10.11.2018 | Words by: Bram Barentsen
‘No elitism, no prejudices, no 4/4, no genre’, are the first words of Parrish Smith’s biography. His screaming guitar tones, enigmatic productions and unpredictable beats have made him a unique figure in the industrial scene. He seems mysterious and demolishing, but knows how to evoke different feelings by challenging and provoking.
Started from his attic room in Utrecht, it only took Parrish a year to receive from the likes of Nina Kraviz and blossom into an artist who contributes regularly to L.I.E.S. and Knekelhuis. I took a moment to talk to the rowdy producer about his soundscape for a work on slavery, narcissism on his notorious ‘Sex, Suicide & Speed Metal’ EP and how to consciously play with moods. Q: First of all, I’m curious; what do the dark November days do to you?
A: It makes me leaves the house less, but my music isn’t seasonal. It always embraces a darker atmosphere. It’s best to find a balance between both. Dark and light. Q: How does this affect your production process?
A: I usually already spend a lot of time in the studio, even during summer. So I’m used to it. Sometimes I just stay indoors for days. It affects it more in the sense that the days I spend inside are shorter in summer. Summer days, winter days, it will never affect my music. It stands on his own. It’s just pure what I feel at that moment, what I want to tell. Sometimes it’s a getaway. Sometimes you talk about things, which can be confronting. It actually goes both ways, but it’s always personal. Q: With everything you do it seems that music is very personal to you. What does music mean to you?
A: In the beginning music was always an escape. I was still young and didn’t know how to deal with certain feelings. I think many younger people experience this, especially when they start making music. They see it as a kind of escape.
You also get to know yourself better through music. You are confronted with certain emotions, which helps you to explore your inner self. Music as a kind of communication with yourself. So, if you write songs and notice it touches other people, it’s nothing but beautiful. It inspires me. Q: How did you crawl out of your shell?
A: There have just been certain turning points in my life, times when I was at such a low point, I had to recognize change was necessary. Change to just feel good. I think many people go through rough times, and I am glad I had it at a younger age. I’ve worked on it already. Q: You created a soundscape for the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision with which you confront the Dutch colonial past. Through works by the anticolonial writer Anton de Kom, you created a sound to the black pages of our history. How did this come about?
A: It came about through a previous project I had done with the Foam museum for which I made an audio tour for the exhibition of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The Institute discovered me through the audio tour, and that’s how I got in touch with them for this project. They were looking for someone with a Surinamese background. I am Surinamese, and my grandparents are from India and China. Other artists and I got the chance to go into the archive of Indonesia, India and Suriname. I ended up discovering personal stories from Surinam during the period of slavery.Q: So, you actually chose Anton de Kom yourself?
A: My father always pushed me to look at books from Anton de Kom. And read his books about slavery, but at a young age I didn’t really understand it. I knew what slavery was, but I did not know what significance it brought along.
When I took on the project, I completely immersed myself. I took books from my father and made a story parallel to slavery. It seemed beautiful to me to tell a personal story. The side of people who were inside what was happening, instead of an overarching look at what slavery was. Everyone knows what that’s about. I wanted to look at it from the inside. To give them a story. Q: What kind of responses did you get?
A: The response was great, I’ve had plenty good reactions. Also a few bad ones. Some people think it’s a shame when you bring slavery back up again. The only thing I responded to them is ‘it’s important to be aware of someone else’s culture’. Bringing it up is just a short moment. But just in a fragment of time you can get some idea on what something is like or can feel to someone. It makes them think. I can’t change people. They have to do that themselves. Q: How do you listen to such a loaded record?
A: It’s still music, but it’s more charged and much heavier. In any case, it’s a record which you should listen to at ease and let the story guide you. It’s best to take a moment to reflect on how you feel about the story after listening to it. Q: Despite the indispensable role of music in your life, it took you twenty years before you started producing. May I ask if you know why?
A: Simply because I came out of my shell so late. It happened to be that moment when people around me started collecting gear and LP’s. It also struck me, and I immediately went very deeply into it.Q: Your productions went quickly from your attic room to releases on Contort Yourself and трип. How did that come about and how did it feel?
A: Nina [Kraviz], a friend of mine and I were in de Red Bull Studios. She had borrowed our 303 and my friend played a track of mine to her. I immediately had to send her everything I had. She released two of my songs. Contort Yourself was in the early SoundCloud days and it also happened very quickly and spontaneous. I remember, my first records were recorded with borrowed gear and before I realised, they were released. It inspired me for more. Just more, make more music, work harder and see how hard it can be. Q: Another form of appreciation comes from your own side: you regularly take the time to respond via SoundCloud and give the names of tracks from your sets or pre-recorded mixes. Why do you think this important?
A: I indeed give ID’s of tracks which I find good or can be interesting away pretty quick. I just have to give them. Of course, I have some gems which I don’t give away so quickly, but besides that I enjoy sharing those ID’s. Especially if they are from artists who haven’t received that much exposure yet. Artists who just deserve it. Then you just have to give it. Q: Several solo EP’s followed, different tracks on collaborative EP’s and the birth of Volition Immanent – your electronic punk project with Mark Knekelhuis. You produce and do a lot. How do you manage to?
A: To be honest, I think I do very little. I consciously keep the output low. I take time for a good product. I indeed do collaboration EP’s and remixes slightly faster. Those go a bit outside the identity I put down with an EP like ‘Sex, Suicide & Speed Metal’. For me, it’s important to release good material. Every time again. I’m aware that I’ve many years to go and I’m using that. It’s important to create my vision. From the moment I started creating a sound, I went all the way. It doesn’t matter what kind of genre, as long as if it’s my own institute. I’m working on it and I make sure it doesn’t go too fast. Q: What are you currently focusing on?
A: Currently, I am working with Interstellar Funk, a good friend of mine, on an EP for L.I.E.S. It’s almost finished. I work together with people I can level with very well. Working together is complementing each other instead of looking for a middle way. You do not want to fall short for each other, but you work together to give it something extra.
Furthermore, it’s important to me to plan everything; once a week Volition Immanent with Mark [Knekelhuis]. Of course, Mark is also very busy with Knekelhuis, but our project continues. We’ve a lot of material which only still needs to be finished.
Once a week with Interstellar [Funk], and this way I have three, four days to myself. Structure is important to me.Q: Your release ‘Sex, Suicide & Speed Metal’ on UFO, Dekmantel’s little techno-sister, sounds dark, burning and intimate at the same time. It’s a sound which I hadn’t heard before. Can you talk a little about the project?
A: I’ve been experimenting all those years to come to a point where I have an actual sound. I think ‘Sex, Suicide & Speed Metal’ is the first phase of that. Through my life I’ve listened to all kinds of music, hip hop, trap, reggae, dance, metal, and I still listen to it all. I think industrial keeps sticking too much to what it is. I want progress.
If you look at hip hop and trap, you see how progress is finding it’s place within the genres. I find those artists excitingly innovative. It still remains within the same form, but they dare to experiment and take steps forward. For example, what Death Grips and Kanye West are doing now. They tackle experimental pieces and take industrial elements to create their own. I wanted to reverse that. A bit of my position, industrial, and more song based and pop structure, but yet with autotuned vocals which you can find in trap.
I turned it around, because why not? I always want to motivate myself. It just feels good to me. ‘Sex, Suicide & Speed Metal’ ended up very raw, moving, pretty hypnotizing and I can tell something about it. Q: Do you want to deliver a message with it?
A: It’s about egocentric and narcissistic behaviour, which everyone has. It’s not a secret. The texts always resonate with how others feel. Depression, distance; the distance you feel when you share something and nobody understands you. When you’re kind of right, but someone else simply doesn’t understand you. It happens both ways.
It’s about how relationships can be. When someone expects something else from me and, despite trying to do it right, I can’t give it to them. Another person might be able to do so, but it’s not on me or her. You’re just not at a level where you can understand each other. It’s a breath taking topic to talk about. It resonates with other people and also has something sensitive. I don’t mind exposing myself in my music. Q: It seems like you want to stay away from genres as far as possible and want to keep overwhelming. Why?
A: The shock factor. People need something. Something direct, primitive, to push the button. Which is the case with everything. I don’t think your mood can change slowly. You need to overwhelm out of nowhere. People must wake up. I don’t like concessions.
For me, what’s important is that I don’t think in boxes. Elitist behaviour, thinking in boxes; it’s something I’ve never wanted to do. It’s important to find your own identity, it’s important for everyone. Whenever people listen to my productions or experience my sets, they can see that I found something for myself in my music, and think ‘I can do something myself too’. It’s important, and this inspires me and others. It goes back and forth like that, and in the end you only want more. Q: Is resisting the establishment something you feel strongly about?
A: My controlled rebellion has always been that way. You can walk around the edges and sometimes go over, but you have to watch out. Play a lot with those limits, but know what the consequences are.Q: Why do you have this urge?
A: It comes from controlled aggression. Aggression with previously wasn’t controlled. Now I know how I can play with it. You learn how to play with moods and atmospheres. It has nothing to do with power, it’s just beautiful to make a connection with others. Q: What kind of sound or music embodies the feeling of rebellion to you?
A: All kinds of music. In every genre there’s something which I know is going to work. ‘This will get wild’ or this gives it one last push. It happens naturally within the structure of dance music, but it isn’t genre-bound. I think you can use anything for it.Parrish Smith will be playing in the basement tonight alongside Regis and Job Sifre.