Artwork by Rob Uslan (Supersillyus)
by Kyle Taylor
There are plenty of talented producers in the world, and electronic music seems to be spreading at a growing pace. Yet, when considering the world of electronic and dance music, one name seems to remain inescapable: Shpongle. While the project is actually comprised of a massive ensemble, nearing 30 musicians in total, Shpongle’s performances are most often received through DJ sets from the group’s most recognized member and lead producer, Simon Posford. Once in a blue moon will the full band actually be assembled for a performance; one of which will occur at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on May 10th.
While Shpongle features plenty of live instrumentation, the project also features a generous amount of electronic input in the form of both production and synthesizers. Together, these elements work to create one of the most unique and fascinating electronic experiences to date; and, in fact, has inspired many other great electronic acts, including Schlang.
April has proved to be a great month. It all started for us on April 5th with a visit from Simon at the Electric Factory. The night also promised sets from the aforementioned Schlang, as well as Desert Dwellers. Kicking off the night with Schlang, who churned out a relentless stream of intricate, but truly peculiar, beats. After an hour we were finally given an opportunity to pick our brain’s pieces up from the floor and begin trying to reassemble one another. But this didn’t last song as Desert Dwellers were quick to take the stage. Immediately the duo began rocking the crowd with earth-shaking atmospheric bass. The duo somehow manage to combine funk and ambient elements, twisting them together in a fine bass packaging.
Then it was Shpongle’s turn, or should I say Simon’s. What was before a loose crowd of beautiful faces jamming along to the glorious beats thrusting from the Factory’s sound system, then suddenly and rapidly condensed. Eyes lit up and every face that wasn’t grinning before certainly was now. We were all staring at the new Shpongletron 3.0- built and controlled by Peter Zebbler. Some of us had seen pictures, some had even seen videos of the stage production in action, but this was the real thing. And this was Shpongle. As Space Jesus (one half of Schlang) stated upon completion of his set earlier that night, “That thing [the Shpongletron] is going to be really, really trippy.” And indeed it was. Together, Posford and Zebbler put on a dynamically authentic performance, melding the beauties of both audible and visual art, that was indescribable and unbelievable. It was a performance that made it beyond easy to understand why the Shpongle project gets the so well-deserved recognition it constantly does. “Beautiful” doesn’t even begin to justify the evening.
After almost two hours of non-stop psychedelic madness and mesmerizing 3-D imaging, the Factory reached shut down, and the crowd erupted into applause. With a tip of his fedora, Simon returned to the mysterious darkness from whens he came. This marked the end of the night for most fans, who began shuffling toward the door. However, our night was far from over. We made our way up to grab a word with Space Jesus and Supersillyus– together Schlang. We were able to talk to the duo about their origins, inspirations, perspectives on music, progressing album, and much more; but most of all, we got a deep look into the twisted and truly unique minds of these fellows. There’s not much to tell that wouldn’t be better put to words by the men themselves. Even as an avid fan of both these artists, I found myself constantly surprised with their responses. Most importantly I learned that the duo is actually not a duo at all, but a trio, with their third member, Jimmy Frankenstein, making his contributions to the project from behind the scenes. Be sure to check out the interview below to get the real story and complete details.
Funkadelphia (F): Just first off, where are you guys originally from, and where are you based out of currently?
Space Jesus (SJ): I’ll start that one; I’m originally from central New Jersey. I was all over the place for quite a while, ended up moving to Philly and wanted to start focusing on music. Then about 8 months ago I moved up to Brooklyn, New York.
Supersillyus (S): I grew up in Los Angeles and then moved to Boston, where I’ve lived for about 8 years. That’s where I started making music and doing all that. Then one day last Summer, Jasha [Space Jesus] hit me up and asked if I wanted to move to Brooklyn, and I said, “Hell yeah.” And we did.
Jimmy Frankenstein (JF): I emerged from the bubble in an unknown era in a strange place. I was actually born out of an egg. I didn’t have a normal birth, with the phalanges and the fallopian tubes and whatnot. I emerged from an egg and I had a weird greasy film all over my body. I began to grow instantly, and I came here.
Shpongle – “Periscopes of Consciousness (Schlang Re:Re:Edit)”
F: Can you tell us a little bit about how you guys came together from your solo projects [Supersillyus and Space Jesus] to forming Schlang?
SJ: So I had heard some things of Supersillyus. Actually Jimmy was the one that turned me on to his music; he was like, “hey you got to hear this. It’s like the closest thing to Shpongle that’s happening right now.” It’s more of where I want to be going with my own music, where I want to be getting, and what got me into electronic music in the first place, Shpongle. That and hip-hop. So I try to blend those. Then we ended up playing a show together, with Heyoka, in New York. And I was just like, “Buddy, we’ve got to do some music together.” That was in May, and that Summer we had a show together with Ott in Philly.
S: He was like, “Hey come down early, let’s see if we can make a track together.” So I did, and we spent like two days working together. We busted this one track, “Gangster Computer God”, and we were like, “holy sh*t.”
SJ: Usually when I write a track, I’ll write a 3 or 4 minute thing. I try to keep it concise. And I’ve collaborated with tons of people, but when we sat down to write that material, it was like in one day we ended up with a 12-14 minute track. We were then not writing anymore, we were condensing it down. It was very collaboratively perfect, us both focusing on our strengths and putting them together, listening to each other.
S: So we finished that track and we were like, “let’s do this.” So we played it together later that night at Ott, kind of as a set break. And at that point it was just, “dude, we’ve got to do way more of this stuff. We’re clearly on to something here.” But I was living in Boston, like 8 hours away, so I would just make the trip down whenever I could, and we’d work on music together. We’d just see how much we could pull off in three days, and we ended up with a track almost each time. We only had three sessions, and then we ended up with an EP. And Schlang was born.
SJ: After we finished laying the song part, we had our buddy over here [Jimmy Frankenstein] basically try to enter this type of mental headspace that normal human individuals can’t reach. And he was able to do that. It’s kind of hard to notice when you listen, because it’s sort of garbled language all over the place, but really it’s like Jimmy entering this next mindspace, which is what gives it that element of psychedelia.
Schlang – “Gangster Computer God”
F: Jasha, you mentioned Shpongle. But who are some other artists who you feel have brought inspiration to your music?
SJ: Shpongle is a big influence, but really imagine Shpongle at the top of a tree and everything else branching out. It’s kind of like the point that holds us together, but there’s so much that trickles down from that as well. We’ll try to emulate even some Primus-y type things, and other times something like trap.
S: A lot of my influences aren’t necessarily really rooted in electronic music. I’d say my biggest influences are either Tool or Mars Volta. That whole tribal, odd-time, but they still figured out how to make it groove. And Shpongle does that very well, he’s definitely a go to when it comes to electronic music. But on my own I listen to a lot more like prog rock and all types of stuff. Mr. Bungle is one of my biggest influences. They’re so weird and so musically talented. It’s definitely not just about making a hard beat, you know, there’s music to it. There’s melodies, and those melodies take you places. I first started getting into electronic music from people like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin in high school, and that’s sort of what catalyzed my transition from punk and metal to electronic music. Just like heavy, incredibly technical stuff, but it’s all just done with drums and computers and synthesizers. I went from that to me and my best friend from high school, we started an experimental synth band. We’d build big modular synthesizers, and people would call it noise. We’d probably call it noise too, but really psychedelic, weird sh*t with no rhythm or musicality whatsoever, just to see how far we could push things with machines. Then I discovered Shpongle, which made me realize I could combine that extremely experimental side with elements of Tool and Mars Volta, and make it dance-able. It’s one thing to get inside someone’s mind, but you’ve got to get into their body too.
SJ: Although I draw the same inspiration, I’m almost on the opposite end. When I go in and focus on a track that I’m hearing, the first thing I try to notice is what really pulls you in about the track. I come from almost 100% hip-hop background. Very focused on what makes something dance-able, what makes something work for people. Then I really got into psychedelic music from there, live tronica, getting into STS9 and all that stuff.
S: Part of what makes this project work really well is that we come from, not opposite ends of the spectrum, but definitely from different tools and trains of thought. We can easily imagine merging those ideas together.
SJ: Imagine he’s playing in punk bands in high school, while I’m making beats for hood dudes. Then at whatever point, we both experienced Shpongle, and everything else that goes along with that, and then come together from these different angles.
Schlang – “Plus or Minus”
F: Do either of you have any other musicians in your families, or any sort of musical background?
SJ: My dad was a percussionist, he focused on Indian percussion. So he studied drums in India for a long time. The first things I remember of playing instruments are playing the saxophone until I was about 17 or 18. Really when I was about 15 I realized I could do the electronic stuff. I started really enjoying that because I’m really into programming. So I played horns for a long time, I played guitar for a bit. I’ve dabbled in different things. The main thing was playing saxophone in jazz band in high school.
After playing in bands in high school, I went to college for “music programming”, which was basically just writing songs in C language and learning music theory. I was great at that. I got an A in that class, but failed everything else and basically got kicked out of college at that point. I tried to get a recommendation from my professor, but he just said, “No, don’t go back to school. Just go make music.” That was probably about the best advice he could have given me at the time.
S: I’ve been playing guitar and piano since I was 8 years old. I took guitar lessons, but we had a piano. So I would take what I had learned in the guitar lessons and then try to teach myself the same thing on the piano. Then when I moved to Boston I didn’t bring my guitar with me. So I got a MIDI keyboard and a djembe and taught myself hand percussion. I went from hand percussion to MPCs, which was actually a very linear progression. I would try something out via hand percussion, then use that idea to try to program beats. It gives those psychedelic and natural rhythms. Good drum fills can really bring a song together. It makes a whole world of difference.
F: Can either of you think of a particular moment where it really hit you that electronic music was THE way you wanted to pursue music?
S: Honestly the way I see it, for some reason it’s societal-ly and culturally acceptable for me to play my music on a laptop and have that be called a performance. So I’m going to milk that as long as I can. But really, we’ve done Schlang as a full live band a few times, and that’s really the goal. Nothing compares to that, it’s so much more fun. You’re dealing with real humans, and you can either make real mistakes or you can create real random magic. It’s eventually all about getting it out of the box into a full band to add that human element. That’s always been a goal of mine for any of my electronic projects. To have the luxury of being able to write and compose anything I want at my desk in my room, but then to also have real musicians be able to perform it. That will always be the end goal: to either have anything that can be done by a human be done by a human, or the other option, to make music that can’t be played by a human, music that’s so weird and twisted. You hear a lot of DJs and think, “This is cool, but it’d be a whole lot cooler if he had a bassist and a drummer backing him.” There’s a lot of people out there who use really weird sound design, real f*ck with your head shit. That’s a case where it has to be done with computers, those sounds can’t be created by a human alone.
SJ: What people kind of forget I think is that MIDI, which is the basis for writing electronic music, was originally created so composers could write stuff out without making little notes on a piece of paper, and then present that to people to play. It was supposed to be an aid for composers, not a replacement. That’s the angle I try to always look at it from. Up to this point I’ve done a couple live band things. I’ve been lucky to work with some great musicians. I think for both of us, we’d love to have a million people on stage all doing something.
Schlang – “100” — FREE Download!!
F: What are you guys using in the studio, both hardware and software wise?
S: Ableton’s like the main work horse. We use a hundred different plug-ins, but they all run through Ableton. I use a lot of Reason for synths. Also a lot of Native Instruments software. Lots of filters and weird sound processors. My favorite one to use is Reactor, so you can kind of build what you want from scratch and make all sorts of weird sounds and drum machines. You can go down really deep even into the math of the program and tweak one number just to see what happens. It yields a lot of unexpected results and definitely accounts for most of the weird, glitchy sound effects we use. But it all gets sequenced and processed through Ableton.
SJ: One of the things that keeps us very productive is that we use two computers when producing. A lot of people I’ve collaborated with, I’d just be hawking over the driver’s seat. “You should do this. You should do that.” But we both have our own ways to express ourselves, and Schlang is mashing that together.
S: It’s literally our form of jamming. We’ll both be working on things at the same turning, running it through the speakers. At a certain point, after like an hour or so, it’ll be, “Stop! Let’s see what we’ve actually got here.” Then we’ll edit it down and go back to jamming on our computers. But eventually we’ll consolidate.
SJ: Our favorite instrument, though, is this guy right here: Jimmy Frankenstein.
JF: It’s the bingel. It’s all the bingle. See we have these weird antennae inside of our brains. And the bingle, oh the bingle. When it rings, it roars.
F: Do you have any upcoming Schlang releases you’d care to mention?
SJ: We’ve definitely been accidentally working on a record for a while.
S: Nothing too solidified right now. We can say we’re definitely working on a record right now, hoping to finish that in the near future and stick it in your ear holes as soon as we can. We also just put out our remix of a Fifth Element track a few weeks ago. We’ll definitely have something for you soon. We’re nearing the satisfaction point with the record.
JF: The tuning fork is vibrating.
S: Yeah, we’ve just got to plug Jimmy’s fork in.
JF: When the fork goes in, that’s when you really get shocked. A spork just doesn’t cut it, it’s not the right shape. You need a properly shaped fork with the long tips.
F: Alright, well thanks guys. Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
JF: I’d like to advise the children to spend a lot of time in weird areas. The Amazon rain forest, atop of trees, in the craters of inactive volcanoes. If you go in active ones it’s no good for anyone. But the inactive ones, that’s where it all really happens.
Schlang – “Fifth Element (Re:Schlanged)” — FREE Download!!