Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interview with El Topo

Months ago, when I was playing the part of a would be musical events coordinator for a little happening art spot on Calle Ocho (whose name is best left forgotten and compartmentalized in the area of my brain which I'll happily elect to electrocute and donate to science) I was able to put together a pretty decent show, which showcased the talents of The Creature Tweaker Council, which is basically a group of awfully talented laptop music engineering mad scientists from an alternate dimension where raving is as common as walking and having a hell of a time is just a rite of passage. The show featured some of the more common Tweakers (as the folks in the know, refer to them as) but there was a last minute surprise guest that wasn't originally scheduled to appear as part of the lineup for the evening. And this artist was none other than Alex Anico or @nico as his business card reads, going under the stage name of El Topo. What immediately struck me was the nicely polished mix containing very eccentric pieces of pop culture. You could basically hear anything from an old Nintendo 8-bit console video game to popular phrases from b-movie horror flicks. And all I could think of was: "Now that's what I call entertainment!"

So a little later, after the show was over, I carefully examined his business card and noticed that he had several other sites which I started checking out. I was then amazed by the fact that he was also a visual artist. I even went as far as fashioning my new business card after his, making sure to include any and all links that I have up; so I figure I owe a great deal to him for this particularly good instance of inspiration. Anyways, time went by and the whole prospect of hosting shows dried up for yours truly, mostly due to the all the needless stress I was undergoing at the time and then I got the notion to start uploading some of the slide show video presentations that I originally prepared for the local artists that performed live at the aforementioned venue, and eventually this blog came about as a way of putting the words to moving pictures and whatnot. So, as luck would have it, I just so happened to get a hold of Alex (AKA: El Topo) recently, and suggested to him the idea of doing an interview piece for this here blog. He immediately, and so the story goes... ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to present my interview with local laptop beat generator and artist extraordinaire El Topo.

PS: As a fellow artist, musician, and maybe even writer? I'm only guessing on that last title there, mind you... I just have to know what is it like for you to be a Renaissance Man (or two thirds of one at least) in this day and age?

ET: Tiring and stressful, [laughing out loud] but rewarding. It definitely takes a lot of patience but the end result is a satisfaction like no other. The one thing that any "Renaissance Man" (or woman for that matter) must take into consideration is starting off with a good plan of attack in regards to their work. Otherwise nothing gets finished because you spread yourself out too thin.

PS: Do you feel as though that you get more recognition as a performer or as an artist? And which of the two is it exactly that you would much prefer to be remembered for? Art, music, or both?

ET: I don’t do art (music, writing, drawing) primarily for recognition or praise but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t nice receiving it. Artwork is my true love (I mean I didn’t become a Studio Art Major for nothing!) so I’d have to say that, is what I would like to be remembered for. I find creating a drawing is a lot more difficult than creating music.

PS: Do you feel that Miami caters more to DJ's than it does musicians? Or are the two different breeds of musicians all in the same boat, which is paying to play, and generally getting little if no pay whatsoever for what they do?

ET: Miami is such a strange beast. It definitely caters to DJ’s more but that is only because it’s such a tourist town. I don’t believe DJ’s are musicians. If they produce their own music they are producers. There’s nothing special about spinning someone else’s music. It definitely bothers me whenever I meet an upcoming DJ or emcee who complains about not getting paid. I find exposure so much more valuable. Honestly if you want to get paid spin top 40 or get a real job. Do this (DJ or produce) because you love it.

PS: What in your opinion, do you think should be done to improve this situation for local performing artists?

ET: Honestly I don’t think there is much one can do other than bust your ass promoting yourself. Miami isn’t really a city that has FULLY embraced the “local artist” like other cities (i.e. New York or Los Angeles) but it’s definitely trying and getting better at it. To say it doesn’t is a lie though. The TM Sisters are a perfect example of local artists who have been embraced by the community and who bust their ass to improve their situation.

PS: Can you tell us what the creative process is like for you when you're putting together a piece? Like for instance, when do you know it's finished, or more importantly when do you know that it changes or evolves into something else?

ET: Ha ha! I think every artist can agree that a piece is never finished! But I get what you mean. I’m pretty spontaneous when it comes to my artwork but as far as music it definitely stems from being influenced by an outside source (be it film, or an experience). I used to sit on the tables outside an eatery in college and just draw people being people. Everyday life is the best fuel for the creative process. But there is a feeling that is hard to describe but every artist experiences. It’s a voice inside that tells you, "Wow!" when you step back and observe your piece from afar.

PS: And by this same token, would you say that live performances hinder your creativity or actually permit you a chance to test the uncharted soundscapes that exist in your brand of club music?

ET: Oh man... there is nothing like performing live. I mean from the butterflies and the nausea you feel right before you hit the stage to the wave of relief that washes away any fears as you begin to perform. And when you hit that tunnel where everything around you disappears and you’re not even conscious of what is going on but you know its perfect, it’s the ultimate test. You can spend your whole life in your room making incredible music but you’ll never know how good it really is until you see other people smashing their heads together at your sounds. Dino Felipe & Otto are some of the greatest performers I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. The way they completely lose themselves in their music is amazing.

El Topo Image

PS: Would you say that the music that you produce is highly experimental and underground or can it be considered enough to be embraced by the mainstream community? And also, would you welcome that sort of transition or would you prefer to still leave your mark independently, totally devoid of popularity?

ET: My music isn’t really experimental. I grew up listening to break beats, drum and bass, and hip-hop so those are the main genres that I produce. The idea that one’s music can never be embraced by the mainstream is kind of outdated. There is an audience for every genre. And when you say mainstream music I think of top 40 MTV and nowadays there is more hate for that type of music than I’ve ever seen, simply because people are starting to realize that there is actually more music than what Best Buy has to offer.

PS: Tell us a bit about your stage persona... why do you use the masks? Does it have some deep rooted psychological meaning, or is all it just for show?

ET: I love masks. One of the first comic characters I ever created was a demon who was punished by the devil and made to wear 1000 masks. I just feel what people see on stage isn’t the real person who is performing. Plus they tend to remember the mask more than they remember the individual (the mask meaning the alter ego). Every performer/band wears a mask otherwise they would use their real names instead of some pseudonym. (Editor's note: Tell me about it!)

PS: How'd you get or decide on the stage name of El Topo? Can you tell us what it means?

ET: Alejandro Jodorowski is one of my favorite directors and if you know who he is you know of his film El Topo. El Topo means The Mole and a mole spends most of its life underground. Sometimes when the mole rises to the surface too fast it is blinded by the sun. The name El Topo is a reminder to never become full of yourself, otherwise you’ll become blind (not literally) and will be unable to see yourself for who you really are.

PS: Describe your relationship with The Creature Tweaker Council. How long have you been a member, and where do you see this live outfit going in the next couple of years?

ET: I joined CTC about a year and half ago. I’ve been friends with Peasants with Feathers for some time now and when I met Linenoise I was baptized into the organization. I remember at that time CTC was like fifty or something people but they cut it down to only participating members which was a better idea. Now it’s something like fifteen official members as well as a number of honorary members. We are just getting our new label SWAM NOISE off the ground and I believe the next CTC Compilation record should be out soon. Eventually I’d like to see all CTC members on stage at the same time performing in unison.

PS: Can you tell us a bit about your side projects, such as Friends in Square Places and The International Horror Association? Are they just hobbies for you at this point, or do you plan on doing something bigger with those projects of yours sometime in the future?

ET: Actually my music is my real hobby and my comics are my main focuses! [laughing out loud] Friends in Square Places (F.I.S.P.), is a comic series based on my former pets as well as my college experience. I created the main characters Who & Ted back in a chemistry class when I was in high school. It’s a collection of personal experiences, romantic involvements and friends living together and loving life.

International Horror Association (I.H.A.) is a bit different. I’m one of the world’s biggest EC Comics fan. If you don’t know they are responsible for great comics like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, & Crime and Suspenstories to name a few. I.H.A. is a modern take that pays homage to those series. I also started an online "Live-Action" version of I.H.A. last fall where I would dress up as the host of I.H.A., Raymond, and would stream obscure and classic horror films on Justin.TV. But after showing the ultra-violent Flower of Flesh and Blood I was booted off the site, so until I can set up the streaming on the IHA website the live action version is on hold for now. But you can always expect a comic release every Halloween. Right now I’m finishing up the fourth issue of I.H.A. which will be a detective story titled Crimes of Passion.

PS: Is it hard for you to juggle between being a DJ and being an artist?

ET: Oh man, you do not even know how hard! Sometimes I want to just focus on doing comics but then I go out to a show and hear some dope tunes come back to my apartment and jump on the computer and start busting out tracks for like three days straight. I got to a point where I realized I have to compromise. A little time for art a little time for music.

PS: Tell us a bit about producing tracks... your music employs the use of everything from vintage Nintendo music tracks to movie and TV show samples. What frame of mind does one have to be in in order to come up with these eclectic samples? (i.e. Like what crack are you smokin' kid?!? lol Just kidding... but please elaborate anyways)

ET: Well film is a HUGE part of my life. My father owned a video store when I was younger so I was always watching movies. And now that I’m older, my roommate and I are constantly trying to top each other with a better film. You just know when hear the right sample, or line. The track is just born. I recently saw the 70's Horror Sci-Fi movie called The Demon Seed and it literally spawned the next album. Influence is the ultimate creative spark. But it can’t be just any sample, the obscurity is what makes it genuine.

PS: What's your most memorable moment (to date) performing live?

ET: Emceeing for Andy C and Soul Slinger back during WMC (Winter Music Conference) in 2004 was pretty cool, but to be honest I could give three shits about emceeing for some so called "Superstar DJ". Some of the best moments I've had have to be emceeing at Infrastructure (a drum & bass weekly that ran from '04-'06). Loosing yourself with local DJ’s and friends is what’s best in life. I tell you I could have an awesome time jamming with my CTC crew in front of just a handful of people who are actually listening and studying your beats, even more so than in front of a huge crowd who don’t know who you are and are only there to see the headliner.

PS: I ask this question of all the artists I interview... how well would you rate the importance of online social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc. when it comes to getting the word out about your music?

ET: INDISPENSABLE! The only reason some of us "bedroom producers" get any kind of notice is cause of social networking sites. Although it can be a little overwhelming. It seems like everyday there is new site that you have to join. I said before I absolutely refuse to join Twitter but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up doing so out of necessity.

PS: Do you think it's harder to draw more people to a show by word of mouth than it is vs. getting them to show up through an online announcement through these aforementioned popular networking sites?

ET: It’s actually a combination of the two. You can’t put all your eggs into one basket and rely on just word of mouth or just an online announcement. What really brings the people is hard work, perseverance, and the will to continue even during hard times. If you’re passionate about your craft then you’ll do what it takes to bring them in. If you build it... they will come!

PS: And do you think that these networks cause more of a disconnect between the audience and the performer, like say for example if you were to put up a video of you performing live on YouTube, then how different would that performance be if you were to witness it live firsthand and all versus just staying home and catching a live stream of it somewhere? I guess what I'm saying here is... what can I expect from a live El Topo set?

ET: I only play original music, and rarely play the same songs. There is definitely a difference between seeing someone live as opposed to seeing them on YouTube. The disconnection comes from people who can’t break away from social networking sites. You can always expect something different from an El Topo set.

PS: Finally, where do you see your music heading towards in the next few years?

ET: Right now I’m putting together my first Dubstep LP and I expect a few CTC compilations in the coming months. The sky’s the limit. The only place to go is up and as long as the sun, moon, and earth exist, everything will be fine.

So there you have it folks, an exclusive interview/portrait/or whatever you wish to call this piece with Alex Anico (AKA: El Topo). Below are a few more links of his, so please be sure to check them all out...

The PMCRW Productions Website
- PMCRW on MySpace
Friends In Square Places Online
- Friends in Square Places on MySpace
The International Horror Association on the Web
- The I.H.A. on MySpace
El Topo on MySpace

This has been P.S. Elliott (AKA: Dr. Gonzo XXVII) reporting for the disassociated press, that is... The Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog.

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