MDC Interview#43 "DJ Fishead"
"People tend to assume that because a music is hard or abrasive that it is somehow less intelligent than something that is not as confrontational. I've always believed that an integral part of being provocative is provoking people. "
During the last 20 years Fishead has done his best to annihilate the status quo. He runs through tracks at a mindnumbing rate and attacks the turntables with an unadulterated fury that must be seen to be believed. Since 1996 he has been taking his peculiar brand of chaos all over North America... spreading it like a virus. A campaign of deviant turntablism that has touched down all over the midwest United States, and across Canada. Some people claim there is no method to this madness, but perhaps that is the best method of all. He has fought relentlessly against being typecast and has always been willing to explain his direction at any given moment. This attitude and articulation has helped him gain favor with a strange array of audiences. In the past few years some of North America's top promoters have booked him to play alongside some of the most recognized names in electronic music.
While living in Winnipeg he was a regular feature at midwest events put together by such esteemed promoters as Drop Bass Network (Wisconsin), Addict (Wisconsin), Ele_mental (Ohio), Trust (Colorado), From The Gut (Michigan) and many more... since moving to Montreal he's been invited to play shows in New York, St. Louis, Quebec City, Toronto and Louisville, Kentucky - as well as being a fixture at the highly regarded Schizophrenia parties. Fishead has also continued to make semi-regular appearances in his old hometown of Winnipeg.
Q.Please tell us about your birthplace. Where are you currently based?
I'm currently based in Winnipeg, Canada. I grew up here, but moved to Montreal in 2002, and have only been back on the prairies for a couple of years.
Q.Since when are you interested in music? What kind of music scene was there in your hometown?
I've always been pretty interested in music. My younger brother and I used to put together tapes to listen to in the car on long drives out into the countryside, and in high school I got involved to with a radio project that played music in the cafeteria. It was during that period that I was first exposed to techno – mostly via the overlap with genres like industrial.
The Winnipeg scene was an interesting one because it's a relatively small community, and during the formative years events featured a lot of different styles over the course of the night. This led to people getting exposed to a lot of different genres. My own style developed from a desire not to be constrained by a specific sound, and a willingness to play anything that I found interesting.
Q.When did you start DJing? What kind of records did you play at the beginning?
I got a certain amount of familiarity with mixing boards and such when I was working with the radio project in high school, and picked up my first mixing board around the time that I graduated. My first DJ gig was at a club in Winnipeg called Lovebomb toward the end of 1991. It was a mix of industrial, alternative, and some early techno.
The rave scene got started here about a year later, and I quickly became interested in the harder, darker, and faster records that were coming out.
Q.When did you learn about Hardcore Techno? What was your first impression of Hardcore Techno?
In the early days I was pretty active in usenet groups like rec.music.industrial, alt.rave and a few others. I also followed some mailing lists for Djs. All of that helped me learn about the music before the records really started to make their way here. My friend John, who DJed as Morpheus and later Morph.com, was ordering records from Detroit – and helped me get my hands on the early Plus8 and Underground Resistance records. Eventually the Industrial Strength releases started to show up here.
Drop Bass Network came up here for a show called bRave New Assembly in early '94. The University of Manitoba put that show together at the end of a week of events with a sort of cyberpunk theme. They brought Timothy Leary and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs) to town to do lectures, too. It was pretty wild. They had Woody McBride, Hyperactive, Jeddidiah, JethroX, Earth, E-Tones and whole crew of Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago folks up here. I first connected with Matt Massive at that event, and Drop Bass were selling copies of their first two releases at the show. I started obsessively collecting their records after that.
Q.When did you get into the US Hardcore scene?
I got into the US scene via the Midwest. In 1996 I started getting bookings outside Winnipeg. I was flown to Edmonton, Alberta for a show that spring... and shortly after getting back I found myself booked for my first gig in Milwaukee. A show called Nevermore with a line-up that also featured Strychnine (Sal Mineo from D.O.A.), Tron, and Doormouse.
Two weeks after that show I went back down there for Even Furthur. I met promoters from all over the Midwest, which led to bookings in places like Minneapolis (Minnesota), Louisville (Kentucky), Columbus (Ohio). I also started writing for Massive Magazine in early '97 – which led to even more contact with the scenes in that part of the world.
Q.When did you learn about Rave music and culture?
Winnipeg was a bit removed from what was going on in places like New York and Los Angeles, but there was a really amazing period of outlaw parties that took place in warehouse spaces in the downtown core. At the time there was a high vacancy rate, and friends were able to find some absolutely amazing places to throw parties. During the summer of '94 some friends rented an old ballroom and hosted underground afterhours events on Friday and Saturday nights. It was mental. I'd earned a reputation for playing the hardest and weirdest records by that point, and was often playing sunrise sets of hard acid and gabber at the end of a long night.
Q.Did you go to a squat party or an illegal Rave? Did the EU / UK DJ / Live Act also come to the US?
Pretty much all of the regular events in Winnipeg during that era probably qualified for that sort of thing. The spaces were rented legally, but just about everything else related to them was underground. Nobody had permits, and there were a few shows where the police department came out in their riot gear, with helmets and shields, to shut them down.
I saw similar things a few times in the US, too. I think in most places people used whatever means they had to get a party happening – and getting permits and permissions from the authorities wasn't always possible.
In Winnipeg it took a few years, but by 1996 things were a bit more established, and some of the larger shows were taking place in clubs. Autechre came through here, with Mark Broom and Spacetime Continuum, around that time... and Hawtin played here as well. Those were really big deals at the time, but Winnipeg didn't attract the same kinds of shows that larger centres did. Most of the headliners that came through were from within Canada or nearby places in the United States.
Q.What was the first big Rave / Party you played as DJ Fishead?
It sort of depends on perspective, I think. Certainly the biggest was probably when I played the mainstage at Even Furthur in '98. I think that might have been the largest of all the Furthur events. Laurent Ho and Plastikman were headlining that year and the soundsystem they had for that weekend might still be the largest that I've ever seen... certainly the biggest system I've ever played on.
There are so many other events that have marked me, though. The original Schizophrenia party in Minneapolis is legendary... being a part of that line-up, alongside Doormouse and the justifiably famous Amiga battle between Abelcain and Unibomber. There were probably only a few hundred people there, but it was such an amazing and influential event.
Q.When did you start review on Massive Magazine?What was the first record you reviewed?
Matt Massive talked to me about writing for them when we crossed paths at a Minneapolis show called Heavy Mental in March of '97. He'd read the interview I'd done with Nasenbluten for my own magazine (Internal Navigation), and asked me to write for them. My first reviews appeared in the hardcore and techno sections in issue 16. I reviewed a couple of Digital Hardcore records by Shizuo and Ec8or, as well an assortment of releases by Hawtin, Future Sound of London, Joey Jupiter, Brixton.
Q.How did Massive Magazine influence the US Hardcore scene? Did they support the Hardcore scene?
Massive Magazine got started when Matt (who had been doing a smaller 'zine called Ministry of Truth) had the idea to bring together a bunch of people who were publishing their own 'zines and get them all working together on a project that collected their writings in one massive magazine – and helped all of them reach a wider audience.
The magazine was a collective effort that wasn't focused on any particular style of electronic music, but instead tried to have sections for all of them. There were a lot of talented people writing for the magazine (Johnsin, Phil Freeart, Henry Vengeance, Noaphex... and even the artist now known as DJ Bus Replacement Service!), but the hardcore section got a lot of attention due to the fact that it was really one of the few mags that bothered with the music in North America.
It was hugely supportive of the hardcore scene, but it was hugely supportive of the entire underground electronic movement.
Q.In the late 90's, a lot of experimental hardcore came out.Were those records popular at Rave and Party? For example, Hangars Liquides, Test, Praxis,etc
I don't know if they were popular, but I was playing them! A lot of people associated with those labels were also making their way to the Midwest. I met Deadly Buda after his set at Even Furthur '96 – and got a few of the early Praxis records from him. Bambule lived in Ohio for a time before moving to California and working with the Dark Matter crew out there. Somatic Responses and Speedfreak played events for Drop Bass Network.
They certainly didn't have the same mass appeal as the house, techno and drum'n'bass headliners of the time – but there was a really important crew of hardcore heads that came out just for those artists.
I really wish more of the French underground came over here. Mouse, No Name, La Peste and others made records that changed my life – and it pains me that I've never had the opportunity to see any of them live.
Q.You playing a lot of Japanese noise music. How did you become interested in noise music?
I think it just grew out of my fondness for industrial and experimental. I discovered Nurse With Wound, and Coil, and Throbbing Gristle in high school... and became interested in the more extreme forms of sound. Later I encountered people like Mason Jones from Charnel House online. He turned me on to a lot of stuff, and I was ordering things from him around the time that he released the Land of the Rising Noise compilation on his label.
Soleilmoon distribution also introduced me to that side of things. I remember the description for Gerogerigegege's 45rpm Performance said that the release was 'recommended for nihilists and anyone who hates music.' I knew that I needed a copy of that!
Q. Why did you mix noise music with Hardcore or Drum & Bass / Breakbeats?
There was already an element of distortion in the sound of those records. I saw how turntablism was present in different areas of the rave scene and took inspiration from more abstract turntablists like Christian Marclay, Otomo Yoshihide, Martin Tetreault. It added an element of performance, and made the craziest records I had sound even crazier when I played them live.
Q.Parric Catani, Delta 9, DJ Tron also played noise music on Mixtape. Bloody Fist also added a noise track to the Speedcore record. Why do you think noise music was so popular on Speedcore and Extreme / Experimental Hardcore?
Don't forget that Dave/Delta 9 did that Unequilibrium release on Vinyl Communications. That was a crazy label. They put out Bombardier, Delta 9, Kid 606 alongside releases by Merzbow! So many artists blended those sounds into their work... DJ Freak and Nomex are great examples, too.
I think a lot of it came from growing up on industrial music. I had a lot of chats with Tron about Skinny Puppy – I even sent him spare copies of some of the promos I was getting from Nettwerk, and when I interviewed Nasenbluten they told me that the idea for putting lockgrooves on their records came from encountering them on Severed Heads releases.
Q.Have noise musicians been booked in the Rave or Hardcore scene in the past?What Noise Act have you seen?
There's certainly a fair amount of crossover. During my time in Montreal there were festivals like COMA and Kinetik that would feature powernoise and industrial alongside hardcore techno. Even Mutek had more experimental and abstract artists as part of their showcases. I caught performances by Coil, Nurse With Wound, and a lot of the Raster-Noton artists over the years.
For noise acts that I've seen? A few Merzbow shows (most recently when we brought him and Balazs Pandi to Winnipeg for the BEND Festival), Prurient, Pharmacon, Knurl, Consumer Electronics, Cut Hands (William Bennett from Whitehouse), La Naegleria, Gentle Bakemono, It Clings...
Q.About DJ Fishead / Venetian Snares – Eat Shit And Die
How did you meet Venetian Snares? What was his first impression? Please tell us how this Tape was born. What reaction did this Tape get back then?
We used to go skateboarding together, and knew each other for quite a few years when that tape came together. We'd run into one another at shows, and at one point he gave me a copy of a three track cassette called Fake Impossible. It was brilliant stuff, and I felt like the kinds of abstractions we were both interested in were very complementary. There was actually an earlier split tape called Barrage, but I lost my copy years ago – and I'm not sure if anyone else still has one.
DJ Fishead - Eat Shit(MP3)
Q.How do you feel about the Breakcore?
I feel like genres are micromanagement, and all that should really concern people is whether they find music to be enjoyable or not. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't really spend too much time trying decide what is and isn't breakcore. I suppose I like a lot of stuff that people consider to be breakcore, but I don't get hung up on scenes and genres.
Q.Which record do you think is the most underrated? What record should we listen to?
Abelcain's Faust EP on Low Res. It's one of the most incredible records I've ever heard, and is criminally underrated. His track Aguirre is one of my favorite songs of all time. It's just this dark and beautiful piece of broken beat music.
Q.What is the difference between Rave in the 90s and Rave in the 2000s?
People have permits now, and scenes are so well established that there isn't as much crossover. In the early days you'd go out and you'd be exposed to a sampling of a number of different styles of music... and now it seems like house, techno, hardcore, drum'n'bass, breakcore and everything else all have their own shows... and I kind of miss the days when it was just this sprawling, collective mess of everything all together. I'll always take chaos over purity.
Q.What is the best and worst Rave you have ever experienced?
There are so many. Schizophrenia 3 in Madison, Wisconsin with Mark Newlands, Baseck, Abelcain, Unibomber, In Broken Key, Slutmachine, Stagediver, Anonymous. That was an absolutely astonishing slate of music.
More recently, last year's Furthur festival was pretty incredible. The Mover, Ray Keith, Cevin Key, Sync (Woody McBride + Hyperactive), Cruel World II (Baseck and Felisha Ledesma), Volvox and Erika on the mainstage were all amazing... and being a part of the line-up was an honor. There was also so much greatness on the side stages; Bombardier, The Demix, Jaymez, Doubt.
The worst?? I try not to dwell on things like that, but it's always depressing when shows get shut down.
Q.The DJ Fishead web site has many great mixes archived. Which one do you like best?
It depends on my mood. On the more extreme side I think Destruction is a pretty solid hardcore mix, and Burnout is an intense and abstract ride that runs though about 20 records in 12 minutes. Acid Etcetera and 20m (which was commissioned for the 20th Anniversary of Brave New Waves – and works together 20 records from 20 different years in 20 minutes) are both mixes that I was particularly proud of.
Q.How do you think the future of experimental and extreme dance music ?
I just hope it continues to serve up sounds that I haven't heard. I like discovering new things, and I'd hate to become that jaded guy that complains about how none of the new stuff surprises me.