Woo Life: an interview with Maxmillion Dunbar
As Maxmillion Dunbar, Andrew Field-Pickering creates sensate, intuitive electronic music: it’s as if Field-Pickering, a voracious crate digger in his local record stores of Washington DC, has internalized decades of dance music—disco, boogie, go-go, hip-hop—refracting reference points through the right brain until they become snags of sonic phonemes in an advanced sonic language. His records, which straddle the overlap in the imaginary Venn diagram of dancefloor/headphones are packed with sonic triggers—emotional trapdoors that create an unplaceable sense of nostalgia in the listener. Future Times, the label he runs with Mike Petillo orbits the same course as fellow East Coast resident and buddy Ron Morelli‘s L.I.E.S. imprint, putting out rogue club music by the likes of Steve Moore, Protect-U and his own Balearic outfit Beautiful Swimmers.
His second album, House of Woo untethers the arching exuberance of his debut album Cool Water from its reliance on samples and massages the chugging, heavy-limbed bliss-out of early 12-inches like “Outrageous Soulz” into animated, semi-freeform experiments in body highs and kicking lows. The record is released on New York’s RVNG Intl. this week. Perfect timing for a catch up, then.
When I think of your music, one word that always comes to mind when describing it is ‘blissful’. With House of Woo, I felt you’d really expanded and unpacked this feeling.
These days I’m pretty intuitive with the computers I use to produce, so a lot of the stuff is a little bit more free. With Cool Water, for instance, a lot of the times the drums are incorporated into a sample, they match up with what I would’ve done but I took them from somewhere. Now, I make a lot more drum patterns from scratch, so I have complete control over the rhythm. Getting in tune with the production software and hardware that I use is really nice because now the ideas go from the brain to the track really quickly. The first song on House of Woo, “Slave to the Vibe”, has a whole bunch of different drum patterns, and I sort of flick between. You can’t have that human flow unless you’re playing breakbeats or something, which I’m not really trying to play. These patterns bounce in the air, I have to work out which ones go where, which ones makes the track move.
Did you have to spend a lot of time with these tracks to achieve that sense of development? That sense of unspooling, of flow?
I kind of like to get a little disassociated with things; I like to zone out, maybe smoke a little something. You can do some shit then forget about it, and you come back to the track the next day and surprise yourself. That’s a beautiful thing. You have all this muscle memory, you know exactly how the song’s supposed to go, your arms know that shit, your legs know what’s supposed to happen ahead of time. But with the computer it’s all in your brain, you can’t feel it in your muscles, you don’t remember shit but you can get to the point, especially if you’re doing a lot of rhythmic shit which I like to do. You end up getting into these places, ending up doing a 45 minute version of a track and then a week later you cut it down to five minutes. You just cut them all together. Disassociaton is the best word for it, I try to do that. Look the other way from the screen and zone out.
The germ of the idea is not dissimilar to the idea of automaticism—albeit translated to digital music creation.
I’m trying to go deep without editing yourself. I feel a lot of times people edit their own ideas before they get them out. When you’re not editing yourself, when you’re not limiting yourself, you can surprise yourself. You’re just trying to tweak things and then these weird things happen and you let that run for a little while—all of a sudden you’ve got something. I just try and set up the pieces.
I think this impulse to self-edit is endemic nowadays. We’re all hyper-self aware now, right?
Yeah! You go on Facebook, and you say, “I hate this,” and then you think does that make me sound like I’m nuts? Am I just baiting my more conservative uncle with this shit? Do I self-edit? Am I just using it as a dump?
In terms of the internet, some of the sounds that you employ, for example the—dare I say it—new age influences, have become a lot more widespread recently.
I love new age music, Cool Water was indebted to new age samples. The way I look at it, it’s not a bad pigeonhole. If you take the drums out of a Detroit track a lot of those synth pads are, like, moving in rhythms forever. Without drums they’re not techno anymore, they’re new age. That Detroit shit is mecca. And new age is just this other mecca. A lot of people who dance are like hippies and shit. It’s very prevalent in record stores, if you’re going out looking for records, if you go into black neighbourhoods, a place where there used to be a huge club, DJs would be getting rid of their records. In a way, I think my sound is pretty singular for me, but it’s also natural, reflective of the times. Like, if I’m riding a bike, I don’t like to pedal the whole time, I like to cruise. Same shit, get the drums going and then have this shit on top that’s cruising.
The texture of your synths apes the feeling of a body high, that tingling, sensate quality. I’m presuming this is entirely intentional?
There’s more sensation than just the ears with club music. I do think House of Woo belongs in a club, you know? I like the idea of someone telling me that when “Woo” came through the club speakers, that there’s this ulterior thing, that it starts with the drums, the body high; I’m always down with shit that sounds like it’s covered up in sludge. I mean, I like super sleek shit too, but it pulls my heartstrings when there’s a whole lot of blissful things going on. I was fired up about the new My Bloody Valentine.
Ah, I’d heard that you were a shoegaze fan. What did you think?
I think it’s great. I listened to it and I was a little bit nervous, and then I was like, “this isn’t even a little bit bad.” Then I was like, “oh shit, this is good,” and then I was like, “oh shit, this is great.” They didn’t come up short, they killed it.
The first time I heard “To Here Knows When” I thought I’d got a corrupted file from AudioGalaxy.
When I got Loveless I thought it was broken. It was kinda cool. I try to do that with Max stuff, too. There’s Loveless and a few other albums that have this thing where if the volume is on one, it’s one kind of album and if the volume’s on ten it’s another. I like that, and I think if you turn House of Woo down really low it has more potential to chill you out, but if you crank it up it’s also something else.
I read an interview that you did a few years back that you attributed the Future Times label aesthetic and sound to a sense of collective nostalgia. However, that concept has become quite sullied recently. Why do you think we’ve become suspicious of nostalgia?
I think that the negative connotations come from a disconnect. I understand when people are talking about retro futurist or whatever shit they want to say, I understand some of the things take you backwards. But for me it’s strange to assume that there are strains of music that are dead. It’s not like these styles are dead—they’re continuous. One of the things that makes me happy is when a lot of people I used to listen to before I had music out have got in touch with me about Swimmers things or Max things. In unexpected places someone I really, really love and respect will tell me they like my shit. That makes me feel that it’s a continuum. Back in the day I got a MySpace message from ‘Shake’ [Shakir] and I nearly dropped my coffee. I have a feeling that for some people music goes in a straight line forever, but that’s just like tuning in, dipping in. Imagine it being a tube, a sci-fi movie—you walk in and it’s there.
I find a lot of people are pre-occupied with [moving forward]. What am I supposed to do? Invent new subsonic frequencies every other week? That sort of thing is indicative of too short of an attention span for me to take seriously. I’m just not worried about it. I feel like, it works both ways, I understand that people are using these words to put the music down on paper; you have to use a lot of adjectives, a lot of references to describe people’s music when people are reading it. You’ve only got so many hours in the day. But a lot of these things are part of a continuum. The whole shit is like a rainbow, it’s all in there. ~
House of Woo is released on February 19 via RVNG Intl.
Published February 20, 2013. Words by Louise Brailey.