|J.T.C.: The acid warrior
What's in a name? RA's Todd L. Burns asks the artist known as Tadd Mullinix, James T. Cotton and Dabrye.
What's in a name? Sometimes not all that much. When I quiz Tadd Mullinix, AKA J.T.C., AKA James T. Cotton about why his new album on Nation, Creep Acid sees him choosing the former moniker over the latter, the explanation is remarkably simple. "I was going as James T. Cotton for a long time, and then I found out about the harpist of the same name and so I decided I should probably change it to J.T.C. out of respect for him. In my mind, there's no separation in the sound between those two names."
That's not always been the case for Mullinix, whose multi-monikered musicmaking has long been journalist fodder. The short of it? Dabrye, hip-hop. J.T.C., acid. SK-1, jungle. 2 AM/FM, more acid, this time with D'Marc Cantu. The long of it? At least five more aliases and plenty of other genres. When talking about J.T.C., though, you're only talking about acid. Not that there isn't a lot to talk about. One quick look at the Cotton/C discography, and you'll see that Mullinix has more than a few things to say about the form. Indeed, there's little tribute-paying in the studio. Instead, he pushes and pulls, teasing out something new based around the squelch of a 303 nearly every time he sits down in the studio.
What's in a name? Sometimes a little something. The genesis of Creep Acid, an album recorded in 2004, has a lot to do with what was floating in the air at the time in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area, where Mullinix hails from. Local legend Carlos Souffront "recorded this notorious mixtape I think during a lunar eclipse called Back to Mono. He wasn't afraid to play tracks slow, so he was playing Belgian New Beat, some old Patrick Pulsinger stuff, I think there's even some Drexciya. Things were slow and that was part of the concept.
"It made me search for New Beat and cosmic disco and search for slower tempo acid records—not that Creep Acid album is all about that, but there are a couple songs on that album that are sort of slow and chuggy—so Melvin [Oliphant, Nation label boss] was like, 'What do you call that?' when he heard the album, and I was like, 'I don't know, but it sounds like somebody's creeping through the neighborhood, you know?' I wish I had a posse in Ann Arbor. You know how there are dance crews? I wish there were like music crews in this little college town that I live in. Like this crew's all in to some kind of crazy music they invented and they all drive Deloreans and they're all about wearing florescent plaid, whatever, I don't know, like gang-style, like musical Warriors."
Despite Mullinix's cinematic nod, he rarely takes film as a reference point. His music, often instrumental and electronic, lends itself to it though. "Everybody around me likes film a lot more than me," admits the producer. "It's so weird, my wife just went to see this award-winning film last night and I don't even remember the name of it. I just don't pay attention to film that much, but there are some things from my past that really stick. When I was being interviewed a lot for the [Dabrye] Two/Three album, a lot of interviewers told me that something reminded them of Blade Runner and I was like, 'Yeah, I mean, I can hear that'...I could sort of understand where they're coming from [but] I wasn't thinking about cinema or anything when I make music."
Nonetheless, there are images that come to mind: As Mullinix mentions, not all of Creep Acid is creeping. But it's usually creepy. "DOM FM: Devil Mix" builds past 150 BPM by its end, its effect just as otherworldly as the raw, chugging tracks that precede it. Like all of Creep Acid, it's largely improvised, the sound of Mullinix and frequent acidic-partner-in-crime D'Marc Cantu having fun with some newly bought machines in the studio. Having so much, in fact, that they rarely stop to clean things up.
What's in a name? Sometimes a lot, especially if you're an amateur Freud. "One of the things I hate so much about making music is naming the songs. After I'm done with a song, after I've been in the studio for hours probably not eating enough, I've got to save the track before my computer crashes. I'm sitting there for fifteen minutes trying to think of a name because I've invested my whole mind in making the music and I have no capacity for much else. So when I'm searching for a name, I listen to the track and I think, 'What does that evoke in me?' I feel compelled to come up with some sort of image in order to convey the song."
J.T.C. watching Nation label head Traxx spin.
With song titles on Creep Acid like "Cryptomnesiac Deadly Trainers," "Creep Syringe Diffuses Malignant Aggression" and "Mahmoud's Industrial Bath," this particular album begs for a follow-up, so I ask about the identity of Mahmoud. "I was listening a lot to Mahmoud Ahmed, the Ethiopian singer, and I thought that the song, sort of the time signatures that were going on in that song and the tone, the key of the song, reminded me of Ethiopian music. And the 'Industrial Bath'... I don't know... That was some sort of like, 'How can I put Mahmoud in a psychedelic situation?' It's nice to be an outsider looking in, and wondering what the hell somebody was thinking when they were writing music. I mean, that's the best part about music, the mystery."
Mystery, creeping, not knowing what's around the next corner. It's what Creep Acid is all about. One of the most fascinating things about the album is how it takes what you know—707, 505, MC-202, SH-101, TB-303 and a TR-909 were all involved—and combines them in unlikely ways. Part of that is the improvisation, part of it is Mullinix's wide-ranging influences. Mahmoud Ahmed, New Beat, musique concrete. When pressed on how he views his adherence to traditional forms, Mullinix concurs. "Just because someone hears a copycat Chicago Trax record, doesn't mean that that's what it is. I mean, if I ask somebody about polka music because I don't understand it, I'm not going to be like, 'That polka sounds like the same old polka.' Maybe they're listening to some details and some elements that I didn't pick up on because I'm not interested in that music. I'm not going to say because it's polka music, it's time to put it behind me just because it's been around for a long time. Are you going to go up to Wynton Marsalis and tell him, 'You're still making the same old crap you used to make?' Of course he's doing something new—he's articulating. There are nuances in the music. That's what I think I'm doing, that's what I think a lot of my peers are doing."