Matt and Randy from Mount Sims discuss how the machine is secondary to their creative process – so who better to grill them than their Berlin buddy and master of machines, Jackson!
What brought you to Berlin and what were you looking for? Randy: I wanted to leave Toronto and do something new. At the time the music scene in Toronto was pretty difficult. It’s an expensive city and most musicians and artists have day jobs, and I didn’t want to do that anymore, I wanted a change. I took a vacation to Berlin and fell in love with it. It’s kind of a music hub. It vibrates. haha!
Matt: I started working with a booking company here, JackFruit, and started getting more DJ bookings in Europe than I was in the United States, cos the techno scene is a little bit lacking there and I was kind of coming back every other year from then on. Anywhere outside of Los Angeles or New York, nothings going on. So I came to Berlin first in 1996 and I really loved the city from then and kept coming back every other year. It’s a good city. The arts scene is open here, people are more open minded, it’s a different kind of lifestyle here which I think is great.
So you guys are happy with what you found here?
Okay, the thing I wanna know is have you found matching points in German culture or the culture of Berlin historically, with your own aesthetic? Matt: Completely, completely. The rigidity of the Ballhaus movement I find super interesting, and applications of that, affirming visuals to electronic music, or even non-electronic music. Ballhaus was in a strange way like a modern minimal kind of rigid structure – a rigid platform in art. With music, the Berlin scene sort of digested this, and I’ve always thought of it as an underground art form. It’s sort of resurfaced in a lot of different ways, the aesthetics from this period in general. In my own music I don’t particularly take that on, but the rigidity I sort of do.
So there’s a cultural thing that is a drive. I mean you talked about Ballhaus the art movement but there is Ballhaus the band too. Which bands have influenced you? Have you been into bands like Ballhaus or Cabaret Hotel?
Matt: Well both of those bands used terms that were very much innovated in Berlin, like Cabaret in general before and after the Second World War, was an art form. Berlin was one of the headquarters in Germany for an art form that was really political, symbolically political. The Cabaret would often attack certain politicians, and writers for the Cabaret that did that were persecuted and a lot of them fled from Germany. So they learned to work with the double entendre. Like Cabaret Voltaire, that was very famous. Ballhas the band, I’m sure culturally they also had influences on how to change things, how to present something without being forced. The Ballhaus thing was rigid but at same time it was more of a feeling that underlied something…Cabaret learned this also, how to be political and how to speak without calling names.
So it’s an extension of an aesthetic approach that connects with certain symbols that stand for what? Matt: That just stands for a changing. Whether it’s a change of perception, or changing politically, or how people are listening or how people view themselves in general, and I think both of those art forms and those bands totally had an influence on a lot of modern musicians and me in general.
Okay, and do you wanna put a tag or words on your own aesthetic, like do you wanna define it? Are you close to any kind of genre?
Matt: I don’t think so, not so much. I think that would limit it. It’s a total limitation.
But you are in a kind of tradition of those bands that are involved in like art history, I mean you talk about culture and a certain analysis on art history, whereas it seems to me like a lot of music today doesn’t have a history or an echo. I’m saying this because bands like post punk, or new wave, dark wave, these bands have this injection of art love, its part of their writing process and I think that’s quite rare and pretty interesting. Maybe I’m on the wrong track here, but its not random with you right? Matt: Its not random. Music has to be separated so much in terms of visual and audio, number one. Modern music is an interpretation of history but modernism in general is an effort to make history better. Modernism was an effort to detach itself from any embellishments or adornment of art, it goes straight to direct to functionalism. The whole modernist aim was about detaching itself from anything that’s non-functional. Personally in the music that I wanna do I want to keep history real and alive, and not be romantic or nostalgic about it. It’s maybe not the main message, but it is there and keeping that story alive. There has to be storytellers.
And how does that connect with the club scene? Randy: Erm……It doesn’t. hahahaha.
Mat: That’s difficult. I mean it falls somewhere between the club scene and a museum. Hahahaha.
Randy: The club scene now is very mainstream and I think mainstream always goes into talking about, I mean there’s not really art in the mainstream.
There’s no room for it? Randy: Well no it’s not that there’s no room for it, it’s that mainstream is the average, it’s the majority, and the majority of people want something they can party to, they can sing along to, its not gonna make them cry on the dancefloor.
So should a nightclub be a party place? Can party culture be a weekly activity? Matt: I think so, of course. Sure I mean it can be a lifestyle. People have that in Berlin.
Randy: I think it’s switching though. It goes through waves, it goes from no lyrics in the late 80s to the mid 90s with like circular techno and trance with no lyrics and now its shifting and everyone’s getting a band together and the clubs have more bands with lyrics, and the content of those lyrics is becoming more important again.
So maybe because of this new attraction or need for a show, like a band near the dancefloor, do you see an evolution coming where finally we end up with something that is closer to the Cabaret you were talking about? Matt: I think so, its always a waxing and a waning kind of thing though, the need for something live, the need for a show, the need for something that emphasises a human element – and then after that there comes a need to emphasise something that is more implied of the human element, the affect of the human rather than the human itself – but of course a Cabaret and a Rock’n’Roll show is in general right now of course something that people need more because in society it is so easy for us to become detached because of the world we live in. The world we live in becoming so technological and its so easy to detach yourself from everything else as long as you have your technology and can be self-sufficient - therefore human contact is decreasing. With a Cabaret people feel something, its live, people feel something which they need, there’s a want for it. DJing has been sufficient for the last 15 years but people now are looking for something else now, something other than just a good DJ, a trace human element, whether its even just a mistake, it’s like the choice of songs and not so much the technique of DJing. The humanistic part is emerging again.
What are your favourite themes to express and perform in this context? I mean lyric-wise? Matt: Erm…..
Randy: He looks around on the floor in the glass of a broken disco ball….
Matt: Hahahahaha totally. Probably having some kind of a weird mixture of cultural archaeology and anthripology, Recording exactly where we are at. Making a document of really where we are right now. And then adding embellishments.
Do you think it’s some sort of viral cultural reflex against a machine that tends to annihilate the human factor? Matt: I don’t know if its an instinct, but I really believe that the machine comes and the machine goes, it’s an ebb and flow, a wax and wane, where we’re moving to a more humanistic era and this switching is happening faster and faster, cycles of regeneration, cycles of what’s retro and what’s not retro, the revivals are happening faster.
So it’s escaping any kind of mechanical approach or system?< Matt: I wouldn’t say any kind, it would be more like embellishing that mechanical system with things that are not computerised. Obviously rock bands are mechanical because they are recording digitally.I’m not talking about the involvement of technology, but more about mechanicalism in the process of the intellectual approach, like if you are applying codes like a good student, like knowing the rules and repeating them , like that’s mechanical.
Randy: I think we will always have that, I mean look at al the boy bands, look at all the bands in the 60s that were one hit wonders, they didn’t write their own songs, that’s mechanical too. Not just using technology but just scripting….scripting other people’s songs and It’s not necessarily from the heart right?
So which scripts do you use and what do you avoid? Both of you in your separate writings - because I know you both write your own songs and perform separately as well as playing together – but knowing that you write songs that are meant to be played and performed in a disco. So which scripts are permitted and which are avoided? Because that’s the funny thing in the story of dance music, like Garage House music did this, and maybe we can find some sort of parallel – what’s the difference of being in this flow, of instrumental minimalistic tracks, and writing songs in this context? Like I mean it is a difficult task. That’s not a very precise question is it? Hahahaha Randy: Well it’s more like a statement.
Matt: But I like the statement!
Randy: Hahahaha, Yeah I think you answered your own question there Jackson.
But I want to know your opinion on that – like how do you write songs knowing that you have to respect the rules of the dancefloor? Randy: Well I don’t know….you just write it.
So you think its just a matter of energy? Randy: Of course, speaking for myself obviously, that when I’m writing its in the back of my head that this is gonna be played on the dancefloor, but the initial feel of it, is you just have to write it. Then of course in the end you have to think about how in the end if you were on the dancefloor would you feel good hearing that? If you think about that too much then you go mad, you are putting yourself in a little cage!
Matt: Well not to contradict you all…hahaha…personally there are tricks of course, I wouldn’t even call them tricks but like there are existing systems, but whether people abide by them or even consider them a rule, is one thing, like ‘4 on the floor’ or something like this. I mean these rules are there to be broken. I mean some wouldn’t call the ‘4 on the floor’ a rule but a the majority of dance music and club music uses that pattern. I’ve become more aware of what I’m using and it’s becoming easier to see what would happen if I tried something else? Manipulating these patterns.....
Randy: We manipulate the rules by trying to do the opposite
Matt: Yeah or replacing them with something else. The beautiful thing about playing a live PA is that you can test stuff out. There is a certain amount of experimentation that has to go on, and you can try things out, new combinations etc, sometimes including things that people aren’t expecting on a dancefloor. I think storytelling in dance music is a very important factor. Many people do it but not many do it well. I’m not saying we do it well, but it’s a formula that has a process and that’s a contradiction in itself as it doesn’t have the same ending all the time.
Randy: When you’re storytelling it’s told different every time, as when you’re playing live, it’s a live band scenerio, and you sing it a little bit differently each time and so people will always hear it a little bit differently.
Jackson: Ok guys cool. I think we got everything yeah? Cool. Merci!
Text: Jackson and his Computer Band Photos: Majid Moussavi