On Solecast 37 I catch up with LA Based electronic music pioneer Daedelus. Daedelus has 17 or so full length albums and worked with such labels as Alpha Pup, Ninja Tune, Brainfeeder and many others. He also runs a small imprint called Magical Properties. He tours the world with his intense & unique live electronic PA sets and stands apart as a true innovator. Check out/ support his music, and follow him on twitter. (Transcript below)
- The life of an electronic musician in 2017
- How the ruling class have weaponized absurdism
- Current trends in rap and electronic music
- Hacking, circuit bending, & the rebelliousness of anologue music
- Reacting to trump and coping with it
- The assault on truth
- Economics & the future of labor
- Science fiction writers & the present
- The role of record label
- The LA underground hip-hop scene of the early/mid 90s & its evolution to the LA beat scene.
- The transitory nature of things.
Sole (Tim Holland): Today's guest is my homie Daedelus. He's a beat-maker, a producer, an experimental artist, a performer, a pioneer, based out of Los Angeles, California. We're going to have a wide-ranging conversation about rap and electronic music, the shifts that are happening in society; we'll talk about hacking and how motherfuckers are dealing with Donald Trump and the current assault on the truth; how economics is shifting, and labor, and robots. It's all happening at once. We'll talk about science fiction, and just the transitory nature of shit that's happening right now. We'll talk about his music; we'll talk about some of the stuff he's into, his record label.
It's conversations like this where we really get to crack into and get into an artist's mind, and really hear them go deep on shit. I was thoroughly impressed by how thoughtful and what a philosopher Daedelus is, as someone who says he doesn't read very much.
What's new with you, man? What have you been up to? Last time I saw you was in New Zealand at that festival.
Daedelus (Alfred Darlington): New Zealand is such an out-there place. I've gone back since, and I've found the scene to have developed.
I've been doing the clinically insane thing of repeating processes and expecting different results: putting out a record (I've put out a few records, I think, since last we saw each other), doing multiple tours (sometimes having lots of bodies in rooms and having a lot of records sold, sometimes having very few), having projects totally disappear into the ether. And I still find a lot of relevance to it, but it does seem like an affront to the thoughtful world when you're releasing a full-length record and people just want their single little nugget of information to make all of their assumptions from.
It's beautiful, though. I've always been troubled by the commerce aspect of creation. Even though desperately wanting to make a full-time living out of this life, having to balance the creation of recorded music versus the performance of improvised music or more spontaneous music, there are a lot of troublesome moments where you have to put a price tag on it and sell it to somebody and charge a cover. It's a tough line to draw. When you're just a musical soundtrack to somebody's intoxication, it's hard.
The last couple years of playing raves and EDM events and just being someone's turn-up music is hard. But I still find so much to it.
TH: I have the exact same thing with hip-hop, where it's I'm up there, I've worked so hard on these lyrics, I'm trying to communicate these complicated things, and yet I'm playing these shitty hip-hop shows with a bunch of wack rappers, and I'm like, I could say anything right now, nobody cares. It makes me want to be home.
AD: I wonder, too—because I feel this in a pronounced way, but especially because the pendulum has really swung back toward hip-hop—I feel like the MC is really back in a strong way, like hip-hop as a genre has a different new definition. The same with the electronic versions of that. The Trap sound has progressed. Mumble Rap has kind of progressed. If you're doing something that reflects a reality of even a few years ago—in the case of electronic music it's like if you're even quoting Dubstep—it's as if there's this group amnesia towards the genre. I don't blame them. It's a pretty flash-bang grenade of a thing to have gone off, and I can understand. When the sparkle blurs out of your eyes, then you don't ever need to listen to Dubstep again in some ways. But still, if you're not playing Trap music right now, do people even consider it hip-hop unless it's some backpack throwback night?
TH: I thought it was more friendly for electronic artists, but I guess you're right. I think maybe Denver is the last place where people can get away with playing Dubstep.
AD: There are a few pockets. There are different genres that get footholds in places and they live depending on the people breathing life into it. And then there's always the genres that haven't hit yet that everyone expects to go big at some point. Juke is one of those. Footwork. In the hip-hop realm of things, there are people lacing their raps with jazz or gestures towards gospel. Chance the Rapper, even Kendrick. But that hasn't gone wide yet, necessarily. Maybe because it takes a different kind of musicianship. You're always wondering what's going to blow up, and I'm sure there's somebody out there who gets paid to determine this kind of thing with divining rods.
TH: 2008-2009 was a huge turning point for that stuff, I think. That's when internet rap was like a Wild West, during the rise of Lil B and Odd Future. And I feel like that's where weird motherfuckers could just make a video and next thing you know Eminem's management is managing you behind the scenes and nobody knows, and now that's just the way shit is done. There's no underground anymore. There's very few really truly localized scenes, because the way people are experiencing music has so dramatically changed from when we started doing it almost twenty years ago.
AD: A localized scene, like the Korean Drill Rap scene getting big now everywhere—there's no reason that we should have that on our lips, in some ways, because it is such a foreign language with a different cadence, but it's the kind of thing where they are pantomiming a lot if artists who are a lot closer. And maybe it's the shininess of it, the newness of it, the way a reflection can more accurately describe the thing you're looking at, in some ways...
I also feel like there was confusion about the internet at that point, about how music would best be served. A lot of people were still fighting against the overall trends, the rivers that were going towards the big ocean of music culture. And now it's kind of solved, as funny as that sounds. It still doesn't seem like anybody is really making it work. It isn't like streaming is really working for people. There's still a ton of political behind-the-scenes stuff going on with payola, and who's making money and who's not, and the DJ Mag Top 100 is such a joke...but it still feels more solved than it did a few years ago.
TH: What do you think the prospects are for independent music and experimental music and political music over the next few years?
AD: I think it's tremendous. I just don't think it's necessarily going to hit a huge swathe of ears. I don't think it's necessarily going to be able to—this is a funny term—democratically exist. It's either going to exist with the sharp stick-end of a campaign by people who really do that thing— not a record label, but a media machine that can jab people with that stick—or it's going to be something holistic that wells up but isn't necessarily any one person. I don't see it as being a singular creative force, because it's so depreciated in our current machinations.
I've had situations in the past where I was sponsored by Scion or Blackberry or Apple or whatever, companies that really had huge resources to bear, but they had no ideas, so they would just throw money around at weirdos like myself (and many, many others), to see what would stick. And now these brand companies are much more savvy, and music is just a small part of it, with a few exceptions—you see some brands that really make music, sort of as a post they are leaning on. But it's really the exception rather than the rule nowadays.
From a political standpoint, that's the most interesting thing to me, because from the social aspect of music being depreciated, now not as many people are going to the local club just to have a night. Either there's a name of a person who you've known and you want to see playing at your local club, or you're staying at home watching as much Netflix as you can binge on. That seems like the dichotomy. The inertia is not to go out, ever. And then if you finally somehow get pushed out of that door, it's very controlled.
But one area I feel like is really dynamic right now is protest. I would say political music, but it's
more specifically protest music, protest sound. Because it's not only the political scene that I'm talking about, but it's also the existing systems.
Look at the rise of the analog Eurorack music scene, the modular electronic synthesizer scene. There is no reason that should be happening in 2017, that people are getting modular units and adding it together and making weirdo synth music—other than the fact that it's scarce, it's not easy to do, it's not replicable, you can't really record it properly, it has to exist in space, and it is like a rebellious moment. It feels rebellious right now.
TH: I don't know if you're familiar with this guy McKenzie Wark. He wrote the Hacker Manifesto. You know this?
AD: I try to keep my toes dipped in that space a little bit. My friends tell me things, and then I go try to check it out, and sometimes it's readily available, and other times it's weirdly not on the surface.
TH: Basically his extension of a hacker would go to a circuit bender. It would go to people who are hacking, but also circuit bending is part of that. Didn't you get started with circuit bending? Is that right?
AD: I did a lot of it. All my records have some amount of that, with some permanent bends, which is a little different—there are two kinds of circuit bending. There's the kind where you are trying to modify and adapt and mutate existing instruments to have new feature sets. And then there's the other kind of circuit bending where you are looking for aleatoric chance, things that will never happen again because the way the capacitors decide to work that day, because of the way your fingers have a certain amount of spit on them or not. Do you know what I mean?
I feel like the definition of hacker could include both, but there's the one kind of hacker who, through programming or modification, is subverting existing systems to do what they want, and the other kind of hacker who is looking into the crystal ball of electronics or devices or things, to get someplace that nobody would have thought to achieve.
I think it's really important to look at both, because in our society especially, we are going to weird places with things—musically and otherwise; this is including everything—and bringing something back from that. That's shedding some light on our current moment a lot.
TH: What do you think about our current moment, man? Two years ago, did you think we would have a fucking reality star for a president? A sexist racist fascist?
I travel a lot. I know you do too. I see all kinds of reality playing out. Some of it is a lot gentler. China is fucked. The so-called Communist regime is a really tough system of central control that is in everybody's lives constantly, and yet also when you go there—depending on the city they're living in, people are relatively out of touch with these grand decisions going into defense spending or weird limitations on their internet. They're not concerned about that. That isn't where their eyes are at. But you can still feel it touching every aspect. Maybe it's my perspective—the news media, the way things get covered; you can see it in a perspective but also see how skewed it is.
And it's much the same when you come back to the States. I always felt like we had our own skewing and such. But now, it is such a topsy-turvy through-the-looking-glass...and it's not just the top of the ticket. It's not just Trump or Drumpf or whatever. I don't like saying that dude's name. I don't like writing it down, I don't like saying it. It's kind of weird. It's like an allergic response or something.
TH: It's because he's pervaded every aspect of our lives already.
AD: I get dizzy and weak—it feels like an allergic response. My strength is sapped, my will and my resolve—especially right after the election, I was in such a malaise (and I'm sure many, many people were). Every time you have a political system that you're involved in or you feel some sort of involvement in—it's like any kind of contest or competition—you can have sore loser feelings, but this is so much deeper. The deceptions and the psychological response—it's not just this surface depression. It felt way deeper and it took me a lot longer for me to dig myself into a place...
Maybe I can tell you the way I've been coping with it and compare notes with you. For me, it went from being this broad idea of a group of humanity that I really still care about, but now I have about four or five people in my life that I feel like I need to look out for. That isn't totally disassociated from the larger politic, but I really feel like the person who's at my side is the person who I need to be looking after. Even if it's a stranger on a train, if they say some dumb shit I've got to call them out, and at least try to listen and hear them, but also speak to them if I really feel like there's some kind of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic—if I hear some direct, blatant shit, I've got to say something. But in terms of yelling into the internet, I'm not going to contribute positively to that environment.
So that's been my focus. That's felt therapeutic. That thing has felt therapeutic.
TH: For me, right when he got elected, I was like (of course this is a white guy saying this), okay, he's president now, he got what he wanted, maybe he's not going to do all the fucked up shit. He'll realize the limitations of power and he'll roll with the status quo. And there were these huge protests everywhere, and I was like, okay, at least people are going to fight back. But about a month and a half, two months in, it's like, fuck, man, everyday it's something else. It's so much egregious stuff. The Russia shit—I mean, talk about living in a sci-fi novel.
AD: Totally. All those silly films with the Russkies coming over the Arctic Circle to take us over...it's bananas. But on top of it, there's part of me (and this is the conspiratorial part of me—not InfoWars yet, but fuck, the fact that that's now part of our common parlance is just bananas)...if you look at Beckett and the absurdity that was talked about. It seemed like the only rational reaction to the World Wars was really weird electronic music and absurdity, dadaism, all these things. What else do you do? We're almost to the inverse of that, where absurdity now is used as a political tool of the ruling powers to make you not look anymore. Because every day there is a new absurd, crazy, real thing that, although factual, just makes you shake your head in this Etch-A- Sketch kind of way to get rid of it.
Have you ever been in an earthquake before? It's profound, because we have all this sensory apparatus that grounds us in earth; we have the idea of magnetic north, and our inner ear is constantly balancing us, and our eyes give us this idea of a level plane. So when you shake that even slightly, the mind goes, “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck,” and you get this moment of, “This is not happening.” And that's part of the reason why earthquakes feel so crazy, because all of your systems are going into alarm.
But this same kind of feeling is going on every day, and that button is being pushed so much. I'm trying to figure out if it's a concerted effort to do this, to make the world so absurd that we'll accept any plausibility. Part of the conspiracy is that the Russians have been doing these actions in a lot of different political systems that aren't directed towards electing one person or another, it's just about getting rid of facts. You can't make people believe one thing or another in this current age, but you can get rid of the possibility of a truth.
TH: Aside from all the people it's affected, Donald Trump's presidency has been an assault on truth itself. Steve Bannon is, like, a Leninist or something. Did you hear that? That he studied Lenin in his
early years? I don't know if Steve Bannon is really the one pulling the strings or if these are just tactics Trump learned in the boardroom, about assaulting other people's facts so that they're meaningless, and just repeating lies. And he never even responds to it. He's already lying about something else. He gets called out on one lie, and he's got three others. It's insane.
AD: I do believe that in this current challenging of factual reporting or factual statistics or data or all of these different things—that, again, the arts, the humanities, and music in particular is especially appropriate as a response, because it doesn't speak in direct terms, but it does speak to a deeper truth. It generally is playing on physiological and philosophical ideas that point towards a deeper truth. So maybe this would be a moment of extremely effective protest song and inspirational art that will really get to the essence of it, because everything else is just—as soon as you write the words down, like any kind of punishment, they start to lose their meaning. So maybe this is really an especially appropriate time for the humanities. This is definitely one thing that keeps me interested in pursuing that.
On the flipside, you have groups like Wikileaks which serve such an important role, and arguably this would be its time to shine. This should be the moment where Wikileaks and similar platforms should be speaking truth to power like they were always supposed to. I know this is partially spin— this is partly just the way the system has rocked us—but doesn't it feel like just the fact that Donald Trump hasn't come out condemning the recent leak against American intelligence operations...it's such a weird moment for these speaking-truth-to-power platforms.
TH: Truth and fact have been so attacked over the last few years, everything is relative on the internet now. Whereas sixty years ago, everybody was watching the same news. There were only six channels on TV. It was at least easier to make sense of things. But now that we have millions of sources, we have all this confirmation bias and filter-bubbles, and we literally only have to see the worldview that we want to see.
AD: Totally. Fifty-sixty years ago there were only six channels, and you could argue that there were a lot more racist people, and a lot more people who were not checking in. It seems like there's this trope right now of trying to understand “Trump's America”, and it's perceived-liberal media outlets taking a closer look at the “middle” of America, where “Trump's America” is, in the Ohios and the Michigans and these kinds of places, where the topsy-turvy politics are largely just gerrymandering, creating this Trump thing. I saw one recently where they were interviewing these people who said, “I don't really care about Russia. I don't know why they're treating Trump so bad.” People were saying such stupid shit. Why are we paying attention to people who just don't care?
But it also raised the question: why do I care? My voice doesn't matter. It is one of a lot of privilege in many, many ways. And I don't have that much to add to the soup. Why do I care?
Of course, I don't know. My heart beats, and I really appreciate the natural environment around us, and I want there to be people in the future who can appreciate those things, and I like the freedom of data that my music and output travels on, and I like the way I received that kind of data in the past, and I kind of want to see that continue and flourish. There are just so many different points where I feel like, “Wait, there is a lot of importance to this.” I just wish there were people out there who could help describe the framework of action who aren't so inherently political or politicized in nature.
Did you read that Shaun King piece that just came out today about the irrelevance of the Democratic Party? It's the usual refrain. You have these clear mandates from an upswelling of resistance and populism from a Democratically-leaning population, but that are not being addressed by this upper-echelon leadership, the 1% of the Democratic Party. A lot of it has to do
with corporate involvement and big interests that arguably are sloshing money around the whole political system, so I don't know about singling out the Democrats and making it seem like the Republicans are this or that. But it's like a rallying call for a new kind of party that does address more of what was being talked about in Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and these upswelling political movements that for some reason aren't exactly on the tips of the Democratic Party's tongues, even though it's kind of low-hanging fruit, it seems like. That should have been the shit that was all in the mix.
TH: The thing is with Trump is that Trump can get up there and be like, “I'm the racist boss you wish you had. I'm going to fix things for you.” But he's lying to them and telling them that he's going to bring their jobs back. The jobs aren't coming back. There aren't enough jobs. Even if he does bring the jobs back in ten years, robots are going to be doing that work in twenty, so forget about it.
AD: And everybody who is doing Uber and Lyft right now and whatever else in the gig economy...fuck.
This is kind of an aside, but I've been using a lot of robotic assistance in my musical life recently. I've been using robotic drums, and before that I was using some robotic assistance in a visual show. And I've been finding it so interesting, with so many creative places to go, with the precision and the mechanical nature of the stuff. But it does seem like the overarching concern, if we derive our existence and our purpose in life through work, and then that gets taken away, what is America going to do if you have to somehow look in a mirror and come up with something that gives your life meaning, when we've made a list of such commodities that just don't exist in any real, soul- filling fashion.
TH: What they've done is strip meaning from everyone's lives, and we've become consumers. This seems like an obvious thing to say. But the more time I spend gardening and growing food and producing food, all that shit is work. The community organizing I do, all this work I do, I don't get paid for any of it. But it's in many ways the most meaningful. These are the things we would do if we didn't have to work. If we would educate ourselves and educate each other and create systems of mutual aid...if we took away work as the central thing in our life, people would flourish.
That's why every day I'm on Twitter I see universal basic income tweets. I feel like that movement has gained a lot of steam in Europe, but I would love it if we just skipped over socialism in the States, and Bernie or whoever would run on UBI, and that's what people are demanding, because otherwise our society is just going to fucking fall apart into some crazy tech fiefdom with floating Amazon warehouses above our cities with drones delivering us shit. It's fucking weird, dude.
I get so much shit delivered through Amazon. I just have trucks pulling up all throughout the day. Like, oh, what's in this package? I don't even remember what I ordered. My mailman is always talking shit: “I'm so sick of delivering dog food to people.” And I'm like, “Motherfucker, you complain now, but there's going to be a drone doing your job in ten years.”
AD: I totally agree. And I feel like there needs to be a distinction made between work for money and work for social good. They all have their value, and the value system is really skewed right now.
I really like the basic income idea as well. I know Scandinavian countries have been trying it for a minute. I just don't know if it can exist in the purely economic form, if it needs some basis in a mineral resources or something—if it can just be informational value with an invented economy...I've heard different arguments, and it's tough. The idea of inflation and greed in the system...
A few years ago, every time I met an economist or an accountant or anyone who handled money in any kind of real way, I always wanted them to explain systems to me, because it seems so invented.
There's a Nobel Prize for economics. Somebody out there is getting a big hunk of metal around their neck every year in this field that is really important but also totally imaginary. And the basic principles of it are sometimes grounded in such incredible racism or sexism, it's crazy.
TH: It's capitalism.
AD: Dammit. So here's the thing. I love coffee. I adore the high I get, but even more the taste, and the culture. It's this natural resource that takes some really specific space to grow. It doesn't like a lot of variation in its environment, but it flourishes in these small bands between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. It just happens.
And you can have these farmers using these practices to make this amazing bean, essentially, this amazing fruit, and then if it doesn't get dried properly it fucks it all up. The whole thing falls apart. Then if you have this other group of people who get together and they process and move the fruit properly, then you get this grain pit of the fruit that goes through a roaster, and if the roaster does a bad job, it's game over. But if the roaster really takes the time to consider the grain product in their hand and they really go through the process and they treat it right with the cooling and heating and storing and everything, then it goes to the barista. And then the barista can fuck it up.
Every part of this chain is this amazing confluence of economic scale that creates this thing that I can buy for way too much money, with way too much privilege, and then enjoy for literally ten seconds. It can be super transformative, and I can speak on all the ways that I love it, but also, never throughout the course of human history were we able to get to this kind of precision on this wild, neverending group of factors that could mess up at any point and ruin everything, shake the baby to death.
It's crazy that at the end of that chain you can get this beautiful cup of coffee. I marvel at that. We get all this kind of stuff, and it's only because of this ridiculous economics that it's possible.
TH: Speaking of artisanal shit, do you ever go to that place on Sunset Boulevard in LA? I've ordered a bunch of shit from there. I can't get spices from anywhere but there. That's where these top chef motherfuckers are shopping. But I don't know. Just to play the devil's advocate, I would say that if you remove the economic incentive today, people would still find a way to achieve all of those steps. Because people would still want amazing coffee.
AD: I partially agree. I think people would desire it. But I also think there is another factor of people not caring. And a lot of people get their coffee that's way expensive and immediately hit it with some milk that isn't necessarily super considered, or they throw their Splenda in there, and it just tastes like milk or Splenda, you know what I mean? And it has to do with education and people's pallets and it's all very subjective.
And it's the same thing with music. People will go out and buy these lossless formats and then listen to it through Beats by Dre. And then on the flipside you have people with their super hifi systems and they're listening to music that was recorded with fidelity that was ridiculously low. But their ears are gilded with gold, so to speak, so even the shittiest sound is somehow supposed to be gussied up by these fancy speakers.
And all of this is to say that I feel like we're—whether devil's advocate or not, we are just in a tough moment of discerning...there's no consensus. We're kind of at a weird precipice.
Are you familiar with the term tipping point? In the artistic fashion? In most art forms—especially temporal art forms, like music or poetry, but it happened in the visual arts too—you have a moment in the scheme where the artist will take an extra amount of time, typically, or an extra bit of emphasis to show an emotional depth. This is especially effective, in the arts, to have these kinds of “push moments” where there's a little bit more ask of the audience, basically. And that ask
then has a reward, and it's almost a virtuosity being displayed by the artist to know when the time is to push that button.
And you could argue that the same thing is true in the consumer world, in a way. That there are these moments of challenge that then is released, that should have some of the same relevance, but it's like—yeah, we've stripped all that. We don't have tipping points anymore. We don't have people waiting for their meal and then being satiated by it. You're expected to have it immediately from the drone in the sky.
TH: That's how people are experiencing news and music and everything now.
I keep going back to it, but it's just such a weird postmodern time that we're in. When I was kid thinking about the year 2000 I figured it would be working four hours a day, and then 2010 hit and it was like, you know what? Nothing's really changed. Everything is the same. All we have is phones. But now, I was reading the Wikileaks thing and they're trying to hack into computerized cars to crash them. Oh, okay. There are megamillionaires trying to go to Mars. Corporations are going to be on Mars before states will, and that's crazy.
Would you go to Mars?
AD: No. I love the idea of exploration, and I can safely say that I've done a lot of that in myself— psychedelics and otherwise—around some of these deeper questions I had as a kid that never were solved but I asked aloud of myself...but I would sooner go to the bottom of the ocean than I would go to Mars. There's so much about the world that we live in that we have rarely explored. Again with the same factors of very limited engagement, I do feel like if people went to the bottom of the ocean, they would have a lot more sympathy and compassion for the bottom of the ocean. And I don't see why we're spending all this money to try to go to outer space, besides the fact that it's obviously a lot of novelty and promise and potential, and it would be great so that we wouldn't have one calamitous event on Earth and lose the entire population. It'd be great. But I just don't understand why we're not going down and we're always going up.
TH: Duh, man. It's because the Earth is hollow.
I have actual literal flat-earthers on my Twitter timeline, and I'll make a joke like, “More NASA propaganda! They're showing Earth as a circle!” And people will be like, “Oh, man, I'm so glad you're woke.” Not to keep talking about this stuff, but it's fucking crazy and hilarious to me that in 2017 people would be arguing that the world is flat. If that's not a metaphor for Donald Trump's presidency, I don't know what is.
AD: I think it's a very interesting problem, but also a really unique opportunity. I do find it really interesting: these people are supposedly really hungry for the truth and really feeling like they need to be part of the detective squad, the other Sherlocks. It's kind of cool that people feel so much purpose in this way, but they seem to be so tin-eared about facts. And not to say that one set of facts from a national agency should be totally trusted, but this idea that somehow they are privileged to some truth that they heard randomly somewhere—they seem like they heard it off a mountain, off some tablets, and that's the ultimate end-all be-all and somebody else's tablets that came off a very similar mountain don't have any relevance.
TH: That's like an identity thing. It's like, my identity is linked to this brand new information I have. No one is more annoying than the newly converted. “I have the only truth and everyone else is wrong.”
AD: I just wish these people would wear more cultish robes. They should commit. I'm saying this jokingly, but I kind of mean it truthfully. I kind of want people to go all the way if they're going to go there. But they just have one crazy theory about chemtrails, and then everything else can be
somehow normal in the world, but they're just like yeah, chemtrails. Come on. Go all the way. TH: Wear a tinfoil hit. Wear your bathrobe out.
AD: My dad wears a bathrobe all the time. It's great. It's fashionable. He's kind of crazy. It works. Maybe we're all in that space.
So here's a question. I don't remember the term for it, but there is a concept that the future can't exist until it's written about by sci-fi writers, that until something appears on Star Trek it won't really be invented. It's kind of an imagination thing. If there's a simultaneous invention that happens in the world it's because of technological pressures that have been shown. There is a kind of zeitgeist about the physical problems or commercial issues that then breed solutions that take a form that generally seems to correspond to “science fiction,” even if it's things like inventing teleportation. Which seems so futuristic and science-fiction-y in Star Trek but is now actually being developed. People are part of this because it was dreamed up by somebody. So why aren't we hiring teams of writers to just write the craziest timelines to get us there?
TH: Maybe we are and we just haven't read them yet. As you were saying that, I was thinking about why it's so important to expand your political imagination. If that's true, if all of these technological ideas are like a stream rippling through the eons that eventually become real, it's like The Secret on a civilization-wide scale. Maybe by creating a more radical imagination we really can have, a thousand years from now, people living in a world that we are imagining now. Marx or Adam Smith—when Adam Smith was writing, I don't think he thought, oh, this is the way it's going to be forever. Or even the Bible.
AD: I don't think it has to take a thousand years. There has to be some structure that makes it happen way faster than people imagine. Because again, these books are set in the distant future, but this stuff comes way faster. There's something about that.
But I do agree with you about the political systems thing. Just for instance, the third party thing is always shut down. It's always like, “Nope, not going to happen. We live in a two-party system.” And if ever somebody could really change our imagination to think more parliamentarian, I think it would happen in a second. We have way too many different camps for it not to happen quick.
I mean, it obviously serves its purpose right now, but I think the nuance that's going on makes it seem obvious—we don't have Whigs anymore, but we have a thousand other things that could easily be in that place.
TH: Yeah. I mean, David Graeber has this speech on bureaucracy and technology, and he really looks at the form of governance that the United States uses, and so much of it was based around a time where it would take a pigeon two months to make it across the country, when we were limited by railroads.
AD: We went a long time without a nationwide-spanning railroad. We went a long time with horses that could only go so far.
TH: Do you read graphic novels or science fiction?
AD: I used to read a lot of them, but I'm also dyslexic, so I've always had a hard time. Especially the harder science fiction, I love it. Your Larry Nivens and these kinds of people, I like that stuff. It just takes me a long time to piece through it. I like graphic novels, it's sometimes easier, but it depends on the writer. Some people just have so much text that it really makes my eyes jump around a ton.
TH: Somebody just gave me this Pax Romana graphic novel. Are you familiar with this? It's fucking awesome, man. I never read this shit, but it's like, the civilization has gone to shit and all that remains is the Roman Church and they send people back in time to take over the world before
Mohammed is born. Of course it's born of psychotic Christian Eurocentric fantasies, but they go back there with nuclear weapons and drones and create an army of god. It was a fun read.
Let me ask you some more music questions, actually. Do you still run a record label?
AD: Yeah. I would call it more of an imprint than a record label, though it functions to do a lot of the normal label stuff. The mandate of the record label initially was initially to be a platform for artists to overcome the catch-22 of the music industry, which is: if you don't have a release, you're not going to get attention, and you're not going to be considered by record labels, and so you have to have a release to get attention, essentially. The label functioned as being a lot of artists' first release, the place where they could put a stick in the ground and then hopefully grow the seeds that they planted in that earth out into other spaces. I feel really good about that. Over time, now, I've had a few artists who have released multiple times on the label, and it's been a platform to release older music, some overview stuff of my own as well as others'. But it isn't this kind of thing to yell from the rooftops, or a movement, it's just been a little platform for these kinds of artists in the past.
TH: I was looking at it and going back and listening to some interviews you did where you talked about it. I started a record label a couple years ago. And I mean honestly I'm probably just going to shut it down this year, or close its doors for a while, just because of having a kid and there's so much shit going on, I just can't give it what it needs. But one of the main reasons that I started the label is because I felt like blogs and things—you know, there's no John Peel in 2017. And all the old ways that people were discovering music have disappeared...there were these things that mattered, that if they happened it could set off a chain of events for people. And those milestones don't really exist any more. I feel like that is the function of record labels, now. Even on a small boutique imprint...my question is, do you feel like record labels are replacing blogs and publications? Like they're this other filter, a source of discovery that's almost more important than anything else today?
AD: Yes and no. I think they did function like that about ten years ago. And then over time it became the curation of a few people who did some festival circuits. A while ago Pitchfork ceased being a really critical publication and more of a series of lifestyle choices. And then you had some labels that really represent (and you still have this on occasion) an idea, and that's potent enough to keep their existence. But largely they function as tax shells so you can have loss-leaders and some way of communicating a release, but really most labels just function as P&D deals for publishing houses to license music to movies, television, and radio, essentially.
That's how the larger indies hold on, is through these licensing deals. The people who have taken over the role that you're speaking about, I really feel, are collectives nowadays. There are a lot of collectives—be it focused, usually, around a genre or sometimes more focused around a location— that become the figureheads of their individual pocket of scene and transmit their culture in a way that seems authentic and people like. Look at Teklife—which has a label aspect, but really it's a loose collection of people who are all under the banner of this Juke scene. Or Soulection, with their party sound, and they have tons of nights all over the world that are just selection nights, but you never know which DJs you're going to catch from the crew; they have some bigger-name people in the crew, but really it's just a sound that's really the modern party sound. And similarly with TeamSupreme and Brainfeeder—I mean, I'm kind of quoting off things that might be a little more underground than your listenership knows about, or is kind of specific, but this is really where that curation is happening, where you have people blanket-wise just ascribing themselves to one of these collectives, rather than a label.
TH: Huh. I guess that is true. Of course Hellfire Club comes to mind. I was very excited about Hellfire Club when that was going on. It made me want to live in LA.
AD: And there are exciting outgrowths. Even though Hellfire Club fell apart, there are still exciting outgrowths that are emanating from that. But you see that one moment where you have this supergroup feeling where people could really get behind it and were excited and could pour their energies into something. You could feel it. It emanates, and it's still rippling. I feel like that's one of the reasons why it has such powerful sustain. And I also think there's a collectivism in a lot of people coming together, that friction of different voices together, rather than having one main A&R or one blog writer. That was never sustainable. You always see through the facade of the one- person perspective. It never seems to work.
You have these great runs. And even Peel had his ups and downs. But part of the reason why he was so abundant is because he had so many different outgrowths. He had his radio show and his critical writing. And it's interesting: it was a different time period, too, obviously, kind of a slower time (think of Cream magazine being all just that one dude), just a different way. But I feel like we desperately need more critical vision in our art structures. If it's another group of fifteen-year-olds who get together and make a crazy sound, that's fine, but if there's no knowledge of history or no knowledge of trajectory, they all seem to tear each other apart and go away rather than figure out how to sustain.
TH: I don't have any experiences in my life that sound anything like you're describing, so I don't know what you're talking about...
I'm writing a book right now about hip-hop and radical politics, and I keep thinking about Project Blowed and I keep wanting to ask people in LA what the impact of that scene was and how it influenced you.
AD: I can tell you when I was really young, when I was in high school in the early nineties, the Blowed, or Freestyle Fellowship and those kinds of things—everybody knew the surface of what was going on in gangsta rap, especially in '92 when half the kids were all grunged out and the other half of kids were all gangsta rap, and it was starting to hit the airwaves in LA, and then you had LA hip-hop radio going from a dance mix of freestyle music from Miami and some Information Society, like, weird electro EDM music, industrial music that was going on—to full-on gangsta rap. That was this new sound that had older roots, but for the airwaves, you had people going deeper on the culture and going to the world stage, going to the Blowed, wherever it was being held, specifically the Good Life, and getting tapes from people who would dismiss you, would rip you off —you'd go up there and you'd be lucky to walk away with the thing you were trying to get. But it was this whole level of depth that you could go, which I know was not happening in a lot of other cities. You might be hearing music, but to actually go talk to the people who are making it go, witness them in person, and get the bug, and really feel like there's something really amazing happening, like there's a movement happening, that's special.
But then on top of it: the riots. The LA riots happened in '92. Rodney King. And I mean, that lit fires in people that both tore apart a lot of the scene and caused a lot of friction in this way where the places you went were kind of dangerous, or perceived as dangerous to go...it became a very palpable danger. For years after that, I remember there were clubs that you were warned about.
And that's part of the reason I feel like I did rave music. Because I think every kid wants to inhabit that danger, and LA had an amazing underground warehouse scene that at times played right there with all the LA underground hip-hop. You would catch those same names MCing for jungle artists, or being present in the club scene as much as they were at the Good Life. It's like, there was enough confusion that you could see the bleed between the things way before it happened in the overground worlds of electronic and hip-hop coming together.
TH: You're talking about Peace, and Myka 9 and shit, right? Is that who you mean?
AD: The core Blowedians for sure, but also look at Global Phlowtations. They were taking chances with their beats in the mid- to late nineties that were crazy. Thavius Beck is born of that, and Satchel Page. There are a lot of interesting voices. And they actually had female MCs in a real way —not to depreciate the other people in project Blowed that were doing the same, but...
You know, when I first started touring, in the early aughts, I would go to places like Japan or Europe, and every once in a while I would trip over these stores that were just selling west coast hip-hop. Amazing, right? And I would go in there, and I'd ask, “Where's the LA hip-hop section?” and it's like, no, the store was all an LA hip-hop section. I learned more about what was going on in my own city through places like that. There was one particular one in either Sweden or Norway (one of the Scandie countries, I don't remember which one unfortunately, it's been a long time) that was so dedicated to the culture, and they had all these obscure side projects and shit. It's like, what are you talking about? These people have only one record out, had these one-off tape side projects, and they'd exist in these other places in these other countries, and I never would have found out about it in LA because it was just such a hidden culture that you weren't supposed to go out and engage with. It's tremendous.
TH: I totally forgot about all that shit. In the Bay, too, you'd go to Amoeba Music, and sell five hundred CDRs. Amoeba Music paid my rent for the first two years of my music career. It's so crazy. It's things like that that I think about a lot, and this is one of the questions I had for you. How has the way you work changed over the fifteen years that you've been a full-time musician?
AD: I mean, in some ways it's remained doggedly the same. I'll have a notion, and follow that notion down a winding path, and that will either yield a project that comes out commercially or, often, yields some sort of results that then coalesce into a record. And somehow I've been doing that this whole time. I've released seventeen collections of music that count as full-lengths, and that becomes this thing that somehow has gone on this long, for these past fifteen years.
But then at the same time, technologically it's shifted so much, from being all hardware—no computer in the very beginning, creating everything with samplers and synthesizers—to hybrid forms of that. As sample times have changed, as the hardware has become more possible, in some ways, getting away from samplers with their long sample times (because that provided too many choices), going down to the circuit-bent, going down to the acoustic. I did a series of records a few years ago that were totally...it's almost like every good idea I've had, I've had to abandon because I don't know how to do that idea again. Do you know what I mean?
And I know management and labels would love it if I could sustain the attention span to really do something long enough to make it actually truly good, rather than fidget. But that isn't my job. I kind of realized a while ago, my job isn't to make a lot of money. My job isn't to make great music. It's to bring my sense of wonder that I've always felt towards music and show it to other people. That's probably my highest aspiration at this point.
TH: You're a tinkerer, man. I feel like what you're describing also is—have you ever seen Dosh play live? It's the same kind of thing. I feel like when I'm watching you or when I'm watching Dosh, I'm watching someone just playing in their bedroom. That's where I'm at with music right now. Man, I just don't want to play a show unless it feels like I'm tinkering in my bedroom, so I have to reimagine what my live show is, and incorporate more live PA into that, and it's so...when you're rapping, it's such a challenge to figure out how you can really rap and then have all these moving parts and shit that's organic and live.
AD: I may say—I know you're a thinker. I know you're a deep thinker, but I also know you have a lot of really important things to say. And I feel like this is the kind of perspective that I wish I had other people telling me...but I think at a certain age, past a certain point, people stop giving you critique
and they start to just assume that you're ever-prevalent, and this is just the thing, and it's set. But I feel like, for yourself, when I've caught you, it's always really vital to hear what you have to say. I feel that way honestly. And I understand the idea of building in mechanisms that keep you feeling interested, and keep you feeling like you're doing the work in this way, but I feel like you need to exist because there aren't that many people saying things that are of importance. Or they're not speaking their truth in a way that is including mine, do you know what I mean?
There's a lot of political music out there that is important, and has a lot to say. I really like where clipping. is at right now, for instance. I dig it. But I also feel like they're skipping a lot of harder truths that are won through a deeper examination of the direct political scene. I love the metaphor, and I love the approach. And I think it's super important what they're doing as well, but it's just very different. There aren't many Public Enemy's right now. If any.
TH: I hear that. It's fucked up there's not enough Public Enemy's right now, really.
AD: I like reading about music, both the psychology and the physics of, and also the history of. And those 33-1/3 books can be kind of hit and miss. But the one on Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad production around It Takes a Nation of Millions is phenomenal. It's amazing.
Do you know the 33-1/3 series? It's a series of creative writing. Some of it's very factual, and some of it's very personal narrative. And they always deal with a specific album. My favorites always tend to be the ones that really talk about the creation of or the history of the hard, on the ground facts of a certain record. And usually really classic albums get the treatment.
TH: I'm trying to learn a lot of back story to shit like that right now.
AD: It's a perfect one to dive into, and it really talks about the moment that birthed that record, but also that birthed Public Enemy. It's great. It's one of the ones I really recommend. The Bomb Squad—this is one of those experiences for me where it's like, okay, Public Enemy had a lot to say, but the onomatopoeia with the way they said it, the words they said it with but also the music...this book does a really good job talking about things like the fact there was a horn stab on every single beat in some of their songs. You know? It underlines not only the message, but the message underlines the music. It's perfect. There are a lot of groups out there that have a heavy sound, and they don't necessarily say very much. And the rare groups who have both, I think. I dig death metal groups, sometimes, it's not my favorite thing in the world, but man, the music sounds like those words, and those words sound like that music, and I have to tip my hat at that. I feel like Public Enemy did it really well, as well. The Bomb Squad did it really well.
TH: That's one of the things I'm thinking about. The form was revolutionary in the way that it carried the message. It was a very experimental music. I remember listening to that with my mom. And she was like, “This is fucking terrible.” My dad was like, “Shut this off! This is the worst shit!” The same way that punk music was jarring to people's ears.
So when I'm home just twiddling with loop pedals and shit, I try to think, like, what is that different format today?
AD: It's a great mandate you can give to younger producers who don't usually have the perspective of what they want to say, they're just trying to figure out how to even be in the space. But sometimes if you have the message you want to end with before you have any of the notes, it can help determine those notes real fast.
TH: When you listen to the way they imagine experimental music on TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, it's always some hybrid between noise and techno and cut-up shit. Today it would just be a bunch of Windows dings and the sound of a fucking Mac shutting off.
AD: Are we talking about Vaporwave?
TH: You haven't switched over yet? Or is it too late? Is that over?
AD: It's over and it'll never be over. But yeah, I mean—I think that's a weird moment that we're in that won't ever stop now. All popular music is Vaporwave now. For a long time, I used to consider popular music to be kind of a mash-up culture, where unless you had one popular thing rubbing up against another popular thing, it wouldn't produce the phenomenon known as popular music. But now we're through the looking glass, and now you just have to have a taste of that thing. And it doesn't matter if the thing doesn't live in a serious space. It's better if it lives in a frumpy, humorous, tongue-and-cheek thing, because then you never have to actually commit.
TH: It seems like it's a relative of Witch House. But Witch House was actually dope, I felt like.
AD: Did it ever really even exist? Was it an easy journalistic term for just a passing chord? I liked a lot of the music that was going on in that space, too, and I feel like the “Ethereal & B,” the ethereal R&B that's going on now, you could point towards a lot of artists who are basically making a version of Witch House, but it has different DNA. It goes to the same place.
TH: I've never heard of ethereal R&B, I'll check it out.
AD: There's quite a bit of music in that vein, and you could argue that even Mumble Rap goes there too, sometimes, stuff that's a little bit more—oh god, my head is full of names, and they rarely come out at the right moment. The stuff I'm really feeling, I love the way that tempo has come back in a lot of music, and that chop has come back into rap. You have a lot of rappers now who can actually chop. There's a little more going on than just some catchphrases. I was really tired of that trend before it even set in.
TH: I love the new rap music. I mean, Future. He's such an experimental artist.
AD: Especially that new record. God, it goes places. You should check it out. You've head OG Maco before, right? Some of his—I don't know if you want to call them hits, but his more overground cuts, and his weird deeper-in-the-record cuts are weird as fuck. It's great. Even someone like Post Malone, which is again super-surface, he does stuff with Justin Bieber...but it comes out super strange sometimes. It has some weird blue-eyed soul to it, but then it does something.
TH: Usually before I go I ask if there are any books or anything that you'd recommend to people.
AD: I wish I read more. Dang, I am such an illiterate fool. Maybe I can encourage people, instead of imbibing the outside world, which is very relevant, but just from my perspective if more people took pen to paper and tried their hand at poetry, even the rappers out there who are used to scribbling verses, even the people who maybe keep a journal but try to have a bigger impact with fewer words...that exercise is something I engage in, still to this day. And there is relevance. There is something to be said with your personal voice. Word choice, thinking about what comes next. I'm a musician. I should know nothing about this. I'm largely illiterate. And I feel like it is an incredibly meditative practice. What's the next word? What's that next thing?
So maybe my answer is a reversal of your question.
TH: That's what keeps me from going crazy. Alright Alfred. Thank you for taking the time. AD: Equally! Tell me when this goes live, I can't wait to crow about it.