If you don’t know about Karol Radziszewski’s <i>Dik Fagazine</i>, you should

Born in Białystok in 1980, Karol Radziszewski studied painting at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and is a co-founder of the art collective Szu Szu together with Ivo Nikic and Piotr Kopik. He is also the editor-in-chief and publisher of the DIK Fagazine, billed as “the first and the only artistic magazine from Central and Eastern Europe concentrated on homosexuality and masculinity.” In this monologue, which originally featured in the summer issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, Radziszewski discusses his landmark publication and what it means for queer Poland. Original interview conducted by Louise Brailey and A. J. Samuels.

 

Homosexuality in Poland is a heated issue. The country is very conservative, with more than ninety percent of Poles declaring they’re Catholic. Every Sunday, the priests in the churches teach that gay people are devils, which influences the political situation. In 2005 there was even a proposition preventing gay people from being school teachers. It was then that I decided that I had to do something, so I started DIK Fagazine, which is the only artistic magazine from Central and Eastern Europe concentrated on homosexuality and masculinity. When I founded the magazine, I was already interested in the idea of artists working in the public spaces, through interventions and so on, because I’d co-founded a guerrilla artist group called Szu Szu as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. The idea was that we wanted to take art out of Warsaw’s galleries and into the city so we made a lot of  actions and exhibitions in a surprising places. DIK Fagazine started small and grew; in the last issue we traveled around Eastern Europe covering different themes relating to gay life before the fall of communism: you have cruising areas described from the Serbian perspective, gay beaches in Estonia, the first gay zine from Gdansk. The same year that I started the magazine I staged the first openly gay exhibition in a private flat in Warsaw, a manifesto of sorts. I made prints, photographs, wallpapers, murals, videos, the magazine, just so it was done. I could move with more sophisticated issues, not just related to basic topics surrounding what it means to be gay. However, society has changed in the ten years since I started DIK Fagazine, but there’s still a lot of homophobia. In the beginning, I couldn’t find any gay photographers, so I asked straight photographers to take the pictures. It was funny to watch the straight guys in Poland trying to work out how a gay photo session should look. Sometimes my projects were too provocative for the gay community, even. People thought I was portraying a bad image, so there were times when I was against both the conservatives and the gay community.

 

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A part of the remaining Dik Fagazine archive, bought from bookstores in the wake of the studio fire.

Last year, my studio burnt down and everything was destroyed: my paintings, my work and very sadly, my entire DIK Fagazine archive. I only have these copies because I went around and got them back from the bookstores. Nobody knows what happened but there are rumors that there was a real estate developer. Some of my friends thought it was because of my work but I didn’t think that way, still, it really made me realise what people thought about the situation! I get a lot of emails of course, my last video piece is me reading the letter from a guy praying for me. What’s more, Poland is very sex-phobic—we haven’t had the sexual revolution here. I still find it hard to get a model to be naked for the photographs. Adding queer issues on top of that? We just had a long discussion in the Polish parliament about the notion of “gender”. It’s crazy, they’re manipulating the words so “gender” issues pop up in relation to, say, pedophilia and the sexualization of children. As for the Fagazine, I always saw the word “queer” connected almost only with university studies, and that’s why I use the Polish words. Words like “Pedal”, which is very offensive, like “faggot”. We’re trying to provoke; to put queer politics into practice.

 

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A Dik Fagazine football flag hangs in Karol Radziszewski’s new Warsaw studio.

Some people ask me if there’s a common experience between those who grew up under communism. I was born in 1980 and I actually think that the beginning of capitalism is a much more significant experience for my generation. The way that people started to believe in capitalism influenced everybody so much that we’ve lost the ability to think about it critically. It’s influenced everything: the fashion, the clubs, the cafes. Young people dress quite fancy in Warsaw but not because they want to express themselves. Rather, there’s a pressure that they have to show off. Five years ago, we had Europride gay parade here, and that was a crucial moment for me, because it made me realize there was no queer underground. Europride is a kind of gay pride colonization that’s supposed to bring the rainbow flag from Western countries to Poland. Suddenly the parties were just for gay men, and the tickets were super expensive. The main conference was about pink money—the purchasing power of the exclusive gay community. So we said, “Fuck off!” A group of us gathered in my flat, queer people from left to right, and we came up with the idea of creating an independent festival called Pomada. We put on one of the first parties which was totally fifty-fifty girls and boys and more than a thousand people came. In June will be the fifth edition. The central idea is that all of the organizers who work in art, music and culture would put our own money into it so that it would be completely DIY. Ultimately, this is really what we are trying to do: to push young people in Warsaw to just do it themselves. ~

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MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser reviews Ramona Lisa’s “Arcadia”

Ben Goldwasser is a founding member of American psych-poppers MGMT along with singer and lyricist Andrew VanWyngarden. Based in New York City, the group’s most recent self-titled album was released in September 2013 and featured prominently in our cover story from the same time. This is his first review for Electronic Beats Magazine. 

 

I first met Caroline Polachek, aka Ramona Lisa, through Craigslist, of all places. In 2006, during the writing process for Oracular Spectacular, Andrew and I were searching for a practice space to flesh out ideas. Caroline and her band Chairlift posted an ad on Craigslist, looking for another band to share their room. We all became friends quickly and found that we had a lot of overlap in our musical tastes and a mutual desire to fuse pop music with more esoteric elements. On Arcadia, her first solo record, Caroline has accomplished this and more.

A little over a year ago, a friend invited me to a secret performance of Caroline’s new music. I had no idea that she had recorded an entire album of her own material, and while she may have been nervous to share her project with the world for the first time, I was struck by how the performance presented something fully formed, as though she had been hard at work creating her own universe. Accompanied by haunting videos and choreography, the music seemed unapologetically new but at the same time it was hard to imagine that it had only just been written. The fact that most of it had been produced on a laptop while on tour made it all the more impressive to me, given that that process can be really tedious. Unlike most music produced “in the box”, which lacks depth or falls too heavily on repetitive loops, Arcadia sounds rich and meticulously arranged and is constantly taking unexpected directions.

There’s a great interview with Angelo Badalamenti where he describes how he composed the musical themes for Twin Peaks. While sitting at a Fender Rhodes trying out ideas, David Lynch guided him through the various images and moods of the show. I can imagine a similar visual approach to writing music when I listen to Arcadia.  While most of the songs on the album stand well on their own, such as “Backwards and Upwards”, which is an outright jam, the entire album seems to guide you through a tangible fantasy world.

There’s a great blend of old and new on Arcadia. I’m constantly reminded of other music that I like (for instance, I was tricked into thinking that I was listening to OMD at one point when “Avenues” came on when my phone was playing music on shuffle), but there’s always a novel sonic element or juxtaposition of styles that keeps the music from venturing too far into pastiche.  It doesn’t hurt that her voice is a striking, singular instrument that she is in excellent command of.

This is the kind of album that takes you by surprise. It doesn’t seem to come from any scene in particular, but it could easily further the opportunity for music to be accepted as “pop” while retaining a feeling of experimentation that goes beyond just adopting whatever flavor-of-the-month production tricks happen to be in vogue. Maybe most impressive is that through Arcadia’s strangeness and familiarity, it conveys real human emotion, and what kind of music does that these days? ~

 

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 38 (2, 2014). You can purchase the new issue, and back issues, in the EB Shop.

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Heatsick’s Tour Diary

Above, clockwise: Patrick Cowley’s School Daze (Dark Entries); Black James’ im A mirAcle (FarFetched); John Barry’s original soundtrack to the 1965 James Bond flick Thunderball.

Heatsick, aka Steven Warwick, is a British musician and visual artist based in Berlin. His work encompasses technology, hybridization, performance, sculpture and film. He is a regular contributor to Electronic Beats. Here he recaps the music he heard on his recent world tour and what it says about the power of music in its relation to location and memory.

 

I have just returned from a five-month tour around the world. To say I have been feeling displaced is a massive understatement. Being in so many non-places such as airports and without a home, I really started to drift. And I learned to love it. However, the longer I was without a fixed location, the more recordings and books I amassed. Perhaps this is a psychological need to root down to something. Either way, I became fascinated with the power of music in its relation to location and memory. This first happened when I was on a stopgap stay in London over winter at a party of a friend of my partner’s. “Do you like John Barry?” I was asked by another partygoer. “Well, yes, I like his Bond soundtracks, but I’ve never really sat down and listened to them.” Cue a Bond soundtrack! Maybe it was the prosecco and the serendipity of it all, but I was thrown back into watching a forgotten Bond film, with a flashback more intense than any I’ve ever encountered, each note triggering more cinematic details. I felt I realized the power of soundtracks—their subliminal effect on cinematic memory and how deeply embedded in one’s consciousness they can become. I couldn’t recall the soundtrack name, but I distinctly remembered one song, its woozy flutes and eerily hypnotic scale snake charming my mind. I had to hunt it down. After several failed YouTube attempts, I decided to instead watch every Bond film until I found said piece of music. After three movies, I found it on Thunderball, Bond’s fourth. The track in question was “The Bomb”, which played over and over again my mind. After that, I watched as many Bond films as I could before I got bored. I got to Live and Let Die. I was reminded of the sheer ideological overload of cold war paranoia, the transparent sexism and racism on view. I wanted to rewatch with adult eyes, my anchor to childhood in an otherwise strange drift, which was to last for many months of my tour.

After that, I was off to America for a month, basing myself in L.A. but traveling all over for six weeks. A city without a center, L.A. was the perfect environment to reside in. Driving around the city with a friend, we listened to so much music and eventually realized just how much time we spent in a car. Indeed the car for me was a home itself, with its own ecology and lifestyle built around it. I found out that cassettes are still currency in the U.S., and in several cities they were placed in my hand. In St. Louis, I had the fortune to play with Black James, a bizarre all-girl project best described as GRM style tape collage of popular song, with homothug girls voguing and projecting webcams onto multi-video channels in the background. It was one of the most baffling things I saw and I wondered how it would translate onto recordings. Actually, the image proved impossible to shake, as I am stuck with this memory no matter what I hear on their cassette.

In Philadelphia I was given tapes by self-styled American rager M ax Noi Mach, most of which were somewhere between power electronics, ghetto tech and state of the world addresses. In San Francisco I was given several records from the Dark Entries label, including the School Daze soundtrack by Patrick Cowley, San Francisco’s legendary Hi-NRG disco producer, who made classics with Sylvester and a notoriously psychedelic remix of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. The Cowley record was a lo-fi soundtrack made for a gay porn flick, but the music is quite different to the bombastic Hi-NRG productions he’s known for and what I would have expected. These tracks are a lot more experimental and introspective, showcasing another side of Cowley that I greatly endorse. This record also started to soundtrack my own journey around America in the opposite way to the Bond, in that I was listening to the music having not seen the film and trying to imagine how it would work together. I was reminded of the Fred Halsted film LA Plays Itself, which is part porn, part social critique of the changing state of Los Angeles and soundtracked with bizarre tape collage music. Which is to say that it is completely at odds with the desired effect to arouse.

But back to Cowley: A track that I became particularly fond of is “Mocking Bird Dream”, with its dissolving liquid synths and delicate circular melodies. I DJ’d it in the Tenderloin district in a record store which was very close to a series of apartments that rehouse struggling addicts. They were milling around and when I played Cowley a bunch of them ran inside screaming in recognition and starting partying hard. Afterwards my friends took me to legendary dive bar Aunt Charlie’s where they played wall-to-wall Hi-NRG. The crowd was mostly drag queens and cell phones were banned. Oh, and whiskey was four dollars. I was home. ~

 

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 38 (2, 2014). You can purchase the new issue, and back issues, in the EB Shop.

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Interview: RZA

Above: RZA, photographed in Malibu by Luci Lux. Wardrobe and styling by Niko Solorio.

The chief musical mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan known as RZA recently challenged editor-in-chief Max Dax to a game of chess. Needless to say, it wasn’t even close. During the match, the Staten Island native was keen on discussing his various other battles—including a directorial debut, creative control of the Wu and issues of copyright ownership. While fighting on various fronts, the fate of the new, unreleased Wu-Tang album has remained a looming question mark. Here’s why.

 

RZA, the US is currently witnessing a real boom in terms of electronic music. You are best known for your work with the Wu-Tang Clan, but recently you’ve also ventured into the world of crossover and more experimental hip-hop with your collaboration, Achozen, together with Killarmy and Shavo Odadjian from System of a Down.

I think electronic music has revitalized itself as a world music again. And for America, electronic music is not just about the drum programming and the synths but also the sampler—so you think of hip-hop.

That’s an interesting take. In our last issue, Marshall Allen from the Sun Ra Arkestra mentioned that Sun Ra was actually one of the first in jazz to use a synthesizer. He actually helped create sounds for some of Bob Moog’s first productions. 

Did he become a spokesperson for Moog?

No. I suppose it wasn’t quite pre-endorsement days, but I think they wanted him just to help push the gear to the limits of sonic outer space.

Sun Ra is incredible. Where did you meet Marshall Allen?

We actually went to the Sun Ra commune in Philadelphia and took a tour of the whole eccentrically decorated house.

That was very enlightening probably.

Indeed. Today we’re in Malibu, but you’re originally from New York City. What were your thoughts on California before you moved here?

I was actually really naive about California. In the early days of Wu-Tang we came to San Francisco and had a chance to stay there for about three weeks. Our label thought Northern California was an important market. And so they gave us a corporate apartment, already furnished. Me and ODB shared one apartment and Raekwon and Ghostface another. There we were: a bunch of guys from the hood now in a whole other state and living. I mean, we had to get our own groceries! We were early twenties, just getting this life—and San Francisco was that city. I was impressed because it had an almost N.Y. feeling, you know, with all the restaurants. It had a culture, it had chess players on the streets, and the best thing was the police wasn’t harassing us! We hung around in Oakland and the Bay Area with the tough gangster guys and the weed and the drugs and the chicks. That was my first taste of Northern California. It felt good. Actually it was a time that helped Wu-Tang become tight because of what we went through there. It felt like a new life together. But when I came to Southern California, to Hollywood, that was really mind blowing. I had a preconception that it might be too glamorous for me but it turned out to be very satisfying, not least temperature-wise. It is a blessing to wake up in November or December and the temperature is seventy-five degrees. So I just fell in love with Los Angeles. Call it a change of polarity. I felt freer, a different kind of vibe. Maybe it was the sun. Basically the whole New York aggression was gone. For the first time in my life I wouldn’t wake up with it.

Are you referring to your upbringing in the projects?

Yeah, the projects of New York—all the fast paced hustle and bustle. I lived that for so many years of my life. Suddenly I wake up in a place that’s more calm, smoother. Not ten meetings a day, two should be enough. You don’t walk out the house and there’s a million people; it’s walk down from the hotel and there’s only very few people on the street because everybody is driving a car.

I actually find these six-lane Los Angeles freeways oddly inspiring. They have a kind of cinematic feel. I can imagine musicians programming beats and matching harmonies to the motion of the highway.

I do that! I program beats in the car and I program beats on the plane. And since I always fly first class I can plug in my drum machine.

You’re not a fan of batteries, huh? 

Not at all. I’m inspired by what you feel 20,000 feet above the ground, baby.

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I read your book The Tao of Wu and I was fascinated by your description of growing up in Staten Island. You mention your home was robbed on Christmas when you were eight years old. It’s a horrible idea to think that anybody would steal children’s Christmas toys. But you actually became friends with the guy who did it!

Yeah, Chili-Wop. You have to know that my mother got lucky with the lottery and hit the number. Betting on numbers is a really popular illegal lottery in the projects. The history goes back to prohibition. So my mother was happy and buys all these wonderful presents and moves us into a new apartment. And the next thing you know, our toys, my sister’s bike, the little pinball machine: all gone. We was heartbroken and there was nothing we could do about it. All we could do was cry. Anyhow, the next door neighbor was Chili-Wop and his brother was Tony Mac. They was real cool, real tough guys. They were like the gangstas, they had Richard Pryor albums. We would come over there to play the album, hear records like That Nigger’s Crazy, all that cursing shit. And if you messed with them, they would kick your ass. Even guys on the next block knew about them. When I was nine, their youngest brother Lazar was around twelve, and I got into a fight with him. He was a big dude! I was beating up on one of the other neighbors that was my age and Lazar came to help the guy. He tried to break it up and I immediately went at him. He was like twice my size and got me down and had me, but I kept fighting and fighting. We ended up becoming friends, which lead to me becoming friends with his older brother, Chili-Wop, who was about sixteen going on seventeen.

Which is a huge difference at that age. 

Yeah, it’s a big difference. I admired him. And as our friendship increased he ends up telling me that he was the guy who robbed us. But we still stayed friends. I am telling you this because not everybody who comes into your life as an enemy remains an enemy. And not everybody that comes as a friend remains a friend. Chili-Wop became my friend, a protector. He was there to help me out, and I learned a lot from him. [A hummingbird flies by and stops, hovering about a foot from RZA] As a hummingbird flies by . . .

I’ve never seen a hummingbird so close. I guess this kind of thing only happens in the center of the Wu-Niverse?

Yeah, this is how we do in Malibu. [RZA moves his queen into position] Check-mate, brother!

At least I lost against a real player. I read you’re also the champion of the Hip-hop Chess Federation.

True. I started playing chess at the age of eleven, which, by the way, is not so good. But I got more serious later on. Bobby Fisher learned chess when he was six years old, and usually the people that learn the game at the age are the ones who become great. I started late but I’ve been playing long enough to have won more than just a few tournaments. I like chess because it’s a war game. It’s mathematical and it’s analytical. And unlike in life, if you lose in chess it doesn’t mean you’re dead. It’s a game that definitely teaches the strategies of life, where you can learn from loss. It’s also very meditative for me. A lot of people can’t learn from loss. They lose and they can’t come back, they can’t recuperate themselves, and I think that’s a curse for them.

Do you listen to jazz? 

I love jazz. When I was making 36 Chambers I was listening to a lot of Thelonius Monk. I remember when we got signed to the label I had bought his and Bill Evans’ box sets from the advance—both being great pianists and both very different, yet similar. Plus, they’re both on the Riverside label. I remember asking the executives at RCA to get me a copy of Straight, No Chaser, Monk’s story. I actively tried to learn from him, watching this guy playing the piano.

I ask because I think many older jazz musicians not only brought music forward but sought to redefine social consciousness in their own way. I think hip-hop was highly influenced by certain jazz ideas.

I agree. Actually for me personally it wasn’t jazz or people like Iceberg Slim or Gil Scott-Heron that pushed me as far as hip-hop goes. But as years went on and as time passed it was these forms of music that became more influential to me. And then as I became a hip-hop celebrity I started to study other music, so now especially I listen more intensely to jazz. When I listened to Monk in the nineties I would automatically scan it for samples that I could use for a beat. This has fortunately changed. Now I listen just for the music itself.

What about free jazz? 

Free jazz, they say, is like a sentence without a repetition, and when I started composing I was going on for thirty-six, forty-eight, sixty-four bars before a repetition could be heard. We always had to re-edit it, because that’s not how popular music works! Quincy Jones actually told me that once—that in order for music to become popular, to become a phrase, it has to have repetition. I had to adapt to that, of course, but you see, if I just smoke a joint and go, it’s never gonna be a straight hip-hop beat.

Hip-hop is one of those genres that appeared pretty suddenly. 

Let’s say it wasn’t around in a mainstream way because some hip-hop historians say it started as early as 1970 with the release of Gil Scott-Heron’s Small Talk at 125th & Lenox. Some say it started as early as the sixties with James Brown and Isaac Hayes. And some others say that it goes back to DJs like Doug “Jocko” Henderson from Philadelphia, who would always rap a few words over instrumental music on his radio show. I even once heard someone call Muhammad Ali the first rapper. You know it’s hard to really trace the root of it. But let’s just say it flourished more throughout the eighties to gain world recognition in the nineties and to become a global pop sensation since the Millennium that continues to this day. Many aspects come to mind when you try to find out about the origins of hip-hop because so much is geniunely based on manipulating existing music. The first guy who scratched they say is DJ Kool Herc. He brought with him a Jamaican soundsystem background. Or if you look at Rakim who some consider one of the best rap lyricists of all time—his father was a jazz musician and his flows were basically jazz-inspired. And if you look at the big sound of the West Coast—I am talking about Dr. Dre and Ice Cube here—you’ll notice its funk roots. Now, if you take a conclusive look at 36 Chambers, even though I did sample from various sources, the only thing I was trying to make was hip-hop. For me, hip-hop was the inspiration before anything.

At the core of much hip-hop, every track echoes someone else’s track by using samples that inherit all the dignity and power of the original artist.

I agree. Take a song like Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat”: It was sampled by Run-DMC on a track called “Here We Go.” Think about “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap track to ever be big around the whole world: Sugarhill Gang just copied Nile Rodgers and Chic, and A Tribe Called Quest copied and pasted from jazz. Hip-hop has always been an infusion of all music imaginable. I would go so far and label it the other big American music that was invented in the twentieth century—after jazz. I disagree with the people who say that hip-hop goes way back to Africa. C’mon, let’s give it to America first. It was those streets in the projects and them kids without instruments.

What do you mean when you say these kids didn’t have instruments? 

Until the late seventies public schools in the US always offered music lessons—that’s why in the Motown days, everybody was seeing music as a proper way out of poverty. When the government shut down the music programs, all the kids went through their school careers without instruments. The guitar and the bass were replaced by the drum machine and the sampler and the turntable and the microphone, because these kids did not get introduced to an instrument that has to be mastered. The equipment that could be self-taught became our creative tools. One of the big differences of hip-hop to any other music is that it was made by a generation of non-instrumentalists. Eventually those guys would go on to learn instruments like me, like Q-Tip, Dr. Dre or DJ Premier.

Would you agree that, on the other hand, all those great genre-defining hip-hop records that made the whole thing explode—you couldn’t make them nowadays because clearing the samples would be impossible. How do you see that issue?

The sample issue is part of the destruction of hip-hop to me, and I never agreed with the sample laws. I think it should be totally legal to sample because according to copyright law you can take any form of music and make a new derivative. According to that, hip-hop should be able to flourish. Nobody has set a precedence case yet. Somebody needs to go all the way through with it and set the case record cause there’s no case file on it.

Yeah, but this could ruin that person right?

Regardless, it’s worth the sacrifice, because what is a sampler? It’s an instrument. And what does it do? It samples. If sampling is supposed to be illegal, doesn’t that mean that the sampler itself should be banned, or sued, or lawsuits against the people who make the samplers should be filed? And wouldn’t that also mean that Apple is the biggest lawbreaker in sampling history? An Apple computer comes with Apple loops. Now for a guy like me with a trained ear, I listen to some of the Apple Loops and I can tell which record it came from, I can tell what breakbeat it is. I can prove in court that that breakbeat is a sample but yet it’s on every modern Apple computer. All music is literally a derivative from music that is already in the world. Even the American anthem is a derivative of an old bar song. The lyrics were changed to make the anthem but the person who wrote the bar song didn’t get a nickel for that. I could look at The Rolling Stones and all of the blues, and look at all of the songs of The Beatles, even though The Beatles are my favorite songwriters, I could find songs predating them that use the same chord progressions. Why can you “borrow” a tune and not sample a bar? Why is hip-hop being taken apart when our genuine instrument is a sampler? Our instrument isn’t the guitar and a pair of drums, but we are creating, we are taking phrases and sounds to make something new out of them and it should be considered an original composition. The good thing is that it pushed guys like me to become a real musician.

Will we hear any of that progression on the announced new Wu-Tang album?

Guess what? On the new Wu-Tang album there will be no samples. But here’s the thing: it still sounds like we’ve used samples. Why? Because we sampled our own recorded music. I’ve figured out what notes I like. That’s my sound. On the new album you hear all these rhythms and all this new music that has been written by me. I asked myself: How can I make this music sound authentic just like the old records that I used to sample in the past. So I went down to Memphis and gathered all the musicians to play my favorite notes.

And they were able to deal with your ego? 

Yep, and they told me they haven’t felt this musically refreshed in a long time. They been playing music for thirty, forty years on autopilot and now they say: “Yo, you have refreshened us.”

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Four essential albums in a RZA-centric Wu-Niverse (top to bottom): 1. Year zero for the Wu: Enter the Wu-Tang / 36 Chambers from 1993; 2. Gravediggaz’ brilliant horrorcore debut 6 Feet Deep (originally Niggamortis) from 1994, featuring production and MCing by both RZA and Prince Paul; 3. RZA’s soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s modern samurai epic Ghostdog from 1999; 4. RZA returns as Bobby Digital in 2008 with Digi Snacks.

I would have thought they’d be playing funk and blues and boogie every day.

Right, but now they’re playing it with my idea of progression. So now instead of how Al Green would go from A7 to E7, but I’m going into a diminished chord instead because of the notes and chords I hear in my head. I need the hip-hop just like that. Remember we always pitched everything down and slowed it to fit the spirit of it really.

Are we touching on Duke Ellington here? I mention this because Ellington also became famous for unexpected chord changes, right?

Exactly. With my music it has always been all about the unexpected chord changes and the different fucking rhythms that I put together that made them tracks go. The only difference is that now I’m playing all this shit with real musicians and converting everything to digital. And then I start manipulating it. But I’m not manipulating somebody else’s music, I’m manipulating my own. The flipside of the coin is that it took me fucking ten, twelve years of study.

But wouldn’t you agree that years of study are never lost years?

True that. Let me take a look at my career as a songwriter during these years of study. What did I achieve? I did work with Kanye whose album became platinum; I did work on the Jay-Z album that went through the roof as well; I’ve been involved with million-selling soundtracks for Tarantino and stuff like that, but I didn’t find the time to carefully record an album of my own with me as the central artist.

But you finally did on the new Bobby Digital album, right? 

Yeah, and I’d also count in the new Wu-Tang album. There’s no outside producers so far. It’s just me, and I think I’ve figured out a way to make another classic hip-hop album that will inspire everybody.

You repeatedly mentioned in interviews that you would produce a new Wu-Tang album only under one condition: if Raekwon, Ghostface and all the other members accept that, like with the 36 Chambers, you are the musical dictator.

Yeah! The dictator! Yeah!

And yet to me it looked like you were basically dependent on them to agree to these terms and conditions. I mean, you’re known as a bunch of guys who are supposed to have big egos.

You’re totally right. I’ve been having difficulty, to be completely honest with you. There are some members of Wu-Tang who have not come and agreed yet, but some of the important guys have. You know, Method Man and Inspectah Deck have come and cooperated even when they may have disagreed. You know, the thing that bothers me about Wu-Tang and anybody not accepting the terms I’m offering is that I’m not proposing anything with the idea of hurting or diminishing us. I’m saying that clearly because my focus and my L.A. movie experience is that I am a couple of years ahead of them all. I was given the chance to direct a real movie with a twenty million dollar budget. Compared to that, even a high album budget of, say, five million dollars is small compared to a movie budget. And I tell you, being responsible for such a huge amount of money completely rearranges your ideas of producing an album! I’ve grown as an entrepreneur and I’ve grown as a business man.

Did you ever have a five million dollar budget for an album?

I had it for the first Bobby Digital album and I had a close to five million dollar budget for Wu-Tang Forever, which was a double album. Of course we were many guys needing to get paid and we had to pay everybody else involved in the production, so that album cost a lot of money. Thanks to the movie experience and to the fact that I had to direct some four hundred people on the set and behind the scenes, my brainpower has grown. I’ve traveled a lot and seen different parts of the world. I’ve even been to the Shaolin monastery in China. I’ve had a taste of what the electronic music is doing in the template of hip-hop and I have a taste of what classical music does from composing. I have a taste of what soul music is. I just want to bring all that knowledge to the table, like Captain Kirk. Kirk is the captain of the ship, baby. He has Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu around him and they all help, but he’s the fucking captain and if he says warp speed ahead, it’s warp speed ahead.

You’re basically saying that in art there’s no space for democratic decision making?

All I’m saying is that it has worked before like that, and it will work again. You just have to trust my vision. Actually, the Wu-Tang album will be more to their benefit than to mine because I have a much bigger success with my second career. The films are more lucrative than anything I could achieve in music. That’s why I’m saying now is the time to take heed to me again, because this time I’m not doing it for the money. I once went through a phase in my life where I wouldn’t do nothing without the money and that was bad. I think that happens to everybody who’s successful. You have to overcome this and once you reached that next level things start to really get interesting. 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan and nobody has given me five dollars on it yet. In fact, the production has already cost thousands of dollars out of my own pocket, and yet I can’t get the cooperation of the crew. The first album only cost 50,000 dollars to make, and I already have tripled that by now. And I ask them why don’t you come work with me? I’m just asking them to come in and to participate because we all will benefit more because now is the first time where we are not signed to a label meaning we don’t have to suffer from a point system. Instead of getting eighteen points we could actually get fifty points. Everybody will get a bit of the pie and we’ll all enjoy the success. And if it’s not successful only I lose my investment.

You once called Quentin Tarantino your godfather when it comes to film directing and the business. Would you say that he’s mainly responsible for your career path?

Yeah! You could call him my mentor. I met him years ago in New York at a press junket for a martial arts movie called Iron Monkey that had been bought by his company, and they hired me to help promote the movie. At that time Wu-Tang was the biggest band in the country. Plus we were affiliated with martial arts. So they wanted the RZA to help bring awareness to this film and they offered to pay me money to do it and I declined the money because I love the movie. I was a fan of the movie since I saw it ten years earlier. By the way, this is a good example of how much time it sometimes takes until a great movie gets distributed in America. I told them to donate the money to the charity of my martial arts school, so it was all a beneficial thing. Bottom line is that I met Mr. Tarantino and we became immediate friends.

Why did it click?

We both realized in a split second that we liked the same music and movies. It was basically a boy buddy thang, and we wound up calling each other to watch movies or listen to records together. That really became our thing. So if he was in town we’d watch a kung-fu movie at the Miramax screening room and that became the foundation of our friendship. By the time he had finished the script for Kill Bill he’d let me read it first—and I was completely blown away. I told him I wanted to be a film director someday, and I asked him if I could be his student. He said yes and one day he asked me to teach him about music production. So I bought him a guitar and I taught him a few things when I was working in the studio. A couple of times he’d even come and travel with the Wu-Tang on our tour bus. But I still have to really sit down with him and give him the proper workout that I feel I somehow owe him.

You only have to sync your itineraries.

Yeah, we’ll find time. So far he only mentored me, really. He let me come to his movie sets and allowed me to watch him work. I went all the way to China with him. I paid for the trip with my own money and just watched and took notes. That’s the best schooling.

Watch and learn—that’s not too far from the sort of school of the streets, in a way.

Yeah, I went to street college—again. It took me about five years going through Kill Bill 1 and 2 as well as Death Proof. Quentin’s place became my college campus of sorts and he’d let me come up to his house and spend the night there whenever I wanted, even if he wasn’t there. It is a very good friendship and I’d even say that I love him as a brother. Anyway, after five years under his tutelage I asked him whether he thought that I was ready.

And?

He said I wasn’t ready just yet. My final test was missing: I hadn’t written a script yet. You know, at the beginning there was the word. So I wrote The Man with the Iron Fists. Eventually Quentin thought I was ready and that’s how I was allowed to direct The Man with the Iron Fists.

Did Tarantino also leave an impression on you in terms of attitude?

I learned how to walk the tightropes of Hollywood by asking Quentin how to behave in the biz. Like: Should I accept that offer? Should I go there? What do I do? He was very gracious with his knowledge like he actually is to many people. The thing I like about Quentin the most is actually a mutual characteristic: We never questioned who we are. One day we talked about that and he said he grew up with people always telling him he was too loud.

And you?

I grew up with people telling me that I am a know-it-all and that I’m too conceited. But this is the way I am. We have these personalities and people shouldn’t be trying to stop us. ~

 

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 38 (2, 2014). You can purchase the new issue, and back issues, in the EB Shop.

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Fatima Al Qadiri in conversation with Kenneth Goldsmith

Fatima Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti artist and musician at the forefront of underground electronic music, a position solidified by her new, debut album Asiatisch for Hyperdub Records. The adopted New Yorker is additionally celebrated for her role in the young Gulf Arab art collective GCC, whose retrospective exhibition is on now at New York’s MoMA PS1 until September of this year. Another artist favored by the MoMA is native New Yorker Kenneth Goldsmith, the institution’s first Poet Laureate. Renowned as the founder of the Internet’s library of the avant-garde, UbuWeb, he is equally revered and reviled for his conceptual writings and actions, such as his call to “print out the Internet” in protest of the death of activist Aaron Swartz. A generation apart, their acquaintance began not in New York, but in Dubai, and while there may be little direct overlap in their work, when they sat down to talk in Goldsmith’s Manhattan apartment—which he shares with his wife and their two children—thoughts on the end of copyright, the battles won by modernism and loops in video game music had the two vowing to continue this discussion (which appeared in the new Summer issue of EB Magazine) long after the tape turned off. Photos by Miguel Villalobos.

Kenneth Goldsmith: I remember that we met at the art fair in Dubai about five years ago. I’d been working on UbuWeb with Bidoun, and they brought me to the fair to do these series of talks. In a parking garage, they had set up this salon where the coolest things in the world were happening. We did the talks there, and then we just ended up staying up all night. After that you and I sporadically saw each other. I had a book launch at MoMA and you came to that. And I’ve been always trying to go to your things, openings. That’s the thing with having kids, I just don’t get out. It’s impossible. During the hours of an opening, what is it, six to eight? It’s hell time around here. Kids need to eat, they need baths, their homework is breaking down, they’re fighting. I can’t get out of my house six to eight. But what’s happening with you in the art world now?

Fatima Al Qadiri: Well, I’m part of this collective called GCC. We’re nine artists, four girls, five guys. Seven from Kuwait, one from Qatar, one from Bahrain. We formed at Art Dubai, in the VIP lounge in March of last year. Then we had a bunch of shows. The first one was at Kassel at the Fridericianum. Now we have a solo show at MoMA PS1, which is amazing. It’s called Achievements in Retrospective, and the four shows we had previously were on the theme of achievement, so Christopher Lew, one of the curators, decided to house it under one roof.

KG: God, I hate working collaboratively. I always find that I hate what comes out of it. I think it’s the worst of me and the worst of them. Sometimes what I do, if somebody wants to collaborate, I just give them a book and I say, “You do it.” And it always comes out terrible. And I’m like, “No, I’m sorry. I would have done it differently.” I hate all my collaborations and I’ve just stopped doing them now. I’m too much of a control freak. I can’t cede an inch to anyone.

FAQ: I’m a huge control freak, but I feel like sometimes someone else knows better than I do. For instance, I’m extremely dimensionally challenged. One of the members is an architect, then another one is a furniture designer, and they work with dimensions all day. I can fight with them, but they know better. I have a lot of ideas, but I can’t physically realize them, and that’s the beauty of working with a collective. It can be done. So we can build a house, we can make a movie, we can write a book—we have two writers and four filmmakers. If sound is needed, I’ll do it. But it’s definitely decided together. The thing about naming yourself after a government body is that it’s about cooperation. It’s about nations ceding to a higher power, or the greater good.

KG: I feel completely disconnected from nationhood. I live on a small island off the coast of America. That big thing, I want nothing to do with it.

FAQ: There is a tribe mentality in our work in the way that in Gulf or Arab society the tribe is the most important thing, you know? You’ll protect them even if they commit murder. They are above the law. So, we operate like that, too. It is the most important thing, really. Any kind of hint of dissent has to be snuffed out almost immediately. [laughing]

KG: As a New Yorker, I’m completely paranoid and suspicious. I’m cocooned. . . .

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FAQ: I’m extremely paranoid and suspicious . . .

KG: . . . particularly with my family! Particularly with those people that of course would be my tribe, I can’t stand them. I told you already that I can’t stand having kids. So, it’s really different. But I admire the collective. So, it’s based where?

FAQ: All over the place. Two live in Kuwait, one lives in Beruit, one lives in Dubai, two live in London, three live in New York. Thank God for technology.

KG: But you must spend a lot of time on airplanes.

FAQ: I do because of touring. I feel like, if you make music, there’s only two things you can do: You can sign a publishing deal and start songwriting for pop stars, or you have to start DJing. Or you’re rich. There’s really no other way of getting around that, unfortunately.

KG: Touring sounds like a drag. As a writer I’m so glad I don’t have to tour. I just want to stay here and work. And that’s why I love the web so much: I can be social without ever having to be in the same room as anybody. I can just send things out, and it can be cold. I love the distance. A lot of people don’t even know that I live in New York. When I’m here, I’m usually under cover. UbuWeb works for me perfectly great. I just love the idea of throwing up a giant distribution network without ever having to hold anybody’s hand or raise any money or do anything like that. The whole thing has been working for eighteen years in that way. My entire production is predicated on distance. And so I do have to do readings, but I try never to do them in New York. I hate doing them here.

FAQ: Getting away from the home audience?

KG: There isn’t much of an audience! There are ten people in New York that care about what I do. If you do a reading twice a year, you’ve already burnt those poor people out.

FAQ: You have to stage it carefully. I definitely appreciate that. I hate getting on planes. But I have to DJ, so I really don’t have a choice. I mean, I don’t want to be anybody’s entertainment in the middle of the night. It’s really not my idea of fun. I’d rather be entertained!

KG: Are you DJing like art or is it entertainment when you do those gigs? Are people dancing?

FAQ: Oh yes, they’re dancing. The kind of music that I play is a lot of rap. I would summarize it as rap over unrelated beats. So you basically recognize the lyrics but the beat underneath is something completely different. Because I love rap, I love the hypeness of it and that’s what I want to listen to when I’m in a club. But I don’t want to listen to it dry. I want to listen to it mixed with something alien.

KG: I find that on UbuWeb, most people don’t care about the artists that are there. They don’t care about the historical qualities. They don’t care that Kurt Schwitters was representative of Dada and he did Ursonate in 1925. Hugo Ball? They don’t care. Cage? The same. DJs mostly go into the site and plunder it for really weird sounds and then mix it in to Bruce Nauman on the dance floor of São Paulo going, “Get out of my life.” [pounds on the table]. Because, you know, the art world is producing all of these kinds of insane sounds that you can’t find elsewhere. And I love the misuse of that. I’m actually really, really into it. I think that’s probably the legacy of twentieth century sound art: to become fodder for dance mixes.

FAQ: Definitely for intros and outros. But if I see the crowd’s reaction, it’s always positive for me. So I know what I’m doing is right. But I’m very hard on myself. I’m not the kind of DJ that just goes up and presses play and is just happy to take the money and play any old shit. I’d rather die than do that! I have to make sure that what I’m playing is going to hit them really, really hard—as hard as I can.

KG: My radio show for fifteen years was three hours of trying to get people to turn the radio off.

FAQ: Oh my God! That’s obnoxious!

KG: It was so obnoxious! But you have a dial and you can click it off. It’s not a forced thing. I did it under various names, including “Unpopular Music.” So one day, I think it was for White Columns, they asked me to DJ for a benefit. And really, I don’t know anything about dance music, and it was a complete disaster. People were coming up and literally screaming at me. And I was trying to kind of fake it, and they were like, “This is horrible, you are awful.” So I went onto the street, like in front of the IFC Theater in the Village, and those guys used to have tables set up with dance music cassettes. I bought a bunch of those, um, you know, house music or something like that. I put them on and people began dancing and loving it, and then I left in the middle of it.

FAQ: It’s really difficult to make people happy in the middle of the night, being their entertainment at that hour.

KG: It’s the hardest audience in the world.

FAQ: People diss DJs a lot. I feel like, yeah, you can play Top Forty stuff, that’s not difficult. And people do all the time. Or they’ll play some obnoxious shit. You know, they’ll play what I would classify as bedroom music in the club, and I’ll want to smash a bottle on top of their head.

KG: I remember around 1996 I was in France and somebody took me to the first rave I ever went to. I couldn’t get it. There was this one guy on stage, and I couldn’t really see what he was doing; he wasn’t playing an instrument, it looked like he was simply standing there. And then there were thousands of people facing this guy. People were sort of dancing a little bit, but not really. It was like people were just sitting there watching a guy who might as well been checking his email. And this got worse with laptops. If you’re not really dancing, to sit there and watch electronic music has got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.

FAQ: I DJ from my laptop, exclusively. But I don’t even make eye contact with people. Because I don’t want them to look at me. Get on with your dancing business.

KG: I mean, I thought you were most famous as an artist and then the DJing seemed to come later or was it the same time?

FAQ: Well, the DJing came later. I mean I made music, and I was doing visual art. I made both at the same time.

KG: Did you go to art school?

FAQ: No, I have a degree in linguistics. It’s really random. I wanted to go to art school, but the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education did not have any scholarships for that, unfortunately.

KG: Do they have good art schools in Kuwait?

FAQ: There is no art program in Kuwait.

KG: So you have to go abroad if you want to study? Why are there no art schools in Kuwait?

FAQ: I feel like the Kuwaiti government doesn’t want to encourage art as a profession. They see it as a hobby. And that’s why I couldn’t study it as a major. I mean, I went on a scholarship. They’re like, “Music and art, these are hobbies. These are not infrastructure-building majors.” I don’t know how linguistics is an infrastructure-building major. But it was the only thing offered in New York, so I did it. I was like, “I don’t give a fuck if I have to do like biomedical engineering. I don’t care, I have to be in New York.” So, randomly, thank God it was linguistics. I actually feel like it’s changed me as a person. You can see vestiges of it in my work, but not directly. It’s made me more aware of language’s relationship to identity, language as identity. One of the most basic examples is not mocking the way someone speaks. Or how someone speaks can be a false persona if they change the way they speak when they speak to certain people. For instance, someone that I know, the way she speaks to her bank on the phone is completely different from the way she speaks to me or to the way she speaks to strangers. If you’ve studied linguistics, you immediately spot that. You can smell it a mile away. It has to do with identity, how she wants to present herself to people. It tells you a lot about a person.

KG: So you ever go back and ever think about linguists like Ferdinand de Saussure or anything like that?

FAQ: No.

KG: You’re not reading it for fun anymore? No interest in Chomsky?

FAQ: No. I feel like for me, I don’t know. The reading . . . I really enjoy reading biographies and sci-fi.

KG: I’ve got a couple of new biographies on my iPad. I’ve got the new Walter Benjamin biography. The problem is I know it all too well. And the other one is the new Burroughs biography. You like Burroughs?

FAQ: I mean, with Burroughs I feel like I liked him more as a teenager, but now I just feel like he’s this character that has been given so much exposure. When someone is so overexposed, I feel like I don’t need to read it to know what happened.

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KG: I kind of think so, too. But I get those books all from file- sharing for free. That’s the way I read these days: whatever I can find on file-sharing. It pretty much determines what I read. You see, I have no views on copyright. I don’t believe in it. I don’t use it. I distribute my work freely; everything on UbuWeb is pirated and distributed freely. But copyright is also a weird and nuanced thing. I don’t blame people for wanting to hold copyrights for things that are worth money. If I did something that was worth money, I’d probably want to hold onto the copyright and try to make some money out of it, too. But the materials that I deal with on UbuWeb and also in my own work are not involved in that at all. I make my money from academia, university work. This also pays for all of my intellectual production, and I figure I don’t need to get anything back from that. I throw it out into the open. So, yeah, in certain ways, I’ve managed to prove that actually copyright doesn’t exist.

FAQ: I feel like it’s a very—I don’t want to say touchy subject—but it is a reality as far as music. For visual art, it doesn’t really enter my mind. I feel like so much of contemporary art is pastiche, referencing the past, recreating the past. But with music, as you said, if it’s interfering with your income and livelihood, that’s where you go into a gray area. Sales from records for many musicians are negligible. If you enter the title of my last record, the first thing that comes up is “.zip”. I really can’t be a hypocrite and say that it pisses me off because I’m definitely downloading a whole shitload of music. But for me, if it’s an artist I care about, I look at legal sites first and see if their music is available for sale. Sometimes we’re friends and we’re doing an exchange of music. But I would like to financially support artists that I care about, as far as music is concerned.

KG: Whatever is original is irrecuperable and doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t identify it, we can’t locate it. Honestly, it’s just this mass of free-floating signifiers that is temporarily put together into constellations. And I want to go back to Walter Benjamin’s constellation, the dialectic constellation which forms temporarily for a minute and then gets blown apart again. That’s really a cognate of the network and the way that networks are coming together, the way cultural artifacts are ephemeral, exploding back out. There’s no history. There really cannot be anymore. I find that to be the motif of our age. And if that work doesn’t reflect that in some way, it’s not work I think is particularly relevant—which is clearly not the case with yours. I feel that the copyright battles of the twenty-first century are the equivalent of moral battles of the twentieth, the kind of censorship battles. We talk about Burroughs or we talk about Joyce. Those are the battles, and they were won. With copyright, I keep trying to get arrested, and I can’t. I just did a big project in Germany where I pirated about 350,000 dollars worth of JSTOR documents—a giant online academic archive of knowledge that should be free—as a tribute to Aaron Swartz. Swartz downloaded a lot of it. Of course, he felt it should be free, and it ended up very tragically for him. So this was a tribute to him. We used JSTOR’s logo, and I set up a JSTOR pirate headquarters in Dusseldorf. I had five computers and five students that were helping me print out 18,000 documents that were pirated from JSTOR. We put it out all over online and got big press, Yahoo and all sorts of places, and JSTOR hasn’t reacted. And it’s kind of like, maybe we’ve just reached this point now where you can provoke copyright all you like. It’s very different than it would have been ten years ago. Everyone is just kind of with it now. And life does continue. Art continues to be made, somehow people make profits. I think from different things, maybe not the artifact itself, but all the things around artifacts. I’ll never really make a good paycheck from my books, so there’s a free cultural thing that I think is really in the air. I also wanted to ask you: Did you choose to be an artist or did it choose you?

FAQ: I mean, my mother was an artist. She was a painter and a printmaker. So very twentieth century, very modernist paintings of women. She was very feminist, and even the music that she listened to was sung by women. She listened almost exclusively to female Arab and Iranian singers singing about heartache, which I think really influenced me. [laughing]

KG: I’ve got these funny records, I wonder if some of these are your mother’s. Let me bring out some of these LPs I have. Maybe you’ll know some of these.

FAQ: [inspects record covers] Maybe some of them would be in my dad’s record collection.

KG: Really? Kind of square . . .

FAQ: Not square, no. It’s like Arabic pop from the sixties, seventies. Your records are in mint condition. Some of them are classic, and I’ve never heard of some of the others. [Picks up an LP] This is Tunisian, very, very rare. Put on this Sabah, she is the Cher of the Arab world. She kept going until her nineties, and always looked really young. This is basically the most impressive collection of Arabic vinyl that I’ve seen a non- Arab own. I mean, I only know some of the records, but where did you get these? Because this looks like one sale, somebody’s really mint record collection.

KG: There was a place on Atlantic Avenue called Rashid Sale’s. I’d always gone there and bought those records for a lot of money. When everything was changing from vinyl to CD, they dumped their entire stock at Tower Outlet. And I got each one of those for a quarter, brand new. There were records I had been always dreaming of having, but they were really expensive, like fifteen dollars each. I walked out with probably most of them.

FAQ: What got you into this era of Arabic music in the first place?

KG: Well, look at those covers! But what really got me into Arabic music was Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” I was in eighth grade, I heard that and I was like, “Wow, something else is going on here.”

FAQ: I’ve never heard that song.

KG: You know, it’s sort of a weird rock, Arabic, Middle Eastern, mystical kind of thing that Led Zeppelin were doing. You know, how did American kids get into anything interesting? Through rock bands. How is it that you’ve never heard “Kashmir”? Did they not have Led Zeppelin in Kuwait when you were growing up?

FAQ: No, actually they didn’t.

KG: Come on! You grew up in a place without Led Zeppelin?

FAQ: I grew up in Kuwait in the eighties!

KG: Oh well, nobody was playing Led Zeppelin in the eighties. But if you had been in Kuwait in the seventies, you would have heard Led Zeppelin.

FAQ: I’m sure. My father gave me his record collection almost ten years ago when he switched to MP3s. Before he wouldn’t even let me borrow one record. I begged him, but he was like, “Get it out of your mind, it’s out of the question.” And then suddenly, I came back to Kuwait for six months, and he was like, “Here you go.” And I had suddenly quadrupled my record collection. While I was flipping through it, I found Pink Floyd, which I just thought that was really unusual, because I don’t think he ever played it. He played Cerrone a lot, but he never played anything remotely rock. I personally listened to a lot of American pop growing up, like all kids did: Michael Jackson, Eurythmics and whatever was playing on MTV at the time. And then I graduated to gangsta rap by myself.

KG: How available is gangsta rap in Kuwait?

FAQ: It was available. There was this place called The Video Club that sold bootlegged copies of rap records, and I bought it on CD. I was so happy that my parents didn’t speak English enough to know the lyrics I was listening to. So that was a relief. I just felt very edgy.

KG: So what do you do with that in Kuwait? Feeling edgy and filled with American rap stuff? Like what does a kid in Kuwait do with those feelings? Do you find other people that were into it or did you feel really alone?

FAQ: Not really, no. I didn’t want to share my love of it. Listening to music has always been a solitary thing for me, because I didn’t grow up going to concerts. There was no such thing. Concerts were largely illegal.

KG: What about Arab pop?

FAQ: I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to this as a kid, no way! They had concerts, but I didn’t even know about it. I wasn’t in the same world as this kind of stuff. The only Arabic music I heard was whatever my mom had blasting in her studio while she painted, which I largely disliked. But the stuff that I did like was the Iranian singers that she listened to— Googoosh, who maybe you’ve heard of. Googoosh is the biggest female singer of twentieth century Iranian pop music. And Hayedeh is another one. My mom was very fixated and would only listen to like three or four singers at a given time, the same song over and over again. If I was sitting there drawing with her, I didn’t have a choice in the music selection. It was always a form of: You broke my heart.

KG: And are you listening to a lot of music these days? Or is it like cooking in a restaurant, where you don’t want to eat the food that you’ve been cooking all night? You like to have silence around you?

FAQ: Since DJing became part of my career, I listen to music that I want to DJ. It’s become very work-oriented, which really annoys me because I never had that relationship before. When I listen to something, I’m like, “Oh, how can I blend this in with that other song?” It’s annoying.

KG: I told you before I did a radio show for fifteen years, so I know. And all my listening was focused on what I was going to be playing that week. It was a freeform radio show, and I had three hours to kill. Finally, when I was listening to MP3s, I would just have all of these playlists lined up, and I would be listening to something thinking, “Oh, that will go in that playlist.” Ultimately listening became a lot of work.

FAQ: Yeah, it’s become very functional and perfunctory in a way. It just took the joy out of it. Mostly, I like silence. And I’ve enjoyed it for a long time. One thing that growing up hasn’t changed is listening to music for pure fantasy reasons. To listen to something and fantasize while you’re listening to it. That’s why for me, listening to music is always a very solitary thing.

KG: When you say “silence” do you mean that in a Cagean sense? Is there any kind of influence from that stuff on what you’re doing? Do you think about all of that kind of history and ideas?

FAQ: Well, I think for me, when I was younger, I thought about it more. But now I feel like ever since I made my first melody, my goal has always tried not to cre- ate things that could be mistaken for other people, which is a really high bar to set. But something that I do avoid, very strongly, is any kind of atonal work. It’s never been my interest, atonality.

KG: Is it because it all sort of sounds the same and it would be hard to be an original and unique atonal artist?

FAQ: It’s just been done to the max.

KG: But do you ever spend time listening to Schoenberg or . . .

FAQ: No, I never did. I hate to use the word “classical”, but the twentieth century composers that I listened to were always Russian or Eastern European. My favorite has to be Prokofiev. He’s definitely the highest on the list. And there’s one called Ippolitov-Ivanov, who’s lesser- known. Actually, I prefer the nineteenth century composers, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov. And my father lived in Russia. My parents went to grad school in Moscow in the seventies, so he amassed quite a large collection of Russian classical music, which was blasting in the house as well.

KG: Is that stuff that you got in the collection when he gave it to you?

FAQ: Oh yeah, definitely. So the influence from my mother were these heartbreak female singers. From my father it was Russian classical music and Cerrone. My youth was hardcore rap, and video game music was very high up there too, because I was playing video games. So these little eight-bit compositions were on loop. And I think the loop aspect of it really influenced making electronic music, because it does have that built in.

KG: But there’s whole waves of eight-bit composers now, chip composers.

FAQ: That to me is weird. I don’t know, I’m interested in the original people that made music for a living for Konami—you know what I mean? To try to recreate it is to try to write a Miles Davis song.

KG: But there is Kind of Bloop, which is an eight-bit version of Miles’ Kind of Blue. And you know what? It’s actually really good! It’s a beautiful thing because it’s kind of like the Miles tunes on that record are so incredible that you can’t destroy them even with any technology. It’s kind of like I’ve never heard a bad version of “Mack the Knife”. Because the song itself is so fucking good no matter if it’s Vegas, or, you know, the worst thing in the world.

FAQ: I feel like with covers, sometimes they work, some- times they don’t. I have sort of a cover on my record.

KG: What’s the sort of cover on your record?

FAQ: “Nothing Compares 2 U”.

KG: And who’s the original artist of that?

FAQ: Prince.

KG: Oh, the Prince song. See, my pop music is not so good.

FAQ: It’s okay. Prince wrote it and then Sinead O’Connor sang it. You were definitely around when that song was huge. I mean, you couldn’t escape it. It was everywhere.

KG: I somehow managed to miss things. I was told recently that in 2000—I think it was some- thing like that—that the Mets played the Yankees in the World Series. I had no idea that such a thing happened. I happen to miss these major things that happen just because I’m so in my own weird world. I have a few Prince records, I was around then. But Sinead O’Connor I kind of missed. I can’t tell you her biggest hit.

FAQ: That was her biggest hit, for sure.

KG: What’s it called again? ~

 

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 38 (2, 2014). You can purchase the new issue, and back issues, in the EB Shop.

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