If you haven't heard the mix Extreme Animals just gave us, or seen the Paper Rad videos that somewhat shaped my teenage life, or read about the 4th of July fireworks fail in San Diego last summer, or listened to their awesome sounds, I suggest you click those links and begin there. For most of you, Paper Rad will be a recognizable aesthetic that you can ultimately trace back to them. One of the art collective's founders, Jacob Ciocci, has been making music with friend/musician/DJ/Dr. David Wightman (who holds a PHD in music composition from UCSD) for over 10 years as Extreme Animals. Though attention is easily held during their spastic videos/songs/live performances, the really interesting thing about these guys is the philosophy behind their sounds and the commitment they have to it. We caught up with the duo to further discuss the mix, pop vs. underground music, and having everything happen at the same time.
Percussion Lab: Can you further explain the idea of your concept for the mix being the fireworks mishap in San Diego?
Extreme Animals: Sure! When all the fireworks went off at once from all reports it was an accident, a "fail". And yet it was both symbolically and literally very magical. In the upper left hand corner of the artwork for the mix inside the "8-ball" it says: "everything 4-ever". This is how we experience the internet, this is how it feels to be an american sometimes, and this is something we try and express in our own work. This was an over-the-top accident that was amazing—an ecstatic moment that came out of something that might seem trite or silly at first. That is another approach we embrace in our music, videos, DJ-mixes, etc.
PL: Do you feel the internet has erased the line between popular culture and the underground? Is it all just popular culture now?
EA: Sometimes it feels like the internet is manifesting a reality that existed pre-internet, just making things more obvious, showing us the "numbers/views/likes" behind pre-exisiting power structures . We have been "inter-connected" for years—there has always been a cyclical relationship between underground/small and corporate/big—now we just see it all day everyday.
But everything is definitely not all "popular" culture now. The internet has leveled the playing field in terms of who can access what.
PL: Were the choices for your mix, then, a commentary on this relationship, or were you being mostly facetious?
EA: We were definitely NOT being facetious... these are all songs that we really like. We have different relationships to the different songs but they are all songs that we feel like do a good job at "doing what they do." There's a lot of songs that aren't on the mix because we are not feeling those songs.
Maybe what you are getting at with the word "facetious" is that everything can be funny if looked at in the right way? If a David Guetta song is hilarious so is a Black Pus song. Life in general is absurd—not just major label pop stars, the WHOLE THING! We actually think a lot of music is made with a sense of humor as well—a lot of artists from all walks of life are aware that the work they make is slightly funny... especially within the realms of EDM.
In general we like artists that "go all in," that have an intensity that you can feel... This kind of music may be easier to "make fun of," but the absurdity is a bi-product of the intensity and focus, the "real-ness."
PL: Yes, but don't you think the Taylor Swift dubstep song was not a product of Taylor Swift, but of the corporation that owns her. That she's just a face for a production company that's more interested in the advertising and profit than in the "real," and that the sort of funny thing is that we can imagine a group of businesspeople sitting at a board meeting discussing how kids these days want dubstep?
EA: People in boardrooms trying to tap into youth culture is definitely a real thing that happens, but we don't see it as any less or more genuine than a noise artist with a delay pedal sitting in a warehouse trying to "break through to the other side." This is not cynicism but a conceptual way out of the "us versus them" mentality that has gotten us into so many problems—the world is not black or white, just all grey, we all have to work together to create a more humane terrain for artists... this does not mean that we need to accept big business wholeheartedly. It's more about accepting the power that corporations have (that Taylor Swift song is incredible because so many brilliant people were paid lots of money to make it) and using that power in interesting ways, the same way big business uses us! What a boring and sheltered world it would be if everyone was trying to come up with everything from scratch by themselves, if there was no stealing of ideas, if everyone just listened to Decemberists with their ears shut...
PL: This is something I've heard both of you speak about before. This idea that nothing can be owned by a person, not even ideas. I've always wondered if you've encountered any problems from, say, Monster, for using their logo on your shirts. Obviously it would be difficult to get a corporation to agree with your philosophy.
EA: Who knows why we haven't been approached by companies who own the material we use. In the case of the Monster logo we did a very simple appropriation... there's no malicious "subversion" of the logo on the shirt (we are not defacing it, or "making fun of it"), beyond the fact that we are combining it with our name. But this for us is a powerful gesture—claiming a corporate logo as self. This relates back to what we were saying earlier about Taylor Swift and power dynamics in 2013.
PL: So, would you say that what Extreme Animals is doing—has set out to do, as a kind of mission—is trying to subvert the power structure inevitably in place? By exposing the "real-ness" which is easier to spot in pop music, and then further exemplifying this in everything else? That if you look deep enough, you can find the absurdity of reality in everything?
EA: That's one of our missions... but we're also trying to make banging music at the same time :) EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE! When we make a decision of what software synth to use it is never divorced from thinking about context. But every good artist thinks on multiple levels at the same time like this. Good art has to speak to people on a gut level, open them up and make them think all at once, without being too didactic or simple-minded. There needs to be an element of paradox and mystery or it falls short... this is what we strive for.
PL: To tap into Jacob's history a little bit, is this same philosophy that inspires Paper Rad? Everything all at once. Tapping into the real.
EA: Haha! I'll answer this question by saying that the language I (Jacob) use to talk about this stuff in interviews is my personal way of thinking about what we did or do. It's my take on it. Most of me and David's ideas come out of listening to the radio while we are tour. The best ideas start out as jokes or as "non-art" ideas... out of just being around each other. There was no philosophy that existed as the "mission statement" before we got started—that would be counter to the principle of being open to surprise, or that things are constantly changing and in motion. No rules. The tricky part is that it is impossible to separate an action from it's meaning, both are enacted at the same moment and then they both change over time. It's another paradox I like about art.
PL: Speaking of touring, what is it you guys do when not touring, making music, or making art? I know that must take up a lot of time. Or is that something that is always happening?
EA: If we are not on tour, making music or making art we are talking or thinking about making things, or getting depressed or anxious about not making things...
PL: Last question: we've been in correspondence since last summer, having met for the first time sometime in October. I'm wondering, what is the process like creating a mix like this? Was this something you would pick up every so often, or is it a lot of sending back and forth between each other?
EA: It took us a long time to make this mix, because we did pass it back and forth a lot and took breaks to think about it while we worked on other projects. But now we are getting better/faster at these and David almost has a whole new one done to pass along for me to work on. Thanks a lot for asking us to do it, it made us think a lot and try out new things!