Features | Interviews

Kid606, Pt. 1

By David Abravanel | 28 April 2009

From a young age, Miguel De Pedro has been a heavy, noisy, prankster presence on a wide spectrum of glitched-up genres, both with his diverse releases as Kid606 and through his label, Tigerbeat6. After a two-year hiatus from releasing albums, De Pedro returned at the end of 2008 with his warped take on dubstep, Die Soundboy Die. Set to return with a full-length schizophrenic dance party, Shout At The Döner, De Pedro talked to Cokemachineglow’s David Abravanel about living in Berlin, the changing face of the music industry, and why ambient musicians often have the best jokes.

Cokemachineglow’s David Abravanel (CMG): What exactly does “Shout At The Döner” mean? All I could think of is the döner kebab.

Miguel De Pedro (MD): [laughs] Yeah yeah, it’s kind of about that. When I first moved to Berlin, one of the things it’s known for is having these cheap döners, and people always eat them after they go to the club. I was really looking forward to not having to cook, and just eating out, all this cheap junk food, and partying until dawn, just living off döners. But it gets a little excessive. The döner for Berlin kind of represents the whole hedonistic, clubbing lifestyle—the döner and this drink called Club-Mate. I thought it would be amazing.

I read the Mötley Crüe biography, The Dirt, and it talks about Shout At The Devil. It was originally supposed to be called Shout With The Devil, because they were so into Satanism and they thought it was so badass. But then the more they got into it, and started practicing black magic, all this bad shit started happening. So [they said] “no, we gotta go shout at the devil and be against it, because it’ll just fuck us up.” I felt like that was how I felt, like “I wanna move to Berlin!” The first few months I was here, and especially when I visited before, all I would do is party, and drink, and stay out all weekend—not all weekend but I thought it was a lot, though compared to the people who live here it’s not so much. Just living off a few Döners a day, or eating a Döner at eight AM when you’re coming home, it kind of represented this whole thing. I averted away from the “dark side,” and now I’m against it, and I don’t really eat Döners, and I just work in my studio, you know?

CMG:Yeah, that’s funny to hear. There’s kind of a “taking the piss out of Satanism theme” it seems. Like on the cover art, that’s a cat with pentagrams for eyes. You’re really into cats, yeah? They come up a lot with your music and art.

MD: I guess so! [laughs] I mean, you have to be into something. It’s funny, I know lots of musicians get asked what their hobbies are, and they just can’t say anything. “Besides music, what are you into?” And they have no fucking answer! I’m one of those people where it’s like, “I like movies.” Well duh, everyone likes movies. What can you actually possibly say other than sleeping, breathing, sex. I was like, “oh, I like cats!” It’s just trying to have some sort of personality, I guess, because otherwise you’re just a total music nerd.

CMG: How recently did you move to Berlin?

MD: A year and a half ago, maybe longer. I came to visit a few times for extended stays, and I got an apartment out here. Originally, the plan was to live in both California and Berlin. But what happens is, if you have two homes, and one is so much better than the other one, you’re like, “fuck it. What’s the point in going back and forth?” I just want to be here. The winters really suck here, and I’m used to perfect year-round weather, but everything sucks in America, in my opinion. It’s better to suffer the cold weather and be happier where you are.

CMG: You’re originally from Venezuela?

MD: Yeah, I was born in Caracas. My father’s side of the family is Spanish, and my mother’s side is American.

CMG: How young were you when you first moved to America, then?

MD: Five or six, and I went back [to Venezuela] a couple times. But I think we all know that Venezuela—my mom thought, “oh, we can’t raise our kids here, it’s going to turn to shit,” and it definitely did. But America, at the same time, it’s just not as good as it was when I first came here, you know? I’m very luck that I can choose where I want to be because of work, and I have European citizenship. If you have the power to make a choice, you really should—I really wish I’d moved a lot sooner. I think if things ever got good in America, like I think they used to be, I would go right back. I don’t like America as a whole, but there’re places in it that are amazing, like the Bay Area.

CMG: It seems like you were really immersed in the Bay Area music community, working with artists like Matmos or the first Flössin album [a collaboration between De Pedro, Christopher Willits, and Zach Hill of Hella]. Do you miss that community?

MD: Not really, honestly, because I went to Europe basically twice a month, sometimes more. All the best times of my life I had over here. Europe, and especially central Europe, is this gateway to all these possibilities, [while] America, it ends with the capitals. New York, San Francisco, LA, Portland—what you experience in those, it’s too much pressure on these cities to have everything and be everything. Creatively and culturally, everyone just moves to the big cities, and the big cities are kind of just replicas of each other. I kind of look at the whole East Coast as just turnpikes, and mini malls, and the occasional warehouse and cool punk club. But there just isn’t enough, even in the Bay Area, to stay there for a long time and not feel like things suck [laughs].

As far as me missing it, there are people I miss, and musicians I miss, but I never took full advantage of it, because I was hardly ever there. I had a drummer that I made an album with, and I really miss him and wish that he could move here, but the whole vibe of it—the whole American kind of thing—after being in it so long, I definitely don’t miss it.

CMG: What album is that, and what drummer are you talking about?

MD: His name’s Ryan Chittick. He played in Experimental Demo School and a bunch of other bands. It’s just a Kid606 album. I couldn’t release it before this one because it would confuse the hell out of people, but it’s all done, and I’m just sitting on it. It’ll probably come out next. I have another [album done]; I don’t know which one to put out next, since one’s more experimental and one’s more full-on songs.

It’s really hard for me to figure out what to do, because it’s so easy, these days, to do something stupid. There’re so many people absorbing information in really short bits without fully listening to them or reading about them. They just grab a song, form their opinion, read a little [blog] post. There’s not that much room to play with, to mess with people’s conceptions of things. Most people, if you don’t grab them right away, they just shut off. I have the problem where I didn’t release music for ages, but I was still making it. So now I have this backlog of music, where it’s like: should I just release it all? Should I just give it away? Should I put out records? I really don’t know what to do, so I’m just trying to figure it out.

CMG: Speaking of a more experimental vs. accessible release, Döner sounds more content with linear structures than some of your previous releases. Did anything necessarily bring this about? Do you think you’ll ever go back to making crazy noise breakdowns in the middle of tracks?

MD: I think I’m just a very reactionary person, and that just gets in my music. When no one else is making crazy music, that’s what I want to make. When everyone else is making crazy music, I’m kind of like, “oh, great,” you know? I’m very influenced by what I have to be exposed to. When I started touring a lot, and everyone that opened sounded like me, I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s not that I don’t like it—there are some things I just don’t like—but there’s very little in me doing something that I feel like is already being done, or being done better, or being done by too many people. Also, I’ve noticed that everything that gets popular, I already got sick of it before it got popular. So it’s stupid for me to keep doing it, just because it’s popular.

I think that I’m in a good place where I probably don’t have the attention span to do something and stick with it long enough, and keep doing it after it gets popular, to really become a genre musician. At the same time, the problem with not being a genre musician is that you get asked questions like that—“well you do this, what are you doing next?” It’s really annoying for me to think about.

CMG: Yeah—

MD: No offense to you for asking it. If I could talk to my favorite directors, my first question would be, “what kind of movie are you doing next?” The thing I love about movie-making is that a director can make a drama, a comedy, a horror movie—nobody’s expecting them to remake the movie they’ve made before. In movies, they would be criticized more than they would be praised for that. Yet in music, it’s the total opposite. I understand the thing to ask musicians, “what are you doing next,” if you normally do something different pretty often. But at the same time, asking that question has a whole influence on what the actual product’s going to be—having to think about it, and to think about what other people are thinking about it.

I think of how I grew up reading comic books and watching movies, and I just liked the names, I didn’t care what they did. I didn’t care if they were trying to do something abstract or something funny. For me, I just don’t have that freedom—hardly any musicians do. People like Aphex Twin, who have just been doing anything forever, can’t even do whatever they want. People still go them and say, “I want you to do this, why aren’t you doing that, oh this isn’t good because it’s that.” You’d think that musicians who have been so successful would get some kind of freedom to just mess around and people would try it out, but people don’t want that. With music, it’s such a digestible nourishment that people use like food, that it’s not like [people want to] watch the life of the artist, and see what they’ve done, and look at the whole catalog, and what they’re producing as a big whole. It’s more like: give them something that they want now, and that makes them happy, you know?

CMG: Yeah, I think it’s interesting—positively—that this album is totally different from the dubstep on Die Soundboy Die. It’s great to defy those expectations.

MD: But I think it’s silly that people have so many expectations in the first place! Some people came to me and said, “wow that was really stupid to release Die Soundboy Die as your first album in a couple years”—and one, it’s not even an album, it’s just an EP—“when A) it’s kind of dubsteppy, B) it doesn’t really sound like you, blah blah blah.” And it’s like, well fuck, if I didn’t release it just because I thought about all those things, then this piece of music that I felt strongly about, even if it came out too late, wouldn’t have come out.

The things that I think a lot of musicians are really good at—suppressing what they do to make themselves seem more appealing as a whole—I find really difficult to do. There’s so many musicians that are great musicians, but they stop releasing music for three or four years, and it’s hard to get back on that wagon. They make the music, but once they stop releasing music, they feel like all those questions come up, with so much self-doubt and worry about what people actually want from you. It keeps them from ever releasing music again.

CMG: You mentioned earlier, playing gigs and having other people sound like you. You were a pioneer in mashups with the Violent Turd releases. What’s your perspective on the fact that the mashup scene basically exploded four or five years after you did that album [2002’s The Action Packed Mentalist Brings You The Fucking Jams]?

MD: I actually thought it exploded six months after! My field of vision is so focused on what I’m focused on that I literally had to have people tell me, “hey, you know this stuff’s really big.” I saw the mashup articles in the big magazines and newspapers, but that was even before Girl Talk got big. When I actually went to see Girl Talk, my friend White Williams was opening up for him. We went to the show and I was like, “why is it at such a big venue?” Then [Girl Talk] was playing to at least 2,000 people, and I was like, “holy fucking shit, this shit’s humongous!” I really had no fucking idea! It was really funny.

I don’t care how any scene’s going or anything, I just don’t care about scenes at all. But, I think as far as delayed responses, I think it always works like that. I can’t say, “oh wow, I should have kept doing that, and then I could have played to 2,000 people,” because A) trailblazers take all the arrows, and B) I didn’t do it, and I obviously didn’t want to. I don’t think you can ever think about your music in the way a journalist would think about your music, because you have to pull yourself away from that.

CMG: You were doing glitch music with cut-ups going left and right starting in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when it wasn’t yet as accessible as a format. Now Max for Live is coming out, so is everyone going to have access to these complex beat-delays?

MD: I thought [that] once Reaktor came out. Every time something comes out, you’re always like “that’s it, that’s the end, everyone can do it,” but there’ll always be other things that are worth putting your time into. People complained about the last Daft Punk live record, like “I can’t believe they’re using the Ableton Live Beat Repeat plugin!” Well dude, what are they supposed to do?! [laughs] It’s just funny when people have expectations of musicians to do something that’s so far removed from what they could possibly do, that they’re actually disappointed in those musicians for doing what you can do. I come from more of a punk-DIY ethic where I’m like, “wow, it’s totally badass that you can do the same thing as Daft Punk now!” The field of technology has gotten smaller, to where you could literally get their setup, where it used to be that you were a million miles away from electronic musicians’ fancy studios and crazy live gear and homemade software. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for things to be more easily obtainable, but at the same time, I don’t think that it means that we get any more good music. Right now, since music is so easily distributed and promoted, and everyone wants to be heard, it leads to more shitty music, and more crap you have to wade through. Before, more shitty music was no problem, because the only way it could get distributed was on a CD, and you just didn’t have to listen to a CD.

CMG: Whereas now it’s clogging up the Internet?

MD: Yeah. The thing is, now, even if you’re going to look for music, you have to wade through so much shit. I used to just listen to the music that got sent to me, and not even listen to half of it, and I could pick out the gems. It was a lot easier. Now I’m looking for music, because everyone expects you to just discover them on their Myspace or Soundcloud. It’s kind of a weird thing where I feel like anyone that’s actually trying to get me to listen to their music…sucks [laughs]. It’s just so easy for someone to make two good tracks, send it somewhere, and eventually you’ll hear about it. We don’t have these bedroom musicians that are making amazing music in the middle of nowhere, and then nobody’s hearing about it for five years; they make the music, and then bam! They’re good.

Things like South by Southwest, I think, used to be exciting, because people would go there and see bands that they hadn’t heard yet. [Now] everyone knows what a band sounds like! You know a band’s name, you check their Myspace, and you know what they sound like. By the time people go to South by Southwest, even if it’s a band’s first tour, people already know what they sound like. Nobody’s discovering things that they haven’t heard, because they’ve already checked everything out beforehand. And now, bands are only playing South by Southwest if they already have a Myspace page, and the promotion intact that would get people to hear about them. The fun and exciting thing about going to a show and hearing a band you haven’t heard before is, I think, really lost, especially in America.

CMG: Yeah, I hear that. You mentioned people sending you stuff—you’re still running things with Tigerbeat6?

MD: Oh yeah, definitely.

CMG: You were young when you started that—about 21, right?

MD: Oh, way younger…I think, 18? I was working for a label called Vinyl Communications, and putting out tons of stuff. Tigerbeat6 was originally just going to be an offshoot of that. Then I got some money from releasing music, so I just did it myself. It took a while to get going.

CMG: Is there anything you wish you would have known then? Or any observations about how running a label has changed in the—is it ten years that Tigerbeat6 has been around?

MD: I think it’s ten years, but I’m too ashamed to admit it, since you’re supposed to do something special after ten years.

I think everything’s changed, completely. Before I would say to any musician, if you want your music to be heard, start your own record label. But now that’s the last thing you want to ever tell someone, to press up their own records. Now a record label is more like an association; like a shelf that you put yourself on in a library to put yourself next to these other books. Aside from that, especially since most people get music for free, it doesn’t mean much—there’s not much commerce in it. There’s not much collaboration between the labels and the artists to make packaging, or plan tours, or special releases, or weird remixes. Since most of that stuff is gone, it’s much more like the artists are doing all the work of the record label themselves anyway. Every artist is a record label, and every record label is just kind of fucked [laughs].

Record labels that weren’t run by artists are really in weird shape now. If you can’t just release the music yourself, now you need the musicians more than they need you. Before it was always the opposite, where the artists needed the record labels more than the record labels needed the artists. It’s really funny to see the tables turned.

CMG: Yesterday was Record Store Day, with all these promotions to go to record stores. Do you think that selling physical music is going to go away at some point?

MD: Yeah. It doesn’t make sense for people to buy a CD, and then put in on their computer, and then put the CD on the shelf. It makes the least sense for people to buy stuff digitally, and then make all these backups. So many hard drives are getting sold just to backup music libraries, when in the future everything’s just going to be streamed. Pretty much, now, you can get any song any time you want, but it’s just really inconvenient. In the future, they’ll just bridge the convenience [gap], and that mobility will be there. Think about how popular radio was, and see on-demand radio and on-demand music as being the same things in the future. You’re basically going to say, “I will play this song, or I will watch this video, or do this” at any time where you are. A record store’s place in that future is completely negligent.

Think of the things that are obsolete-proof. People say, “plumbers will always be around, because people need to shit,” and that’s true. Restaurants will always be around, because people will always want to eat other people’s food. Something like a record store, the things that it did were so good and so healthy, and so were the things that a record label did, but the world has decided that they don’t want to pay for that service anymore. I love record stores, and always will, but I haven’t gone into one in years, other than just accidentally, because they don’t actually do something that I need any more. As a young person, record stores defined who I was; the people that worked there, and the buyer that got it certain titles. That defined who I was, but also, MTV defined who I was—Headbanger’s Ball, 120 Minutes, Alternative nation. All that shit’s gone.