interview by umegatani yuta for breakcore guidebook
When was "Drumcorps" started? How did this project start? What is the origin of the name?
Drumcorps started when I was living in Berlin. The name was inspired by my time playing snare drum in marching bands, and symbolically it’s about the power and precision of a team of people aligned to a single cause.
After several years playing warehouse parties all over Europe, the DJ-oriented scene was starting to feel a bit creatively limiting. What works in a club is a pretty specific and small range of emotions, and it felt like time to explore, to get free, to branch out and try something new.
Sometimes you want to address a specific subject in detail. This means lyrics. Sometimes you want some live upfront instruments. For me this meant guitar, and a different approach to live sets. Sometimes you make a quiet tune which wouldn’t work so well in the context of DJ land. It was time for a new project.
Enter Drumcorps, an experiment to see if I could finally make what I always wanted to hear from my days playing in bands - solid songwriting mixed with an upfront intensity, human heart & soul mixed with machine precision. It was a way to bring some more articulate themes into the work, and to bring more variety of sound. The name just came into my head while in the shower one day, which is where the best ideas sometimes bubble up.
I was really shocked when I bought "Rmx Or Die”. (I bought the 1st press record!) I did not know this kind of style. When was this record made? Why did you decide to release from Kriss? (Where did you meet Bong-Ra?)
Thanks for finding that record. I did a vinyl release with Kriss because out of all the demos I sent, they were the only label who wanted to take a chance on it. I met Jason from our time playing in the same scene.
At that time (2005), breakcore was just becoming popular. Many new artists have appeared. When did you discover breakcore? (What kind of impression did you have when you listened for the first time?) What do you think of the breakcore movement at the time?
I first heard breakcore in San Francisco around 2001 at an outlaw warehouse party. My first impression of the sound, in those days, was that it took the aggressive & cut-up rhythmic elements that I liked from things like Autechre & Squarepusher, but melded it to a darker & more pointed form of music, and got rid of the chin-scratching element in favor of something more visceral.
I’m a drummer by training, so this percussion element was a big thing that made me like the music, as just like jungle, it’s an endless drum solo. I was tangentially interested in the sound for several years thereafter - not enough to focus on it, but enough to pay attention and collect a few records here and there. Later on, I got pulled into the scene full-time in Berlin because someone asked me to play a gig, and then it caught on like a wildfire. Originally I’d moved to Berlin with the goal of making electronica & ambient music full-time, but breakcore started paying the bills, so I went with it. At the time it was an exciting place, full of possibility. The music itself wasn’t totally my thing, but the people were nice, they liked the weird stuff I was making, and the events were amazing, so it worked.
The vibe in the scene in those middle Berlin days had more of that punky sense of greater context, which was what drew me to it. There was a keen sense of independent spirit, we were all brothers and sisters in this thing, which was freedom. It was about testing genre limits, and indeed throwing those things out the window. It was about inclusivity, artistic anarchy, accepting new sounds with an open mind. Connection.
Do you think “Drumcorps" is a breakcore artist?
You could certainly put the early releases in this category - but as I’ve gone on I realized the heart and soul of this project is more aligned with hardcore punk type music, rather than what breakcore has become today. I’m grateful and happy to play wherever people love the tunes, but I feel my ethic & general attitude towards life is also a bit at odds with how the breakcore scene has progressed, so it’s a little bit of a puzzle. The Falling Forward album is halfway out of the box already, and the newest album I’m finishing up now is all the way out.
The new tunes are heavy, but it’s not breakcore, and it’s not exactly punky hardcore either - it’s something else. We need a new name for this stuff. In the end you just focus on the work, and make it the best it can be. The rest works itself out eventually.
Please tell about the process of how the first album "Grist" was made. How long did it take? Which equipments did you mainly use? Can you still remember how was your mental state at the time?
I made Grist in Berlin, on Rigaer Strasse, using a Macintosh G5 (the “cheese grater”), Ableton Live, and my old CD collection. It took quite a long time, and was so labor-intensive that I gave myself repetitive strain injury from all the mouse clicking. I’d have to take days off from the computer, and it was a bit painful. It took so long that we actually had to release the album as two vinyl EPs spread out over a year to give me time to complete it.
My mental state at the time was quite an interesting thing, as this was the time when I broke through that culture wall into being a world citizen. Frankly, both myself & my girlfriend were going a bit mad. It was caused by a combination of touring, sleep deprivation, and the migrant worker immigrant experience.
We both moved to Berlin together from the USA. Traveling & seeing a place, even staying a year, is quite different from staying for many years & carving out your little space. By that time we’d secured an apartment, good working space, gigs, friends in the area, but once the basics are handled, you start to think more deeply about the thing you’re in, and that’s when you realize what’s all around you. Berlin is a complex city. It’s several cities floating on top of each other, or rather coexisting in the same space, with different shifting working hours. It’s not just the artist utopia everyone talks about nowadays, but rather a bubble of artist & music folks floating upon a much larger city where other things are happening. Once you start learning German, you realize more things in depth.
I was starting to forget how to speak English, but my German was still quite horrible. I could understand a lot of what was being said, but I wasn’t great at generating words. Anyone who has left their homes for a far away culture can understand what might have happened next, as it can be a harrowing experience. It steals your culture. You’re really disempowered. Simple things become difficult and difficult things become impossible. There’s a holiday and everyone goes to see their family in some small town, and you’re left in an empty city, alone. It’s just you and the other foreigners shuffling around empty subway cars.
You find out who you really are, and what elements were just your upbringing and environment. It destroys every image you have of yourself which isn’t built in reality, and was instead a product of culture / advertising / other peoples’ thoughts. Those are all gone, and what’s left is a wonderful silence. There’s nothing but the cold Berlin winter. The advertisements don’t make sense, as you don’t understand the language, but even if you do understand some of it, you don’t feel it deeply. They might as well be talking about martians. It’s a beautiful clarity, as nothing can distract you. You find out who you really are. You’re alone. You’re an immigrant.
We had it extremely easy compared to many folks who come from a range of adverse situations, so in no way am I comparing our experience to other people who are fleeing war and horrible things, but what happens is you enter that world. You’re in it. It’s no longer an abstract. You are all in the freezing cold 6 AM January line outside the immigration office together. You’re all trying to make sense of this thing. You’re trying to build a peaceful life in a new place. You don’t necessarily have a stable income and you are attempting to show that you are a valid person to the state. There’s a lot of awareness that gets into you, when this happens to you.
On top of that, there was lots of touring, thousands of faces, all the airplanes and stress and rushing and then abject silence as you’re waiting somewhere. Happiness and new friends and amazing meals and everything that happens with a broad life. When you tour this much, you see everything. In those days it wasn’t all staying in neutral hotels - you’re sleeping on peoples’ floors, eating their food, reading their newspapers, seeing their TV news, riding the bus with them, stepping into their lives for a moment. It ends up being a lot of information to take in. You absorb so much information about people from all walks of life - all socioeconomic groups and income levels - and you get a really broad picture of the world.
At some point in the middle of it all, you have a moment when you realize the truth about the world and you see things as they truly are, in a moment of shining clarity. It drives you a bit mad. You’re out of your box and now you can’t get back into it even if you wanted.
This was a time before social media was in its advanced stage, before there was internet on your phone, before YouTube, before Google Street View or Translate. You didn’t know what to expect before you went to a place, so you just went there with open eyes and hoped for the best. You were more truly alone then, in the wilderness, riding the night train to Krakow at 3 am. In a way this made us more observant, as you were more forced to be present in the moment, and you didn’t arrive in a place with any preconceived ideas. You were like a child, experiencing everything. It’s no wonder kids sleep so hard after a long day.
I believe this all came through in the Grist record, though not so coherently. It’s a lot to make sense of that experience and it took a while to recover. Eventually we decided to leave Berlin for the USA. At the time everyone thought we were crazy for leaving at the peak of activity, just as Berlin was becoming really cosmopolitan, and perhaps it was crazy, but all I can say is that it seemed like the necessary thing to do at that time. Later I realized I’d been chronically sleep-deprived, and would just sleep for hours and hours. Days of rest, years of sleeping and eating and working and feeling better slowly. There’s only so much you can sleep in a day, and it felt like gradually every day I was recovering a small bit of peace, some of those hours back which I’d missed before. Every day you feel a little better. It took many years to integrate all that experience into these coherent thoughts which make sense. At the time it was all a big jumble. In retrospect it makes sense that I gravitated towards creating mashup tunes from many different sound sources, as this was mirroring the fractured broken and pieced-back-together culture experience we were going through.
To make mashup tunes, first I make lots of micro-samples of my favorite bands. I’ll try to find something that sounds great or special - vocal sounds, drum hits, feedback, or just a great moment on a record. You sort of have to be a fan of the band and quite familiar with a record to know the critical moments and choose them well. Next I’ll arrange these samples in Ableton, map them to drum pads, and play something new in realtime. Performing it this way, as a drummer, helps me to compose and get a good flow. Eventually from the chaos, a concise part emerges. The tune then enters a more traditional path: refinement, practice, recording, and studio enhancement with additional textures and programming.
Grist. In this album you sample Cave In, Converge, Pig Destroyer, etc. Have you got protests from bands, labels, or their fans? Do you feel guilty about sampling?
I’ve since met many of the artists I’ve sampled, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Most people can tell that I’m treating the source material respectfully, that there’s genuine appreciation for their work. Collage / remix is a fine line, but you can tell when someone’s adding something creative to the mix, and I always strive for that.
Let’s also be honest here - no amount of sampling is ever going to turn you into Converge. The whole reason great bands are so compelling is that they are demonstrating skill & dedication to the craft, live, right in front of you. Sampling can never touch that, and the bands certainly aren’t worried. They’re generally quite happy that someone is paying attention, perhaps reinterpreting their work in a wacky and interesting way. There’s a way to do these sorts of things tastefully, as a tribute, and fans always know the difference. People are smart.
That said, I’ve since moved on from samples and I’m generating 100% of the sounds in the new work, as doing it all yourself feels a million times more satisfying than sampling. I highly recommend it to all fellow producers. Pick up a microphone and some instruments and see what happens. When you sample, you’re forever vicariously shaking your fist in the air. There’s a limit to how far or honest or real you can do things. When you do it yourself, it’s all yours, and it has that much more gravitas. It’s a different thing.
Have you changed something after releasing Grist? This album was popular even outside the underground. What kind of reaction did you get?
The overwhelmingly positive response outside the underground took me by surprise, as I’d felt for so long like a subculture geek weirdo sequestered in European squat parties. It crossed over, somehow, and it took me a while to realize it. First I started seeing different sorts of people at the shows. Then I played SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, and the people there knew. Later on I met some band people in the parking lot at my practice studio in Boston, and they knew. If someone got the music, they immediately sensed the potential of combining all of these sounds, and it was all rather natural.
The music is still quite underground, it’s just that breakcore is so obscure that it’s actually an underground of the underground. Grist managed to jump out of its subgenre into a slightly larger one.
The main thing that changed after Grist is that I made a conscious decision to go down the path of making all of the sound myself. From the very moment I added guitar into the live sets, there was a realtime electric feeling of excitement which immediately connected with my old days playing in bands. Anyone who has ever played in a band, or been to a great show, you know it when you feel it, and it’s a force of nature. It’s the thing that makes an entire room go berserk, and it’s the very fuel that keeps you driving from city to city, meeting thousands of people, doing all the hard work on the road.
One moment a thought crept into my head: “You know what... why don’t you just make all the sound? If you keep on sampling, it’ll always feel like you’re just doing a slightly more technologically advanced version of Karaoke. If you make the whole thing yourself, you’ll feel it all pulse through you and it’ll be awesome! Learn to do everything. Do it!” Well, now there’s a very clear choice. Which path to take?
Eventually I realized I’d never be truly happy just doing the normal electronic producer thing, being a cut and paste artist. For the sake of my own happiness, I’d need to dive back in, and do as much as possible. It was a fateful decision, and a foolish one in a lot of respects, as it took a long time to learn all these things! You have to learn drum tone, guitar tone, vocals, mixing. It’s endless, as any one of these things are disciplines in their own right, and to get good at any single one of them could take a long time. To get decent at all of them at once is a tall order of business - and it’s taken so much study which is still ongoing. But I feel it was the right decision, as now I feel happy & fulfilled in the artistic direction.
As another part of this decision, I started to back away from the heaviness contest. It felt like Grist reached some sort of maximum point of impact, sampling taken to the extreme. Right to the edge. I’d won the heaviness contest for the moment, and once you do that, there’s nothing left to do! The thing that everyone wants you do is to keep doing it, keep repeating yourself forever, but this feels like chasing a constantly moving phantom. It’s a contest which never ends.
Why stay trapped in a zero-sum game? Why not try something different? Again, it felt like there were new frontiers to explore. Maybe I could use these heavy skills as part of a thing with greater context, and more variety. Maybe the extreme heaviness can be the pinnacle of a diverse album, instead of just a constant barrage. After a while, heavy can start to seem flat and boring, too. Impact is contrast, not just volume. If everything is loud, nothing is loud. Maximum impact through variety seemed like the next thing.
You came to Japan for the first time in 2006. How was the impression of Japan?
Japan has been very kind - I’ve found that people are open to new & unusual flavors of sound with open minds, right away, which often takes a little more time in other places. I’ve had many great shows in Japan.
One great thing is that Japanese musicians working in underground styles tend to push further into the extremes, so it’s always quite an inspiring learning experience to visit and play a show. Most times at least one of the other performers will be doing something mindblowingly unique which I haven’t seen before.
After that, you collaborated with "Animosity". You also performed live with vocals from Animosity. How did you decide to collaborate with them?
Leo Miller, Animosity’s vocalist, heard the Grist album and he contacted me asking about a remix. It turned out I’d heard their music already and was already a fan, so it was an immediate yes. After working together remotely, sending files back and forth, and making vinyl, we finally all met up and became friends. We ended up playing a few tunes together live, at a warehouse in San Francisco, which was to be Animosity’s final show.
You released 2nd album "Falling Forward" in 2015. You made vocals for the first time with your own voice in this album. Why did you decide to sing yourself?
After a long time making intensely complex tunes, you decide to simplify. I believe many artists who work in the fringe go through this. You’re involved with so many complicated technical processes that you can get a bit lost in it... but one day you hear a very simple recording of a guy with a guitar playing a timeless and powerful tune, just a few chords and their life experience, and it blows you away. You realize that all the technical wizardry in the world is no match for a good song. The next logical step is that you start trying to make one.
So, I started writing songs with just a guitar and a chair, from memory, without the computer. You discover that the thing you spent time mocking from your geeky tower of synths is actually really, really difficult. It’s hard as hell! You’re humbled, and perhaps even beaten down. You start to view the electronics as secondary to the song. Instead of focusing on gear and heady process things, you focus on “roots of music” things like chord changes, feelings. You also come up with lyrics.
Once you go down this path, you have to start singing, or find someone who does. I was a bit of a reluctant vocalist, and the attitude was “I guess I gotta do this thing”, but I found it liberating once I pushed through the mental wall.
At this point you progress from sound design into songwriting - which are two very different things! It all gets mixed up nowadays - and it’s good to be flexible, but it’s also very useful to know what you’re doing and focus. Songwriting is about notes and chords and meaning and storytelling. Sound Design is EQ / Tone / FX / space / dynamics / stereo separation, and all the technical nuances. Both are important, but for this work, I wanted to lead with the song. Good song first, then design. Function first, then form.
I’ve always wanted my work to have both elements at once. Nine Inch Nails is one of my favorite artists for this reason. The sound design is impeccable, but it’s usually within the context of a great song which would work equally well on a piano. NIN uses new technology to the fullest, but isn’t bound by it. This meaning is even implicit in the themes of the work itself, which is awesome when you realize it. To even come close to unifying everything to this level on one’s own takes a while, but it’s a goal for which I’ve always been striving.
What is the content of the lyrics being sung in "Falling Forward”? And what is the theme of this album?
Falling Forward is an album about the progression of technology and its emergent conflict on humanity, presented through the lens of hardcore, glitch, and electronic music. It’s about trying to keep your heart and soul intact in the midst of this hyper-capitalist, complicated time. Some of the lyrics are quite personal relationship things, and some are more outwardly focused. I’d been through a quite turbulent personal life during this time, so naturally a bit of this found its way into the record. I’d had a few more of those deep heartbreak times, when you are in so much pain, so low, from love and loss, and I worked through those times by continuing on these tunes, trying to put it into a larger context and see some truth.
A wonderful musician is participating in "Falling Forward”. How did you collaborate with them? Is it a data file exchange, or did you session in the studio together?
Most collaborations were done in realtime, with the exception of Iggor Cavalera, who sent me files remotely as he happened to be in the studio for a recording session at the time. It sounded great right away, and I tried my best to do it justice in the tune. I think I didn’t do the best job with that one unfortunately, as it was the first time I’d had some real drums to work with and I hadn’t yet learned how to handle them in a mix, on a technical level.
With Leo, he traveled to Boston and we recorded at my studio. It only took a few hours, as he’s an amazing vocalist. Four good takes per tune and we were done.
With Mike Justian, he took it upon himself to record a drum cover of one of my tunes, which came out so awesome I suggested we go to a proper studio & record it for real. And a few weeks later we were recording with Kurt Ballou at Godcity Studio in Salem Massachusetts, the home of Converge and countless great bands who have recorded there. It was an intense technical process of a different sort. Kurt and Mike are both masters of their craft, and I got a bit of a crash course in drum recording and mixing. The studio process was pretty hands-off on my part. I just sat there on the couch and let them work, absorbing and observing as much as possible.
An involved learning process awaited when I got home. Again, like with Iggor, now there were some great live drum tracks, played well, recorded well, and engineered to perfection through the good gear, but I had no idea how to mix them into the rest of the tunes. Once more it became obvious there was a mixing thing to learn, as a lot of what I had thought would work was not working at all - and it was quite frustrating. The tones & transients of rock music are a totally different world from electronic music, and learning how to merge the two sounds started off a lifelong learning quest which is still ongoing. Those two days on the studio couch started a path which has completely changed my approach to writing and mixing.
I think, some of Drumcorps fans want you aggressive mush up style. Those parts are important elements of Drumcorps. Someday will you make those styles again?
Sure. I’m working on some very aggressive mashup tunes right now for Code Orange, a hardcore band from the USA. This style of tune still happens sometimes, mostly for remixes.
You made a work with Eric Balderose (SHADE) this year. How was the song made?
Eric made most of the tunes on his own, and we sent files back and forth, making tweaks here and there, sending emails and notes and attachments. He had a clear idea of what he wanted and I just helped him get there. I did a few remixes as well, from the stems, with added extra elements. Once all the composition was finished, I did the final mixdowns and mastering. We made this record specifically for cassette - and they played it in between bands on the Code Orange tour, it’s been a quite positive and great thing.
I had a chance to catch Code Orange on tour in Worcester Massachusetts, and as I was hanging out in the balcony I got talking with a young kid in the crowd about some other stuff, as they’re his favorite band and he was really excited to see them. At that moment, they started playing the Shade tape over the PA and the kid was really stoked on the music. “Woah this music is awesome! What is this?!” And I was like “it’s us, dude!” And he was just so enthusiastic about the whole sound. I know times have changed, but that moment blew me away, as when I was younger in that very same city, electronic music was considered so alien and strange people didn’t get it. I had to go to Europe to find that kind of acceptance. Nowadays, people are ready. It gave me a lot of hope for the future.
Do you think about going back to the US sometime? What kind of country is America to you?
The USA is a complicated place. It can’t be neatly summed up by any one movie, news report, or sweeping generalization. It’s a country of struggle, of smoke and mirrors, but also some of the best people you’ll ever meet. I love it and I hate it all at once. I think I’ll return fairly soon, as my family is there. Also, after years away, I’m realizing that in my body is some kind of deep-rooted desire to return to the woods - to hear the birds and trees in the wind - the sounds of my home - and this kind of sentimental but very important thing. The nature there, the national parks, it’s outstandingly beautiful. It’s a country of staggering natural beauty, populated by some of the most wonderful and the most horrible people ever, in a perpetual state of conflict.
I first talked with you in 2005. At that time we was talking with AIM! It has been 12 years since that time. What do you think about getting older? Do you feel uneasy? What is the good part of getting older?
Getting older is cool, because you understand some things with a certain clarity. You know how to handle yourself in the world. You have a good idea how future events will unfold, and you trust your instincts a lot more. Right now I’m happy, as my body is healthy and my mind is a bit wiser, I think. The key is to keep yourself as healthy as possible, so you can have as much freedom as possible.
Still, some things never make sense, but you try to accept them. There’s a lot more death. You lose people. You learn to be all the more grateful & happy whenever you are fortunate to spend time with someone you love, because nothing is certain.
Do you continue to make aggressive music in the future?
Sure. I’m just reacting to life. As long as things happen in the world that demand a response, I’ll keep making one.
Please give the message to readers.
Be excellent to each other.
If you like something genuinely, it’s right. Maybe make some more of the thing you love. Definitely support and appreciate it when it’s there. Inspiration is all around, so keep your eyes open.
For those who have ever joined me at a live show, or been buying records & downloads, thank you very much, as it’s your support over the years which keeps artists alive, and makes it possible for people like me to deliver these tunes.
Please tell me the basic part of you. Where are you from? What kind of environment did you grow up in?
I was born and raised in a small Massachusetts town. I spent most of my early days playing outside in the woods. It was a quiet place, and all around my parents’ house was a big forest, a lot of undeveloped land. I’m happy to have grown up in a peaceful place with beautiful nature. I was a quiet kid, and always pretty content to play alone and use my imagination. A stick can be a spaceship, an entire story can emerge from a caterpillar on a leaf. Later my brother came along and we’d play ball or frisbee or video games. But that ability to be still and alone for long amounts of time gives a kind of peace that I carry with me. Later on I’d ride the big yellow school bus to the nearby school and start learning about the world.
The people in Massachusetts are very into science and technology, and I believe this shaped my worldview considerably. On the one hand you see a value on truth-seeking, on enlightenment through education, which are great things, and on the other you see the absolute folly of hubris, the overconfidence of the geek who thinks they know it all, but creates another Frankenstein monster which can be used and abused in the world, for good and also terrible things. This eternal interplay between light / darkness / technology / humanity is endlessly fascinating to me, and it informs a lot of what I do. I think I carried those questions with me to Berlin and everywhere I’ve gone since.
Do you remember the music you bought for the first time? What kind of music work affected you?
Early on, my parents gave me a portable cassette player and headphones. It was a Panasonic, and I guarded it with my life. I took care of it all throughout the years, and it’s still around. It was my constant companion on countless car journeys throughout my childhood. I think a lot of my music outlook, and my outlook on life deep down, comes from those days riding in the back seat, gazing out the window at American suburbia rolling by, being immersed in the world of the music, and forming ideas about the world out there, the one I wasn’t yet old enough to see first-hand. I was a quiet kid, and quite content to just sit there and listen. When the batteries were running low, the fast forward and rewind stopped working, so if an album wasn’t good all the way through I’d usually just leave it in the box, or at home entirely. Only the great survived.
The greatest of them all was Michael Jackson, as any of those albums were a good bet. No filler, all killer. I think a lot of my listening tastes were formed by those records. The structure, the groove, it’s all impeccable, still. It all holds up now. You don’t really hear this influence in my tunes in an obvious way now, but I’m pretty sure a lot of my taste in fundamentals of music, I absorbed it from Quincy Jones & MJ. Don McLean was another favorite, of my 10 tapes collection. My mom bought it for me because she knew “American Pie”, but I also loved the other tunes. Some of them were quite dark. “Vincent.” or “The Grave”. Seemingly simple guitar acoustic songwriter stuff, but with a lot going on under the surface.
Later on I was fortunate that grunge was going strong, and when I first heard Alice in Chains, it just blew me away, opened up the world of the heavy. I bought all the tapes and t-shirts I could find. The vibe, such good songs, and such integrity. Fully into the darkness in a way that was scary as hell, the darkest and saddest and heaviest thing you could ever imagine. I still think that the Dirt album, it’s one of the heaviest records in existence. You can drown in it. When you’re young you can really get swept up in a vibe like this and it cuts so deeply. I don’t know if that was particularly good for my health exactly, but I liked it at the time, and I love it now, now that I can handle it. There’s something good about opening the wounds when you know why, when you know you can handle it.
Later on someone played me some thrash metal on the playground and that segued neatly into finding Sepultura, and I was also playing drums at the time so this worked. I taught myself double-kick drumming by playing along to the Chaos A.D. & Arise albums. Max Cavalera’s songwriting is really strong, he’s got great structure, it all flows nicely, which is really really difficult thing to do. There’s a reason these albums, and Roots album, still work, and that reason is songwriting and integrity, but also another thing, a more esoteric thing. Iggor Cavalera is an amazing drummer who plays with so much soul, which is something the best musicians have. There’s an urgency to what he’s doing. He’s playing because he’s gotta play, and he puts his all into it. There’s a greater reason he’s doing this. It’s something deep in him or from his past. I don’t know for sure what it is, but I do know that he’d probably put that same fire into whatever he was doing. This is my favorite kind of music, the kind which needs to be made! You can tell this on the records right away, and now having observed it in person, I can tell you that this observation is 100% correct. So, I was open to absorbing all of this right away at that young age, and I practiced drums in the basement and tried to bring that kind of devotion to whatever I was doing at the time.
A bit later on I discovered Nine Inch Nails. I didn’t like it at first, but I felt there was something there that warranted further listening, something deeper in. A friend had a spare ticket to a show in Boston, and I went, and after seeing that, I was a lifelong fan. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, still. I started listening more deeply, and it unlocked all the artistic goodness that’s in these records.
When did you start music activities?
I started music pretty early, taking piano lessons locally. Later on, as soon as music program started in school, I started playing drums. From that point on I was in every school band that was available, and some extra bands outside of school as well. I was very fortunate that our town had an excellent music program with amazing teachers, and I learned a lot about Jazz, Soul, American roots music. The music teachers in our town were wonderful people, and they taught us many good bits of wisdom which I still carry.
What kind of music community was in your local area?(What kind of record shop, club / live house was in your town?) What artist / band influenced you from your city?
There was nothing in my town, as it’s a quiet country place. I’d have to learn about music from friends, and from the radio, and on the rare moments when I happened to be visiting civilization, buying a tape or a CD based on the cover art, like some kind of cultural archaeologist.
Later on in high school, I met some people who introduced me to the hardcore punk music scene in the surrounding area. There were lots of little shows popping up all over the place - all-ages shows at small local function halls, taken over for the day by a bunch of kids with loud amps and things. At this point I discovered all new music from shows, mostly tapes and 7”s, suggestions and mixtapes from friends. There wasn’t internet at this point, so everything was word of mouth & going to the show. You had to go there. That was it. So you went.
There was an all-ages venue in Worcester Massachusetts called The Espresso Bar, which was the epicenter of it all. Still today, if you look at those old lineups, it’s just incredible. The raw talent & enthusiasm that was coming through that little venue on a daily basis was simply astounding. I discovered that actually far from being the middle of nowhere, the central Massachusetts area was teeming with underground shows. It was all still under the radar, and as far as the mainstream radio stations and press of the area knew, it didn’t exist. But we knew it was special, right away, and it was ours, and I loved that. It was a special time, and we definitely knew it then.
Sometimes you just happen to be in a place where the inspiration is flowing. It’s a socioeconomic thing, a culture thing, and the music is just emerging from the conditions of life in a very real way which connects immediately with all of the people living in that space at that time. If you happen to be in the middle of one of these scenes where a spark has been lit, cherish it, because it’s a special thing.
A friend was organizing hardcore shows at a local gymnasium, and we all helped out, and we did some great shows. We’d load up an entire van with stage platforms, set it up, and do a $5 matinee show on a Saturday afternoon, lights on. I’d sit there and stamp everyone’s hands and collect money at the door. Everyone was playing through a “PA system” made from borrowed bass amps and mixers, a mess of weird cables & daisy-chained adapters, but it somehow all worked. We’d have our band play first or second, and then some more experienced bands would show up and play really great sets.
Some of my favorite bands from the local area include Converge, Cave In, Bane, and we were all obsessed with a band called Cast Iron Hike, whose tape was pretty much the soundtrack to all the car journeys to shows. From a slightly further away part of the country I really liked Snapcase & Damnation A.D.. To me, hardcore is a vital form of folk music, people’s music. It’s just a natural reaction to life in the USA, it’s something that you just have to do and you don’t necessarily realize why. It made sense right away, and seeing it in its natural habitat was a great gift. You go to the show, bounce around and go a bit berserk, and when it’s all over you go home feeling physically exhausted but also re-energized in a spiritual way.
Why did you get interested in electronic music? When did you make electronic music first?(What kind of equipment did you use? What genre/style of music did you make first time)
I first got into electronic music when I discovered a basic MIDI sequencer program which came bundled with my Dad’s computer. Though the sounds themselves were primitive, I sensed the potential immediately. You could make any sound! My first thing was to make a gigantic drum solo, but I quickly moved into other instruments and styles, and from then on it became a goal to expand the sound palette however possible.
My high school music teacher sensed my enthusiasm & graciously let me take over the school’s MIDI lab during lunch every day. I lived for that. I’d spend all day imagining what I was going to do, planning it out. Then the moment would arrive, I’d inhale a sandwich in 2 minutes and use the remaining 18 minutes to write music. I did this every day, for the whole year, using notation software on the black & white Mac Classic and a Yamaha DX7 & TG33. At that rate I’d have a few songs done every year.
Later when I was able to save the money for a piece of gear and one piece only, I had to think long and hard. The synths in my price range didn’t seem exciting or versatile enough to make all of what I wanted, so I bought a Yamaha A3000 sampler. With the synths of the time, you were generally stuck with whatever sounds were in there. A sampler, however, could potentially sound like anything, whatever you find!
I learned that sampler inside out, and working with it put me into an open and free mode of music production, working more as a hiphop producer would, making music from other music. Instead of worrying about synthesis processes and interactions of components, you just think about the sound, and that’s it! It’s really simple and beautiful working in this way. Find the sounds, recontextualize, mash them up, make something new. I was working for a few years in this way, with this one piece of gear only. It focuses your mind in a certain way, and you go for vibe and feeling.
The genre I was making back then was along the lines of dark & melodic electronica, or IDM. Complex breaks, but also melodies and structure. I was kind of trying to make Drumcorps type sounds at the time, without knowing exactly how just yet.
Your style of playing Amen Break in real time is distinctive. When was this idea born? Why did you play Amen Break in real time?
I’m a drummer, so playing in realtime is what I do. Playing breakbeats in realtime just seemed like the next logical step, and it works. In the beginning I found it much easier to play the drums than program them. Later it became a great way to add some variety and realtime fun to the live sets. I’ve always tried to do as much live as possible, so this method of unifying the production and the live set really worked. This is exactly what you do in band world. You practice the tune, and then when you’re good enough, you record it, then you go out into the world and you play it!
In electronic music, so often the production process is completely separate from the live set process. You do some things in the studio, but then you do other things when you play live! Sometimes you DJ, even, which is a totally different skill and has almost nothing to do with producing. This paradigm came about due to the limitations of the technology, but it can be very easily changed! You just need to build your setup in a certain way. It’s always been my goal to unify all steps of the process, in the way you would as a band.
How did you mix Amen Break with the original track? It seems that your drum programming is singing or screaming. How do you get ideas for drum patterns?
About 70% of the time I’ll just have an idea already in my head, and the rest of the time I’ll jam out for a while and see what bubbles up. Once you have an idea that works, I’ll play it and gradually refine the idea in realtime, just the same as you’d do on guitar or drums or any instrument.
You have played at Squat (illegal parties). What affected you most in illegal party culture?
The thing that’s the absolute best about illegal parties is that feeling of specialness. Remember what it felt like when you were 8 years old, and it was your birthday? That’s the feeling of a free party, every time. It’s a new space, and there’s plenty of uncertainty, and sometimes some actual danger. There could be holes in the floor, police, barbed wire, who knows.
Danger makes things more real. It brings out peoples’ best qualities sometimes. I love that about squat parties. There’s a teamwork that develops in this kind of environment, where people all work together. People take on different roles, each one helps one, and when it’s done right, there’s an amazing spirit, a feedback loop of good feelings and good fortune and action.
At a free party, you see a different dynamic unfold, and it becomes an inspiration for how things could be. It affected me in a big way, seeing how people become different in a different context. If you play lots in the normal music & club world, you can get burnt out a bit, you can start feeling like a cog in the machine. Bartenders and security and musicians all serve the same ends, in all of our roles facilitate the extracting of money from people, the selling of drinks, and the eventual paying of the rent. At an illegal party you feel something very different at work. You get rejuvenated, in the same way as a hardcore show. It’s the same exact thing. You dance and move around and exhaust your body, but somehow you leave with more energy. The next day you feel energetic and hopeful, ready to take on the world again.
You played in many country breakcore scenes. (Germany, Belgium, UK, France, Canada, US, Japan, Israel, etc.) Which country has the most breakcore rooted?
Belgium, Netherlands, and UK are strong places, as the music seems to have somewhat of a local root that the people can feel. Berlin has historically been a home base, and it was certainly one of those magic local spark moments around the time of the Wasted festival. Things are changing nowadays, but many people are still around. Breakcore is somewhat rootless - it’s a movement of the internet, spread out by vast distances.
Drumcorps had a great impact on the breakcore scene. It is same level to the originators DJ SCUD, Rotator, Noize Creator, Society Suckers. Do you realize that your music has influenced scenes and artists? and, Are you stressed by the breakcore scene or the Drumcorps breakcore image?
It’s an awesome feeling to have had a positive impact on a scene and I’m grateful to have taken part in it and helped along the way. To be compared to the greats like DJ Scud & Rotator is an honor. I do realize that I’ve had quite an influence, but I try not to focus on this too much, as I feel it’s a distraction from the task at hand: good music, culture, what is going on in the world? I keep myself a little bit willingly naive about the scene, as it lets me feel free to create without rules and feelings from the past getting in the way of that inspirational spark we all love, the moment when something just clicks and you go with it.
The thing that stresses me the most about breakcore is a mentality shift in the scene which doesn’t feel in line with my personal ethics. In the older times the scene felt more worldly- minded, and I liked that. It felt like people were interested in changing the world for the better. There was a certain awareness. Lately the vibe has morphed into some sort of hedonist/nihilist kind of absurdity. And I feel that that’s where I get off the train.
See, the whole reason I do music in the first place is to combat the dehumanization of modern life. It’s a struggle to make something meaningful that stands on its own in a meaningless world, to help connect with folks who are going through this in their own way, to feel like you’re doing good work.
To make everything into a giant joke is the opposite of this, and to do it by using hyper-violent imagery for shock value without any greater meaning behind it is double bad. It’s not right, and I outright refuse to represent that stuff in any capacity, as I believe it’s toxic. It’s not everyone, and I don’t have anything personally against the people who make those things, but there are elements in the scene that make me cringe when they surface, and I try to stay away from those things. Fortunately, a lot of that vibe went over to Crossbreed, which is great. Now it’s more friendly and helpful geeks in here, which is fine by me. 😀
The Drumcorps breakcore image also stresses me a bit, in that people project a lot of things onto me. Sometimes they want me to be the most extreme, the most brutal, etc., when in fact I’m a person who enjoys many different things. I’m not much of a party animal, and I prefer to be calm and focused in my daily life. It’s vitally important actually, as working in heavy music is exhausting. You need a break from it, a space of peace to rest & recover. If the tunes are heavy & dark, everything else around you has to be warm & cozy! That’s the theory, anyway. Thankfully I’ve gotten better at communicating the vibe clearly, so misunderstandings happen less frequently now. People get it. Yay for getting older!
These things happen in such a diverse bunch. Part of breakcore’s strength, and also the thing that gives me hope in its darkest hours, is that it’s not actually a genre, but an anti- genre. It’s rebellious to the core. It’s downright hostile towards the very idea of genres. Present a rule, and breakcore will not just break that rule, it’ll show you five thousand different ways to break that rule, and also improve upon the original rules, just for spite. It absolutely refuses to be contained, which is great. Just don’t expect it to remain the same thing for very long.
It’s more healthy and helpful to embrace the chaos. Let culture do its thing. Don’t classify so much. Be okay with saying “you know what, this isn’t my thing” and be okay if people say that about what you’re making too, and be ready to be around when something cool appears, which will always definitely 100% happen. This is one thing you can absolutely count on, is that someone will do something brilliant & totally unexpected if you just wait a little bit. We don’t have to agree on everything, and that’s okay. If everyone agrees and just follows along, you’ve got the very conformist thing we were fighting against, right? Be open to the chaos. All hail Discordia.