C & D
Two guys who will remain pseudonymous reason together about new music “product”
Originally published in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007)
DAN DEACON & JIMMY JOE ROCHE
Ultimate Reality dvd
C: State-of-the-art psychedelic film with music composed by electro-dance party joker Dan Deacon and visuals by Jimmy Joe Roche, two guys from Baltimore’s Wham City operation. It’s constructed from clips from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career—Conan the Barbarian, Terminator, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, Predator, Junior—collaged and layered and doubled together into something altogether overwhelming at 35 minutes in length.
D: This is Arnold’s mind on drugs. Arnoldelic, baby!
C: Absolutely gorgeous, seriously funny, weirdly poignant and possibly seizure-inducing. This is a landmark work. It’s the first time someone has taken the stuff those Fort Thunder and PaperRad dudes were (or are) doing—bright color-saturated, warped psychedelia incorporating pop iconography—and thrust it forward into a new realm of…of…beauty, really. Watching this right now is for me like seeing “Wonder Showzen” for the first time, or Chris Morris’s “Blue Jam”: a breakthrough on many levels, by somebody pretty much out of nowhere.
D: [reading from Arthur Magazine office rolodex] Or Baltimore…
C: [mischievously] Hand me that. Let’s make a phone call. [Dials on red phone…] Hello? [In Howard Cosell voice] Yes, this is Arthur magazine. We are seated here drinking kratom-powered smoothies having just watched “Ultimate Reality,” and we had a few questions for the filmmakers. [turns speaker phone on] So, Jimmy, what exactly is Wham City and you guys must know the Fort Thunder guys, right?
JIMMY JOE ROCHE: Wham City—the space—was a dingy, insane warehouse, then another one. Me and Dan and Dina and Adam and some other kids lived together at SUNY Purchase, all graduated in 2004, and we had this sort of unfigured-out energy. We knew we wanted something, we had a vision undulating out of control, and those guys wanted to move to Baltimore, because it’s cheap as hell. It seemed like it was a potential void where someone could come in and do art, totally fresh.
Fort Thunder was totally an inspiration. We wanted to take what they’d done in Providence and see if we could apply it here. We’d all seen Lightning Bolt back in the day, six years ago, we were all geeking out on them, and my friend DJ Dogdick, who books shows on Baltimore’s westside used to live with Brian Chippendale. We’re all fleas on different dogs. So yeah, we knew we wanted to do it DIY and we knew we wanted to create an environment for our own art to thrive in rather than look for someone to put it on where art was already happening. Wham City is just us trying to navigate this whole thing and be able to do what we want. You know, $5 shows and fine art galleries and so on…
D: So, for Ultimate Reality, why Arnold Schwarzenegger? Who, by the way is our governor here in California.
JIMMY JOE ROCHE: I grew up on Schwarzenegger, he was always there every year with a new blockbuster. He’s sort of this figure of our time, presiding over this phantasmagoric interweaving of narratives that all bleed together for me. I’ve always thought that the day he becomes president, aliens will invade and reality will fold in on itself. But yeah, when I was a kid I would have dreams sometimes where I would dream new spaces for the films that had drilled themselves into my mind, like Total Recall or Terminator 2. So Ultimate Reality is kind of that—these huge narratives becoming fan fiction in my mind. When you look at them all together, it just seems so bizarre. And I thought we could use this shared iconography that’s everywhere, to make new mandalas. But you know Dan Deacon is definitely a whole part of this, it has part of its lineage in working with him…
D: How did you guys get permission to use all the clips?
C: I don’t think they need permission, it falls under fair use.
JIMMY JOE ROCHE: We also believe that it falls under fair use. Suing young broke artists would be a low pointless thing to do. Also we’re hoping because of the level that we’ve reinvented the material, all parties will see it for what it is: a new piece of art. We’re not rehashing plots, everything’s been manipulated to a large degree. It’s been a real labor of love. We’ve been cutting this thing for over a year and a half. And I think that if anything we’re turning new people on to some of these films, we’re certainly not taking money out of any pockets, in fact I believe the opposite is true.
D: I for one feel a need to put Junior after seeing a pregnant Arnold in Ultimate Reality. Not sure how I missed that one…
C: So this is all done digitally, right? But it has the feel of some of the classic American art filmmakers—Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, James Whitney, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage. How did you do it?
JIMMY JOE ROCHE: Well, that’s my secret, that’s my mojo. It’s not rocket science, I’m sure anybody who knows about this stuff could figure it out. I’m definitely interested in Bruce Connor, Bruce Bailey and of course Brakhage—his layering technique, the lushness of his colors. And Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowsky, the color palette of those films, and that film “Daisies.” People who were doing making something psychedelic, in a social context: using found footage, or collage, and using narrative to their own advantage.
D: There’s a lot of symmetry.
JIMMY JOE ROCHE: Yeah, mirrored footage. There’s an aspect to that symmetry and layering that gives an inward dimension to the narrative—a vortex, or road or platform where you can begin to see inside it. That’s what the best psychedelic art does. It’s what mandalas are. On a conceptual level, I feel like there is a cultural need or desire on the underground art scene warehouse/DIY/travelin’ band scene… It’s everywhere. You’re seeing a lot of symmetry in art, and I think the reason is that we’re all over the place right now, and the symmetry harkens back to a totem-like urban tribe relationship. Trying to center or have more of a mantric, mirroring effect that Tibetan and Himalayan art have. And there was a lot of that idea in the psychedelic art of the 60s and 70s, that new mandalas were being built. I mean, a piece that Dan and I both love, conceptually and aesthetically, is Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. [muffled] What? Hey I gotta go. You should talk to Dan too. [Gives C and D the phone number for Dan Deacon, hangs up.]
A few minutes later…
C: So how did Ultimate Reality come about? I assume the music was made first…
DAN DEACON [on speaker phone]: Well, we were doing crazy dance shows at Wham City but there was also this very long drawn-out song that we were doing that was just focusing on repetition. We were rehearsing it one day and Jimmy was into it, said do you mind if I make a video for it. This was before [Deacon’s 2007 album] Spiderman of the Rings. Seemed cool. He showed it to me in progress. I wanted to do something that was getting more psychedelic like Terry Riley instead of just party music or whatever.
C: And you guys have done it live.
DAN DEACON: Yeah at galleries and museums to far. We project it and there’s live drumming by Kevin O’Meara and Jeremy Hyman and I do some stuff. A lot of it is sequenced, but we’re figuring out ways to make it more live, like having someone on glockenspiel. We’re gonna tour it in January.
D: Sincere full gratitude from the Westsiiiide, for making possibly the greatest thing ever!
C [hangs up, inserts fresh DVD]: Not so fast. This may be the greatest thing ever…
Plug Me In triple-dvd
C: I present to you seven hours of AC/DC live footage from the very beginning to the very end, or at least 2003.
D [ecstatic]: AC/DC! The midget barbarians—the hobbits of rock—who tower over us all.
C: It’s true, those guys are about four and a half feet tall.
D: But not an inch was wasted! Just like their music. Only enough, never too much. They are the perfect mechanics of rock. And this DVD has Bon Scott-era AC/DC! Listen to that super-tribal rock thump, from back when true showmen still roamed the planet. [pauses] I am approaching ecstasy.
C: Television lip-synchs on Australian and British television, professional European concert footage, open-reel black-and-white performance footage from high school auditoriums. [pauses, looks at screen] Wow, Bon Scott is duckwalking with a bagpipe, on live television.
D: Surrounded by adoring females of varying pubescence! They are the Ur-rockers of them all. Bon Scott was a goofball cock of the walk, with sailor tattoos. A shirtless lewd winker in sneakers and tight pants. You can see why he had to die. He was just too much.
C: Where is Angus at, really, when he’s playing—it is like he has no brain –his whole being is a representation of pure sound. Is he the most visually expressive guitarist ever? He’s certainly the most relentlessly acrobatic with all those kneewalks on pinewood. This is the closest you’ll ever see to a white fella being possessed.
D: White man being rode by the rock gods!
C: This DVD has you doing some of your best air guitaring in years.
D: Angus should make a rock ‘n’ roll fitness video.
C: I heard he sucks on the oxygen machine between songs now.
D: Waiter, I’ll breathe some of what he’s having.
C: [pauses] Okay. Now for something that should put things in perspective…
MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES dvd
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal
D: [Viewing silent 10-minute pan across silent, neverending factory, full of silent workers] What is this? It’s not going well with my beer.
C: It’s a full-length documentary film about how photographer Edward Burtynsky works. He makes really beautiful photographs of some of the most depressing stuff ever: mile-deep mine holes near Salt Lake City, giant quarries in Vermont and Italy, rivers of iridescent rust leading to tailing ponds of iron oxide in Canada, a pile of 40 million tires outside Modesto that eventually was struck by lightning and burned for an entire year. Horror shots of a wounded planet. This film emphasizes his recent work shooting all of these nightmare scenes inside China.
D: Well one thing’s for sure: China is really doing its part to end the world.
C: These factory scenes are totally horrific. Humans made into uniformed silent robots who work in lifeless factories, then go back to their gender-segregated dorms.
D: I guess it is possible after all to have a society no rebels or class clowns.
C: Slacking is punishable by death in China. Or worse: being sentenced to live in an “e-waste town,” where everybody hand-scavenges recyclable material from dead computers shipped from all over the world.
D: Amidst the fumes of a thousand burning circuit boards.
C: Beneath skies that are never, ever blue anymore because of all the coal mining and burning going on, all those smokestacks without scrubbers. China will bury us all—not through bombs but through reckless industrialization. They took our example, but the scale they’re working on…
D: Horror film of the year. Excuse me while I kratom myself into oblivion. Please stop this film, I want to go back to the way I was!
C: We gotta keep this DVD handy to remind ourselves that we’re living on the slave labor of others, all the time.
D: [sputters] Slaves?!?
C: What’s the difference, really? I know it’s not USA-style slavery, cuz there’s no racism, or at least none that I can see, but it sure looks like forced labor to me. The smart urban bureaucrat party wizards of China’s government are using force, economics and superior technology to make the poor rural folks move en masse to nightmare factory towns as part of this new capitalist-communist industrial hybrid model they’re using to grow the economy. Humans are becoming standardized.
D: This is like an infomercial for Hell. I’m glad I’m not in their shoes. I mean…
C: Actually, shoes are key. Burtynsky claims that it was Nike’s move of manufacturing to China that really started the whole cascading trend of moving American manufacturing and assembly offshore. The factory they show here makes a billion shoes in a year.
D: This is not a vision of the future that I can embrace.
C: It’s worse than the future. It’s the present.
D: I think I need another beer. Or six.
C: On the extra features, Burtynsky talks about how China has 40 percent of the world’s coal, but it’s coal with higher sulfur content than US coal, so it has nastier acid rain. And China can burn the known coal at its current rate can for 250 years! And they will, because it’s the best source of energy they have. The air itself in China stings the eyes.
D: It’s like those old Sepultura albums. [in metal voice] BIOCIDE!
C: This is what Punk House and Tim Dundon and Fort Thunder and Wham City are diametrically opposed to. It’s a planet of slums and slave labor dorms and coalfields versus punk houses and endless rainforests. Which future do we want?
D: [eyes twinkling] Green magic action hippies come forth!
C: Speak of the devils…
D: [recognizing singer’s voice] The mighty Witchcraft! Although to be honest he still reminds me of Mr. Bobby Liebling from Pentagram. It’s Swedish mimicry at its finest.
C: They are apparently proud enough of being Phil Anselmo’s favorite new band to put it in their press release announcing this album’s release. You know you can hang up your sneakers when the confirmed asshole from Pantera is into you.
D: Witchcraft will always have my undying loyalty by virtue of the greatness of the singer’s name alone: MAGNUS PELANDER.
C: Straight out of Jerry Cornelius.
D: [listening to “Samaritan Burden”] Whoa!
C: Now it goes all pretty as the narrator thru the woods with his damsel. This album just became worthwhile.
D: You don’t see too many damsels these days!
C: It’s hard rock with a catch in the voice, very naked. Emotional, even.
D: And now a guitar solo by Mr. Randy Trower. [laughter]
C: Let the record show that we just beheld a 90-second horn solo closing out “Remembered.”
D: Hard rock guys’ idea of what is good horn playing is always a little weird. Deep Purple, Wizzard. But then there’s Van der graaf Generator…
C: [listening to “The Alchemist Pt. 1/2/3”] Unrepentant medieval metal at a gallop. Horses, magicians, newborn babies—
D: The difficulty in surviving as an outsider—
C: The spurned individual, gathering strength and courage and then—
D: Fighting back, baby!
C: [taken aback] Did he just sing, “I can blo-oh-oh your minddddddd”?
D: I give this an armor-plated thumb’s up.
C: [brightly] Maybe it’s the kratom speaking—but to me this seems like a political album, given the present times, as the lights dim and we slip into a new Dark Age. Somebody needs to get this to the doomed, uniformed souls suffering inside China, under the white skies and fluorescent factory lights. And to the American suburban schoolkids getting dumbed down and standardized for their peonized future . [weirdly enthusiastic] Be strong! Return to the countryside! Embrace the analog! Eat real food! Wood not plastic! Handmade not manufactured! Plants not drugs! Community not corporation! Reforest the planet! [embarrassed] Okay, end of sermon. A good hit of kratom always makes me emotional, my heart lifts, I overflow with good feeling and goodwill towards everyone.
D: Eh, don’t apologize. [muses] The old ways are the wise ways…
C: Snock! Talk about returning to the country, doing your own thing.
D: You know, I don’t know him. [listening] Leon Redbone comes to mind. But I’m not really an expert on singer-songwriters.
C: Hurley’s an original, born the same year as Dylan, been doing music for 40 years. Semi-nomad. Draws his own comics too. He was in Holy Modal Rounders when it was a Western coast affair. One of the most requested interview subjects for this magazine, but so far he has eluded their grasp. Splits the difference between whimsical, wizened and wisdom.
C: I guess you need the celebrity testimonials. Okay. How ‘bout Brightblack Morning Light, Joanna Newsom, Josephine Foster, Joe Carducci. Listen to the words of Byron Coley recently on NPR: “To go to a Michael Hurley concert or listen to one of his records really is to enter another kind of universe where time moves a little more slowly, and narratives develop at their own pace. But they develop very fully. His songs are an unusual combination. The lyrics can be very funny. But few of them tell stories of triumph.”
D: These are after-dinner songs. I am just not sure what kind of dinner. [muses] Maybe barbecued catfish. Or four-bean chili. And pear juice.
C: [ignoring] Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic from Vetiver have a little record label and they’re putting our records—Jana Hunter was the first outta the gate, and Hurley is the next one, been in the works for a while.
D: Songs to sneak out of a poker match to.
C: Hurley is awesome, like a real-life Thomas Pynchon character. Long may he strum and pick, and may the graveyard be ever vacant.
Cotton Eyed Joe (2CD+DVD)
C: The late, lost, recovered and now-ascendant blues/folksinger Karen Dalton. From 1962 in a tiny Colorado coffeehouse called The Attic, live, on two disks. Amazing find! Happier times, before she’d been to New York…
D: And become an actual damsel in distress. Of the inner variety.
C: It seems like she was just too smart, and couldn’t do the pandering and self-promotion that’s usually necessary to make a living from your talent. Add in apparent stage and studio fright, and being a young mother, and living in New York City when you should be in a mountain shack, and you get despair and then, hard drugs. And we know where that goes.
D: [muses] Even intelligence can be a curse.
C: Music here is by respective bands and spoken words are by the respected Dan McGuire. It’s the guy who did two disks of Unknown Instructors with watt and all them. This is a bit wilder.
D: He is one of the only guys who speaks words with rhythm that I can bear to hear. I recognize this guy on the cover.
C: Nice stache on Mr. Crimewave, whose band Plastic Crimewave Sound does the music here for “Are You a Dragon?”
D: [considering] No, I am not.
C: [listening to “Red Hills,” with music by Residual Echoes] Such great lyrics! “One nice debauchery and back tomorrow with different I.D.s”
D: [Seven minutes into “Potter’s Field,” with music by White Hills] You can’t have enough fuzz. I think there should always be an unadulterated sonic breakout like this around this time, 6:30 in the evening. Reminds me of Burroughs reporting from a street corner back to headquarters. [considers] Or, Clock DV8 from England, 1981.
C: How on earth can you deduce that?
D: I am the detective of rock. The private investigator of rock.
C: “Private Investigator” is what my next t-shirt is gonna say.
C: Speaking of one nice debauchery.
D: Is this Frank Sinatra?
C: Well you’re in the right pork pie hat haberdashery, but incredibly this is none other than Pete Doherty and his band Babyshambles.
D: Love this fingersnappin’ swing! Not as much of a shambles as the tabloids would have one believe.
C: Of course there’s some dirty rockers on here too.
D: Holy riff-stuffed Rimbaud! You know C, sometimes the unrepentant Anglophile in you takes things a bit far, but this is really putting some pep in my step.
C: Unrepentant is the only way to be.
D: Unless you should apologize.
C: And Doherty and company have nothing to be sorry for here.
It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land
D: [listening to gospel opener “Revival”] It starts already very anthemic.
C: Another collaboration, this time a British band, or deejay?, with an American singer of some renown.
D: [recognizing] Ah well that’s Mark Lanegan, the man too dark to listen to.
C: But this is gospel! If church were like this, I’d be there every Sunday.
D: [Listening to “Ghosts of You and Me”] I think this time he’s channeling Leonard Cohen than anybody. As Freddie Blassey would say, here he comes again. Top-rank. Hmm. What is gospel, really?
C: It’s the biggest thank you possible. It’s an expression of joy and devotion. which we could use some of.
D: There’s some Jason Pierce here, but not as good.
C: Yeah it’s all a bit too digital downtempo deathtrap disco for me—
D: Sopranos theme.
C: Alabama 3. But it’s Lanegan singing. What did Josh Homme say about Lanegan? “If he sings about toothpaste, I’ll brush.”
D: He doesn’t have to try to sound like this, he sounds like this every morning when he goes to shave.
Hera Ma Nono
C: Another collaboration—
D: You think you’re so clever—
C: Kenyans and Americans, this time.
D: [listening] You listen to all this indie rock and bickering and wondering but listen to the Africans and everything brightens. They don’t make oppressive music. At least not these guys. It’s immediately optimistic.
C: The strange thing is it’s made with indie music guys from America.
D: [pleasantly surprised] Ha! It’s like King Sunny Ade high-life juju meets…Durutti Column?
C: Close enough. I can’t tell who plays what on most of these songs, which is amazing, really, and a testament to the collaboration’s strength. There’s a song called “Obama” because Obama’s office helped them with their visa problems. It’s not easy for folks from poor countries to come to America anymore, they’re all suspected terrorists.
D: [muses] It’s so strange that America, which was built on immigration, is now afraid of strangers.
DRAGONS OF ZYNTH
D: [In Star Wars stormtrooper voice] “Are these the dragons we’re looking for?”
C: [laughs] Let Dan McGuire know!
D: Here there be Dragons…
C: Or at least in Cleveland, apparently. So TV on the Radio is the obvious reference point given the low/falsetto harmonizing and Dave Sitek’s production, but these guys definitely have their own route to the promised land.
D: [listening to “Who Rize Above”] The D.O.Z., bringing the headphones metal in a VERY heavy way, ifyoucatchmydrift.
C: Pretty weird, beautiful stuff from some sensitive males: vulnerable as well as strong. No whining, though. [listening to “Anna Mae”] Reminds me of what I though A.R. Kane would sound like way back when.
D: [agreeing] Simon Reynolds has a lot to answer for. But what about Tricky, ’80s George Clinton, Prince, Massive Attack, Basehead…
C: “Basehead not Radiohead” is my new t-shirt slogan.
D: Wooden… Wooden…I’m trying to pronounce the second word here.
C: The “J” is silent. It is an homage to a typo.
D: It all boils down to Ron Asheton. VERY highly refined psychedelia.
C: [blissfully] At last, the Les Rallizes Denudes/Spacemen 3 honorable tribute band of our dreams.
D: Just in time!
C: An appropriate label name for this record—homebrewed, self-constructed bedhair daydreampop by a neighbor, who—
D: [listening to “Find Out] Is eight miles high from the sound of it. Excellent!
D: The Beach…Girls?
C: It’s one woman, Melanie Valera. From France.
D: She’s got a lot of those melodic singalong hooks certain people appreciate.
C: And her lyrics are very charming. She could write for Broadway.
D: She lives in a forest of all ideas. She’s like a one-woman Bjork.
C: [thoughtful] She’s someone you have the best Saturday ever with.
D: Some people just have lighter, brighter lives.
D: Full-on Bobby Beausoleil Orkustra stuff here! Lucifer is rising right now.
C: Another one-man operation. It’s one bearded guy from Portland on vintage guitars, tape machines and amplifiers, which he shows to us on the album sleeve.
D: Serious non-ironic mood music. [bravely] The new doom!
C: I see this as the soundtrack for waiting for the sky to turn blue and then realizing IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.
D: And indeed there is a song here entitled “Missing Sun”…
C: [bitterly] Hidden by clouds of putrid coal smoke and burning circuit boards, no doubt.
D: What is ‘animism’ anyway?
C: Um. It’s… Uh… Well. [fetches a Webster’s, pages through, reads aloud] “1. the doctrine that all life is produced by a spiritual force separate from matter 2. the belief that all natural phenomena have souls independent of their physical being 3. a belief in the existence of spirits, demons, etc.”
D: [muses] I believe I am an animist.
At All Ends
D: [looking at sleeve] The YELLOW Swans.
C: Well the ominous dronescape is a happening sound in 2007.
D: It conjures up excursions into darker bunkers, places with not too much light. But it is also music for inner journeys, definitely.
C: I don’t think this is driving music.
D: It’s music for when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and then there’s a stranger on the horizon who steps from the dark into the light and you ask him, Can you help me? And he says, I can’t even help myself. And it’s the beginning of a strange night.
D: Or he says, That’s what I wanted to ask you. And then there’s other people coming out of the wood.
C: The animists, no doubt.
D: [40 seconds into “Our Oases”] Did you just turn up the music?
C: No it did that itself. Nice. [reading sleeve] Mastered by “Drucifer.”
D: Drucifer’s rising!
C: Endtimes rural blues by two fellas. Gorgeous. And haunted.
D: By the ghost of Karen Dalton, no doubt.
C: [listening to “Moon of Shedding Ponies] Is that a coyote howling?
D: Coyotes are the wolves of 2008.