Interview: Collapse Culture
This whole last 12 months has been fucking surreal and I have to believe that the ambient dystopia leaked into the music
Collapse Culture have just released their eponymous debut album and it is an expansive collection of varied electronic sounds with dub and ambient soundscapes as the centrepiece of the album from the collaborative minds of Graham Scala (Bleach Everything, US Christmas, Interstitia) and Ian Miller (Kowloon Walled City, Strangelight, Less Art). Gavin Brown caught up with both members of the project to talk about the album and how Collapse Culture came together as well as inspirational electronic music, remixes and what both Graham and Ian’s other projects have got coming up in the future.
E&D: Your eponymous debut album is out now. Can you tell us about the creation and recording of the album?
Graham: The album came about in April when I was quarantining and looking for something to distract myself from constantly looking at the news and feeling like I was losing my mind. I’ve enjoyed a lot of dancier electronic music for a long time but most of the solo stuff I had made was more droney or experimental. With a near-unlimited supply of time on my hands I figured I’d take a crack at something new. After completing a lot of the initial tracks I realized my bass parts weren’t great and I noticed Ian was trying to find collaborators so I hit him up looking for a Bill Laswell homage. What he sent was even better than expected so it seemed like an especially fortuitous match.
Ian: I’ve been working on lots of different projects to keep myself sane over the last year, and I was thrilled when Graham reached out. I’ve loved Bill Laswell and Axiom Ambient-type stuff forever but I’ve never had the opportunity to contribute to something like this. I’m so hyped on how it turned out.
E&D: The album had a very cinematic nature to it, was this the way you wanted it to be from the get go or did it naturally turn out that way?
Graham: I wasn’t necessarily aiming for something cinematic per se, but when I listen to music I love albums that have an internal cohesion that you can immerse yourself in. That doesn’t mean every song has to sound the same, but as long as there’s a holistic logic to it the artist builds a world rather than writes some songs. That was more my goal.
E&D: Could you see Collapse Culture scoring a film with your music at all and what style of film could you or want it to be?
Graham: Realistically I don’t know that I even expected the music to get this far or to be as well-received as it’s been so my expectations haven’t necessarily been quite as sky-high as that. However, if any filmmakers out there are reading this, drop me a line.
E&D: What film soundtracks have been particularly inspiring for you?
Graham: I can’t think of many offhand. However a lot of the music I love and draw inspiration from possesses a cinematic quality either in the sense that it would make a good soundtrack or that it conjures images vividly.
Ian: I’m not a huge soundtrack person, but I certainly appreciate the work of people like Morricone, John Carpenter, Reznor and Ross, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and others.
E&D: The music on Collapse Culture, especially on a song like ‘Static Howl’ is quite eerie and dystopian. Do you feel that your music is perfect for these uncertain times we are living in?
Graham: I think that there was a certain chaotic energy in the zeitgeist when I was writing that definitely came through. But in terms of dystopia I always liked William Gibson’s idea that his books, as bleak and futuristic as they were, weren’t true dystopias because they imagined a future for humanity at all. Any artist who flirts with dystopian aesthetics has to be careful they aren’t valorizing the things they warn against so there’s always a fine line that needs to be walked with this sort of thing.
Ian: This whole last 12 months has been fucking surreal, and I have to believe that the ambient dystopia leaked into the music, if only as a way to exorcise it from my own brain, y’know? To Graham’s point about Gibson’s dystopias, his recent work, especially The Peripheral, is about dystopias but they’re somehow hopeful. He depicts real people struggling to make it through another day, and even offers strategies for navigating our current dystopia.
E&D: Who has been the biggest influence on the sound of Collapse Culture?
Graham: Not a musician but I’d say Mark Fisher. He’s one of a rare breed of nonfiction writer (Rebecca Solnit and Andy Sharp also come to mind) who can weave together disparate strands of socio-political and cultural criticism into a readable cohesive whole. Books like Capitalist Realism and Ghosts Of My Life alongside his blog K-Punk are a stunning and terrifying map of everything that’s come before and the things that could yet be if we dared imagine a livable and more egalitarian future.
Ian: I had no idea that Graham was a Fisher fan when we started this, and only found this out recently. It makes so much sense though! Now we mostly just argue about when things are actual hauntology or not.
E&D: What has the reaction to the music of Collapse Culture been like so far?
Graham: So far the people who have heard it have liked it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s gone over well thusfar.
E&D: Did you always want to make an album that took you out of the realm of what you usually make musically?
Graham: I want to do that with every album I make. I have a wide variety of projects because I’m an obsessive music nerd who just wants to do my own version of everything I think is cool and interesting. I try to constantly keep myself on my toes with every project. If you don’t risk losing half your fans with every album, what’s the point in making it?
E&D: How did you get into electronic music in the first place?
Graham: I was eleven years old and going to bed one night. My mom was in the room next door with the radio on and I heard this faint sound coming through the wall that sounded kinda like music but didn’t have any rhythm or melody that I could discern. I asked what it was and she had been listening to “Music From The Hearts Of Space,” the syndicated ambient music show that NPR carried. I’d never heard anything quite like it, just these amorphous blobs of sound that could be so evocative without a lot of more conventional musical elements. This was also in the early 90s when you couldn’t just look stuff up on the internet so alongside the rock and rap music I got into alongside my middle school peers I also made dozens and dozens of tapes of weird space music off the radio that I’d listen to when I was by myself. Kinda a weird thing to be into at such a young age but I’ve loved it longer than I’ve loved almost any type of music.
Ian: My intro to electronic stuff would’ve been through new wave and then hip-hop, especially the Bomb Squad-produced Public Enemy records. Those guys inspired me to try and make loop-based music, and I’m still at it. I already mentioned Laswell, but I’ve also found inspiration in dub, krautrock, big beat, and other dance music.
E&D: What electronic artists are inspiring to you and what is it about them that makes them do that?
Graham: I have a pretty wide range of interests even within electronic music. But stuff like Burial, Gaika, Aisha Devi, Andy Stott, Hiro Kone, Holly Herndon, Arca, Moor Mother, Jake Muir, Chino Amobe, Pale Blue etc gets a lot of play in my house. All of those artists have pretty varied sounds and approaches to making them but they all possess the sort of world-building quality I mentioned earlier. Each album is like a hermetically-sealed space possessing its own internal logic and rules and for the length of each release you can surrender yourself to those elements. I’ve also lately been really into a lot of electronic music by artists from non-western countries – people like KMRU, Zuli, MSYLMA, Duma, Ammar 808, Nazar, and a lot of the stuff on labels like Nyege Nyege Tapes and BLTNM. It’s very easy to get caught up in one’s own cultural confines but with technology becoming more readily available the democratizing effect on creation has led to some really incredible ideas and sounds that anyone looking for forward-thinking art would do well to pay attention to.
E&D: Have you got any plans or ideas for more music in the future?
Graham: We have an EP already done and a second full-length pretty close. Having Ian as a more full-time collaborator has been great for the pace at which we can get music made.
E&D: When is it possible, do you plan to take the music of Collapse Culture into a live arena?
Graham: It would be difficult as it’s all crafted on a rickety laptop that struggles under the weight of existence but pretty much everything I’ve said I’d never do I’ve ended up doing so who knows.
E&D: How did the idea for Collapse Culture come together in the first place?
Graham: It was another on a long list of projects I wanted to do. It definitely helped keep me sane at a time when I needed projects and it’s been interesting to see it take form and then evolve further with our subsequent recordings.
E&D: Do you think that culture has collapsed in the past year?
Graham: Not exactly. I think that we witnessed a lot of terrifying moments that were the apotheosis of the way our government has been mismanaged and undermined since the Reagan era. There are a lot of very powerful figures who would like nothing more than to strip away the things that protect us and our livelihoods and they’ve done a great job of convincing people that doing so is patriotic. The project’s original name was Collapse Cult but then I found an Instagram page of the same name that had some Boogaloo leanings which is not my thing at all. And while a lot of attention has been paid to extremist types like that in the past year the truly dangerous accelerationists are people like the Koch brothers or Betsy Devos, the ones who would destroy so many elements of the public sphere in a state-sanctioned fashion with the enthusiastic help of so many who have accepted it as part of a party line.
E&D: What do Bleach Everything, Kowloon Walled City and the rest of your projects got planned for the rest of the year?
Graham: Bleach had a two-song EP being released the same day as the Collapse Culture album with a full-length already tracked and hopefully released this year. I’ve also got a solo project called Interstitia with two albums in the can, a second full-length from Harmonic Cross, and a debut album from collaborative project called Arepo that will be released in the next couple months. I stay busy.
Ian: Kowloon has been working on a record for years, chipping away. It’s still in process! I’ve got lots of other stuff happening in the interim though, a punk band called Strangelight, solo stuff as Interesting Times Gang, and some other collabs.
E&D: Have you thought about remixing either other artists or your own bands as Collapse Culture?
Graham: Ian has a project called Interesting Times Gang and his next release has a song that I took a crack at. I’m really happy with the result so I’d love to rework anyone who’d have me.
E&D: Who would you love Collapse Culture to remix?
Graham: That’s a tough question. There are a lot of artists I love and respect who I’d love to work with but at the same time my technical knowledge regarding electronic stuff is limited compared to more seasoned producers so I’d be terrified I’d ruin someone else’s thing. So if Burial wants to give me a year or two to improve before hitting me up that’d be appreciated.
E&D: What music are you enjoying at the moment?
Graham: I’ve been obsessively listening to the Moor Mother/Billy Woods collaboration that came out a couple weeks ago. That one is absolutely brilliant in every way. Apart from that, lately it’s been a lot of Biosphere, Disclose, Neu, Alice Coltrane, and Pauline Oliveros.
Ian: I’ve been spinning the new Sleaford Mods a bunch; I don’t think it’s as good as some of their other full lengths, but there are some bangers on it. Also banging some Fontaines DC, Sweet, old Def Leppard, and lots of grime.