May 8, 2012

Interview: Extreme Animals

Experimental video artists, rave noise musicians, absurdist cultural magpies, all bystanders attempting to describe precisely what longtime friends Jacob Ciocci and David Wightman accomplish with their wild multimedia project Extreme Animals, listen closely: the band wants you to know that these distinctions are meaningless and more importantly, they want to welcome you to the Internet. Equal parts Tim and Eric and Girl Talk, the duo blend bouncy, frenetically broken electronic music and psychedelic video pastiche to create art that falls somewhere between fun and frightening; snapshots of a generation wandering between the urgent and the banal elements of pop culture, all on YouTube at 3:00 A.M. If a 90's trance production duo collected video game sound samples and Nickelodeon VHS recordings and melted them down onstage while urging their audience to hug each other, this might approximate what Extreme Animals does.

Extreme Animals (thanks in large part to their video productions) have been recognized by notable art-world institutions such as MoMA (automatic update, 2006), The New Museum, and The duo are playing with DJ Venus X and cyberdelic rapper Le1f at Rhizome's annual benefit at the New Museum in NYC this week, and I was lucky enough to sit down beforehand with Jacob and David for an engaging and very referential chat about life, culture, and holograms.

How did Extreme Animals first start? I understand the project has been active for some time now.

We have known each other since we were 14 when we met in Chapel Hill North Carolina. We met singing in an all mens chorus called Acaffellas and bonded because we both like “weird” (then called alternative) music.

We started Extreme Animals after we graduated from college. The summer of 2002 was an exciting time. We both moved back to North Carolina, recorded two EPs and booked our first tour at important venues like the Pudhouse in Charlottesville VA, Tarantula Hill in Baltimore MD, Flywheel in “Western Mass” and the Knitting Factory in NY.

Since then, we have been involved in both sides of Academia, teaching and being students (Jacob at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and David at Rice University and University of California at San Diego). So Extreme Animals became something that we toured 5 weeks out of the year, mainly in the summer.

2011 marked the first year since 2002 that we have lived in the same city so this has allowed us to devote more time and focus to the project.

Honestly we are kind of baffled at the whole journey. It’s been a mild, mild ride in many ways.

Pop on over past the jump to read the full interview with Extreme Animals.
What sort of cultural items influenced you two? (books, historical events, films, people, etc)

Trolls (hair), Trolls (internet), Riot grrrl, The music and absurdity of Skrillex, Powerpoint presentations, Facing your fears, "Being in a band", Acknowledging and embracing the paradox of "the real" in pop music, Youth group hell houses, James Tenney, Wendy Carlos, Greg Gillis, September 11th, the song "Higher State of Consciousness", Whole Foods, YouTube, Ryan Trecartin, Shana Moulton, Costco (NOT Sam's Club), Death Grips, Soulja Boy, DiS Magazine, Nautical Almanac, Silicious, Fort Thunder and the artists that came out of Providence, RI and Boston, MA during that time, Confide “Such Great Heights”, The first Attack Attack! Album “Someday Came Suddenly”, Alvin Lucier, Forever the Sickest Kids, Big Time Rush, early Design the Skyline, Etudes/Techniques books/Guitar DVD/VHS, Bring Me The Horizon “Suicide Season: Cut up!”, Twitter, Sonny Moore “Gypsyhook” EP, Boy Meets World, György Kurtág, Lizzie McGuire, Fancy Feast “The Engagement” commercial, Seinfeld, Ashlee Simpson “Pieces of Me (Instrumental)”, Dogs singing Jingle Bells (I believe this is on one of the Dr. Demento compilations FYI), Fight Fair, Hatebreed “Perseverance”, Dipset Trance Party.

No drugs anywhere in there?

Excessive sleep, red bull, internet, cell phones, money, power, cold brew.

You guys once described your music as "timeless yet referential to other types of music." Could you elaborate and describe the aesthetic of your music and videos?

Wow, did we really say that? Oh boy, well I think what we meant is that we are using a language that is filled with ephemeral cultural references, but that other aspects of the songs and videos (things like addressing fears, living off the grid, hair cuts) are issues that people have been thinking about for as long as humanity has existed. . . Can you even separate the timeless from the contextual? This is a question our band asks.

Culture is a paradox: it is created within a certain context but always outlives that context. Our work plays with/examines/critiques/interprets this paradox. This is something that all bands do actually, we just maybe do it in a more obvious way. . . You find yourself in the world and you make things that try and deal with the world. Your music changes the world and you have to deal with that fact too. We heard that Paul Ryan listens to Rage Against the Machine on the way to work every morning.

Our music has changed a lot over the 10 years of being a band (abandoning the drums for guitar, embracing samples, playing with videos projected behind us) But I think one thing that has stayed the same is an attempt at being "in the moment": trying to get as close as possible to telling the truth, to expressing honest feelings from within this cultural nightmare, rather than pretending to be outside of the nightmare.

People make art because they want to be more timeless than their own limited bodies--to cheat death. You make something, it's out there in the ether, your identity is now bigger than your weak little body! Some people focus on making their creative output as big as possible, to reach as many people as possible, maybe they are REALLY afraid of dying :) But you have to pay a price if you want to live forever. The bigger your work becomes within culture the harder it becomes to control. You thought you were doing good but maybe you contributed to World War 3. You paid the grim reaper so you could be "rich forever" (even after you die) but you don't get to control what happens when your body dies. That is your sacrifice to the hive mind. You should interview Tupac's Hologram about this.


The English critic James Wood famously described a mode of expression he referred to as "hysterical realism", where manic absurdism serves as a vehicle for deeper questioning of how we live. Do you consider your art to fall in this tradition?

Um, we hesitate to identify with something we haven’t read (yet). But something about this resonates . . .

Sometimes we feel like our band plays the same role that a Clown plays--manipulating an audience by oscillating between the comic/tragic. Have you ever been having an incredibly intense, sincere experience and also been laughing at yourself at the same time? Can you be both in the moment and also outside of that moment? Perhaps on a roller coaster? In the body but beyond the body? We think about these questions when we make our music, videos, and perform. Ecstatic, infinite, intense but also mundane, boring and awkward. Culture is not progressing nor is it degenerating. Our music and videos are an attempt at dealing with this situation, that is simultaneously always the same and always changing, of the constant turn-over of what does and does not currently have meaning. The word "meaning" here could also be replaced with words like "power", or "subversive potential" or maybe even just "edge."

Much has been made of the trend of sampling in the last few years, with some seeing it as negative for creativity. Do you feel there are ill effects to creating art by being a magpie of the cultural dumpster?

When we started this band 10 years ago we played with mainly noise bands or rock bands with instruments, writing songs. Now almost all of the bands we play with use laptops or some kind of "backing track". These artists did not make their laptops from scratch, and are often "sampling" the preset sound generators created by software engineers. This kind of appropriation is a given in contemporary consumer culture. Creativity is the strategic and intuitive process of copying and pasting. Our band just makes this fact more obvious.

The more time people spend inside the hive mind (the internet) the more it becomes obvious that no one "owns" anything, that material and ephemeral culture are created by working together as a big, semi-conscious, many-tentacled monster. Maybe even the notion of authenticity is a lie. Seen from a distance maybe we are like ants making tiny, incremental, almost unnoticeable changes to preexisting conventions for the sake of the group. Contrary to popular belief, the man born Tupac Shakur did not create 2Pac by himself. All of our desires, fears, and neuroses, from the past to the present and into the future, are what engineered and supported the public entity known as 2Pac. When 2Pac's body died we built a hologram version because we didn't need the physical version anymore. We continue to create 2Pac without Tupac Shakur's consent.

The whole idea of “remix culture” seems sort of silly right now. . . you would never talk about “note culture.” Right? Stravinsky said something like “A good composer does not imitate; he steals” You certainly hear that in his music. Something about that idea is important to us. Don't ask permission just take it.

You guys have been involved in the past with the New Museum and MoMA in New York, as well as other formal outlets for often non-musical art. Where do you see Extreme Animals in the context of the "new media" boom and is there a line between installation/performance art and what you guys do?

Wow we never thought of it as a boom. The space of new media is infinite by nature (the internet never ends), and there are quite a few talented artists capitalizing on this frontier. But to monetize that space (make a living off of it) is a different task. Some of our friends who make work that gets classified as "new media" might feel trapped by this term. As a kid you first realize the impossibility of separating art forms from one another when you recognize that "MTV" isn't really about music or videos but is actually about something else . . . A term that more accurately describes creative output without breaking things up into discreet genres is: "branding". Distinctions between academic or populist, fine art or entertainment, mainstream or sub-culture can be both damaging or productive, depending on their use. Hopefully our band can accelerate the cycle of these walls both collapsing and then being rebuilt in a more productive way. Destroy, Build, Destroy.

Who do you see as some of the best working artists today? (musicians, installation artists, videographers, etc etc)

Henessy Youngman, Ke$ha, Juicy J, Tauba Auerbach, ryder ripps, Louis CK, Transformazium, juiceboxxx, MTV riff raff, Dimples, Schwarz, Stanya Kahn, Misaki Kawai, Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, Ssion, Preteen Gallery, Kari Altman, James Ferraro, Mykki Blanco, Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed, On Stellar Rays, Tabor Robak, John Maus, Casina77, chrisMsimon, Oliver Laric, Mick Barr, Jason Aldean, Jonny Corndawg, Guardian Alien, Dynasty Handbag, Jesse Hulcher, Breanne Trammell, Nick Demarco, David Berezin, Burzum (JK!), Next Life, Michael Guidetti, the blog "weird dude energy"

What's next for the Extreme Animals?

We have a lot of exciting shows in May: the Rhizome benefit on May 9th with L1EF and Venus X.  The Hot Sugar record release party on May 24th at Littlefield. The Black Dice Outdoor Bar Bee Que at Secret Project Robot on May 26th. We are doing remixes and "making beats" (LOL) for other artists.  We are also finishing up a DVD of new material. Keep an eye out for that. AND you can still order our award winning MONSTERMASH t-shirt online.

Let's keep talking, world!!!!

Lastly, any shout outs?

Thank you to everyone who has ever supported us. We finally made it to the internet!

Video: Pictureplane - Body Mods (Extreme Animals remix)

1 comment:

  1. yo WHERE can i get your music extreme animals dudes, i've been looking but I have no idea