Daniel Martin-McCormick talks us through the manifesto behind his art-damaged beat project
Over the last few years, underground electronic dance music has been exploring ever more exciting and disorientating realms. Under his Ital alias, this lawless landscape is where former art- punk Daniel Martin-McCormick has found space to thrive.
It was Martin-McCormick’s first releases as Ital that kick-started the 100% Silk label, an LA-based boutique imprint run by Amanda and Britt Brown of LA Vampires. The label began as an offshoot of Not Not Fun, in order to give the avant-garde experimentalists on the roster an opportunity to try their hand at dance-orientated music. So far, McCormick has driven this manifesto to an unprecedented level. This year he’s released two Ital albums via the majorly credible British leftfield electronic label Planet Mu, and his post-punk turned experimental house taskforce Mi Ami put out Decade, their most beat-driven record to date.
When Crack ran an in-depth label profile on 100% Silk earlier this year, we searched through each artist’s back catalogue, rummaging around rabbit holes of murky dub and drone, post-punk, über-referential disco and warped beats that somehow reprise clouded memories of past club experiences. Martin-McCormick’s curriculum vitae was immediately striking. At a fairly young age he has already explored a wide array of genre categories, and he never fails to break the rules. During the early noughties he was a member of post-hardcore band Black Eyes. They signed to the significant DC hardcore label Dischord, an imprint which heroically maintained DIY punk principles like no other. Between 2003-4, Black Eyes released two albums which capture the sensation of furious discontent symptomatic of the first Bush administration. While Mi Ami’s sound began to mutate, McCormick launched his gloriously deranged Sex Worker project.
Last year’s Ital releases on 100% Silk such as Ital’s Theme and Only For Tonight were deliberately raucous, low budget experiments cooked up on the free-to-download, simplistic music software Audacity. They’re highly enjoyable recordings, informed by McCormick’s burning passion for various strands of dance music, from Omar-S and Theo Parrish to Dutch electro artists. At this point it felt as if Martin-McCormick was distantly yearning to connect to the collective euphoria of a club experience from his bedroom. After touring as Ital extensively and making life affirming ventures to iconic Berlin techno labyrinth Berghain, Martin-McCormick began to learn how to provoke a visceral physical response from the bodies on the dancefloor.
Hive Mind was the point where the Ital project treaded towards sturdier, heavily percussive four to the floor territory with realistic dancefloor potential. For many of those initially suspicious of the 100% Silk camp’s lo-fi aesthetic, perceiving their intentions as naïve, or even disrespectful, the signing with Planet Mu was a legitimising gesture. As with previous Ital releases, the record has instigated plenty of discussion. Critics were taken back by the provocative, chopped-up Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston samples on opener Doesn’t Matter (If You Love Him). On Privacy Settings, Martin-McCormick conjures up the essence of more traditional house music, yet the twisted nature of the track emphasises the distance between that utopian vision of a hedonistic eternal summer and reality.
On the most recent Ital record, Dream On, Martin-McCormick seeks to both increase the muscularity of his beats and embrace vacuums of unstructured dissonance. The fragments of metallic hiss on Eat Shit (Waterfalls Mix) are likely to beat the listener into a state of emotional submission, as does the unsettling and aptly titled What A Mess. So when the album reaches its moments of coherence, such as the warm organ tones of Housecapella or the poignantly euphoric closer Deep Cut (live edit), there’s a real sense of equilibrium and a tone of sincere optimism. So whether it’s at live shows or on record, we’re always eager to hear the continuous evolution of Ital. Each unpredictable step seems to polarise, and that’s something we’re happy to encourage.
We experienced your live show on the 100% Silk Euro tour and saw your set at Sonar over the summer. You’ve toured extensively this year, but are there any shows in particular which felt pivotal for you?
That’s difficult. Each show has something to offer, some way to learn and grow. A big one was in Bristol back in February, when I played with Livity Sound, the loose collective formed by Peverelist and a couple other locals. It was their first show, so I went on second out of two, but they were on their home turf and the room was absolutely packed with an enthusiastic, eager audience for their set. The music was interesting, a little underdeveloped in that first show kind of way, but it was very Bristol and the crowd was loving it. More importantly for me, they sounded phenomenal. The system was decent, not amazing, but they clearly had fine tuned each drum and each synth for specific impact and it totally worked. When I followed with my janky Electribe, it sounded weak as hell. I resolved that when I got home, I would get some kind of rig that would be able to compete on that level, where I wouldn’t sound like a complete twerp next to someone like that. So I got an MPC and rewrote my entire live set. But then when I hit the road this summer, I realised that I wanted my music to be seriously fucked up. I didn’t want some kind of tasteful, studious, nervously-competitive producer vibe. So while I embraced the higher sound quality of the MPC, I also worked hard over the next 10 weeks of shows to tear the set to shreds.
Which artists and strands of electronic music have inspired you the most over the last year or so?
Seeing Heatsick live definitely tore me a new one in terms of building powerful, beautiful structures of out the stupidest means. He’s incredible every time. Farrah Abraham is the embodiment of something I’ve explored as a kind of musical fantasy, Reality TV/Web 2.0’s suicidal fever dream of itself. The Ital, Laurel Halo, Magic Touch, M Geddes Gengras package tour Stateside was hands down the best group of musicians I’ve travelled with and my mind was blown nightly by one and all. Jeff Mills is a mainstay inspiration, and I’ve been exploring the Regis back catalogue which is by turns boring and fascinating depending mostly, as far as I can tell, on my mood.
Could you tell us a bit about the conceptual and thematic ideas which may have influenced the way Dream On sounds and feels?
The main theme that I notice always running through my work is this duality between a kind of massive discomfort in society and in one’s own body, a sort of nauseated horror at the reality of one’s existence, and its opposite: the exuberant love of life, the excitement and validity of the life of the senses, and the need to constantly reconcile the two. Sex Worker focused a lot on the classic thin line between love and hate in sexuality, in relationships, and the way people process loss. Dream On keeps that in mind but definitely branches out into the isolating qualities of technology – practically a must for young artists – and the queasiness one feels as our environment is ever-more revealed to be a toxic wasteland of our own devising. At the same time, making a track, even the darkest, most nihilistic acid or whatever, contains some kind of utopian kernel in it, the idea that some demon could perhaps be exorcised through dance. Musically, fuck, there’s a lot. Pushing harmony and rhythmic detail work to new levels, trying out a lot of weirder, more ‘incorrect’ sonic techniques, wanting to make everything sound pretty alien, the list goes on and on.
Do you remember a certain point in your career when your interest in house and techno began to influence the music you were making?
Absolutely. It was in 2006, when I was getting seriously, seriously into house and techno and disco and I started making tracks on Audacity, exactly as I do now. I was pretty depressed and socially isolated, a recent transplant to California and not finding my way so well, and dance music seemed like a way out, a joyful noise or whatever that was a lot more appealing than the often ponderous avant garde I had been immersing myself in. It was startling, after years of punk and noise and free improv, to hear something that clicked with me on a deep emotional level but also made room for fun, for playfulness, for sadness, etc. Mi Ami was initially an attempt to make some kinda disco and that failed but I was really thinking a lot about these same ideas the entire time.
When 100% Silk first emerged, the label provoked interesting debates about the ‘rules’ and territorial nature of both dance music and noise/art rock circles. It seems like any initial questions about the ‘legitimacy’ of your music as Ital were settled when you signed to Planet Mu. Is there an element of fun in messing with people’s expectations?
Are you kidding?! Of course it’s immensely satisfying. I think I hate nothing more than being pigeonholed or typecast or whatever. People are always going to try to push some narrative about you, and that’s fine, but it’ll never be complete. I was happy people were psyched on Silk, but of course the ‘hipster house’ conversation was absurdly short- sighted and reactionary and simpleminded. I was lucky that Planet Mu was open to the music on its own merits and not overtly hung up on the gossipy bullshit.
Do you think that your experience of playing live with Black Eyes and Mi Ami has informed the way that you perform as Ital? Some might argue that your approach to live shows is kind of unconventional compared to the majority of electronic artists.
Yeah, totally. After playing in raging punk bands, you can’t really go to some chilled out tasteful laptop performance without feeling like a part of you is dying. I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned, and musical performance hits me really hard. Live performance is powerful across the board and severely underused in the electronic world. I’m not saying everyone has to be thrashing around. But I when I’m playing I’m definitely feeling it, and that’s a huge part of why I love touring so much.
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Words: David Reed