It might sound overly romantic, but sometimes learning about an artist shouldn’t really be as easy as looking up their discogs history, following their twitter feed and skim reading a biography that’s pasted on an outdated myspace page (and one that’s been left untended, growing the straggly weeds of spam-bot advertising for band stickers and discount CD pressing at that). There should be a little bit more mystery and a required level of immersion in their output that eventually let’s you in, piece by piece, be it through intensive liner notes or choice interviews given surreptitiously to besotted publications.
Whilst the internet has revolutionised distribution and the recognition of (and access to) anybody’s music it’s also killed a lot of the ambiguity and the happenstance of in-shop browsing – or that punt you once took on a CD that guy with the sunn o))) t shirt recommended to you. But for all the furore and the cacophony of silent noise that’s perpetuated by young musicians shouting out, self promoting and vying for your unwavering attention, the internet does throw up some absolute fucking gems at times. Like, the tumblr generation of instant online gratification can be like a doorway to a different world, whether that’s a retromania of 90s kitsch (http://fuckyeah1990s.tumblr.com/) or a truly unique insight into an artists work or personality, it’s just that often, you have to wade through a torrent of shit to find them.
For this reason, amongst others, Louis Johnstone makes me a happy person. Whether you know him as Dem Hunger (the alias under which he released probably his best known work, Caveman Smack on Matthew David’s Leaving Records) or Wanda Group – or Saxophones, GG Alien, Mothershipss, GSD or Tigerpiss – you’ll probably have learned a little something about him along the way. Musically he’s skewed but personably he’s kind of an everyday guy. His latest output, an imaginary split release between GSD and GG Alien on the Astro:Dynamics label called the More Pregnancy EP, is an 8 minute stumble through audio fragments that are choked in echo on one side, and a breezy tide of pixelated chimes on the flip. But that scope of his output is all part of the intrigue.
GSD (Dem Hunger) – Hair Tonic for Longer Hair [Astro:Dynamics]
Johnstone’s experiments in sound range from tracks made simply with a drum kit and his voice to weird acoustic guitar ditties, fractured, spastic beat work and incredibly detailed atmospheric blends of snatched sound and effected loops. The most detailed information available on him to date comes from an interview he conducted with the Work:Ethic site where he discusses a little bit about the contrast between his everyday self and his slew of creative alter egos (though they mostly focus on his work as Dem Hunger on the back of the ‘Caveman Smack’ album) and the collage artwork he produces. In it Johnstone comes across as personable and genuine, and his twitter feed (which is written in ALL CAPS BTW) amplifies this as he shuns any real kind of direct promotion, going instead with detailed snapshots of his everyday life and these little 140 character led anecdotes. And for me I’d rather hear about underage kids asking him to buy them booze than read an update on his travel plans. Simply put, he’s self effacingly funny.
Over the past week or so that he, the label and I have been discussing his new record and this very feature I’ve lost my train of thought countless times, being so eager to explore his blogs, current and prior, and soak up as much of his creative output as possible. To me, Johnstone’s a kind of true individual and an artist whose real processes remain uncovered, even though he’s incredibly present on the internet. I respect that in the utmost and even more I’m totally enamoured by the music he makes, the language he uses and the discordant images he produces to accompany it all; but the best thing, the thing that really makes it worthwhile, is that he doesn’t know it; and I can’t ever imagine him ever wanting to understand why.
The following is an email conversation we had earlier this week, one that took place to enrich his contribution to our ongoing mix series which by right, is actually the next Wanda Group release, a 10 minute mixtape full of original constructions that he’s called SPORTS COMPLEX SWIMMING POOL 1996.
Sonic Router: There are a couple of bits in your Work:Ethic interview that I got stuck on. Little throwaway quotes that probably could or should stay that way but got me thinking… “I don’t ever pretend to know what I’m doing, I just do it.” In terms of the way you work, it’s totally non linear? Where do you even start?
DEM HUNGER/WANDA GROUP/GSD/GG ALIEN etc: I NEVER HAVE REALLY WORKED OUT WHAT I AM DOING BUT I THINK THAT GOES MOST OF THE SHIT IN MY LIFE. I AINT EVER HAD MUCH SELF BELIEF IN WHAT I DO BUT I JUST DO IT BECAUSE I WANT TO AND SOMETIMES SHIT COMES OUT IN A GOOD AND PERSONAL WAY AND SOMETIMES ITS JUST GOES OFF INTO THAT WEIRD BAD ENERGY. ALSO IT’S ALL BASED ON MOMENTS, I GUESS. YOU START SOMETHING AND IT COULD GO ANYWHERE. THAT IS SOMETHING THAT KEEPS THE SHIT I DO MOVING.
“I’ve never got into the habit of using sequencers.” So how are you constructing the music you make?
VERY VERY POORLY AND ON VERY SHIT AND CHEAP OR FREE EQUIPMENT/PROGRAMS THAT I HAVE USED FOR ABOUT 16 YEARS. I GET MY HANDS ON NEW SHIT EVERYNOW AND AGAIN BUT IT’S USUALLY THE BARE STUFF THAT I HAVE ALWAYS MADE ALL MY MUSIC WITH. DEMO FRUITY LOOPS OR ABLETON OR SOME LITTLE CHEAP KEYBOARD AND VINYL OR TAPES OR ANYTHIN I CAN REALLY GET INVOLVED IN.
Is it still all made in live takes? Where does the source material come from?
I STILL MAKE IT LIVE AND BASICALLY RECORD BITS OVER EACHOTHER AND IT ALL KIND OF JUST GETS DROPPED INTO A BIG LUMP. NEVER BEEN ABLE TO SEQUENCE BECAUSE I AM A LAZY CUNT. MATERIAL COMES FROM WHATEVER… YOU MIGHT WATCH A FILM LIKE ZODIAC AND THEN YOU JUST HEAR THIS 2 SECONDS OF SOMETHIN AND YOU THINK ‘OH OH OH, UH OH, I NEED TO TAKE THIS’ AND SOME NICE IDEA JUST FORMS IN AN INSTANT.
WANDA GROUP – WORSE GEAR
You make music under a bunch of different guises, your Astro:Dynamics release is by GSD and GG Alien for example, and then there’s Saxophones, Wanda Group, Tiger Piss etc, but it’s all you. Is there a difference between any of them? Like, how do you make the distinction yourself?
TIGER PISS/SAXOPHONES WAS ALL STUFF AROUND TEN OR SO YEARS AGO WHICH USED TO BE MORE IMPROVISED LIVE STUFF… SO ME ON A DRUMSET JUST SINGIN SOME SONGS; OR ME AND A BASS GUITAR JUST MAKIN A LITTLE RACKET. THEN I USED TO BE IN A FEW BANDS (GIRLS TEETH, NEON RAH) WHICH WAS MORE BASED AROUND ANGULAR SORT OF SOUNDS. I NEVER REALLY WORKED WELL IN GROUPS BECAUSE I ALWAYS GOT A BIT WOUND UP WITH THE WHOLE THING.
THEN I DID MOTHERSHIPSS STUFF WHICH WAS ME ON A GUITAR SINGIN AND MAKIN WEIRD LITTLE SONGS WHICH THEN STARTED TO INVOLVE SAMPLES. I DID A LITTLE RECORD CALLED LION STICKS AND I GUESS I REALLY GOT INTO SAMPLING AND FUCKIN ABOUT WITH OTHER PEOPLES MUSIC. I WOULD TAKE A TINY LOOP AND THEN BUILD UP A MELODY AND THEN SING OVER IT AND THEN BUILD AND BUILD AND SO ON.
THEN ALL THAT DEM HUNGER/THE HERS/GSD/GG ALIEN/WANDA GROUP STUFF EVOLVED FROM ABOUT 2008 AND RIGHT NOW STILL BLOWIN OUT.
DEM HUNGER IS DEAD THOUGH I THINK. I HOPE THAT SHIT DID NOT DRAG.
Your outward profile, like the old blog, the way you write in ALL CAPS on twitter is funny. It’s like part avant-garde serious, part schoolboy fuckwittery. I mean, how do you feel you come across as an artist through this? Do you think the persona you put out there mirrors the music at all?
PROBABLY SOUNDS LIKE BOLLOCKS BUT I JUST LIKE THE WAY THE LETTERS LOOK WHEN THEY ARE ALL LARGE AND BLOWN OUT. TO ME I DO NOT SEE IT AS ‘SHOUTING’ OR BEING ‘LOUD OR WHATEVER’. IT JUST LOOKS NICE AND EVEN MY HANDWRITING AT WORK AND SUCH IS NOW IN CAPITAL LETTERS SO I GUESS ITS FUCKIN TAKEN OVER ME IN EVERYWAY.
I KNOW THAT IT’S A PROBABLY CUNTISH THING TO DO BUT I LIKE IT AND ETC, ETC…
THE WHOLE PERSONA THING IS JUST ME FUCKIN ABOUT AND TALKIN ABOUT STUFF I LIKE OR THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED IN MY LIFE OR STUFF FROM BEING A LITTLE KID. I HATE IT WHEN ‘MUSICIANS’ BANG ON ABOUT THEIR RECORDS OR UPCOMING SHOWS ALL THE TIME SO I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE NICE TO JUST FUCKIN TALK ABOUT REAL THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED OR THAT GO ON IN MY LIFE. THAT KIND OF SHIT IS VERY NICE AND CAN ALSO BE VERY FUNNY TO ME.
AFTER A FEW DRINKS I CAN GO A BIT TOO PERSONAL ON TWITTER AND TALK ABOUT SHIT THAT HAPPENED TO MY NAN BEFORE SHE DIED OR MY GRANDAD HAVING DEMENTIA BUT I DO THE SAME IN REAL LIFE. I HAVE FUCKED UP WITH GIRLS THAT HAVE BEEN INTERESTED IN ME QUITE RECENTLY BECAUSE I TALK ABOUT VERY WEIRD PERSONAL STUFF A BIT TOO EARLY (WHICH I AM FUCKIN DOIN RIGHT NOW IN THIS INTERVIEW)…
I NEED TO FUCKIN RELAX.
Dem Hunger – Astro Glug
Your appropriation and transformation of old images reminds me of early Anticon releases where a lot of the artwork was collage work or the artists own paintings/illustrations. I know you released on Matthew David’s label and obviously Odd Nosdam has been on there too. I know you’ve referenced Madlib before so it’s the flip side of that coin a tad but do you draw any distinction between their work and what it is you do?
THE ONLY THING THAT I EVER REALLY LISTENED TO THAT WAS ON ANTICON WAS THE FIRST WHY? ALBUM.
THERE IS NOTHING INTERESTING IN WHY I MAKE THE COLLAGES APART FROM THE NEED AND THE EXCITMENT I HAVE WHEN DOING THEM. IT SERIOUSLY RELAXES ME AND SLOWS DOWN MY WHOLE BODY AND I CAN SIT THERE FOR HOURS AND HOURS MAKIN ALL THESE TINY WEIRD LITTLE PIECES OF WORKS FROM OLD PICTURES OF MOUNTAINS OR CONCRETE OR SOME ROCK THAT HANGS ABOUT IN NORTH AFRICA.
I GOT VERY MUCH INTO IT AFTER I QUIT MY JOB AND I HAD MOVED TO BRIGHTON AND I WAS JUST SITTIN ABOUT AND I USED TO GO OUT AND GO TO POUNDLAND AND BUY GLUE, PAPER AND THEN I WOULD FIND OLD MAGAZINES AND THEN I WOULD JUST DIVE RIGHT IN.
What type of things are you listening to at the moment?
THIS WILL SOUND EVEN MORE LIKE I HAVE CRAWLED INTO MY OWN ARSEHOLE BUT AS I AM WORKIN ON QUITE A FEW RELEASES I HAVE JUST BEEN TOTALLY SOAKED IN WHAT I AM MAKING AND WORKIN ON NEW LITTLE SOUNDS AND SUCH. I MEAN I HAVE BEEN LISTENIN TO LOTS OF STUFF BUT JUST OVER THE PAST MONTH OR SO I HAVE BEEN WRAPPED UP IN MYSELF.
OBVIOUSLY I STILL LISTEN TO SUN CITY GIRLS OVER AND OVER. I LOVE THE NEW YVES DE MEY. THERE’S SO MANY WILD LITTLE ELECTRONICS AND SOUNDS FLOATIN AROUND INSIDE THAT THING.
I AM VERY EXCITED ABOUT ACTRESS, STILL. THAT GUY SEEMS TO JUST TAP RIGHT INTO HIMSELF AND DO WHATEVER THE FUCK HE WANTS. AND I HAVE BEEN LISTENING TO THIS WEIRD OMAR S TRACK ABOUT 203 TIMES A DAY, IT HAS THIS WEIRD CUT AND LOOPED UP KEYBOARD SOUND THAT JUST GOES ON FOR ABOUT 10 MINUTES.
THE NEW SSALIVA AND DYNOOO STUFF IS WILD AND I AM VERY FUCKIN IN LOVE WITH BOTH OF THEM ON A PERSONAL AND SPIRITUAL LEVEL. I RECENTLY HEARD SOME RECORD BY JULIA KENT CALLED DELAY WHICH HAS THIS VERY VERY WONDERFUL CELLO SHIT GOIN ON…
Becoming Real & Trim – Like Me (Dem Hunger Horse Milk Remix)
Can you tell us about the Astro:Dynamics release? What’s the score there?
LUKE EMAILED ME ABOUT 6 MONTHS OR SO AGO AND ASKED ME IF I WANTED TO DO SOME ARTWORK FOR A RELEASE HE HAD. WHICH I SAID I WOULD AND DID. THEN A FEW MONTHS LATER I THINK HE LIKED TWO TRACKS I HAD DONE THAT I HAD PUT UP ONLINE. I WAS NOT SURE ABOUT THE WHOLE IDEA AS I DIDNT REALLY LIKE THE TRACKS THAT MUCH WHICH USUALLY HAPPENS AFTER ITS MADE. YOU JUST GET SICK OF THE WHOLE THING.
BUT I TRUSTED HIS EARS AND LET HIM GO WITH IT. I HAD SOME ART IN MIND FOR IT AND A LITTLE IDEA ABOUT THIS WHOLE ‘FAKE SPLIT’ KIND OF RECORD AND IT WENT FROM THERE.
And the mix you’ve made for us… can you describe that?
IT IS ALL STUFF WHICH I HAVE MADE VERY RECENTLY WHICH WILL EITHER COME OUT OR WILL NOT COME OUT – ALL WANDA GROUP STUFF. IT’S VERY MUCH ALL KIND OF BASED AROUND WHERE I GREW UP AND SPECIFIC PARTS OF MY TOWN.
LIKE ONE BIT REMINDS ME OF THE YOUTH CENTRE WHICH IS RIGHT NEXT TO A MASSIVE 24HR TESCO OR THE LITTLE SHIT RUNDOWN SPORTS COMPLEX WHERE A LITTLE GIRL DROWNED IN THE SWIMMING POOL ABOUT AN HOUR BEFORE MY SISTERS BIRTHDAY PARTY.
THE LOCAL LITTLE POND WHERE I WOULD TELL MY MUM I WAS NIGHT FISHING JUST REALLY JUST GETTIN DRUNK WITH SOME GIRL IN A TENT.
Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
HAVE COMPLETE FUCKIN RESPECT FOR PEOPLE.
LET THEM FUCK UP AND MAKE MISTAKES.
GIVE THEM CHANCES AND FUCKIN LIVE WITH IT.
DO NOT GET TOO WOUND UP ABOUT SHIT THAT YOU AINT GONNA CONTROL.
EACH DAY I HELP SOMEONE OR I TRY TO BE KIND AND GIVE A SHIT.
IT AINT FUCKIN HARD TO NOT ACT LIKE A COMPLETE CUNT.
THAT IS NOT WISDOM BUT JUST SHIT THAT PEOPLE NEED TO THINK ABOUT MORE…
THIS IS FOR MYSELF BUT I AM LOOKIN FORWARD TO SEEIN MY NAN (ELSIE) VERY SOON. I HAVE FINALLY GOT CHRISTMAS DAY OFF WORK SO I CAN GO BACK HOME. SHE HAS MOVED IN WITH MY MUM, DAD AND SISTER AND LIVES IN MY OLD BEDROOM SO I HOPE MY ROOM NOW SMELLS LIKE HER BECAUSE THAT SHIT REALLY REALLY MAKES ME FEEL AT EASE.
SO DOES THE WHOLE SMELL OF MY CHILDHOOD HOUSE.
THAT SHIT KEEPS ME WARM AND REALLY HELPS ME.
GO EASY, PEOPLE.
The More Pregnancy EP is out now on Astro:Dynamics.