May 2024 08

ReGen speaks with Don Gordon and James Mendez about their new collaborative project, driven by the need to create and address a world in disarray.
 

 

An InterView with Don Gordon and James Mendez of Data Void

By Guy Lecoq (GuyLecoq)

Don Gordon (NUMB, Halo_Gen) and James Mendez (Jihad, Trial By Fire) have long carved out their own respective niches in underground and dark electronic music, with Data Void marking their new collaborative project. March 2024 saw the release of the duo’s debut, Strategies of Dissent, and as they discuss here in this InterView with ReGen, the title is an appropriate summation of the pair’s outlook on the state of the world. Corporatism, capitalism, climate change, the proliferation of technology as a source of ease and entertainment rather than exploration, and more are at the heart of Data Void’s vision. The dystopian science fiction and the warnings of great literary figures of the past have become the grim realities that Data Void examines in its music, with the pair offering their own thoughts on possible solutions – strategies, if you will – for engaging these issues, dissenting against the disarray, and steering toward a brighter future, if only we would do so.

 

Can you tell me how Data Void came about? What prompted you to work together?

Mendez: Don and I originally met sometime back in 1996 in Austin, TX when NUMB was on tour with Front Line Assembly and Die Krupps. Fast forward to November 2018 when I was visiting Southeast Asia and met Don for dinner in Ho Chi Minh City where he was living at that time. Since then, we’ve stayed in contact, and in June 2020, I initiated the idea of collaborating on a song to see how things would progress. The first idea/song we wrote together was ‘Seven Seconds.’ I’ve always admired Don’s work spanning across several of his projects over three-plus decades and was genuinely curious (and interested) to see how our writing styles could work together. What initially started out as a collaboration on a song or two ended up turning into an entire album over approximately 2.5 years (not including the refinement of the songs and final mixes); thus, Strategies of Dissent was born.

Gordon: After completing the Mortal Geometry album, I was interested to do a collaboration project. Conversations that followed on from our meeting in Ho Chi Minh City revealed our contrasting approaches to writing music. This suggested that a collaboration would lead to interesting outcomes.

What was your creative process for this album? How did you manage to find the right balance between all your musical influences?

Gordon: The first couple of songs we worked on together were more exploratory as we got to understand each other’s preferences and writing process. From these, a sense of the Data Void sound began to emerge.

Mendez: The songwriting process was comprised of one of us sharing an initial idea that included a minimal set of tracks to work with. Those tracks consisted of various textures, bass lines, strings, percussion, etc. And because we both use different music software (DAWs), we would share midi files, stems, virtual instrument patches (we own several of the same virtual instruments), and eventually vocals in *.wav format, along with technical notes that support how we were to organize everything respectively, so we both operated from the same song layout on both sides.

Gordon: Ultimately, each song defines its balance. You know intuitively when something is working and not to mess with it anymore.

Mendez: As far as us finding the right balance between our musical influences, there were no preconceived ideas as we just initiated/shared concepts to begin with and organically wrote, structured, and adapted to each other’s writing style to where we eventually had a complete song. It’s been a really long time since I’ve collaborated with anyone and was pleasantly surprised how well we worked together throughout the entire writing process.

Can you tell me more about your work with SHOKMACHINE and Junior Guedes (kFactor), respectively for the videos of ‘Nothing Changes’ and ‘So Alien?’ How did you work with them in order to bring your vision to life?

Mendez: I am friends with both Craig and Junior, and also a fan of their work (both musically, and video related), so it made total sense to approach them about the possibility of creating videos for Data Void.

Gordon: Craig has a well-defined visual aesthetic, so we presented him with the themes being explored in the song and a general sense of what we would like to see. There were some iterative stages in development, but these were primarily around technical/visual considerations rather than thematic.
The process with Junior was somewhat different. Rather than working from a defined thematic base, he took a more interpretive, impressionistic response to the music, which resulted in a unique interpretation, one that creates an interesting tension between the visuals and the lyrics. Echoes of Hieronymus Bosch run though through the filter of a psychotic AI.

 

 

You mention J.G. Ballard, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley to evoke certain themes on your album. In your opinion, how can science fiction or anticipation literature in general help us to understand the world we live in today?

Gordon: For me, science fiction tends to fall into two broad categories – one that challenges the reader with ideas and concepts to re-evaluate their current/future situation, and the second that focuses more on setting predictable story arcs within a backdrop of ‘futuristic’ spectacle. Given its primary focus on the visual, science fiction in cinema more often than not tends to focus on spectacle rather than ideas.
As a genre, science fiction provides ways in which to explore possible outcomes resulting from technologies and social structures being pushed to an extreme. It is not intended to be a definitive statement on what will be, but instead presents the reader with possibilities they may not have considered… a ‘what if.’ Unfortunately, there is a tendency (in the media) to reference certain science fiction works as though they provided a definitive blueprint for an inevitable outcome. I think this misses the point.
With the social and political instability of the last decade, you often see Orwell being used as a signifier to warn about the perils of social/political control brought about by governmental coercion. While this certainly aligns to the current situation in some countries today, I’d argue it is an oversimplification in the case of North America and Europe.
There is no question that Orwell’s ideas of rewriting history maps nicely onto ‘alt. facts,’ and his ‘forever conflicts against an ever-shifting external other’ resonates with our more recent history. But it is in the mechanism of control that I feel the comparison falls down. Power is no longer centralized as it was in Orwell’s vision; instead, it is now distributed across multiple nodes… government, international corporate/financial and media entities… each with their own independent and often competing goals.
Consumerism, entertainment culture, the commodification of pretty much everything, and a willingness for individuals to voluntarily surrender control have proven to be a more useful approach than threat of coercion. The creation of a permanent state of desire and dissatisfaction, distraction, seduction, trivialization, the illusion of choice help sustain this. These more insidious and subtle mechanisms of control have been picked up by a number of other authors. Ballard’s stories often operate at a more individual level as they explore social, moral, and ethical dimensions. Philip K. Dick, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Issac Asimov, and others, while less explicitly dystopian in nature, engage with the implications of societies organized around entertainment, where celebrity and being an entertainer are seen as valid qualifications for senior leadership roles, where technological optimization rather than human factors shape society, the implications of AI, etc. All of which resonate in the present day.

Your lyrics show that we are more than ever overwhelmed by social interactions, beliefs and disinformation. What impact do you think this has on our choices, our actions and our individual and collective freedoms?

Mendez: This is going to be dependent upon each individual in how they interpret such (dis)information, beliefs, and social interactions. There is definitely a lot – too much at times – going on in all areas mentioned, and comes down to each of us consciously deciding how to understand, process, and ultimately allow it to affect us or not in various aspects of our lives. The level of impact can also be determined, in my opinion, in how we choose to consciously respond or not.

Gordon: There is an irony that in a time when we appear to have more access to information and opportunities than we have ever had, we seem paralyzed. But it’s not that we really have more choice; it’s the illusion of choice and control though fragmentation, a lack of an overview and guiding principles, and an absolutism as every decision is seen as a zero-sum game that defines our identities. Making no choice becomes easier than possibly making the wrong choice. While there has always been disinformation, the scope, ubiquity, and blatant disconnect from any reality amplifies this paralysis.
The song ‘Nothing Changes’ is very much focused on this dynamic and its consequences.

How have modern technologies and capitalist corporations come to control our societies, and how do you think we can protect ourselves against them?

Gordon: Society relies on an underlying social contract based on commonly agreed values in order to function, and diversity of ideas and plurality of cultures that allow for its evolution over time. In contrast, you have technological and capitalist systems whose goals and optimal manner of functioning do not align well with the values that support a vibrant society. So immediately, we have the potential of conflicting agendas.
Technology, commodification, and mass consumerism seduce through the illusion of choice and the myth that you have agency. The promotion of desire, which can never actually be met, creates an endless feedback loop of consumption and dissatisfaction. Changes in how we consume information – the shift to the visual, short-form engagement, a focus on entertainment over meaning, opinion over informed discussion, ‘alt. facts’ instead of evidence-based information – has impacted how we learn and know and overwhelm us with a decontextualized fragmentary view of our world. And while much of this disruption has been collateral damage resulting from the optimization of these systems, recently things have taken a darker turn through the exploitation of this disruption. And in order to anticipate and annul dissent, the system appropriates any and all outlier ideas into the mainstream, resulting in what was once perceived as transgression or revolutionary becoming quickly normalized. Ultimately, nothing is new, nothing is dangerous, leaving you with the desire and the myth of effective altruism.
I think that recently, people have come to question and understand the amount of control they have given up in the Faustian deal that has driven technological and consumerist expansion, and are starting to push back. However, control once taken will not be relinquished easily, so it will take education, individual responsibility, and perseverance to turn things around.

Mendez: Modern technologies today allow us the ability to leverage many different platforms by way of disseminating information out to the public. Like anything, this can be used in both positive and negative ways. Unfortunately, there are many who are deliberate in how that information is spread, ranging from the average person to large corporations. As a way of controlling our societies, I think it ultimately comes down to corporations and/or entities with an agenda using their resources – i.e., money, power, influence, data: private, public, statistical, etc. – to sway/influence the masses in how they see fit. As far as protecting ourselves from it, that can be challenging given most technologies (the internet specifically) are so ingrained in what we use, and already gather a lot of information about us in ways we may or may not be aware of. Do you limit your internet access and/or how much information you choose to divulge? Do you consciously boycott certain products and services provided by the very capitalist corporations that control our societies? Not only as an individual, but everyone as a collective. Is that realistic?

 

 

What is your opinion on the perpetual cycle of war? What does it say about us as human beings, and how passive we are when confronted with it through the prism of information?

Gordon: I don’t feel that it is so much about passivity as much as it is indecision and inaction brought about by too much decontextualized information. Media in the attention economy are about the presentation of information as entertainment juxtaposed with the promotion of unattainable desire through advertising. Its purpose is not to inform or educate. Decontextualized snippets of information provide simplistic narratives with little context, no resolution, and promote a world view that is fragmentary and ever changing. With a focus on ‘headlines,’ we are told what non-local events to care about even though these have little direct influence and over which we have no control. Images from a perpetual cycle of war fit nicely into this media landscape in that they provide spectacle, narrative drama with ‘good guys and bad guys,’ while at the same time promoting a form of social cohesion through ‘us versus them.’ It’s not surprising that this mix of entertainment, commerce, and fragmented reality results in a form of incoherence and inaction.

Mendez: War has been going on for thousands of years, so if we are to learn anything from our past history, there will always be those in high-powered positions who want more money, power, and control in some form, despite how it may come across, that will never be satisfied. I suppose it’s human nature – the sense of entitlement, disregard to others, and selfishness, which can come in hidden forms, or even blatantly in some cases. I believe we’ll continue to see turmoil in all parts of the world, just as we always have. That’s not to say there aren’t good people in this world. It’s just not happening enough from those in high-powered positions that do have the ability to lead positive change.
As far as being passive, I don’t believe the majority of people advocate war. I also think it can be difficult to truly fathom the atrocities occurring in certain parts of the world at present because those who are not actively experiencing it are living comfortable lives in comparison, including myself. It doesn’t necessarily mean people don’t care… maybe there are some who don’t. That’s just my opinion.

 

 

You describe Strategies of Dissent as ‘a soundtrack for the dispossessed.’ What could we do individually or collectively to take back control of our lives and make a positive impact on them?

Gordon: Changes that have taken place over the last few decades have created a general sense of frustration. For most people, the future they were promised has not been delivered, and their ability to control change has been undermined. They/we have become the ‘dispossessed.’ Some see this as a grand conspiracy, but I don’t agree. I see it as the inevitable outcome of individual agendas being pursued by institutions and individuals with too much power, resulting in large scale social incoherence, which has benefited the few.
The methods and systems through which control has been lost are obvious. To turn it around requires acknowledgement of these and how our own actions have allowed this. Taking back control starts with individual action, engagement, education, and holding accountable those institutions and individuals who have abused their positions. Society is not something that just happens; it is dynamic and requires actual participation. If you don’t get involved, then others will exploit the gap that you leave. However, the longer this persists, the more entrenched these systems will become and the harder it will be to turn things around.

Mendez: I don’t believe there is a straightforward answer here because everyone interprets things differently, also having different perspectives and priorities. Change can be difficult and requires sacrifices in some cases, especially when everyone is deliberately involved focusing on ‘the greater good.’ Can people collectively make a difference? Absolutely. We’ve seen it throughout history, but that requires the majority to act, think (both as an individual and collectively), and work together to bring about positive change, both personally and societally.

Gordon: The goal for Strategies of Dissent was to develop a collection of dynamic electronic music that was also thematically engaging. I think that the album delivers on both of these.

 

Data Void / Collapsing Silence
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Metropolis Records
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram

 

Photos provided courtesy of Data Void and Metropolis Records

 

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