"I live over by Lake Piedmont," says Kid606, causing me to scour my brain for such a place in the East Bay. He was of course referring to Lake Merritt, but being new to the area he hasn't yet figured out all things Oakland. Besides, he's been busy. He moved up here one year ago from San Diego to take part in what has now been dubbed the "Laptop Revolution" -- young musicians creating music with only one instrument: the computer.
Is it a real revolution? To talk to the musicians you'd think so. (Rock is, you guessed it, dead.)
"We had to make our own music instead of just learning to play the guitar and joining the fad and where the trends are," says Kid quickly. He moves fast, talks fast; hates to sit still. "I think that bands like the Rapture and the Pattern are great, but I think they are just kind of going through the motions of 'already been said.' The Pattern are amazing live, but I don't want to hear the records. It feels like when you have to see the same commercials over and over again. It feels like reruns. I think the world has changed so much, and we'll always have to embrace that. If we actually try and do something new and push it and push it, more people will hear it, it will actually kind of ingrain itself, too."
What exactly is this new direction? For 22-year-old Kid (aka Miguel Depedro), his compositions vary from ambient bleeping to syncopated old-school beats to loud barrages of pure noise. They are entirely unique and often humorous ("Don't Sweat the Technics," "It Will Take a Million in Plastic Surgery to Make Me Black"). He has absorbed everything he grew up with -- hip-hop, computers, and the age of irony -- and rolled it up into his own creation. Now he travels the world performing and preaching the digital, even remixing records for the likes of Depeche Mode and Peaches.
His records have received mixed reviews, but he will be the first to tell you that perhaps the listeners just don't understand his stuff; he might also tell you that, indeed, not all of his stuff has been great. Kid606 is an odd mix of ego and humility.
"In electronic music there is a quest to make something new and original," he says. "In rock music you just basically have to do it really good, you know what I mean? Electronic music, it's not enough to be good. You gotta be groundbreaking, pretty much. You gotta be doing something that hasn't been done before, because otherwise the music's kind of fleeting. So much of the music [electronic musicians] make is here today, gone tomorrow. It gets pressed up, you listen to it once. That's really sad."
One of the main criticisms of electronic music is that it is either mindless dance shit, or pretentious IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). The former seems created for the listener, the latter for the creator him/herself. Both seem to be missing some middle ground. But Kid606 sees the current state of electronic music as an arrival point. Instead of moving away from rhythm and beat and more toward melody, he sees music arriving at a higher place defined by rhythm.
"Beats are the 'communism of music' [the detractors say]; experimentalists say you should be free from the beat, free from the rhythm. I totally disagree with all that. From rock 'n' roll to R&B and blues, the strongest thing about modern music is rhythm. Think of classical and verse-chorus-verse music; what's freed us from all of that is just really strong rhythms."
So is rhythmically complex music higher up on the evolutionary continuum?
"Beats have allowed us to get away from this very oppressive century of very tonal, all-melodic music. That's why everyone was into minimalism; they were treating melodies and notes like they were drums and percussion. There's so much strength in that. People have to dance, people have to have fun, people have to be able to understand things on a base level."
As he talks, he fidgets a bit. "It's really important for me that I always have multiple things to focus on, because I can just go way too much in one direction. My mind's always racing. The reason I make music is I'm not content with just listening to it."
The computer, it seems, is perfect for him, because he can do several things simultaneously: listen to another person's record, create his own music, and download music off the Net. If he reads, he must have the TV on. If he watches TV, he must have his laptop. Kid606 could very well be a product of his own generation.
"I just have to have lots of things going, because I think that they all influence each other. That's why I had to start a label [Tigerbeat6], because I couldn't just make music. I can't physically, mentally just make music. I think that's the scariest thought on earth."
I ask him if he ever slows down, how he handles silence, whether he's distracting himself only to avoid something.
"When I was young," he says, "I had to go to therapy so much to do all that stuff; that now, I just don't want to feel it all the time. Sometimes it will all burst out, like at some sad movie, and I'll just cry and cry because it will be such a resonant thing. But overall, it's like, the more I do [at once] the better. It could be to cover up something that's all going to come out later, but there's just like no other way to deal with it. It's like you could be sad all the time or happy all the time, almost. The reason that I am happy is that I'm always doing stuff. I freak out when things aren't happening. I always have a show to put on, or a record to put out, or this, this, or this.... I really don't have to worry about that other stuff."
As a child, Kid built dioramas and messed around with tape recorders. He and his brother were obsessed with comic books and drew their own. When he was an adolescent he got his first sampler, and he could then fuse his attraction to sounds with his need to build and manipulate.
"I was obsessed with sound, trying to have control over sounds. I didn't really want to have control over an instrument, I just wanted to take all the sounds I heard and make something. I'd listen to Ministry and Godflesh, and I got so quickly sick of all the instruments, but then there were these weird sounds. This was before techno and stuff. And I thought, I want to do that. How do they do that? I don't want the guitars, I don't want the vocals and drums, I want to make music that's just the weird sounds. That was like my plan. Then, pretty soon, there was electronic music that could be created solely on my computer. There was music that didn't have to be an electronic layer on top of a band. I thought, oh my God, this is amazing. I can do anything."
Just how "groundbreaking" is electronic music's current reign? Might it be a passing fad? And if the emphasis is always on being different and creating something new, where does that leave true songwriting?
At this, Kid gets quite animated. "Is it good because it's different, or is it good because it's good? Are we gonna listen to it once and say, that was good, or are we gonna want to listen to it again and again? The best kind of music is the stuff that's different but still holds out twenty years later. The Velvet Undergrounds, Joy Divisions, the Swans -- stuff that has an impact. I don't think it's enough, especially in this day and age when so much has come before us, that music can just be different. It's got to actually have something else to it."
Musicians like Kid606 who have taken the solo computer route find themselves in a performance quandary. No one, it seems, wants to see someone standing on stage with a laptop, pressing buttons. This is the main problem with the genre: not much of a floorshow. Peaches has taken care of that little problem by shaving herself and simulating masturbation at the controls; but more insular types, like Autechre, can bore people silly.
"So many people are good studio musicians, but they feel like they can't go out and actually do something unless they throw a bunch of musicians behind them and grab a microphone," he says. "Then they create this whole fakeness in order to perform live." Kid abhors the idea of a band. "I don't want to be a conductor, you know what I mean? It's ridiculous that you should need to do that just to get credibility. All the electronic acts think that they can put a drummer onstage and get more credibility. Even groups like Mouse on Mars. A good example is Chicks on Speed, who really get pressure to be more of a band -- 'Get a drummer, get a bass player' -- but they just really want to be onstage messing around with minidiscs."
Maybe people aren't ready for purely electronic live shows?
"I think the less you give [live bands] to people, the more [computer music] will grow. It takes time. People first freaked out when someone brought an electric guitar on stage."
Inside the mind and modules of Oakland's Kid606
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