Perfect Sound Forever


Moby gets intense

Interview by Jason Gross (September 1997)

When he started, Moby seemed like THE star of the whole techno movement. An ace DJ/mixer/creator and unashamedly upfront in his performances and his social/political views, he stood far out ahead of a lot of bedroom recluses who could barely show their faces in public. He 'blew' his reputation among all the uptight purists when he came out with Everything Is Wrong and then Animal Rights where he supposedly 'abandoned techno.' He didn't of course- because he committed the 'sin' of showing all sides of his music, people thought that he was giving up on dance music. Anyone who listens to his CD's will find it still there (along with ferocious rock tunes) and especially in his side projects such as Voodoo Child. Despite the detractors, he's still a techno pioneer who's probably got people mad because (like a lot of creative musicians before him) he insists on stretching the music.

PSF: You started studying music in '76?

Well, I first started playing instruments when I was nine, around '74 or '75.

PSF: What kind of stuff were you listening to that got you motivated to do this?

At that point, probably just pop music. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Donna Summer, early Aerosmith. Really just whatever was on the radio. I was nine or ten years old so I guess that my musical palette hadn't developed all that much.

PSF: Did that change when you starting playing in bands?

The first band I was ever in, I think I was thirteen years old. We played cover songs. Anything that we could figure out or anything that we could get our respective guitar teachers to show us. I don't think it changed anything. We didn't play out, we just played in a basement. Then when I was fifteen, I started a punk rock band with some friends of mine. We played out a lot as part of the New York and Connecticut hardcore scene.

PSF: How did that effect your music?

I think if anything, it just gave me a sense of when you put something on stage, it should be entertaining. At the time, the hardcore scene was really dynamic. You'd go to shows and they'd be just the most entertaining things you'd ever seen. Now, I think that's instilled me with a sense of performing and making an effort to be dynamic, engaging and entertaining.

PSF: You lived in an abandoned factory for a while, right?

Not exactly abadoned. Quasi-abandoned. It was in Stamford, Connecticut and it was slated to be destroyed. I had a really small space on a floor and the whole floor was abandoned. I was the only tenant there so my space was maybe 400 or 500 square feet. The rest of the floor was 40,000 square feet. I had my little studio there and lived and worked there. I loved it. It was wonderful even though I didn't have running water.

PSF: What changed for you when you started DJ'ing in '84?

Before that I'd always been interested in dance music. One of the first singles I ever bought was 'The Message' by Grandmaster Flash. I always loved Donna Summer, Kraftwerk and New Order and a lot of stuff that was dance music. I don't know it was dance music- I thought it was new wave or whatever. When I started DJ'ing, I started getting interested in stuff that was exclusively dance music. Hip-hop, dancehall reggae and early house music.

PSF: Nowadays, you seem to be going back to your roots....

But I really don't have any roots.

PSF: Well, you seem to be playing more rock music now.

When I first started playing guitar, I loved lots of different types of music and I still do. Even now, with a record like Animal Rights, which granted has a lot of guitar stuff on it, but while I was making it, I was making the Voodoo Child record which is exclusively electronic. I've never seen the point of doing one thing at the exclusion of anything else.

PSF: So you see a difference between your different projects?

I see lots of differences between the work that I do but they all come from the same person.

PSF: You've said that the difference between 'intelligent techno' and other techno is that you can't dance to 'intelligent techno.' What did you mean there?

There was a period in '93 and '94 when the British rave scene had become very blue collar, very working class. I think that offended a lot of more middle-class music journalists in England. So they started championed things like Orbital and Aphex Twin and B12 and Autechre. Basically, it was techno but it wasn't dance music. That's fine if that's what they want to listen to but they took it upon themselves to disparage dance music. Essentially, when you have one record that's a dance record being made with the same exact equipment as what's being used to make an 'intelligent techno' record, it's really hard for me to set up distinctions between the two and say one is inherently better or worse than the other. Things are just different. I don't know why people are always trying to set up these musical hierarchies. It is quite possible for lots of different musical genres to peacefully co-exist.

PSF: You've taken several strong positions on social issues. How do you think an artist can make a difference in peoples' lives?

I think that there are a few ways. One is trying to do a little bit of personal research and share what you find out with other people. Another is by just being an example. I think that's my case- someone who's striving to figure things out and striving to live well and live without too much environmental impact. I think that it's probably the best thing I can do.

PSF: Do you think your lyrics bear out these sentiments?

No. The lyrical stuff that I deal with is exclusively emotional. With my political, social and environmental interests, I feel much more comfortable dealing with them prosaically in an essay format.

PSF: You've always talked about how you thought that culture should be challenging. How do you see that?

I think that not all culture should have to be challenging but occassionally challenging culture can be really nice. The Sex Pistols were wonderful. The Clash were wonderful. Bad Brains were wonderful. Public Enemy were really wonderful because they were really in your face and challenging and very political. There can be other things that can be aesthetically challenging. I just don't think that culture should retreat from being challenging. I think a lot of music and a lot of culture does that. It just sort of trots out the same old stuff slightly repackaged. I think that's a shame.

PSF: How do you see your work as going against that?

By trying to be honest for one thing. Experimenting a lot and trying to be vulnerable a lot. Trying to invest what I do with a lot of sincerity and a lot of emotion.

PSF: What kind of hobbies or interests do you have outside of your music?

My hobbies and interests are actually kind of dull. (laughs) I like to read a lot. I read the THE NEW YORKER and the ECONOMIST cover to cover every week. A lot of fiction, non-fiction. I hang out with my friends and occassionally get drunk out of my mind. Swim, play tennis, go canoeing on occasion. Basic mundane stuff but it keeps me happy.

PSF: You were talking before about putting on a good show. A lot of techno today isn't too exciting live but you really make an effort to do a good performance.

I think that's one of dance music's weakest points- the way that it's presented live. At this point in my life, I've never seen a good live dance act or a good live electronic music act. Never, ever, ever. It either veers to the cartoonish or it's the same old thing with two guys on stage not doing anything. The lights may be wonderful and the music may be wondeful but there's no reason why the performers themselves can't be more dynamic and can't make more of an effort to be entertaining and communicate with the audience.

PSF: Why do you think that is?

I think that's because they're all really shy. (laughs) A lot of electronic dance music comes out of England and there's a lot of shy, reserved English musicians. I think that with electronic music also, because a lot of these guys aren't singing, they haven't figured out ways to present themselves in a live format.

PSF: You're making a distinction between English dance music and dance music from other countries then?

I don't really know. I wouldn't say that you could break down differences between countries. Scottish dance music is very different than dance music from Manchester which is very different than dance music from London. I certainly wouldn't get into any sort of nationalism or nation-orientated distinctions between dance music.

PSF: Are there any particular aritsts that you hear now which you like?

In most cases, with electronic dance music, it tends to be singles based. I'll be out dancing and hear a great single and never know who did it and it's more anonymous then. I like a lot of the more commercial stuff like the Prodigy and Tricky. I like them a lot.

PSF: You've done a lot of remixes and productions. How do you find doing that kind of work?

To be honest, I like doing it but I prefer working on my own. Working with other people can be really interesting but at the end of the day, I like doing it on my own better.

PSF: What do you see as the future of dance music?

I think one of most exciting things in electronic music now is this sort of hybridization that's going on. You have rock bands colloborating with dance acts. You have people experimenting with musical traditions in a very open minded way and combining things that have never otherwise been combined. I love that. I certainly have very little time or patience for the more purist approach to dance music. I think what makes dance music exciting is making it functional and investing it with an air of experimentation so that people feel free to experiment and express themselves in more unconventional ways.

PSF: Could you talk about your work with Trophy Records?

Basically, it's just a way for me to put out records under different names. The stuff on Trophy is the stuff that I really wanted to do but it didn't bother me if it was successful or not. It's more self-indulgent dance stuff. More underground things I guess.

PSF: You studied philosophy while you were at college. How do you think that's effected the work that you do?

I think it's compromised my ability to be really, really successful. (laughs) I think in general... it's hard to explain. It's a double-edged sword. It tends to be a good thing and a bad thing. I tend to see a lot of different things. I don't see very many thing as being inherently right or inherently wrong. I think a lot of great pop music is made by people who approach the world in a very one-dimensional, monolithic way. Unfortunately, I tend to look at broder cultural contexts and I think that sometimes limits my ability to write a really great pop song. That might not make any sense because I can't really explain it. (laughs)