Dem Hunger’s music is pretty hard to categorise. Chopped up, fucked about and mangled samples laid over dischordant feedback, Bollywood soundtracks, 8-bit, played on a tape that sounds like it’s been left on a car dashboard to melt in the sun for too long. It’s not for the faint hearted…and yet I love it. That said, I was a little concerned about meeting, his twitter stream is an outlet for his alter ego Susie Sahara who rants in block capitals and reads like a care in the community casualty. But Louis Johnstone in the flesh is disarming and very talkative. Over a bitterly cold evening sat outside The Dove on Broadway market and countless belgian beers, I got to grips with the man and his hunger.
What were your early musical influences?
The Ghostbusters soundtrack, bought for me by dad on vinyl. Then he bought the ‘Final Countdown’. He and I used to dance together round the house to it.
Did you like his taste in music?
I did, yeah. I hadn’t worked it out at that point, I was still listening to what was in the charts, like most kids do. Basically, he was into Jimmy Hendrix and he suggested I learn to play guitar. This was when I was about 11 and I started to take lessons. From there I used to make my own songs up and got really into Green Day, I was a Green Day maniac, this was in 94/95, and then I got into pop punk and it went from there, all the West Coast, like NoFX and used to play in punk bands.
How was your guitar playing?
I was pretty much self taught, power chords. I can still play although I haven’t played for a long time. I got into Fugazi, Minutemen, I was a massive Descendents fan. Then I progressed to Black eyes, on the cusp of 2000, post hardcore, then Godspeed you Black Emperor, Mogwai, and then Ghostface, Madlib etc. I had a jazz phase too. Coltrane obviously. I discovered that Coltrane did this collaboration with Rashid Ali, a two piece, Coltrane on tenor, and Rashid Ali on drums around 66/7, really pushing the genre. I felt I had to play saxophone. Started making up fucking weird shit, playing gigs on my own, with an instrument I couldn’t play. I’d have a tape deck with loops and I’d play sax over it.
I looked on Discogs today and it said that you also go by Saxophones, Wanda’s group and Tigerpiss.
There’s Motherships and The Hers as well. Tigerpiss was me fucking about with a glockenspiel and a snare drum basically. Motherships was my singer/songwriter stuff. I like to sing. I’d say I’m in the Tom Waits/Scott Walker school of singing. The deep voice helps. If you sing with a deep voice, everyone thinks you’re genuine. Then I really got into the DIY ethic, Calvin Johnston, that lo-fi vibe. I bought a four track, started writing songs on guitar.
So how did Dem Hunger come about and what inspired the name?
I was doing some artwork, merging two images together, focusing on the symmetry. I made about 8 pictures, and for every one, I was going to write a song. It was a starting point for a project. I can’t just launch into something, it has to be based on a concept. I’ll wake up one day and set myself a month to work on something.
But in terms of the name Dem Hunger itself, I get obsessed with certain words. I had a ‘milk’ stage, just the word, not the drink itself. It was originally going to be Dem Culture, because I really liked the way the word culture looked, and sounded. Then I got into the word hunger. Simple as that really. it’s like a piece of art that you like the way it looks. For me, it was the same thing with words.
So words are quite important to you? It’s one of the things I noticed that got my attention and inspired me was the titles of your tracks on your Caveman Smack LP, for example.
It’s all so thought out. I’ve always been good at writing ‘soundbites’, as opposed to creating a story. That’s all it is. It’s enjoyable.
Did you want there to be a relationship between the song titles and the music?
The idea with Cavemen Smack was I wanted it to sound like if cavemen had different technology at the time, and the idea progressed from there, if they had had the tools, what would come from that. If I had the guts, I would have just let it be completely slapdash, a completely horrible audible experience.
There isn’t a face to your music as such, was this a conscious decision? Do you hide behind your various alter egos? Your twitter and facebook personas for example are these fictitious characters you create.
It’s why I ummed and ahed a little about being photographed for the work:ethic interview.
Can you tell us a bit more about the writing and creative process, the software and equipment you use etc.
In terms of the way I make my music, I don’t sequence anything. I might record something one day and come back to it later. It’s all really archaic. I’ve got an old MPD, I wanted an MPC but I couldn’t afford one. It was the last thing my ex-girlfriend ever bought me. A demo version of Fruity Loops, which I use to convert the MPD, and then I have a Polderbits sound recorder, which I use to convert vinyl to MP3. You can use it for internal and external sound, and I’ve used that and had the same programme for 11 years. I always expect mistakes and I like it, there were loads incorporated into Caveman Smack. I’m trying to teach myself not to hold back. I used to set myself a 4 hour window, and make myself produce. Lately I might work for an hour and get 10 seconds worth of material I’ll use. I wish I had a reel to reel and cut tapes, but it’s all about time and money. If I gave myself free reign I wouldn’t be able to do anything, it’s by limiting myself that I do it. Hence giving myself a story or concept to guide me.
I got into trouble recently, Hyperdub wanted me to do something for them, but I made up a story that I was doing a split with Burial. I woke up one day before work and had an email from the Hyperdub guy and he said he’d had about 1000 emails, because everyone’s waiting for new Burial material after a 2 year wait, and I didn’t think it would snowball like that because I tweeted it. After a telling off he still said if I wanted to submit material I could. Hyperdub want me to do a full length but I’m not ready for that, it scares the shit out of me, because i know they’re going to criticise me for it not being good enough, or pay me advance to make something, as opposed to me make it and getting a return from the sale of the records, which I’m more comfortable with.
Have you played out live? How have live performances been received?
I probably won’t ever play live with Dem Hunger. I’m not as confident as I was when I was 19/20. I over think it.
But if you were to play out would it be a DJ set as opposed to live?
I’d want to do something that people probably wouldn’t like. I like doing my own thing. It fucks off the audience. I’ve played live in the past, sax, tape deck. I played at the Old Blue Last. The guy from Fuck Buttons, prior to being in the band used to put on shows. I played with Lucky dragons on one occasion too. He really liked my music, regardless of what I wanted to do live. I’d just turn up with whatever I felt like on the day. That was fun, it was when I had the guts to do it. I didn’t give a fuck back then. But you get to that stage when people are expecting something of me as Dem Hunger, and it plays on my mind. When I used to play shows, I used to challenge myself. I would give myself a challenge or a limitation, such as for a certain show, I might just allow myself a bass guitar and a kick drum. Or just sing with a loop pedal, or use old soul songs.
Tell me a little bit about your artwork.
It sounds like a cliche but it was just like a need, the idea of spending my time after work or after school creating something. I drink a lot on my own, instead of going out with friends…the best nights I’ve had have been drinking on my own. I don’t ever get bored in my own company. It was relaxing, time to myself, and a sense of achievement, even if no one else gets it. Everything I put out, I want 100% artistic control over, I’m pretty rigid like that. I’m a bit of a control freak in that respect. With Caveman Smack I had total artistic control, except for the colour of the tape. With the Wanda Group on New New Age cassettes I chose the layout etc. I made up the fake women in the band, it lists four members, but obviously it’s just me, to suggest the idea of a 60s soul group.
A bit like Throbbing Gristle, the cover and title they chose for their 20 Jazz Funk Greats LP, the idea that you don’t know what you’re going to get. I might buy something in a record shop purely on the strength of the cover, I like the idea of the cover being the opposite of the music.
What’s your view on the resurgence of cassette as a viable format?
I think it’s good because it’s cheap to produce. It’s an interesting package. It’s a way of getting loads of it out there. I’s a nice format, it’s soft, it’s warm, it’s pretty hard to break.
Do you think your day job positively or adversely affects your music?
Work gives you structure. I come home and I know that I have a limited amount of time to make music, say a 3 or 4 hour window. The best thing is not to have internet. It’s the bane of my life. I like the idea of staying at home and being on benefits, and making lots of music, but the reality is that I wouldn’t end up making anything.
What’s lined up for this year?
In terms of what I’m meant to do, it’s a split Dem Hunger/Svetlana release. There’s another group I’m working on, and by that I mean me, called The Cleaners, that will be an extension of Wanda Group. Oneotrixpointnever has started a new label called Mexican Summer and perhaps I’ll work with them, and NNA tapes wants to put out The Cleaners thing. They’re going to send me all the tapes they’ve released over the last year, and I’ll make a remix tape based on that material.
Check out his latest split with Cuppcave on Vlek records
You can buy his full length LP ‘Caveman Smack’ from excellent LA based Leaving Records
EXCLUSIVE TRACK : Wanda Group – woman woman woman woman : download
Marianne Hobb’s Radio 1 Dem Hunger mix : download
All Artwork by Demhunger, made especially for this interview
If you haven’t yet heard about Summer Camp, this is your lucky day. Their music is a delectable blend of nostalgia and electro, incorporating classic ’80s/’90s romantic teen film samples and lyrics that could be lifted from the dialogue of any one of them. Their music actively embraces a rose tinted spectacled view of the past. Yet they’re very much a band of the moment, blogged about extensively before either had fully embraced the idea of being a band proper. Here Jeremy and Elizabeth tell us a bit more about themselves, how My Bloody Valentine is the perfect sleep aid for Jeremy and that grilled haloumi cheese should never be considered a guilty pleasure.
There was a mystique surrounding your identities/nationalities when you first started out. I understand this was a conscious decision on your part. Do you think this worked in your favour?
Well we started the band in October 2009 entirely by accident. We recorded a cover of ‘Only Have Eyes For You’ because we loved the song, and then set up a Myspace as an afterthought. “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” We assumed
that if we put our names on the profile and people we knew found it, they’d find it hilarious. And we weren’t sure our egos could take that sort of wild laughter and pointing, so we kept it anonymous. People started blogging about it and things started happening, and as it grew we thought it made sense to keep quiet about who we were. It gave us a bit of privacy and also meant that we could develop what we were doing without people having expectations. It wasn’t some big marketing ploy, it just happened.
There is a strong nostalgia element to your music, highlighted by samples from ’80s teen movies, which immediately appealed to my tendency to over romanticise the past. Do you feel this is indicative of your own
Nostalgia has always been currency for artists, as long as there have been artists. The first cavemen artists were probably accused of ripping off the previous aeon. For us, drawing on our favorite things about the past was more about reaching out to something that probably never existed – those golden impossible days you see in movies and read about in books but no-one ever actually seems to live through. It’s pure escapism.
The clever editing for the Ghost Train video makes it appear that the footage was made specifically for it and visa versa. How did the concept come about for the video and where did you source the footage from?
We can’t claim any responsibility for that! We’re friends with a very talented young director, Paddy Power, and one day he sent us the finished video, asking what we thought. He’s amazing and has nearly completed a video for our next single, which is exciting.
What prompted you to cover The Flamingoes track?
We both love that song. Elizabeth put it on a mixtape for Jeremy, then we decided to record a version of it. We both love how it seems both old and new at the same time. It’s really just a cheesy old jazz number with what was then, in the ’50s, really futuristic production. Great sound, great song.
The Guardian described your music as ‘Chillwave’. Your thoughts on this? How would you describe your sound?
It’s a label, it makes it easier for journalists to describe how they hear us really quickly. It doesn’t bother us, but we hope we’ll have a chance to grow past that easy categorisation. It’s not important though really, everyone is going to be labelled something, so there’s no point worrying about it. At least it’s not ‘Rubbishwave’.
How are you finding the live shows?
It’s always great fun to throw ourselves around a stage in front of people. We love it. We feel like we’ve had to grow as a live band very quickly, as people were already reviewing our first ever gig. There’s been a lot of pressure, but we don’t worry about that too much, we just try and make the shows good and fun.
Musically and otherwise, what have been/are your greatest influences?
For Elizabeth – coming of age stories and films, for both of us – synth-pop and Kate Bush, and for Jeremy – falling asleep with My Bloody Valentine on really loud. We’re also both really into Britpop.
Where do you see things progressing with the band?
Who knows. It’d be amazing to make a record and tour a bit, but we’re just taking things one step at a time. This has always been about creating something together that we enjoy doing, so we will keep going as long as it’s fun. After that we’ll probably open a pet shop and start speaking in a made up language no one else can understand. You know, the usual.
When were you happiest?
E – Right now, answering these questions. It’s all downhill from here.
J – I’m still looking forward to that moment.
E – All and everything by Garth Nix, David Mitchell and Stella Gibbons.
J – Anything by Jonathan Coe, David Mitchell, Iain (M) Banks.
We don’t believe in guilty pleasures. No pleasure should involve guilt – if you like something, be proud. We love Abba, Fleetwood Mac, Tiny Fey, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and grilled haloumi.
The band have announced they are releasing a 6 track EP, entitled ‘Young’ on 13th September through Moshi Moshi Records. Their current single, ‘Round the Moon’ which also features on the EP is out on 6th September on 7″.
Check out http://www.moshimoshimusic.com/
Here are a few Summer Camp tracks, including the very new ‘Jake Ryan’. They score mega Brownie Points for referencing to ’16 candles’. We all secretly wanted to be Molly Ringwald in that film (us girls at least, and maybe some of you boys as well).
Jake Ryan – mp3
North Highlands have a bewitching quality and a delectable approach to music, a spot on dynamic of rustic charm and sass driven by Brenda’s soft, yet potent cracked vocals. On first hearing Sugar Lips, the title track from their debut EP, I was immediately sold. Over the past couple of months the band have been busy working on their first album. Lead singer Brenda Malvini gives us the Highlands lowdown.
How did North Highlands come about?
I always dabbled and wrote songs while in school. I sometimes jammed with Mike (guitar), but never really had the time to get a band together and also I was pretty shy about sharing my songs with people so mostly just played for close friends. My friend Ric Leichtung booked shows at DIY space Market Hotel and he said to me one day last spring, “I booked you a show and you have a few weeks to get your shit together” So then I didn’t have a choice but to go and get myself a band. The dudes that make up North Highlands I found in school and through other friends and from the first day we jammed we just knew it was love.
There’s been a recent explosion of hip Brooklyn bands – what do you feel differentiates you from the rest?
That’s a tough one because there are a lot of Brooklyn bands that we love and have followed for a long time.
We’ve always said that our live shows are really important to us and that whatever recordings we do must be able to be performed. It just bums me out to hear a record that is super produced and then go see a band’s show and think “Wow, I totally could have stayed home and listened to your record instead.” Our last EP, ‘Sugar Lips’ is pretty laid back and when you see us live it’s a bit grittier and high energy. I think it’s always a nice surprise for people because it’s not expected from the recordings. When I see people dancing to our music it makes my heart so full.
What have been your musical influences?
We all have a ton of influences that I think really bring in nice colors to our music. I’ve been listening to a lot of Talking Heads lately and I think it’s starting to show! We’re all huge music fans and hope that our current songs will give some friendly nods to musical styles that have really inspired us.
How would you define your sound?
Latey there’s been some post rock/west african/americana/pop/dubstep sounds leaking into our songs. Whatever comes out when we’re jamming and dancing around just makes the song. and hopefully folks will like it.
You’ve been in the studio recently – what can we expect from the new material?
We’re really excited because it’s our first time in a real studio and we got to play around with some sick old instruments. All I can say is that I think that the new songs will pair nicely while lazying by the river and drinking beer from a paper bag. They’ll make good summer memories I hope.
What kind of feedback have you been receiving for both your EP and live shows?
Our EP received really kind feedback, which really excites us to keep going. “Sugar Lips” is essentially a sampler and offering of our beginning formation. The new recordings reflect more of a band sound of where we’re headed. We’ve also been given great reviews of our live shows which always makes us feel awesome. Sometimes I get really nasty stage fright and will forget entire chunks of songs and where my fingers go on the keyboard. I always have to apologise to the guys!
Any plans to tour abroad?
I wish. That is a life long dream for all of us I think. We have yet to take our van past the New Jersey border. My ultimate goal is to go abroad, I’d love to see how Europe reacts to our music, I want to see them dance! We are working on getting to Montreal in October, same continent but equally as excited!
Where would you most like to be right now?
I’d really like to be driving through the states right now with the guys, blasting Notorious B.I.G from our speakers and stopping off at a rest stop for lunch on the way to the pacific northwest. That is my daily daydream.
I spend a majority of my pay check on movie rentals. It’s kind of disgusting. Also hot dogs.
What’s the worse job you’ve ever done?
I worked at K-mart when I was 15 to save up for my first car.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your songwriting?
I was told in high school that I have Rapunzel complex, that I’m always waiting in a tower for my prince to show up! But lately, I’m drawing my inspiration from my age – trying to figure out who the hell I am and seeing my friends go on the same trip. Getting older IS hard.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I sat down in a chair in science class freshman year and it broke. We all had a good laugh and then I went and cried in the bathroom.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
I can’t say it’s just one person because there are so many people to look up to. I will say that I have always been surrounded by strong and creative women throughout my life. The women who raised me and the women who brought music into my life. The women who are my friends and my east coast family I consider to be the greatest and most beautiful women on earth.
What is your most treasured possession?
Definitely my keyboard. It’s the heaviest thing I own and the only thing I’d care about losing in a fire.
What does the future hold for North Highlands?
For now we’re working on new songs, writing and getting started on our first full length album. We’d totally drop everything to tour though, seriously can’t wait.