2012 has seen some fantastic interviews on the blog. For this round, we sat down with Max Pearl, whose excellent mix you can check here. We got deep on this one...
Percussion Lab: You're 23, solidly in like, the 3rd or 4th wave of electronic music's post-rave popularity in the US. How did you get into music in general, and then how did you find yourself drawn to dance music in particular?
Max Pearl: I was trained as a concert pianist and singer. I sang in a childrens' choir with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for four years. I went to band camp for classical voice training—I sang Italian and German arias for six hours a day at a sort of fascist compound in the Middle of Nowhere, Maine. I got kicked out twice. They let me back in after the first time. I think it's because I skipped out on my training to play Magic: The Gathering whenever possible. I once sang in a Benjamin Britton opera at Carnegie Hall during my brief career as a child star soprano—I know it sounds ridiculous. When I was, like, 12 I did performances with Nathan Lane, Yo-Yo Ma, Bruce Springsteen and I appear with a choir on one of Celine Dion's albums. I forget which one. After that I spent two summers studying Jazz guitar in high school at Berklee College in Boston, and around Junior year of high school I got into noise music and electronics and started playing in a pretty awesome thrash / improv. / power violence band called Funbrain. We were fucking sick—a lot of basement shows, a couple small venues in Boston and Cambridge, the International Noise Conference at MIT in 2007, and at the Institute of Contemporary Art in South Boston. We were really into Wolf Eyes and Hair Police and I think we were trying to be something like a combination of Melt Banana and Lightning Bolt.
I came to dance music from this taste for the really hardcore stuff—/Rupture's CDs Gold Teeth Theif and Low Income Tomorrowland were the first DJ mixtapes I ever heard, some time around 2006, and at that time he was blending breakcore and jungle with hard dancehall and gangsta rap as well as Arabic and North African shit. Him and Filastine and Maga Bo really got me interested in the creative potential that comes with blending genres and regional styles—at that time the whole concept of multi-genre, multi-regional irreverent mixing was still kind of shocking and novel.
Around the same time I became obsessed with The Bug's album, Pressure, and that got me to look deeper into contemporary dancehall coming from Jamaica and London and New York City. In 2007 I got a mix CD called Grime Wave mixed by DJ Semtex that instantly fucked my whole world up and got me into UK Grime, and when dubstep came to my attention with Dubstep Allstars: Volume 4 everything sort of locked into place. So it really started with all of this manic, aggressive, and in some cases pretty violent shit—Kid 606, Dev/Null, Bong-Ra—and then I got old and now I listen to boring deep house because I'm old.
PL: How influential are contemporary/radio rnb and commerical hip hop to dj's of your generation? Do you sense that these reference points influence contemporary dj'ing/production, and if so, how does that contrast with 'classic' dance music and its influences?
MP: I mean, I think all signs point to the breakdown of this distinction between 'commercial' and 'underground.' Now more than ever, coolhunters and dataminers can quickly co-opt styles from the global underground and drag them into the marketplace, but this exchange isn't unidirectional. For Djs and producers in the underground, pop music styles are up for grabs too, and it's pretty clear that—maybe unlike previous generations of counterculture—people my age don't feel that their integrity is at stake when they decide to experiment with commercial or corporate aesthetics. That US vs. THEM dynamic doesn't seem as important, and if anything there's this sort of weird ironic relationship to pop and R&B that kind of pisses me off. I see these LA white boys who think it's fucking hilarious to drop a T.I. & Young Jeezy track in the middle of their mixtape, with this kind of self-congratulating smirk because they'd be embarrassed to fully commit to really loving this pop R&B shit. That's what irony sometimes does—it allows you to maintain a distance from something you love because you're ashamed of loving it, and it can be really poisonous. [end rant]
PL: What responsibility do new generations have to be familiar with and acknowledge the history of electronic music culture? Given the influences that created various segments of the dance music world, is there a lack of fidelity in the intent as time takes us away from those original impulses (for example, the development of disco as a safe haven for gay culture or of hip hop as a creative force for funneling aggression away from gang violence, etc)? As a dj, do you have a greater level of responsibility than the average punter, or less, or does it not matter?
MP: This is an interesting question and I don't know if I can answer it. Should we be expected to learn the history or the context of the music we love? Is there an ethical responsibility to learn about life in the favelas if we want to DJ jams from the hood in Rio? I think that journalists and middl(wo)men have a responsibility to not be lazy; that much I'm comfortable saying. It's just fact checking, and I think that integrity isn't enforced as much as it maybe was.
With footwork music from Chicago there's so much lazy journalism and misrepresentation—a lot of the originators and pioneers go uncredited because they don't happen to have shiny web presences, and because people like Chrissy Murderbot have the privilege of being able to tour and reach crossover audiences in indie media. So, as a cultural intermediary I think there is an obligation to do your homework, and to give respect to your elders and contemporaries, especially when those people don't have the luxury to take off on tour. I just read a blog post that really pissed me off, wherein this author is talking about how he's overwhelmed by the sheer amount of access he has to music from different places and backgrounds, and he seems pretty content not learning anything about them. He even erroneously attributes Juke music to Detroit which made me see red.
Thanks to the internet, it's easy and requires less commitment to dip your toe into a different corner of the pond and do a little exploration into a world you're not so familiar with, but it's also hard to find good accountable, reliable facts. I imagine that in 1993 if you were into house music and you lived in Boston, you probably had to subscribe to some expensive British magazine to stay up to date, pay a lot on shipping, then go to the record store every week and look at the release sheets and see what just came in. If you wanted to show up at your friend's party and DJ for an hour or two, you needed to get an hour or two worth of records, and you're not going to go buying jungle records if you're trying to brand yourself as a house DJ. It costs—at least now—eleven whole dollars to buy one imported 12” single. Fuck that.
PL: Why/how does jungle remain such a potent influence in dance music?
MP: Couldn't tell you. Perhaps because people are weary with this proliferation of new microgenres that last for about a week—moombahton, #seapunk, shitty hipster footwork—and they want to return to something that has endured for twenty years. They want to slow down and enjoy a little historicity.
PL: What is Cluster Mag, and how does that play a role in your life as a dj/producer?
MP: Cluster Mag is an international magazine of popular culture, art, music and technology. We attempt to engage critically and intellectually with contemporary culture, because we're sick of the lack of journalistic standards in much of the blogosphere, and because we're sick of literary magazines and how white and liberal arts-educated and out-of-touch they are. So we set out to do our own thing, pulling from the tradition of music magazines, literary magazines, and cultural criticism. We wanted Cluster Mag to be hip, relevant and urgent for a wide group of young people that includes all different backgrounds, interests and education levels, and we wanted it to be rigorously edited, thoughtful, and subversive. We also want to call a lot of borders into question, and I think that reflects my approach to DJing.
PL: What are your goals as a musician? Do you hope to make a living in music in some way?
MP: I want to DJ once a week, make a couple hundred bucks, and supplement my freelance work. Those are my aspirations. I would like to make some money from releasing music through my record label Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and I know that will never come from record sales. Nobody buys music. I think there's a small amount of money to be made throwing parties, another thing to supplement my freelance and to generate some capital to keep growing, and I think there's money in licensing music for television and stuff. But I don't have a formula yet. I'm a pretty terrible business man.
PL: Who are some of your favorite New York producers at the moment?
MP: Big up Lil Jabaa, Obey City, Kuhn, Zuzuka Poderosa, Jubilee, Rizzla, Lamin Fofana, Matt Shadetek, Dubbel Dutch, Braille, Lord Raja, Archie Pelago, LE1F, Boody, Arca, Gobby, and my own label artist Max McFerren who is the best producer in NYC right now.
PL: What events do you consider a must in New York right now?
MP: I love Astro Nautico parties. I love Deep Space at Cielo but the drinks are so fucking expensive. I love TURRBOTAX, especially now that they have their new space. I miss Ghe20G0th1k.
PL: We've lived through dubstep, post-dubstep, and juke/footwork; what's the Next Big Thing?
MP: Oh, god. NY House from the 90s. Kerri Chandler. Motown. Django Reinhardt. I hope Das Racist gets back together.
Happy Holidays! Enjoy Max's mix!