he says. “You feel that you’ve still got a chance to come up with some different solutions here. Life is very tough here right now, but it’s also really great and beautiful.”
I ask Lindsay if he views New York similarly since he’s been gone, and at first he’s reluctant to comment. “I don’t have anything to add to the constant ‘it was so much better when we were all poor’” he insists. “That’s easy to say if you’re a white college kid, as opposed to somebody who can’t live anywhere else.” Yet he’s not shy about taking pride in his Manhattan roots. “Everywhere I go people think I’m too cynical or my humor’s too negative or I treat my friends badly,” he admits. “And I say, ‘That’s the way we do it in New York!’”
Lindsay hopes to return to Manhattan soon for a more extended stay, in part so his Brazilian-born 10-year-old son can get a full taste of the city. He also hopes to form a band there, a project he had already begun before we spoke. The goal is to eventually write new songs and make a new album, but don’t expect anything set in stone. “We’ll treat the songs as places to start,” he insists. “We’ll play a song and then we’ll go somewhere, you know?” – Marc Masters
III: Florian Hecker: Digital Blend
In 2011, Florian Hecker—the German electronics experimentalist generally known only by his surname—debuted a new sort of project with a podcast delivered by online station Ràdio Web MACBA. His “Bregman / Deutsch Chimaera—47 minutes in bifurcated attention” processed two seminal recordings of psychoacoustic research at once, mixing the signals in a series of quick cuts and edits that, as the title suggested, split the listener’s attention at the seams.
But “bifurcated attention” is a bit of a misnomer for Hecker’s recent explorations of “chimerizations,” lengthy pieces in which several sounds are delivered, distorted, and degraded at once and in phases. Imagine watching two particularly complex movies at once, and then imagine that both have been fastidiously edited and altered to wrap around one another in phantasmagorical tentacles. Chimerization—Hecker’s 2012 album, available in three languages and a pressed-to-vinyl documentation of a museum installation in Germany—took multiple readings of a new text by Iranian philosopher and author Reza Negarestani and played a fanatical game with them. Voices chased each other in circuits and chased themselves, too, echoing and fading and reappearing. Phrases and sentences scattered through the space, colliding at frantic paces and odd angles, necessitating not so much “bifurcated attention,” as complete, unwavering attention. Though built on reading voices recorded in an echo-less chamber and with a dedicated software system, the pieces are so intense that they feel aggressive, the sounds waving like fingers pointed in your face.
In March, Hecker released the new album Articulação. The record’s first two pieces, “Hinge*” and “Hinge**”, further explore the act of chimerization and Hecker’s relationship with Negarestani. On “Hinge*”, legendary vocalist Joan La Barbara calmly reads Negarestani’s prose. Hecker slides contrasting bits of her voice against one another, altering both pitch and time to construct a sliding scale that disorients even as it moves toward an almost-musical unison. “Hinge**”, perhaps the peak of Hecker’s new idea, outwardly challenges notions not just of logical narration but of what qualifies as speech, versus mere sound.
Speaking from Munich, Hecker spoke about what inspired the process and the tantalizing challenges it offers to both artist and listener.
Pitchfork: The process of chimerization seems like an attempt to explore your idea of timbre—to take related or identical events, distort them, and then blur the distinctions between them?
Florian Hecker: A lot of what happens in the chimera pieces is strongly operating in the timbral dimension. It’s outdated, but I find this to be a powerful definition of timbre, which Albert Bregman and Stephen McAdams did in 1979. They were speaking of timbre as a multi-dimension wastebasket category for the psychoacoustician, where everything that could not be qualified as pitch or loudness would be put in. The idea of this hard-to-define, uncategorizable category has such a vast potential if we’re looking at all these things that are happening in the chimerization process between speech and non-speech. What is this in-betweenness?
Pitchfork: Every time I hear one of your chimerization pieces, I notice several new elements or interpret parts I’ve noticed in a slightly new way. The process seems so rich and ripe for plundering. How do you decide what forms the basis for one of these albums, what deserves its own chimera?
FH: It’s something I can’t answer precisely because it’s an extremely subjective process. It’s very much an intuitive finding of things. There’s this idea of a process that sits half between a methodological look into a subject and half into playing with these ideas and concepts. It sits somewhere in between.
Pitchfork: Does that intuition involve trial and error, at least? Has there been something you thought would work for chimerization that didn’t?
FH: In terms of the chimerization pieces, they have come in two phases—the works prior to the Chimerization albums on Editions Mego and after that, on Articulação with the two “Hinge” pieces and the short piece, C.D. A Script for Synthesis. These works were very much a dialogue with Reza Negarestani, who wrote the three texts for the pieces. This was all very structured and formalized from a very early stage, in terms of what’s happening.
Pitchfork: How did you know that Reza Negarestani’s work was suitable for the start of chimerization?
FH: I read his work through Robin Mackay, the editor of Collapse, a journal for philosophical research in the UK. I saw Reza as being an absolutely original thinker. That’s what interested me about his prose, his ideas, his whole approach to writing.
Pitchfork: For the “Hinge” pieces on Articulação, you again worked with Negarestani, and he’s part of C.D. A Script for Synthesis, the latest chimerization piece you premiered in November. Why does sticking with his text for this technique work?
FH: It’s been a very good, intense process working with Reza, so we said let’s continue it. The idea of a sequel interested me, too, in terms of having certain characters that, in one way or another, would reappear. You see certain sound characters that have first been introduced in Chimerization reappear in “Hinge” in a certain way, and they also appear in C.D. A Script for Synthesis. They’re continuations and pointers in both directions, between Chimerization and "Hinge". They can be deciphered by listening to the text.
Pitchfork: Approaching and understanding chimerization can take some effort. When you first reached out to Negarestani, how did you explain it?
FH: It was a very formal and structural description of the underlying process of the auditory chimerization, coming from audiology and the idea of working with different readers and performers in anechoic chambers. These technical and procedural parts of the work formed the starting point of the conversation. He was interested; otherwise, it wouldn’t have come to a realization.
Pitchfork: Chimerization is available in three languages—English, Farsi, and German. Was the hope to make the text and the sound available to a wider audience or to imply the flexibility of the process itself?
FH: We did the first version in English only. But when we were working on the extended version for a documentary exhibition, dOCUMENTA, that takes place every five years in Kassel, in Germany, it was important to show that the work should be played in the language where the exhibition happens. At the same time, it is an international art exhibition. A big part of the audience also speaks English only. In a certain way, English is the language that Reza and me communicate. And Farsi is his mothertongue. And German, of course, is mine.
Pitchfork: Were you surprised by the ways the language input impacted the output?
FH: Very much so. It’s a totally input-dependent system, so you get sonically different outputs depending on what inputs you have. Although it’s spoken language, the modulations stemming from it can be quite different.
Pitchfork: Were you present for the readings?
FH: Maybe 90 percent of the time, I’ve been sitting with the speaker in the anechoic chambers myself. Someone has been recording it from the outside. It’s been very directed. With some of the people I work with, they get it straight in almost one take. But for some, the discussion is a bit more lengthy.
Pitchfork: How crucial to this process was recording the voices in an anechoic chamber?
FH: That’s an important aspect. Having a very crisp and clean signal is an interesting starting point. At the same time, anechoic chambers, after a certain duration, do something to the speaker. There’s quite a specific sensation that you get from being in it, due to the lack of audible reflections. Your sense of equilibrium and general spatial perception is slightly shifted. This gives a different twist on how you’re delivering a text, compared to a typical recording studio. It changes the breaks between words, the timing.
Pitchfork: As a recording artist, how hard is it to get into these anechoic spaces?
FH: It’s always been a lengthy communication that leads up to getting hold of these spaces. I was very lucky that I started the chimerization process during an artist residency at MIT. In the Research Lab of Electronics, they have a fantastic sound-attenuating booth. It’s not entirely anechoic, but it’s very special. Some recordings we did at Bose, the loudspeaker manufacturer in Framingham, Massachusetts, just about half an hour west of Boston. Work on “Hinge” was done in Lisbon at the Instituto Superior Técnico. It has an absolutely fantastic anechoic chamber. The most recent one we’ve been doing at IRCAM in Paris. It’s always quite different because they all belong to different entities. It’s a process to get access to them. In many cases, they’re used for research projects and technical experiments and recordings on a day-to-day basis. It takes some time to find a free slot that works for the speakers, too.
I’m working on my own, so I’m doing all of these things by myself. All the organizational and logistics were a big part of this creative process.
Pitchfork: How does chimerization fit within the context of modern electronic music? Does it at all?
FH: There’s always a good handful of people around with whom you are sharing certain desires and ideas, but when I’m working on my own things, I’m not really able to keep up listening to too many other productions. So every time I am catching up with [Editions Mego’s] Peter Rehberg in Vienna, who is much more knowledgeable about those things, I get an update on what’s happening.
But I’m mainly working on my own music. It’s not intentional. It’s more pragmatic, in terms of how you spend your day and what you get done. I sometimes don’t have enough free time to check out what’s happening. I try to work on sound every day, in the morning for a couple of hours, until 2 in the afternoon. Then I’m taking care of office work and other communication. I’m a morning person.
I’m also living in Scotland, and it’s a little isolated. That’s been productive.
Pitchfork: Your book Chimerizations applies the idea of chimeras to images and text. Are you interested in combining that work with the music you make in any way?
FH: I’m not so interested in a combination. It’s more of an extension. Primary Information, the publishing house in New York, invited me to do an artist book with them, and I was curious of a way to put some pieces in a book. Obscenely, I find that photography is my preferred way of documenting a sound piece when it’s installed in a space. Of all these works that are in the book, I had a vast selection of installation photography.
When working on Chimerization in the fall of 2011 at MIT, I was introduced to the works of Antonio Torralba, a professor there for artificial intelligence and computer vision. He showed me this process he’s been working on with a couple of colleagues. It takes two images, analyzes the content of the images and creates a third image from them. Experimenting with this process, I found that the kind of distortion and twisting that the process applies on the image are suggesting we’re looking at something that’s not in an image. Something is going on in the space that you see that won’t communicate through a photograph only. This was the same time the publishing house was getting in touch, so I suggested making an image book of these pieces.
Pitchfork: Do these photos help explain chimerization?
FH: [laughs] I think probably they complicate it. —Grayson Haver Currin
IV: Alexander Turnquist: Technique and Turmoil
Nearly two years ago, Alexander Turnquist woke up and found that his left hand—the one he used to fret his 12-string guitar during his delicate and circular instrumental compositions—had gone numb. He couldn’t control his pinky.
Turnquist attempted to explain the sudden symptoms away. Maybe he’d tucked that side of his hand beneath his head while sleeping, or perhaps he’d pounded the piano too hard the night before. But during the next three months, the acute conditions became chronic, worsening as the numbness spread. Turnquist’s muscular control dissipated. At last, he went to the doctor: His ulnar nerve, which dips past the bicep and alongside the ulna bone of the forearm before fanning into the pinky itself, had seized.
It’s not an uncommon condition, and it wasn’t only the guitar’s fault. Though Turnquist had obsessively studied divergent acoustic styles and techniques since he was a teenager, locking his elbow into certain angles for hours of practice at the time, he’d worked with vibrating power tools, too. Still, Turnquist’s case would require surgery. Doctors needed to cut into his elbow and shift the nerve in order to unlock it. He’d have to endure months of physical therapy to restore his strength.
The album he’d been writing would have to wait.
“I was bummed out, but I tried to stay pretty positive,” remembers Turnquist. “I didn’t want to lose hope in the fact that I could play guitar again.”
With his arm in a sling, Turnquist began a graduated program of physical therapy. He went from picking up colored pegs and putting them in their proper holes to squeezing a pair of pliers to do the same. After seven months, he could hold a guitar again. He found that the condition and the subsequent recovery had impacted his technique and touch. Following his surgery, for instance, he’d learned to play a small, eight-string harp with his right hand, hoping to keep his picking fingers active and healthy while his left hand rehabilitated. Those patterns transferred to his 12 strings, too; he looked for tunings and pieces that required less motion and effort in his left hand and found within that minimalism a certain new grace.
“Overall, it made me get better, almost cleaner with my left hand,” Turnquist says. “In a way, I had to relearn how to hold the thing, how to do everything with it.”
But the success of Flying Fantasy, the new album that Turnquist started writing before surgery and finished following recuperation, has less to do with ergonomic shifts and more to do with an evolving perspective. At times, Turnquist’s music has been almost too exquisite, gliding through gilded pathways of harmonics and baroque instrumentation as though real-world tension never existed. However pretty, it could be precious, protected.
The last two years have been fraught with worry for Turnquist, though. While on the surgical mend, he fell ill with meningitis. He’s still regaining his vigor from that, he says, exercising more so as to restore his energy. Flying Fantasy fights its way from these darkened corners, arriving in moments of splendor through confessional treks of anxiety and imbalance. For the first time, Turnquist’s music nowbetrays a sort of lived-in frisson, showing his life as the way it is and not the way he necessarily wants it to be.
“I was in a bit of a darker place when I was writing Flying Fantasy,” says Turnquist, “and it was almost healing to hear.”
The stunning “Wildflower,” for instance, peaks in waves of shimmering bliss, thousands of tiny guitar notes reflecting off deep, slow, resonant piano chords. Near the middle, the song becomes tied up in its own unrest, those same notes seeming only to chase themselves. The title track is a meditation on mood; sweeping chords and sporadic plucks and pops punctuate seven minutes of field recordings and quiet electronics, moments of brightness flashing across a gray landscape. The song recalls Turnquist’s more experimental debut, 2008’s Faint at the Loudest Hour, a wonderfully unstructured and exploratory album he made as a teenager. But its tone now reflects a very adult uncertainty. Turnquist, 26, ends with that feeling, too. The short “Cloud Slicing” feels like a coil of doubt, dissonant melodies spooled tightly against one another.
“The titles and themes bring me back to my youth, the nostalgia of having the innocence of not having real-life drama—being a kid, having your imagination run wild, not being afraid of anything,” says Turnquist. “Those health situations make you think back to the time when you would walk out of the door and not worry about getting sick, or especially dying.”
Photos by Jesse Turnquist
Turnquist is an ardent student of instrumental music, an enthusiast who cites, for instance, the exact moment on Alex de Grassi’s Water Garden that made him want to explore harmonicsor the album from trombonist Stuart Dempster that made him “feel like liquid.” He’s gone through phases with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Six Organs of Admittance. He talks emphatically about Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and hammer dulcimer kingpin Malcolm Dalglish. He’s studied classical guitar textbooks and subscribed to magazines for gearheads. He even went through a phase of buying albums based not upon the music but the technical expertise used to play it.
Alexander Turnquist: Hallway of Mirrors on Bandcamp
In 2006, the summer after he graduated high school, Turnquist attended a workshop taught by the perennially pleasant de Grassi, where he learned about proper guitarist posture and the subtleties of the fingerpicking style: “After that, I just wanted to get better at the instrument,” he says. “I wasn’t even sure what the capabilities of the instrument were.”
Turnquist continued exploring new techniques throughout his late teens, but the challenge, he says, has been to prevent that obsession with dexterity from offloading the emotional weight that music can carry. It’s been a learning process, Turnquist admits, one where he’s had to balance fastidiousness for sound and style with care for what the piece actually conveys.
“I wanted to bridge the gap,” he says, “between the dude who can walk into a Guitar Center and shred for three hours—but when he walks away, you don’t remember anything he played—or somebody who you remember the music.”
Flying Fantasy is Turnquist’s best attempt at doing just that. The technique is sterling, with Turnquist able to move between notes at an astonishing rate and step between portions of a piece with ineffable ease. Contributions from violinist Christopher Tignor and French horn player Jeremy Thal, plus the ripples of Turnquist’s own heavy piano hand, underwrite that motion, adding exclamation marks to the transitions and spotlighting the composer’s impeccable timing. But there’s something pulling back on the other end of all that pulchritude, a real-life weight that shows not the effort that went into performing these songs but instead the toil it took to live through what inspired them.
“When I started wanting to make guitar music, I was really into post-rock bands: ‘How do I have the weird emotional pull that these records and this music was having on me?’” Turnquist remembers asking himself. “I wanted to try and figure out how to have the drama and emotional attachment that those bands had on me at that age, but with a different style of music. I wanted to appeal to people in an emotional way.” —Grayson Haver Currin
Drew Daniel, an electronic multi-instrumentalist, writer, and academic who teaches literature at Johns Hopkins University, started his experimental house project the Soft Pink Truth in 2001 with a 12” called “Do It Quite Sloppily”. Matmos, his main project with partner M.C. Schmidt, rarely do anything sloppy, so the appeal of this outlet made sense from the start.
Matmos have always been willing to nod to punk (see, for instance, the track “Germs Burn for Darby Crash” as well as their cover of the Buzzcocks’ “ESP”), and Daniel wrote an entire book on Throbbing Gristle, but the gnarlier part of his record collection received its most explicit treatment on SPT’s Minutemen-nodding 2004 album, Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?, a collection of punk and hardcore covers of bands like Crass, Angry Samoans, Minor Threat, and Rudimentary Peni. That tradition is held up on his new record, Why Do the Heathen Rage?, which is made up of black metal covers.
Daniel is an avowed metalhead, but until now you didn’t really find any obvious traces in his music. On Heathen, though, he applies SPT’s colorful, lusty style to songs by Darkthrone, Venom, Beherit, Mayhem, Hellhammer, and other grim outfits, incorporating guests like Antony, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, David Serrotte of the Baltimore vogue ball crew House of Revlon, and Locrian’s Terence Hannumm. Snippets from gay house classics (and porn) also play a part.
As Daniel’s made clear in the past, SPT is a queer-focused project, as shown on this LP by his cover of Seth Putnam/Impaled Northern Moonforest’s “Grim and Frostbitten Gay Bar” and artist Mavado Charon’s cover illustration of corpse-painted men fucking and murdering each other. The liner notes feature a piece called “Confessions of a Former Burzum T-Shirt Wearer”, where Daniel talks about what it means to be a gay man as well as a fan of black metal—a genre with a sketchy, violent history that includes the murder of a gay man by Emperor’s Bård “Faust”, as well as the fascism of Burzum’s Varg Vikernes. As Daniel puts it, “Just as blasphemy both affirms and assaults the sacred powers it invokes and inverts, so too this record celebrates black metal and offers queer critique, mockery, and profanation of its ideological morass in equal measure.”
Daniel and I caught up via Skype. He was in his house in Baltimore, a space packed with books, records, and his embroidered black metal t-shirt collection.
Photos by M.C. Schmidt
Pitchfork: How did you decide what songs to cover for this record?
Drew Daniel: My criteria really was: Are the riffs intensely catchy? Are the lyrics something that speaks to what black metal's about? There are a lot of black metal artists that I really love, but I didn't feel like there would be any point in attempting to cover them because they're more about textures than riffs. And part of the appeal of these songs, for me, is that there is a pop core to them. There is an intense catchiness, hopefully.
Pitchfork: There’s also the homoerotic angle.
DD: I mean, it's a weird process. The first song I covered was "Sadomatic Rites" by Beherit. I loved the sexuality of it—that there was this dwelling in a city of Sodom implicit in it, and this figure of the Sodomite. That was incredibly appealing to me. That cover was a test of whether this would be fun to do, and it was so fucking fun to do that I started to go into that bag-of-Doritos psychology: Oh, I'll just have one more. People misrepresent black metal as being completely asexual, and a lot of times its aesthetics are—solitude, misanthropy, the woods—but there is a stream of sexual content within certain early black metal bands.
As I was making the album, I felt like I wanted a historical arc. The last two I did were Venom's "Black Metal" and the Impaled Northern Moonforest track, so that felt like going from the very pioneering beginning of a genre to its apotheosis in parody. By the time Seth Putnam is doing Impaled Northern Moonforest, black metal has entered complete decadence and has become formulaic. And my own record is like the final maggots writhing in the corpse, because now I'm covering a parody. Of course, there are also bands now like Cultes des Ghoules, Locrian, and Deafheaven—people making valid new things out of black metal—so I don't want to say, "Oh, it's over." There's so much history to this genre. The events of the '90s were so long ago that there's a new relationship to their overfamiliarity as cliches that's kind of interesting and worth playing with.
Pitchfork: Right. There are tons of black metal bands in 2014 that exist without the original Norwegian narrative in mind. But not all of that violence can just be willed away. There's the non-album Burzum cover that you called “Rundgang (Fuck Varg’s Racist, Anti-Semitic Bullshit Politics Forever!)” as well as your written piece "Confessions of a Former Burzum T-Shirt Wearer". How important was it to you to situate that position so that people didn't think you were being complicit with these kinds of thoughts?
DD: It's something that I've worried about not just in a self-protective way, but in a genuinely soul-searching way. And I think about it because years ago, a church burned down in Baltimore, and I thought it would be a hilarious thing to take a picture of me in a Burzum t-shirt doing a thumbs up in front of this burnt church. The point of the photograph in my mind was that there's this incredible double standard and hypocrisy in Burzum fandom where every right-thinking liberal fan of extreme music says, "Oh, I love Burzum's music. I hate their politics." And to take a picture was to be the worst-case scenario of the person who admires the church-burning and is like, "No, let's burn churches. Thumbs up! Burn churches. That's what I like." That's the sort of thing that you're not supposed to say, but, obviously, the glamor and allure of criminality and vandalism, and a hatred of organized religion does mobilize why people are, in part, excited by Burzum. It's not just the music. I don't feel like it's acceptable to try to draw this bright line between aesthetics and politics because they're always connected. There's no politically innocent music-listening room that isn't tied to political realities.
On the other hand, it's not like art is only ever a symptom of politics. So while they're always connected, they're never the same. For me, that was why that picture was funny and why I took it. But friends of mine reacted to that image and called me out. And I have to admit, from another perspective, that's a white guy in public wearing a racist band's t-shirt—a reinforcement of white supremacy. And I really don't think it's good enough for white men to wield a word like "parody" as a shield by which to legitimize shitty behavior. So I felt real shame about that picture. And now I've embroidered "Fuck Varg's Politics" in rainbow pink thread onto the only Burzum shirt I wear. I wore it to Maryland Death Fest last year, and it got a lot of double takes and started a lot of good conversations. The more I thought about it, I was like, “Well, what do I want to do?” How could I possibly push back against Burzum in a way that wasn't just a self-congratulatory, “I’m not a racist” maneuver. So that's why I wanted to cover an ambient track of Burzum's, so that when somebody searches for "Rundgang", they'll find "Rundgang" attached to my statement.
You could also make the claim that Varg is an attention whore and I’m only playing into his importance by doing a deliberately obnoxious acid techno profanation of his tranquil, ambient 25-minute escapist trip into the woods. So is there an innocent position here? I just wanted to take that track and profane it by putting Timbaland-esque beats on top of it, so even in a supposed pastoral zone where you don't have to think about urban life, there's a racial code to the way that that ambient music functions in Varg's aesthetics, and I wanted to destroy it with this cover.
It sounds pretentious and self-important if I put it that way, and maybe it's hypocritical for me to call somebody else an attention whore in an interview for Pitchfork. I'm talking a lot because I'm nervous about this, but I felt like if you're going to do black metal covers and your point is a queer critique of the shitty ideological disaster area that is black metal, then it would be cowardly to not address the Burzum question. At first, I wanted to put that Burzum cover on the album, and I talked about it with [label head] Bettina [Richards] at Thrill Jockey, and she was like, "Look, I'm not going to put a Burzum track on an album because then when people buy your album we're giving money to Varg. That's fucked up." And I'm like, “You're absolutely right. I should just put this on the web where it can do its work of connecting the search term." It’ll attach itself like a parasite to the glamor of that dickhead, and then every time you're looking for his song, maybe you have to think about the opposite point of view.
Pitchfork: You have various guests on the album, including Antony and Jenn from Wye Oak. How familiar were they with black metal?
DD: Different people had different attitudes about what their purpose was in doing it. For Antony, I had to really talk to him about why I wanted him on this record because I don't think he likes or relates to black metal aesthetics. He's also someone who's ecological orientation makes him skeptical about fantasies of apocalypse, and there's good reasons to feel like maybe apocalyptic fantasies aren't helpful at this point. Maybe they're part of the problem. They let us off the hook. The reason I wanted Antony was because I felt that I needed an androgynous voice and energy to counter the tacit maleness of this whole genre. And I just love his voice.
In the case of Jenn from Wye Oak, people make decisions about what her aesthetic bandwidth is based on Dungeonesse or Wye Oak, but for Halloween one year, Jenn was a sexy baby. That's fucking perverse. She has a streak that can get seriously dark that you might not realize until you talk to her for a while. And I love that smoky place that she hits sonically. I felt like the idea of her soulfulness paired with this absolutely misanthropic, hateful, hateful message—"Census count zero/ No cunt Christ hero/ Glory for ebola"—would do something to those words that was really interestingly perverse.
"Black metal people aren't going to like this album because it's faggoty disco, but actual dance music people aren't going to
like it because it's weird people screaming about Satan."
Pitchfork: The album begins with a spoken-word invocation that you and Antony do, how did you come up with that?
DD: I wanted some kind of spoken word intro with ominous sound effects, like the way atmospheric black metal records begin. In fact, I made a mix that's just 45 minutes of intros. It's so funny! I stuck little sound effect details in there as a kind of spell. When the line about “the forces that alienate us” happens, there's this noise which is a cash register beep and police handcuffs closing layered onto each other so they're the exact same sound.
Black metal songs often have these sonic details, even down to Varg using the sound of anvil on one Burzum track. I wanted a similar feeling. There's sonic details that are from gay porn on this album too. For the line "Riding Hell stallions bareback and free," I went online and just got bareback sex sounds of someone getting penetrated and stuck it right next to that moment in the song. It's extremely literal and on-the-nose, but fuck it.
Pitchfork: Did you have any concerns about authenticity when you did this? Would you want a black metal fan who doesn't know any of the backstory to just be like, "Yeah, this is a version of a fucked up experimental black metal record."
DD: It's something that I've often wondered about, like, “Who is the audience for this? Who in the world wants to hear this?” Nobody, basically. Black metal people aren't going to like it because it's faggoty disco, but actual dance music people aren't going to like it because it's weird people screaming about Satan. And yet, I felt like once I started I need to finish this because I need to believe in the momentum of this promise that I made to myself.
Georges Perec wrote that novel A Void where there are no words that use the letter e, and he said that when he started writing it he told a friend as a joke, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if somebody wrote a novel without the letter e?” And then the friend was like, "No, you have to do it." And then you get trapped in it. I mean, I proposed this record kinda as a joke when I was DJing at a club. I was talking to Hunter of Liturgy and saying, "Oh, it would be so funny to do a cover of Darkthrone's 'Beholding the Throne of Might' because it has this line 'When Hell calls your name, there's no way back,' and you could cut in that classic house song ‘'No Way Back'.” And he was like, "Oh, you should do that." And then I did do it. The album is full of little Easter egg moments of quotation from classic house songs where a phrase from a classic house song is used instead of a black metal lyric, like, "Let There Be Ebola Frost" has the Marshall Jefferson "Let there be" from "Let There Be House", but instead of "house" it's "ebola." [laughs]
When you cover a song, the stakes should never be low. You can't bring a redundant wannabe imitation of the original. So a cover is, to me, a real challenge. Why does this have the right to exist? It's a test. I don't mean to sound like it's a deadly serious thing, but if you’re going to touch a classic fucking song like Venom's "Black Metal", you better not be kidding around.
Pitchfork: One thing I thought that is important on the record is that in the liner notes, you mention Bård "Faust", who murdered Magne Andreassen because he was gay in 1992. I feel like that's often a part of the black metal story that sort of gets brushed under the rug.
DD: Yeah, in fact, another reason I wanted to make a queer take back to this culture was I went to the [black metal] documentary Until the Light Takes Us, there was a Q&A with the directors afterwards, and I asked them about how they were giving people a chance to call Magne Andreassen a faggot and just letting them use that word as if that's cool. And their answer was, "Well, this is not about politics. This is just about aesthetics. We're fans." And I have to say: Fuck you! That's not good enough. I felt angry at them because I felt like they were being, at best, naïve. But at worst, dishonest about what we do when we like things. It doesn't mean we have a free pass to just bracket that kind of crime. And the ease with which people talk about that murder, as if somehow it was self-defense—I'm sorry, but you don't go to a gay cruising park with a knife and then claim that you killed this gay man out of self-defense. I just don't buy it. People totally look the other way, and as a gay man I feel like that defines black metal subculture as if it's the subculture that's cool with killing gay people and homophobia.
So I went and saw [Faust’s band] Emperor live, and they are fucking awesome. It was my birthday and I remember the drummer threw out a drumstick and I caught it. But the whole time I thought, “I'm a kind of Uncle Tom motherfucker if I'm going to see Emperor and support what they're about. They killed a gay man.” My record can't redress that kind of a crime, but it's part of a queer response to that subculture. I've also embroidered my Emperor shirt with "Rest in Peace Magne Andreassen." When I wear that, people are like, "What does it mean?" Whatever. This is my self-important indie craft project. [laughs]
Photo by Mary Stamm-Clarke
Guest List features artists filling us in on their favorite things, along with other random bits. This time, we spoke with eclectic British elecronic producer Matt Cutler, aka Lone, whose latest album Reality Testing is out June 17 via R&S.
Favorite Music Video
Portishead's "Only You". Director Chris Cunningham is a master of syncing movement with visuals, and there’s a bit in the “Only You” video that freaks me out. The track scratches and the kid’s feet are moving in time, and he opens his hands and a dove flies out. It’s the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen, and an amazing interpretation of a nightmare—especially where the camera pans up and you can see a window lit up at the top of the screen with a guy standing in it. I’m pretty sure I’ve had a dream before where that happens—a weird building, unfamiliar surroundings, and you can just see this guy staring out.
It happened a couple of weeks ago, actually. I had a dream that I walked into the front room of my apartment—and in the dream I had just woken up, so I thought I was awake—and then I walked into a huge spider's web. The spider was just fucking huge, way bigger than any spider on Earth. It was the first time I've ever woke up from a dream and sat up and shouted, "Shit! What the fuck!"
The Last Great Film I Saw
My girlfriend and I watched The Exorcist over Easter, it's probably in my top three favorite films. I first saw it when I was 13, and it totally fucking ruined me. I had nightmares for months. We watched it in the daylight this time, which made it easier.
My favorite drink of all time is apple juice, but when I go out, it's just beers for me. I end up taking my beer-drinking a bit too far, actually. [laughs]
Favorite TV Show
"Louie"! Louie C.K. just does whatever the fuck he wants. He's a hero of mine, up there with my favorite musicians. I would have loved to try to be a comedian, if I had the balls—it's just beyond me. I have such respect for good comedians.
I’ve been smoking cigarettes since I was 17, which is just a really bad idea. It’s not the cool thing that it looks like at all. It’s something I want to knock on the head before I’m 30. I literally just put out a cigarette, so I'm not doing amazingly well at kicking it so far.
First Record I Ever Bought
The Prodigy's "No Good (Start the Dance)" on cassette in 1994—actually, my sister bought it, but I took it from her. It was the first record I ever liked. Before that, the only music I'd heard was when my sister and my dad listened to Luther Vandross. At that point, I remember thinking that I was never going to like music. But the Prodigy made complete sense to me.
Honey Loops—a nice, round, honey-flavored cereal. I've not eaten cereal for quite a while, but when I was a kid that was definitely the one.
Try and wake up, have a shower, and go to the studio, which is in the spare room of my apartment. I go to work straight away, though nothing interesting takes place in the studio until late afternoon, by which time I'm completely tired and I give up anyway.
I was completely obsessed with Earl Sweatshirt when I first heard [2010's EARL], and I loved [2013's Doris], so I want make that collaboration happen. He's such an interesting dude, and his outlook on music is really positive. He seems like he's got a completely encyclopedic knowledge of rap music, and that comes across in his lyrics. He really knows his shit.
I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii. I’m definitely a lazy person, so I like the idea of going there and just having a cocktail, listening to music, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and doing literally nothing. It seems like the best and most beautiful place to do that.
Last Record I Bought
Nite Jewel's Good Evening. It's really dreamy music. It's lo-fi to the point where it sounds like you’re in her bedroom, there’s this strange quality to it that fascinates me. It’s perfect music for that weird time between awake and being in a dream.
Best Place I've Visited in the Last Year
I went to Shibuya, Tokyo, and it seemed like a slightly different planet, way better than anywhere I’m used to visiting—really exciting and futuristic. It seemed like the whole city was some sort of weird theme park, it was all amazing and insane. I want to see more of Japan.
Favorite Video Games
I loved Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Mortal Kombat 2, but anything newer than that, I’m lost. I had the first Playstation—that was as new as I got—and I started making tracks on a game called Music. I made tracks with that for maybe two years. That’s my favorite game ever.
Check out a photo gallery from this year's Primavera Sound Festival by Tom Spray and Morten Krogh, along with Jenn Pelly and Lindsay Zoladz's discussion about the fest's highs and lows.
Lindsay Zoladz:¡Hola Jenn! The circles under my eyes and the Big-Gulp-sized iced coffee on my desk means we have just returned from the festival that never sleeps, Primavera Sound in Barcelona. The music was (mostly) incredible, and the Mediterranean backdrop was so idyllic that everyone thought my Instagrams had been Photoshopped. Thank you for agreeing to power through your jet lag with me so we can debrief on our experiences at the fest—from the legacy acts (Television! The Artist Formerly Known as Pixies!), to the new discoveries (Za!, a Spanish duo who sound like Lightning Bolt beating up a mariachi band!), to that time we unsuccessfully tried to explain to some Spaniards why so many Americans like Rascal Flatts. We’ll zoom in shortly, but first, what were your overall impressions of Prima 2014?
Jenn Pelly:¿Cómo se dice “jet lag” en español? I first attended Prima in 2012 and have since been convinced it is the best music festival in the world. Because (yes) it is extremely Grammable (#nofilter) but also impeccably curated. In my experience, Primavera has catered to those of us who want to hop from one corner of our disparate musical identities to the other until the sun comes out, by which I mean see metal and noise and rock and pop, and then get sucked into the Boiler Room dome for hours at a time. It also makes it very easy to discover music from Spain and other Spanish-language artists from around the world.
LZ: True. This was my first Primavera, and I had a blast. Usually I am not much of a festival person—for me, the rhythm of most summertime American music festivals is day-drinking watery beer in the oppressively hot sun and then wanting to lay down in the obligatory mud for a siesta-esque nap by the time the headliners come on. But I am very into the way Prima is scheduled, on European time. (Also, the lack of mud! Grass is pretty and all, but standing on concrete at a festival makes those inevitable midday downpours much less catastrophic.)
Most of the stages at Prima don’t start going until 6 or 7 at night, and the music keeps going long enough for you to catch a gorgeous Barcelona sunrise on the stumble home. As someone coming to the festival from out of town, I was glad that this schedule allowed us at least a few hours to explore the city during the afternoon, whether it was the uncannily Tolkienesque Sagrada Familia church, the Joan Miró Foundation, or the impressive One Direction section at Barcelona’s largest Claire’s.
There was a bit of music during the day too, though, and one of my favorite performances of the weekend came from Julia Holter, who played a late-afternoon set in a huge auditorium at the Museu Blau that felt like a cross between a concert hall and a mermaid cove—basically the Platonic ideal of “a place I’d like to watch a Julia Holter set.” The room was packed, and it was nice to see a festival-sized crowd transfixed by music of such delicate beauty. Holter gets better and better every time I see her, and the live arrangements of the Loud City Songs were particularly gorgeous.
JP:Loud City Song was one of my favorite records of 2013, but I was especially glad to hear Holter play Tragedy’s “Try to Make Yourself a Work of Art”—the auditorium had me thinking that the most ideal place to see her might be an ancient Greek coliseum made of stone, so, pretty close.
Later, I saw Kim Gordon and Bill Nace’s noise guitar duo Body/Head play for 45 uninterrupted minutes in the same auditorium, as well, which was totally entrancing. It held some personal significance for me—the Sonic Youth tour doc 1991: The Year Punk Broke was my introduction to the idea (and strange romance) of European festival culture. Gordon still treats her guitar and its relativity to an amp like a sculpture. (Also, where did she get her sequined shorts and metallic boots? Please write me if you know.) The pair literally attack their instruments and wield them towards each other in ritualistic cycles, and when Gordon wailed into her harmonica, I was reminded of how very American this music is, a mix of no wave and blues. And: Their entrance music was Nicki Minaj. It was perfect.
As far as other highlights, Disclosure, who played late Thursday night at one of the biggest stages, were phenomenal. Throughout their set, I could not shake the question of who does their stage lighting while staring at that giant, hologram-esque Face situated between the Lawrence brothers. It was so creepy. I hoped it would give me nightmares, but no such luck.
LZ: Agree with you about Disclosure! What a perfect finale for the first night. I found myself wishing they’d close by playing “Latch” six or seven times in a row, Watch the Throne style, so the set would never have to end.
Prima does a good job as any festival at balancing the epic sets with the more intimate. The biggest crowd I saw all weekend was there for Arcade Fire (though to be fair, Macaulay Culkin’s band the Pizza Underground canceled at the last minute), but I had mixed feelings about their hour-and-a-half set. They sounded great (you know you’re in Western Europe when people are singing along to the French parts of “Reflektor” as loudly as the English ones), but I spent the first few songs of their set considering ditching it for something less crowded, just because the audience was so unruly and bro-heavy. I was not entirely sure that the Arcade Fire are the sort of band best experienced while risking being stampeded by strangers sipping molly water out of well-disguised spray bottles (Euro ingenuity!). Then again, by the end, I was thinking… maybe they are?
Though they’re coming off an artistic triumph of a record, Arcade Fire have stumbled a bit in the past year when they’ve tried too hard to defend their “underdog” status. Because, as their headlining sets at almost every major festival this summer have been reminding us, they’re not underdogs anymore; they’re one of the biggest bands in the world. And on Thursday night, it was pretty powerful to watch them step up to that role and let the universal appeal of their music take over. The choruses of Funeral cuts “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies)” rippled through the crowd like soccer chants.
Jenn, I know we both enjoyed Future Islands’ set for a similar reason: One of the great things about a festival of this size (50,000 attendees total) is getting the chance to see a once-small band get the chance to come into the grandeur of their vision.
JP: It’s funny: Future Islands have officially entered their “I knew them when” period. I am guilty of this. I turned to a friend during their triumphant Prima set to recount that time I bartended this tiny Future Islands gig at the old Silent Barn kitchen-venue in Queens. Later, you told me you saw them in the basement of Black Cat. There is always this idea floating around that bands who have recently emerged from a grassroots kind of scene are best suited to small venues, but watching frontman Sam Herring own the crowd with his now-signature dance moves at Prima, I just thought, “This is what this man was born to do.” Herring is clearly trying to push the boundaries of what Future Islands are now capable of, including a moment during their set when he sang a slower ballad and noted how “people always tell you not to do this at festivals, but we are going to do it anyway.” Also, his on-stage grinding.
LZ: The Sam Herring dance move that most people talk about is of course the Letterman-approved Rubber-Legged Ape Walk, but I would also like to shout out this very feminine and Yonce-esque slow-grind he does during some of their ballads. I’ve always thought there’s some interesting gender play at work in Herring’s whole schtick; in the same way that Nicki Minaj’s exaggerated and artificial-on-purpose vocal tics remind us that femininity is a performance, Herring’s over-the-top chest thumps and Cowardly-Lion-fronting-a-hardcore-band growls show that machismo is nothing but a performance, too. Like Arcade Fire, Future Islands are a band that are grappling with their newfound mass appeal, and Herring has said in interviews that some of his moves are meant to make the more macho dudes in the audience feel uncomfortable. And as a girl who regularly attends music festivals, I salute any and all attempts to make Festival Bros uncomfortable.
Speaking of which! What was the worst pick-up line someone used on you at Prima, Jenn? Mine was a drunk American dude who overheard me speaking English and used it as opportunity to open with the winner, "Uh, is your bag from Urban Outfitters?" When I told him I bought it in Germany, he vanished into thin air.
JP: As I was leaving Body/Head, a seemingly very inebriated Italian guy asked me if I knew where Kim was going after the gig because I look like her—worst or best?
Speaking of Germany, we were in Berlin prior to Barcelona and visited the storied club Berghain, which had me primed for Prima’s Boiler Room tent—maybe the festival’s best spot to catch an unreal 5 a.m. sunrise—and Demdike Stare and Andy Stott were easy highlights. Most of the time I spent in the Boiler Room dome, though, I was blissfully unaware of who was playing until looking at the Primavera iPhone app afterwards (two of these DJs turned out to be Barcelona's Marc Piñol and Berlin's Dani R. Baughman). This, to me, is the most appealing part of festival culture—how it enables you to push the boundaries of your own tastes and experience sets you might not otherwise naturally gravitate towards at home. The big headliners at Prima were epic, but I’ve seen Nine Inch Nails, and I’ll see Kendrick and the Slowdive reunion in the States.
And I am so glad I had an opportunity to see 71-year-old Caetano Veloso on a stage packed with four canvases on easels and some very entertaining interpretive dancing. He looked like he was having a total blast playing to the biggest crowd I saw all weekend, moving from full-band waltzes to elegant a capella folk. Although I’d known of Veloso’s legend in spearheading the Tropicalismo movement in Brazil, I was unfamiliar with his catalog before watching his hour-and-a-half set Saturday evening. Most of his songs are sung in Portuguese and the lyrics passed too quickly for me to understand their meaning—I promise, the most fun you will have at a music festival is surrounded by thousands of people singing and dancing (much better than I ever could) to songs in a language you can not understand, and still completely sharing in their sheer joy.
So even though I was unfamiliar with most of Veloso’s songs, I enjoyed his set more than the full-album performance of one of my favorite records in the world, Television’s Marquee Moon. You’d have to be kind of soulless to not enjoy hearing “Venus” and “Marquee Moon” live, but that album is fixed into such a vivid and sacred part of my imagination that it felt somewhat uneasy to see it performed in a way that was kind of lackluster and boring to watch.
LZ: Yeah, I too was underwhelmed by the Television reunion. It sounded impeccable—Verlaine’s shredding in the final minutes of the title track was particularly killer—but nothing about it really transcended the familiar concept of “influential band way past its peak plays an amazing album from start to finish.” That whole enterprise is starting to feel so rote, and (s/o Pixies) even more so when an integral member of the band very visibly sits it out. Somewhere in America, Richard Hell is still laughing. Kim Deal, too.
For the modern festivalgoer, nostalgia is becoming a tricky thing. In an age when it is all but inevitable that your favorite band will someday reunite to recreate their glory days on a much larger $tage than the ones they used to play, it can start to feel like nothing is sacred. I am definitely in the throes of reunion-show fatigue these days, and more and more I find myself choosing to preserve the romance of old memories rather than risk being disappointed.
God bless the exceptions to the rule, though. My former hometown heroes the Dismemberment Plan killed it on Saturday night—and to think I almost decided to skip their set, for fear of writing over the memory of an absolutely perfect reunion show I saw them play in 2011. I am not too hot on their latest album, Uncanney Valley, but they do bring a fun energy to the new songs live. More importantly, though, they play the old shit like they are still engaged with and excited by it; Travis Morrison sang “The City” and “OK, Joke’s Over” like he just wrote them last week.
At any major music festival, tough choices are unavoidable and FOMO is a part of the game. But I found a lot of my scheduling decisions driven by something you said the first night, Jenn, when we were debating whether or not to skip Future Islands for Neutral Milk Hotel: “I’d rather see a band I love playing at their peak than a band I love trying to recapture it.” In that spirit, one of my favorite sets of the weekend came from an artist who just put out the best and most stirring album of her career, Sharon Van Etten, and another was from Majical Cloudz, a band that I am excited to report, judging by the absolutely heart-stopping new songs they played, likely still have their best work ahead of them.
JP: We were totally both in tears within the first hour of our proper Primavera experience, watching Majical Cloudz play these new songs by the sea. I had to grab my notebook and write down this lyric—”I am always perfect when I am holding onto you”—because it is so notably different from the mortal themes of 2013’s Impersonator, but just as intense, maybe more. These new songs are like little love poems, pure Cummings. Not that they’ve changed the script all that much; before “Bugs Don’t Buzz”, singer Devon Welsh said, “This song is about love, despite what it may seem.” It reminded me of a line in Mark Richardson’s recent piece on Sun Kill Moon for The Pitchfork Review: “Songs about death are really songs about love, because without love, death has no significance. We yearn to be in a place where death matters.” I felt like we could all hear the totality of this band coming into focus.
There is no way I was going to miss Majical Cloudz playing a place as surreal as the glowing Mediterranean coast, but throughout the festival I had this constant internal negotiation: Am I seeing too many American sets and missing opportunities to find Spanish music I might not otherwise see? One of my favorite Barcelona bands from my last Primavera trip in 2012 was a krauty analog synth pop duo called SVPER (fka Pegasvs), and it was great to see them play a hugely attended set after dark (with very cool projections). They toured the U.S. after playing Austin in March, but I still feel they have potential to gain a bigger foothold in America.
Just as the fest was starting, I spoke on a music-industry panel at PrimaveraPro called “Music in the U.S.” The description I was provided read, “Why is it that the U.S. music industry is so progressive (hip hop) yet so behind (EDM)? Why do so many Americans like country music?” I was really ready to explain the greatness of Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells, but promptly realized that this is not what the panel was going to cover. Instead, we spent an hour or so discussing why it’s hard for bands from places other than the UK or Scandinavia to garner attention in the States. This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the past few years, covering festivals in Poland (OFF) and Mexico (Nrmal). I think a lot of this falls heavily on the fact that American music journalists can be very lazy.
At the panel, I ended up getting into a discussion with a Norwegian music journalist, who asked me if it seems weird that European festivals typically list big headliners primarily from the U.S. and UK when there are native artists in these countries who could also be headlining. Primavera typically democratizes this by listing artists alphabetically on posters, but I think more festivals should take advantage of their power to use headlining slots as a form of cultural activism—to reverse the idea that American artists are the most popular in these settings, and to educate international audiences. If I leave a festival feeling like I really learned something in addition to indulging in sets by my pre-existing favorites (s/o Blood Orange and Sky Ferreira), it feels much more worthwhile.
LZ: Hear hear. Jenn, let's move to Barcelona? We can go to Prima every summer, live in an old apartment with bay windows that overlook the sea, and get jobs at Claire’s as professional ear-piercers.
This year's Primavera Sound Festival took place in Barcelona, Spain last weekend, and featured acts such as Sharon Van Etten, Earl Sweatshirt, Deafheaven, Arcade Fire, Dum Dum Girls, Disclosure, and more. Photographers Tom Spray and Morten Krogh were there to take portraits of the artists and snap a few shots of the performances.
Electric Fling is a new Pitchfork column about the world of dance music by Andy Beta.
A1 “White Dancing Shoes Bronzed With Dust”
Justin Carter, one half of the DJ duoMister Saturday Night, recently posted apicture of his feet on Instagram—with one shoe missing. But Carter didn't lose it while dancing the night away. Instead, he was in the middle of a roiling mosh pit at aDillinger Escape Plan show.
“Dude, they are amazing,” Carter tells me. “When they went on, I was like, ‘This is going to be way, way cooler if I’m in the pit,’ because there’s something you’re meant to do while this music is playing that’s very physical.” Though it seems that there would not be much crossover between Dillinger Escape Plan’s post-rock pummel and the music Carter and his partner Eamon Harkin play for their silky and sweaty Mister Saturday Night dance parties, the DJ sees a connection: “We’re all on the dance floor because we want to have this experience together. We’re moving together all night in some way. These are social situations that are built around the music.”
Since January of 2009, Mister Saturday Night has been roving about New York City as a movable feast of a dance party, staged everywhere from Manhattan's Santos Party House to illegal loft spaces like House of Yes in Bushwick, Brooklyn. There's also a daytime variation, Mister Sunday, which used to take place on a slice of undeveloped land alongside the banks of the toxic Gowanus Canal, where Carter and Harkin—as well as special guests ranging from Kompakt’s Michael Mayer to Dâm-Funk, Four Tet to Afrika Bambaataa, Mr. Scruff to Moodymann—played under a canopy of trees as a small disco ball threw flecks of light against the Brooklyn sunset. As its broad range of guests suggests, the types of dance music that the party airs is similarly diverse. To name but a few things I've heard: Sly and the Family Stone, deep house, Love's "Everybody's Gotta Live", late '60s jazz, a solo piano rendition of Derrick May's "Strings of Life", and "Seven Nation Army".
Mister Sunday at Gowanus Grove. Photo by Natalie Keyssar.
Every season, the crowd would grow exponentially, to where Mister Sunday no longer had to rely on guest DJs to have thousands of dancers come out. But Carter and Harkin also knew every year might be their last at the locale, which was an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Status site. In the middle of summer last year, the news finally came down that development was set to begin. “It wasn’t a thing where the big, bad landlord came in and did something wrong to us," says Carter. "In fact, in this case, development was probably what gave us the opportunity to even do what we did for such a long time.”
Last year’s final show at Gowanus Grove was bittersweet. The duo veered from techno to the Pointer Sisters to the Beastie Boys’ “Get It Together”, the crowd yelling every line of the song. While Mister Sunday has a rule against snapping photos on the dancefloor, I caught a few surreptitious shots of Carter beaming broadly as I danced to the point of exhaustion, staggering out to take one last look at the space before the bulldozers came to uproot the trees and the dancefloor. Then I then looked down at my feet to snap a photo of my once-white dancing shoes, now bronzed with dust.
B1 “Mexican Sushi”
While MSN parties were often situated in South Brooklyn, ranging between Gowanus, Fort Greene, and Prospect Heights, their offices are now located in the northeast part of the borough, in Bushwick. One afternoon, I headed there to talk to Carter about what’s next for the dance party and arrived at a neighborhood that still scans as being Hispanic but is quickly gentrifying. Spanish churches now have erudite cafés as neighbors. Mexican restaurants have undergone a peculiar form of rebranding—one spot is called OMG Taco, and another features a hand-written sign that reads “Mexican Sushi.”
Carter is sitting at his desk in a striped shirt and red plastic glasses. Behind him loom the many cabinets that comprise the Mister Saturday Night sound system. I snap a quick pic and realize that he’s smiling or mid-laugh in every photo I've ever seen of him.
We avoid Mexican sushi and go eat tacos elsewhere. Carter talks about the correlation between indie rock and dance music: “In the same way that indie rock, which was a very underground scene, crossed over, one of our greater goals is to see that happen for dance music. I feel like we’re on the way.” Of course, EDM is already filling tents and campgrounds by the hundreds of thousands, but for Carter, he still sees resistance to dance music around certain types of fans.
“One hurdle dance music has is that, for the average person, it’s not something you would want to put on while you’re hanging out someone’s house,” he says, admitting that even he finds most dance music to be functional and that, at home, he listens to almost anything but.
Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin. Photo by Natalie Keyssar.
But as a homegrown community came up around Carter and Harkin’s weekend parties, they soon found themselves receiving track submissions from attendees. “Mister Saturday Night was my first nightlife experience,” says producer Anthony Naples, who was barely of age when he came up from Florida one spring break to visit New York City. “There was a great sound system there, and people danced like crazy all night.” He soon relocated to the city, working at the warehouse of Greenpoint's Captured Tracks Records by day, and making music at night. A track he submitted called “Mad Disrespect” became the inaugural release on Mister Saturday Night's record label, where it soon found favor with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, who requested a remix and tapped Naples to be his opening act. After the success of his first release, Naples left his day job and has been making music full-time, releasing it on labels like The Trilogy Tapes in addition to starting his own imprint, Proibito.
Since Naples’s breakout success, the MSN label has released a series of singles that showcase up-and-coming Brooklynites like the Black Dice-y Hank Jackson and the electrified jazz trio Archie Pelago. The most recent MSN release highlights a new house producer from Japan, Keita Sano. All of the above—plus tracks from the likes of General Ludd, Alex Burkat, Gunnar Haslam, and Lumigraph—can be heard on Brothers and Sisters, a hefty new two-disc set that compiles the imprint's first batch of vinyl-only singles into one convenient package.
As the label steadies, there is still the matter of where to locate Mister Saturday Night next. Around the same time that Gowanus Grove was razed last summer, House of Yes also shut its doors. For their New Year’s Eve party at 12-Turn-13 in Clinton Hill, the police showed up and shut things down. In one fell swoop, three of MSN’s regular spots were untenable. “I don’t like to use these crazy, antagonistic terms because I believe that the police are honestly just doing their job,” Carter says, lamenting the state of New York nightlife due in part to the financial difficulties of opening and maintaining a legal club space. That hasn’t stopped the duo from considering opening up their own legal music venue in the future though.
In the meantime, the parties have been staged at DIY venues around Brooklyn, from Shea Stadium, to Silent Barn, to Glasslands. Two weeks ago, they staged an intimate (and rare) Mister Saturday Night in Manhattan at the New York Estonian House as part of the Red Bull Music Academy series of concerts, which featured a buffet dinner, music from Gambian kora player Malang Jobarteh and Archie Pelago, and, of course, dancing and a DJ set from Carter and Harkin down in the basement. This summer, the Sunday outdoor dance party relocates to the Industrial City complex located in Sunset Park.
Back at the Mister Saturday Night offices, Carter plays me some of the label’s new music and then veers off to spin a rare boogie record that just arrived in the mail as well as an edit of a '90s gospel track they’ve been using to get the dancefloor into a lather. He’s just auditioning the song for me, but I can tell it takes all of his willpower not to manipulate the levels on the office stereo, dropping out the bass and messing with the highs to tease-out the song’s rapturous "hallelujah"s.
B2 “Change Something”
When The New York Times published an exposé about the plight of a homeless teen named Dasani and the abject living conditions of the Auburn Family Residence, a housing project located near where Carter and Eamon live in Fort Greene, Mister Saturday Night decided to do something charitable.
“My dad raised me to tithe, and Eamon grew up in the Catholic church,” Carter says. “It’s a very personal thing, and it feels very weird talking about it even amongst ourselves.” Carter and Harkin decided to donate 10 percent of their income from Mister Saturday Night to the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York-based anti-poverty organization. “It was just egregious that it was so close to where we live," Carter says. "And Gowanus Grove and 12-Turn-13 are like a mile away, so our lives are based around these institutions that are within spitting distance of insane poverty.”
They sent a message out to all of their fans and posted it to their website—not to garner public recognition for their sense of charity, but to be an example of being the change you wish to see. In addition to what the Robin Hood Foundation does, Carter talks about GiveWell and other charitable organizations that also do responsible work. “I can make a living by throwing parties and selling records, it’s total luxury,” he says of his role in his community. “I’m not discounting the importance of our party, but I’m also not going to put the importance of our party up there with somebody being safe and being able to get food in their belly.”
He hopes the civic example will give the Mister Saturday Night fan base some food for thought. “Think about giving in your life, think about the idea that you have the power to change something,” Carter says. “If you want to see something happen, make a commitment.”
Last month, the Red Bull Music Academy Festival took place in New York City, featuring a series of events all across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Throughout the course of the fest, a diverse array of artists and RBMA graduates performed, including Panda Bear, Hudson Mohawke, DâM-FunK, the Haxan Cloak, Tim Hecker, Napalm Death, along with legends like David Byrne and Allen Touissant. Photographers Erez Avissar and Tonje Thilesen were there to capture the highlights.
Optimus Primavera Sound Festival takes place this weekend, June 5-7, in Porto, Portugal. Prepare for the action with the following playlist featuring many of the acts scheduled to play, including Caetano Veloso, Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett, Mas Ysa, Television, Neutral Milk Hotel, and more.
The Antlers, from left: Peter Silberman, Darby Cicci, and Michael Lerner. Photos by Marc Lemoine.
Peter Silberman wants to change everything: his guitar playing, the way he writes, his voice, the way he moves through the world—all of it. This becomes immediately apparent when I sit down to talk with him about the Antlers' new record Familiars. The entire conversation revolves around what he has either stopped doing or is planning on never doing again, a long list that only starts with the way the band makes music. "I'm trying to get myself out of conventional ways of thinking about life and death," the 28-year-old frontman tells me. To that end, he has been reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead—"I don't really claim any understanding of it, because it's super dense," he offers quickly—and absorbing it piecemeal.
As someone best known for writing a concept album set in a children's cancer ward, he's aware how this might sound. "I think we get pegged as being a 'sad band' because there's so much death in our records," he says. "But I find that there are different ways to look at death in your life, and they don't have to be depressing at all. They can be inspiring and make you even more appreciative of life as you have it."
It is this redemptive note that rings through Familiars, which is also permeated with an otherworldly, leave-taking quality that seems to have seeped into the band members themselves. When I meet Silberman in the Antlers’ studio space in Brooklyn, he is sipping tea alone, and he has the serene, slightly glazed look of someone who has just padded out of a yoga class and has yet to rejoin the world entirely. There is new age music playing quietly in the background. (When I catch up briefly with Darby Cicci, the band's multi-instrumentalist, on the phone later on, he sounds similarly placid.) Silberman name-checks writers like Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran and spiritual teacher Ram Dass in our conversation, as well as mind-expanding works like Enter the Void and “Twin Peaks”, all signs that he's “still pretty deep” into a new life philosophy that takes solace in what he once feared most.
Pitchfork: Peter, your singing has opened up considerably on Familiars. Was this a conscious choice, or a natural process?
Peter Silberman: Kinda both. I was burnt out on my falsetto as my default state of singing. I don't talk in that high register, so it's a bit removed for me. It can be something to hide behind. I felt like I wanted to used it sparingly, and to make it count when I did, and I felt the need to reconnect with my own voice and hear what it sounds like now. I always thought that your voice changed when you were a teenager and that was pretty much it. But my voice has changed a lot throughout my 20s, especially as I've been singing more.
Pitchfork: When was the first time you thought that you liked your own voice?
PS: It probably wasn't until this record.
Pitchfork: When you listen back to your previous albums, do you enjoy what you hear in your own voice?
PS: Nooo. Hospice isn't really an enjoyable record for me to listen to. The experience is so heavy at this point—a combination of emotional intensity and also like looking at an old picture of yourself. I like the sound of my voice on Burst Apart more, but I have a hard time listening to the things I was saying on that record, because I feel very far away from them. I was in a very fucked-up mindframe while making that record. It was after the band took off with Hospice, and we were in this whole new world of people actually paying attention. There was a lot of change happening that I didn't quite understand, and it threw me for a loop.
There's definitely a personal-philosophy component to my lyrics, and there's so much doubt and anxiety and fear and insecurity in Burst Apart. It even has a kind of nihilistic bent. So that record is really honest, because I didn't really have a chance to really reflect on what I was saying. It was just coming out of me. And they were the worst thoughts. I care about that record a lot and sonically love it, but I feel weird about it. I had strange motives in it.
Darby Cicci: We tried to force some lightness and optimism into Burst Apart, and there was a lot of fumbling along as we figured out how to be a studio band instead of a touring unit with that album. There was a lot of pressure. Hospice had such a clear story, and we were worried about being pigeonholed as a conceptual band. I also played a much bigger role on it, so it immediately sounded totally different. Putting out a second record is always such a serious moment: You become a band, whether you like it or not.
Pitchfork: Peter, do you anticipate that you'll make some philosophical peace with the guy who wrote those Burst Apart songs as you take them out on the road with the songs from Familiars?
PS: I hope so. On some level, Familiarsis that peace-making process. I was trying to figure out, like, "How do you relate to yourself as you change your attitude? How do you not cringe at the things you've said in the past that you'd never say now?" Most people have their younger phases and move on from them into adulthood, but I'm in this strange position where I'm repeating history when I go on tour.
Pitchfork: You mentioned reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead. What led you to that book, and what did you take away from it?
PS: A lot of the things I was reading, like Aldous Huxley and Joseph Campbell, were referencing The Tibetan Book of the Dead, so I decided to pick it up. I'd also watched Enter the Void, and it's such a fixture in that movie. It comes up a lot in "Twin Peaks", too, which I've been obsessed with for a while. So I was like, “OK, there's something in this that seems to be pretty worth exploring for me.”
And I'm still working on it. I don't really claim any understanding of it, but I get little bits and pieces of things from it every time I pick it up. I was fascinated by the intermediate state of reality—the bardo—the 49 days after you die before you're reincarnated. I started thinking a lot about that period and about what an intermediate state of reality might be. Eventually, it evolved into the idea of an imagined meeting with a version of you that transcends death. If you were to meet yourself—and this is a version of you that has already seen you die, has already seen you be born, has that eagle-eye perspective on your entire life—what would they say about your life up until this point?
Pitchfork: How did all of that manifest itself in Familiars?
PS: I was trying to understand attachment in this record. We get attached to our memories, to our ideas of who we are, of who other people are. There's a buildup of thoughts about something that keeps you from seeing it as it truly is. I've been trying to clear away as much attachment as possible in the way that I think and act. Part of that is revisiting the past and letting go of things that I've unknowingly held on to for a long time. Most of the time you don't even realize you're holding onto something, it's just a quiet whisper in the back.
We're very good at distracting ourselves, which is a way of escaping, but there's no real way to escape yourself in the end. The more you try to escape yourself the more you'll be hideously confronted by whatever you're running away from, so I think it's better to face it head on.
Pitchfork: The new song "Doppelgänger" feels like it touches on a lot of this.
PS: Yeah, that song is about confronting the things in yourself that you fear the most. I know that I try to compartmentalize those pieces of my personality, like it's some other version of me. But if you can face your dark side head-on, you realize that it's all part of what's going on inside your head. It's something you need to learn to make friends with.
Going back to "Twin Peaks", I really gravitated towards the place that Cooper enters with the red drapes and the patterned floor; it plays throughout the entire show, and it basically is this intermediate reality—this place is where doppelgängers exist, alternate versions of people on the other side. I was so disturbed and fascinated by it, and it felt very relevant to what I was writing about. I really enjoy when an indescribable otherworldly place is translated into something that we as humans can understand; why would there be red curtains in this place where time doesn't exist? I was trying to write things that are familiar to anyone, but I was also trying to describe the void, which is a faux pas in Buddhism—this idea that if you try to explain Zen, then you've already missed the point. But it's still fun to try.
Last weekend, the annual Roots Picnic, curated by the Roots and Okayplayer, took place in Philadelphia, and photographer Colin Kerrigan was there to document the artists on and off stage. Performers included Snoop Dogg, A$AP Ferg, Action Bronson, Janelle Monáe, Jhené Aiko, the War on Drugs, a guest appearance by Freeway, and of course, the Roots themselves.
Lately I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the cover of a Fats Waller record called Fine Arabian Stuff. Nobody is paying me to do this, nor do I think there’s anything tangible to be gained. I’m doing it because the words Fine Arabian Stuff and the look on Fats Waller’s face make me laugh. Two letters, one syllable, wide open at the end like a bell: ha.
To define humor as a bulwark against pain and seriousness is still giving seriousness the upper hand. What if it was the other way around? What if being serious was just the wall we had to break through on the way to being funny?
When I started listening to Waller’s music earlier this year, I almost reflexively combed through his biography looking for a source of trauma—something he might have used humor to overcome. Nothing stood out, though toward the end of his life he got tired of the broad entertainment he had become famous for and wanted to work on more “serious” compositions. Being a clown had become his burden. (This is the easy narrative I needed.)
Despite its title and cover, Fine Arabian Stuff is a pretty somber album. Most of the second side is church music. Not that Waller doesn’t go in on it, twisting up “Go Down Moses” like it was some kind of joke. He couldn’t help himself—humor had become his compulsion. (I need this easy narrative too.)
Things my dad used to do when I was a kid:
Both routines were hilarious to me. Imagine how disappointed I was when I found out that they were based on songs, and that the songs weren’t funny at all.
My friend Thomas has always contended that nothing will ever be as funny as a man being hit in the genitals. I happen to disagree, but do understand where he’s coming from. As much as I like wit, there is something pure and almost mystical about humor that doesn’t rely on words: slapstick, vaudeville, animated GIFs. It seems to predate us. One thing I’d like to do with a time machine is give a whoopee cushion to a Neanderthal.
Then there’s my two-year-old nephew Luke. He and I have been playing a game called Hiding. In Hiding, I crouch behind the sofa, then pop out and make a single-syllable noise like “blahh” or “boo.” Luke cracks up, then I crack up. We become two simple machines lost in a feedback loop of dumb joy, without history, context, or reason. It is the only time I am ever sure we understand each other.
Sound doesn’t always translate perfectly into gesture, but I do think it’s worth noting the similarities between certain types of synth bass and farting. The producer Todd Terje seems to grasp this, as does DJ Koze. DJ Mustard productions are sometimes funny too, but they’re often leveraged against unfunny rappers.
In general, though, music seems to be going through a deeply unfunny phase. Drake, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, St. Vincent, the National, Eric Church—saviors, all of them, dragging their artistry around like shackles. Even clown princess and true American hero Nicki Minaj ends up rewarded for the moments in which she reminds you she has something “real” to say and will use her grown-up voice doing it. In this caste, goofballs remain second-class by birth.
When I was 16, the mother of a girl who I was pining after told me, “Powell, your problem is that you’re the hero of your own tragedy.” I don’t remember how I responded. But I do remember going home and burying myself in the Elliott Smith album Either/Or, angry that I’d been humiliated but secretly proud of my own unhappiness, like it was some kind of noble state only the chosen could attain.
Now I understand that this girl’s mom was just trying to zing me.
Not that I think it’s a good idea to zing sensitive teenagers. I only laugh because I can’t make it go away, and because the alternative seems worse. As for Either/Or, I still listen to it now and then but generally try to avoid it. Its sadness seems too convenient; too easy to slip into and too strong to resist, like a current that carries you out to sea as you float on your back.
I have spent no small amount of time in my life with the Coasters song “Charlie Brown”. (You might know it by the refrain, “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”) Brown, with his lumpy head and little squiggle of hair, lives in the collective imagination as a symbol of pity and plain bad luck. His teams lose, his bubbles pop. Tiny storm clouds follow him wherever he goes. Good grief, Charlie Brown, will the tragedy of having been born never cease?
But in the Coasters song, his self-deprecation becomes a gag, a mask that lets him cause trouble with impunity. Woe is you, Charlie Brown, bitch of the universe: All this time we were giving you our sympathy and you were just loading another spitball.
Listen to the Coasters’ voices and you may awaken to the possibility that anything can be a joke if you tell it like one. Give “Charlie Brown” to Elliott “Charlie Brown” Smith, and you’d have a very different song.
The other afternoon I stopped into a bar and had a beer alone. When I asked about the soundtrack, the bartender told me they were going for “a strip-club vibe.” (The bar does not host strippers.) Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance” came on. It is a heavy, miserable song, with a hole in the middle where someone seems to have scooped out its heart. Bored and joyless, Juicy throws his dollars at strippers with the wearied hand of a factory machinist. You say no to ratchet pussy. He can’t.
As the song’s emptiness filled the room, I realized that never before have we as a culture been subjected to so much unhappiness perpetrated in the name of luxury and status. The rich not only get richer but manage to make being rich seem less enviable all the time. (That, of course, is its own type of gag. Drake could become a goat farmer in Hawaii tomorrow and live in splendor for the rest of his life.)
I like “Bandz”, but only because I think it says something important about our time. It is the sound of the palace at night, abandoned. “It does seem like a song I should be hearing while day drinking alone,” I told the bartender. He nodded. Then, like the beams of a submersible shining into the darkness of the ocean deep, I heard a voice: “2 Chaaaaaaainz!”
The Coasters had a song about strippers too, called “Little Egypt”. If Juicy J plays a soulless regular, the Coasters are first-timers, excited but intimidated, jolted by the recurring tingle of disbelief that they are in a strip club at all. In the third verse—the place gags always wrap up—we discover that the narrator and Little Egypt, the stripper, now have seven babies, who crawl around on the floor singing the song Little Egypt sang in her heyday: “Yiiiiiiiing yang. Yiiiiiiing yang.” Of course, the babies’ voices are sped up, because babies have high voices, and everyone knows that high voices are funny.
Pain is inevitable, but whether we express our pain with more pain is our own choice. In troubling times, I look to the old country and novelty-song singer Roger Miller’s “Do Wacka Do”. The refrain goes like this: “I wish I had your happiness, and you had a do wacka do wacka do wacka do.”
You can almost hear the joke taking over as he sings, as though he realizes mid-confession that he would be better off laughing. It is the sound of him healing himself in real time.
When I was 18, I fell in love with a girl for the first time, in a way that I have never fallen in love again. We worshipped each other like gods but had a hard time doing regular things, like going to the grocery store. Our projections were impossible to maintain. It ended so badly we couldn’t stomach looking at each other.
People are always surprised when I tell them that she’s lived up the street for the past four years. It is as disorienting as you might imagine. Sometimes I see her walking her dogs in front of my living-room window; sometimes, her and my fiancé end up at the same yoga class. We are almost like apparitions to each other—hard to believe but too real to ignore.
Last week, she called, and we met for a walk. It was the most time we’d spent together in a decade. To explain how I felt about it would probably take at least as long. “I’m sorry,” I told her as we headed home. “If I don’t try and make you laugh soon, I’m going to cry.”
“Ha,” she said. “Ha ha ha ha ha.”
Earlier, she reminded me of all the music we had listened to together. I remembered it too: Tooling around our hometown at night with the windows down, holding hands, worried that words would ruin whatever the silence had in store for us. She still listens to those songs, she told me, but it feels different now than it used to. Easier.
I thought about my bedroom wall from high school, which my mom kept up through my first year of college—the year I met this girl. Among the cutouts and postcards tacked to the wall was an ad for Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, out now on Kill Rock Stars. Suddenly I felt sad, not because I was reminded of Smith’s music, but because I wondered if he had lived long enough to have the experience I was having, sitting in a city park across from someone who at some point he had caused so much pain, laughing.
Fats Waller died of pneumonia in December of 1943, while traveling by train back from tour in California. His manager found him in his sleeping compartment. Over 4,000 people attended the memorial in Harlem. Pastor and civil rights leader Adam Clayton Powell delivered the eulogy. “Because God gave him genius in skill,” he said, “he in turn gave the world laughter and joy for its difficult and lonely hours.”
The body was cremated, and the story is that a black ace pilot scattered his ashes over Harlem, though it probably isn’t true: Only one black ace pilot has ever existed, and in December, 1943, he was probably training in Europe. Whatever happened, I like the idea that Waller was light, not in the ground but fluttering somewhere over it.
Check out a photo gallery from this year's Nos Primavera Sound Festival by Maria Louceiro, along with 10 things Mark Richardson learned at the fest this year.
In 2012, Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival started a sister festival in Porto, Portugal, and it’s remarkable how much it feels like a scaled-down version of the same experience. As with the Barcelona event, the Porto fest takes place in a large city park. But where Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum is a sprawling, hyper-modern space, Porto’s Parque da Cidade is grassy and wooded. Its placement on the western edge of the city, abutting the ocean, reminded me most of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, a green space for residents to explore where the city meets the sea. The line-up also overlaps almost entirely with Barcelona, but the scale of it all is much smaller, with two main stages and two smaller ones (including one curated by Pitchfork). Here are 10 things that stood out for me over the festival’s three days.
1. Bands touring on ancient music is a new kind of guilty pleasure
This edition of Nos Primavera Sound had sets from Slint, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pixies, Slowdive, Television, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Shellac. Between them, they’ve released three albums in the last 10 years. One of these, Godspeed’s brilliant Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, contained music written a decade earlier. Another was Indie Cindy, and well, enough said there. Three of these bands haven’t released any new music in 20 years. (Shellac, it should be said, have never broken up, they’re just busy guys and they work slowly.) It’s easy to be skeptical about bands making a good living on an established brand, especially if you consider that they could be drawing attention away from artists who are vital right now. But it’s also hard not to appreciate how much people seeing these bands at festival love the experience. Festivals are not just places to see bands playing music, they’re places for wish fulfillment. And for kids here, five years ago, when they were first exploring music, the idea of seeing Slowdive, or Neutral Milk Hotel, or Godspeed might have seemed like an impossibility. I can’t discount their experience even as I wonder what it all might mean for festivals of the future.
2. Neutral Milk Hotel still sound very good
Of all the reunion bands we’re discussing here, Neutral Milk Hotel might be the strangest example, because they had such a small fanbase when they were active, and now they are playing to tens of thousands of people who know every word. They also only have two—two!—proper albums. But speaking here as someone who has been a fan for 15 years and has never seen them live (I did catch Mangum solo), they deliver their meagre catalog with care and passion. Mangum still belts it out, and if he’s faking the emotion when he sings, he’s an unbelievably brilliant actor. They do a good job alternating between stripped-down songs and fuzzed-out full-band rave-ups. And somehow, the fact that they’ve made no music since almost adds to the poignancy of the whole thing, that a band whose emotional force came from being unstuck in time is now frozen in a single place.
3. Courtney Barnett will be around a while
She’s rightly known for her sharply surreal and evocative lyrics, but Courtney Barnett, turns out, is also a live performer of grace and power. Talking to some people who saw her at CMJ last year, I’m told that her onstage presence has grown tremendously since. A three-piece band projecting from a giant stage is no easy feat, but they sounded much bigger and bolder than their number.
4. I’ll never be a fan of full albums live
Like most people with an interest in rock music, I’m a huge fan of Television's Marquee Moon. So, in theory, I was interested in the idea of seeing the current iteration of the band perform it live. Thinking of the prospect, my mind went back to the amazing guitar jams found on the live albums The Blow-Up and Live at the Old Waldorf. But that turned out to be a poor frame of reference. Those two records were recorded in 1978, when Television were a hungry band figuring things out on the fly, but the 2014 iteration of the group, by design, is about delivering fans a pre-digested experience. I’m not even going to call that a complaint—they played well, I assume they care deeply about this record, and people genuinely enjoyed what they were doing. But presenting a full album live basically eliminates one of the primary things that makes live music special—the element of surprise.
5. Darkside’s music has something for every drug experience
Darkside's music succeeds so brilliantly live, especially in a festival setting, because they’ve found a way to achieve maximum appeal to people on the broadest array of drugs. Granted, I report this as someone who was only under the influence of two or three Super Bocks, but I’m pretty sure about it. The bluesy guitar peals, the simultaneously laid-back and insistent rhythms, the sparkling textures, Nico Jaar’s surreal vocalizing, that twisting mirror disc refracting light: With enough volume, they could make a sold-out crowd at the Rose Bowl happy. “Don’t take drugs, be drugs,” somebody said once; Darkside sound like a sampling of the entire medicine cabinet.
6. Kendrick Lamar does not fuck around
There’s a tradition in live rap music of pumping up the crowd with hype men endlessly screaming “make some noise!” and “put your hands up!” before the featured artist takes the stage, dragging the “anticipation” part of the show past its logical end point. But Kendrick Lamar went another way with his set, taking the stage with his band and launching into an insanely energized “Money Trees” with very little fanfare. It was a sign of his unfailing confidence, that the music could speak for itself.
7. Haim make me proud to be an American
Anyone who’s heard Days Are Gone knows that Haim can sing and play and write eminently hooky guitar-pop anthems, but their stage presence—especially when they’re playing to thousands of adoring fans at a festival—moved my take from “enjoy them when they’re on” to “genuine and deep admiration.” As they their play power chords and strut around onstage and whip miles of dark hair around in a frenzy, they seem both impossibly “normal”—healthy middle-class suburban kids fulfilling their rockstar dreams—and also preternaturally sure of themselves, three people genuinely comfortable being screamed at and adored from afar.
8. Warpaint completely own their rockstar-ness
Unlike Haim, who are almost defiantly “regular,” Warpaint look like the kind of people born to jam onstage. Their last record didn’t do much for me, but the live appeal is clear: They cultivate an air of distance, like they’re delivering their excellent-sounding jams from on high.
9. Slowdive’s live sound is so beautiful it’s almost painful
It’s not easy to make a guitar running through an endless daisy chain of pedals sound brilliant from a large open-air stage—there is so much that could go wrong when you extend the signal path to such a length. But Slowdive pull it off. The beauty of their crystalline sound is almost hard to believe, every note in its perfect place.
10. There’s a reason the National headline festivals
There are a handful of National songs that I like very much, but none of their albums has entered my life in a significant way. I suspect they’re the kind of band that requires more time and attention than I’ve given them—their music isn’t designed to bowl you over on first listen. But I can say that they know what they are doing in a place like this, with songs that move from whisper-quiet beginnings to thundering climaxes. Even for a casual fan like myself, it was hard not to get up in the drama of it all, to want to feel what the most intense fans in the front row were so obviously feeling, which is ultimately what these gatherings are all about.
This year's Nos Primavera Sound Festival took place in Porto, Portugal, last weekend, and featured acts such as Warpaint, Haim, Courtney Barnett, Dum Dum Girls, Slowdive, Kendrick Lamar, and more. Photographer Maria Louceiro was there to take portraits of the artists and snap a few shots of the performances.
White Lung: Hether Fortune, Mish Way, Kenneth William, Anne-Marie Vassiliou. Photos by Piper Ferguson.
Mish Way is not the kind of person who you picture crying. The sheer resilience and tough edge she conveys in song—and the total power she asserts in written word—would make you think the 28-year-old singer for punk rock band White Lung is actually incapable of shedding tears, or exhibiting any form of defeat at all. And yet when I call Way at her home in L.A., where she relocated from Vancouver this past winter, the outspoken feminist admits she's been crying over her boyfriend, who that morning left for his annual solo motorcycle trip to the Kentucky Derby. "My life is such a fucking cheesy B-movie," she says. "He's getting on his Harley and riding off, and I'm standing at the house and crying—could I be more fucking '80s biker housewife?"
Once on tour, she assures me, things will be fine. It's believable. Way is a fighter, performative in her role of rock provocateur—she curses like a sailor and casually mentions that her daily amenities include liquor and cigarettes on the phone in April, as the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" plays in the background. And, after all, she moved to L.A. because Vancouver had become too easy; her version of sunny-city living recently involved a 5 a.m. beach visit with the rest of White Lung to make a scrappy video co-starring burned scarecrows and crosses. At one point in our chat, she ruthlessly calls even a friend's adorable new puppy "that stupid thing with gross fish eyes."
Way's raw wit already colors her work as a critic and essayist, most prominently for The Talkhouse and VICE. The critic-to-rocker tradition is long, and Way's place in it has helped her understand the value in creating meaning and narrative. The making of White Lung's third album Deep Fantasy—for which they've welcomed a new member, bassist Hether Fortune of Wax Idols, in addition to guitarist Kenneth William and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou—offered Way "a lot more time to make sure I was saying exactly what I needed to say." Her lyrics are the central focus of our two-hour talk, tackling body dysmorphia, rape, drugs, sex, and all manner of power dynamic.
White Lung toiled away for six years before gaining serious attention with 2012's Sorry, having sprung from the Vancouver DIY scene surrounding a graffitied former fish factory called The Emergency Room. And while the band's native community-oriented circuit of warehouse gigs and ask-a-punk house shows is a far cry from their current record deal with indie powerhouse Domino, Way says the band's formative (and brutal) zig-zags across America are what made White Lung "a real band."
One early outing packed 61 shows into 63 days, "playing fucking Baton Rouge and losing our fucking god damned minds," Way says. "I was so broke at that point—it was fun, but stressful and weird, and nothing was working." When she describes the band's origins, it sometimes sounds like she's recalling a past life. She tells the story of a sketchy van driver they had to pay-off to just leave the tour. And there's another road tale about a 2011 gig in Gainesville, Florida, which involved getting "cross-eyed obliterated" on irresponsibly-acquired Four Lokos, pool-hopping, and screaming at a bunch of hippies. "Anne-Marie and I were looking at photos from that tour the other day, and she's like, 'Look at how fucking bad we look,'" Way says. "We were so tired and shitty, and mentally broken, too. We look like these fucking wayward orphans. It's so crazy we did that to ourselves."
"You'd play seven bullshit shows," she continues, "and then have a really killer show, and you'd be like, 'Oh, fuck, that was worth it.'" It was on one of those tours that Way received a pivotal text: In the summer of 2012, she got word that her longtime place of employment—a café, where she'd worked as a waitress and barista—was shutting down. "I was like, 'This is a sign,'" she says. "I'm going to hustle at the thing I want to do instead of working some shitty service job." She pauses. "I probably couldn't even remember how to work any of those machines anymore." No need.
Pitchfork: Coming from a punk scene, how have your goals for White Lung evolved over the past few years, as your fanbase has grown?
MW: I'm someone who always needs to keep moving forward and challenging myself to do something more. If you're not going forward, you're just standing still, and who wants to do that for too long? When White Lung started, my goal was simple: "I don't want to be in my boyfriend's band anymore—I want my own band that I actually like, and I want to play with Anne-Marie because she's the fucking coolest drummer I've ever met in my life." To think about where it's at now, it's like, "Oh god, I'm a band person now! How did this happen? Like, fuck. I chose to live like a clown for the rest of my life."
While we were working on Deep Fantasy, I was talking to our producer Jesse Gander about getting married, or having children, or some normal progression a person would take. I was like, "I used to think that kind of stuff was important to me, but not anymore." And Jesse was like, "Well, Mish, the further you get off the beaten path, the less likely you are to get back on." And that's true: You start to go a certain way, and then you're like, "Well, I'm doing this other thing now, and I kind of like it. The rules are different, and it's sort of fun, so bye!" Before you know it, you're like, "I'm in the woods and nothing is normal, and I have to invent my own tools and they're all breaking, and hopefully someone comes and saves me."
If you don't have discipline or the structure of a 9-t0-5, you have to push yourself or you're not going to do anything. With any kind of art, nobody's going to give a shit unless you push it. Nothing is handed to you. You have to work for everything—even for something as simple as confidence. Some of it is connections, or timing, but I would say 85 percent is hard work.
Pitchfork: I've learned a lot about you from following your writing. There was a column you wrote for self-titled last year about wearing a Corrosion of Conformity shirt on stage, and how this older punk dude was commenting online that you probably don't listen to CoC and must have gotten the shirt at Urban Outfitters. Then you totally called him out.
MW: That photo of me wearing that shirt had so many comments like that, and I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" My friend has a clothing store in Chicago, and she put up a photo of Bruno Mars wearing a Suicidal Tendencies shirt and said, "It really blows my mind that every time a woman wears a band T-shirt, a million guys ask her a million questions, yet this fucking douchebag puts on a Suicidal Tendencies shirt, and no one fucking says boo."
Then again, if some douchebag dude who I didn't know was sitting there wearing a Girlschool shirt and a fucking Ed Hardy hat and weird pants, or fucking whatever, I'd probably go up and be like, "What's your favorite Girlschool song?" When you grow up loving and identifying with music so strongly—and you shape your whole life around it—you're so overprotective of it. And actually, that guy from the article is my buddy now. He was in a bunch of hardcore bands and sent me a box of T-shirts from all his old bands. It spawned a really interesting friendship, so I'm glad I said something.
I write so openly and publicly—it's like I'm nude standing there as a target for people to throw stuff at. I can't get mad about comments. I'm stating my opinion, and people are allowed to have theirs, too. With that piece, I had a lot of support from other ladies on Twitter who had probably been in that situation nine million times. But it's funny to me that the negative reaction to anything is still, "You're a whore!" Really? Because I'm wearing a CoC shirt, I'm a whore? I'm having bad sex for free, dude. If I was a whore, at least I'd be rich. But anyway.
Pitchfork: Sounds like a good way to develop a thick skin extremely fast.
MW: I'm a really sensitive person. Not to pull astrology into this, but I'm a fucking Cancer. We're all shell. We play it tough, but inside we are little softies! Once I started writing really publicly, in conjunction with the band, it didn't give me a choice other than to have a thick skin. It helped with the way I perform on stage—I felt more confident.
Pitchfork: You've talked about how you grew your hair out so you could put it in front of your face onstage and not have to see the audience. Have you developed more confidence as a performer since then?
MW: Hether [Fortune] and I talk about this all the time: She will stand up there in Wax Idols, with a mesh shirt on and her nipples sticking out, and stare at one person and eat their brain with her face. I don't like looking people in the eye when I perform, but it's not a confidence thing. I want to focus on what I'm doing. It's like when you're having sex and your boyfriend's dog is at the end of the bed staring at you. And you're like, "Dude, I'm trying to have wicked sex right now and you are creeping super hard." I'm a confrontational person in a lot of other ways, but that's not my style of performing. I don't need to hide behind my hair, but it helps.
"I've been told to shut up my entire life, so when I got to
release my voice in a noisy setting onstage, and people were
happily applauding me, it was super powerful and satisfying."
Pitchfork: My favorite piece you've written was the essay for The Talkhouse on your own scream, where you say that screaming is a way to confront your own power. That seems to be the recurring theme on Deep Fantasy—an exploration of power dynamics. Where does that come from?
MW: I write mostly about sex and my relationship to my own sexuality, or someone else's sexuality, or the way sexuality is perceived in our culture. All of that is a power game in itself.
Screaming was always natural for me. I have a big voice, big projection. I'm a loud person. I've been told to shut up my entire life. That's just who I am, and I can't fucking help it sometimes. I come from two very loud families—my father is loud as fuck. You come to my family's dinner table, and everybody is talking over each other, it's insane. Sometimes you have to clap your hands just to get attention, and there's only six people there! If you want to be heard you have to scream. On one of our first tours, Seth from Hunx and His Punx was like, "The title of Mish's autobiography is gonna be called You Gotta Scream to Be Heard." He joked that there should be a GPS with my voice that goes, "Turn left, you dick!"
I've always had to be loud, and I've always been scorned for it. So when I got to release that in a noisy setting onstage, and people didn't tell me to shut up—and they were happily applauding me—it was super powerful and satisfying. A different thing happens when women scream. It's not always seen as powerful and it's not something everyone is attracted to. It's something a lot of people are even repulsed by. To manifest that in a way where you can still demand respect has been interesting. On Deep Fantasy, I tried to keep that same power I got from screaming my lungs out, but make it more about cadence, timing, emotion, and not so much about the volume. I had vocal issues last year and had to work hard to figure out how to sing in a way where I wouldn't kill myself, so I can keep doing this for a while. That was a big challenge. I didn't want to lose any of the aggression; I did want to lose some of the sugar Sorry had and make this more of a rock record.
Pitchfork: "I Believe You" in particular is noticeably heavier and more expressive than what we're used to from White Lung.
MW: That song is essentially about a friend confiding in you that she was raped or assaulted and afraid to talk about it. And the camaraderie of being like, "I fucking believe you." And the fact that we still live in a total rape culture. It's gross. I miss those days when the bands I loved would openly talk about that. Don't get me wrong, there is a really strong feminist community on the internet, and it's not just a bunch of girls—it's dudes, women, trans people, everyone. Which I love.
Cherie Currie's perspective on rape in her book Neon Angel was interesting to me, and I'm using her perspective in this song. She had a crazy fan who basically abducted her in a parking lot, then took her to his house and abused her and raped her for three days, or something insane. She managed to escape. And the way she talked about her rape story was: "I'm not a victim, no one took anything from me—fuck that, I'm a survivor." That's the attitude I was singing about. I sing, "You don't take me, don't make me." That's her attitude. I wanted to talk about rape in a way that's easy to understand, without actually using the word. It's really about anyone trying to take something from you that they think they deserve simply because of the genitals you were born with. Fuck you, no way!
Pitchfork: What is the monster in "Drown With the Monster"?
MW: I'm talking about my unhappiness, and the way I felt about my life before I moved, and deciding to make a change. Realizing all of the things that were wrong—this one person, this one situation. The monster is a lot of things, and it's also myself.
Pitchfork: The first three words of that song are "high and lying."
MW: That was my life last year: being high all the time, and lying about it. [laughs] I realized that I just can't do that. I've struggled a lot, and I've had issues with certain substances. I'm not afraid to admit that because I feel it's important to be able to talk about it. That was a big part of my unhappiness last year. I was bored and I was wasting my life.
It's a weird placeholder—the hunt and the score. It's pathetic and sad and ridiculous when you stop, but I've never let myself get to a point when I thought, "This is out of hand and I have to go to a rehab." I never want to live like that. I want to have control of myself. I have a lot of friends who don't. It's hard.
Pitchfork: There's an intense line on "Wrong Star" where you sing, "We lay all night/ Frozen but not quite/ Scratching the white out of us."
MW: It's important to be honest. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but it's reality, especially with this kind of lifestyle, where we basically act like children. Kenny's guitar on that song is out of this world—it's so gorgeous! He's so underrated. I remember when Kerry from Deafheaven first came and saw us, he was like, "I've never seen anyone play like that, holy fuck." I'm so lucky to play music with that weirdo. Any more song quizzes?
"I want to talk about things that we all know we're
thinking but haven't talked about in song in a long time.
What better way to communicate with people?"
Pitchfork: I read on Rookie that "Snake Jaw" is about body dysmorphia.
MW: It's the most common—and vain—thing that women in the first world struggle with. And since we all know better than to struggle with pure vanity, we all hate ourselves for struggling with it. That's my problem—I will get mad at myself because I know better than to care. But it's in every message that's relayed to me, whether straight-up or more subliminal. We're constantly reminded to check how we look, but the struggle is more in how we all know that it's unfair and stupid and ridiculous.
We live in a completely image-obsessed world. I know my friends and contemporaries think about it a lot, yet we don't want to admit it because it's admitting weakness. Songs are a way of working through something that I can't logically conquer on my own—compartmentalizing something and being like, "This is why you're feeling this. Don't worry about it, move along. Here's how to solve it. Goodbye." That's how I deal with everything. I want to talk about things that we all know we're thinking, that we all want to talk about, and yet haven't talked about in song in a long time. And if you can do it in a way that's intelligent and interesting and thought-provoking and not cheesy—what better way to communicate with people?
Think about it! As a girl, you looked at your body and scrutinized it since you knew it fucking existed! It's so crazy! The more we let the period of childhood diminish, and let little girls pretend they're women before they've even gotten tits or periods—it's like, man, you're gonna have to deal with that shit forever. Enjoy being a kid, because it rules. Enjoy not having to worry about sticking a dick in your mouth, or makeup, or any of that. There are a lot of weird things about our genders and the way that everything has been defined for us. But things are changing as more people talk. It is constantly in flux, and that's exciting to me.
Pitchfork: And you have a platform for these ideas in a way the band didn't a few years ago—you can reach more young people now.
MW: Exactly… sorry, I have to go pee, so I'm peeing with you on the phone. I appreciate that I have a microphone and people actually give a shit about what I have to say. So I'm going to utilize that space and talk about things that should be public conversations between women, not just something we talk about in the privacy of the backseat of our cars. These are not the most popular things to talk about. People don't want to think too heavily with music. A lot of people just want to escape. I understand that Miley Cyrus is never really going to get to write a song about this—or maybe she will! That'd be cool. When Beyoncé talks about feminism, she's talking about it on a small scale—but still, it's being discussed by someone that big. It's important to be raw and truthful. What do you have to lose?
Pitchfork: "Down It Goes" sounds like a pretty seedy situation, with that line, "You'll eat anywhere."
MW: It can be read a couple different ways—I'm gross, dude. Hether had come back from seeing this stand-up comedian who was talking about how when a straight man goes out on a [blind] date, his fear is, "I hope she's not fat and ugly." And hers is, "I hope he doesn't drug me and rape me." It's pretty brutal. I was thinking about those weird power dynamics that happen in heterosexual meeting, and these weird old-world risks that you don't want to think about, that you think you're smart enough to avoid. Yet, they still happen all the time. And the undeniable reality that there is a physical difference between men and women, and when someone wants to use that abusively, it can be really deafening.
Pitchfork: There's a reference to poisoning someone's water.
MW: We've been told [dramatically] "Don't leave your drink unattended at the bar 'cause someone might date rape you!" or "Don't jog at night! Someone could come out of the bushes and kill you!" since we were teenagers; as women, it's something we think about all the time. It's that weird fear of the stories we've been told. They don't actually reflect the statistics of how violence towards women happens, but they're still there. It feels so old-school to think like that, but it still happens!
Pitchfork: The title Deep Fantasy...
MW: Sounds like porn!
Pitchfork: That is true. When you sing the words "deep fantasy" on the record, it's referring to a really desperate situation.
MW: [singing] "Her deep fantasy is so desperate to get up and run around!" Kenny was like "Argh! It sounds like a gross porn movie!" And I was like, "Yeah, exactly." Prefacing anything with "deep" is always hilarious.
I'm a really sexual person, and a lot of my sexual preferences do not align with my political views. That whole song is talking about that—having sex and being manhandled and pushed around. I enjoy that stuff, yet, in real life, if someone told me what to do, I'd fucking punch them in the head! Sarah Nicole Prickett, who does The New Inquiry and Adult magazine, and I were talking about getting aroused by bands who write misogynist, fucked-up lyrics, like Dwarves or Brainbombs. She said, "That's part of our natural tendency as feminists, to want the opposite thing in sex. We want what we're not supposed to want." I was thinking about that with the idea of a deep fantasy. So now you can go listen and be like, "ewww!"
"A lot of my sexual preferences do not align with my political views.
I enjoy being manhandled and pushed around, yet, in real life,
if someone told me what to do, I'd fucking punch them in the head!"
Pitchfork: When you were a teenager, whose photos were on your wall?
MW: There were quite a lot of loud women on there. I was obviously a big Courtney fan. I discovered Nirvana, and then Hole, and that opened me up to Bikini Kill and L7, all those 90s bands that really resonated with me. I was only in fourth grade when all that stuff was happening, so I got into it six years later. That's the great thing about music—it's never too late. It can still mean the same thing to someone when they hear it years later.
Bikini Kill was really exciting to me—when you hear a woman talking really confidently about all the shit that you feel so unconfident about, it gives you this crazy rush of hope in yourself. There's no way I would have been able to even dream of doing all this without having those bands provide guidance. Even the simple stuff, like listening to Cat Power, was just as important to me as listening to the fucking Misfits, or Butthole Surfers, or Zeppelin. There was something different about listening to women. It felt closer. And all that stuff was all mainstream then—it was so cool that L7 would play for 50,000 people in Brazil.
Pitchfork: So many bands coming from punk resist mainstream attention—they favor the attitude of "what we do is secret."
MW: I get that—covet the thing you love, and hold it secret, and don't let anyone else know because then it's not special anymore. But it's a matter of preference and personal ambition. When you're trying to have a public discussion, it makes sense to have more people involved.
Pitchfork: You're singing and talking about feminist issues, but White Lung isn't tied to any politically-aligned scene.
MW: When White Lung started, it was never about politics. I never discussed my views with my bandmates in the context of our music. We wrote songs. I'm a feminist and that is a part of who I am, but it's one part. I really value that people listen, even if it's just a few, and I want to use that space to facilitate discussion about our culture that doesn't alienate anyone, but pulls them in. I never want to alienate anyone with my ideas, even people I may be railing against in some songs. But usually I'm railing against myself.
I don't think males are evil. I fucking love men! Some of my best friends are men. Men are amazing. What's fucked up and wrong are the ways that masculinity and femininity are defined—the old rules. That's what we've been working towards changing for years, and we're doing a pretty good job. I have no hatred towards the way our world has been constructed, but it's important to talk about it and dissect it and deconstruct it. My boyfriend is a motorcycle-riding, Southern-born hick from Arkansas—we have some pretty fucking interesting discussions. I don't want to be closed-off to one place. Then the message is useless.
It is 88 and humid in Houston, Texas, and Andrew Savage is jumping rope. “Keeps the blood going,” he says. Portable, too. Even at home in Brooklyn, it’s his preferred mode of exercise: compact and rigorous and exhausting, despite going nowhere at all. In the afternoon heat he starts to look like a shaken soda bottle, fizzing at his sweatline.
Savage is one of the singers and guitar players in Parquet Courts, a band I later describe to my cab driver as “punky and a little weird.” On this night in early June, they play the bottom level of an old dancehall called Fitzgerald’s in a neighborhood called the Heights. It has a low ceiling and no air conditioning and thick wooden pylons where patrons used to pitch horses. A busted-looking guy in a hazard vest wanders in during soundcheck and announces that he used to come here to see a band called Lick, but that was 30 years ago. His name is Brady, and he is summarily asked to leave. “I’ve been kicked out of worse places,” he says, and slinks back into the heat.
Parquet Courts have just come from a wedding in Beaumont, a small town near the Louisiana border, where their other singer and guitarist, Austin Brown, grew up. Brown was the best man; Savage was the wedding’s officiant. The couple hadn’t heard Savage’s ceremony speech until he performed it. Topics included not just the nature and gravity of commitment but a continued understanding of what that commitment means. “Not letting vows become abstract,” as Savage puts it.
“I believed in them as a couple,” he continues. Had he not, would he have turned the invitation down? “Absolutely,” he says. In general, Savage is principled and decisive, and seems proud of his decisiveness—the feedback loop of the serious artist. In two days, I see him smile once. He is 28 years old and his energy comes on like a broiler, immediate and intense.
Copies of the band’s third album, Sunbathing Animal, sit in a stack on a folding table nearby. It is scrappy, urgent music made by people who appear to be at the edge of something, whether sanity, or revelation, or both. Much of it sounds like garage rock that has been chopped up and rationed out by the millisecond, for maximum impact. Savage, who grew up a “belligerent punker,” talks about the terrain of the self with the scrutiny and idealism that hardcore bands use to talk about the government. “Do I bother to define myself, beyond what they allow?” goes one lyric. “Have I already forgotten how?” Both his and Brown’s voices have the flat, penetrating sound of test tones from the emergency weather service.
Their last album, Light Up Gold, came out in late 2012 on Savage and friend Chris Pickering’s Dull Tools imprint and swiftly sold out, prompting a reissue by the New York label What’s Your Rupture? Of the 12 months contained in the year 2013, they toured for 10 of them, straddling the strange schedule of small club shows and big-ticket festivals afforded to modern day mid-level indie bands. They have played late-night network TV and ridden donkeys through the Mexican sunset. Outside BB’s, a bar and restaurant proffering what they call Tex-Orleans cooking, a family friend of Brown’s asks if this is his life now—“this” meaning the band. Brown is a tall, scarecrow-looking guy with a sweet moonface and a dry sense of humor. “Yeah,” he says. “I just travel around the country, seeing my friends for 30 minutes at a time.”
Parquet Courts identify as a “New York band,” with all attendant weight and mythos, but the truth is that their context is broader. Late last year, they made a mixtape of artists they like and consider peers, almost none of whom are from New York but instead from places like Austin, Detroit, and Olympia—secondary cities where cameras are happy to go but aren’t necessarily waiting for something to happen.
Though the band formed in Brooklyn, Andrew Savage and his 22-year-old brother Max, who plays drums, are from Denton, a college town 45 minutes outside Dallas. Andrew and Brown met at the University of North Texas in Denton, and Andrew met bassist Sean Yeaton when Yeaton came through town with a screamo band. (“I’m a badass only by proxy,” Yeaton says.) At some point, Andrew and I discuss the casual prejudices leveled against places like Arkansas, where he has some roots. “Yankee bullshit,” he says, dismissively. Despite their urban cachet, Parquet Courts still have the rough edge of transplants eager to be counted by the big city but who can’t shake their small town.
Whatever New York lineage the band could be part of—the Velvet Underground, Television, etc.—has spent the past 30 years crystallizing into a fiction capitalized on for the sake of nostalgia more often than anything else. (Nevermind that New York in the 1970s was cheap, dangerous, and undesirable.) Listen to Sunbathing Animal at a distance and you hear guitar music; listen to the sound of underground New York now and you hear eclecticism, cross-pollination, and a lot of music with no guitars at all. Culturally and sonically, Parquet Courts’ clocks are stopped at 1995.
If anything, they could be an auxiliary chapter of Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azzerad’s book chronicling artists who bridged punk ideals with sounds we retroactively call indie rock: the Minutemen, Butthole Surfers, Fugazi, Sonic Youth. Set Sunbathing Animal alongside the SST catalog from the mid-1980s, and it would fit fine. At shows in both Houston and Dallas, the band is surrounded by people they have known for years, met through self-booked tours and house shows and that unofficial network by which the American underground, in the face of all prevailing pressure, endures.
Business-wise, they maintain a no-ads policy, and, according to Andrew, recently turned down a “pretty popular TV show” he declines to name, noting that “it’s not important.” Questions of this nature—how to define integrity, basically—are subject to complexities so tiny and particular that the big picture becomes less important.
Sunbathing Animal, for example, was co-released on What’s Your Rupture? and something called Mom + Pop Music, which at the end of a not particularly hidden paper trail leads to a small team of industry veterans ultimately connected to Sony. Neither Andrew nor What’s Your Rupture? want to talk about the relationship, presumably because it dilutes some classic notion of independence.
It is an old tightrope to walk. The reality is that no amount of friendly press is going to make Parquet Courts less weird than they are. Andrew talks admiringly of bands like Roxy Music, who managed to get on TV while still making what they wanted to make. “It’s those people at the margins,” he says. When he talks about his admiration for Russian painting and composition during the Stalinist era, his interest seems to stem as much from the art itself as from the idea that it was a rebellion—something radical, but still visible to the public eye. “These were guys with manifestos,” he says. Later, while talking about the ways indie rock in the mid-2000s seemed to drift toward imprecision and spaciness, he offers his own: “We’re an anti-reverb band.”
In Houston, Brown is under the weather but remains unusually excited: Representatives from the local rap label Swishahouse have requested his presence in the green room. “I grew up on that stuff,” he says on the walk back to Fitzgerald’s, referring to a history of turned-down music brought into national markets by artists like DJ Screw and UGK. Of special interest is the rapper Lil’ Keke, whose name Brown repeats like a child trying to grasp the impossible prospect of Santa Claus.
Filled with people, the room at Fitzgerald’s takes on a sweatbox aspect. Ceiling fans are sheer comedy. It is the kind of situation for which cold beer was invented. Out on the patio, revelers smoke and wait in humidity that feels doubly romantic after dark.
In the green room, Max paces a small circle with a shot of liquor in a bottle top. He is a stoic, good-natured guy who could probably fit into a mailing tube. His drumming is the wire on which all Parquet Courts songs hang. In the two days I am with the band, I barely talk to him, not because he is unapproachable, but because I worry I will be disturbing a pleasant dream. Pack leader that he is, Andrew later points out that Max was in the top 10 in his high-school class and was given a “princely package” from several colleges but chose NYU, starting as pre-med but shifting to math with a minor in creative writing. Hearing Andrew talk about his younger brother, I am reminded of how much I love my own.
Lil’ Keke does not make it after all, though G-Dash—Co-CEO of Swishahouse—does, accompanied by a huge, taciturn man who introduces himself only as “B.” G-Dash and Brown discuss the tensions of staying independent while trying to break into larger audiences. “They got you in Best Buy?” G-Dash asks. Brown nods. Everyone poses for a photograph. In the Swishahouse gift box to the band are an assortment of T-shirts and records, and what appears to be a small, shrink-wrapped joint.
They will play bigger stages on this tour, but the quartet’s music seems best suited to hot, small ones like this. Brown—in a fresh Swishahouse tee—occasionally twists around with his guitar, like he is caught in a bedsheet, and Yeaton headbangs continuously, his feet screwed into the floor. Beyond that, the band is almost entirely still. Were the music not so kinetic, the show would be boring. For his part, Andrew spends most of the set with his body a half turn away from the audience but still facing out, blinking rarely, looking like a guy in a horror movie reckoning a line of zombies coming over the hill.
In sound and theme, Sunbathing Animal is an album obsessed with ruts, habits, cycles, and returns—things that keep us contained. Its title—and title track—is a reference both to a painting by the Dutch artist Karel Appel and to Andrew’s house cat, an animal probably happier captive than released. The song itself is a piece of hardcore so repetitive and stretched-out that it starts to sound like mantra. “Running circles in my plot, howling like a tethered mutt that broke free for the first time/ So proud that he got caught,” Andrew shouts. “In his brief emancipation he can feel what I cannot.” With no exceptions it is the most penetrating song about a cat I have ever heard.
It also points to the band’s psychedelic capacity. Dwellers in a vertical city, they are primed to see infinity in whatever cramped spaces they can. When they play "Sunbathing" at Fitzgerald’s—with a break so narrow between it and “Light Up Gold” it almost seems like they are falling headfirst—a stream of people in the crowd make their way to the front and start stage diving. From where I stand, they look like spare parts flying off a conveyor belt.
The drive from Houston to Dallas takes about three and a half hours by way of a blue-black van packed to the ceiling. In Huntsville, we pass a state penitentiary on one side of the highway and the Texas Prison Museum on the other. (The “S” in “Texas” is shackled to a ball and chain.) Green stretches out indefinitely.
Whatever conversation is had comes in fragments, with the occasional comment made speculatively and without expectation of answer, followed by drops into silence. Yeaton reads Dune; Max retreats into his headphones. At some point, everyone—including their tour manager, Chris Newmyer, who is also driving—appears to be texting.
Someone puts on the ‘80s German band Trio, who are famous for being in a Volkswagen ad but apparently much weirder than I would have guessed. “Big influence on Sunbathing Animal,” Andrew says. “You know, their drummer was a clown, trained in Italy.” He often talks in information, eager to both share what he knows and flaunt it at the same time.
Conversation moves to Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (whose opera The Love for Three Oranges is referenced on the Sunbathing Animal song “Duckin’ and Dodgin’”); art in Stalinist Russia (“him and his crew would just get up in the middle of performances and leave—that’s when you knew you’d done something wrong”); the writer William T. Vollmann (“seems like a crazy cat”); and painting, which Andrew studied in college. Favorites include Cy Twombly, Egon Schiele, the CoBrA group, Marlene Dumas, Jean-Michel Basquiat—artists who, like Parquet Courts, can seem radical and stubborn but are at heart less invested in intellect than in emotionality.
From the front seat, Brown announces that he has been texting with G-Dash, and they are negotiating a Swishahouse remix of the Parquet Courts song “He’s Seeing Paths”, from last year’s Tally All the Things That You Broke EP. Andrew, who seems to treat the band’s opportunities as ethical decisions, shoots up from the back. “What? What’s that?”
Tonight they are in Club Dada, a low-lying brick building in the Deep Ellum neighborhood. The Savages spend most of the evening with family and old friends, many of whom they haven’t seen in years. At one point, between the soundcheck and show, Max catches up with a girl he went to high school with and talks like an extraordinarily grateful person who believes that he has won life’s lottery and now spends his days in quiet awe of his luck.
Sundown over the patio as the room fills up. Yeaton and I share a beer and conversation turns personal. He is a true teddy bear, friendly and sensitive and easier to open up to than anyone else in the band. Him and his wife got married two weeks after last year’s tour ended, and found out they were pregnant shortly before this one started. He has not a single ungrateful word to say about being able to do what he does but also acknowledges the ways in which it forces him to renegotiate the distance between himself and the elusive state people call “home.” “I had a kind of disjointed family growing up,” he says. “I just never want those things to be on the backburner for me.”
Lately he has been waking up from a dream in which him and his closest friends are splitting a timeshare on the moon. “It’s a bachelor-party situation,” he says. “You know—mixed nuts and beer.” The picture is convivial but relaxed—a moment when the infinite hustles of life recede into the background and he is allowed to sit still and be. Just as they start to settle in, they look out the window and notice the earth rising. “It happens so fast,” he says quietly. They pack their bags and go, having barely been there at all.
The band plays, the people bop. I watch a poor photographer roll back and forth in the pit like a marble on the deck of some turbulent boat. Andrew dedicates “Instant Disassembly” to his mom and dad, who tells me he’s seen a lot of Parquet Courts shows in his days but thinks this was probably the best one yet. “He says that a lot,” Andrew tells me, but I get the sense he is still happy to hear it.
Back on the patio I meet Jennifer, who has driven three hours from Austin. She won’t say how old she is but will say her first show was 32 years ago—Adam and the Ants—and she’s pretty sure Parquet Courts are her fucking favorite band right now, even though the guitar players are “freaky and introverted.”
“I crawled onstage to get this shit,” she says, showing me the night’s set list. It is a wrinkled piece of paper with some shoe prints on it. Each Parquet Court has given her their autograph, but none have actually written their names. All I can make out is a strange tangle of symbols, some possibly Chinese characters, and a series of letters forming no known words.
In time, everyone filters out and the band is left to negotiate the geometry of the empty van. Andrew takes a deep breath and adjusts his hat. “All right,” he says. “Time to lift heavy boxes.”
Bonnaroo takes place this weekend, June 12-15, in Manchester, Tennessee. Prepare for the action with the following playlist featuring many of the acts scheduled to play, including Elton John, James Blake, Jack White, Danny Brown, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Frank Ocean, Arctic Monkeys, and more.
Growing up in a small village in Buckinghamshire, about 50 miles north of London, Josh Quirke spent countless hours alone in his family's music room. A drum kit, saxophone, and guitar were stuffed into the small space, but the centerpiece was a digital Clavinova piano. He'd sometimes just listen to the instrument's chintzy, pre-programmed demos for an entire night, fascinated with the sounds flowing into his ears. He wasn't interested in playing other peoples' songs, or recording himself, or jamming with friends. Instead, Quirke endlessly toiled at the piano, searching for notes and chords and transitions that made him feel something.
"At that age, you just act on your impulses and don’t question why you’re doing something," he remembers over Skype, his head framed by a lime-green wall in his London apartment. "If you enjoy it, you just get on with it, don’t you? It’s very much a primitive thing: These actions corresponding to sound waves, going back into your body, which then create a full circle."
Though he's now moved away from the Clavinova and onto the endless music-making permutations of his computer, he's still trying to maintain that instinctual spirit with his work as Quirke. His recent debut EP, Acid Beth, is only about 15 minutes long, but in that short timespan it creates an entire universe unto itself—a place where breathy vocal samples, contemplative synths, stuttering breakbeats, warped bloops, and static glitches ping into each other like chaotic atoms. Quirke's sounds recall classic Warp artists including Aphex Twin, along with more contemporary electronic acts like his Young Turks labelmate Koreless, and Yeezus producer Arca, though its precise attention to the most minute sonic details makes Acid Beth seem particularly uncommon. And while the EP certainly sounds fresh right now, Quirke says he put most of it together three years ago; meanwhile, he's got around 200 near-completed tracks on his hard drive.
And yet, even with all that material, he's wary of releasing an album. Because another thing that sets Quirke apart is his keen understanding of context. Though many producers today are more than willing to haphazardly throw their songs up on SoundCloud in an effort to get notice, or seem prolific, only a select few seem to care about making those tracks fit into some sort of narrative or artistic progression. Quirke, on the other hand, would rather map things out in his mind first—second-guessing as he goes—before releasing his sounds to the world at large. It's why Acid Beth took so long to come out, and why it stands out.
His well-considered strategy is likely connected with his art history studies at the University of Leeds in the mid-2000s. "If you present an artwork, it’s more about how it fits within everything else as opposed to finding any aesthetic enjoyment from it," says the halting and polite producer, talking about the concepts he was drawn to in college. "I got more emotion from conceptualizing ideas and putting them together—developing a succinct whole—rather than looking at a painting." With his music as Quirke, he's placing his songs, which are still guided by raw emotions and gut reactions, inside of this more intellectual framework.
Looking ahead, the Londoner has some vague-yet-ambitious notions about modernizing our music-listening experiences to make them live up to the sensuous sounds in his head. "I’d like to make an album that you could only listen to on an individual basis," he spitballs, "so you’d have one person in the room at a time, and each play of that album would be a singular experience." Just one person in a room, enveloped by sound.
Pitchfork: How long do you spend making music each day now?
Josh Quirke: It’s every evening, basically, for three, four, maybe six hours. I've been working at this manufacturer for the last three years, making bespoke furniture, like huge boardroom desks. So once I get home, music is a way of switching off. A lot of times I’ll make a track and then listen to it and think, "How did I get to here?" You don’t have the time to process it as a conscious decision; it’s just running away with you. I have no idea how I made a lot of my best tracks. It’s just a way of going into a world that isn’t quite as tangible as the real one.
Pitchfork: What kind of programs and tools did you use to make this EP?
JQ: I’ve got Logic and other bits that I’ve downloaded off the internet. I’ve also got one of those zoom handycams, which turn out to be quite useful. At work, we have a lot of loud industrial machines, and I record those sounds and then build chord progressions around them. It can be a very inhumane way of thinking about music that is made by a human.
Pitchfork: What kind of contemporary music are you into?
JQ: I go out partying a lot, and I like some of the most interesting techno, tracks that help to create a specific world. A lot of the best records have the fewest parts, and I like a lot of techno without hi-hats—it's amazing how much that can change the mood of a whole tune.
Pitchfork: You seem to envision a very deliberate path for your releases, which is antithetical to our current era of media overload.
JQ: My whole philosophy involves this idea that you could probably learn more just from reading the same book thousands of times rather than reading a thousand different books. Because even if you don’t experience anything different on each read, it's still adding up to something that may then occur at a later date. It’s a different way of viewing the world.
That said, my attention span for books is actually terrible. I haven’t even really watched that many films—during those two to three hours it takes to watch one, I have the urgency to do something else. I don't think I've ever really watched a film just by myself.
Pitchfork: You studied art history in university, do you visit a lot of galleries?
JQ: I’m very interested in the ideas behind art, but I never really felt the kind of attachment I do with music in an art gallery. It’s not as visceral. I moved to Paris after university for about three months, and I went to the Louvre a couple of times, trying to really engage. I stared at this one piece for over an hour, but I just ended up quite bored. [laughs] The best thing is I couldn’t even tell you much about the painting—I think that’s beautiful in its own right. I mean, it was of a girl, but I couldn’t tell you anything more than that. It’s just the expressions that I find interesting.
Pitchfork: Where does the Acid Beth cover image come from?
JQ: It’s a mug shot I found online. I spent a good few months trying to get the artwork, and this one guy had a lot of stuff I was into in terms of expressions. It’s quite ugly, in a way, but also beautiful. She has a real resonance to her stare. It creates this profound effect.
Pitchfork: What were some of your musical memories as a teenager?
JQ: My brother used to go to all these old warehouse raves in the '90s, and he had these rave flyers posted on all four walls of his bedroom. So while I was too young to experience that myself, I think it was better in some ways to have this distance—it allowed me to paint an image in my head, which was better than the rave itself, because there was no limits to it.