Interview: Sprinkles

DJ Sprinkles plays the awesome Simple Things Festival in Bristol next month, so we thought we would have a chat.

Sprinkles Bearded: Having worked across a number of creative disciplines and musical styles over the past few decades could you let us in on what first drew you in particular to electronic music composition and performance?

Sprinkles: My interest in electronic music was mostly a reaction against the rock culture of the Midwestern U.S. In my youth I had a lot of problems with fag bashing, and rock was the soundtrack of those harassing me. Electronic music, on the other hand, was despised, and also subjected to homophobic categorization - including disco. So that's how it started, as a kind of sonic disassociation from dominant heterosexism.

A lot of your work carries a very strong thematic message and aesthetic; as a medium do you find music the most effective and engaging for connecting with / challenging an audience?

No, I find it among the least effective, actually. Most people are still happy to think of music coming from the soul, praising authenticity, and all that creativity bullshit that has been thoroughly dissected in the fine arts and elsewhere. My problem with fine art is that most people are familiar with the critiques of authorship and galleries, but continue on with business as usual. When it comes to music, most cultures are so conservative that those failed critiques from the fields of art have yet to even enter the discussion. So in a nihilistic way I am drawn to audio as an even more shit media than others, filled with even more culturally regressive ideological trappings. The analyses are doomed to fail in relation to music as well, and I am basically performing that failure for people.

Do you find the music videos and short film pieces you have directed are used to express and communicate your work in a different way to the music alone, or are they all individual parts of a larger whole?

In projects like Soulnessless, Lovebomb and Interstices, the various elements of text, sound and visuals are meant to interact with each other in layers. Sometimes they might "illustrate" one another, but they more often set up contrasts and tangents.

The reissue earlier this year of your album Midtown 120 Blues seems extremely timely considering the current over-saturation of vacuous house music in the UK music charts, was that merely a coincidence or did it feel like the appropriate time to reintroduce it?

The album's licensing contract with Mule was up around the end of 2012, and it seemed like a lot of people were still wanting the album, so I just thought I would make it available through my label Comatonse Recordings. That way I had freedom to redo the cover, keep it out of most distributorships, and in a way make its function "smaller" than the first time (which was also already pretty small scale). I think the general climate of commoditization in house has been a constant for many years now, so from my perspective the arguments and concerns discussed in the album are simply ongoing from before.

The house music scene, both on a populist level and in underground circles, is probably at the strongest it has been in years. Do you think there are there any specific cultural reasons for this or is it merely just the life cycle of the genre?

I don't follow pop charts, but my sense is that the UK has much more pop-level tolerance and interest in house than other nations. Still, it's clear that house has been "over" for years, ever since it became the default BGM in department stores. It's muzak. I guess a few "underground" producers get swept into that kind of pop culture stuff, but I don't think it affects most of the producers I would consider on "my level" (ie. low/small). Major music industries tend to groom or generate their own groups in different genres, so that they can have greater economic control over publishing and master rights, etc. It's like, that pop level shit goes on despite context. Meanwhile, the rest of us are pretty much where we've been, and we stylistically either move on to something else, or just keep doing the same old shit as a fuck you to industry. I'm very clear that I consider DJ-ing a deep house set in 2014 as pretty much the same thing as going to a "Woodstock" festival. It's infected with problems of nostalgia and commercialization. At that point it becomes about discussing alternative histories - which brings us back to the necessity for focusing on content and context.

Could you talk us briefly through the title of your mix CD Where Dancefloors Stand Still which was released on Mule Music last year, does it have something to do with the party restrictions that are imposed in Japan?

Yes, it was in reference to restrictions imposed by Japan's morality code, or fueiho. According to these laws, dancing is only allowed in licensed dancehalls, and even then only until 1:00AM. After that, the club staff will go around asking people to stand still (especially if police come to the club). The Western media usually focuses on the curfew issue in licensed clubs, but the main problem is that most clubs cannot even obtain dance licenses to begin with because they do not meet the physical space requirements, which is something like 65 square meters of open and uninterrupted space (including no support beams). It's hard to find space that large in Japan.
These laws date back to just after WWII, and were primarily intended as a way of controlling sex work. Dancehalls got written into the laws because they were key places for sex workers to hook up with johns (often US GI's). The dance restrictions were generally unenforced in clubs for decades, until about 2010.
The problem with the contemporary "pro-dance" movement is that it is basically a Neo Liberal movement of middle class people (or at least middle class mindset) focusing on convincing the government that club goers are "good people," and not like sex workers or others affected by the fueiho. The dancers and clubs just want to be written out of the code, as opposed to forming any kind of social alliances with others affected by the code. And we all know that once a law is revised, it takes ages before politicians are willing to revisit it again, so I fear after the club issue is resolved, sex workers and others will just be abandoned to the laws as they were.
To put things in context, ten years before police started raiding dance clubs, they had already been raiding a lot of unlicensed sex work venues. The result of that was a lot of women choosing to work independently, without communal organization or protection. They would just go alone to "love hotels" and meet johns there. The result has been an increase in violence against sex workers. So the fact that the "pro-dance" movement never gave a shit about that violence, and even now just wishes to distance itself from "perversity," is crass. Severing the links between sound and sexuality is also an utter disrespect to the histories of most Western dance musics being played in Japanese clubs. So it's problematic on a lot of levels.
Basically, it looks like the Neo Liberals will lift restrictions on dancing so that tourists and sport-fan idiots coming to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can get shitfaced and throw their hands in the air like they just don't care, because in fact they don't fucking care.

From the perspective of an artist living in Japan could you give us a little insight in to the similarities and differences between the club scenes of Japan and the UK?

The main similarity would probably be an abundance of rather well informed listeners. The main difference would definitely be the relative absence of drugs in Japan.

A lot of your music, although perfectly suited for clubs, carries just as much thematic weight and message as your more experimental sounds. How do you go about selecting a particular sound for a project? Or is it simply a matter of how you feel when you enter the studio?

It's often about trying to establish footnotes and reference points to other producers' sites of production and scenes. Unfortunately, the legalities of sample clearance create an environment where we are not allowed to freely reference each other, such as how writers might freely quote passages from other writers. Instead, we are only left with sampling as simply about "cool sounds," both culturally and legally. We aren't free to go into social discussions about why we sampled or referenced a particular sound - particularly if we did so in a project that would be deemed a "defamation of the original work" (such as any project dealing with feminism, criticism, sexuality, etc.). Historically, there is no doubt that these legal restrictions have seriously hindered the cultivation of more complex and useful audio discourses. And these legal restrictions rely upon our faith in authorship, authenticity, soul, and all that "personal" stuff which places audio production firmly in the realm of private property and ownership - which is ironic, given that we are also told to believe in music's "universality." Soul and originality are the tools of ownership. Universal appeal is a tool of marketing. It's all ideological parlor tricks in the service of major music manufacturing, publishing and distribution.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can let us in on for the rest of 2014 and beyond?

I just finished a project for the premiere issue of a new Japanese cultural journal called Farben, which includes a text, illustrations and limited edition 7" vinyl. I should have a few copies available in the Comatonse shop in the coming weeks. The theme is on protecting minor media, and discussing why uploading tracks into populist media portals like YouTube and SoundCloud might do more harm than good (partly because of the sampling issue mentioned above). I'm also working on a new 12" with Mark Fell, and collaborated with Frank & Tony on a track for their upcoming album. I also have some solo projects that I need to get my ass moving on, including a new dance project, and an electro-acoustic project critiquing family and clan structures, as well as defending those who choose not to have children.

And finally where can Bearded readers of the world head if they want to catch you live over the next few months?

People can always check my performance listings on the Comatonse website

Sprinkles plays Simple Things in October. Tickets available HERE