Skylax Records was started in 2004 by Hardrock Striker, a French-born producer and DJ who, through discovering electronic music in the USA, has been putting on parties and releasing records like clockwork for twenty years.
Hardrock Striker (Joseph G. Bendavid) and DJ Sprinkles (Terre Thaemlitz) have had a working relationship for the years since Joseph discovered Terre’s music back in the 00s, later re-releasing the not-so-known Routes Not Roots in 2010 to major critical acclaim, licensed from Comatonse, Terre’s queer and minor label. To celebrate Joseph’s twenty years in the business, together they’ve issued a spin on the classic compilation format as SKYLAX HOUSE EXPLOSION (or S.H.E.), an homage to the Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion alias that released Routes Not Roots to much very positive reviews.
They each took the time to answer some questions: Joseph over Skype focussing on the development of the label with characteristic enthusiasm; Terre via email speaking candidly about her state of mind in the booth, embracing her financial limitations in the face of capitalist pressures, how online documentation of music influences the act of remembrance, and still not believing the hype.
Let’s start with where you were in your life when you started Skylax Records.
In France I was listening to rock and roll a lot but kind of indie, early 80s music. Things like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Ministry, The Stooges, Velvet Underground and Bowie of course; I started with him. It was rare in France to find this music in my Parisian suburb in the mid 80s.
That’s similar to Terre in a way, who was listening to Depeche Mode and found stuff like that hard to find in Missouri.
Yeah! And I was reading a lot of newspapers (lesinrocks mostly), buying a lot of books about music (Lester Bangs was already my favorite, so hard to dig and find). In 86 I remember I got this book L’Année du Rock 1985 (I took it from the municipal library in my hometown Sarcelles) featuring some wicked bands such as Information Society, The Cure, Dream Syndicate, Jason & The Scorchers, Sisters of Mercy, Blasters, Gun Club, The Cramps, Social Distortion, Lone Justice and Wall of Voodoo. I had never heard about their music but I knew they existed. I knew something else existed, another future full of possibilities. I found out recently that Louie Vega started his career by doing a remix of Information Society in 86!
Before Skylax, there was Parisonic that you started with Peter Black. How did Parisonic become Skylax?
That’s a good question. We put out many records at the start, with people like Jazid Collective featuring Lindstrøm on the guitar. I met him in Miami, no one knew who he was at the time. We had put out 15 or so records and I was learning very fast. Imagine, in 1998 I was starting to be very interested in electronic music and in 2000, I had no clue about what Trax was. In mid 2000, I was digging really hard, did some research and six months later I got the contact of the guy who owns the most of the Trax Records output and licensed many of them. No one was doing edits of those tracks at that time; stuff like Frankie Knuckles ‘Your Love’ and ‘Computer Madness’. The label was going pretty well but then there was a problem because one guy stole our money. It’s always like that [laughs]. So Peter and I decided to close down Parisonic. I was really upset. If I remember well, it was late 2003 and I was on the plane. I saw the airport logo LAX in big and the plane started to take off in the sky so I thought, I got the name. I’m going to call my new label SKY-LAX so, SKYLAX.
Oh cool! That’s where it came from!
Yeah as stupid as that!
It’s nice that, as a French label, your name references the fact that you started doing this stuff in Los Angeles.
Exactly! And I was living for years with the Armenian community, and all of them were DJs, all of them wanted to be famous and I was like, what’s the point of being a DJ? I had no clue back in those days. How can you get money just by DJing? But yeah I still love Glendale in L.A. It’s a very cool town, there is lot of Armenian people. It’s very Middle Eastern orientated so it’s cool for me.
And so where does Hardrock Striker come from?
It’s the name of the band I was supposed to set up in L.A. [laughs], but we created another band when we started doing tracks with Peter & D. (this guy I can’t reveal his name but he’s the one whose got the Dave Gahan touch and he was our singer.) It was supposed to be called Shark Attack.
Cool. Again it’s like the Skylax name in that you’re referencing the place you were at, at the time.
I never lie to people, this is who I am. I’m not going to hide or create a new personality.
Electronic music is starting to be a museum
What was the French house scene like when you started Skylax?
It was a nightmare. Basically, there was nothing but progressive house. But then there was a switch in 2002 with labels like Kill the DJ. At the same time s Parisonic, we started Parisonic Events, and started to gather all the DJs in Paris because back in those days they were getting paid unofficially. So we started managing Ivan Smagghe, Chloé, Jennifer (the whole Pulp Legendary Club DJ crew), Dan Ghenacia, Jef K, Erik Rug, D’julz. The Kill The DJ guys liked us and we started playing out regularly and I started to see a switch. They had the same kind of roots that we had; it was more new wave, rock orientated with a lot of queer aspects to it. It wasn’t just straight male guys everywhere, which is common now.
Did you see Skylax as fitting in with a sound that was there already, or did you see it as something coming from L.A. into Paris?
No it was always from L.A. We were selling records internationally. Many people thought we were an American label because we had production there but in fact it is an American label! The sound is completely American, it has nothing to do with French house. And let’s be honest, I would have loved to have done the stuff with the French heads at the time with filters but I never did. I think we tried it with one track – maybe one day I’ll put it out – but all the time we were mixing rock and electronic. When I started the label, I was already 26/28, so I knew about many genres and movements in music already. It wasn’t like I was twenty and I had to absorb it. I had already absorbed so much.
Did you have an idea of where you wanted the label to go, or to just see what happens?
No I just wanted to see what happens. Today, I’m throwing up records like boom boom boom. And you know what? This is typically American. The way I’m doing it, no Frenchman would do it. It’s almost like a factory. Put a record out, then prepare the next four or five. Sell sell sell! I learnt all this business aspect from the US.
So in terms of a turning point with the label, when and where did Terre come in?
I was always looking and searching for artists and suddenly, in 2008/9, I met DJ Sprinkles through email. We started to be friends as we were just speaking. I told him to send me some tracks and he sent me a lot and then he sent me Kami-Sakunobe (Routes Not Roots). When I heard it I thought it was extraordinary. I said you know what Terre, let’s put it out again. And this is how the relationship started. I built the whole thing around it – House Explosion – 1, 2, 3 with the EPs and then we had the album. I really wanted to put it out and for people to look at it as a statement. I asked Terre if we could use the androgynous cover, he told me “no man are you crazy? Shops are going to take your CDs off the shelves.” He told me if you want to do it I will support you 100% but the thing is be careful, they’re not as open as you are. But we put it out and it was like an explosion because people started to listen more to this kind of music. We had 5/5 on Resident Advisor, we had the cover on display in the Berlin Metro and on the TV. Some people were offended, but the reason I did it was because I’ve always been a fan of David Bowie. All those 70s guys, there were some great covers like this, looking very androgynous, so why can’t we put out shemale stuff? It’s 2010 and we can’t do that? So you know what, I put it out straight in your face. If you don’t like it, go to hell.
It’s really interesting because Comatonse is a really small label compared to yours. For Terre, it would have been a big change being a small record magnified by a label like Skylax. How did a record so small change the label for you?
It was great. People liked it, especially journalists. Good people that we liked. They said, ok this label is more than a house label.
And did you start to try and find records that were similar (if that’s possible) or did it change your outlook at all?
No it’s impossible. Nobody can do it like this, maybe somebody can copy this sound but who is bringing some philosophy? Who is bringing in Jacques Attali in their tracks? Nobody! He has pages about it. It was like an instant love.
And you continued to put out Terre’s stuff, like Hush Now, which was hard to find beforehand?
For me Hush Now wasn’t a statement in the beginning, but then I realized it was a very big statement and we did some videos and put it out.
And again, so different to Terre as she does no promotion at all, she just throws it out there and if someone picks it up, whatever. It’s kinda surprising for someone like me who sees Terre as this very quiet person who wants to stay under the radar, but then her records out on Skylax portray the opposite.
I think it’s because we have a very close relationship. He knows the way I’m working. I’ve always been dedicated to the label, to the artists and he knows that and he knows that I’m trying to push the artist as much as I can. I mean, I thought I found one of the best records ever made, you know? It’s like having the Velvet Underground and Nico lost tapes on your label! [laughs]
I’ve been releasing many other great records and one of the records that I am very proud of is the Jason Grove – 313.4 Ever. That’s a crazy record and some malicious guys said some negative things, like is he really from Detroit, is he really black blah blah but Move D told me it was maybe the best album he’d heard in the last ten years!
The music industry is very bad today, and the DJ industry is even worse. Why? The DJ industry has too much curation. Everybody is trying to dig too much and saying “oh man look at this cool track from 1973 it’s like €150 on Discogs”. With me, I’m putting out records, all my strength into artists and eventually you build up a story like a “real” DJ at some point.
That was the point with Terre. What’s the point of me telling him “oh you know what, let’s license some old school dance obscure tracks.” For sure everybody is going to love it, for sure I’m gonna get 10/10 reviews, oh it’s so extraordinary, “when dance music was still marvelous” and all of this bullshit thing in reviews. But I knew that was a bad idea, because you have to live with the time you’re in, with what exists right now! It’s too much remembrance and I don’t have faith in that.
Too much nostalgia?
Exactly! If it’s just to dig and say, look at my records there’s something wrong with that. It has to stop. And this is what I told Terre. Electronic music is starting to be a museum. What’s next? Ben Klock or Nina Kraviz will be at Madam Tussauds? [laughs]
So you consider Skylax a forward-thinking label?
I think it’s a very modern way of approaching music and this explains Skylax House Explosion. I’m using only my Skylax tracks. Nobody would do that! It needs to be fresh and it needs to be talking about who you are and the scene and the music that lives on today.
And how do the Skylax parties run along side the label? Do you think about them in the same way?
On the label, I have no boundaries, no frontiers. On the parties aspect it is different because I’ve been doing it so much. I’ve been bringing a lot of DJs to Paris for the first time, DJ Sprinkles, Daniel Baldelli, Beppe Loda, Idjut Boys, Spencer Parker and Rekids, Black Meteoric Star and of course I did also the whole I-F, Legowelt, Dexter, Serge Clone way before it was hype.
It was hard for French people to understand this kind of leftfield and indie music back then. They didn’t get it and we got some bad numbers. I remember in 2007, I did a Clone night with Dexter & Serge at the Rex club in Paris and I got shouted at for bad numbers! Same things happened to me when I brought Daniele Baldelli at their so called “été d’amour” [laughs]. And same thing happened another time when I brought DJ Sprinkles and Gerd Janson (his first time in Paris!) at La Machine du Moulin Rouge. So imagine, I was bringing Legowelt, people like that and they didn’t like it! Obviously today, you do some line ups like that, it works. You can even turn it up into a festival! But ten years ago it was a nightmare.
However, that was particular to Paris. Berlin was – thank God – already on top of the game. I remember when we did the release of Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion in Berlin and Terre, in the middle of his set, played an ambient track. The crowd – it was at Cookies – went bananas. It was top notch, the best thing they could have heard. If he would have done that in Paris, it would have been a disaster. They ask you to bang the place, it’s all the same. They say they want to be underground blah blah blah, but they just wanted hear the same tracks. Today it changed a lot in a good way but there’s also a lot of hype, this Discogs white male thing is ruling everywhere. The worst thing to me is those disco edits. I just can’t stand it anymore. To me everything works as long as it speaks about you. If not you will be just another digger DJ showing on Facebook the labels, videos and packages you received. One of my best souvenirs as a DJ is when I played in Panoramabar on a Sunday afternoon from 2PM to 6PM, with Sandwell District, Daniele Miller and Nina kraviz on the lineup. I never had such a great experience in my life; it’s the best club in the world.
So let’s get something clear, is the compilation celebrating twenty years of Skylax?
It’s my twenty years in fact. Skylax is like 14 years old, but I’ve been in the business for twenty years. 1998 was when I was in L.A. the first time.
What’s next? You sound like a guy who’s always got a plan.
Well I have maybe six or seven records to put out. I never stop! I always find some artist that I like, and I say you know I want to release your records. Even it takes two years or three years. I don’t care because when I sign something or somebody, I always think about what it will sound like in two or three years. The way I’m doing it I can put out ten or fifteen 12 inches a year. No one is doing that. It’s a flow. It’s what I learnt in the USA.
STAY UNDERGROUND IT PAYS.
How did you first meet Joseph? I think he mentioned MySpace?
We met on Craigslist. Nah, just joking. I never did social media, like MySpace. He emailed me back in 2009 saying he’d like to have me play in Paris some day.
What had the response been to the Comatonse release at the time? I imagine pretty low and Japan-based?
The original release of Routes Not Roots was produced between 2004 and 2005, and came out as an edition of one thousand copies on Comatonse in 2006. Like you said, the only proper distribution was in Japan. I think it was actually the last Comatonse release to be distributed through Cisco Music, which was one of the most influential distributors of house in Japan. It was really devastating to a lot of us when they closed their doors. But even at that point in 2006, they were weakening. Of those thousand copies, they only took on four hundred. The rest were slowly going one by one through my website. I didn’t do any paid promotion – I never do – so it was mostly just sold on a word of mouth basis.
Joseph spoke to me at length about the initial reissue for Routes Not Roots. One story he told is when you advised to keep the image of the naked person on the cover obscured – as it was on the original Comatonse release – for fear of a backlash. To me this is like an “outing” of the Comatonse release through the slightly raised visibility of Skylax within a more European/straighter market. Along with the wider distribution channels labels like Mule and Skylax provide, what is the affect on content in terms of its raised visibility through these label partnerships? And what conditions were acceptable to you when licensing your more dance-orientated projects to labels like Skylax? Given how much you’ve worked with Skylax, you must really trust Joseph, and I mean, his enthusiasm is pretty contagious!
Well, you know, here in Japan it is illegal to distribute uncensored images of genitalia, and the government keeps their definition of what nudity qualifies as “art” deliberately vague, which is why those images are only on the inside of the packaging on the Comatonse edition. Of course, issues about representing the body, sexuality and gender are important to my projects, so releasing from within Japan has raised the stakes of censorship, and I’ve struggled with how to continue addressing those issues frankly, yet not jeopardize my immigration status. On top of all that, when Joseph asked about releasing Routes… in Europe, I was still in the middle of a three year contract with Mule for my Midtown 120 Blues album, which was not a queer-friendly label. I mean, it was such drama to keep control over the cover design (with Laurence Rassel’s amazing painting), having to argue to include the album’s minuscule liner notes, having them fight me about including Japanese as well as English (which was important to me since I live in Japan, but they were all about surface style and worried that including Japanese would decrease its cool factor in Japan). They were even arguing with me to get rid of my “dirty” track titles, like, “Deep into the Bowel of House.” Nonsense stuff. It was also important for me that some queer remixers be involved in the singles, but they rejected every artist suggestion I made, opting for EU techno remixers I couldn’t really spin in any of my own DJ sets. The entire thing was like pulling teeth, and I know they felt the same, like I was being a princess. But I also had to keep on their good side until the contract was up to keep getting payments. You know, all the games that go along with all of these small label deals. This is why I almost exclusively self-release on Comatonse since then. So anyway, I was really in a beaten down and cautious state when Joseph started asking about reissuing Routes… But when he was like, “I really want to put that nude photo on the cover,” wanted to translate all the liner notes into French, and include a proper booklet. It was such a huge relief.
Routes Not Roots originally came out in 2006, the same year as the final Deeperama mix CD (You? Again? launch party). Excuse me for saying so, but there’s something about that period, when reading interviews with you from that time, where you seem a little less jaded, actually enthusiastic about the module parties. I realise the sexuality of the dance floors is unlikely to change, but given how many more bookings you get these days, has the audience reception matured over the years? I’ve been at sets of yours when the opening bars of ‘Companion’ got applause, which is pretty surprising. But also I’ve seen more than a handful of times the “can you play more energy?” request (that one never gets old).
Yeah, at that time I had the regular Deeperama parties at Module in Tokyo, and Deep-a-licous parties quarterly in Kyoto. I wouldn’t say I was less jaded, but that was a reinvigoration of my DJing in Japan that had yet to catch on in Europe. Until the Module parties, I literally had not DJd with any regularity since Sally’s II. I only started getting invited to DJ regularly in Europe after Midtown came out. I was still primarily known in Europe for my electroacoustic projects as Terre Thaemlitz. Those bookings were down after EFA’s bankruptcy in 2003 (for those who are too young to remember, they were Europe’s largest distributor of electronic music), and it was a bit of luck that the DJ bookings in Japan were happening back then. They were not enough to survive off of by any means, but they were there, up until the Japanese release of Routes. So I would have been talking more about club stuff in interviews, which may have read as my being more optimistic to some people, just because people are so trained to associate clubs with pleasure? Dunno…but maybe that’s what you picked up on?
These days, I do get the impression that some people at my EU gigs are familiar with the tracks. But in what way they are familiar with them remains vague. Like, even if they are familiar, many “fans” still call me “dude” or “bro.” So some key information about my own gender issues, and the issues in my projects, is still somehow not getting conveyed despite texts, interviews, and this endless flow of bullshit from my mouth. [Laughs.] Clearly, others are less familiar, interrupting me while I DJ in order to ask me to “pump it up,” as you said. I think one of the strangest moments was a couple of years ago when a young woman in London was standing in front of the booth with a kind of fed up expression on her face, shouting at me, “Can’t you at least smile? Smile?!!” Like, that was what was ruining the mix for her. So who knows what the fuck is going on in peoples’ heads.
I have never felt in control of a dance floor. And that is absolutely related to my aversion to crowds, and alienation from mob settings. Crowd enthusiasm freaks me out. It’s more likely to trigger feelings of fear than camaraderie. Or at least feelings of awkwardness. When you grow up with people making a group sport out of fag bashing you, it’s hard to move on and resocialize one’s emotional core. So this literal, physical separation of the DJ booth from the crowd is a kind of apt metaphor for my own sense of social alienation in clubs. We’re used to hearing about DJ sets as a “journey,” and we’re all along for the ride, but I think that journey can also be a bit of an emotional hijacking for some people – even the DJ. I’m not sure if that larger dynamic ever really changes. I don’t expect it to. And I guess that also excuses me from whatever stupid pressure about trying to please everyone that some DJs might put on themselves, so I can just get on with doing what I can in that situation.
Your routes to Japan have been discussed at length in interviews over the years. Routes Not Roots instructs the listener to “Remember where you are. See where you are.” At the time (circa 2006) you were in Kami-Sakunobe. Recently, you’ve moved out of the city, and although at the time of writing Nuisance you said “bookings are down”, now this is no longer the case. I’ve noticed you taking bookings at festivals you wouldn’t have previously so I’m wondering, where are you now? What routes enabled you to get there? And what has that meant in terms of interacting with urban dynamics and the issues that arise from them? Is it the kind that you don’t find in the quiet countryside?
That line, “bookings are down,” was written in 2006 for the text, “Introduction to Nuisance“. So that was really at that time of the post-EFA-collapse I mentioned above, when European bookings of my Thaemlitz performances were becoming scarce, and I was still not accepted as a DJ outside of Japan. Since then, with regard to touring, the DJ stuff has really taken over. Some art stuff is still happening, like with Documenta last year, or I just returned from doing some stuff at the Darmstadt summer course in New Music, but my tours are really dominated by DJing these days. A couple years ago I started limiting myself to three EU tours per year, for a duration of two weekends each. That seems to work okay, in terms of being able to fill up that amount of dates. And it’s an amount of work that is personally manageable for me, since I still do my own bookings. I’ve never had an agent or manager, and don’t expect to ever use one. I’d rather work at the reasonable limits of my own capacity, which is also a way to remain small. I still generally operate on a simple “first come, first serve” basis for confirming gigs, and am not too fussy about who it’s for. I’m admittedly ignorant about what parties or festivals are trending in Europe. Sometimes I realize later that I was in the wrong place, or working for the wrong people, but such is life. Most of the gigs I patently turn down are in countries where queerness and/or transgenderism remain illegal, places where I personally don’t feel safe, or where it’s too much of a colonialist situation when my first-world fee is too out of balance with a third-world economy, etc.
I do enjoy the area of Japan where I’m living now. I have space, and I’m away from Tokyo’s crowds of Japanese “salary men” and “housewives.” But to be clear, my move to the countryside was motivated by the fact that it was the only way I could get more space on my budget. So although the move socially worked for me, in economic terms it was about maximizing a limited budget. Not about creating a luxury artist retreat, or having lots of choices; especially as an immigrant dealing with the extremely anti-foreigner Japanese housing market. I’m just really lucky that I don’t have a job that requires me to commute into Tokyo every day. That’s what allows me to live far enough out of the city to find a cheap yet reasonably sized place to live. I’m very lucky in that sense.
In terms of what “routes” I followed, of course that is such a convoluted web to unpack into a simple answer. In terms of social praxis, I think a lot of it has to do with budgeting. I grew up in a household that was overburdened by debt, and I was always aware of how economic duress pushes people into making more wrong decisions. Like check cashing culture, and that whole trap. I also saw how most of the means of personal escape or transformation that societies offers us – drugs, alcohol, tobacco, even hormones – are also very often gateways into lifestyles of endless debt. So as a child, I was always incredibly rational when it came to identifying, accepting and working within my financial limitations. If I couldn’t afford something, I simply gave up on that idea, and dug deeper into what I could do. As a simple example, I’ve spent my entire life almost exclusively buying second-hand clothes, and actually still wear some things I had back in high school. [Laughs.] It also affected the gear in my studio, of course. I’ve never owned a 303, 808 or 909, because they just cost too much. As a result, I ended up going into different sounds. Financially I had to. And I was okay to not have a 303, even though I thought the electric fart noises they made sounded cool. If anything, the idea of overpaying for an instrument that was actually only popular because at one point it was totally cheap, and the only thing poor producers in Chicago could easily get their hands on, struck me as a kind of betrayal of solidarity with those early acid house producers! And in the end, my “career” was better served by not having one.
I guess my outlook might be different from a lot of people, who focus on and work towards obtaining things they can’t afford. I always saw that as a kind of derailment, if not a lack of ability to appreciate what one actually has. Of course, under capitalism, dreams for a “better life” also become an act of alienation from one’s own class experience, and from a sense of class-consciousness. So, yeah, I really do think I am only able to survive as I do because of my refusal to go into debt, refusal to spend what I don’t have, refusal to go to grad school, refusal to use credit cards, refusal to buy into overpriced cell phones and pocket wi-fi routers – as much as possible avoiding doing anything that requires a monthly or annual fee. I definitely always avoided having kids, for sure. If societies keep cramming “family, family, family” down our throats while deliberately and strategically refusing to foster circumstances in which we can raise children in a healthy environment (as if there is such a thing), then fuck that! I refuse to be responsible for putting more meat into the grinder, and putting more people through a shitty life. So I try to be in touch with my limitations, work with them, be angry and frustrated by them, don’t emotionally run away from them. Don’t be seduced by empty social promises of success and all that crap that comes on the condition that we cooperate with heternormative bullshit. All of that is just about repressing an awareness of our real circumstances, and making people feel helpless and paralyzed. And putting us in debt is step one to locking us into a life of slavery. Well, anyway, that’s the shit I’ve told myself my entire life. I think it’s helped me do more within very real limitations. More than I could have done if always dreaming in that most standard way about how to overcome my limitations, and trying to do shit I simply couldn’t afford.
I have never felt in control of a dance floor.
Over the last 25 years, your work seems (at least to me, as someone who has mostly consumed your work in a non-linear way) to be to be thematically resilient. Of course this probably says more about the themes than your work but inevitably, a compilation like this – though it contains none of your productions – evokes the idea of a “retrospective”. How, if at all, does looking back change things – not only with the addition of new work and contexts to examine it, but also as documentation changes, and the way we remember things changes?
As I think you know, I’ve spent many years now trying to explore this very topic in different ways. While I continue to release projects on the one hand, I have also taken steps to reduce documentation, keeping things offline as much as possible, not doing digital distribution, getting uploads taken down etc. The former activity remains, as it always has, about economic necessity. The latter comes from a reaction to the increase in LGBT archives, and the irresolvable contradictions of newfound visibility versus generations of closets. I do believe that, historically speaking, strategies of the closet are about more than just trauma. Secrecy, silence, invisibility, hypocrisy, states of irresolution – these are at the core of techniques for queer survival. So there is a real puzzle in my mind as to how much one should cooperate with notions of archiving. And I guess I’ve allowed the fact that 99% of people are moving on with the pro-visibility notion that “Silence (always) = Death” to allow me the space to go another way, and try culturally withholding when possible, simply as a form of research to see what happens.
As you say, the ways we document has changed so much. Just between iTunes, Discogs, YouTube and Soundcloud, we can see the ways in which contemporary notions of libraries or archives are really entwined with consumer experience. Deeply so. And, again as you say, that also affects how we remember. How we feel about remembering. How we feel about uncovering or discovering alternate histories. These days, it’s immediately enmeshed with desires to own and possess it. Immediately looking up prices on Discogs, and very quickly using the marketplace to reaffirm the cultural value of those alternate histories. None of that is interesting for me. It makes me want to choose not to cooperate when possible. I think something like the Skylax mix incorporates all of these circumstances, you know? On the one hand, I am allowed to do a sound collage without having to generate “authentic” materials. From the producer side and DJ side, I really like this: to enter a music industry contract that is not about individual authorship. At the same time, I am taking on the role of a curator or archivist, and only selecting tracks from their catalog that resonate with my interests and experiences. That is a kind of authoritative act. I am also not sure if the producers of those tracks will like the way I mixed them or not. I can imagine someone wishing I didn’t add a filter or effect to some part of their composition that they would have preferred left alone. I also don’t presume friendship with the producers of the tracks I selected, which is simply about my not buying into the default music industry bullshit about community. I mean, I just don’t know any of them. So those are points of discomfort for me. They all go hand in hand, in this contemporary context.
Has your increase in visibility in any way seen an uptick in your other projects being consumed by people who go to DJ Sprinkles sets? Or is the DJ Sprinkles stuff still very much compartmentalised? Similar with Comatonse releases, I get a sense that these days, you’re shifting more units with projects like Deproduction than you might have done with Soulnessless. Is this the case or is my perception way off?
I don’t know what kinds of numbers you are thinking, but you’re probably way off. [Laughs.] Boomkat has been doing a wonderful job with the vinyl distribution, and some of those have broken a thousand copies with represses, but most stuff is well under that. Well under. And I presume the reality of the numbers for someone small like me is always going to be a surprise to fans or readers who are not familiar with how little most of us sell. Like, if I wasn’t in this business, I’d probably assume someone like me, with my level of hype in the press, must usually be selling ten thousand copies or so of an album. I don’t know what the average person really imagines, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the kind of general image people hold. It’s really deceptive. And it goes back to that question of how we remember, and value. We always associate visibility with sales, in the same way we want to associate it with power. And all of this commercial framework – including the press, of course – conditions and contradicts and defeats most any message I try to put out there about divestments of power, and pragmatic discussions of economic realities. In recent years, the gap in sales between small and major labels is wider and wider, reflecting the increasing income gap in societies in general. In the 90s, when I wasn’t as ”popular” as I am now, and almost nobody in Europe even knew I produced house music, I could generally sell 2,500 copies of a vinyl EP. That was for something that was essentially ignored by the industry. Today, with all of this “success” and “attention” I’m getting, the pressings are usually only around 500 copies, even with no digital distribution. I know I’m always quoting Flavor Flav, but now more than ever, “Don’t believe the hype.” You can’t. You mustn’t, if you want to understand how precariously these industries and scenes work for many of us.
Something I’ve always wondered, does the DJ Sprinkles project have a shelf life that isn’t related to your physical ability to play, and more related to its visibility? How much do you limit the work you accept? I presume you must be offered pretty “big” gigs that you turn down these days? (waiting on that Sprinkles stadium tour) I’ve always jokingly imagined that, once you die, all Terre Thaemlitz projects/CDs/vinyl/tapes across the world self-destruct, never to be heard or read again. It’d be so apt.[Laughs.] That would be amazing, if people deleted or threw away stuff. I would truly love that. Maybe you’ve heard me talk about wishing all that remained of my projects was the texts, if anything, and the sounds disappeared like a dead language only to be imagined.
Documenta was the only really “big” gig I’ve been offered, and I accepted that because the invitation came directly from Pierre Bal-Blanc, who is a curator I trust. For me it was more about working with him, and less about Documenta. Other than that, I’m not getting any offers that are out of the ordinary, which I interpret as a good thing, and maybe a sign that I’m doing things right, in keeping with my own ideas about keeping things queer and minor.
Joseph and I have a shared love/obsession over the Deeperama mixes. I never caught you in that millennial, pre-Routes period, but anyone who’s tracked your sets since that time will have noticed the sonic plunge into far deeper, pensive selections; long gone are the days of hearing you play ‘Riding High’ by Glider. I imagine you’re pretty jaded with the whole damn thing, but is there anything else you attribute to this change over the years? I also notice your sets vary greatly in accordance to the venue, and crowd. If you’re feeling particularly punky, it seems to correlate with a more Sprinkles-heavy set. When it’s a more receptive crowd, you pull out things a little more jacking/obscure. Is this about right or is my perception way off?
I think it really just has to do with the fact that when Module offered me a residency, and I hadn’t been DJing with any regularity for many years, I felt a bit obligated to go out and buy some new records. And the fact that I was really only DJing in Japan let me be more forgiving of English lyrics that most of the crowd wouldn’t understand anyway. Hence, Glider. [Laughs] Also, Japanese club goers are so much more forgiving of discontinuity and randomness. I mean, these days even Germans can dance to New York style classic deep house, but ten or more years ago this was really not the case. To my ears, the majority of what Europeans called “house” was straight up techno. So my sets in Europe have never been as open as my sets in Japan, simply because European ears were not as open. During the time of those early Deeperama mixes, I was really getting a lot of negative reactions from European club goers. I think starting to focus almost exclusively on playing my own tracks in Europe was a kind of defense mechanism, because then I could say to the people complaining to me as I played, “Hey, sorry, no requests. These are actually my tracks and they flew me from Japan to play them, so… you’ll have to go talk to the party organizer if you don’t like it.” There was a time when I was saying that a lot. As the years passed, and I continued producing my own tracks, it became easier to make my sets focus on them. So I think that’s how that started.
Are there any more SKYLAX HOUSE EXPLOSION ideas/projects/compilations being discussed at the moment? What about the next twenty years??
I’ll refer you to the boss Joseph for that one. As for twenty years from now, I don’t know what I’ll be doing at 70, but hopefully whatever it is won’t involve international flights. Culturally, I think we’re really going into more difficult times. Looking at Trump, it’s clear that US politics will continue erasing the gap between government and business, which was the long-term agenda of Reaganomics. Brexit indicates the same for the UK. France is always teetering on the edge. Japanese elections are a joke. I think globally we’ll have more and more self-serving “business leaders” in government. And that will be empowered by greed – theirs and ours – which begets xenophobia, racism, class warfare, ecological carelessness, over population…. What will that “sound” like? Honestly? It will sound amazing! Exciting! Happy! Idealistic! Sexy! Energetic! Empowering! Inclusive! All the fucking propagandistic bullshit pop music insists this world is about but it is not. On a dominant cultural level, our misery will continue sounding increasingly shiny and brilliant. Bombastic ecstasy. Perhaps a few minor cultures will sonically retaliate with appropriate venom, but you can never count on it. That’s my guess.