Alex Koenig, the man behind the faceless Nmesh project — which TMT has held dear to its ears since last year’s Nu.wav Hallucinations and still tugs at our nostolgic nodes with this year’s Dream Sequins® — took the time to flesh out some shit with me, and it’s been DEEP. If you want the (non)reality of Nmesh, it’s below, but more as a paradise of mind rather than a straightforward novel. Similar to most of his releases, Koenig answers my questions by pulling from the many interesting layers of his life and displays them below, Pulp Fiction-style, but with plenty of digitally disposable swag. You’ll find Nmesh has been an ever-evolving solo project for more than 11 years. Read below and take what you will; the man is as much a universe as each of his releases.
You started playing rock/metal, no? When did you decide to give THAT sort of aesthetic up? Or have you not, and you’re still drumming and recording with a band?
No, I’m not currently drumming in any groups. Although I’d like to, I can’t really see myself having time. The most I’ve diverted my attention away from my main project in recent years was when I was engineering a hip hop record in 2012 for Bird Zoo’s Body 10 LP. I started drumming when I was 11 or 12, and was always into what I thought was ‘edgier’ music, so I suppose metal was an easy path to follow. I guess I must have started to mellow out in my mid-to-late teens. By the time I was 17, my musical taste was all over the map. Shows were a blast, but as it turned out I wasn’t into it as much — not drumming, but the genre I’d immersed myself in after so many years — so I threw in the towel before my second band, Nemesis, went into the studio to record their debut.
A couple years later I was in a short-lived rock band with Daisy Caplan, who went on to play bass for Foxy Shazam. Those guys are a big deal in the indie scene — they’ve been played on MTV, have their own VEVO channel, and I’ll never forget sitting in the laundromat a couple years ago, flipping through an Esquire, turned the page, and there he was in full-page ad for their last album. I think it’s inevitable that I’ll eventually get back on the drums. I’ve got a co-worker who’s also a drummer, and she’s lending me her (spare) drum set, so I’m going to set it up in my basement, which for the first time in years, is actually doable, being a homeowner. Hopefully I can scrape off the rust and get back in the swing of it, at least for the fun of it.
As I’m aware you’ve been doing electronics-driven music for a bit of time now — potentially more than 10 years — where did you decide to start along the “electronic” music spectrum and what inspired you MOST at that time?
It was a fairly gradual (and overlapping) transition moving away from the metal/hardcore scene into electronic-based music. In the late 90s, I fell victim to many phases, as I’m sure most kids do, so soon after my metal days, I was hanging out with hippies, dropping acid, and listening to everything from the Grateful Dead to Aphex Twin. Once I dug into Warp’s entire catalog, I was hooked on the ‘IDM’, in particular, the psychedelic and hallucinogenic sounds I was hearing in a number of artists. The Future Sound Of London was the greatest accident ever. I fell upon them by browsing some defunct music database (CDNOW.com, I think it was) and in a way, it sort of shaped my entire future. I knew who I was at that point, what I wanted to listen to, and what direction I wanted to pursue musically. So at the same time I was in my second band, I was experimenting with various software — started messing around in Cakewalk, and “remixed” several Weezer tracks off their Self-Titled album. I turned “Say It Ain’t So” into a 12-minute drone piece. It was completely absurd and not at all serious, but I felt I was onto something.
Nmesh circa 1988
Execrate, Alex’s first band in 1999
Since I thought I had a knack for editing, I then tackled what I consider my first serious project under the Nmesh moniker. Throughout the course of ‘02, I concocted a lengthy DJ mix of sorts called Peel Blue Equinox, consisting of 80+ tracks mixed into what I liked to brag about and considered “the ultimate mindfuck.” I liked the idea of a seamless, uninterrupted ‘trip’ as opposed to the conventional methods of mixing or laying out an album. Every bit of audio from movies/TV/radio was at my disposal and there were no holds barred — as my idols best put it, “we can plunder the waste bins of time” and that’s exactly what I did. I sampled and wrecked everything under the sun. That particular mix covered everything from Ween, to the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, to Danny Tenaglia. It was my original psychedelic opus — a nice reflection of my senior year when I was all hopped up on a combination of weed, Adderall and boxed wine - and it’s what lead to the start of me working on original material that same year. The rest is history.
Have you had physical/analog releases of your work since you began doing electronic music?
Oh yes… My closet is still stocked full of my older CDs; pretty much my entire back catalog was manufactured, but not much post-2007. I had extra money to blow, and was convinced I could easily make it all back — never happened. I remember checking the local section at shops from time to time and getting excited when I saw a few copies missing, but then I find out later my roommate’s mom had bought up a couple, and I’m like “Eh.. OK.” They’re mostly all still available through Bandcamp, so maybe I’ll be able to free up some closet space by the time I’m 50, who knows.
Aside from that, I landed a couple remixes on Candiria’s “Toying With The Insanities: Volume 3” LP on Rising Pulse, which was a beautiful multi-color splatter 12-inch, limited to 300 copies. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since I was 15. And then on Record Store Day a couple weeks back, The Future Sound Of London put out a 2xLP of tracks and remixes from their recent Cartel release, under their psychedelic band alias The Amorphous Androgynous. I’ve got a mix on there, alongside DJ Food and Youth of Killing Joke/The Orb. Noel Gallagher plays guitar and bass on the record, which still seems so bizarre to me… I was pretty sure it was going to be a UK-only thing, but I lucked out and tracked down a copy at a local shop. You would have thought I uncovered the Holy Grail when I was flipping through records and spotted it. By far, it’s my greatest achievement in the past decade. It’s such an incredible feeling to land tracks on albums from my idols (especially on vinyl!) I’m very fortunate.
Later in the year I’ll be doing a full-length cassette on Orange Milk Records, a cassingle on Bullfinch Art & Tapes, and the Living Room Visions Winter comp I did a track for just got a run of cassettes, and then Dream Sequins® and Nu.wav Hallucinations are being released as a special edition double-cassette on AMDISCS in June.
I keep using “electronic music” like it’s actually SOMETHING (genre, school of music, way of art, etc.). But if you could, define the sound or genre of your work since you been solo?
I’d say the all-encompassing label to put on my sound — or the safe one — would be “electronic,” actually. It’s unfortunate that I’d suggest such a bland description; the sound all varies dramatically from release to release. I’ve been sucked into and influenced by a number of styles and genres throughout the years, mostly electronic-based. Nmesh went through so many phases, although I kept the psychedelic aspect pretty consistent (IDM, dance, pop, breakcore, industrial, chill-out, hypnagogic). I’ve put out everything from an entirely ambient record (Elastic Ocean) to a really fucked-up ‘bad-acid-trip’ record (Absolut Hell).
There’s still a couple unreleased industrial records that were put on the backburner, Tested Tough from 2007 and GOD?AWFUL from 2009. I plan on releasing them, hopefully sooner than later. It’ll all surface eventually; they’re just constantly getting buried by other shit that I take on. Lately I’ve come full circle back to my experimental roots, and the collage-method of doing things, and vaporwave (or whatever you’d like to call it) was the perfect outlet to let my freak fly. I like how someone described the new one — “ambient/gaze.” That felt appropriate.
The nostalgia element has always been somewhat prevalent in my music, but in 2012, I finally fell upon the perfect medium to summon all the audio of my past and let it flourish, with no restrictions. It’s very freeing.
What is your take on the differences in instrumentation? I mean in terms of YOUR work, how does natural instrumentation invoke an emotional response in comparison to sounds conveyed via digital?
A common view is that sampling, whether you’re sourcing instruments, synths, or whatever, sounds a bit more impersonal when ran through the machine — I believe that sampling and sound manipulation can add depth and emotion in a way that physical instruments can’t. I’m a huge fan of new-age music (to once again lump a hundred genres and styles under one category) and world music from all corners of the globe. Patrick O’Hearn (ex-Missing Persons / Frank Zappa’s bass player), for example, has been a prolific ambient musician for the past 30-some years. One of his tracks “Approaching Summit” is a good example. It’s an epic 11-minute piece, the bulk of which is incredibly atmospheric and textural, quietly building in the first couple minutes with bass guitar, tribal drums, and using minimal synthesizers. It’s pleasant from the start, but at the 2:20 mark, all the sudden, kicks in one of the most lush, gorgeous synth parts I’ve ever heard, period. Like, I can feel my body melting when I listen to it. It’s that sort of instance, which confirms for me it’s not a preference of natural or digital. It’s all about how well emotion is conveyed, whatever the medium.
The lines are all blurred these days anyway. In the stages of mastering an album, a producer is working with guitar tracks, drum tracks, vocal tracks — and everything is being re-tracked, and tweaked a million times using machines. At what point do those original instruments become just another product of the machine? If you’re auto-tuning your vocals, is it no longer your voice? Very little of what we’re hearing on the radio is a one-shot take. Nothing is completely natural anymore. Its layers upon layers of sounds and heavy editing, disguised and perceived as a cohesive thing, or “band.” When most audio is only emitted through two speakers, how do we even know what we’re really hearing? Is it a grand piano, or an extremely convincing VST? Live drums, or drum machine? There are too many variables. Live performance, however, is a completely different animal. People want to see the band playing their instruments, and feel the energy on stage, instead of poking around on a laptop. The energy can be lost or non-existent in a lazily-executed performance. First world problems with today’s laptop DJs.
With NMESH’s recent work, where do you see the dividing lines between noise, soundscapes and (dare i?) vaporwave in your work? ESP your Transmission Suites… (gosh DARN around min 13 on Trans 3… just YES!!!)
When I first started getting into eccojams in 2011-12, all I knew of were these mind-blowing YouTube channels I had discovered by accident: EEG Programs was one, and also Daniel Lopatin’s mysterious Sunsetcorp channel (although I never knew it was OPN til quite a while down the road). I was practically drooling at my computer and was instantly inspired, so I started working on a lengthy mix that incorporated things of this nature, which for me was a balancing act between nostalgic/chopped & screwed music as well as a focus on ambient/experimental material. I actually recorded the audio from several of those videos to use; completely unaware they already existed on the Chuck Person release.
I was oblivious to the term “vaporwave” at the time I started this project. Didn’t hear the Mac Plus album until about eight months later. Of course, that opened up a whole can of worms, but in the beginning I felt I was the only one in the world that knew about this stuff. Within several months, I had an organized mess of a multitrack for this mix “Psychic Surgery.” About that time was when the whole Terminal Radio thing came into fruition, and rather than composing entirely new mixes, I was able to split up this massive multitrack into sections — which worked out beautifully, because it was already getting put on the backburner, possibly never to see the light of day. The fact that I already had the material made it really easy for me — deadlines weren’t really an issue, it was just a matter of fine-tuning a pre-existing mix. Eventually, I released all the transmissions as a collection, via Bandcamp, sort of the way I had originally envisioned it - although maybe not in the same order as it would have been if it wasn’t for the 15-minute “transmission” format of Terminal Radio.
A bit of background on that, for those who may not understand exactly what it is — Terminal Radio is the broadcast offshoot of “Terminal Window,” a series of compilations curated by us uber-fans on the Future Sound Of London forum. FSOLboard isn’t the biggest message board by any means, compared to the likes of Twoism.org or We Are The Music Makers — although the moderator, Pete, is a mod on WATMM as well, but we’re a tight-knit group of devoted fans, kind of like family, and almost all of the regular contributors are musicians. So we came up with the idea to put out a couple compilations, all original work, and it’s constructed sort of the same way FSOL records are — the tracks segue into each other, creating a seamless ambient journey, or experience, from start to finish. All these guys do absolutely incredible work. I had a couple of tracks on the 2nd comp, and that was shortly before Craig Gillman (Loose Link) threw out the idea of doing a podcast, or radio show.
The premise was this: “eight musical universes converge to form one quadaural meta-brain,” meaning, each month, eight of us, most of the time consisting of a few special guests, would each contribute a 15-minute mix, and in the end, those mixes were mixed into a 2-hour transmission that closely resembled the vibes of FSOL’s Electric Brain Storm mixes. Eventually the show started airing on FNOOB Underground Radio (alongside regular programs from Alex Paterson of The Orb). We’ve had Neotropic do a guest mix on the show, Scanner, Brian Dougan’s brother Alan did a mix… I’m still super stoked about one of the most recent episodes. Ross Baker took over curating duties on this one — it’s a nod to FSOL’s ‘Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble’ series, mainly psychedelic rock, classic stuff to more current material, like Animal Collective and Mercury Rev. I worked up a 30-minute mix for it and had so much fun doing it — I got to dig deep into the vault — Zappa/Moody Blues/King Crimson/ELP/Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, all sorts of shit that would make my parents proud! It’s the most upbeat transmission yet, not surprisingly.