A Closer Look At Columbus Electronic Music History: Textbeak

As is evident from my discussion of his exclusive “Everything Is Possible Mix” wednesday, I hold Textbeak in very high regard. He was part of the foundational movements of creativity busting out of the early Body Release parties and continued his own musical journey over the last two decades taking him all over the country. As I said Wednesday, I think it is vital to look into the beliefs and experiences of textbeak not only to keep a historical record, but to learn from his story so that we can continue to push our scene to the next level. Without further adieu, the friday interview begins:

Personal background & Opinion Questions:

LA: Just as a way of starting off, You put on a great set at What Next Ohio. What was it like spinning up on the historic Newport/Agora stage?

T:  Thanks James! It was a bit daunting to be on that stage as I was thinking back to seeing Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb, and Tricky up there who are all huge musical influences of mine. I was extremely happy with the sound (too bad it didn’t come through on the video as the microphone on the camera just could not record those bass levels). I knew I was going to be playing a set that was unlike anything else that would be going on that night and I new my set would be shocking, so I just planned on doing what I do and flushing out the soundsystem with bass, delay, and that wonderful Merzbow vs Asap Rocky beast edit that Shisa made. I figured I had to just hit white noise in the middle of the set.  The whole night was a lot of fun and I’m super happy that it all came together so well.

LA: Now lets go back in time. Your approach to music really does exemplify what you term genre blasting. What made you a lover of such a broad base of so many musical styles? What has music provided for you that has kept you so interested in your different sonic explorations?

T: I think the big key to my interest in different musical styles is also what keeps me interested…to quote Nurse With Wound “A rock n roll session is a session where we can do what we want to do.” All music just breaks down to being a series of audio events and when you look at all music in this way, you start to see how it overlaps and connects. When I was young, my grandparents would buy me a lot of classical music, but I also really loved 80s pop (Duran Duran, The Human League, Eurythmics), and relatives were into classic rock (Genesis, Led Zeppelin, ELO). As a child I really liked Pink Floyd. I think I was always into music that incorporated sounds that were abstract, out of the ordinary, or shocking. This probably also tied in to my love of monster movies, documentaries, and sci-fi. Movies like Blade Runner, Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Dune shaped my artistic vision early on. This would explain why I would later fall in love with bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Einsturzende Neubauten, Public Image Ltd, and Skinny Puppy.  When I heard Beat Box Boys “Eat Em Up” for the first time I was stunned. I was in awe of the harshness of the drums and the use of voice samples and synth to make something truly alien. Around the same time, I heard Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” which gave me chills. I’ve always used that feeling as my musical barometer.

In my high school years I was into punk, but I found myself drawn to music that was more alien. PiL’s early period really shaped my understanding of what can be done with music. I loved College Radio back in the day when you could hear such an astounding array of sounds in one set. That open mindedness of the alternative scene back then I’m sure helped make me into what I am today.

LA: At what point did you realize as you said in short interview before What Next Ohio, “that most musical styles and genres are very similar and draw connections from each other.” What impact did this realization have on your artistic development? Was their a track or show that you can point to as starting it all and made you want to be a musician/DJ/Genre Blaster? What was that track or show, why was it important (You can list more than one if you want)?

T: Later in High School my mother moved back to Elyria where I was originally from. We moved in several doors down from Todd Sines and Todd and I hit it off immediately. During that time I was lucky to have the group of talented friends I had surrounding me. Todd and I would go record hunting and started making music. At first we were banging on cans and autoharps and making tape loops, but eventually Todd bought a bass. We started a band called Dirge that sounded like early Cab or PiL My friend Kasson (Symbion Project, Freezepop) helped me decide on a sampler to purchase. My grandfather bought me a Roland W-30 and I began experimenting with sampling, sequencing, and looping. I think that is the point where I started to realize that all musical styles are so connected as taking loops of different styles out of context can easily be misinterpreted as different styles. Music is an evolution just like any other form of language, so there are obvious connections. The only thing is that culture and society pushes to keep differences and rifts within culture to promote elitism, newness, and difference. When you really step back, all dresses are just pieces of fabric and all sound is music. I really got into looping samples of anything to produce grooves. I’d sample a snippet of a bassline out of something, turn it backwards and pitch it down. Run it into a lowpass filter, push down the cut off and push up the resonance until the off-time groove becomes unrecognizable and alien. Then use that to set up my kick drums of an initial loop. I’d take samples of room noise or wind or birds and look for accents to build from. I mean aren’t we all just searching reality, looking for the groove? DJ Spooky’s Necropolis mix was a great influence on me. The idea of illbient mixing through mad delays and effects is spot on. I also have to site Coldcut for truly setting the standard on how far out you can push a mix. Their use of everything from jazz to drum and bass to electro is absolutely mindblowing. Why not just look for similarities in different styles and then smear boundries til your heart’s content?

LA: You said in the last interview that you and your friends were very inspired by 10-Speed Guillotine’s Laptop Appetizers tape, why?

T: Initially, I would have to say that at first listen 10-Speed pretty much had all of the components that hooked my group of friends immediately. The album has some seriously menacing and visionary sound. It has crazy industrial beat programming, great synth work, awesome talking samples, tons of noise, and truly badass production. Another thing is that it’s not just a one dimensional release. For a mostly instrumental album, it feels emotionally resonant and the swells and depths on the release are outstanding, alien, and timeless.

LA: How did you get your start DJ’ing? What was it like?

T: Back in the early Body Release days, Charles was the DJ and none of the rest of us could spin very well. I remember putting on a set of headphones and just getting lost in the train wreck of mashing beats. It took me a while to get the hang of it. Later I got into mixing CDs. I found it easiest to envision queing like pitching breakbeats on a sampler. At that time, I was buying tech step like Dom and Roland on vinyl and trying to mix that stuff with more experimental tracks on CD. I was also into buying techno on vinyl still like Fred Gianelli, Chair Recordings, and Drumcode, but I was really into mixing all kinds of different tempo ranges. All my old CDs from then still have BPMs for all the tracks including the really mellow and ambient ones.

At the 1954 studio space, Jason Adams, Rob Nagy, and I would mix all kinds of madness together and started playing those sets out. We would just play as many different things at the same time as we could. It was all pretty crazy sounding.

LA: What does the act of DJ’ing mean to you? How does it make you feel?

T: I really love experimenting with sound. I just really love to combine sounds with each other and create something new. I also love to create that experience for an audience. It’s gotta be one of the best feelings to create something and then see the reaction in peoples’ eyes. Shock, horror, or pleasure, it’s always a wonderful experience. The thing is that I just don’t believe in spinning one mood or one mental place. I feel that my mixes should jar the listener, take the listener someplace they’ve never been.

LA: What about when you are producing/remixing/choppin’?

T: When I am producing music, I go about it in the same way. I try to create new feelings, to shock myself.

LA: Are the creative processes between DJ’ing and Production different or similar for you?

T: Very similar.

LA: How do you view the technological changes that have happened over the last 20 years in production and DJ software?

T: I really dig the amount of control that is available now with sound editing. I am just waiting for new sounds. I can’t wait til we reach the stage of full malleability and transformability with sounds. I also really wanna pull the sounds directly out of my head, sounds from dreams and nightmares. One day, I’m sure we will be able to mental beatbox by brainwaves and memories of sound.

LA: What musical projects did you move onto after Body Release? What sounds/artistic ideas were you exploring? I know very little about your artist development throughout the 2000’s except that you have made a name for yourself as one of the key innovators of what is loosely called “Witch House” and what you call genre blasting. What brought you to this method of musical expression and to the artist we see today?

T: I left Body Release in 1992 to pursue a darker more serious sound. I decided to move to Minneapolis and really get into some slow dark loops. I held up in an attic of an old house and organized parts that made up the first Bath cassette. I came back to Ohio and finished up that first Bath cassette. I was influenced by Coil, Autechre, Cabaret Voltaire, Tones on Tail, etc. to my own style of sludgy muddy pitched-down work even back in the early Bath days. It was just parallel evolution that a whole scene of wonderful slow darkness came along and I totally felt at home musically. I find it really great how this whole scene feels inclusive rather than exclusive and elitist.

LA: You are a prolific mixmaker. How are you able to churn out so much music while also actively promoting your friends work as well?

T: That is a very tough balancing act that I have been refining over the years, sometimes more successfully than others.

LA: You have been privileged enough to release music on the already classic Tundra Dubs label. What has that been like?

T: I’m super happy that my INDIGLO album got released on Tundra. I’m also happy that it did so well and just to be in the company of great artists like AIMON, Strange Powers, and Funerals. It was also great getting to play Tundra’s one year anniversary party in San Francisco with AIMON, The Ceremonial Dagger, Bobby Peru, and Nako.

LA: What are your goals for the next five years musically?

T: MORE FOCUS.

Scene-Specific Questions:

LA: Body Release is pointed to by many as being such an important part of Columbus Dance Music history. How did the group start? Why did you decide to move to Columbus in the 1990’s? What were you doing prior to coming to town?

T: Todd Sines and I decided to move to Columbus to attend school. He at OSU and I at CCAD. We were doing Wax Trax! influenced music up north and we were also both heavily into the Manchester and rave sound (808 State, A Guy Called Gerald). We started Body Release in Columbus and Todd brought Titonton into the group. Titonton has always been a majorly talented individual with his piano and beat sequencing and he really stepped up the project. Next we met up with Charles Noel (aka Archetype) at Mustard’s one night. I remember freaking out because he had a Revolting Cocks tour shirt on from the Cleveland show at The Empire which has got to be one of the most insane shows I have ever seen. Charles joined Body Release as a scratch DJ and added the next level to the sound. He had the coolest crate of records, from old ebm and industrial (Skinny Puppy, Front 242) to breakbeats, house, and hip hop.

LA: What was the scene like when you got here? What sounds/genres were dominant?

T: Well, back in 1991 the Columbus scene was in a major transition. There was a large industrial and punk scene that was totally being inundated by the rave sound. Bars like Crazy Mama’s, Purity’s and Nuke’s pretty much stuck to the industrial/goth/punk sound while at Mustard’s and 700 High you’d also hear DHS, The KLF, Lords of Acid, and Quadraphonia. Kevy Kev was playing 700 High and he’d definitely play a diverse selection back then of both industrial and rave. He and Mike G were two of the biggest names in town back then.

Columbus was also great for its electronic artists at the time like Mark Gunderson and The Evolution Control Committee, James Towning’s Fact 22 project, and 10-Speed Guillotine. I remember a time we played a show with 10-Speed on campus and they set up a dream machine on a turntable during their performance.

LA: What artistic ideas were you all trying to express with Body Release?

T: Body Release was specifically meant to be just that, a release. It was meant to be dance music and we took it in many directions mentally with that idea in mind. We had a lot of atmosphere and a lot of impact. I think that contrast was what made Body Release so distinct. I remember in the early days we were working around 150 bpms with breakbeats and a lot of bass, but we also worked with a lot of strings, piano, and just general atmospheric sounds.

LA: How did body release come to an end?

T: I actually left in early 1992 so they all continued for a while without me. I was not present for the end of Body Release.

LA: 1990’s Columbus dance music is always talked about as a mythical time in our scene’s history. What was it like back then? Why do you think we were so huge?

T: The scene really exploded. Ele_mental really set the pace for great events and really bridged that Columbus/Detroit connection. Todd, Titonton, and Charles all really became well known and the whole Columbus scene seemed to be bursting with talented producers and DJs. There seemed to be a different level of artistry going on in the Columbus electronic scene than in anywhere else in Ohio.

LA: Then it went into decline in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. What happened? What led to the decline?

T: The scene started changing and I think it became alienating. Everyone went minimal techno/tech house then electro started moving in. These sounds in this time period were extremely daring and some of the coolest sounds created, but hard to follow for the uninitiated listener. Also, then the electroclash sound came in which was also alienating. I really liked this sound for being so closely aligned with darker earlier sounds and also for its inclusive qualities, but I don’t think Ohio was really ready for it back then. This evolved into the wonky bass electro-house, which became so mainstream and eventually paved the way for the distorted bass dubstep to come in and take over.

LA: You recognized in your previous interview that the factionalization of scenes is separating us too much. What does such factionalization do to a music scene in the long run?

T: Divided we fall.

LA: What has it been like to see dance music come back to prominence in Columbus and all over Ohio?

T: It’s a wonderful feeling to see the scene grow again. It seems to be that internet social networking is really bringing different scenes together. It will be definitely interesting to see how this all pans out in the long run.

LA: What is it about the emergence of Columbus’ strange new underground that has you so excited? How do you think our scene has changed over the last couple years?

T: I just love all the daring new ideas and open-minded people in this scene now. Columbus has always had a wonderful artistic community that has been visionary for years, but it seems that now this visionary scene is coming to the forefront and not just staying in the underground anymore.

LA: What would you deem the ideal future for the Columbus EDM community and Ohio more broadly?

T: I would like to see the Ohio scene become a forward thinking Mecca, to set the standard for what is possible in the Midwest. There is no reason this can’t happen. There has been a wonderful past that has paved the way for an even brighter tomorrow.

LA: What do you think has to happen for us to get there?

T: Hard work and understanding. Less competition. More sense of community. Communication. Open-mindedness. Vision. Love.

LA: Do you think it is possible for us to create one cohesive Columbus EDM community and Ohio community more broadly?

T: Yes, most definitely.

Keep your eyes peeled for next week, as I am going to be unearthing the infamous Ambiento Tapes with the help of Midislut and I got an interview with Jeff Pons to get you ready for quality.

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