Mines is an extraordinary DJ. An original member of Fade To Mind (a crew that includes Kingdom, Prince William, Nguzunguzu and Fatima Al-Qadiri), his adventurous, cross-genre style sits well with his peers, though you won't find anyone who mixes quite like he does. His sets are hyperactive, deconstructive and informed by a love for horror. They're heavy on regional club sounds, exclusive tracks from his friends and his own weird edits and remixes, where Mines takes pop culture icons and places them in macabre new settings. Drum tracks are wielded like blunt weapons and familiar voices are brutalized by vicious noise, like some inversion of the clichéd gay-club-Top-40-remix.
A scroll through Total Freedom's SoundCloud shows an artist who takes equal delight in accessibility and antagonism. He'll give you a full-vocal edit of Ciara's "Body Party," sure, but it's set at the "Vissacoor Morgue," full of grinding sounds and spurts of blood. There's an unsettling 24-minute composition called "10,000 Screaming Faggots," which was originally written for a Hood By Air runway show but sounds more like one of those Halloween cassettes you might have heard as a kid. And there are plenty of DJ mixes, which vary from ethereal and ambient to a typical Total Freedom club set, where it seems like the goal is to pound the listener into submission.
Mines grew up in Seattle listening to punk. This no doubt shaped his belligerent and often sarcastic attitude towards dance music, which he got into after moving to Chicago. He attended and played at parties, and became excited at the idea of a gay scene that could move beyond the mainstream clubs of Boys Town. After moving to LA, Mines became involved in an event called Wildness, at The Silver Platter, a venue known as a haven for queer immigrants (particularly trans people). Wildness was so prominent that a full-length documentary was made about it. The other side of Total Freedom came out with Grown, a party he started where dancing was expressly prohibited. These kinds of spaces and performances became invaluable to his development as an atypical DJ who challenges and disrupts as much as he uplifts.
Mines has now gone from local curiosity to a widely-renowned DJ, a move that still feels remarkable given the confrontational weirdness of a typical Total Freedom set. He pops up all over, from frequent stops around Europe to regular appearances at Venus X's fêted GHE20G0TH1K party in New York, or the roaming Janus events in Berlin.
Over our hour-long conversation, it's hard to tell when Mines is being serious and when he's fucking with me (at one point he asks if RA is a fitness magazine), but that just seems to be his style. What he is serious about, though, is nightclubs and the people inside them. He sees how clubs can bring people together and also how they can reinforce consumerist conformity. This puts him in a precarious place between surprising and upsetting people, though he says that it's getting easier as people grow accustomed to his style. As he tells me about his plan to create a half-busted soundsystem that could also double as a guillotine, it's clear that Mines is one of the more fascinating and unusual club music figures out there.
What kind of piece are you working on now?
Right now it's sort of imaginary because it's still in development, but the two curators asked me to make something. I think they were hoping that my contribution would be an audio installation of some sort, to glue together all the separate zones of the show, build something for transitional areas. That's kind of what I'm working on, but I'm also trying to build something sculptural. I'm not really a handy or crafty person at all, so I'm collaborating with some tech guys here, and it's gonna come down to how much time and effort they can put into it because they have quite busy schedules otherwise. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what this sculpture element is going to be, but it's essentially an obnoxious representation of a soundsystem, half functional and half not functional.
Do you have experience in working with sculpture or other physical mediums?
Some experience, sure. I actually worked with the same person in 2012. I had an art show at a gallery here in New York called Suzanne Geiss. I did this show called Blasting Voice, and it was a performance series that lasted over a month. There was an installation in the gallery, which was this idea of a stage that I built with Thunder Horse Video. And then this guy Jim Toth from New York, who's kind of a New York legend—he builds custom soundsystems for big events and big names, but he's also an artist, so he likes to do smaller, weirder things. That's why he jumped on this with me.
You know the club Santos Party House in New York? He designed the soundsystem there, and he's a friend of the crew of artists that built that space in the first place. He's a really cool guy. I'm trying to get his team to help me build this custom soundsystem that's half soundsystem, half guillotine, or something. I don't know, we'll see what happens [laughs].
Where did the idea for that come from?
I'm turned on by looking at things from a gruesome or horror aspect. The piece, so far, is called "The Hook," and it's riffing off the idea of functional club music, and everything that's disgusting and also enchanting about that—thinking about the function of club music, and how it works when it's working "correctly." Like, the function and effect that it has on a human body, and relating that to being something violent, and watching the effect of functional music more than hearing it. If you could go to a club that's playing maximum-impact EDM and not hear it, but just watch the audience, watch how their bodies are trained to react to the power that that kind of directness has on the body, and the predictability of the effect that it has. It's akin to seeing a worm moving, wriggling on a hook as bait to catch fish.
I guess it's psychedelic—just thinking about music that is made for a specific goal, and when it reaches that goal, how it's kind of gruesome. As much as I can get wrapped up in it, and enjoy it, it also just makes me think of the end, you know? Once the goal's met, that's the end. Kind of morbid or something. It makes me think of the grave, so I just need to figure out a way to build a soundsystem that will deliver the sound that I'm building for this piece, but that also has an ominous presence—and will look like something that could take your head off, too.
Does your love of gruesome and violent sounds come from the physical experience of being in a club itself? Or does it come from somewhere else?
I don't know. A normal producer knows about how to build sounds for a soundsystem in a club. Everyone I know who makes music has some kind of basic understanding of using compression. I'm completely clueless about that. I think anything I've ever made that is functional on a club soundsystem is because someone who isn't retarded helped me, knowing where to position things so they work. So my boner for looking at things from a gruesome standpoint is—well, we could just talk about what I do, which is edits and remixes of popular pop voices. Putting them in a light that's more honest, shattering the mirror a little bit and talking about what's behind it. That's what I would say of my overuse of horror themes and sounds in my edits. I'm bluntly trying to take apart a pop production that's produced like all pop music—music that's trying to finger your pleasure centres and turn your brain off.
Why do you think it's more honest, the way you play with their voices?
The world's, like, dark, right? [laughs] There's a lot of nasty shit in the world. Maybe I'm ridiculous and it's a fantasy, but I just feel like there's probably a lot of really dark, evil things going on behind people who are getting to be the world's number one chart-topping hitmakers or whatever. It's not just like a casual stroll down the street. They probably made a lot of nasty decisions and everyone involved has, somewhere, made some dark choices. And the picture is not like that. It's like, "Oh, they're just really fab, they're so fab that it just worked out for them, isn't it so nice to see their fabulous lives." That's obviously a lie, and it's just amusing to me, to repaint the picture with some sort of honesty. I hear the sound of men and women being burned alive in all of my songs.
A lot of clubbing mythology paints it as an escape from negative, evil or sad things, but you confront people with it. Is that on purpose?
An opportunity to disrupt that kind of easy ecstasy is exciting to me. Just seeing this one BPM that rolls around through a whole evening of clubbing, and one vibe, this constant ascension or this idea of ascending energy and elation—like what functional club music is supposed to be—it's grim. I guess I'm getting back to this idea of this piece I'm trying to develop right now. It's easy to make the choice to keep everyone on this one train track, and let them roll down it and drink more alcohol and be happier and happier as it's happening. Or you can take the opportunity that you have, which is control over a group of people's intake for a moment and make their heads go in more than one direction—not just the easiest direction.
In the last few years I've been watching people––maybe not directly next to me, but around me––making choices to pay bills, which is fine, because everyone needs to eat. But seeing people make choices to dumb down their music—and by "dumb down" I mean make house music—it's just such a common progression. For some reason house music just keeps on coming up in my head as this thing that should, like... go away [laughs]. But it isn't going to because it's so digestible. It doesn't have the same tackiness that something like EDM has. It's acceptable, but also just boring as fuck.
I've seen a lot of people go that route––that was also part of the inspiration for this piece, about seeing function in production as a casket, a gruesome, end-of-the-road kind of thing. I don't even know why I'm talking about that, I'm actually really fun—ask anybody, I'm really fun, I swear. But I was in Miami for two months and decided to not work, and by "work" I mean not get on every plane that people asked me to get on, to go somewhere and DJ, which is what I've been doing for the past two years. I was really excited by the opportunity to do this thing at the New Museum, and there's also few other projects that were exciting to me that came up. And then Björk asked me to remix something for her, from her new album. It's been an interesting two months, because I don't even know if I know how to DJ anymore. I'm really confused about it.
You said that you tended to accept every invitation or every booking that you got for those two years. Why was that?
I have never really wanted anything out of this more than just travelling and meeting people, and that was an opportunity to do that, and it also included me being able to eat and pay rent. And it was also completely functional—it was my job as much as anyone else has a job where they go in from Monday to Friday. It's more like if someone asks me to fly to wherever, and perform for them, I'm not doing my job if I say no all the time. And I don't have some kind of inheritance where I don't have to worry about how I'm paying rent every month.
Do you enjoy the lifestyle of travelling and flying around?
I used to assume that everybody wanted to act like that, but having people close to me, especially my boyfriend, who hates travelling—I understand that it's not a picture-perfect idea for everyone. And in a lot of ways, you'll catch me complaining all the time about random shit. But I'm blessed to even have the opportunity to do it, and I'm definitely happy about it. I think eventually it'll just evaporate. People will just get bored of my samples of burning men and women in clubs. But while people think it's cute, I'm so happy to go places and meet people that I wouldn't otherwise.
And all over the world, I meet people that I have really distinct connections with. I really feel like they're my family, and I wouldn't have had that opportunity, even as much as the world's been melted into iPhones, as close as we are to everything, without getting to be in the same physical space and encounter everyone's weird… smells, or weird ideas that they're bringing to the club. I wouldn't be as close to so many of the people that I've met in the past few years. And I'm very happy for that.
It's funny you say that because a lot of people think of you primarily as an internet artist––someone who lives on the internet. How do you feel about that kind of association? Do you think it's important?
I don't even… what? [laughs] I don't even know what the internet is. I don't know how to use it. I'm like, too old or something. I started late—I didn't have email until senior year of high school. I have actually heard that before, and I don't really understand what it means. Somebody interviewed me once and was like, "It's weird because your images on SoundCloud are so net art," and I was like, "What are you talking about?" I don't even know what that refers to. I feel like I'm too inept with modes of online life to really claim that I'm a net artist, and I don't really understand what any of it is.
I'm also turned off by a lot of online community stuff. Like Twitter, when it first started, when I first joined it I was really confused about what it was. It wasn't until I started hanging out with Venus X. Her Twitter, especially back in the day, was really off the chain. I was like, "Why is she talking like this?" and then figured out, "Oh, this is what it's for, this is what people are using this for." I just figured out that you're supposed to be as loud as possible. Everyone just yelling from their private bubbles, and you can check in on everyone's bubble of dementia or whatever—their private, hysterical megalomania [laughs]. You can just check in and see what it's about, and then check out, and it's kind of generous of everyone to be sharing their dementia that way. You can see that everyone else is a psycho just like you are. I think that's what Twitter's for.
I couldn't be more turned off by the community aspect of SoundCloud, which is where everyone has dumped all of their musical output into one tiny, ugly hole. I don't like anything about the way that everybody's always watching each other like we're all each other's big brothers or something. It's too creepy in there, it's too cramped in there. You need to open a fucking window somewhere for some air. But saying that, there are things about net community and trending and stuff that pissed me off, or turned me off, but... the internet still functions like a random roulette, opening windows into new ideas and the other side of the earth and stuff—things you aren't going to encounter on your daily walk around town. I'd say that a lot of channels have been silenced because search engines are functioning in a smarter way, tuned to your previous choices, and things that would be out of your frame are silenced in a way. That's fucked up. That's why I'd say the internet is functioning less like this open field than it used to.
I've heard it argued that your music reflects or is about the information overload of the internet. Is that just completely bullshit?
[laughs] Where did you read that?
A few websites.
Websites! So you read this online, huh? No, I wouldn't say that that's, like, an inspiration point for me at all. I mean, I'm also half blind and deaf, so someone else deciding what I'm doing is probably a good idea, rather than me trying to talk about it. I definitely don't know what I'm doing. I pretty much can't understand why anyone has ever interviewed me, ever, but I'm not going to complain about it. And it's really nice to meet you [laughs].
You said you liked disrupting the cycle of people drinking and taking drugs and having a good time in the club when you DJ. What reaction do you expect from the audience when you start playing?
To get their coats and go home unhappy [laughs]. It should be possible to offer a window into ecstasy, and offer that as an option, but also to have it be a bunch of doors to make peoples' brains go in more than one direction at once. That way, they have some experience that expands their mind instead of just hammering the lid on the coffin. The goal is not to make someone pissed that they came to the club, but more just interact and have someone engage with themselves more so than just waiting for the drop over and over and over and over again until the end of time.
So how do you go about trying to do that with your sets?
Obviously I have to strike a balance between what I want and what some guy in a buttoned-down shirt who runs the club—who is worried about who is buying bottles and who is standing around to buy drinks, because that is obviously where the money comes from, how I'm getting paid and why anybody is there—wants. I strike a balance between tricking people into thinking they're riding a wave in one direction long enough so that they stay with it, and then drop something that upsets them and makes them confused.
As someone who primarily DJs, why is sharing music with people in that kind of context so important to you?
I still get off on it, I guess. I feel like there's nothing really out-of-the-box that I'm doing as a DJ anymore, and that there might have been a moment when it was like that, when it wouldn't have been that easy for me to hop on a plane to Istanbul and play in a club and everyone there just completely gets it. There was a time when the only place I ever figured out how to play outside of the States was in Mexico City, and that was so crazy, just playing bubbling music there. It's like—stop everything in the club! They're just staring at you, no concept of having any interruption of their normal thing, but it's not like that anywhere in the world anymore. I feel like pretty much anywhere that I'm invited to play, the crowd has already heard a DJ who's gonna play something exactly like I play. And to some extent that means my job is easier. And to some extent that means that my job is more boring [laughs]. To some extent that means that I'm less turned on about sharing music, or sharing music in that way, because the punches have less of an impact.
How do you keep yourself interested?
I don't know if anyone has noticed, but I haven't even made a mixtape in over a year. I do remixes and edits, and I make mixtapes, and that's all I'm known for, and I haven't even made a mixtape in the past year. And part of it is just feeling like, "Well, I did that, and the next mixtape that I make will probably just be the same thing that I've done before and that other people have done before."
I was recently thinking about this piece that I'm doing for the Triennial, also thinking about automation, the way in which things that we're proud of ourselves as people for being creative—powers that a human body can have—can also be replicated by machines. Over time things have progressed with DJing and DJing software. A DJ's function before was like, "Oh, you're someone who can figure out how to match the disparate BPMs and put them together in a way that's exciting to people." It's like, "OK, well that's what DJs used to do. That's not something a DJ has to do anymore, because any type of software or hardware has functions to do that now."
And then on top of that it's like, as a DJ, part of your creative power is not just being able to match BPMs; it's being able to match emotional landscapes of music, like chord changes and signatures. That's also something that is now an automated function. You, as the functional human behind a soundsystem, don't actually have to make the choices that are lined up. As a DJ your powers lie in that you are this discerning person who can choose what songs are going to move an audience or a listener, and that is also something that I feel is moving towards being automated in terms of DJs who just belong to a record pool. I just found out what this is recently, and it's like... what is that? Who was behind that and why does it exist? Getting a dump in your inbox every month or whatever of the songs you're supposed to play.
All that automation shit that's going on is interesting to me, but also makes me less excited about putting a lot of struggle into making crude mixtapes like I have done for the past few years. If someone can just throw the new songs of the week into their key reader and then figure out which songs are supposed to be matched up together, and which should do whatever, and do the whole thing in like five minutes—do I really need to make one? Or can a robot do that and I can do something else? [laughs] That was part of what I was trying to work out through this piece at the museum. I was trying to see if there were things that were even further along and more advanced than I assumed in terms of automated music production, wondering if there was anybody developing anything that was—something like a house music generator. You just turn it on and tell it what kind of emotion you want, and it makes the songs for you or something, you know? [laughs] It hasn't happened yet, I guess, but it probably isn't far off.
Do you think you'll get inspired to make more remixes and edits?
I mean, I stayed making random cheap edits like I always had, but it's just—I don't know, we'll see what happens this year. Once I've finished with these two museum projects, and if I can crank out this Björk remix in time—we'll see. I might just get bored and decide I have to or something. For the last year I've just been like, "Oh well, whatever, someone else can do that." Or some robot can do that.
Would you call yourself a producer in addition to a DJ?
Sure, I'll do that [laughs]. Because I'm not going to say I've never made anything. Plenty of people who are actually just straight-up DJs will call themselves producers, so… I am a producer, but I will not claim that I'm on the level of everybody else that I know. I'm like a snail's pace producer. And no one should be concerned, or waiting for any shit, because it'll just piss them off. You'll hear it when you hear it.
Total Freedom is playing our SXSW party, which takes place at Vulcan Gas Company on Wednesday, March 18th.