Mike Taylor aka Disco Nihilist creates beautiful, raw jacky house music and has made quite an impact with just a few releases under his belt. Mike took some time out to answer some questions for us at Handsomeclub.
Tell us, who is the man behind the Disco Nihilist moniker?
That would be me.
Do you work a day job?
No, I don't have a job.
Do you DJ as well as produce?
Yeah, I have a pretty decent record collection. I used to work at Backspin Records in Austin; I picked up a lot of good records and learned a lot about digging while I worked there.
What were your early influences in house music?
There are a lot of things going on in my music. I have been around dance music for 15 years now and I have listened to a lot of different music over the years. One of the big things with the vinyl jocks in Austin was the expectation that you could cover a lot of ground, and that you could do it in a single set and make it work. I think a lot of that had to do with Merrick Brown's approach to DJ'ing. He definitely set a standard for mixing.
If you were to look through my dance collection, you would find disco, italo, boogie, electro, garage, Chicago house, acid, Detroit techno, dubby techno, deep house, ghettotech and ghetto house... I am interested in a lot of different music. The last thing I want to hear is two hours of any particular dance genre; I want to hear a bit of everything.
Would you care to share some memorable record store experiences both as a customer and/or employee? Maybe a digging story where you struck gold?
Oddly enough, I have had the best digging of my life in Maine. I went to a college radio record show about a year ago and I got a bunch of good stuff, some old acid stuff, a couple of Supertronics records, some boogie, some old Detroit house and the best find was a mint original test pressing of "Magic Mandrake" by Sarr Band on Unidisc. Before the reissue, that Sarr Band record was going for $85 a pop; I spent $22 on the whole lot.
The second thing was a fellow who opened up a record store out here after moving back to Maine from NYC. He worked for an old man who owned record stores in New York for years. The owner decided to get out of the business this year and sell off all of his back stock. Over the years, this owner had purchased a used dance record store and a dance distributor and the distributor's warehouse. The distro went bust sometime in 1996 because that was the point where the white labels and onesheets stopped. So this collection sat in a warehouse gathering dust for 14 years and then the owner decided to liquidate everything to the guy in Maine for dirt cheap. Three van-fulls of records were driven from NYC to Maine.
Listen to "Magic Mandrake" here:
The owner of the record store in Maine let me dig through this collection and everything was $2 a pop. The digging was ridiculous. I think I spent around $500 at $2 a pop in the space of a few weeks there. He had disco, boogie, Chicago shit, Detroit shit, NYC shit, you name it, he had it. It was the kind of digging where every six to eight inches I had to restrain myself from doing touchdown dances around the record store. I can't even tell you how big the collection was, there must have been at least 60-80 crates in this little shop. It was completely bananas; I don't think I am ever going to come across a situation like that again in my life.
As far as working in stores, Backspin was a real learning experience. It was the kind of thing where they specialized in dance, hip hop, and soul music. I got to dig through a lot of music while I worked there. I knew 95% of what was going through that shop and had first dibs on it. The records had to be cleaned before they went out on the floor, so I would listen to everything that looked interesting before it hit the floor while I cleaned them. It isn't a glamorous job, but nothing gets past you when you clean the used records.
Eric also let me take over ordering dance records when he started to get tired of doing it himself. That was nice because it meant that I was getting all the sales lists from the distributors and checking everything that was coming though the American distributors. If you want to keep tabs on what's happening in the dance market, ordering records is the best way to do it. I sincerely miss working at Backspin Records. That place was the best thing about living in Austin. It really allowed Austin to become a home.
How would you describe your music for those who may not have heard it?
That is a hard question to answer because what I hear as a musician is different from what the people buying the records hear. Ten people can look at the same tree, and they can agree that it is a tree, but they all see that tree in a different way.
The short answer is that I make raw, stripped down American house music specifically for underground vinyl DJ's.
The longer answer is that certain threads have emerged over the last few years and there are the weird, slow spacey tracks, there are the heavy Chicago bangers, there are the more conventional deep house tracks, there are the acid DJ tools... I am not really interested in pinning myself down to just one thing. The perverse thing about my creativity is that I can't do just one thing-- the music is best when I just let things happen. When I try to work to an established template, it never works as well.
My long term goal for Disco Nihilist is to have enough variety on the releases so that you could listen to an 80 minute mix of the different records and it wouldn't be like listening to variations of the same track over and over again. You would hear acid, jack tracks, deep house, weird abstract tracks, some dubby tracks, some techno...
What have been some of the most influential clubbing experiences in your life?
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and was religiously into dancing from about 1995 onward. That set of experiences is what I measure everything else against. It was a magical time to be young and into music.
I think Austin was a bigger influence in the long run. It wasn't the dance scene that was influential, it was the lack of a scene. We just got the records and we had to construct our own world out of that music. Very few touring acts came through Texas, so it was just about local DJs playing in small marginal venues. We were so far removed from the trends, and the people that were attempting to be trendy were so shallow and aesthetically rotten, that you just kind of kept to yourself and did your own thing. It was a case of finding something that spoke directly to you on a personal level and just getting on with it.
Is Construction Paper your main outlet for releasing music?
I don't really think about it in those terms. Construction Paper is a label that is run by a couple of good friends of mine from Austin. Working with them is comfortable; I like them as people, they allow me free rein on the creative side of things, and we see eye to end on the business as well. They need music to release and I need someone to finance my releases. It works out...
In 2010, the music business is so screwed up that there isn't much advantage to putting out records on other small labels. I would rather stick with my friends and help them build their label up than license my music to 5 different labels and not build anything new. As it stands, I sell more on Construction Paper than most small labels sell with more established names.
That being said, I am not avoiding working with other labels. I have a couple things in the pipeline with other labels for 2011.
Do you press the Construction Paper releases here in the States? It's rare these days for a US label to actually be based in the US anymore.
The records are cut in Chicago, plated in New Jersey, and pressed in Detroit.
I don't know that it is rare for US labels to be based in the US. There are a lot of great things happening right now in the US. What's happening in the American dance underground doesn't spark the same levels of verbal onanism in journalists like "witch house," but things are definitely happening.
Steven Tang from Emphasis and Specter from Tetrode are doing things in Chicago; Marcellus Pittman from Unirhythm is doing his thing in Detroit; Santiago Salazar is popping with Ican and Historia y Violencia in LA; Jason Letkiewicz and Ron Ziti are doing good stuff with L.I.E.S. and Speculator has releases good music on W.T. in NYC; Tom Cox is has a string of records lined up for Love What You Feel in Pittsburgh; Mark Cullen and Chloe Harris are doing good things with Further in Seattle; and Kuri Kondrak and Shawn Kralism are getting ready to start a new label called Night Gallery in Seattle.
These guys are just a drop in the bucket -- America is doing better than people think. I would love to beat my chest and say that I am the only one holding it down for the US, but that wouldn't be fair to all the other people doing great things around the country.
The problem is that we don't have the same dance music business infrastructure as Europe. There are a handful of smaller US distributors, but they mainly just resell American product to European distributors anyway. We haven't had any real muscle since Watts and Syntax closed.
Also, we don't have a strong retail network in the US at the moment. The mom and pop stores have been closing on a pretty regular basis for the last ten years. That is where the real problem lies; we don't have enough of these little shops for regional DJ's and producers to cluster around. The community fostered by those stores is every bit as important at the records themselves.
That is what really breaks my heart about the music business currently. I genuinely love independent record stores. I love knowing the clerks, I love running into friends at stores, I love finding dusty old records in used bins.
How do you counteract the current US infrastructure or lack thereof?
You just have to work with the resources that are available to you. There are still record stores, and people who buy and play records in America. In fact, if there is one thing I learned from Texas, it's that you would be surprised at the things that happen in this country that go completely unrecognized.
So the trick is finding the stores that are still there, and selling to those stores directly. The thing that people don't understand about vinyl is that it can be both cheap and profitable for everyone involved. There is no reason why you can't sell a 12" single for $9 retail and have both the label and retailer making about $3 dollars on the deal. The thing that kills vinyl is pressing it in the US, tacking on two bucks a unit to ship it to Europe, two more bucks for the distributor's cut, and then tacking on another two bucks to ship the record back to America. That is how you wind up with $14 import records.
I think the main thing is to make an effort not to penalize people for playing vinyl. Part of that means selling directly to small shops, part of it means selling direct on discogs for a reasonable price, part of it means hollering at people on your social network and letting them know that they can buy direct for cheap. There are ways to make it work in 2010.
Are you taking your live show on the road? Any memorable performances so far?
I haven't been doing the live thing recently. My studio hardware isn't meant for gigging, so I don't want to drag it out to play shows. At some point I am going to buy some hardware specifically for a touring live set. In the meantime, I travel with records.
Any gigs you're particularly looking forward to?
Not really. I hate to say it, but I haven't really been pushing the performance angle too much recently. At some point I will start touring, but I don't know when.
Has your studio set up changed much since the release of your first few 12"s? Recording process?
Not really. I have gotten a couple of new drum machines, and a keyboard or two, but that's it, really.
I don't worry about gear too much. I am more interested in figuring out new things to say with the gear I already have.
What should we expect next on the release front?
I have a couple of releases coming out on European labels next year, but I would like to keep the details under my hat until they hit the stores. Hopefully things will come together next year and I will be able to start my own label.
How do you feel your music has evolved since your first release?
That is really hard to say. I am a mature artist with defined personal style, so the changes are gradual and subtle. I find that I do new things in the studio and find new ways to say the same things, but that is kind of hard to communicate in an email interview with a limited word count.
It's not like I can say I was mnml, then I went dubstep, then I went deep house and now I make purist Berghain techno.
Your music is currently not available digitally, is this intentional?
Basically, the only reason I do the Disco Nihilist thing is that I like making music and I like putting out records. I only do what I like, and if I don't like it, I won't do it.
I don't like press shots of goofballs with scarves and stupid haircuts, so I don't do press photos.
I don't like shopping for music online or seeing people DJ on laptops, so I don't do digital distribution.
I don't like making music on a computer, so I have a tape deck and a room full of old drum machines.
The only thing I worry about is if I am happy with my work. I don't worry too much about pleasing everybody. I think if you are honest with yourself it comes through in the music and people respond to it. You get in trouble when you hide yourself and water things down in order to appeal to people. It might work in the short run, but it catches up to you in the long run.
Ten things I dig in no particular order:
1. Being able to stream the American version of Robotech on Netflix.
2. Paul Simpson
3. Breakfast Tacos from Tamale House in Austin, Texas.
4. The giddy feeling I get when I dig through the dollar bins at used record stores.
5. Carl Craig's use of the Prophet 600 on his early recordings.
6. Armando Gallop
7. Philip K. Dick novels from the late 60's.
8. Throbbing Gristle
9. Hearing a test pressing of a new record for the first time.
10. Sean Connery's red leather loincloth in Zardoz.
Disco Nihilist's latest release, It's Grim Up North, is now available on Amoeba.com for $8.98.