Categories
Weekends

Israel Martínez

Since 2010, the Mexican sound artist has been reflecting, recording, documenting and exhibiting the symbolic, personal, financial, legal, civic and human costs of Mexico’s War on Drugs.

IM_SOH_Banner100000-clearweb525

Wars are loud, saturating our environment— immediately and indirectly— for on-the-ground witnesses or those experiencing media. Your recent sound work, “South of Heaven” addresses the Narcowars in Mexico, can you tell us about the environment in which you are recording?

It’s very difficult to explain what’s happening with drugs in Mexico, it’s not about the corner gangs nor drug dealers nor the consumption of drugs. My country is one of the most important drug distributors in the world, mainly of cocaine and methamphetamine, and probably the biggest exporter to the U.S. It’s a business that includes the participation of governments and “independent” companies called “cartels” in addition to banks and other particular businesses.

The war is about the control of drug flows— that is, the trafficking activities throughout several regions with the aim of maintaining the U.S., or other countries, domination of the routes. It’s about power and unfortunately thousands— more than 100,000 innocent civilians— have died since the announcement of “La Guerra Contra el Narcotráfico” by ex-President Felipe Calderón in 2006. The government declared a war against the cartels, supposedly, but also supported the biggest cartel and started to defragment the others, provoking battles throughout the country. This never ends. There are only changes in the intensity of the regions throughout Mexico. For example, during the last few weeks the horror returned to my birth city, Guadalajara. Just at this moment, I’m reading on Facebook about the sound of a shooting a few minutes ago, it’s a post by a friend who is studying the possibility of sound in relation to photography. She’s feeling the terror and reflecting on the sound as well.

israelmartinez-south-of-heaven-installation-view-2-600
South of Heaven at PCFS: Post Colonial Flagship Store, Vienna.

To relate the sound, how does the “South of Heaven” installation situate the listener?

“South of Heaven,” a collaboration with my brother Diego Martínez of Lumen Lab, is an installation including sounds from the “War on Drugs” such as shootings recorded by the military or hitmen as well as demonstrations from citizens. We made copies of the recording in the form of pirate CDs, which abound in Mexico, and the “promotional” graphic of our “product” is a neocolonial map of the U.S. and Mexico. The map explains some basic points: the drugs are supplied to the U.S., then the U.S. sells arms for all the conflicts inside Mexico and the earnings from these two points are invested in banks and companies in the U.S. Meanwhile, there is a bloody panorama in Mexico. People ask if stopping the use of drugs is the solution. Obviously not.

IM-SOH-View3bweb525

The installation was created for “PCFS: Post-Colonial Flagship Store,” an exhibition focused on a critical and at the same time sarcastic approach to neocolonialism in several regions of the world. This was in Austria, and we presented the installation as a “Tianguis,” a traditional Mexican market stand which often sells pirated goods.

You can only listen to the CD-Rs if you use headphones, which is up to you. The other sonic element is a composition made with the sounds of cocaine inhalation, broadcasting via a pair of speakers. As a stereo work it is the ambient music of our market stall. I have to say that in Mexico, there is a weird need to hear music almost all the time, so people working in street markets listen to music during their workday. Well, the sound of consuming cocaine, one of the most widely distributed products from Mexico, is also part of our background music.
The third element of the installation is a personal chronology of events or trafficking-related situations in which I had been. From innocent friends who have died in shootings, or police arrests in airports, among other experiences. Since I made the sound work in Spanish, a video monitor is used to present a translation of the text, without sound. This part of the installation is meant to relate the proximity of our experience, that the situation is affecting almost everyone, even if people are unaware of their participation.

In “South of Heaven,” there are sounds of demonstrations and shootings as you mentioned, but also excerpts from Calderón speeches, celebrations, protests, mothers wailing— which is very dramatic and piercing— to interviews with apprehended suspects. How did you capture these sounds?

Yes, there are interrogations with capos and hitmen, as well as messages from cartels. They usually kill hitmen from another cartel and then post video messages to their rivals. Heads and body parts are shown— it’s a sinister massacre. I took all of these sounds from the Internet as there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of videos related to the Narcowars on blogs and YouTube. It’s incredible who decides if they are to be censored or not and this raises the issue of what constitutes materials to be deemed “illegal.” In this case, this media is exhibited without issue on the Internet and I see this as a parallel to our “illegal” pirate CD-Rs.

The writer Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez, who inspired this piece with his book Campo de Guerra (Battlefield), says that Mexico is a country of “alegal” culture, by which he means, it’s not legal nor illegal, it’s “alegal”— something entirely outside of the sense or concept of “legality.”

Cocaine is probably the most profitable drug in the world and is a part of daily life for the populace. The sound of sniffing cocaine is the sound of bloody capitalism, the sound of the cartels and the sound of the hypocrisy of our governments.

I wanted to ask you about two sounds, the heavy breathing and the voice masking used in the interrogations. Both make me wonder about how embedded the recordings are…

The breathing you hear is part of the original recordings, and mostly recorded on mobile phones. The military and federal forces sometimes also record videos of the shootings and upload them. It’s incredible. They are showing us their power and once again, the issue of illegality is raised.

Click to listen to an excerpt from “South of Heaven”


The recorded interrogations are with capos or hitmen who have been detained. There are also interrogations with kidnapped members of the cartels. Actually, there are some sounds from beheadings as well, maybe that’s the reason you hear heavy breathing, it’s probably someone dying, as someone likely is right now somewhere in Mexico.

Click to listen to an excerpt from “South of Heaven”

I also wanted to ask you about the sound of cocaine sniffing…could you elaborate on why you made it an axis of the work?

Cocaine, methamphetamine and other chemical drugs have changed the context of drug trafficking in Mexico. When I was a kid the business was cannabis and on a different scale. It was micro-distribution, mainly family businesses. I suppose everything changed when the U.S. started to send D.E.A. and C.I.A. agents with the pretext of fighting drugs although the actual purpose was to make a strong network, and to meet a new demand for more specialized substances. “Cocaine is the new oil,” says the journalist Roberto Saviano. The percentage of profits is enormous and presents a new panorama: bigger cartels, worldwide distribution, more advanced weapons, and many more thousands dead. Cocaine is probably the most profitable drug in the world and is a part of daily life for the populace. The sound of sniffing cocaine is the sound of bloody capitalism, the sound of the cartels and the sound of the hypocrisy of our governments.

We know Saviano has been persecuted since the publication of his book about Italian mafias, and I suppose it isn’t that big of a problem if a foreigner writes about Mexican mafias, as is the case of John Gibler who wrote, To Die in Mexico. It’s completely different if a Mexican journalist or researcher writes— it’s very dangerous. For me, it’s important to research, reflect and make connections between several points, globally. Cocaine is a big economic factor in our world and I think it’s vital to discuss the issue, but we know the mass media attempts to misinform and influence reality so we need more writers, artists, researchers, academics talking about these issues in popular culture.

Along with some of your previous sound work, is “South of Heaven” an attempt to go where journalists are nervous to investigate?

An important point in my work is to try to understand, analyze, reflect and generate a dialogue from the sound as a possible source of sociological information. I lived in Guadalajara when the “War on Drugs” of Calderón arrived. A couple of friends died, there were several attacks around my home studio and innocent people as well as policemen and hitmen died. We started to live scared. As the Mexican artist Teresa Margolles and the curator Cuauhtémoc Medina say: “What else could we talk about?” That was the name of Margolles’ exhibition at the 2009 Venice Biennale. I just started to open my ears, and obviously my eyes, to the issues surrounding me, just like the local police helicopter patrolling my neighborhood 12 hours a day for several months in 2011.

Israel Martinez
Israel Martinez. Image: Javier Calderon.

Is it correct you were almost arrested for recording in a park?

This happened in 2011 with the general paranoia of organized crime. I was recording sounds in a nearby park around 9:00 PM. A neighbor probably called the police because they saw a “drunk man” walking with headphones and “something strange” in his hands. A patrol officer approached and asked me what I was doing there. They didn’t understand that I was recording sound and I suppose this is a common experience with people making recordings around the world. In the end, it wasn’t a big issue with the police but the incident led me to make a piece as a re-creation. I included some common phrases from the ‘90s when the police used to stop all the punks and young rebels in town. We ended up shouting back at the police and almost fighting. I decided to make a reenactment with a child and titled it, “Deprivation Rehearsal” (2012). When you translate police phrases into the voice of a child you can really sense the ridiculousness of their words.

I also wanted to bring up your work, “People Behaving as Real Animals” which evokes the visual imagery of kidnapping. It’s seems as if you are trying to find a sense of freedom and expression in this captive situation.

When I made “People Behaving as Real Animals” (2011) I was in fact thinking about the soundscape. Generally, we remain relatively passive when we are recording, and it obviously depends on what you are recording, but I was imagining the possibility of building “new” soundscapes through memory, mimesis and communication beyond articulated language. As an exercise in improvisation, three collaborators and myself used bandanas in order to fully concentrate on the sound and to avoid directly looking at the camera. When I looked into the camera viewfinder, before recording, I suggested we disrobe. We discussed a “natural” nudity and thought that being without shirts was a kind of “natural” state for us as young people; being totally naked was more artificial. We recorded the improvisation and when I checked the video it looked like a kidnapping scenario. Others felt we looked like guerrilla fighters. I thought, sometimes these “animal” gestures say more than articulated words. That’s how it seems in countries like Mexico where politics don’t attend to the demands of people. Sometimes noise is a great communication tool, contrary to what the theories say.

People Behaving as Animals, video still.
People Behaving as Real Animals, video still.

You also continued with a “Part 2” of the work, why?

I am constantly hosting workshops and continue to make improvisations so each session is unique as each group of students is different. Here, it’s important to talk about the loss of liberty. Young people have been kicked around by the government’s strategies of trying to create a consumerist and unthinking people. Zombies. The youth have not been physically kidnapped but mentally kidnapped. So, these young and vibrant students are trying to rebel, to shout and to express something that is not clear because most of the time they are desperate and they don’t know what to say. So once again the noise is important for their expression.

People Behaving as Animals, video still.
People Behaving as Real Animals, video still.

In another earlier work you walked around the Jardines del Humaya, an extravagant cemetery in the town of Culiacán. What drew you to that place— was it a mix of investigation as well as feelings of loss?

This is a weird place located in the “capital” of Narcoculture in Mexico, and for Saviano, it’s probably the Narco capital of the world. Culiacán is a great place with lovely people— and just that simple comment is a part of the endless contradictions throughout the world of drugs, trafficking and cartels. For decades now, Narcoculture has integrated itself into the fabric of Culiacán. Jardines del Humaya is— and this might sound crazy— a nice place to visit during your stay in Culiacán. I mean, not necessarily as a touristic point but if you know something about Narcoculture, for example in literature, you’ll probably want to visit the cemetery if you like weird architecture or just as an amateur anthropologist. I went to the graveyard with friends of Culiacán and saw the extravagant tombs, some are the size of a house or even bigger. I wanted to make field recordings there and was surprised to see several workers digging and building new graves. Actually, a lot of new graves. This digging is the sound of death, violence, corruption, pain and the inconsistencies of my country.

From, In Memoriam.
In Memoriam.

You noted that you did not want to take pictures because mobsters frequently visit the area…

When I was walking and recording the soundscape I saw something more twisted— there are banners that people leave with messages for their dead. Sometimes it looks like the dead are talking to the living because there are dozens of syntax errors. The contents are brutal: a mixture of pain, melancholy and sometimes rage or other feelings beyond our “senses.” I wanted to keep some of those messages but I felt that it was dangerous if I took pictures of all of them because sometimes mobsters visit the graves of bosses or colleagues. Instead, I started to record the contents through my voice. Several months later I made the piece, “In Memoriam” (2012), translating these banner messages using Google Translate and its default “voice” and it turned out the translation errors were similar to the original syntax mistakes. I then mixed the soundscape with these messages, as a journey into Jardines del Humaya.

In a second phase, I invited artists whose work I admire to listen to the piece and have them send me audio for a longer work. Francisco Lopez, Murcof, BJ Nilsen, Janek Schaefer, Manrico Montero, Lumen Lab, Rogelio Sosa, Simon Whetham and other friends collaborated. I once read a comment by Christian Marclay saying that audio can be exhibited in endless ways, you don’t need an institution nor a physical forum. I found that interesting so I decided to put the audio available as a free download on our website. I then started to promote the work physically with posters and postcards, distributing them everywhere so there’s a possibility that thousands of people can download and know the work.

As an artist also making audio documentary as counter-media, how do you see “La Guerra Contra el Narcotráfico” portrayed by the mass media in Mexico?

It’s ridiculous because the mass media never presents the facts clearly, but you can see everything surfing Internet, from specialized Narcoblogs to videos on YouTube. In any case, no one has the “truth” about these topics, not even the journalists or the researchers. The relationship between the cartels and the government is never clear and I even think that the military, the federal forces or the same cartel hitmen are aware of this ambivalence. Roberto Saviano and Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez are aware of this ambiguity too. It isn’t clear for anyone. I suppose that only the heads of government know. There are approximations to the situation on TV news, newspapers, political magazines such as Proceso and the Internet press, but no ones knows the truth. I insist. As an artist, I need to use all possible forms of media and forums to invite people to reflect and to materialize a certain kind of political pressure.

I think we’ll need to pause our conversation for now…to close, what forms of solidarity have you observed or participated in? Is solidarity the “bigger picture” people need to see?

After the disappearance of forty-three students from the Normal School of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, at the end of September 2014— a case still unresolved— there were massive demonstrations throughout the country, even in areas considered to be apathetic about political involvement. The government has made every effort to insert oblivion into the population but I think that the levels of corruption and economic inequality, as in most parts of the globe, are facing increasing pressure from social networks on the Internet and from the formation of groups, collectives and civic organizations.

As a civilian, I demand. As an artist, I put some of these topics on the table, sharing them with anyone, and it’s the same case for a lot of artists in Mexico. A big part of contemporary art in this country is openly political and demanding. Outside of their artistic practice a lot of artists are associated with some thinking or activist collective. In my case, along with my brother, we are supporting the people from a town located in the Mexican west, Temacapulin, which will be flooded for the construction of a dam. If you want to listen, visit our site, www.suplex.mx and look for the Temacapulin Project. We are constantly supporting friends from several activist groups, recording and sharing sounds, creating images or promoting causes. Unfortunately, the more social movements become active, the government seems to tighten the lower classes, which are the majority and still live in a cultural poverty that only benefits the upper classes, the owners of the country. Power wants us to be ignorant…and to be deaf.

• Israel Martínez (b. 1979) produces multi-channel audio and video installations, site-specific projects, compositions, actions, interventions and graphics. Co-founder of the multimedia platform www.suplex.mx and the label Abolipop Records, his aural work has been published and distributed worldwide by Sub Rosa, Aagoo and Musica Moderna while other select works have been acquired by notable collections in Latin America such as Jumex & MUAC/UNAM. Martínez is represented by TalCual gallery in Mexico and is currently working on his next solo exhibition while teaching seminars and workshops on sound art and sound in contemporary art.

Related:

http://www.israelm.com/

Categories
Weekends

Oren Ambarchi

AN ONGOING EFFORT WITH JIM O’ROURKE AND KEIJI HAINO, TOGETHER ONE OF THE MOST VIBRANT TRIOS ACTIVE, WAS THE SUBJECT OF A RECENT CORRESPONDENCE.

Ambarchi-Haino-Orourke-live

From first exposures to Japanese music to making trips and an eventual string of collaborations, how did your relationship with Japan start?

When I was in my early 20s, I was living in New York in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and going to as many gigs and buying as many records as I could. One random purchase I made was a cassette released on RRR called “Eat Shit Noise Music.” This cassette is simply one of the greatest ‘Japanoise’ compilations ever put together. When I discovered this in 1991 I simply had to find all of the original LPs. Eventually, I did. Tracks were swiped from rare and early insane masterpieces such as Hanatarash’s “2” (Alchemy), and the Gerogerigegege’s first LP “Senzuri Champion” (Vis A Vis Audio Arts). Early Boredoms and lesser-known bands such as White Hospital and Grim also make an appearance. This led to a huge noise obsession for me and a discovery of other amazing Japanese artists such as The Incapacitants and Pain Jerk, and before too long I travelled to Japan to experience this stuff in person. I love the way Japanese noise doesn’t really have a particular philosophy or any real political stance or posturing (unlike many of the American and European noise artists), it’s just pure sonics with loads of enthusiasm and off the wall humour. Noise for the love of noise!
 
Around the same time in New York I was fortunate to experience live shows from Keiji Haino, Otomo Yoshihide, Yasunao Tone among other Japanese artists. When I returned home to Australia I obsessively made weekly mail order purchases from an Osaka-based mail order outlet called “Japan Overseas.” It was impossible to find PSF & other independent Japanese releases in Australia at the time and I discovered loads of amazing music as a result of their monthly catalogues and from reading magazines such as Forced Exposure that championed these sounds.
 
My first tour in Japan was in 1993 and it was an incredible experience. I was fortunate to be there at the peak of the Kansai noise explosion and collaborated with artists such as Masonna, Solmania, as well as members of Boredoms. I had seen Haino play in the States and in Japan many many times but didn’t actually meet him in person until February 2003. I was in a convenience store in Koenji and Haino walked in to do some shopping! So we got into a conversation and he came to see me play a solo show in Tokyo a few days later. A year later I organized Fushitsusha’s first ever Australian performances. Then in 1997 I was introduced to Jim in New York in the same record store where I had bought the “Eat Shit” cassette. We had a brief, pleasant conversation but I only really started hanging out with him much later, in Japan circa 2006.

How did ideas to session emerge from initial conversations amongst the three of you?

My first reaction was confusion which is usually a good sign. Soon after I was moved. The guy had personality and he’d created his own sound world.

Akiko Miyake, who runs a program at the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Kita Kyushu, was the catalyst, she instigated the three of us working together when she invited us to her sound program at the CCA in January 2009. We spent a few days together and then played a concert which became the “Tima Formosa” (Black Truffle) release. We all seemed to get along so it’s always been quite informal working with Haino and Jim. Jim speaks fluent Japanese and I speak a little, so communication has been fine. I’ve been making a yearly trip to Japan and Jim and Haino live there so that’s the only opportunity for this trio to work together; although I’ve worked with Haino in Europe a few times with Stephen O’Malley on bass. We never really discuss what we are going to do, maybe just the instrumentation. Haino knew my work as a guitar player and when we first worked together I was playing guitar. However, I suggested playing drums the next time we got together and at the sound check Haino smiled and asked me to ‘audition’ as he’d never heard me play drums before— I think he was kidding but then again who knows! It seemed to work out. It’s always a pleasure working with Haino and Jim.

ambarchi-haino-live

ambarchi-haino-live-web3

There’s an interesting triangle here, different segments from different backgrounds. In your experience, was finding a common ground on the agenda?

Well, I am very familiar with Haino’s music as he has been an inspiration for many years and because of this, I know and respect his ‘language’ although he constantly likes to pull the carpet from under your feet and keep you on your toes. This can be challenging but that’s part of the pleasure. Jim is an incredibly versatile and tasty musician who can fit into any context and somehow elevate whatever is going on. I think both Jim and I come from similar backgrounds and are both ‘fans’ of Haino, and rabid fans of music in general, so we’re happy to support and complement Haino’s flights as much as we can. From time to time we also like to pull the carpet from under Haino’s feet [laughs].

In an older interview with The Quietus you remarked, “Haino is the reason I play guitar,” which resonated with me…

In 1992 I was living in New York and had been since the late ‘80s. Up until that point I had seen many “great” guitarists perform. All of them were technically proficient and did all the right things but when I saw Haino there was a difference. My first reaction was confusion which is usually a good sign. Soon after I was moved. The guy had personality and he’d created his own sound world. Now that didn’t happen too often at a solo guitar performance. Since I was young I’d always been attracted to electronics and the guitar and I thought, “that’s it! When I get home I’m going play guitar!” It was a revelation! Haino wasn’t a ‘technical’ player, but his playing was so utterly personal I decided I had to do it and “find my way.” I knew absolutely nothing about how to play the guitar but that didn’t stop me. So at the age of twenty-three I switched from drums to guitar.

I find it very intriguing that Haino considers himself “a blues player,” but so now that you’ve mixed the live recordings yourself, how do the three releases stand next to each other?

Well, “Tima Formosa” being our first live meeting as a trio, I like the way the instrumentation isn’t too typical. Haino doesn’t even play guitar and Jim plays piano throughout. The recording has a strange, unsettling, mysterious atmosphere not unlike some of the recordings from Haino’s “Nijiumu” project on PSF. It was recorded in a formal concert hall in Kyushu, quite a different environment to SuperDeluxe where all the subsequent shows took place. “In a Flash…” was our first trio show in a guitar, bass and drums format. Jim and I love the early Fushitsusha records so it was great to be able to play in a power trio setting with Haino. Scary for me as I hadn’t played drums in years and I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to get through 2 sets! I love the way Haino played lap steel on this one, totally outrageous! The recording on “Imikuzushi” was from an epic, relentless non-stop three hour show from 2011 where the playing was much more aggressive than the previous releases. Haino is simply one the most important guitarists and artists operating, so on this release Jim and I are happy to simply rock out and allow Haino to go nuts over the top of the rhythm section.

These releases have been of live performances…can you tell me about the studio time the trio has had, if any? I know Haino has mentioned he “never” rehearses with a collaborator…

The trio has never recorded in a studio and our soundcheck times are relatively short. There isn’t much discussion prior to a performance other than instrumentation ideas. For example, the first set of our most recent performance featured Haino-san on a harp and Jim on 12-string acoustic. The instrumentation for that show was discussed briefly the day before the show.

Has there been anything altering or revelatory about your international, cross-cultural collaborations over these years?

I have changed in the sense that I now feel more comfortable being myself no matter who I work with. It’s taken years for me to feel that I can play the way I would play in a solo context when I also collaborate with artists such as Jim and Masami. In the past I felt I would have to tailor what I do to make collaborations ‘work’. This attitude has now changed somewhat.

How about an encroaching feeling of familiarity as the trio meets up each additional time?

It’s kept fresh simply because Keiji Haino and Jim O’Rourke are involved! They are multifaceted artists and rarely repeat themselves although their sounds are highly unique. Plus the fact that we are in Tokyo means Haino has access to his huge collection of musical instruments. You never know what Haino will show up with. We played a show a few months ago and he had all kinds of instruments including a baritone harmonica, some sort of Greek lute, a harmonium and more.

How did this trio lead to the forming of Nazoranai, where it’s you with Haino and Stephen O’Malley.

I’d been working with Stephen O’Malley in Sunn and various other projects from around 2004. In 2006 we were playing in Canada at a festival and Haino was playing just before us. I introduced Haino to Stephen and Haino joined Sunn for that show. About five years later we played our first show as a trio in Amsterdam. I’m not sure how it was put together to be honest. There are a few similarities with this trio however it is usually always the guitar/bass/drums “power trio” format. The trio with Jim has also had many variations in the instrumentation and sound over the years.

And what can we expect from the trio in the time ahead?

We have two new releases due this year. They are both two complete sets from a February 2014 performance. The first of the two releases is quite different as it features many acoustic instruments. I’m going to take a few words Francis Plagne wrote for the press release:

“only wanting to melt beautifully away is it a lack of contentment that stirs affection for those things said to be as of yet unseen’, their fifth LP, blows the instrumental palette wide open for a single continuous piece focused on acoustic strings, synth, flute and percussion. Featuring one of Haino’s most delicate and moving recorded vocal performances, the opening section of the record takes the form of a spare duet between O’Rourke’s 12-string acoustic guitar and Haino’s kantele (a Finnish variant of the dulcimer), behind which Ambarchi provides a hovering backdrop of wine glass tones….After this stunningly beautiful opening sequence, the performance moves organically through a number of episodes, including a dramatic central passage in which Haino moves to synth and drums machines, crafting a current of raw electricity that unfurls slowly over the gently pulsing foundations of Ambrachi’s cymbals and builds to heights of manic intensity. When Haino later turns to wooden flute, O’Rourke and Ambarchi answer him with nimble hand-drummed percussion in a passage that calls to mind Don Cherry’s liberated combination of free jazz improvisation and non-western musics.”

 

The 2nd of the two releases is the 2nd set we played that night and it is a rocking guitar/bass/drums power trio record. As for me I’ve been super busy this year with loads of touring, including presenting my piece “Knots” at various festivals in Europe and the USA. I have quite a few new releases out this year including a new solo release on Editions Mego featuring a number of guests including Thomas Brinkmann, Crys Cole, Eyvind Kang, John Tilbury, Jim O’Rourke and others. This one juxtaposes techno rhythms made by Brinkmann with unusual electronic and acoustic textures. It is a continuous 48 minute piece that has 5 distinct movements. Playing drums with Haino and Jim has definitely reawakened my interest in rhythm and I am starting to feature it in my solo work. This release should be out in September.
 

Annotated Discography:

• Tima Formosa (Black Truffle)
• In a flash everything comes together as one there is no need for a subject (Black Truffle)
• IMIKUZUSHI (Black Truffle)
• NOW WHILE IT IS STILL WARM LET US POUR IN ALL THE MYSTERY (Black Truffle)
• I wonder if you noticed “I’m sorry” Is such a lovely sound It keeps things from getting worse (Black Truffle)

Related:

http://www.orenambarchi.com
http://www.blacktrufflerecords.com

Categories
Weekends

Letters From the Past | 1992: Pop-trunk

DJscrew-mixtape-web

It was ’89 when I got to college, we’re still in the MTV Era, BET is gaining popularity, music is all over the place, Hip Hop is still young, into its Golden Era, but that was really East Coast dominated at the time. When I got to Houston I was living in the 3rd Ward where the universities— University of Houston, Texas Southern University and to an extent the outskirts of the medical center, Rice University— are all located. Now the area is referred to as the museum district and there were certain things that people from that area did, culturally speaking. Things like going to King’s Flea Market, eating at Timmy Chan’s, or drinking Olde English or Thunderbird Wine with Kool Aid in it or drinking Mad Dog…college stuff, you know?

No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption.

No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption.
 
You would hear this music coming out of the cars, this was back in the whole Pop-trunk Era, and everyone would just ride around with their trunks popped up and the music blaring out of their cars. Everyone had their cars on Swangers, 30-spoked wheels on Vogue tires, and this was the music blasting out of the trunks. Friends of mine who were closer to Screw, they were getting Grey Tapes, going to the record store around the corner and asking for the latest tapes and all that. We were right in the middle of it when it was taking off. I had been around DJ Screw on a few occasions but I didn’t run with him so I don’t want to speak to things that closely pertain to Screw but I can speak to the era because I was in Houston when Screw took off
 
So if you were from around the Houston area and asked, “what the hell is that?” people would say, “Oh that’s Screw, that’s Screw.” And it just took off like wildfire

DJscrew-flyer2-web2

Since we were students we never really ventured to the other side of the town to see how it all had taken effect in other parts of the city. But around that Southside of Houston, I mean that was it. If you weren’t playing Screw, nobody wanted to hear what you had in your car. And so that whole culture took off and you started seeing— and I’m not saying Screw caused this because I’ve spoken to a lot of those guys and they talked about how syrup was around way before Screw became popular— but you started noticing the white cups and everyone sippin’. You know, in college everybody smokes weed but then you’re seeing everyone hanging out at the park smoking blunts and sippin’ syrup. And everyone wanted to have the newest Screw tape and the loudest system because the thing about that Screw, if you slow the beat down, it really bangs in your trunk. That’s why in the first verse of that one Z-Ro freestyle, “Mo City Don,” he goes, “Slow, loud and bangin’, all in my trunk.” So it was really taking off, and before you know it, it became mainstream.

When Screw really started moving tapes, it was upwards of a 1,000 plus tapes a week and at $10 piece. The tapes weren’t commercially duplicated tapes, they were regular grey tapes you could just get from the store so that’s why everybody called them, “The Grey Tapes.” People would line up and he was the only person you could get it from. No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption. And you had all these young guys who were rappers, who would come and freestyle over the records. Once that started taking off, it was really crazy, it dwarfed everything else. So there were a lot of tapes that were made by people who were just saying, “I want to do a Screw tape for my birthday” or, “I want to do one for this event or that event” and if you have a personal tape, with Screw talking on it, with his unique voice…that drawl…and the slowed music, then you have something special. There are people out there today, who will post pictures of a Screw tape on Instagram or Facebook and that’s a keepsake, a real piece of memorabilia to have. No matter how many were sold or were playing in the streets, for you to have one even today is a big deal. They have a catalog of them at the Screw shop but it’s not the same, and that’s not everything, they are replicas of the original mixes duplicated on CD.

When I was working on the film so many people from the era, including friends and family of Screw, said, “I think Toe was the first person,” so I thought it was only right to include him in the DVD because I think he’s the one who actually encouraged Screw by having the first tape. That’s important, if Screw didn’t make that tape for Toe, who knows what would have happened. If that tape didn’t get the response it got and people didn’t go crazy for it, you may not have ever heard of DJ Screw.

People would list what they wanted on their personal tape and put that list in the shoebox at Screw’s house. It may take somebody a couple of months to get a tape made because they had so many song requests and actually what that did was, as a DJ, Screw was going out and finding songs that people wanted. And this was in the pre-digital days. If you go in Screw’s father’s garage there are thousands, man, thousands of records in that garage that belong to Screw. So, Screw broke a lot of artists here in Texas. There are a lot of artists who started getting play in Houston because they started getting play on Screw tapes and that’s because somebody may have known about MC Breeze and said, “OK I want MC Breeze on my tape.” Or a student from California or DC or Florida requested whoever they wanted. And that was really important because different people’s tastes introduced different music, and then, so many people just started to collect the tapes because they were simply fans of his style of DJing. A lot of people were introduced to music from other regions that they normally wouldn’t have been introduced to, or that they wouldn’t have sought out because this was early in the Mixtape Era. This was pre-internet, you know what I’m saying?

Everyone talks about mixtapes and I think Screw doesn’t get enough credit for being an early pioneer in the Mixtape Era. If you think about it, there are a lot of DJs who are popular now, that aren’t the first at what they’re doing. Screw was ahead of a lot of these guys in breaking music and introducing artists to different regions. He had a great ear and you know, across the board Screw is widely recognized as a respected DJ. Not just as a DJ of his style of music, what I mean is, he was widely respected in the sense that people say, “Screw was a dope DJ, period.”

But you know, the city is so big, and from where we were, like I said, we rarely got around to the other sides of the city. It’s easy for one side of town to be a completely different culture from another side. So when you start hearing about how the guys from the South side starched their pants and got a South side hair cut and dressed a certain way, or when you heard that the guys on the North side were more country— those stereotypes were true!— and once the South side started gaining popularity with Screw, the North side had to do something different and that’s where the whole Michael Watts thing on the North side comes in. 

DJscrew-flyer1-web

That North side, South side civil war was real. One side had red tricked-out old school Cadillacs or Rivieras or Regals, any of those four door cars, Buicks…you know. And the other side had blue ones. There was another group that had green ones. Then people said the South side guys were coming up to the North side and were stealing cars. When you started hearing and seeing that happen, then you started hearing people talking about shooting slugs at each other on the Screw tapes. In a sense, the Screw tapes made that beef last longer than it probably would have. And Screw was just a DJ, he wasn’t out in the streets doing any of that stuff, he was in his house for hours a day making tapes…

When I was at BET, I had met all of those guys from the S.U.C. so when I started working on the DVD, it was when music videos really started taking off, and one of my good friends at the time, Dr. Teeth, had been directing a lot of videos out of Houston. As a matter of fact, he’s responsible for introducing Houston into the mainstream. Not partially, but directly responsible. Teeth was a producer at Rap City, so when you started seeing all these Houston guys on BET, that was John T. We went to Texas Southern together and he was very adamant about presenting where we were from and what we were doing down here so he started bringing those guys in. I had been doing a lot of clips and was always on these music video sets and had access to these guys so I was lucky because these guys aren’t easy to keep up with, especially if they don’t know you. They are not talkative if they don’t know you. They are not big on just running their mouths, maybe now they are more comfortable with it because they understand they have to market and promote themselves.

Today, I do feel good saying that I had solid interviews with the likes of KeKe or Big Moe, who passed away the following year. I interviewed Hawk on a Thursday…and I think he was gone the next Monday…I think I did his last interview…he was a great guy…and I’m trying to think if any of them gave me a hard time…and nah…all of them were cool.

I had directed “Get Throwed” with Bun B, Pimp C and Z-Ro. And by this time ‘Ro and I had kind of developed a friendship. One time I had just stepped outside after interviewing Mr. 3-2 at a barbershop and Z-Ro was just standing there, but he wanted to do the interview at this strip club he hung out at. It was the strip club where Tre got shot. So we’re outside in the parking lot and I thought it would look cool— we can see your car, we’re in the streets, this is your flavor, let’s go with this. And I’ve got so much material from ‘Ro over the years that I can’t put out because people would just be mad…at him…but it’s because he’s that comfortable in his environment when we’re talking. I think all of these guys respected that I was researching and wasn’t just asking some surface level questions. And that’s part of why I have maintained a positive relationship with all of them to this day.

You know, the film I worked on wasn’t based off a personal relationship I had with DJ Screw. Bird was the guy who was running around with the camera when they were younger, when everyone was just getting into camcorders. Bird had exclusive footage of Screw but he and others didn’t know what to do with it. I knew how to shoot and produce, but not edit— I taught myself how to edit working on that DVD— and when I look at that video years later, I cringe man! So that’s how I got involved, but here’s the thing, and the more you research this— I don’t think I would have a problem saying this in front of anybody— and I think if you ask anyone else close to the situation they would probably say the same thing: a lot of people benefitted more from Screw when Screw was gone than when he was here. A lot of people jumped on board and used their affiliation, loose or tight, to put themselves in positions that they could…well…eat from.

Categories
Weekends

Oren Ambarchi Copy

AN ONGOING EFFORT WITH JIM O’ROURKE AND KEIJI HAINO, TOGETHER ONE OF THE MOST VIBRANT TRIOS ACTIVE, WAS THE SUBJECT OF A RECENT CORRESPONDENCE.

Ambarchi-Haino-Orourke-live

From first exposures to Japanese music to making trips and an eventual string of collaborations, how did your relationship with Japan start?

When I was in my early 20s, I was living in New York in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and going to as many gigs and buying as many records as I could. One random purchase I made was a cassette released on RRR called “Eat Shit Noise Music.” This cassette is simply one of the greatest ‘Japanoise’ compilations ever put together. When I discovered this in 1991 I simply had to find all of the original LPs. Eventually, I did. Tracks were swiped from rare and early insane masterpieces such as Hanatarash’s “2” (Alchemy), and the Gerogerigegege’s first LP “Senzuri Champion” (Vis A Vis Audio Arts). Early Boredoms and lesser-known bands such as White Hospital and Grim also make an appearance. This led to a huge noise obsession for me and a discovery of other amazing Japanese artists such as The Incapacitants and Pain Jerk, and before too long I travelled to Japan to experience this stuff in person. I love the way Japanese noise doesn’t really have a particular philosophy or any real political stance or posturing (unlike many of the American and European noise artists), it’s just pure sonics with loads of enthusiasm and off the wall humour. Noise for the love of noise!
 
Around the same time in New York I was fortunate to experience live shows from Keiji Haino, Otomo Yoshihide, Yasunao Tone among other Japanese artists. When I returned home to Australia I obsessively made weekly mail order purchases from an Osaka-based mail order outlet called “Japan Overseas.” It was impossible to find PSF & other independent Japanese releases in Australia at the time and I discovered loads of amazing music as a result of their monthly catalogues and from reading magazines such as Forced Exposure that championed these sounds.
 
My first tour in Japan was in 1993 and it was an incredible experience. I was fortunate to be there at the peak of the Kansai noise explosion and collaborated with artists such as Masonna, Solmania, as well as members of Boredoms. I had seen Haino play in the States and in Japan many many times but didn’t actually meet him in person until February 2003. I was in a convenience store in Koenji and Haino walked in to do some shopping! So we got into a conversation and he came to see me play a solo show in Tokyo a few days later. A year later I organized Fushitsusha’s first ever Australian performances. Then in 1997 I was introduced to Jim in New York in the same record store where I had bought the “Eat Shit” cassette. We had a brief, pleasant conversation but I only really started hanging out with him much later, in Japan circa 2006.

How did ideas to session emerge from initial conversations amongst the three of you?

My first reaction was confusion which is usually a good sign. Soon after I was moved. The guy had personality and he’d created his own sound world.

Akiko Miyake, who runs a program at the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Kita Kyushu, was the catalyst, she instigated the three of us working together when she invited us to her sound program at the CCA in January 2009. We spent a few days together and then played a concert which became the “Tima Formosa” (Black Truffle) release. We all seemed to get along so it’s always been quite informal working with Haino and Jim. Jim speaks fluent Japanese and I speak a little, so communication has been fine. I’ve been making a yearly trip to Japan and Jim and Haino live there so that’s the only opportunity for this trio to work together; although I’ve worked with Haino in Europe a few times with Stephen O’Malley on bass. We never really discuss what we are going to do, maybe just the instrumentation. Haino knew my work as a guitar player and when we first worked together I was playing guitar. However, I suggested playing drums the next time we got together and at the sound check Haino smiled and asked me to ‘audition’ as he’d never heard me play drums before— I think he was kidding but then again who knows! It seemed to work out. It’s always a pleasure working with Haino and Jim.

ambarchi-haino-live

ambarchi-haino-live-web3

There’s an interesting triangle here, different segments from different backgrounds. In your experience, was finding a common ground on the agenda?

Well, I am very familiar with Haino’s music as he has been an inspiration for many years and because of this, I know and respect his ‘language’ although he constantly likes to pull the carpet from under your feet and keep you on your toes. This can be challenging but that’s part of the pleasure. Jim is an incredibly versatile and tasty musician who can fit into any context and somehow elevate whatever is going on. I think both Jim and I come from similar backgrounds and are both ‘fans’ of Haino, and rabid fans of music in general, so we’re happy to support and complement Haino’s flights as much as we can. From time to time we also like to pull the carpet from under Haino’s feet [laughs].

In an older interview with The Quietus you remarked, “Haino is the reason I play guitar,” which resonated with me…

In 1992 I was living in New York and had been since the late ‘80s. Up until that point I had seen many “great” guitarists perform. All of them were technically proficient and did all the right things but when I saw Haino there was a difference. My first reaction was confusion which is usually a good sign. Soon after I was moved. The guy had personality and he’d created his own sound world. Now that didn’t happen too often at a solo guitar performance. Since I was young I’d always been attracted to electronics and the guitar and I thought, “that’s it! When I get home I’m going play guitar!” It was a revelation! Haino wasn’t a ‘technical’ player, but his playing was so utterly personal I decided I had to do it and “find my way.” I knew absolutely nothing about how to play the guitar but that didn’t stop me. So at the age of twenty-three I switched from drums to guitar.

I find it very intriguing that Haino considers himself “a blues player,” but so now that you’ve mixed the live recordings yourself, how do the three releases stand next to each other?

Well, “Tima Formosa” being our first live meeting as a trio, I like the way the instrumentation isn’t too typical. Haino doesn’t even play guitar and Jim plays piano throughout. The recording has a strange, unsettling, mysterious atmosphere not unlike some of the recordings from Haino’s “Nijiumu” project on PSF. It was recorded in a formal concert hall in Kyushu, quite a different environment to SuperDeluxe where all the subsequent shows took place. “In a Flash…” was our first trio show in a guitar, bass and drums format. Jim and I love the early Fushitsusha records so it was great to be able to play in a power trio setting with Haino. Scary for me as I hadn’t played drums in years and I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to get through 2 sets! I love the way Haino played lap steel on this one, totally outrageous! The recording on “Imikuzushi” was from an epic, relentless non-stop three hour show from 2011 where the playing was much more aggressive than the previous releases. Haino is simply one the most important guitarists and artists operating, so on this release Jim and I are happy to simply rock out and allow Haino to go nuts over the top of the rhythm section.

These releases have been of live performances…can you tell me about the studio time the trio has had, if any? I know Haino has mentioned he “never” rehearses with a collaborator…

The trio has never recorded in a studio and our soundcheck times are relatively short. There isn’t much discussion prior to a performance other than instrumentation ideas. For example, the first set of our most recent performance featured Haino-san on a harp and Jim on 12-string acoustic. The instrumentation for that show was discussed briefly the day before the show.

Has there been anything altering or revelatory about your international, cross-cultural collaborations over these years?

I have changed in the sense that I now feel more comfortable being myself no matter who I work with. It’s taken years for me to feel that I can play the way I would play in a solo context when I also collaborate with artists such as Jim and Masami. In the past I felt I would have to tailor what I do to make collaborations ‘work’. This attitude has now changed somewhat.

How about an encroaching feeling of familiarity as the trio meets up each additional time?

It’s kept fresh simply because Keiji Haino and Jim O’Rourke are involved! They are multifaceted artists and rarely repeat themselves although their sounds are highly unique. Plus the fact that we are in Tokyo means Haino has access to his huge collection of musical instruments. You never know what Haino will show up with. We played a show a few months ago and he had all kinds of instruments including a baritone harmonica, some sort of Greek lute, a harmonium and more.

How did this trio lead to the forming of Nazoranai, where it’s you with Haino and Stephen O’Malley.

I’d been working with Stephen O’Malley in Sunn and various other projects from around 2004. In 2006 we were playing in Canada at a festival and Haino was playing just before us. I introduced Haino to Stephen and Haino joined Sunn for that show. About five years later we played our first show as a trio in Amsterdam. I’m not sure how it was put together to be honest. There are a few similarities with this trio however it is usually always the guitar/bass/drums “power trio” format. The trio with Jim has also had many variations in the instrumentation and sound over the years.

And what can we expect from the trio in the time ahead?

We have two new releases due this year. They are both two complete sets from a February 2014 performance. The first of the two releases is quite different as it features many acoustic instruments. I’m going to take a few words Francis Plagne wrote for the press release:

“only wanting to melt beautifully away is it a lack of contentment that stirs affection for those things said to be as of yet unseen’, their fifth LP, blows the instrumental palette wide open for a single continuous piece focused on acoustic strings, synth, flute and percussion. Featuring one of Haino’s most delicate and moving recorded vocal performances, the opening section of the record takes the form of a spare duet between O’Rourke’s 12-string acoustic guitar and Haino’s kantele (a Finnish variant of the dulcimer), behind which Ambarchi provides a hovering backdrop of wine glass tones….After this stunningly beautiful opening sequence, the performance moves organically through a number of episodes, including a dramatic central passage in which Haino moves to synth and drums machines, crafting a current of raw electricity that unfurls slowly over the gently pulsing foundations of Ambrachi’s cymbals and builds to heights of manic intensity. When Haino later turns to wooden flute, O’Rourke and Ambarchi answer him with nimble hand-drummed percussion in a passage that calls to mind Don Cherry’s liberated combination of free jazz improvisation and non-western musics.”

 

The 2nd of the two releases is the 2nd set we played that night and it is a rocking guitar/bass/drums power trio record. As for me I’ve been super busy this year with loads of touring, including presenting my piece “Knots” at various festivals in Europe and the USA. I have quite a few new releases out this year including a new solo release on Editions Mego featuring a number of guests including Thomas Brinkmann, Crys Cole, Eyvind Kang, John Tilbury, Jim O’Rourke and others. This one juxtaposes techno rhythms made by Brinkmann with unusual electronic and acoustic textures. It is a continuous 48 minute piece that has 5 distinct movements. Playing drums with Haino and Jim has definitely reawakened my interest in rhythm and I am starting to feature it in my solo work. This release should be out in September.
 

Annotated Discography:

• Tima Formosa (Black Truffle)
• In a flash everything comes together as one there is no need for a subject (Black Truffle)
• IMIKUZUSHI (Black Truffle)
• NOW WHILE IT IS STILL WARM LET US POUR IN ALL THE MYSTERY (Black Truffle)
• I wonder if you noticed “I’m sorry” Is such a lovely sound It keeps things from getting worse (Black Truffle)

Related:

http://www.orenambarchi.com
http://www.blacktrufflerecords.com

Categories
Weekends

Letters From the Past | 1992: Pop-trunk Copy

DJscrew-mixtape-web

It was ’89 when I got to college, we’re still in the MTV Era, BET is gaining popularity, music is all over the place, Hip Hop is still young, into its Golden Era, but that was really East Coast dominated at the time. When I got to Houston I was living in the 3rd Ward where the universities— University of Houston, Texas Southern University and to an extent the outskirts of the medical center, Rice University— are all located. Now the area is referred to as the museum district and there were certain things that people from that area did, culturally speaking. Things like going to King’s Flea Market, eating at Timmy Chan’s, or drinking Olde English or Thunderbird Wine with Kool Aid in it or drinking Mad Dog…college stuff, you know?

No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption.

No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption.
 
You would hear this music coming out of the cars, this was back in the whole Pop-trunk Era, and everyone would just ride around with their trunks popped up and the music blaring out of their cars. Everyone had their cars on Swangers, 30-spoked wheels on Vogue tires, and this was the music blasting out of the trunks. Friends of mine who were closer to Screw, they were getting Grey Tapes, going to the record store around the corner and asking for the latest tapes and all that. We were right in the middle of it when it was taking off. I had been around DJ Screw on a few occasions but I didn’t run with him so I don’t want to speak to things that closely pertain to Screw but I can speak to the era because I was in Houston when Screw took off
 
So if you were from around the Houston area and asked, “what the hell is that?” people would say, “Oh that’s Screw, that’s Screw.” And it just took off like wildfire

DJscrew-flyer2-web2

Since we were students we never really ventured to the other side of the town to see how it all had taken effect in other parts of the city. But around that Southside of Houston, I mean that was it. If you weren’t playing Screw, nobody wanted to hear what you had in your car. And so that whole culture took off and you started seeing— and I’m not saying Screw caused this because I’ve spoken to a lot of those guys and they talked about how syrup was around way before Screw became popular— but you started noticing the white cups and everyone sippin’. You know, in college everybody smokes weed but then you’re seeing everyone hanging out at the park smoking blunts and sippin’ syrup. And everyone wanted to have the newest Screw tape and the loudest system because the thing about that Screw, if you slow the beat down, it really bangs in your trunk. That’s why in the first verse of that one Z-Ro freestyle, “Mo City Don,” he goes, “Slow, loud and bangin’, all in my trunk.” So it was really taking off, and before you know it, it became mainstream.

When Screw really started moving tapes, it was upwards of a 1,000 plus tapes a week and at $10 piece. The tapes weren’t commercially duplicated tapes, they were regular grey tapes you could just get from the store so that’s why everybody called them, “The Grey Tapes.” People would line up and he was the only person you could get it from. No one else was wholesaling them because he didn’t have a distribution deal. Screw just did this whole thing out of his house, people would just come to buy tapes or people would pay to come and get personal tapes made. Once they had a personal tape made, that then became the next tape available for mass consumption. And you had all these young guys who were rappers, who would come and freestyle over the records. Once that started taking off, it was really crazy, it dwarfed everything else. So there were a lot of tapes that were made by people who were just saying, “I want to do a Screw tape for my birthday” or, “I want to do one for this event or that event” and if you have a personal tape, with Screw talking on it, with his unique voice…that drawl…and the slowed music, then you have something special. There are people out there today, who will post pictures of a Screw tape on Instagram or Facebook and that’s a keepsake, a real piece of memorabilia to have. No matter how many were sold or were playing in the streets, for you to have one even today is a big deal. They have a catalog of them at the Screw shop but it’s not the same, and that’s not everything, they are replicas of the original mixes duplicated on CD.

When I was working on the film so many people from the era, including friends and family of Screw, said, “I think Toe was the first person,” so I thought it was only right to include him in the DVD because I think he’s the one who actually encouraged Screw by having the first tape. That’s important, if Screw didn’t make that tape for Toe, who knows what would have happened. If that tape didn’t get the response it got and people didn’t go crazy for it, you may not have ever heard of DJ Screw.

People would list what they wanted on their personal tape and put that list in the shoebox at Screw’s house. It may take somebody a couple of months to get a tape made because they had so many song requests and actually what that did was, as a DJ, Screw was going out and finding songs that people wanted. And this was in the pre-digital days. If you go in Screw’s father’s garage there are thousands, man, thousands of records in that garage that belong to Screw. So, Screw broke a lot of artists here in Texas. There are a lot of artists who started getting play in Houston because they started getting play on Screw tapes and that’s because somebody may have known about MC Breeze and said, “OK I want MC Breeze on my tape.” Or a student from California or DC or Florida requested whoever they wanted. And that was really important because different people’s tastes introduced different music, and then, so many people just started to collect the tapes because they were simply fans of his style of DJing. A lot of people were introduced to music from other regions that they normally wouldn’t have been introduced to, or that they wouldn’t have sought out because this was early in the Mixtape Era. This was pre-internet, you know what I’m saying?

Everyone talks about mixtapes and I think Screw doesn’t get enough credit for being an early pioneer in the Mixtape Era. If you think about it, there are a lot of DJs who are popular now, that aren’t the first at what they’re doing. Screw was ahead of a lot of these guys in breaking music and introducing artists to different regions. He had a great ear and you know, across the board Screw is widely recognized as a respected DJ. Not just as a DJ of his style of music, what I mean is, he was widely respected in the sense that people say, “Screw was a dope DJ, period.”

But you know, the city is so big, and from where we were, like I said, we rarely got around to the other sides of the city. It’s easy for one side of town to be a completely different culture from another side. So when you start hearing about how the guys from the South side starched their pants and got a South side hair cut and dressed a certain way, or when you heard that the guys on the North side were more country— those stereotypes were true!— and once the South side started gaining popularity with Screw, the North side had to do something different and that’s where the whole Michael Watts thing on the North side comes in. 

DJscrew-flyer1-web

That North side, South side civil war was real. One side had red tricked-out old school Cadillacs or Rivieras or Regals, any of those four door cars, Buicks…you know. And the other side had blue ones. There was another group that had green ones. Then people said the South side guys were coming up to the North side and were stealing cars. When you started hearing and seeing that happen, then you started hearing people talking about shooting slugs at each other on the Screw tapes. In a sense, the Screw tapes made that beef last longer than it probably would have. And Screw was just a DJ, he wasn’t out in the streets doing any of that stuff, he was in his house for hours a day making tapes…

When I was at BET, I had met all of those guys from the S.U.C. so when I started working on the DVD, it was when music videos really started taking off, and one of my good friends at the time, Dr. Teeth, had been directing a lot of videos out of Houston. As a matter of fact, he’s responsible for introducing Houston into the mainstream. Not partially, but directly responsible. Teeth was a producer at Rap City, so when you started seeing all these Houston guys on BET, that was John T. We went to Texas Southern together and he was very adamant about presenting where we were from and what we were doing down here so he started bringing those guys in. I had been doing a lot of clips and was always on these music video sets and had access to these guys so I was lucky because these guys aren’t easy to keep up with, especially if they don’t know you. They are not talkative if they don’t know you. They are not big on just running their mouths, maybe now they are more comfortable with it because they understand they have to market and promote themselves.

Today, I do feel good saying that I had solid interviews with the likes of KeKe or Big Moe, who passed away the following year. I interviewed Hawk on a Thursday…and I think he was gone the next Monday…I think I did his last interview…he was a great guy…and I’m trying to think if any of them gave me a hard time…and nah…all of them were cool.

I had directed “Get Throwed” with Bun B, Pimp C and Z-Ro. And by this time ‘Ro and I had kind of developed a friendship. One time I had just stepped outside after interviewing Mr. 3-2 at a barbershop and Z-Ro was just standing there, but he wanted to do the interview at this strip club he hung out at. It was the strip club where Tre got shot. So we’re outside in the parking lot and I thought it would look cool— we can see your car, we’re in the streets, this is your flavor, let’s go with this. And I’ve got so much material from ‘Ro over the years that I can’t put out because people would just be mad…at him…but it’s because he’s that comfortable in his environment when we’re talking. I think all of these guys respected that I was researching and wasn’t just asking some surface level questions. And that’s part of why I have maintained a positive relationship with all of them to this day.

You know, the film I worked on wasn’t based off a personal relationship I had with DJ Screw. Bird was the guy who was running around with the camera when they were younger, when everyone was just getting into camcorders. Bird had exclusive footage of Screw but he and others didn’t know what to do with it. I knew how to shoot and produce, but not edit— I taught myself how to edit working on that DVD— and when I look at that video years later, I cringe man! So that’s how I got involved, but here’s the thing, and the more you research this— I don’t think I would have a problem saying this in front of anybody— and I think if you ask anyone else close to the situation they would probably say the same thing: a lot of people benefitted more from Screw when Screw was gone than when he was here. A lot of people jumped on board and used their affiliation, loose or tight, to put themselves in positions that they could…well…eat from.