Line Out Music & the City at Night

Thursday, February 13, 2014

No Genre, No Authenticity, No Problem Pt. 3: An Interview With LA Label Deathbomb Arc

Posted by on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Part 3 of a 3 part interview conducted with Los Angeles DIY label Deathbomb Arc, on the birth of clipping., the meaning of experimental music, and the curses and blessings of liking everything:

What's the point of any music?
  • Sean Jewell
  • What's the point of any music?

It would be taking advantage of the privilege of having so many experimental, electro-acoustic interference, musique concrète geeks in the same room to not ask: What is the point ? What is the point of music with little rhythm, few words, unrecognizable instruments? I look to the very intelligent members of this very noisy label for help.

“I might be the wrong person to answer that,” Steven Cano (aka tik///tik) says “when I’m making my music I feel like I’m Selena in the middle of everything. For me it’s another version of pop music, and that’s how I attack it. It doesn’t mean I don’t listen to other noise artists, but that’s how I know how to make music, that’s where it comes from”

“I love the sounds, personally. I find them exciting, and for me that’s all there needs to be is that the sounds are pleasing to my ears.” Jonathan Snipes says.

“What’s the point of any music?” Bill Hutson says, then crosses his legs and looks away and laughs.

But from I.E. comes something poignant as usual:

“The first time I heard these guys was over The Smell speakers and the hair stood up on my arms. I never knew what noise music was, but I kind of made it, and then when I was starting to become an artist I had the same feelings as these guys, like maybe everyone was a white supremacist or something, and being part of a group meant just getting together and collectively hating things. I tried to hang with punkers, because where I grew up hiphop was the music of gangsters, and though hiphop was my whole life, I didn’t want to be a gangster. Then I met these guys and they had this funky way of liking everything and playing it loud. I didn’t know what noise was but I saw tik///tik, and Beach Balls, and I just felt awesome. I felt so happy that there were people who didn’t discount anything or put things in a box”.

The conversation drifts and I let it. Most of these people haven't sat in the same room together in some time, and combined they have decades of experience making art. Clearly we have music in common, but just like I love to talk about Seattle, they love to talk about LA.

Hutson: “There’s also sort of an assumption—and you see this a lot when you play places that aren’t big cities or you interact with people who like noise but aren’t from big cities—there’s an idea that you’re making an extreme kind of music because you don’t like the music that the guys who picked on you in high school listened to. There’s an assumption that if you like noise that you dislike other things, like because you make this music you don’t like Mandy Moore, but the opposite is true in LA; you can do both.”

Snipes: “There’s so many weird nested little music scenes here that you’re not just part of the 'music scene' there’s a place for you here no matter what you do."

Brian Miller: “What’s been hard to find outside of LA is a scene of people who don’t play music that sounds the same, where the people are related by more abstract concepts and will share the same bill. There is a place for lots of acts who are not appropriate bar-rock acts.”

Hutson: “I’m interested in the character of underground LA music. For instance, what are you doing making music for a very small group of people in the city that produces mainstream culture for most of the world? You can’t be sanctimonious about it, either, because no one here is actually proud of LA. This is a city that when you leave and tell someone where you’re from they have no problem telling you how much they fuckin' hate it. Then they go home turn on their TV and look at my fuckin' city”.

Snipes: “I love LA for that reason. I’m scared of civic pride anyway. It’s like nationalism to me. I love a lot of cities, but I love Los Angeles because we don’t have that. Being from LA is neutral in a weird way, because we’re all at odds with our environment.”

Hutson: “Talking to Sub Pop and playing in Seattle at the Silver Jubilee I couldn’t believe how much un-ironic pride there was in something so simple as a little record label. The whole city stopped, you guys flew a Sub Pop flag from the Space Needle! I saw the mayor walking around the concert in a Sub Pop T-shirt. I just couldn't imagine that happening in LA. Could you imagine a street fair and our landmarks flying flags because we’re proud we made Transformers 3 this year? I love the sincere pride in a cultural product from the city. I told everyone that while I was there.”

Stephen Cano (tik///tik), Margot Padilla (I.E.)
  • Sean Jewell
  • I felt so happy that there were people who didn’t discount anything or put things in a box -Margot Padilla (aka I.E.)

This is the genesis of Deathbomb’s latest group project, True Neutral Crew, a trio consisting of Brian Miller, Daveed Diggs, and I.E. that seeks to make music from a truly neutral standpoint. Their original idea for their #Monsanto EP was an album written from Monsanto's point of view. Thankfully, being truly neutral, they made what came out—a smartly written, well-rhymed noise-rap record. But the very structure of the group is representative of their isolation, their lack of an option to have an opinion about. Their refusal to participate in a broken system.

We talked a bit about the "instruments" that Deathbomb artists use. Tik///Tik used a flower electronics brand synth called a little boy blue. The designer, Jessica Rylan, is well respected in the group (indeed, in noise-music circles in general), she did graduate work at Stanford, and she’s now at MIT, but has spent time on tour with Deathbomb happily repairing the gear they smashed, and playing music with them. Christina Bercovitz filmed clipping.'s videos with a Betamax camcorder, and a mini DV recorder after finding the Betamax camcorder in Jonathan's dad’s attic. Their ideas for a dirtier, noisier visual aesthetic are from talking to Hutson and Diggs about BET Uncut, a show that Daveed and Bill stayed up late watching in high school. All the videos from that era were prior to HDTV or any really clear video. I’m surprised to find, however that for all the noises one can find on their collective records, no one is really a gear head. I’m looking around the apartment and see only records and turntables. Jonathan does mention that since clipping. has become associated with Sub Pop they've had access to more resources than every before.

I ask Brian what the future holds, since clipping. is now signed to Sub Pop, and how he feels about them leaving Deathbomb Arc.

Miller: “I’m not afraid to stand up for what I want. I’ve known Jonathan long enough that I’m not embarrassed to ask for what I care about, but I’ve also been invested in his music for over a decade now, so I want to see amazing things happen for him. I have asked if they could do another album on Deathbomb Arc, as well.”

Snipes: “It’s in our contract, the contract is pretty exclusive, like any record contract, but initially it was that we would make music exclusively for Sub Pop, unless it was for a film, because they knew that Bill and I had done a film score together and I had done film scores on my own. And then we were like, we should be able to do a record for Brian, and they said okay. Sub Pop has given us absolutely everything we’ve asked for. I’ve yet to hear anyone say anything bad about them.”

Sub Pop actually found out about clipping. because Miller emailed someone in the label's IT department looking for a place to book a show. He shared midcity and it made such an impression that they got signed. I ask Snipes if he has a plan for the new music.

“Nah.” Everyone laughs uproariously.

“We probably can’t talk too much about it. It’s basically done. It exists, we love it, and if you turn that recorder off we’ll play you a track downstairs.”

I’ve never shut a recorder off faster in my life. I found my way downstairs into clipping.'s studio and started eying gear. I sat down at the back of the small narrow space while Jonathan and Bill decided what to play. In the end, I got to hear two tracks. “They’re too novel,” argued Bill. “They’re all novel,” laughed Jonathan.

Jonathan Snipes, Cristina Bercovitz, Bill Hutson, Margot Padilla, Stephen Cano, Brian Miller
  • Sean Jewell
  • Jonathan Snipes, Cristina Bercovitz, Bill Hutson, Margot Padilla, Stephen Cano, Brian Miller

What I heard first might take me some time to process. It felt open, concise, like Jay Z's early work, but drugged and thugged, as if that same work had been produced by DJ Screw. The second track I heard absolutely blew my mind. The curatorial genius of Brian Miller, the film score experience of Jonathan Snipes, the distinct taste and unrelenting dedication to sound of William Hutson, and the writing and rapping abilities of Daveed Diggs came through like a rejuvenating force. What began as “harsh noise”—perhaps the harshest particular noise I can think of—becomes a gorgeous heavenly chord when matched with other harsh (very common) noises up the scale. Like I.E. said, the hair stood up on my arms, things were way out of the box, nothing (not even the noises we're ungrateful we hear) had been discounted, I felt like I belonged. Everyone in the room listened like they were investigating the music. I felt the electronic warmth of the wall of modular synths, MIDI controllers, drum machines and every kind of keyboard you can name. The noise drove through the room, mingled with the flesh, and even Bill and Jonathan enjoyed what they had made. When it was over I.E. looked me dead in the eye and offered to sell me weed, I laughed, because music is my shit, and talking to the folks at Deathbomb Arc already had me high as one can get.

For a good primer with what's going on over at Deathbomb Arc, pick up their new compilation called EVIL. Sales from it go to supporting anti-debt charity rolling jubilee and it features ridiculous spitters like Signor Benedick The Moor and VIPER VENOM, plus gorgeous noise from Sissy Cobb and Dreamcrusher.

 

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