The Fyre Of London: An Interview With Busdriver
, March 10th, 2015 15:39
The Los Angeles rapper and Project Blowed veteran talks to Calum Bradbury-Sparvell about his recent album Perfect Hair, working with his Hellfyre Club label and why hip-hop is folk music
It is 5.50pm on a Monday in Dalston’s Birthdays and I am in the company of Regan Farquhar, the rapper known as Busdriver. The 37-year old, his hair recently cropped short, is cooped up in a narrow tube-carriage of a room, windowless and with its walls painted entirely black. He greets me warmly if a tad absently, eyes on his smartphone, and humours me as I small-talk about the weather, the gentrification of Dalston and Jammie Dodgers, a packet of which he kindly proffers from his rider.
The Project Blowed vet and creative director of ascendant L.A. rap crew/record label Hellfyre Club is always pensive – an incessant brooder, he says, to the point that he barely even features in Chewing, the latter’s recent documentary. His eighth solo LP, last year’s Perfect Hair, is a feverish exploration of Social Darwinism. However, even with this in mind he seems particularly abstracted when we meet. He tells me that the European tour has been an odd one, deracinating. A tweet posted earlier in the day has him wondering aloud whether he is exploring London or being probed by it. He explains to me, apropos of nothing, that he has made a pig’s ear of his relationship with his partner today. An article published by OnMilwaukee.com a week later will make it public knowledge that milo, the youngest of Hellfyre’s quadrumvirate (completed by Nocando and Open Mike Eagle), has chosen to migrate back to Wisconsin reportedly underpaid, ignored and disillusioned by the financial arm of the label.
After 2014, Hellfyre appeared to be full-steam ahead: all four frontmen had released new LPs to critical acclaim and frequently cited each other as friends and inspirations; they toured the USA as a unit and Chewing was made to document the jubilation of the time; Jill Scott revealed she was a milo fan and collaborated with him; Open Mike Eagle launched a new podcast, Secret Skin, and his Dark Comedy made numerous AOTY lists. A more ambitious journalist might have used this interview to tease out a ‘trouble in paradise’ narrative. Yet when given the opportunity to discuss topics as diverse as Gasper Noé, terrorism, Danny Brown as a children’s author, hip hop history and the corporate co-option of independent music, Farquhar snaps out of his abstraction and reveals himself as a keen observer and analyst of the public sphere and all its politicking. We talk for nearly an hour and as I get up to leave he says, "That was an amazing interview – I haven’t done an interview that well by an English-speaker in a long time. Thank-you for caring, man, seriously.”
I watched your Amoeba Records What’s In My Bag? video recently in which you tried and failed to interest your daughter in anything other than the Jonas Brothers. Have you managed to diversify her music taste yet?
Regan Farquhar: Oh yeah she fucks with Sky Ferreira right now, so I think that’s levelling up but, y’know, my daughter likes pop! Sky is dope. I’m a [Argentine director] Gasper Noé fan and I’m surprised [he] took that shot of her for the cover [of her 2013 LP Night Time, My Time]. Gasper Noé is a frightening dude; when I saw Irréversible in Los Angeles – I don’t know if you’re familiar with that film but the opening scene is jarring – I watched everyone in the theatre leave, as this horrific opening scene played out. I stood there and I felt genuine trauma as if I saw something genuinely traumatic but I stayed through it. So that’s how I relate to her sensibility, through my art film exploits.
You don’t often get that with films, people leaving because they’re terrified.
RF: I miss that. I miss seeing art that scares the fuck out of people. Not that I’m a romantic when it comes to art, but it is important when someone’s natural inclination is to express something that’s completely jarring to someone else. It shows us how our society is divided – pockets of people develop independently and that’s why art’s important, I think.
Are we desensitized to shocking things?
RF: No, shocking things are used to control us. I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest ISIS video…
I try to keep away from them, really.
RF: Yeah I try to too, but I don’t because it’s important to understand what propaganda looks like and the production value of propaganda. The production value of the videos now leads me to question a lot of shit. It’s good to see it, it’s good to know. You guys [in London] are right here in the fucking element. It is very shocking. But I just try to take away all the infrastructure, because it’s just people.
So that’s terror ticked off the list.
Welcome back to London – what have you been visiting and seeing today?
RF: I’ve been stifled – I brought the love of my life with me and I’ve managed to ruin our relationship in a day’s time, but it’s great to be in London experiencing that because it gives every step an emotional weight that wouldn’t otherwise be there. So no, I haven’t seen much, I’ve just been puttering around this area, trying to identify with the people, trying to find a trench coat to buy, trying to find some dress shoes to wear, and that’s about it.
You’re on Big Dada, home of some of the UK’s finest hip hop talent – Wiley, Roots Manuva, Young Fathers, Speech Debelle, Kate Tempest – do you think Brits approach rap differently as listeners and creators?
RF: I don’t know, I haven’t worked with a British person in the city. I really don’t know.
What about the crowds?
RF: In Europe there’s different responses. I played a show in Bristol the night before last and it was phenomenal as far as my experience. I appreciate the crowds and them being able to go along with me because there’s a lot of language in what I do and a lot of humour and ill-advised references. A lot of language that, as rap moves on, becomes increasingly uncommon. Even as people do interesting shit, people don’t write how I used to write and I don’t think that’s a strength, I think it’s a lived-out conceit of mine that hopefully will have some relevance down the road, but right now it’s an albatross.
You sound pretty pessimistic today.
RF: This is how I sound every day. It’s who I am. It’s not to be pessimistic, it’s just we live in a market-driven world. You say I’m on Big Dada, I’m on Ninja Tune – being signed to a label, how can you not be aware?
You’re playing with iglooghost tonight who produces a significant portion of milo’s music, and Open Mike Eagle made an entire album with Awkward. Why have nerdy British beat-makers become so important to Hellfyre Club?
RF: That’s really well-put. iglooghost is a brilliant kid. milo had worked with him on his debut A Toothpaste Suburb, which is a brilliant record. His ingenuity… I reached out to iglooghost just because of that, and because I’ve worked on a record that he’s going to put out soon. I think he’s just a wild talent and I think it’s almost criminal he’s not more well-known because he’s the complete package – he has an artistic aesthetic that’s irrefutably great, he makes music videos, he knows how to rap, he makes beats that are unbelievable… he’s a ninja. In ten years it’s going to be over. I know that, so he’s here so that I can get to meet him, hang out with him, see him before that happens. He has a partner in the states – Greyhat. Those are my guys that milo introduced me to who I like to work with.
You put out Perfect Hair in September – the Big Dada press release described it as the rap Gravity's Rainbow while The Needle Drop said it was hip hop’s answer to Captain Beefheart. Were you setting out to create something confusing?
RF: No, and that’s the problem. I just made a rap record and I used the label to try and pare it down to the most accessible ten-song unit it could be. It is what it was. I don’t think it was that confusing of a record for a Busdriver record but, once again, there’s a lot of language.
More with this record than my last record I wanted to use L.A. because on the last record I had a Belgian producer produce the entire thing. We did something really particular, lived-in. My experience with Hellfyre Club and how I did Flash Bang Grenada with Nocando, I wanted to use that technique and just apply it to a Busdriver record. All the beat makers on there I like a lot, I’ve liked for years, I know. Like Mono/Poly, I’m invested in Mono/Poly – he’s a phenomenal producer, an underappreciated talent. He helped make a lot of amazing Thundercat songs in recent memory.
Jeremiah Jae, too.
RF: Jeremiah Jae, who used to be my neighbour for like a year and a half. Me and him have done a lot of stuff that hasn’t come out but to me, just like iglooghost, he’s like a self-contained nexus of creative energy, so any time I get to do stuff with him it’s always a pleasure. Him and Great Dane and other people from L.A. I did a lot of my own production in the spirit of that. It’s just a real hometown album. So if it’s confusing it is what it is.
Returning to the Pynchon and Beefheart comparisons, milo has complained in the past about people calling him the 'Bob Dylan of hip hop' or 'Robin Pecknold if he rapped' etc. Is this sort of commentary similar? Is your work being framed by comparisons to white artists?
RF: Well, there’s a lot of hesitance in emphasising race when you’re aware of the audience and if your audience is painfully white for an extended amount of time you find yourself editing yourself. Since Perfect Hair I’ve tried to divorce myself from that and I’ve tried to use my work with Hellfyre Club to escape that a little bit. I appreciate any accolade but it is coded, so it’s a little bothersome.
Are they saying rappers can’t be weird?
RF: Yes, they’re saying that n**s can’t think. Period. That is exactly what everyone is saying. And that’s fine because that is the status quo. And there’s reasons why that’s so. But y’know, our brand of intellectualism may be kow-towing to a certain pool and maybe that’s our fault, so I always take responsibility and there’s always improvements to be made.
Do you think Hellfyre Club serves as a gateway for newcomers to hip hop who didn’t realise that it could be weird?
RF: Well I don’t think so because Hellfyre Club as a whole is more broad and less nurturing to the milo-Busdriver base and the Mike Eagle base, especially the stuff we’re going to be doing later. In that [way], it’s more honest because people have a hard time understanding that I’m from a very black crew of gang-bangers and drug-dealers. Seriously, everyone in my crew sold, all throughout my first two or three albums – it was par for the course. The violence, people would be getting into fights, there’d be shootings… but that’s what people did. I lived in Los Angeles. And what people don’t understand is that this brand of intellectualism goes right alongside that, right alongside. I’m in the cypher doing the same shit with gangsters, with whoever. That cultural stigma is there but it’s different in rap, rap is the playing field where all that exists.
You worked with Danny Brown on ‘Ego Death’ and he’s recently announced his intention to write a children’s book to improve black girls’ self-esteem. The music media has treated this as an amusing departure for him, because he raps about sex and drugs. Is that part of the same pigeon-holing process?
RF: Well I like that people give themselves so much credit. People make comments about that shit as if there isn’t an inherent, rigid identity imposed on these black artists. It’s ridiculous you don’t think that a black artist can write a children’s book but I think the exact same thing. “Oh Danny Brown’s making a children’s book? Pfft, that’s crazy!” even though I know him and I know that that makes sense. Dealing with his act like “ohhhh” – that’s entertaining, but for me in the long run is so problematic. But it’s also the reason why rap works. The reason why Yung Lean blew up is because of identity things – you don’t think that white boys can do shit like that. That’s a part of marketing. We can deal with it on a marketing standpoint like, “Yeah! That’s crazy!” but we can deal with it on a real person standpoint and be like, “Yeah, it makes sense”. They made these choices because identity plays out like this in the public and that’s what makes sense. Danny Brown is like me – he’s probably about my age, we’re doing the same shit, came up rapping, and he’s from the D [Detroit] – deep in the D, like broke as fuck! When [his 2010 debut LP] The Hybrid came out I was like, “Who is this broke-ass Detroit rapper murdering it?” To me he would have been a Def Jukie [signed to Definitive Jux] had he went to New York and El-[P] had picked him up.
He’s so incredibly talented and people think of him as a rapper to get pumped-up to...
RF: But he did that on purpose! He does those turn-up songs because he does them well and it’s what the people want. His income is like, festival! Festival! Festival! Feature! Festival! That’s what it is, and thank god he did that. I think that’s dope – I hope more artists do that.
An NYC data scientist made an infographic last year which ranked rappers by the ‘size’ of their vocabularies. Aesop Rock was apparently first by a long way. What are your feelings about appraising rappers’ use of language? You get called hyper-literate a lot yourself and you’ve spoken recently about rap as ‘low-brow’ music.
RF: It’s folk music! Rappers should be graded on emotional intelligence and I’d put Scarface above Aesop Rock, but Aesop Rock is right up there. He’s dealing with a lot of feelings. My problem with rap is that its nuanced, writing, shit like that that people spend a lot of time doing isn’t factored in. There’s a whole type of writing in rap that is mired in metaphor and double meaning and multi-part rhyme schemes. To me it’s convoluted beyond measure what you can do with it. You can do “I’m in love with the coco” or you can do an Aesop Rock song and I love all that shit! That’s the chasm. When people say shit like that, it’s funny, but it’s some fucking ethnocentric, academic, fucking polarising, race-baiting bullshit. But nonetheless, I appreciate saying anything about rap so that’s cool.
Have you always been that sure that all rap is valid or…
RF: Yes! That’s how I was raised. I’m from the [Project] Blowed. In the Blowed, everyone existed. G’s, nerds… not nerds but expansive thinkers, collide and they interact. That’s how the styles came about, that’s how you get the [Freestyle] Fellowship and Chillin Villain Empire, it’s from that collision of the allowance to let yourself explore but to know where you are and be grounded in it by economic situations and by other shit. Just being grounded in it but reaching for more – that’s what rap’s about. But you have to let people express that regionally, and see where that takes them.
Rather than Pynchon or Beefheart then is there a tradition or canon in which you feel rooted, whether hip hop as a whole or something more specific?
RF: Hip hop relates to jazz, it relates to be-bop, it relates to the blues man, and it’s in accord with that. I go on stage with a drum machine and a mic and that’s my guitar, that’s a folk set-up. Using media as an instrument is the most Dadaist and fascinating thing for people to do. Imagine that: we have nothing, we have no instruments, we have no education, we have nothing. We need to make music – what do we have? Media! Records! Spin them. That sounds good – do it again! Talk some shit! Okay… wada wada wada wah, music! Imagine that, imagine the inventiveness of the people, of the blacks in the UK, in the States, everywhere else where there’s music that relates to rap it’s from a need to express when there’s nothing there. You can’t downplay how phenomenal that is.
RF: It is! And that’s where techno comes from – you can’t deny that. It’s fascinating. So when people are like, “Ohhh rappers are dumb” it’s like “of course they’re dumb. They came from nothing.”
You gave Mick Jenkins’ The Water[s] a glowing review on The Talkhouse last year…
RF: Oh shit you read that?!
Yes I did. In your opinion, how is his vision of black self-enlightenment different from Kendrick Lamar’s controversial comments on black self-respect?
RF: I don’t know, that was a weird thing that Kendrick said. It’s fine. It’s just a very conservative, church-going point of view. And Mick Jenkins makes great music. He’s a great MC. I like his message of emphasising water and the need for renewal and respecting women in a bizarre way. Saying like “I don’t need your bitch, and I’m not trying to intoxicate her – she gets ginger ale, she doesn’t get any alcohol.”
He brings up ginger ale a lot!
RF: Yeah! Water, ginger ale, ginger ale for your hoes. It’s amazing! And that’s fine, but what’s really important is the fact that he’s an amazing artist, he’s an incredible artist, but his message is fascinating too. He has a really strong image, a sense of self as far as a black man and that’s hard to do.
Is there any scope for collabs between Hellfyre and Mick Jenkins?
RF: There’s desire and plans and there’s what’s going to actually happen. I did the review in order to do a song with Mick Jenkins. I’ve been trying to play with Kevin Gates for like a year. Not going to happen! We’re just not that savvy, but we definitely want it. I’m a big fan of [Chicago rap collective] SaveMoney and a lot of things that happen in Chicago, period.
You’ve worked with the Das Racist guys a fair bit in the past, and like them you don’t shy away from mocking pop culture and the music business while wallowing in both – do you see yourself as a satirist? Is Perfect Hair a satirical album?
RF: Nah it’s not, but there’s a satirical thread in a lot of what I do, definitely, a lot of humour. I think there’s a lot of humour in rap and depending on who you are it can be addressed or not. I think Kanye West is hilarious and he thinks he’s hilarious too but I think because of who he is people don’t see the self-effacing, the self-deprecation in his work, or the wink – they think it’s all egoism and he’s blinded by egoism when his egoism is his greatest tool. Especially in the recent interviews where he explicitly talks about manipulating the public. He’s like “well I did the thing at the Grammys, do woop do woo.” He’s a brilliant guy – he’s a millionaire like everyone else, who has strategised his ascent. I love how he uses humour, I love how Lil Wayne uses humour – I think people like that use humour in a similar way to Kool A.D. and myself but it’s viewed as different by the audiences.
What about Serengeti’s satirical persona Kenny Dennis? Is Busdriver the equivalent for Regan?
RF: Busdriver’s just what I do with rap. [Busdriver and Regan] are probably a little bit different but not really. Serengeti’s a whole other story. He’s a brilliant writer – he invented Kenny Dennis. Kenny Dennis is a complete invention, outside of Serengeti, outside of himself, and it’s more than just a rap thing – he has a whole film, a whole thing, an aesthetic. Rap is more an expression or outlet for that character.
How political is Perfect Hair? ‘Eat The Rich’ feels almost like a mockery of radical politics and you assert on ‘Colonize The Moon’ that you’re “not that leftist” and compare radicalism to an “ultraviolet lambast”.
RF: I’m playing a role. All my songs aren’t explained on that album and the concept isn’t either. Perfect Hair has to do with the idea of the perfect citizen, something that was drawn off of Eugene Fischer’s findings, the German eugenicist, of this perfect, ideal person that deserves the resources of the earth. Perfect Hair is tip-toing around that idea.
Are you saying that it’s bogus?
RF: I’m not saying that it’s bogus, I’m saying that it exists and that we all agree to it. There’s an ideal citizen and we aspire for it. In ‘Colonize The Moon’ I’m playing the person who has perfect hair and who has justification to colonize the moon because “this money ain’t made for saving children”. I just act like a rich prick and all the verses are redactions of things that I would have said to the public. It’s not really explained, it’s unclear because I wanted to do a second album, a Perfect Hair 2 where I delved into it more.
Is that still happening?
RF: I already did it but I don’t think it’s coming out because I don’t think anyone wants to put it out.
You could drop it like you did with Vidal Folder.
RF: I could but I don’t want to. Thank-you so much for even knowing about that!
If Perfect Hair is about the social Darwinism that you believe guides much of modern life, which groups are most at risk of losing out?
RF: I don’t know. Probably mostly everybody because everyone lies about how good they’re doing, so it’s really difficult to find a victor, rather than a loser. Everyone has different journeys, different pockets they fall into, but I think the message is muted and once again I think that may be me being aware of the audience and not wanting to polarise anybody.
You’ve talked before about the modern world’s obsession with image, a theme which seems to run through Perfect Hair – to what extent are you merely finding eloquent ways to express grumpy old man opinions?
RF: It has to do with systemic injustice more than anything. I don’t think it’s anything fantastically novel or anything – it’s the same shit I talk about on all of my records, but it’s broad and abstract.
Why are you still talking about it now?
RF: It’s one of the main tropes of rap – we talk about systemic injustice. That’s what black music is! A lot of the best black music I like’s about fighting systemic injustice, how to respond to it.
RF: Anything! Marvin Gaye, Public Enemy, Mick Jenkins, whatever! I think people take for granted what black people are. There’s a lost pack of people who don’t understand what’s happened to them. I think it’s important to talk about, even if it’s annoying. And Kendrick knows that, that’s why he put out the song “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice”, because he’s on it, he’s on that shit. That’s not even a big deal that people are doing that; that’s what rap is.
John Lurie’s cover art is strikingly abstract and imperfect – how did it come about? Who contacted who?
RF: It was my third or fourth option for the cover, and I showed the label and I was like “what do you think about this?” And I had some other options but they were like, “Yes!” I was like, “Alright! Let’s contact John.” They did it and they were very nice, let us use it for a reasonable agreement and I’m just honoured. I was a fan of his films in the ‘90s and I’m a fan of his career path and artists of that ilk, and yeah it’s dope.
I've heard that Hellfyre acts as a focus/support group for its members’ work - how important are Nocando, Open Mike Eagle, milo's etc opinions when you're producing art? Do you see them as better equipped to judge your work than music critics?
RF: We’re a tight-knit internal unit and we spend a lot of time working on stuff and seeing what everyone thinks. It’s very important – without Hellfyre Club, Perfect Hair would have been a different album, a different effort, definitely. It’s a very efficient way to bounce ideas off people and we try to keep each others’ goals in mind. It’s a very good support system creatively and otherwise. Me and milo and Open Mike Eagle work a lot together, and I work a lot with Nocando – his process is different.
Is it difficult to maintain the cohesion of Hellfyre given the pressures of rap as a business?
RF: We’re a mysterious force when we’re all together. I don’t know how successful of a venture it is but it is something I’m in awe of and commit a lot of time to.
2014 saw Hellfyre earn a heap of new fans – do you find that the younger, newer ones turn to milo more readily than Nocando, Open Mike Eagle or yourself?
RF: I hope so – I hope that if someone disagrees or doesn’t like someone they turn to another member and find it in them. I want everyone in Hellfyre Club to realise their vision a), and b) I want people who are interested in Hellfyre Club, once those visions are out there, to get the full range of experiences because we come from a very particular scene and attitude within the scene and we don’t really hang out with too many other people, it’s very contained. I think we’ll try to make that more apparent this year and if people fuck with that and see how multifaceted it is, that would be my goal.
Is everyone in Hellfyre achieving their aims at the moment?
RF: No, not at all.
RF: I don’t know. Just we don’t have time, we don’t have money all the time for everybody. It’s mainly just waiting. William Thedford [IV] or Kail he’s someone who I’ve been working with. We did this short run of things called Thuggy Thursdays, just to let him know that he still exists, but he’s been one of my favourite rappers in town for years. It’s shocking how much he has to give. I’m trying to get him out of where he is personally – it’s just hard. Also Nietzsche Cortez or Rheteric [Ramirez], I’ve done songs with him for his new thing that are like, unbelievably good and as months roll along I realise “we should have put this out a while ago”. He has a whole world to present to everybody and it’s chilling how complete it is and how good he is and how universal his appeal is as far as a creative entity. Those members who are more dormant and inactive, they kind of give me faith in the thing as a whole, because there can be errors to this shit.
Are they dormant because Hellfyre has to be business savvy and focus its resources on a few of its members at a time?
RF: No, not always. With some pieces, but not really. People just take their time, do what they have to do. There’s a lot of people making a lot of music.
And it’s art for art’s sake, so there’s no time-stamp on that?
RF: Some of it’s for art’s sake… I don’t know what a lot of it’s for. I don’t know.
Tell us about Chewing, Hellfyre’s new documentary. Do you have any plans to screen it in the UK or stream it online?
RF: Oh my god I’d love to do it – I’m trying to work a deal out so that everyone can see it properly but it’s a really embarrassing film. I hope that it’s unique because I hope that there’s some value to how embarrassing it is but it’s a really particular time during the Dorner vs. Tookie tour when our spirits were high, our mood was just conflated with all this… we were just so self-congratulatory, delirious and euphoric off of the spoils of our work that it produces a really particular cute, adorable vibe and there’s a certain irreverence to it that I don’t think we could revisit, ever. So for me it’s really particular, especially because I was really mad the whole tour – I don’t say anything hardly so I’m kind of disappointed in that but it’s interesting.
You were the brooding one in the background.
RF: I’m brooding all the time. It’s awful! But yeah, I hope to make it available. I showed it because I needed to inspire the members and do some other things. It’ll manifest one day. The filmmaker with us [WC Tank], it was kind of his idea to do it and we just said go for it and we just went with the momentum. There’s not really a plot and it was just make a thing and see what we can do with it.
You had a guest verse on milo and Safari Al’s (Boyle) And Piles EP recently and I’ve never heard you sound so relaxed on a mic – even the slower songs that you’ve done tend to feel a bit tense or impatient. Will the next Busdriver album be calmer than the rest of your back catalogue?
RF: I have about 30 songs and they’re all frenetic and not like that but I also have a lot of songs that are subdued. To me Perfect Hair was a suggestion of how I feel about music and rapping and how that works and I think I’ve realised that in private. Now it’s time to dial in a little bit more and use some uncomfortably intimate language. I don’t know what’s next but I do know that there’s been a vast improvement. I tend not to ask producers for too much if I can’t give them a lot of money or give a lot of promise and I’ve let that inkling go, especially with Los Angeles beat makers because I feel like I owe it to them to try to make something worthwhile.
You dropped Vidal Folder, a continuous stream of beats and production ideas, recently – were you just clearing out the cupboards or was there more behind it than that?
RF: It’s kind of a track-dump, but I have a lot of beats that I was planning to make songs to that I felt had reached their point of being completely useful and rather than holding onto them or putting them on the drive I just wanted to put them out without any real plan and just see how that looked and see if anyone responded. This year I’ve read a lot of Aphex Twin interviews and I like that process. He’s a millionaire or a thousand-aire… I don’t know how much money he has but, a lot, so there’s a certain allowance in that, but there’s a lot of agency in not having that success but still doing that. Right now I’m amassing a body of work and I don’t have any release intentions for any of it. At my point in my career and how I feel about rap, I like that way more than being on a record cycle. I like making stuff without a definite end, without a constrictive narrative, because I’ve been so bad at doing that that I feel like I’ve abandoned it completely – there could be something there. Either abandon it completely or embrace it wholeheartedly. Those are my choices.
Would you ever make a proper instrumental album, as Driver?
RF: I just put it under Driver because it’s an abbreviation of my name and it’s an abbreviation of my talents making beats, because I don’t think I’m a good beat maker, but I do it because it’s the language of my folks. I think it’s really conceited – putting out Vidal Folder was me exercising a conceit. I don’t like a lot of those beats but I’ve made them and I appreciate them at certain times. I would do an instrumental album but I couldn’t do it now – I’d have to build up to it.
You and milo are going to be on the new Prefuse 73 record…
RF: He’s a really important producer who’s been kind of forgotten. It’s funny because [UK electronic record label] Warp is one of my favourite record labels in the world, like Def Jam, but there’s a couple of friends I have whose influence resonated but didn’t quite turn into much like Antipop Consortium, Prefuse… those people are like innovators to me. You can’t have a [Flying] Lotus without Prefuse, you can’t have Hudson Mohawke without Prefuse. He was the precursor, along with [J] Dilla and people of that nature. I appreciate him because he’s from that time where I know what he did – he gave people the bug. People used to freak out about Prefuse’s shit, like freak the fuck out. “How do you do that?! Ohhh!” No one knew how to do it, they had no idea. Prefuse calls me up like, “let’s do it”, and milo was there. I hope people like the song. I don’t know what it sounds like but I hope people like it.
Before I go, is there anything else you’d like to talk about? Feel free to have a rant about something.
RF: Oh tight! Thank-you man. I think that a lot of people who do music earn the gravity of their creative gifts from politics and I appreciate that in one regard because it allows me to just appreciate the music without listening to an agenda and I like that, but then on the other side I think there’s a lot of potential for coercion and co-opting of aesthetics by the many moneyed priorities who now fund these independent music happenings. I just hope that people are aware of that, especially beat makers who don’t need to have a voice and don’t need to express how they feel.
Regardless of music, I’m just talking about power structures here. We are not powerful – we are not powerful! When people with money who are powerful come and co-opt you, it’s good to be aware and I hope that people are aware as these sub-pockets of music… FKA Twigs is a megastar here and to me that’s crazy. That’s some shit that we used to play two years ago and it’s amazing but music like that… she has an image, an idea about sexuality but nonetheless she can still be co-opted. She did that Google Glass video which is beautiful – I’m glad they gave her money to do that – but someone else with less integrity could do something else. It’s not particular to this era but I hope that people are aware of what they’re doing and they don’t let anyone put their music in an ugly situation.
Where do Death Grips fit into this picture?
RF: What can you say about a group like Death Grips? I don’t really think I’m a culture critic. I’m a fan – as a fan, Death Grips is a breath of fresh air! I used to do shows with Hella and see Zach Hill occasionally in L.A. and to know that he was going to do that, I would’ve hugged him! Death Grips is a brilliant idea. They make great records, great records – what can you complain about? In this music economy they’ve made a shitload of albums, got a record deal, lost it, broke up, still doing shit… you can’t fuck with it. Who cares about criticising it? You’ve got to watch it, and that’s what I like. Artists that you just have to watch, not critique.
Busdriver’s Perfect Hair is out now on Big Dada and Vidal Folder is available from busdriverse.com