This week’s guest on The Void with Christina podcast is Aaron Spectre / Drumcorps, an American musician who creates unique electronic music that crackles furiously across the emotional, sonic and instrumental spectrum. As Aaron Spectre he is known for dancefloor destroying ragga jungle and breakcore. As Drumcorps, he’s built a bristling musical beast over several beloved records and countless tours that has expanded his sonic palette into grind, industrial, raw vocals, glitch and distorted guitars, performed live everywhere from raves to grindcore festivals around the world.
In 2015, Aaron sequestered himself in an underground Geneva bunker to record the savage and brilliant “Falling Forward,” a drastic step deeper for the Drumcorps sound. In this week’s 90 minute interview with Void host Christina Rowatt (listen below), we discuss his origins playing drums in Massachusetts hardcore bands, discovering and creating electronic music and DIY culture, living in Berlin, New York, Switzerland, art, evolution and the usual rumblings around the creative process you’ve come to expect.
Aaron also confirms many unheard Drumcorps songs from Falling Forward’s sunless sessions will see the light of day very soon. The long-awaited sequel is well underway and will include screaming and a sharp move away from sampling to 100% self-made sounds. Excerpts from the full podcast interview are below.
Christina: So, shouty songs. Tell me more. Are you doing black metal kind of things on the next Drumcorps album?
Aaron: It is funny, I just did a black metal tune the other day. It just came out of me, I have no idea why. That’s the first time I’ve done one of those. That will probably make its way onto the record. But the rest of it is kind of electronic, d-beat. I’m not doing any sampling anymore on this record, its all stuff I’ve generated. So it is kind of like a progression from Falling Forward into this other thing. If you listen to Falling Forward, half of it is this cut up, mash up stuff, which is sort of my old way – coming from jungle and production. This new [album] has no sampling whatsoever. Its the other half of Falling Forward, expanded. And then it got a little bit more dark. There’s no real sing-y stuff on there. I think this black metal thing I’ve done, I’m going to do some pretty vocals [laughs]. I’ve discovered that I have kind a pretty voice if I want to sing quiet, which is not really what I wanted.
Christina: It is a funny thing, with voice. You can develop it, with practice and good technique. But what you have is what you have. Everyone can’t be Mariah Carey. A lot of us don’t want to be. Its a really funny instrument. It is the opposite of cut and paste. When you’re a cut and paste artist, you can steal from everywhere. And with voice, you’ve got what you’ve got.
Aaron: Yes, and that was a big learning experience for me on the Falling Forward record. With me coming from a producer background, you want to think: ‘now I can make it like this!’ because you can do that with every other instrument. You can be like, this is a heavy bassline. This is going to be a distorted thing. You can’t do that with your voice. What you have is what you have. So you have to write around it. You have to write some music that is appropriate for the kind of voice you have, or you have to get someone else to do it, but you can’t just turn yourself into Lemmy [laughs]. Like it’s impossible. I’m sure the technology will deliver this at some point.
Christina: Maybe you’ll be able to do some black magic and conjure the spirit of Lemmy. That would be cool if you could get the undead on your record.
Aaron: Ideally. I’m working on a project like this right now.
Christina: What do you think is the meaning of life?
To be totally cheesy, its love. Thats what it is. For me. I’m an agnostic in that I don’t confirm or deny a God or meaning or anything. But for me, what I choose for myself is that and it gives it significance. I put it in my music. Doing music that you care about, and putting care into something. Having people appreciate it. That gives me meaning. And if that gives other people meaning, then I’m very happy.
Christina: How did Iggor Cavalera get involved in playing on your last record?
Aaron: Back in the time before I discovered any of this electronic stuff and I was playing drums, I was listening to Sepultura non-stop and playing drums along to the Arise album. I was trying to learn how to play double kick drums. I was into that for a long time. We were always listening to the Roots album on the way to these shows. Many years later, I was just on Twitter one day and someone tweeted at me: “Drumcorps rules” and it was Iggor Cavalera. I was like, what?! Then I responded and we started being in contact and became friends and he was awesome. They were playing a show in Geneva and I went to go meet them … I was super nervous. I went to meet him at the hotel and I discovered that he was totally nervous to meet me too and after two minutes we drop everything and it was jus awesome. We just got talking and it was great.
Christina: I did an interview with Iggor and Max when they came out here. He was just so excited about things. He was going to Africa to teach these young kids about percussion, which I thought was really great because so many of us just go to these places and take. I want to teach these kids how to play drums.
Aaron: It was awesome what they were able to do. A lot of his motivations for doing music in the first place. Its a lot of really deep reasons that he got into it and that is what drives him still.
Christina: What do you play live with? What’s your rig?
Aaron: For Drumcorps, I have a laptop, I have a bunch of midi controllers, I have a few pieces of analog synth gear and distortion pedals which I run feedback loops and noise through. I use a Gameboy, it’s awesome. Right now, I’m using this iPod that I’ve turned into a glitch generator and and I’m running all that through a whole lot of noisy things. And then, I have the regular guitar set up with a pedal board and some pedals and an amp.
Christina: You’ve just played at Bloodshed Festival. What’s it like, where is it?
Aaron: Its in Eindhoven in the Nertherlands. Its like a grind, crust punk / anarcho punk festival that is very veggie, vegan-oriented. It’s nice. I’m super happy to be playing there. But I’m the only electronic person, and I’m playing last in the night. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, I can’t decide [laughs]. But it is right after Catharsis and Tragedy, then me. Is this the worst time or the best time? Are people going to be leaving or hanging out. We’ll see … its going to be great fun though.
Christina: The last big Drumcorps release was [2015’s] “Falling Forward” record, a few years ago. Thats one of my favourite albums for a few reasons. It is interesting because its visceral and crazy but its also really balanced. Its like raw vocals and broken beats and sludgy hardcore and its sort of stitched together.
I’ve been listening to [Nine Inch Nails’] The Fragile a lot lately and that is kind of a cathedral like you look up at it, and you’re like whoa. I think its a fucking exceptional album but its very … angry. Its got a very specific vibe through it and “Falling Forward” feels like another kind of construction but its like a pirate ship or a castle with shit falling off it and kids jumping out the windows … I feel like “Falling Forward” has a more interesting emotional palette where it goes a bunch of places. Is that something you consciously sought to do?
Aaron: First of all, thank you. I’m glad you appreciate that album and were really listening. When making that and in making everything I do, there’s not really anything conscious that I’m doing. I’m really just doing what I’m feeling, and that has a lot to do with how I’m living, and what is happening in my life. I’m not really great at excluding my life from my work … if I’m noticing things, I’m going to put it in my work. A lot of it is reflecting things that were going on in my life during this time, I was also listening to The Fragile like crazy during this time. You know, when The Fragile came out I didn’t really like it so much. I was like, this is a bloated album, this is meandering and its so in this negative vibe that is even more extreme than The Downward Spiral, at that point it started to become a caricature of itself. But as I started listening to it more and more, I really started to love it a lot. I was listening to it every day on the way to the studio.
This is a crazy thing. I was living in Geneva, Switzerland and I had a studio in a bomb shelter underground, across the town. So every day I’d wake up, put my headphones on and I’d walk there, a good forty minute walk from where I was living … I’d just walk there listening to The Fragile all the way. I’d work all day, and then I’d leave and would usually get into hermit mode where I didn’t want to see any people.. It was an unused bomb shelter. There was a law in Switzerland, that every building had to have a bomb shelter. So there ended up all these buildings with bomb shelters in the basement and they don’t know what to do with it. I’d go in there, say hey to everyone and go into this bomb shelter and I’d be in there all day … If you’ve ever been in a cave, you’ll know it will make you weird quickly [laughs].
Christina: But you were having a good time? [laughs]
Aaron: Oh yeah. It was a very creative time, and I did a lot. This album was also a very frustrating album for me. I had to learn a lot of new things. When you’re doing vocals, singing and songwriting, this is very, very different from the background I came from before this record which was essentially cut and paste electronic music, where you’re mashing things up, you’re a producer. That’s very different to being a songwriter, an incredibly different thing … Listening and absorbing something is very different from producing it. To understand all the things that are behind the production, and the conception of any of that – you’re just in awe.
Christina: Its so emotional as well, and you can’t hide from it.
Aaron: No you can’t hide from anyone. In production, you can hide forever. Electronic music … its not them, it isn’t about their emotions. They’re not ever telling you how they feel, they’re just in a concept. And that’s cool. That’s a different thing. And then if you’re in that world there is a lot of room to never make yourself emotionally available. You’re never talking about your deepest stuff.
Christina: Almost like you’re trying to get a physical reaction. I had a friend who said I don’t want anyone to have a cerebral experience, I just want them to be a physical reaction to my music, not emotional. Which is a very different experience to singing your own stuff.
Aaron: There can be an attitude in the scene that emotional is silly or that’s a thing that those people do, and like try and be above this and create an artistic thing. It’s a different idea, and I don’t necessarily believe in that idea, for what I’m doing. I respect that people do it, but that’s not what I want to do.
Christina: How did you get into electronic music?
Aaron: There was a crew in Boston doing jungle events. And they were doing raves, illegal raves, and sort of semi-legal stuff too. But they were doing it less as a hedonistic, drug-fuelled rave, they were doing it more from an art context. They were all art students, and they would do video projections and were really into mixing up genres and playing all sorts of different music and opening up people’s minds and doing free shows for all ages, because you can’t go to anything until you’re 21 in the United States.
I went to one of their parties at the Children’s Museum in Boston. They brought DJ’s in there and had all these different dancefloors on the different spaces. One of these spaces was the desktop of a giant. So they had a coffee mug that was five feet hall. You were dancing to jungle and jumping off this humongous eraser. The music was so good.
Christina: So did you start playing at these parties?
Aaron: I went there as a visitor, but I was a drummer. I heard jungle music and was like, “this is basically like a huge drum solo, forever.” And from that moment on, I started learning about it, and how to make it. I’d already been making stuff on my computer but from that moment on, I got into DJing, buying records and turntables and learned how to DJ. I was already in the electronic world when the band thing was happening. I just wasn’t sharing it. Then when I moved to New York City I got into the electronic stuff in a big way.
Host of The Void with Christina podcast Christina Rowatt also creates an interview-based YouTube channel featuring Australian and international rock artists and documentary-style features, with more than 100 episodes to date. Watch: youtube.com/thevoidwithchristina