Three years after the technoise primer that featured an introduction to Prostitutes, Donadio admits to detesting the term. But it isn't just "technoise" he dislikes, it's a list of labels. "One music writer referred to me as a 'noise trooper,' which is ridiculous," he says with a mix of indignation and humorous dismissal. "But what really bugs me is when a writer describes me as just 'noise.' It's not that I don't like noise music. It's that I have never actually made noise music. It's like calling me jazz. I've never made jazz. Whenever people ask me for a label I give them 'no trends electronics.'"
As this retort implies, Donadio takes issue with both labels he deems misapplied and genre categorization itself. It's a hardline position, yet it's understandable. As we run through his ever-growing catalog (12 titles spread over nine imprints to date), it becomes clear that any one label, or even bundle of labels, ultimately fails to capture the radical pluralism coursing through his sound.
Donadio correctly points out that the only records that truly embody the technoise impulse are his first two: Prostitutes and Psychedelic Black, released in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Even those two are filled with quirks. Where most American technoise producers have roots in harsh noise, power electronics or drone, Donadio's reach back to underground rock and hardcore punk. Before committing full-time to electronic music, he played drums and then bass in a string of Cleveland-area bands, most notably Speaker/Cranker, Flat Can. Co. and Dutch Rub. This difference might appear insignificant (i.e. noisy is noisy, right?), yet it goes a long way to explaining the flecks of motorik and synth-punk robotics that help give each album its unique character.
Let's jump to 2014's Truncheon Cadence (Parts 1 and 2), a pair of 10-inch EPs on Mira: already Donadio has shed much of the thudding primitivism that initially landed him in the technoise camp. The music still feels insular, surly and densely analog, yet the grooves now move with agility and suppleness. The biggest surprises are "Odd Dog End" and "Rigid Pathetic Heaps," dub techno deconstructions that reveal Donadio to be well versed in artists like Rhythm & Sound, DeepChord and Deadbeat.
Last year also saw Spectrum Spools drop Petit Conchon, which actually sounds like the work of a different artist. As per usual, the music is idiosyncratic and off-kilter, but Donadio's groove research now focuses on looped percussion and gnarled breakbeats. Both "The Bluffer's Corporation" and "Stains Left Unnamed" are skeletal monstrosities shuddering nervously to syncopation excavated from drum & bass. The thrilling "Build Your Kits," meanwhile, folds hyper-minimalism into house-party funk.
According to Donadio, a key inspiration behind "Build Your Kits" is Trouble Funk's "The Beat," a go-go classic from the early '80s. "That track is nine minutes, and it never changes," he says with a laugh. "It's almost pointless, like why would you play a track for nine minutes and barely change anything? People don't understand what minimal is. They think it means there's not a lot of going. But as you can hear in 'The Beat,' minimal is about the barest amount of stuff you can have that still is interacting, engaging and moving."
On Ghost Detergent, the omnivorous Donadio yet again jumps tracks by folding said minimalism into his love of '80s hip-hop and electro. Describing the weirdo beat-work as "instrumental hip-hop" would strike many as a stretch. But as unconventional as Donadio's productions may be, they successfully reflect his reverence for the Afro-futurism and experimentation lurking in the music of innovators like Mantronix and Rammellzee, as well as the Winley Records and Wordsound scenes.
"20th-century classical, musique concrète, tape manipulation, etc., were invented by academics with the specific purpose of challenging the ideas of what is considered music. Hip-hop, on the other hand, was created by playing small segments of other artists' records, coupled with primitive electronics and people singing and talking over them," says Donadio, who can vividly recall the high school party where he heard Sugarhill Gang's "Apache" for the first time. "Not to mention, it mostly was made by urban black youths. That is 1,000 times more subversive and experimental than those other genres."
All this pluralism, so willfully chaotic and all over the sonic map, almost seems like an intentional ploy to subvert the myriad labels we music writers initially thrusted upon Donadio. "I am not going out of my way to be different, but I am trying to challenge myself and the people that listen," he says. "That being said, I do love fucking with preconceived notions and expectations."
Still, it would be a mistake to frame Donadio's stylistic evolution as a barrage of unrelated disruptions, protests and about-faces. An aesthetic does wind its way through Donadio's many releases, from his initial blasts of four-track electronics to his recent forays into mutant wild-style. Granted, this essence is often deeply buried. Yet it is there, and it revolves around the general idea of grafting the live, visceral muscularity of the rock/funk/punk continuum to the rhythmic automation of electronic music.
This idea in one permutation or another has captivated Donadio for decades. In the mid-'90s, when as a listener his taste in electronic music grew from hip-hop and drum & bass to also encompass techno, the first thing he noticed was the music's similarities to the vintage Krautrock that had influenced his band of the time, the motorik-meets-improv Speaker/Cranker.
"That was right when Basic Channel records were coming out, and those Purpose Maker records, and Surgeon," he says. "Those are what I started with. They were simple, and they were hard. They were like Ashra jams or Neu! jams but with these repetitive beats. It's all just psychedelia through repetition."
Around this time, Donadio flirted with the idea of putting together a rock-based ensemble that would explore fusions of techno, Krautrock and acid punk. He even envisioned transforming Porter Ricks' 1997 track "Explore" into an extended cosmic jam. The concept, however, never made it past the planning stages. It wasn't until he began shifting his creative energy to electronic music that he revisited it.
Of the myriad labels Donadio has worked with, it's the London-based Diagonal, founded by Oscar Powell and Jaime Williams, that has pushed him hardest to make this fusion the centerpiece of his music. "Oscar has a very specific sound in his head. He once said, 'What DNA did to punk is what I want my label to do to techno," Donadio says. "That's how he sees it, and I'm totally down with it. In my case, though, it's more like what the Necros did to punk."
It's a producer-label relationship that has grown into a friendship. "Oscar and I correspond almost daily," Donadio says. "I consider him a close friend. It's like we have known each other our whole lives. When I was on tour in the United Kingdom and Europe earlier this year, I played with him the first night in Berlin and the last night in Amsterdam. It was fantastic. Diagonal are like family to me. He and Jaime are incredibly supportive."
But Donadio, as if sensing where the conversation is headed, is quick to add that none of this stuff—punk-meets-techno, the Diagonal "family," he and Powell's complementary styles and so on—should be cause for music writers to think up yet another label with which to saddle him.
"No trends," he utters with decisive finality.