Trafficking in an excess of emotion, rhythm, and noise, this Kansas City trio is on a hot streak to greater heights of success in a post-digital world!
An InterView with Human Traffic
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Hailing from Kansas City, the digital hardcore trio known as Human Traffic – comprised of Stephen Proski, Anthony Vannicola, and Lola Chastain – has made significant strides in a rather short couple of years. Gradually building its fan base from the ground up and extending its reach beyond the humble surroundings of the Midwest, the band has demonstrated a propensity for high intensity performance and sound, as exhibited by the Digital Ecstasy EP – drawing on the energy and irreverence of punk, the overdriven noise of proto-EBM/industrial, with just the subtlest traces of melody lurking beneath the cacophonous surface. Now on the varied and esteemed lineup for the Chicago ColdWaves IV festival alongside such heavyweights as Cocksure, Front Line Assembly, and Godflesh, along with other fresh talents like High Functioning Flesh and Two from the Eye, and with a dynamic new music video for “Degeneration HD” from the band’s upcoming full-length album, Human Traffic speaks with ReGen Magazine about the challenges faced and ready to take on in the post-digital world, the state of the music industry, and the juxtaposition of older styles of industrial with newer techniques and harsher attitudes.
First of all, to get the pedestrian question out of the way, would you tell us about the band’s history and how it came together?
Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: The project has been in existence for almost two years now. It began as an act of resistance, a sort of ‘us versus them’ state of affairs, as much as it was a direct response to a mutually suppressed frustration regarding the future of sound and where we force fit ourselves into that conversation. After carving out our existence with blunt objects, we have grown more refined in our contribution to pushing the envelope.
So far, Human Traffic has two EP releases, with a full-length album in the works, correct? What can you tell us about the development of your sound and style to culminate in the current release? What would you say have been the most important lessons or skills that you’ve learned that have held the most benefit to your creative process?
You’ve just released a music video for ‘Degeneration HD,’ which I understand will be on the upcoming album. In what ways do you feel the song is representative of the evolution of Human Traffic’s sound and the album’s sound as a whole?
Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: If anything, this track represents a rather intentional and cohesive backsliding into some of the more noise-oriented interests we have pursued and experienced over the years. The degeneration of our lineage, the time here on this planet at a standstill, moving backwards, like Midas on rewind. History has reached its limits and is unable to repeat itself. The fiction in which we are living and inevitably contributing to, projected in a high definition blaze of glory, cannot be contained in a box or postponed any longer.
Kill your idols and throw your gods to the street cleaner. Give rise to the machines you paid those bastards to build. Plug in to the nearest outlet and swipe left. Your face isn’t good enough to sell. Scroll down the track until the flesh burns from the bone; shrapnel of bit-crushed, resampled, decaying artifacts of sound drip through the group IV.
How did the video come about; how did you come to work with Evan Bech, and how closely were you involved in its creation? How do you feel the visuals lyrically or conceptually complement the theme of the song?
Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: We first took notice of Evan’s work when we saw him doing visuals at Transient Projects, an underground dance club in Kansas City. His animations are so embedded and subjective. They read as loose narratives and glimpses into the hive mind rapidly coming apart at the seams, in a dizzied up concoction that is both soft and morbid. It feels like you’re plummeting through parallel dimensions, not to mention an eye for color that seems almost accidental.
The beginning of the video leads you through a reservoir of polluted water, denouncing all that was once held sacred. There is no order. It has been abandoned. Belief systems and ethics washed down the fucking toilet into a euphoric purgatory that seems to defy the laws of gravity. It’s peaceful here.
The character drops through the floor, wandering around aimlessly through a world of illogical mediocrity, masked by decor and layers of ultra gloss. The figure doesn’t know where they are going, constantly in search of what isn’t there. Derivative of a generic mouth breather, it craves for someone to dictate his or her actions or behavior, indeterminate of the consequence. The result is that there is no result. The end is lost in the sequence of events leading up to it.
We sent him lyrics to the track right after having mixed it and basically gave him free reign to interpret the words however he wanted. It is a vague output, a bit of an existential head rush, not necessarily relative or specific, but a hyperrealistic interpretation of the mantra in question. The imagery and the acceleration of such is conducive to the idea as a fragment, since the future still remains unpredictable and in question; it cannot be fully understood, only imagined. The cyberwar already started. Embrace not knowing.
Regarding the album’s release, it’s my understanding that Human Traffic is looking for a label to sign with – is this for distribution and promotional purposes? What are your thoughts on the validity or necessity of record labels currently? Or to put it another way, what do you think is or should be the next evolutionary step in this particular aspect of the music business?
There seems to be a tendency in several modern bands to strive for what some might call a retro or perhaps ‘primitive’ sound that hearkens back to the earlier days of the industrial and hard electro genre, and Human traffic in some regards seems to fit in. What are your thoughts on this, both in regards to yourselves and to other bands adopting this approach?
Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: It started with a declaration, a manifesto in breaths. There was a need to reformat the ideologies of what being punk meant, in relationship to history and our surroundings, in a manner that was much similar to what The KLF was doing. We have never strived towards any particular sound or wanting to emulate any of our predecessors, even though their influence has been made clear time and time again. We wanted to flip sound on its head and manipulate it to our advantage.
It’s impossible to not borrow from what has already been done. As a species, we identity with familiarities and play them on repeat to the beat of our own drum. The vicious cycle continues and our mission as audio/visual terrorists is to reroute its trajectory.
‘We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.’
In relation, we’ve obviously seen what direction(s) music traveled in the first time around; where do you feel the music has to go as other bands look back to earlier influences and proceed forward from there?
Human Traffic has done quite a number of shows, including a tour of the Midwest in 2014, upcoming shows with 3TEETH and Author & Punisher, as well as appearing at ColdWaves IV. What sorts of challenges have you seen in bringing the band’s sound to the live environment, and how do you feel you’ve overcome those challenges?
There is a notion that since sales of music are lower than they once were, a band truly survives only by playing live. What are your thoughts on this based on your experiences playing live?
Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: Playing live as a band is an important aspect to all successful projects, but it holds too much weight within the realm we now exist. The ability to reach thousands worldwide rather than reaching those who were able to make it your show in a particular city at a particular time must be realized. We all use the internet, but some of us wish to use it differently. We find it to be a thunderdome for testing out new ideas and concepts, rather than an endless opportunity to share pictures of your legs or dog.
The idea of survival as a band is a long term goal we seek to accomplish. Self-sufficiency and complete control over the production and sale of our products will spell success to us. Though the traditional market place of ‘record, tape, T-shirt’ has died away, the doors this death has opened must be noticed.
Cultural shifts happen in minutes in the age we live in. Dwelling on the past is not an option. Complaining about your market or audience is not an option. We seek to gain the role of the technoshaman in this new marketplace. An understanding that the consumer does not truly know what it wishes to consume is important. Create your own reality rather than clinging to one that no longer exists.
Tell us about your inclusion in this year’s ColdWaves lineup; how did Human Traffic come to make the bill?
From your perspective as a perfomer, what are your feelings on how this particular festival has developed in the last few years and what directions you see it going in, or that you’d like to see it go in?
Besides the upcoming shows and album, what’s next for Human Traffic?
Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: Already working on a second album, which will be produced entirely on hardware. So, going back to your question from earlier, that primitivism you had mentioned, might be having an indirect influence on us, or maybe our eyes are just tired from staring at the screen.
Oh, and moving out of Kansas City.
Photography courtesy of Human Traffic and Joey Brunk.