Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Post-Structuralist Dance Milieu of Milyoo

I've probably already turned you off with that title.  It's a little pretentious, I know.  But it's in honour of Tommy Wilson, a philosophy-obsessed rock climber who also produces some of the weirdest, fussiest house music around as Milyoo.  As I said in my review of his excellent debut album Archeology on RA, I've been pretty heavily invested in the man's work since I first heard his debut single "Dasein" in all its nauseous, pressure-chamber glory on Mary Anne Hobbs' BBC Radio 1 Experimental show.  The Kentuckian producer was the discovery of London underground scene-queen Subeena, who signed Wilson to her brand new OPIT label and released "Dasein" as part of a three-track EP that I described at the time as "too airy and hollow to even be called dance music."

That might have been a little harsh or even dismissive, but "Dasein" stands, even in its new context as part of Archeology, as a supremely weird track, like 2000s Autechre rendered in a cartoon world of playfully elastic steam-powered industry. Dismissive because, as it turns out, you could maybe kinda sorta somehow dance to Milyoo.  Short-lived Bristol label Saigon released the four-track Kazuadon EP at the beginning of this year, highlighting Wilson's intentionally odd but persuasive grasp of vocal sampling and manufactured melody, but it was still weird as fuck.  Then it seemed like a switch flip: on two singles released for OPIT and supremely undervalued London house underdog West Norwood Cassette Library, with "Colors" and "Biogram v2" respectively, Milyoo repositioned himself as a weirdo house producer, whether it was with the savant stomp of the former or the drawn-out repetitive hypnosis of the other.  Milyoo's music is eminently post-structuralist, really: it refuses to confine itself to any one meaning, context, or interpretation, and comes from a place of churning alchemical transformation and metamorphosis rather than any kind of definable stability.  His drums twitch, his vocal samples are cut into weird and angular shapes, and his chord progressions feel more like exhalations than proper melodies.

All of this comes to a head with Wilson's debut album Archeology released on OPIT, a record that continues Wilson's explorations into house but in typical fashion keeps them clipped in fleeting fragments, a 40-minute record that filters one of dance music's most basic and foundational genres through the tenuously tangential mind of a roving madman.  For further thoughts you can check out my aforementioned review on RA, but suffice it to say it's an excellent record, the kind of understatedly brilliant effort you'd expect from an artist as meek but clever as Wilson. Having had on/off communication with the man himself for the better part of a year or so, I've managed to capture a glimpse of his unique, quirky personality -- I suppose it matches the music -- and thought it was about time I got to interview him in some pseudo-professional capacity.  So here we are. 

This interview is the process of seven months' work.  It's primarily laziness and forgetfulness.  I first wrote these questions on my iPhone in a nearly empty gay bar in London on a particularly boring Sunday night, then hit "cancel" instead of "save draft," then had to write them again, then forgot to send them, then my laptop with said questions was stolen.  Then I re-did them in August finally and the bugger disappeared for a whole season.  After much exchanging of blame and dilly-dallying, I finally managed to pin down Wilson for the proper interview.  Lengthy, maybe a little self-indulgent, but totally digestible, this is the ever-lucid Milyoo expressing himself in a way that's as simultaneously succinct but multi-paradigmatic as his music.  I didn't bother editing his responses like I normally would -- for grammar or consistency -- because I'm sure every typographical decision is loaded with the utmost meaning and implications.  He also writes in lower-case, because dude thinks he's fucking e.e. cummings or something.  The formatting is a bit off, and that's a bit of post-modern non-conformism from myself.  And because I'm really growing tired with blogger's horrible interface.  

Oh yeah, there's a free exclusive track at the end of it all as well, 'cause he loves me and I love y'all.  "Thenagin Knowles" shows off Milyoo's usual oddball but accessible formula-not-formula, a gaseous mixture of strangely-heawn vocal samples, a lot of which are actually quite recognizable.  It's three minutes of weirdness that define him pretty well, really.

RYCE: It seems like you have an onslaught of releases this year, especially compared to the relative paucity last year after your debut.  Was it planned to have all these releases at once, and do you think it's a good or a bad thing to have such overload at a time when the dialogue moves so fast?

WILSON: First of all, the 'dialogue' - in both what it discusses and the intensity of those discussions - is entirely beyond my control.  Labels put out music at X rate, publications/djs talk about artist Y, and promoters book Z person(s).  This is what i'd call the 'field of dialogue' for modern electronic music, and, in all honesty, its kinda hard to plan for something you don't coordinate.  so, no, i did not technically plan for a ton of releases; it's just what happened in the midst of writing tunes and talking to people.  plus it's hard to say no to someone who wants to invest time and money into distributing your stuff because you have some sort of control issue with the future.  hmm.  or maybe i'm just short-sighted.  in the end it's all good though. absolutely good.  i''ve got awesome interweb friends (hi bob!) and in a zero sum game those are big wins.  plus i can just write more stuff next year or change my name and start all over.  

How do you think about the 'internet generation' and the musical dialogue that jumps from artist to artist, from new release to new release practically every day?  Is the hyperspeed detrimental to 'proper digestion' of music or is it just the way it is now?

i don't think about it much really.  like i said before, i have zero input in how this machine works so i just focus on myself.  plus, i'd never be willing to suggest some sort of transcendent method for 'properly digesting' music.  fuck.  some of the best tracks ever written were done by a stoned person over the course of about 10 minutes.  they wrote the lyrics on a napkin.  if the goal is to put enough appreciative energy back in, then - well - that is something for the listener to decide.  just because they don't spend a ton of time listening doesn't mean they don't 'get it'.  

How do you feel about internet culture in general and the way it treats electronic music/dance music? 

internet culture seems to treat everything the same i think.  it's a constant hyperbolic storm of inputs without any sort of sustained dialogue.  the way i think about it is through David Harvey's notion of time-space compression; his idea was that transport technology (cars, trains, planes) changed the way time and capital worked by shortening the relative distance between things (ya know, time-space compression).  the world and its inhabitants have been radically altered by the way in which things now moved across/through it.  social media/interwebz is basically the same in my mind.  instant, all-the-time, push-botton media has drastically altered the field of mediation for those products.  there's no lull; no quiet to process anything.  but to be fair it's not as if modern culture is some sort of vapid bag of crap.  its just the product of saturated data streams.  there is far too much amazing stuff to sort that daily exhortations of GREATEST THANG EVER! have become the norm.  add to that a very effective media promotion industry pushing rubbish and you have an even larger - more unmanageable - pile of data.  

   How do you feel about what the internet has done to "music journalism?" Do you think the proliferation of blogs and otherwise amateur/unprofessional opinions is diluting the critical dialogue or simply making it fairer?

Ha.  I think the proliferation has both muddied the gap between critical dialogue/professional critique AND has done some diluting. but i think this is much bigger than music, right?   we live in an moment where politics have become aesthetics.  that is, there is no "good", just your little subjective corner.  this change - and i think it is definitely a result of the internet - is across the board: human rights, labor, capital, all of it.  there is a virtual space for everyone to reassure themselves of their righteous sanity.   
Do you think the internet is responsible for your success? Is there much of a scene at all in your native Kentucky?  (Any plans to relocate elsewhere?)

clearly the "internet" isn't directly responsible (see: sick skills)  but as a social tool?  obviously: all my releases are out of the UK.  95% of my music friends are out of the UK.  why?  because the internet lets me reach out to people with lols and a .zip and try to get some music stuff happening without having to even stand up.  pretty amazing really.  i've done some stuff locally but all in all the electronic music scene in Lexington is small.  there are a few talented artists, some wobble/electro djs, and some diehard house people i've known since the mid-90's who still throw nights, but i spend most of my time climbing and writing so if you catch me out on a weekend - i probably was tricked into day beers and you're just witnessing the extended fallout.  

Do you get frustrated when people focus on the fact you're from Kentucky? (KENTUCKY!)

nah.  i just think its peculiar.  it's not like i need to live in a global city to know what 1) i like and 2) how to make it.  plus i lived in LA for 5 years (STREET CRED) just when the house scene was really starting to bubble, but most of the time I was going out to see people I had seen before... while living in Kentucky.  i don't know if people are aware of this, but the mid-90's midwest house/techno/rave scene was absolutely ridiculous.  when i go through old flyers they read like an electronic music hall of fame nomination sheet.  seriously.  that said, a lot of Kentucky is disgusting.  fat christian fascists pretty much run the show here.  but we have a good local/organic food movement in Lexington, decent restaurants, and a kickass community of marxists, punks, skaters, academics, bikers, etc. who make it seem like everywhere else.  it's cliche (i think), but it's always people that make a place.         

How do you feel about the situation surrounding the music industry w/r/t profits/lack thereof? Do you feel like selling music is a hopeless venture at this point? Is it simply a form of mutual masturbation for a group of especially niche-y nerds at this point?

the latter.  nerds from the suburbs repping a detroit/chicago/london that never even existed.  there might be piles of money somewhere, but i don't know how to get it.  
Do you get angry when you see people "pirating"/uploading your music "illegally?" Or are you just happy that they're interested?

i'm ambivalent.  i know i should be pissed, but i don't make enough that pirating matters and if i did make enough... it's tough to care about a 10% loss when you're dumping bottles of Moet out the window of your Escalade.  
Do you make any money from music in any capacity?  What's your dayjob otherwise?

 some.  i've made money on gigs and my labels know how much loot we're raking in off releases (WHERE'S MY SEGWAY!?!?!).  but i don't make enough to pay the bills; music income basically  subsidizes an occasional video game.  my dayjob was graduate school but i ran out of funding so - in lieu of reading and writing for a living - i've moved onto working at a climbing/outdoor retail store. i've found that i'm ill-suited to doing things i hate just so i can buy shit i don't need.  basically i want just enough money to pay for climbing, cheap travel, and music.  working at the gear shop allows for all of that sans any sort of occupational stressors.  
Is trying to make money off of music in a climate where the financial system is essentially imploding irresponsible or foolish? 

if you're getting into electronic music for the money, then you are an idiot.  but there's no reason not to try and make a little scratch from doing what you love.  
It seems like everyone and everything is starting a label up these days.  Would you ever consider this yourself?  You're clearly a prolific producer.

 starting up a label would be neat, but it just seems like it would take away from my being prolific.  big.  ass.  time.  sink.  < label name.  you're welcome.
You're a climbing enthusiast. Explain.

climbing enthusiast.  heh.  well.  i've been climbing for over 10 years; mostly boulders and sport routes.  it's awesome.  it's the only thing i do which isn't situated through discourse.  when you're 10 meters off the deck without a rope, there is no amount of hype that can save you.  just you.  i like the unmediated 'realness' of the whole thing.  


of course, you know i hate this question.  they change too much, you know?  i'd like to say "this glenn underground tape i dubbed in 1995 really got me into deep house", but i just (re)listened to Rustie's "Bad Science" 15 minutes ago and - you know - it's kinda winning out over the 17-year old event.       
How do you categorize the music you make? When you started were you aiming to fit into any particular genre or scene or style or...?

right now i'm kinda writing house.  it's where i started so its nice to get back to it.  but in the beginning i was shooting for psychedelic pop i think?  i dunno, i'm not really talented enough to aim my music anywhere.  i just sort of play around until i think its done.  that said, i do wanna start writing more cinematic stuff.  so...  

Do you think it's difficult being so 'experimental' and 'weird' in a world where genre and subgenre is more important than ever? (It seems to be that even though all this music is touted as so experimental and border-crossing, if it doesn't have a regular beat and lock nicely into other similar minded tracks it's too weird to be bothered with).

i always thought my tracks were pretty straightforward, but apparently i'm in the minority.  but i certainly don't find it difficult.
Are you an IDM producer, then? What do you think of the term IDM?
IDM....  sure.  if people think i am then i probably am.  i'd never use that term though as it's kinda goofy pretentious.   
What's your dream label to release on?

One-Handed... or Hessle.  different directions but the same shelf in terms of awesome.  

Have you always wanted to do the album?  Whose idea was it?  And why on OPIT?

Well.  From the start Subeena and I wanted to do an album, but we thought a slow drip of Milyoo material prior to said long player would be best.  You know, we didn't want to drop a ton of stuff without some context.  And so after a small flurry of releases...voila!  album!

Do you think the album format is still relevant?  Not just in the context of the iPod generation, but also the breakneck pace of modern electronic/dance music?

Sure.  As an artist it allows us to lay out a more complex bridge to the listener, and I think there are enough intrepid folks out there to make said bridge relevant. 

Can you talk a little about the title's meaning/significance as well as its spelling? (ha!)

I fancy myself quite the musical meme conjurer.  that is, i think of my tracks as sonic hat tips to various musical feelings.  so archeology seemed a good way to signify the sort of historical excavating i went through in sorting the album.  the spelling, however, came about when I noticed the word had two spellings: archeology and archaeology.  i did a bit of reading and found the latter was from the original latin and the former a more modern version pushed by American universities.  beyond losing the ae diphthong, it was hoped the 'improved' version would signify archeology's movement from simple relic gathering to it being an engine for critical cultural commentary based around the material productions of civilizations.  it seemed a silly split, but in the end i felt more in tune with the modern version. 
The album contains some previously released material; did you make the rest of the tracks with an album in mind or was it simply putting together your tracks in a way that felt cohesive?  Was it mainly an effort by you or was Sabina involved in the compilation of Archeology?

Yeah.  I sent Sabina a ton of tracks I thought might gel into a bloc and she slowly sorted them into the album.  I lobbied for some tracks and left others to her discretion.  It's not the most romantic story, but that's how it worked.  That said, I really want to do a concept album.  I should have lots of time this winter so I plan to start soon.  i think i'm going to soundtrack a horror film that does not exist.  should be interesting to sort it out - storyboards and whatnot.  we'll see i guess.       


Milyoo's Archeology is out now on OPIT Records.  It's worth a listen or several.

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