Interview: Jordan Davis of Relic on Sex, Cyberpunk and Chaos Magic
Oliver Heath has a conversation with Jordan Davis from industrial cyberpunk band, Relic:
Hi Jordan, thanks for letting us crash with you while Amelia [Aresnic] was on tour. I really love your new album, Pulse Code Misery, it’s been on constant rotation for me for a month. Glad I didn’t hear it before we came over or I might have been too fanboy to be chill. Can you intro your album to an audience that might not be as deep into industrial as those you’re used to? How do we pitch it?
My goal behind producing Pulse Code Misery was to create a diverse enough set of tracks that represent many of the tropes I love about industrial music. My introduction to the genre was like most people’s gateway into it: Nine Inch Nails. Trent’s pop sensibility and strong songwriting immediately grabbed my ears. At the time I was very into electronic music, mostly Drum’n’bass, Chillout, Triphop and the likes. When I first heard NIN was when I first heard creative sampling, melodies and rhythms that contained these tropes. The mood was esoteric yet futuristic in its approach, it hooked straight into my skin. Trent and Co. involved on the work in the 90’s was kind of a perfect time for this type of music to take shape. Technology in recording was just coming to computers, synthesisers were becoming cheaper and more convincing. That period of time greatly influenced my love for this genre in particular, and not only with NIN but other artists.
When I set out to make this record, I knew I wanted that 90’s dirt and visceral atmosphere as well as the song structures. The thing about industrial music that I love so much is the blurring of organic and electronic instruments. Industrial music contains no rules – anything is capable of being sampled and accepted by the listener. Industrial music is the genre of Collage in auditory form. Rather than your typical collection of drums, guitars, generic keys and uninteresting samples, its pallet is infinite in its approach. I think people are increasingly getting bored of the sterile, over-used cliches of modern EDM. They want to get back to the roots of dirty, grimy sounding tracks slamming through shitty speakers in a warehouse and I want to help create that culture again.
What’s you current favourite track? Do you ever catch yourself thinking – holy fuck, I made that – or are you too self critical?
I’ve been separating myself from listening to it in a studio or car environment and focusing on nailing these songs to play live, so in that context currently my favourite track would be Floating Point Error. The track itself isn’t really anything that special to me and was kind of rushed last minute into the album. I believe I made it like a day or two before the release actually… but the energy it has live just does it for me!
Most people that know me would say that my self-criticism is one of my largest faults. Sometimes I battle that notion in my head however. I believe that we live in a very saturated time of art like never before – so it’s extremely important for me to be this self-critical. I would say its part of the creative process itself. The self-loathing can shift daily from “man, this track is garbage” to “wow, I fucking nailed this”. I’m bi-polar when it comes to viewing my own work, which I’ve come to terms with that I can utilise this duality beneficially if I can understand it properly.
I’ve noticed quite a few references to Lucifer? How literal are they? Are they metaphorical like TST, or a magical (kinda) imaginary like Chaos Magic, or some kind of mess in-between?
During the time of wrapping up this album I had done a lot of reading into Luciferianism. There’s this popular conspiracy that the elite worship Lucifer (Saturn) and I found that intriguing whether it be true or not (or somewhere in between). My research lead me to the many belief systems that have their own interpretation of Lucifer, such as The Process Church of The Final Judgement or the German magical order of Fraternitas Saturni. Lucifer’s characteristics is that of worshipping enlightenment, and focusing on the life we are living now on the material plane rather than the “what if” of an after life. The advancement of humanity through science and art is a key trait of Lucifer and is regarded as one of the most important things. Those that invoke the idea of Lucifer are worshipping one’s inner true potential self and serving the idea of freedom to all to pursue one’s will. In a way I found myself identifying a lot of personal traits with the occultism behind him as an entity and decided to manifest it through my art as an experiment.
When it comes to the occult, I usually study and practice it with a very pragmatic approach. A lot of people get lost the romanticism (which is part of the trick), and don’t actually get the hidden truths within studying it. The system of understanding the occult that I most identify with is Chaos Magick. The whole world operates on “some kind of mess in-between”. The thing I love about the philosophy behind Chaos Magick is the ability and freedom to create your own religion and perceptions free of anyone else’s dogmas or bondage of interpretation of reality. If I feel so inclined, I could become enlightened by reading the back of a milk carton!
The sigil on the cover is a variation of one of Crowley’s classics. Are you a wizard? Is the album a spell?
The unicursal hexagram is one of my favourite designs to represent the micro and macro aspect of the universe. Crowley is also one of my favourites, not only in just his writing but his personality, humour, and intellectual vigour. The man led an immensely interesting life and really helped shape modern understanding of the occult and magic. My idea behind the design was to give it a cyberpunk feel. I always thought that circuit board schematics looked like one giant mess of sigils, so the concept had always been floating in my head. It is interesting you ask if it is a spell – because a lot of the process involved ritualistically charging both the visuals and sounds themselves in some way. The design on the back of the CD was a collaboration of a sigil between me and Dan [Dickershied – bandmate]. It has a very specific intent that we choose not to reveal at this time. 😉 The sigil was actually mirrored upon itself, so that the intent also has a reverse meaning that was aimed to create a feedback loop and effect us–not only the listeners.
Is your track Give It All about oral sex, or another kind of magic?
When I set out to write the lyrics for Give It All, I first recorded the main hook of the chorus. It wasn’t something I was consciously thinking, it just seemed to click and be catchy. Afterwards I thought, “oh god this sounds terrible misogynistic! This needs to change…”. It wasn’t until later when fleshing out the verse lyrics that I understood what my sub-conscious was going for. The lyrics are a play on worship, sex, and guilt. But not in catholic sense mind you, rather a more metaphysical introspection of what it means for someone to be attracted to another and to be on both receiving ends of that whether it is desired or not. People treat you differently when they are attracted to you on a surface level, and not necessarily on purpose. Humans tend to be dishonest when they have a desire towards a person, which is a shame because it can destroy some deeper connections between two people.
How does magic mix with high-tech?
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke
High-tech is a sort of modern day alchemical magic. One of the most profound things someone can do is study programming languages, it will teach you a realm of logic that can be very beneficial to the mind. There is a whole world of philosophy to be gained through learning algorithms. The scariest but most intriguing thought I currently have is the question of quantum computing and machine learning via neural networks.
Quantum computing has serious implications once you learn how it really works. Classical computing functions by reading a state of 1 or 0, which is known as binary. The problem with this is that we can only go so far in making smaller and smaller electronic gates that can switch between these two states, on (1) or off (0). A Quantum Processor can read 1, 0, and any state in between. That means 0.3, 0.7, 0.66669, etc. How they are trying to achieve this is by reading the state of an atom. Quantum Physics tells us that electrons can be within two different places at once; so if we utilise that data efficiently we can make very complex calculations at instantaneous speeds. Instead of using a binary system we are now tapping into the way the actual universe works – a state of constant probabilities. This means that we will be able to effectively simulate other atoms, particles, bacteria, and eventually entire universes in real time. Of course this is currently limited by the number of “qubits”, the unit of a quantum processor. But nonetheless a very fascinating and magical thought.
Enter machine learning, which is essentially the foundations of true artificial intelligence. “Neural Networks” are algorithms that function very similar to the neurons in our brain. Instead of giving the computer a specific set of instructions, you give it a goal to achieve, and then a series of networks of possibilities to reach that goal. Eventually after enough loops through the code it will find the most efficient route to solve these problems. We are teaching machines the power of novelty. The more we learn about how to implement neural networks more efficiently the faster we will see a major shift in our daily lives. Add the power and speed of a Quantum Computer to the mix of machine learning and we are in a recipe for a Singularity event eerily close to Ray Kurzweil’s prediction timeline on Transhumanism.
Is this all a prayer to future tech, or an 80s idea of the future approached with nostalgia? There’s a future retro to cyberpunk, no?
There is definitely a future retro aspect to cyberpunk. The reasoning behind this is the idea that in the future we will still be stuck with mountains of old school tech. However that doesn’t mean that it can’t be re-purposed, especially when it is so cheap and available. There’s definitely a nostalgic vibe to our visual aesthetic currently – a lot of video material we put out uses VHS filters and we often layer our tracks with bit-reduced samples to emulate the vibe of late 80’s early 90’s samplers. That punchy grit and ethereal noise introduced into the signal are all artefacts of a time that are the signature of its medium.
Can you tell me about the Glitchmode compilation that you were recently on? It seems like a really good way to sample a whole scene at once.
Glitchmode compilations are a strong part of it as a label. The label head Sean Payne always knew the importance of putting them out. Its a great way for people to sample a lot of different artists but within the same vein at once.
Tell me more about the Glitchmode record label – it’s described as a “collective”. Is that a euphemism for “forever poor”? Or is there a hustle?
Collectives can be profitable, but only as much as each entity involved is willing to invest in it. The power of it being run collectively is delegation of tasks, but no-one is solely responsible for one job or thing. There’s a lot of talent involved in many forms of the collective, so the advantage is that it helps keep things cheaper if we all trade work for one another or keep the money within the family so to speak.
It’s a weird time for bands. It’s great the direct way you can interact with fans, but in some ways it’s harder to make a buck. Huge groups make a living off tours, and the odd person can find the balance where they can scrape their rent off online streams, but smaller bands often have to buy onto tours or lose money on tours maybe break even or get ahead with merch. Fame and fortune aside, how do you think you make it sustainable? Is licensing the way forward?
It is indeed a weird time for not only bands, but the whole art industry itself. There is an increasing need to be proficient at multiple art forms at once. When I created Relic I spent a lot of time learning more about graphic design, video editing, and over all visual composition. Art and especially music is very over-saturated currently, it’s very hard to rise above the waves when there is so much water and energy being pushed around. However the benefit of our times is that niche genres can be profitable more than ever. One thing that Sean Payne had really enlightened me on was that “It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond”. Industrial music seems to be making its way back to the masses, so I see the genre itself quite sustainable for a period of time. I think the key thing to making money in the current climate of the industry is to find bigger fans rather than more fans. All it takes to put together a tour is enough mega fans within enough cities that are willing to pay to bring you out. There could be one guy out in the middle of no where that is willing to pay your entire guarantee if you have impacted them enough. There is much power in engaging your fans and is very essential to growing as an artist.
Licensing is definitely one of the more profitable aspects of the industry, but even that field is becoming extremely competitive and less paying. However it is something I always think about. We were considering creating an instrumental EP and focusing on licensing the material within it. If we could land just even one of the tracks we may see royalties or a decent check for quite some time which would be re-invested back into the band.
Am I right in thinking that it’s mostly you, with a live drummer? That’s no small feat. Do you have contemporaries or heroes that work like that?
Relic is essentially only Dan and I at this point. I never set out for it to be a two-piece from the beginning, but it’s something that just has seem to take form and work. Having a live drummer is the most important member I wanted in the band, so it was my priority from the beginning. It adds so much visceral and kinesthetic energy to the performance. There are no artists in particular that inspired me to keep it a two piece. We have constantly been seeking a third member, someone for guitar/keys but haven’t quite found the right fit. We have had guitarists and other guests performers such a celloist with us before though. I’m currently toying with the idea of just having a modular entity as a band, having members all around the world that can hop on a show and bring their own personality and talents to the mix depending on the show or tour. Unless we are playing arenas, I don’t think I’d ever want to exceed more than 3-4 people however. The power of having just two members right now is that it makes it cheap for us to be able to travel and more profitable (less of a split) which is very important in gaining a foothold on success these days. I can’t wrap my head around how new bands have 5-6 members and expect to be able to tour or make out of town shows a viable thing.
How do you balance out the isolation of working like that?
The isolation of less members makes the process a bit more manageable. You have less egos, personalities, and overall body count to work with. You can consolidate and not have to worry about a loose cog in the machine. However the downside is that there is less work to delegate out to involved members. There is also more pressure on me to perform with the same energy as two people at once to make up for the lack of them on stage.
Your girlfriend Christina was taking photos at the gig I saw, it seem like you guys have a very creatively supportive relationship. Is that one of your secrets, having people around you that are creatively like minded even if you’re not working on things directly together?
Having people around you that are driven and constantly pushing themselves is the key to success. Your environment is what shapes you, so why not surround yourself with like-minded people that help keep the energy in the room? We have a very constructive relationship and I think that is extremely important these days to maintain one not only with your significant other but friends as well. We had always agreed prior to being in one that it is only going to be useful and beneficial if we constantly push to help make the other a better person. The more like-minded personalities that can work together in a room, the better off everyone is in pursuing their artistic goals!
I heard that you programmed the beats of one of Amelia Arsenic’s upcoming tracks, can you tell me more about this, do you guys have plans for future collaboration?
I create a lot of tracks and samples that never end up becoming full songs – one thing I love about Glitch Mode is that it may end up being utilised anyways. One of the beats was probably from a Relic demo, or maybe even something earlier. Sean [Payne] and I have a sense of meta-collaboration. He knew I was never going to use it and it worked with Amelia’s track he was producing at the time. It’s good to know it went to use in a good song rather than sitting on a dusty hard drive! I definitely would be down for collaboration, especially with fellow Glitch Mode artists and like-minded creatives. Amelia’s taste in music seems very similar to my own, so I know any collaboration would be a blast.
How do you manage this kind of stuff from other side of the planet? Some of your other collaborators are in different parts of America, do you work remotely much?
The beast that is the internet provides this service. The ability to transfer large project files at a time across the world to another’s studio is very powerful. I think I’m personally still not tapping into it fully as a resource and hope to change this as time goes on. I would be very excited to see more music software focused on real-time collaboration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see companies’ next iterations of software entirely cloud and subscription based. The power of having your project files in that cloud with an integrated service would be that 5 other people could be editing the same song at once. I know current versions of recording software have been slowly implementing this, but there is no app killer on the market yet in my opinion.
How welcoming do you think industrial is to female performers? Some racist and misogynistic comments by performers have been getting attention lately? – but maybe this is a symptom of a growing distant amongst the audiences for intolerance, and is actually a sign of things improving.
I have never thought that industrial was particularly intolerant or unfavourable of female performers. I think collectively fans of the genre actually really love female performers. I can think of many successful acts that have influenced me greatly with female fronted performers that has gained much success. Snake River Conspiracy has always been a huge influence to me as a musician and producer. Tobey Torres absolutely killed it in that project, both as a musician and performer. In fact she has a new project now called Mojave Phone Booth that I’m excited to hear more of. Kanga is another great producer and performer whom I can call my friend. I believe her programming and songwriting is better than most of my male friends in this genre. Overall there seems to be an increasing trend in females getting into music production which is something I hugely advocate. There was a problem within the music industry in which there seemed to be not as many female producers for a while. Now I think we’re at an interesting change where that ratio is going to significantly even out.
However, I’m not ignorant to the misogynistic themes within the genre. I think it has to do with the roots of the genre having a relationship with BDSM imagery and themes. There is certainly a line some industrial artists have crossed, but not more so than any other genre such as rap in my opinion. In all honesty the BDSM themes were never really the main thing I enjoyed about the genre or found any lasting appeal. But often times lately I’ll hear an argument about how it promotes violence. The devils advocate within me responds by saying “is this kink shaming?”. There are men and women that enjoy pain with their pleasure, so don’t assume it is always an abusive situation on the surface as long as there are two consenting adults.
The racism isn’t something I’ve particularly observed as an active process, perhaps it’s just that I’m ignorant to it because I don’t surround myself by those types of people. It seems to be more passive and subconscious with some of the people involved in the genre. There seemed to be a disdain for hiphop and rap for quite a while, which I find ironic because a lot of industrial really owes its roots to early hiphop. A lot of buried loops in my production contain Public Enemy loops and Dr. Dre one-shot drums. I think they both are very similar in production techniques and are accepting of that idea of collage work behind creative sampling. Another interesting thing I have learned about this genre is the diversity of race of its fans. Looking statistically at sales and streaming counts from geographic data has shown me that alone. There’s a large portion of South America for example that are in love with the genre. This is one of the most exciting aspects to me as a touring artist in this genre, the ability to travel and connect with other people and cultures from all around the world. Looking at bands like KMFDM who often use different languages in their songs is something I find really intriguing. If anything I would say that industrial has grown to become a very global and multi-cultural phenomenon.
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the negative things within a scene or group of people when something happens. I think people are often over-looking the good and that can lead to a toxic, mistrusting and misunderstood environment or movement.
Do you think with Reznor becoming part of the mainstream and 3Teeth bringing industrial goth back to the stage is there an opportunity for dark alternative? (I feel like maybe this started with EDM co-opting some of industrial, and acting as gateway drug.)
Absolutely! Reznor has always been a big player and a household name, but now he is regarded as a classic by the youth who were born post NIN. He’s synonymous with legends such as Bowie, Prince, and Kurt Cobain. He is a staple of electronic AND rock music.
3Teeth have absolutely taken a defibrillator to the genre. In fact before they blew up, I remember considering not branding my music as industrial. It seemed to have a bad rep at the time, mostly because there wasn’t too many new acts that had style and proper sense of branding. When contemporaries like 3Teeth, Youth Code, and Author & Punisher came out and I saw their success they inspired me and reinvigorated my belief in the genre. There has been this return to the roots and the timing is perfect. There’s a whole generation of kids now that have never experienced industrial as well as people nostalgic for those times. I remember when EDM took off in the states, right around 2009-2010. I went to a local show and it floored me of how many people were there. Previously all I could recall was that most people shitted on electronic music and preferred solely one or two stagnant genres. Now people have definitely opened up and realised the potential of multiple genres.I know friends that were adamant metal heads and have seen them go from mosh pits to dance floors (or a combination of the two!) within the span of a couple years. Everything is becoming somewhat of a fusion and that is exciting.
Have you noticed much of a shift in the audiences lately (size, demographic etc)?
They’re definitely getting larger, but only for the bands that are pushing the envelope. Bands that have been around for a while that think they can get away with their same shtick aren’t bringing out a lot of the youth I’ve noticed or really gaining that many new fans. However the genre is being introduced to a lot of people and definitely more nostalgic than ever for veterans. One thing I’ve noticed and love that is happened is the demographic is opening up. I’ve noticed at our shows we are seeing more people from the hiphop and EDM community come out and get really excited about something they previously might not have liked. It’s going back to that craving for something to represent our dystopian times – dark, heavy, grimy electronic music.
What’s the ultimate goal at the moment? Like ULTIMATE if everything went magic good?
The ultimate goal would be to travel more, playing more shows as far as our music can take us. There are so many interesting humans out there I’m dying to meet and have a discussion with something about, whether it be mundane or life changing. I would also love to work with people creatively on a variety of projects. Relic is just one aspect of my art and understanding of the world I want to explore, and I hope to learn as much as I can about other fields and practice in them as well.
Any UK or Australian shows (I think that’s currently where most of our readers are)?
Not at the moment, however that is a huge goal for us in the near future. We absolutely would love to play the UK and Australia and are hoping to setup shows in these areas soon. We have noticed a lot of geographical interests from those areas from our statistics from streaming and sales, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
If you were to share a few tracks for someone curious about what’s happening in your music world but doesn’t have a clue, what would they be?
One artist whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and playing shows with is Divtech. He spent some time in Cincinnati and got to understand a bit behind his process. I highly recommend checking it out if noisy breakcore cyber-punk would be your thing. The sound design behind his work always blows my mind, really clever programming and mind-bending feedback.
Cheers Jordan, hope we get to hang again soon!
Cheers! I’m sure we will soon one day and I am looking forward to it!
Interview by Oliver Heath.