Jim Marcus InterView: Go, Going, Gone, Go Fight!
R.I.P., Die Warzau! Welcome Go Fight! Jim Marcus speaks to ReGen on his various artistic and musical exploits.
An InterView with Jim Marcus
By: Ilker Yücel
June 12, 2011 saw the end of one of the foremost bands in the American industrial music underground as Die Warzau played their last performance at the second WTII Minifest. Headed by Jim Marcus and Van Christie since 1987, the band has been a watershed for the scene with their first three albums—Disco Rigido, Big Electric Metal Bass Face and Engine—now regarded as classics, revered for their mix of energetic yet sensual vocals, powerful and danceable rhythms, and overall funky electronic vibe. All the while, their lyrics and frenetic live shows have addressed such topics as the hypocrisy and injustices of politics, war and religion and the embrace of sexual and emotional freedom, amassing a considerable following in the process. After a nine year absence, the band returned with new members Dan Evans and Abel Garibaldi, founding their own Pulseblack label, and released the Convenience album, updating their groovy aesthetics with a harder, more modern edge. The 2009 release of Vinyl88: Not the Best of 20 Years marked the celebration of the band’s two decades of productivity with a mixed set of some of their best known songs along with some newer gems. Needless to say, Die Warzau have earned their place in industrial music history.
The dissolution of Die Warzau marks the passing of a legend, but this is not to say that Jim Marcus has not been busy. Besides being a prominent Chicago DJ as well as being a designer for over 100 commercially available and widely recognized typefaces, he has been a much respected remixer and producer, working with bands as high profile as Pigface, Sister Machine Gun and Nine Inch Nails to bands on the rise like Eco-Head, Corporate-X, and Dead on TV. Carrying on his musical legacy, he has formed with Dan Evans and Vince Mcaley—both of Dead on TV—the band Go Fight, with several songs available on various social networks pending a full record release. Marcus speaks to ReGen about his various artistic exploits, touching on the nature of musicianship in the modern age, politics and censorship, the merging of the industrial and fetish scenes, and the ultimate fate of the final Die Warzau album, SuperGangBang, yet to be released.
It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen you release an album. Not to say you haven’t been active, obviously, but can you bring us up to speed on what you’ve been up to musically and artistically since your last record release?
Marcus: I worked on a solo record that may be too personal to release, unfortunately, and spent some time promoting and doing remixes for Dead on TV, one of my partners’ projects. But besides that, I’ve been writing and figuring out how I want to approach moving forward. The music industry is a strange place, and I have been spending time thinking about what place I have in it. I love doing music, love performing, and have found that I get a huge amount out of DJing events and clubs. My performance DJ sets have been really sort of liberating. It’s freeing being able to work in that context. I’ve spent a lot of time remixing some of my favorite music to fit into sets as well. There is something you get from being a DJ that feels like a deep connection to an audience. I know it sounds like nonsense, but working with the entire palette of music at your disposal along with your own beats, synths, noises, etc. can create a huge opportunity for that same kind of joy of creation you get in the studio—except with people participating. And the fact that it’s all in real time keeps the left side of your brain from interfering too much. It’s like being in the studio with a big audience and the ability to sample or use anything. There is so much really good music out there to work with and so many great opportunities to mash up and destroy it.
You mentioned the industry and your place in it. Naturally, you’ve seen the industry go through several changes since you first emerged and have had your hand in various aspects of it. What are your thoughts on where it’s heading now and how it could—or should—change for the better in the digital age?
Marcus: I love being able to steal music like that, something we never really did in Die Warzau; we never really sampled much. I think the music industry let everyone down. They let down the artists by failing to develop them and support them, diverting money from them and obfuscating their connection to their fans. They let down the record stores by failing to innovate and invent new ways to turn record stores into digital destinations that could be lifestyle homes for music lovers. They let down their consumer by suing them and treating them like criminals. They even let down their own employees by considering money to be more valuable than expertise in the field. I am sad about it and I wonder how the industry resurrects itself and retains relevance. People don’t have emotional connections, for the most part, to labels and corporations. They have emotional resonance around songs and artists, bands and albums. Maybe it’s time to remove all the middlemen between the fan and the music and allow them to have a real relationship with the artists they like. In some ways, the socialization of this art form is the democratization of it. Artists are just regular people who work in this medium. I wonder what happens, though, when the mystery of the musician is deflated. I suspect we’ll just go on and enjoy the song for what it is…minus the Bono-fication of it all.
‘The Book of Love’ is a great song, no matter how many times you talk to the guys from Magnetic Fields.
It just is. I know that context is something that has trained us, though. Remember the experiment with the famous violinist in the subway? People didn’t respond. The context encouraged them to think that it was irrelevant. How talented could he be, right? How many of us listen intently to the track that our brother’s girlfriend’s best friend gives us on CD at the party? It comes from this direction, so how can it appeal to us? The question is: is the world ready to stop paying attention to what record labels think are good songs and keep their ears open in the meantime?
There was an internet meme that made a comparison between Whitney Houston and Quorthon of Bathory, stating that one was more of an ‘artist’ who ‘created’ vs. Houston who only sang and didn’t write or play any instruments.
Marcus: I think that she did create, though. It was just different. I think of songwriters and musicians differently…sometimes. A songwriter is like a sketch artist, an inker, who outlines the page; the musicians paint within that. Quorthon was both, but that doesn’t mean that Whitney Houston wasn’t a great painter. I mentioned Magnetic Fields’ ‘The Book of Love,’ which is a great song, and they painted it beautifully, but a lot of people may think that Peter Gabriel painted it better. And I think that Blood on Ice holds together as a powerful group of songs that could be painted by other people, while ‘I Will Always Love You’ was painted brilliantly by Whitney Houston in ways Dolly Parton never could. I know a lot of us mourn the fact that our favorite artists wallow in obscurity while pop stars get this massive explosive appeal. I used to always be so sad whenever I saw a Beatles song with 2,000 views on YouTube while the new Drake song has millions. But I know that there is universality to experiences that can sometimes connect people looking to share those experiences. And there are edge experiences that do not rely on universality to communicate. The world has room for both. Sometimes when you listen to something, like ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder, you feel the opposite of loneliness. You feel millions of people who love the song and they are all part of the experience with you.
Which relates to what you said about DJing, about the connection with the audience. In what ways do you feel it compares to when you’re performing live in Die Warzau, how the experience differs?
Marcus: I feel like I have one thing to offer with Die Warzau and with Go Fight as well. It is the music we make, and we can tailor it to the audience and experience it with them, but it’s that range of material. It’s focused and tells my story. It’s what I want to communicate. DJing lets me use all the music at my disposal—one terabyte of music, beats, synth parts, noises, etc. to tell other stories, stories that may resonate with people in different ways. When mashing up, for example, I’ve enjoyed looking at an audience and thinking about their age; what music made them happy when they were younger, what made them feel carefree and right, and mix that with what they love now. I can tie their lives together over noises, beats, arpeggios, sounds of my own. Down here is the Beatles or Supertramp, and right here is Deadmau5 or Skrillex or Aesthetic Perfection. It’s a participatory experience that uses so many parts. Here is Thrill Kill Kult or Gang of Four or Shriekback, and here is David Guetta and Boys Noize and We are Terrorists, and it makes a bridge that can pull all your parts together if you want that. And if you heard ‘My Spine is the Baseline’ mixed in with a Mesh song over a deep beat, it would feel good.
To get on the political end of that… you mentioned the democratization of music, and as attempts have been made to police the Internet (the failed SOPA/PIPA, ACTA being signed, etc.), what’s your take on how far business and government intervention is going in the name of ‘privacy’ and ‘protection’ of intellectual property?
Marcus: The government will fail at that. Everyone fears the next model. I promise you it won’t be bad. I promise that the model that arises from this will not make creators and lovers, passionistas and prophets obsolete. It will deflate middlemen and corporatists. It will point arrows at people who have no business doing what they are doing and people who don’t do what they love. But it will carry people who make the world more interesting; technology, in the end, always does. It always amplifies interesting voices, despite the efforts to plug in mediocre ones, and if we just let old models die we can move on. Right now, we are watching the same thing that happened to music happen with comic book companies in a smaller way. Comic book companies could turn experiences digital and then support the stores by turning them into digital destinations, rewarding people for being in them with free downloads and interviews, experiences, things they love, supporting the stores and the people at the same time. And I hope they do. But if they get greedy, they will lose the stores, they will hobble their own product just to prevent piracy, they will beat an old model to death. And you are right: it’s on the cusp right now. I hope they choose the right way.
To stick to politics and privacy/protection, you recently had a little episode in the news with your wife. Obviously, you’ve been a proponent of sex education and LGBT rights, but why do you think the conservatives in business and government are now applying such strangleholds?
Marcus: I honestly don’t understand. I feel like the country is split in half. The contraception issue floored me, as did the personhood decision. I am concerned that the right has shifted the Overton Window too dramatically to fight easily. In fact, the right has proven to be better at moving the Overton Window than the left is, because liberalism tends to contain its crackpots and push them away. The conservative movement in this country has embraced people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, people whose sole goal is to shift the Overton Window and make people like Rick Santorum seem sane. He is not! I try to get a good range of what is happening through different news sources, including Fox, which has proven itself to be violently out of touch with reality. I am concerned for the future of coherent sex education in this country and terrified that we, as a people, are more interested in punishing people for sex than we are in helping them to be happy with their sexuality.
Most certainly, especially after what you and Faith (Marcus) went through.
Marcus: And I don’t know how that happened. What we went through was a uniquely interesting experience for me because it pointed out how flawed the media’s approach is to this issue. The media is not interested in you being happy. We were called out for demonstrating how to create a G-spot orgasm reliably, yet not one interviewer ever came to us to ask about that. No one wanted to bring that information to their viewer base, to say, ‘Here, this is a little tip about an orgasm that, despite what it says in many classrooms, is real and can make your sex life better.’ Instead, it was about the event itself and whether or not we broke the law or got in trouble or how the community felt. Why wasn’t it, ‘Fuck the community; how do you have better sex?’ They interviewed almost all the college students who were at the demonstration and didn’t air a single word of the interviews, because not one of them had a problem with it. We talked about consent and safe words and hygiene and sexual exploration and having better sex, polyamory and love, and how to build a scene. We were demonstrating all sorts of devices in a tame way and then gave a five minute demonstration of a sex technique, and this is what went all the way to China! If the media has two choices—to give you information that will make your life better or to give you information that will make you pissed off pointlessly in an inflammatory way—we know which they will take. In Chicago, there is a very real overlap between the music community and the fetish community, an overlap that seems more apparent here than elsewhere.
Can you tell us more about that overlap?
Marcus: In many cities, the fetish community is different. In New York, for example, it is very much dominated by femdoms, while it is very much about rope and suspension play in Michigan, very predicament bondage-focused in San Francisco, and ostentatious and latex-driven in Los Angeles. In Chicago, it just seems to have become more about emotional edge play, and that theme has caused a connection to the industrial music community. Many BDSM parties are also industrial music parties, and industrial DJs like Peter Propaganda and S@int DJ at fetish events. The two have been connected for years, and it’s hard to ignore it at bondage nights at clubs or leather/latex/BDSM events. The fact that I was ‘outed’ as a member of both communities was not a surprise to anyone; I’ve been an active leader in the fetish community for years. I guess in Chicago, it is something we take for granted.
It’s interesting, because when you look at industrial music’s evolution, Cosey was involved in pornography and erotic modeling prior to Throbbing Gristle. The two have gone hand in hand.
Marcus: I think so, but in Los Angeles, for example, the glam metal music wave is more ingrained in the fetish community. It is different in different cities.
You mentioned your solo album perhaps being too personal to release. Is that to say that it won’t ever be released? Without giving away more details than you wish, in what ways was working on the solo album different than what you do in Die Warzau and Go Fight?
Marcus: I wrote and recorded a solo record during my divorce. I was really heartbroken, and everything just seemed to hit me personally. I’ve always been a very upbeat and outward-looking person. I write about politics and other people’s stories, ideas, etc. Some of our songs have been stories (like ‘All Cut Up’) and some are even about things like physics and mathematics (‘Go Going Gone’). Many are political. This was the first time I wrote about myself and what I was going through. It is all very personal and I am reluctant to release something under my actual name, even though that’s what it would be, I suppose. It seems self-aggrandizing and pompous somehow. It makes me think ‘Who would care?’ And releasing this record seems to be the height of masturbatory egoism in a way. These songs are just me, and it feels strange putting them out there. I play some of them for people sometimes, but I’m actually not sure if I will ever formally put them out.
So now that Die Warzau is officially retired and you’ve gone on to form Go Fight, when will SuperGangBang see the light of day?
Marcus: Van and I have agreed to put this out, but we don’t know what all should be on it. This was the core of our problem in the first place, seeing a vision for this album. He’s a great guy, and we usually always were able to come together on what an album actually was and what it meant. This one is hard. Honestly, it’s because of the content. It’s sort of a tribute to atheism, and if read wrong, it could sound incredibly derogatory to religious people themselves. This was never the intent. I tend to think that religion itself is a terrible idea, but I don’t have any interest in creating the kinds of ideological thermoclines that religions themselves have built over the centuries. That being said, you can never control the message completely. I understand that. It will come out at some point, and I suppose I will field messages from religious people about it. I wish it were possible, sometimes, to fight bad ideas without having to fight people along the way.