tti… Speaks to Underground Resistance

Founded by “Mad” Mike Banks and Jeff Mills, Underground Resistance has been highly influential in techno, but it’s much more than a record label. UR is committed to the welfare of the disenfranchised youth of Detroit’s suburbs, as well as drawing much of its talent from these same areas. And the music itself has far more depth than your average electronic dance music; UR claims to “encode” messages into their output and frequently talks of an “assault” on the mass media and major record labels. Looking at their website you might come to the conclusion that you were looking at the webpage of an anti mainstream militia. (www.undergroundresistance.com)

As you read Home Office cryptographers are studying this communication from UR label mates Atlantis and DJ Dex for its true meanin…

TTI: Can you tell us a bit about what you are involved in at the moment?

Atlantis: We’ve just finished up several EPs, Lanminds by  DJ Skurge, Tazumal by Nomadico, and Sunshine by Bileebob.  There’s also the Electronic Warfare album which will be coming out on CD soon.  The Galaxy 2 Galaxy band has transformed into the Universe 2 Universe band and debuted at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the official public introduction happening at the TodaysArt Festival in Holland.  There have been some performances and soon a new EP will drop on them as well.  Then there’s the upcoming projects like Abandoned Buildings In Mono by Mad Mike, and later in 2008, Interstellar Fugitives 3 will be released.

Two members have been doing double duty in Juan Atkins’ Model 500 band as well.  Mad Mike has done some remixes for Paul Randolph’s Lonely Eden CD.  Ray 7 just finished work with blues great Joe L. Carter for the soundtrack of a documentary detailing corruption in a Detroit suburb, and both Nomadico and Ray 7 have done a remix project with New York experimental jazz outfit Nublu Orchestra, and there are more projects in the works.  A lot of activity…

TTI: That UR is a movement committed to the downtrodden of Detroit is clear from your words and much of your history. Do you see UR’s most important contribution as offering hope through a career in music, or as a voice for the community?  Or do you think of it more as a platform to disseminate your ideas from?

Dex: Based on my own experience, I think it depends on the listener. UR and techno music stimulated my imagination and helped me realize there was more to life than short term pay-offs and accepting the reality that was handed to me. If my work serves as a catalyst for change in the mind of somebody listening, then my contribution is complete and the cycle continues.

TTI: It seems to me that music has often been the backdrop to social change, but rarely the cause. Do you agree with that, and what are the changes you can expect to bring about? Or maybe seeing UR as about music is an oversimplification?

Dex: I think we’re failing if we expect music alone to initiate change. The process is more like a feedback loop. Life’s beauty and brutality affects the musician, entering the creative process and through the musician’s inspiration and skill, these things are projected back out to the world in the form of music. I think this is what musician’s mean when they speak of just being a conduit for God or other metaphysical forces. We’re just part of a larger, chaotic process.

TTI: UR often speaks of their messages as “coded”. Why send coded messages, and who are they aimed at? Are you trying to spread confusion, and if so why? Or should we see the whole movement as having double meaning?

Atlantis: Reality itself has a double, triple plus meaning.  Scientists talk about genetic codes, and we talk about codes of behavior, knowing that one action means something very different to different people.  Language itself is a code for interpreting life and culture, which is where the concept of “lost in translation” comes from.  So yes, musical notes themselves are a code and yes, there is going to be confusion, but that’s the nature of chaos and life.

Dex: A coded message can be a track title or something in the track itself, even part of the arrangement. Encoding, encrypting and deciphering information is an art form; the Egyptians, Mayans and other cultures still have codes that we can not decipher. In UR, the act of coding or encoding is an art itself and if a listener chooses to appreciate the process as much as the message, then they are on our same wavelength.

TTI: You often mention your love of technology and its importance to your music. I wonder if you feel an affinity with artists like Autechre and Squarepusher, who have a similar view of the importance of musical technology, although they have a broadly white middle class fanbase.

Atlantis: We haven’t talked with either enough to say whether or not we share viewpoints on this.  But on the real side, the technology has given many producers the ability to create great works that before would’ve been far too costly for the average kid in the city to do otherwise, so a lot of the music you know and love would’ve been previously impossible on a financial level alone, thus technology has helped level the playing field on the musical level, but there is still a technology gap that threatens to move people away from each other culturally as well as economically.

The internet has many advantages for movements like yourselves who want to get a message out without the backing of corporate budgets. Do you think that having a strong identity like yours is important when there is so much “free floating” creativity on the internet?  By “free floating” I mean without context or background.

Dex: Yes, identity still matters. One of the biggest challenges to navigating the Internet is the constant noise that comes from spam, pop-up ads and cutting through the general information overload. The next wave of technology is filtering and customization, making the Internet fit to your likes and dislikes, it will take on your identity. So it is still important to know who UR.

TTI: The idea of big record labels manufacturing hits and controlling tastes is something you’ve spoken about at length. Do you feel the internet might change all that? Will people have to think for themselves more?

Dex: The internet is simply another form of media and there is a great deal of time and money being spent on how to control tastes and feed people junk through the internet.  A “toxic broadcast” isn’t just something that can happen on television or radio.  The benefit is that there are also many voices running contrary to that, working to open people’s eyes to the power they have to make decisions for themselves.  But as for people “having” to think for themselves, unfortunately, anyone who is determined to sabotage their own freedom and be led by another can and will be led.

Atlantis: This issue is an ongoing debate within UR. Although there are many more tools at our disposal to subvert dominant paradigms, not everyone has the time or willingness to learn these tools. So fundamentally our goal is still the same, using tones to stimulate thought and imagination so the youth can think beyond the ordinary.

TTI: Is it necessary to know about the background of UR to “get” your releases? Or do you feel that your music could be appreciated by someone who wasn’t aware of your aesthetic?

Dex: The basic idea is to keep it funky. I want the listener to feel something first and then take interest in the theory behind the sound.

TTI: What do you think of other musicians who have decided not to try and release music under their own terms? Do you think their creativity is inherently limited?

Atlantis: What do you think of other musicians who have decided not to try and release music under their own terms? Do you think their creativity is inherently limited?

Any real musician, whether or not they’re with a major label, creates their own terms for what they do, and how they do it.  Each person has to decide for his or her self what that means.  Anyone who would “decide” to not have any terms for what they do is a fool.  That goes for life in general, not just music.

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