They say that friendships forged in fire are forever, but what about friendships forged in noise? Sharing a mutual interest in difficult music and live performance, Primitive Languages/Psychic Liberation co-founder Nick Klein and Wilted Woman enjoy one such relationship. As many of these stories go, it began with an opportunist exchange of music, and before long Wilted Woman would drop her debut PL cassette. That said, it would be some time before the pair collaborated on a release.
Fast forward 5 years and Café Kotti arrives on London’s Alien Jams. A glitched-out, uneasy listen, all grainy and ridden with decay, it would underpin a working relationship that continues to bear fruit, establishing a collaborative sound that exhibits the respective hallmarks of solo endeavours. Paving the way for followup release, Cafe Music 2: Werewolves of London, the duo went head-to-head to shed further light on their collaboration while reflecting on a myriad of important topics.
Wilted Woman: Well dear Nick, how are you doing? Feels kind of bizarre to have a conversation with you in this format. Maybe some background for our readers… I think we met for the first time in 2014 when I came by Primitive Languages, which at that point was a record shop in the punk alley, trying to sell you and Mig [Alvariño] some tapes I’d done… bunch of shit went down since then but basically a beautiful friendship was born and I am forever grateful to you for being a real fucking kindred soul in this psycho world, musical and otherwise…
I was trying to find past interviews you’ve done and in my extremely cursory research noticed there’s not really a lot of information out there about your background in sculpture and performance art, which is something I know has played a big role in shaping your relationship to music, or particularly live music performance. Strange to talk about now considering live music as we knew it is dead for the time being, but is that still something you’re thinking about or engaging with?
Nick Klein: Hello dear friend. Yes, our friendship has been a pure delight in my life. I am thinking of the first show we shared together at Ryan Martin’s house in North Carolina, Meadows Of Dan. It was sometime shortly after when you had popped into the record store. It was really special to me in retrospect because it had what was mostly the core of the PL lineup of that era. You, Miguel Alvariño, Cienfuegos, L. Lewis, and myself. I am extremely proud to think of the ground covered between that group of musical associates at that time.
It’s true that not a lot of conversation about my past art studies are brought up. It may be sort indicative of the fact that on one hand I don’t have a very present archive of my early efforts available (like, anywhere), and on the other hand people in both vectors of professional music and art career paths require an exhausting level of taxonomy and ownership over those respective experiences. Performance and sculpture studies brought me loosely to ideas of Nicolas Bourriaud, and works by people like Thomas Hirschorn, Jason Rhoades, and the collective work of Gelitin. Something I took from all those people is this emphasis on production with purpose and the importance of breaking down relationships between creator and participant. Without getting too lofty, I really was inspired by the democratic tendencies in all of that.
When I got disenchanted by my experiences in Miami, I left to New York. This gave me a much smaller studio space while simultaneously giving me access to a vibrant club world. At that point to continue producing anything meant I needed to reconsider what and how I was making. Music, electronic music… That seemed to hold the most potential for actualising what I was looking for in the studies and practice of (A)rt.
WW: We’ve talked a lot with each other about how alienating performing in clubs, especially European clubs, can sometimes be for us, given our common coming of ages in East Coast noise world, which I guess was kind of an impetus for forcing our duo into the Café Context… are you feeling any sense of relief at that kind of gig (the fabled dreaded Euro club night) being a non-option now? Financially (and somewhat socially) it’s a huge bummer but at least the decision to play it but feel like shit or not play it but stay broke/day jobbing doesn’t need to be made anymore? Am I projecting????
NK: Well, maybe you are projecting a little bit but I will go down that path with you. Coming from modest and insular community origins definitely had its net positives, but also was stifling in a lot of ways. On the surface the Euro club model as a mode for sustenance was super enticing and inspiring. When you play in basements, lofts, and creatively co-opted spaces like pizza places or laundromats it is hard to support giving yourself over to your craft. A number of people have been swallowed up by dropping out or dying by lifestyle choices trying to carve out an alternate reality amongst the backdrop of this fucked up America we are from. Much of the American noise zone has wonderful people, but it gets a bit redundant in perspective. Lots and lots of white people, white men, taking up the lion’s share of discourse.
When the European electronic music industry, labels and distributors as the speculative actors, found their way to people like you and I it felt like a major opportunity. All of the sudden the context where we could flourish was much more diverse, much more attentive, and much freer (to an extent). I don’t know if I ever made that much money from it, but I was able to see some parts of the world I never would have before and sustain living month to month. If I were to focus more on DJ’ing early on maybe that would be different. Sadly, nobody ever stipulated in the grand social contract that pursuing this life would allot them a stable, middle class lifestyle.
I would be remiss to not note that this experience was afforded to me on the creative backs of POC artists of many generations. Those artists do not get the support and endorsement that they deserve in the culture of that industry which they defined the formal and conceptual parameters of. It sucks, and it is dirty. I actually don’t hope for the end of the culture at large, but I do actively hope for a major redistribution of resources and attention back towards the POC community. A lot of money flows through these shitty clubs and shitty festivals – instead, it could be put into a lot of hands, supporting so many of the artists belonging to those communities at different stages in their careers. I am more than happy to step aside and make room for others who can activate a legacy they should more rightfully inherit if they choose to.
I think it’s so cool and funny that the two times we have performed together have been in cafes in different countries. I think the performance context both times deflated the embarrassment of the bigger spectacle. At Cafe OTO it was incredible to play so loud while people were just sitting down and enjoying a coffee or whatever.
Our collaboration currently relies on a fair share of chance as to what, when, and how we present. Do you have any kind of dream context for the application of us performing together?
WW: I want to keep the café thing going… maybe the KaDeWe cafeteria… or the Russian Tea Room??? Despite being a native to the no-man’s-land of Midtown Manhattan I’ve never actually been there, but from outside, the energy seems very Café Music. But I like imagining us as artists-in-residence in some stupid fancy Manhattan tea room. Daytime sets only! I remember we joked a while back about doing a tour exclusively of radio stations and I still think that would be really fun. But it’s so hard to think about ideal live performance situations at this moment when literally any live performance situation would be ideal.
NK: We both collaborate with others pretty often while maintaining our own projects. When you think about collaboration as a practice, what is some of the utility you get from it? What are you taking away each time? Who do you wish you could include in your collaborative nature?
WW: Collaboration is almost more important to me than my solo work. My music and general artistic practice has always been very collaborative, coming from playing in bands/orchestras and making films – art-making as a communal pursuit/team effort. Part of this is that it’s often more fun to work with your friends than by yourself, but also it’s so necessary to get out of your own head and see and hear what other people are thinking. I think this connects with what I was trying to say about club gigs before – there’s so little exchange happening when you’re just in and out of a gig, especially in another city or country. When gigging is your job, it’s understandable to be exhausted and want to dip after your set but I think that’s why I’m not particularly interested in that specific kind of approach to music careerism – I’d much rather keep my goofy dayjob(s) but have the time and energy to take in what everyone around me is doing when I’m out at a show (although this can backfire).
Collaboration is an extension of that: it’s often so much more rewarding and exciting to mess around with friends or peers or strangers or whatever and see what comes out of it, learn from each other, make something new together. This sounds kind of hippie now and I DO NOT LIKE HIPPIE STUFF but I do believe in the kinds of (micro-)communities that are born and evolve through collaboration. Obviously, diversity in every sense is crucial to that. What’s the point in working with someone who thinks exactly the same as you, who comes from an identical background to you – how can that possibly be interesting to anyone involved, let alone result in some sort of meaningful outcome?
Now I would like to ask you on this note about PL as a communal art project, seeing as it was initially born out of collaboration and has been very conducive to creating and reinforcing ties between musically (and to a certain extent, geographically) disparate artists.
NK: When PL started as Primitive Languages in 2014 it was to attempt to carve out a space for ourselves (Miguel Alvariño and I) in New York City. It was a really drastic departure socially and “professionally” from the way we existed in Miami previously. In retrospect the label and what was the store space existed to approximate what we thought those things were supposed to look and function like. We had zero business understanding and really just kind of were winging it as artists enjoying music making and sharing. We were really generously endorsed and supported in different ways by infrastructures like All Day Records, Ryan Martin of Hot Releases, and Ron Morelli of L.I.E.S. Records.
Noise at the time presented a framework that was neither didactic or rigidly taxonomical depending on uh… who you ask. That has been a continuous source of conceptual terrain explored in the label. I feel like in the current mode of discourse it is really easy to label things as disparate, but I think that has more to do with optics and branding in the age of social media than it does with the real life data. A vast array of artists and scenes share the same spaces, if not the same bills, so what defines disparate? I am pretty guilty of not being super genre delineating in my interests curatorially. That is directly proportional to the amount of rooms I have played in around the world with vastly different artists. It only had an uncomfortable hegemony when I started playing “bigger” European style “club” gigs.
As Miguel and I stopped working on the label together I was given the opportunity to undertake an understanding of how to structure out the process of running a label a little tighter. Primitive Languages changed its name to Psychic Liberation as a chapter marker, and I began working with two wonderful distributors who make operating it all much easier. Now each record is markedly different in formal outcome, and more ambitious in sharing. I have begun collaborating with the Enmossed imprint to release together a series of cassettes of new artists. I love having a little library being cultivated slowly over time, I love sharing music with friends. I am extremely lucky to have met people along the way who are into sharing their brilliant work through the tiny portal I provide.
Elizabeth, you have been a real bridge between the American DIY touring circuit and the European one since you have been living in Berlin. In the Netherlands, while it feels like it should exist, that kind of community feeling is really sporadic at best, if not outmoded in necessity entirely. You operate outside of explicit club modality and seem to have a wider cast net of artists outside of the club careerist agenda. I guess the last thing I want to ask is, in that space you have created and thrive in, what and who has been exciting you?
WW: Lately? I mean, not much, I’ve spent 90% of the last 5 months in my room. If you asked me this last year I’m sure I’d have a much more thoughtful answer but at the moment most of my music encounters at the moment go down through radio. Being a part of Cashmere Radio continues to be a massive source of excitement and inspiration. Doing my show there and helping out at the station was a pretty regular part of my weekly routine for the last while, so it’s been nice to be able to listen in to everyones’ shows each month and hear what they’ve been thinking about or listening to from their own weird bubbles. It is also still very fun to invite my friends and acquaintances to talk about their love of the tuba for an hour or read from their diary over Bolero on air. I am excited about the CD comeback as well as it remains my preferred format.
Cafe Music 2: Werewolves of London is out now on Alien Jams | Buy it here
Artwork by Sarah Badr.