Speaking of grit, dance genres like juke, grime, vogue have all been appropriated by the haute couture world. We think Death Grips’ Fashion Week album was a parody of this phenomenon. What do you make of ‘high culture’ borrowing from subcultures and countercultures?
Well, I think we’ve got to be really careful because by definition, we’re talking about economics here. So, high culture is usually a culture with a lot of privilege, money, and access, whereas a lot of the music that we take a lot of influences from are from a place of not great privilege. So, there’s a power relation there, which I would personally be quite wary of. Although having said that, there’s a good way and a bad way to go about it all. A good way is to include the original artiste where your ideas are generated from and kinda engage with them, and the wrong way to do it is, I would say, to exclude those originators, which happens a lot. But it’s not my place to police this, although I do think people should have a moral responsibility when it comes to this stuff. Ultimately, the originators of good ideas are the ones who [should] benefit from them.
There was an advice that you gave to new producers; to be careful of appropriating new sounds indebted to a specific geography. How does one differentiate between appropriation and influence when it comes to music?
This is a really tough subject, because again, I’m not the one who’s to be policing this, you know? Who am I to say that what I’ve done in the past hasn’t been appropriation versus influence? It’s a very, very blurred line. I would say that again – what I said earlier – I think it’s important to engage with your influences, show them enough respect to treat them in a humanistic way, and you know, involve them and engage them in any way. And if possible, when you’re benefitting from taking influence from something, then that benefit needs come back to that original artiste. These are the basic principles that you can work by to try to get a bit more balance, because it’s impossible to not be influenced by music once you hear it. The way the world is structured now, this crazy, nonlinear, online, viral environment, it’s impossible to fight that, it’s too late. The structure of the world has now changed, I think there are certain responsible ways to maintain some fairness and responsibility in what we’re doing. But having said that, I’d never wanna suggest that people should hear music and not take it in or not to be influenced because that’s not the way culture works. I mean, if you look at how influences and genres merge, even before the internet, it’s been so important for people to take influence, to use tropes, to use cultural signifiers. If you see what I mean, I would never discourage people taking influence, you can do it in a way that’s considerate to your sources of influence.
You mentioned that it was important to have a sense of humour in music and art, but since dance music is oftentimes wordless with the exception of a few vocal samples here and there, how does one convey that?
You know, for one thing, I don’t really know what dance music is, apart from… (chuckles) I know in the ‘90s, it’s house, trance, and whatever else. I play music that people dance to, I play a lot of rap, I play a lot of r’n’b, I play a lot of jersey club tracks, and a lot of them are hilarious. It’s just in the music; sample choice, the colour, it’s certain types of vocals, it’s certain types of lyrics, it’s a certain type of attitude that we are drawn towards. I don’t really play faceless dance tracks in my DJ sets, I don’t really play techno in that sense – I don’t play techno with a capital T. I don’t play dry, faceless tracks. Sometimes when we play Club Constructions, you know, that’s an in-between for all the other stuff, connecting all the other stuff that we play. Humour is humanity, it’s about trying to convey that through the DJ sets, you know?
You mentioned that you don’t like hearing music where you can ‘hear’ the DAW software in its sound (like Logic). What does a producer need to do to avoid the artifice of ‘electronic music’?
I think artificiality is fine because a lot of the stuff that I like sounds very much in a digital environment. Take grime as an example, when it first came out, it was made sort of lo-fi almost, and that’s not something that people can aspire to, because you can’t fake that. In terms of the aesthetics, it has lost a bit of that because now people have access to really good software. Everyone is basically producing on industry standard software and bouncing their tracks, just like how people bounce their tracks for the radio. It’s just a slightly different environment, really. Everyone has to just find their way to do it. My way was to come out of the box a little bit, now my process is very hybrid – I use digital processes, but I use a lot of outboard and analogue processes as well. I’m not saying that is a right way or the wrong way, but that was my way out of sounding like I’ve made tracks on Ableton. It all comes down to taste. I mean, yeah, you can hear a lot of DAWs in a lot of modern music, but maybe that’s what those producers wanna sound like, you know? For me, it’s just a matter of my own personal taste. I like a bit more texture. I think over time music that’s well-mixed, all the elements [will sound] believable. They’re generated digitally, and I think they all sound like they’re happening in a space and they sound tangible. I guess what I don’t really like to hear is just Logic-y sounds.
Does that mean DAWs have ruined the scene with same-y sounds?
No, I don’t think that at all. Their access to DAWs and software is actually a really good thing. It means that [a potential] producer talent is never going to be lost. Anyone with a laptop can try their hand at production. For better or for worse, a lot of people out there, they are probably on this planet to make music, but then maybe I’m on this not to make music, I don’t know, so there is a lot of possibility there. Ultimately, I think access is a good thing. I don’t like the idea of the elitism of the lack of access. I wouldn’t say that you need any sort of hardware or any kind of equipment, you can make music on pots and pans, but if you’ve got a DAW, then great!
But going back to what you said about the internet being a nonlinear, viral environment, there’s a potential lack of quality control in the music that’s being produced as a result. What do you make of that sentiment?
Yeah, I would say that’s true – there’s very little quality control these days. There’s a lot less to force producers to finish their work. You know, this has been said before, in the days of dubplates, if you wanted to cut a dubplate, there is a commitment to it because it’s a physical medium and it’s quite expensive. So, your tracks had to be a certain standard and finished to a certain level. Otherwise, you wouldn’t want to cut the dub nor would any other DJs. It’s just motivation to keep reaching for a higher level. But now, you can just bounce and put it in a USB and five minutes later, playing it in a club. It’s really interesting too, because it’s opened things up to an intense degree now, and I think we just have to deal with it. As I said before, times have changed and we can’t go backwards, so it is just how it is nowadays. You know, there is a lot of stuff out there and it does make it harder to go through, but I think music that connects with people is gonna shine through the noise.
Some have mentioned ‘futurism’ in relation to Night Slugs’ look and sound, but do you ever feel that today we’re already living in some future dystopia predicted by an ‘80s cyberpunk book? Do you ever visualise your music as the soundtrack to a dystopia?
No, but I’ve heard this idea before; us being dystopian or something like that. We have been to that territory, when I released ‘Silo Pass’, I would say that was dystopian music, for sure. When Jam City released Classical Curves, that’s exactly what that record was about, that record was set in the belly of the beast. I mean, we do change as people, we do develop, so I think now, the path that we’re on, is very much about keeping the warmth and humanity and positivity and finding those connections. The thing is the cold music thing can be a bit of a dead-end. And at this point, I think it’s important to communicate something valuable with what we’re doing. We have a responsibility to not be complicit and not speak in the same language as advertising, language of oppressive political systems – you know, these are the things that we as artistes have to make into something valuable. Otherwise, we’d just be contributing to a greater problem. I think we are living in quite isolating times. I think [living] in developed countries in 2015 is quite alienating, I think it’s our responsibility to create something that counteracts that to some extent and find something warm and human. I think if you go through our catalogue, yes, there are dystopian tracks like ‘IRL’, ‘Silo Pass’, and [the EP] Classical Curves, but if you look past that, there has always been this vibe, this emotion, this colour, connecting to our much more primal senses and emotions that aren’t simply mirroring what’s out there, and taking part in dystopia, so to speak. So yeah, it’s a bit complicated, but I hope it makes sense.
You’re something of a club culture scholar, what do you make of clubs becoming increasingly more expensive, higher end, and faux-futuristic very much in the same vein of most dance festivals?
Really? That’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s a phenomenon that’s happening everywhere, but I think life has become more prohibitive and expensive in general. I can only talk about my experience in the Western world I suppose – everywhere I look around is aspiration, everyone trying to look like they can live well (laughs). I don’t think it’s a great thing, but at the same time, I don’t know if it’s an overriding trend where clubs are becoming more expensive and fancier. I think it’s just how culture is going that way in general. I think it’s quite sad, our role in culture is a counterculture role, and that’s important. I’m not a bottle service DJ, although I sometimes play at this sort of clubs if I’m brought there. Ultimately, my home is always in a place that’s gonna be gritty and accessible, and to keep a punk rock element is super important.
That’s it. Thank you so much for your time, Alex!
Thank you! Wonderful questions. Thank you for your time.