Aug 2015 28

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!
Human Traffic


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?

Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: Digital Ecstasy is the only ‘official’ EP we have released; it was first distributed ourselves in a limited run as a cassette, and later rereleased that year by independent Russian label Youth 1984 as a deluxe edition CD with remixes and updated artwork. The other EP you might be referring to was only made available at the first out of town show we ever played, and it was essentially us just bootlegging ourselves.
The insanity of sound is something that constantly gets pushed under the lens; blown into proportion. Each scratch on the glass is collateral, an altercation of the perception at hand, physical and intimate, and you are left to extract the imprint before it fades or changes. That is the responsibility (or burden) we have bestowed upon ourselves, to analyze and dissect under whatever conditions are present, whether it be a veil of distortion or a summer haze of confusion.
The computer was the most accessible machine in proximity to us, and we wanted to punish our machines. This was the first time any of us had ever committed to synthesis or toyed around with electronics. It began with a feeling similar to that of an adolescent at recess, having the entire playground to yourself and there is no one around watching – total freedom; infinity and age, all the same, slipping through your fingertips at once. But we didn’t want to become the terrible child that doesn’t know how, or will never allow itself to grow up. Maturity is what we longed for, the religion of progress, and to not typecast ourselves into the category of novelty. We had to reinvent the wheel we were given and make it operate on dysfunction.

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?

Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: We seek an inclusion into a well developed machine, to join in unison with our own. Record labels remain relevant within the current landscape because the art of the partnership will never die. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each entity in question and pulling together to form an unstoppable force is what we seek. While the traditional methods of marketing and promotion have rapidly changed due to the World Wide Web, the rapid exchange of information has only strengthened those who understand how to navigate the new landscape.
A partnership is a huge investment no matter how you look at it. Record labels are always at risk when it comes to signing on new artists, and trends now get pushed under the surface so fast before having a chance to catch one last breath. The struggle to compete and keep up with your news feed, like drowning or trying to get your friends off the net and back into real life experience again. Fusing the digital with the physical and reaching the tipping the point of action in such a vast environment may seem unmanageable, but for those who understand the external structures, it is extremely empowering.

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?

Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: It should be given the same treatment as a remix would experience, and that is to say, the motive going into the music should be to improve upon it, by further adding a bit of clarity to context or just claiming it as your own. The conversation we have been having has been with history; we look towards the outcomes of the past to determine the probabilities of the future.
There are so many artists devoted to their craft, a good amount of which will probably continue to go unheard, it would be crazy to assume that an overlap or crossover could not occur. Culture jamming is what we have to rely on, because all the books and scrolls have been burned. The libraries are empty, and honestly, it’s the next level of progression as much as it is the new form of information we have been looking for.
Everything is open source and up for grabs. The most unfortunate part about this though, and a lot of people would disagree, is that anyone with a computer is able to convince themselves that they are a musician and capable of producing music. You no longer need credentials. That is the downfall of it all.
‘You’re not deep. You’re not an intellectual. You’re not an artist. You’re not a critic. You’re not a poet. You just have internet access.’

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?

Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: It was difficult at first because a lot of the venues we were playing earlier on had sound systems that were not up to snuff and neither was our understanding of our needs. Clipping, peaking, hot embers of sounds flying all around the room was a typical scene of our earliest live actions. The pictureplane has changed immensely through the years, full control and manipulation of the static has been achieved chasing the frequencies further down the rabbit hole.
Our recent bookings with 3TEETH allowed us to fully flesh out our sound, feeling the room move around you as the lights flash back and forth onto the strange faces of the Sunset Strip. ColdWaves IV will allow us to fully experience seemingly fictitious setups and systems; we look forward to nothing more than bringing our aural mosh back to Chicago.

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?

Proski/Vannicola/Chastain: It was a long, drawn out process that we never really thought would result in us getting asked to perform; like the kind of stuff you dream of when you’re a kid just getting into music. We already knew what ColdWaves was and were automatically in the second they approached us, without question.
It seems to be generating a bit more of buzz within the youth. It’s definitely a smart move on their part to be pulling in up-and-coming acts to break the tension amongst the older blooded veterans. The lineup previous to this one saw a number of acts take off in their careers after having played the festival. It seems like the only direction you can go from there is forward. And anyone who has the ability to get a band back together to play a one-off show obviously has a decent amount of clout not to be reckoned with.
It’s refreshing to know that these guys are still paying attention, have their ears to the ground, and are honestly interested in what is going on right now. Other festivals continue to bring in the same washed out, tired acts each year and it feels like nostalgia regurgitating on itself. There will be new blood and it must be harvested for the masses to consume. Everyone is hungry, and all it takes is someone to administer the poison. We can longer remain fixated on the empty promises of a past that has already been forgotten.

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.


Human Traffic
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1 Comment

  1. […] of the band that I spoke to later in the evening, and I’ll sure as hell be picking that up. Re:Gen did a really interesting interview with them recently that sheds far more light on the band, […]

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