Daniel Martin-McCormick’s music has always struck me as endlessly restless, both energetically and creatively. This has become especially true over the past few years, as Martin-McCormick’s projects (Mi Ami, Sex Worker, Ital) have moved away from the distinctive yelp and no-wave guitar squall (which characterized his days in Black Eyes) into more synth- and dance-oriented territories, culminating thus far in Hive Mind (TMT Review), a disorienting house record that proves Martin-McCormick’s versatility as an artist.
In some ways, it seems logical that Martin-McCormick would be drawn to dance music, as it’s not like his previous bands have lacked rhythmic sway or excitement (for example, in addition to being a hyper-rhythmic blast of danceable noise-punk, “Latin Lover,” from Mi Ami’s 2010 album Steal Your Face, goes far enough as to cite lyrics from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”). However, Martin-McCormick’s shift in approach — that is, the change from a physical, group-oriented post-punk sound to an insular, individual-borne house-music approach — is noticeable, and adjusting to it as a noise-rock obsessive with an initially paltry-to-nil interest in house music left me conflicted, finding his artistic tenacity to change drastically and ignore expectations impressive, yet also feeling like I’d been left out at sea. “I’ve never enjoyed house music! But maybe I’ll give this a chance…”
I spoke with Martin-McCormick after he returned home from touring as Ital in Europe.
Generally speaking, [your music as Ital] falls outside of my usual taste and musical knowledge; yet, I’ve warmed to the Ital singles, and I’ve been finding Hive Mind to be an increasingly rich album the more I listen to it. Have you noticed if this is a sort of trend with your listeners?
Yeah, there are definitely some people who are coming at it from a noise music perspective or whatever – but I think one of the things that’s interesting about ‘the scene’ right now is that, in a new way, people are really embracing techno and house and stuff like that, finding their own applications for it. So it’s like, communally, a bunch of people are getting all into it together, at various rates. So it’s more a case of people, either who already are into it reacting to it, or who are on a path of getting into it, vis-à-vis their sense of ‘discovery,’ ‘newness,’ or whatever. But there’s a few people who are, you know, pissed. [Laughs]
How about on the other end, with dance fans who might not know about your background?
A lot of the conversation, especially coming from Europe, has to do with this kind of new rise of American dance music, and I think the principles that are being debated hotly across the board have to do with “legitimacy” and club viability. In Europe there’s a huge club culture, especially in London and Berlin, but really all over, and people who are making the big tracks, even big underground tracks today, are coming at it as DJs, tuning their tracks sonically and structurally for club play. And it’s great, because they have an outlet for it, where they can make a track, and then that weekend, they can play it off their computer, a CD-R, or whatever.
There’s no “privacy,” that’s just the guideline you give them until they feel like doing something else.
In America, there’s not that same kind of club infrastructure, and I think people are engaging with dance music more in a personal, kind of heady way, as outsiders — you claim your corner of it, and sort of set up shop there. It makes for music that’s in one sense maybe more exciting because it’s less predictably “clubby”; on the other hand, maybe also a little less “useful” depending on how you’re using dance music — maybe it’s more abstract or something like that. So I feel that people who are into the club context, especially Europeans, are sort of reacting to the like, “this is a strange, ‘other’ take on this thing that’s very familiar” thing, and that’s kind of cool. In America it’s like, the people who are really into dance music are kind of heads — some of them are really excited and some are really territorial, but I think that comes with being into something that is a little more fringe.
You’re no stranger to DIY and independent music, though your work to this point has been decidedly within the whole punk/alt/indie etc. field. Have you found the world of dance music to be different from that? Not to suggest that genres of music are mutually exclusive, but I’m curious as to how you feel they compare — I can’t name very many people who’ve released music on both Touch & Go and Planet Mu.
Actually, I think they’re very similar. I mean, I think dance music has this image a lot, state-side, of shaved-head, boutique producers — but the reality is it’s a bunch of nerdy people making tracks, usually at home on their computers, putting them out on small labels, and using the internet to their advantage. As a system, it’s very similar; the main thing I notice that’s different to me is… [pauses] ah, it’s amazing how much room there is for abstract music, and really kind of fucked up music to be played in a party setting. I was just in Germany, and I was at Berghain, which is this giant, multi-floored techno mecca — if you’re into dance music, playing Berghain is like the Whiskey a Go-Go for rock or something like that — and I’m in the main room, and it’s like, really harsh fucking insane noise, and the only thing that makes it “techno-ish” it that it’s got a hard four on the floor kick drum to it, but the rest of it just sounds like brutal digital noise, and people were going ape! It was insane, there was dancing, people were throwing their hands in the air and shit, all to piledriving noise with just a kick behind it! It blew my mind, all these weird songs, all this weird music from the UK or Germany that people were huge to this summer, and it’s this fucking cut up vocal part over drums, and the only sound other than drums and weird vocal samples is this grinding, kind of ambient noise that fades in on a beat — and it’s like, that’s a huge club track? Okay. I like that — in a sense, you get this Wild West feeling instead of everything being the way it is, like how American pop is getting trance-ified — you listen to the radio and everything’s got a “club” sheen to it, but that “clubbiness” is really kind of grotesque.
How does an Ital live performance work?
It works very differently from the way I make tracks. I use a sampler that has four outputs, a keyboard, some effects, and a little bit of computer. It’s basically taking the key components of all the songs and doing a raw, more “direct” — maybe not more “direct,” but differently stripped-down versions of the tracks. It’s very much like a live interpretation. I really value live performance a lot, and the record is not at all live, but to me, playing live is all about getting into this free-jazz energy tunnel, and so it’s like taking the main themes of the record and just going for it. It sounds a little more fucked up, and the structures are altered to suit a live setting more, but I think the essence of the music is the same.
Of the tracks on Hive Mind, “Privacy Settings” sticks out the most to me — “zoned out and creepy” isn’t usually how I’d describe dance music, but here’s “Privacy Settings” with its distantly clipped drums, sci-fi synth swells, and howling. It makes me think of the grey area between public/private data as interfaced through, say, Facebook. Would you care to elaborate on this track, or any ideas about it?
To me, the first three songs [on Hive Mind] are like this dark dive, and the last two are very much a surfacing from that. “Privacy Settings” is right in the middle, and to me, it’s a summing up of all the darkest parts of the record without any of the fun. I think the big theme of the record, if I had to ascribe one retroactively, is the spot between the discomfort one feels as a part of this world, and the way it feels to exist in the world that we’ve created for ourselves, and how you can’t really escape the world we’ve created for ourselves to live in; at the same time, there’s the joy of life and wanting to live, and I think “Privacy Settings” is none of the latter, all of the former. After making it I was like, okay, well, let’s turn this ship around a little bit. [Laughs]
In America, there’s not that same kind of club infrastructure, and I think people are engaging with dance music more in a personal, kind of heady way, as outsiders — you claim your corner of it, and sort of set up shop there.
To me, something like a “privacy setting” is hilarious because it’s like, what a fucking charade. I had this job when I first moved to New York — I was doing Urban Mapping, and I was just riding the trains, taking down information on train station infrastructure for this company, and this guy came to ask me some questions. He’s like, “what are you doing?” I explained, and he’s like, “oh, everything’s going to be on the internet soon.” And it’s like, motherfucker, everything is on the internet. There’s no “privacy,” that’s just the guideline you give them until they feel like doing something else. These laws — Bill of Rights-styled things that we put into place to safeguard against abuses of power — have no substance when power is being abused. That’s what the abuse of power is, is the disregarding of the things that are to safeguard against abuse of power — so it’s like, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but they’re coming.
I also want to ask about placing “Doesn’t Matter (If You Love Him)” right at the beginning of the album. Having the Lady Gaga sample be the first thing on the record, and be so prominent throughout the track — it’s quite bold, especially given what people may associate with your musical background. What drew you to this particular sample?
I was kind of struck by her as this centrifugal pop force, especially in the first half of last year or whatever. In her song, she says “It doesn’t matter if you love him,” or capital H-i-m — you know, put your paws up, you’re born this way — it’s very celebratory and unifying. One emotional state or zone that I’ve visited a lot in my music, with Mi Ami and other things too, is sort of opposite of the very hopeless hole of “it doesn’t fucking matter” — like, “Native Americans” on Steal Your Face is very much a similar place, like “it doesn’t matter, it’s fucked.” And I don’t believe that on a fundamental level, but it’s an emotion I experience at times. So I grabbed that line, “It doesn’t matter if you love him.” It’s abstract, but it has this quality to me where it’s like, no, it doesn’t matter if you love something as a person, or idea, or whatever. It’s similar to “Privacy Settings” in how the world we’ve created for ourselves is coming for you — it’s a fear I contend with a lot, this world is coming to infect your body and destroy the planet you live on and control your movements, and there’s precisely jack shit you can do about it, and it doesn’t matter. So that’s where that piqued my interest, is a vis-à-vis that feeling.
Could you explain the creative/technical process behind Hive Mind? I’ve read that for the earlier singles you’d hack around with samples in Audacity…
Basically I put together the patterns in a program called Logic, and then export them, dump them into Audacity, and just chip away at it, basically just cut and pasting them all over 10 or 20 minutes and getting to work assembling the track — like, “where should I start? Where should it go? Where do I want to take things in or out? How do I want to affect it?” The thing about Audacity that I like a lot, is that it’s not made for production, it’s made for recording, overdubbing, multi-tracking. It has no MIDI-grid, no drum machine or synth or anything — it has a waveform generator, you can generate a sine wave, triangle wave, square wave, and that’s it. And that’s really appealing to me, because other programs, like Ableton and Logic, when I’ve tried to use them, I get really turned off by how much of the work they can do for you. And I know you can master them and find ways to bend them to your will, but Audacity is appealing because it feels like there’s nothing. It doesn’t tell you anything about how the track should be put together. It actually makes it really hard to assemble a track, you have to really work, and so there’s this emotional investment but also this desire, this freedom of sonic space — it’s not going to snap anything back to the grid for you, it’s not going to give you 50 different bass tones to choose from, it’s more like everything you do, you have to fucking do it.
So are you finding yourself working with the actual technology more? As in, thinking more about how to ‘edit’ and ‘sculpt’ a sound? There’s a lot of really subtle, like time-morphing, disorienting production tics throughout Hive Mind, which is why the “sculpting” image seems reasonable to me — like you’re bending and re-working sounds.
Yeah, absolutely. To me, it’s really about reaching out and trying to touch the sound, and to immerse yourself in its qualities. I love time stretching because it sounds digital, like immersing yourself in the thing that is, as opposed to trying to create something that sounds like a classic track through artifice. I like the idea that there is this whole sound world of “now,” and it’s like the detritus and debris of the modern age that’s kind of ugly and bizarre, but you can immerse in that as much as you can immerse yourself in all analog choices.
So it’s more a case of people, either who already are into it reacting to it, or who are on a path of getting into it, vis-à-vis their sense of ‘discovery,’ ‘newness,’ or whatever. But there’s a few people who are, you know, pissed.
I read that you’ve been making dance tracks for quite some time now. What spurned you on to pursue electronic music further/more publicly?
Basically, it was a New Years Resolution. At the beginning of 2010, I was pretty much entirely listening to dance music and I felt like, this is ridiculous — I want to get a 12-inch out, I want to involve myself in this. Not to disparage anything else I was doing musically, but I felt like, come on, I listen to mostly to house and techno, let’s get a 12-inch out — that’d be great! So I sat down and made something with the intention of it being released from the start — like, this needs to be release quality, I’m not just going to make a track and have it. I’m going to attempt every detail — not neurotically, but enough that I’d actually want to put it out, like it would feel complete to me. All the other stuff I had done before was kind of testing the waters, you know? That’s more or less how “Ital’s Theme” came about.
The Mi Ami Facebook page mentioned an upcoming EP in March on 100% Silk, and I just heard that new “Time of Love” track literally 30 minutes ago. Care to tell me anything about it, or any of your other projects?
Oh yeah! There’s a bunch of stuff on the table right now, but that’s the next thing. It’s something we made last fall, half a culmination of the Dolphins lineup after we took it on the road and really worked out what we were doing with it, and then half new tracks — “Time of Love” is one of the newer ones, and there’s another one, they’re both really stretched out. Also, Damon from Mi Ami and I, we have a split 12-inch coming out on 100% Silk that I’m really excited about, where we each do a track and remix each other. That’s about it, other than some collaborations and a bunch of touring again. I’d like to do another Ital album, or at least a 12-inch. There’s a lot of stuff in various states of completion or conceptualizing.
Do you have any plans to return to making music with vocals or guitars?
Yeah, I do. I love singing, I just — I don’t feel it fits with what I’m doing with Ital right now, and I don’t have much use for two solo projects with Sex Worker. [Laughs] I do want to do some stuff with vocals, because I love singing, I just haven’t figured out what that’s going to be yet.