Harris isn't an irritable sort, though. He simply comes off as someone who has thought issues through and isn't afraid to offer his opinion, whether it be the fashionable or "right" thing to say. It's an iconoclastic attitude these days, and one that puts him at odds with PR-driven lifestyle techno that often finds itself atop the charts.
Nonetheless, in four short years under the 'napper guise, Harris has released on Dirt Crew, Nummer, Mule Electronic, Superfreq, and Audiomatique (the latter of which enlisted him to mix the label's tunes recently on Audiomatique 2.0). And with a host of DJ gigs on the horizon in New York, including sets at Minitek and Sunday School for Degenerates, things don't look to be easing up for Harris anytime soon. RA caught up with Harris for a high-minded discussion that ranged from Lyotard to Proust to schizophrenic cartoon characters.
You got your start with music in indie bands. Where were you living at the time?
Yeah. I went to school at Michigan State. That's when I first started to really make music. I was in a band called Jimmy Carter Solution, which was a hardcore band.
Definitely sounds like a hardcore band name. Were you playing guitar?
Yeah. I was the guitarist and singer. When I moved to San Francisco, I was in another band called Tristero and then in a band called Moscow. Two different indie rock bands. We recorded one album as Moscow, but it never really got finished because I moved to France, instead of sticking around to support the band. I never really saw it all the way through because it was between that and my schooling. I had a chance to go and study with someone in France.
What were you studying in France?
Philosophy and comparative literature. It was at the Collège International de Philosophie and it was the final lectures of Jean-François Lyotard (although it wasn't necessarily supposed to be—he died right after he gave them) and he talked about the confessions of St. Augustine.
Did you already have a graduate degree by that time?
Nope. I just did undergraduate and then didn't really apply to any grad schools. I never really thought that I was going to go to graduate school, but I wrote a paper on Thomas Pynchon during my senior year. I was asked to give that paper at a Pynchon conference. My interest in philosophy was really just for myself. I never really wanted to do anything with it necessarily, but I just sort of ended up in that scene and was writing a lot and going to a lot of conferences. It definitely wasn't the traditional route. I did master's course work eventually and that's sort of how I got into graduate school at Columbia. But then I left Columbia. I get quite bored with school.
techno or house back then."
Were you touring America in any of the bands that you played in?
We toured twice. Just the Maximum Rock 'n Roll's Book Your Own [email protected]% Life! sort of thing. We opened for some really good bands like Unwound and Polvo, but it was more that I booked bands in my basement in Lansing, Michigan. Everybody from Jesus Lizard to John Brannon from Negative Approach. It was like one of the venues in Lansing.
Were you actively trying to bring in people or were you simply a waystation of sorts?
No, we were actively trying to bring them in. We were doing shows there, we also had a place where you could get canned goods and free books. It was sort of like an anarchist collective. We organized political events, political action, things like that. I was part of an organization called Active Transformation and we did stuff like organize demonstrations against the KKK.
Are you still at all involved with that sort of stuff?
A little bit. Obviously when you get a bit older, you're not as active. I'm not as politically active as I'd like to be. I'm politically aware. I definitely contribute to certain charities. But it's something that I'd like to get back into. You see the futile nature of such action, you know? It's for young idealists more than anything else. That sort of passion, though, has sort of mobilized into whatever artform I'm interested in.
When did you first get introduced to electronic music?
My introduction to electronic music was definitely from the more experimental side. People like Steve Reich, Brian Eno, some No Wave. And then going into things like Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Aphex Twin. Stuff like the Kranky label out of Chicago, which is more shoegazer meets electronica. I just never really liked techno or house back then. That's probably because the stuff that I was doing back then was all really weird time signatures, more complex rhythms. I didn't really get that music very much. I don't know when I started to get it. Probably when I moved to New York.
Is there a first rave that you remember?
I was really into drum 'n bass actually when I was in San Francisco, but then it got too dark. It started to sound like death metal. Then when I moved to New York, I started to go to Twilo. Just being in that kind of place where the energy was amazing and the system was great sort of tipped you off that a 4/4 beat can be good, it can be interesting. I can't trace it back specifically. I do remember, though, going out with a girl that I went out with in college to a Richie Hawtin gig and thinking it was complete rubbish. I just couldn't take it, because it was really fast straight techno beats. I think I started liking it when it slowed down. I never liked the fast-paced music. I used to like all the ambient stuff like Fax.
Five Classic Cocktails
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The Ramos Gin Fizz
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The Twentieth Century Cocktail
Not the most well known of gin cocktails, but definitely one of my favourites if made properly. Combine Gin, Lemon Juice, Briottet White Crème de Cocoa, and Lillet Blance, and double strain into a cocktail glass. It seems like an unconventional combination but it’s a winning one nonetheless.
The Hemingway Daiquiri
Slight variation of a traditional daiquiri with Rum (preferably a Rhum Agricole Blanco), Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, lime juice, and a splash of grapefruit juice double strained into a sugared cocktail glass. You’ll be writing the great American novel in no time.
Dark and Stormy
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Him, Bill Laswell. The Plastikman stuff was amazing too. But I was never really into the banging techno. But I also think I've gone through some periods where I've played the banging techno stuff, but I always end up coming back to the deeper stuff. I write music between 120 and 122 BPM's anyway. I don't think you can really get any real nuances or complexity when it's fast for the kind of stuff that I want to do, at least. And I'm not saying it's better or anything. It's just what I like.
That said, it seems like Adultnapper tracks are tailored for each label they're on. You'll get a certain side of Adultnapper on Ransom Note, another when there's a release on Audiomatique.
I'm to the point now where I'm not that interested in shopping my tracks around necessarily. There are certain labels that I want to work with. When I first started out I sent out my tracks to a couple of different labels, and now I've worked with Audiomatique for some years. I've been working with Nummer—I have my second release coming up on there. And I'm working with Clink, because they're good friends of mine and I really want to be part of a worldwide label that's also from here, New York. And Clink definitely has a good name and they're good people and I respect everything that they do.
I'm more interested with the labels that I do work with in an A&R process. It's an interesting experience. It helps you grow as a musician because you're working with someone from the label and tailoring tracks for an EP. It's almost like you're working on a project—you have to have a real idea of what you're doing. It's not like shopping tracks. ("Does this work? How about this?") You do an A-side and then you do a B-side and, then, say the B-side isn't exactly right. You go back and tweak. It becomes a real learning experience, you begin to narrow your skills down to a goal. I don't know, the music just comes out differently.
Do you feel like working in that way is constricting, though?
If you're with the wrong A&R person, sure. But if you're someone that you like to work with and understands you as an artist, it helps. I think the best labels are the ones that work with a stable of artists and that's something that I want to do with Ransom Note. Other than Audiomatique, all of the labels that I'm working with are ones that have approached me and we have a relationship. Nummer, for example, came to me and said that they really liked my stuff, so I went into the studio and made something that I thought was a Nummer EP, you know? It becomes an interesting experience for sure.
You mentioned Clink, but I feel like as far as crews are concerned in New York that you've never really belonged to one. Is that correct? Why do you think that is?
Yeah. I think it's just a lifestyle thing, to be honest. When I'm not DJing, I'm working at my job at a bar here in the city. On Friday nights, when I'm at the bar, I'm not attending anyone's party. It's not like I'm not a part of, or that I don't support, the scene. It's just that I'm not the guy at the afterparty. I'm at the studio or working at my job or traveling. So maybe that's why I'm not really part of a crew. But I'm kind of a private person anyway. It's not that I don't love and respect all the people in our community. I think it's great and I fully support everyone who is working here. We have some amazing talent here. It's just that my lifestyle doesn't afford me the chance to be a part of everyone else's events.
Where does the Adultnapper name come from?
Well, it's obviously a piss take. It's not serious. But the whole concept of Adultnapper is this fictional character. I've always felt like electronic music should be anonymous. It shouldn't be so much about the star. I always thought it was a bit cheesy to have a star in electronic music—and that's why I thought it was so cool in the first place. There are all these people that are mysteries. Mouse on Mars, Oval. All of these guys seem so mysterious and you almost don't want to know what they look like. It's like reading a great novel. You don't want to know what the author looks like. You don't want to see the picture on the back of the book. That's what I sort of wanted to do.
The whole philosophy of Adultnapper is the depersonalization/fictionalization of yourself, so he's supposed to be like a character out of a graphic novel of sorts. He's hyper-political, kinda crazy, schizophrenic, and I think the music has that sort of vibe to it. It's always a little bit weird, a little bit off-key.
It seems like you're finally getting that full effect of the character with the Ransom Note releases.
Hopefully, if we can get the releases out fast enough. [laughs]
The art is done by John Stroud, a visual/installation artist. The pieces are based off a video installation piece that he did called "Blowout." When I saw the images and I was writing the ransom note that is gradually being revealed with each release, it all sort of fit together. He's sort of become the adultnapper, superhero/anti-hero. If we get to enough releases, we'd like to print a little zine or graphic novel that would have the full ransom note in it and a little story that goes with it.
That was definitely one of the main focuses of Ransom Note. I'm not going to get in that debate between mp3 and vinyl and blah blah blah. We can talk that to death. But from a philosophical level, I'm really interested in, and I find great importance in, the archival value of any artform. Once you destroy the archive—or turn the archive into these 1's and 0's—you sort of take away the human element and the real archival value of that artform. It takes something away from that artform. I don't care what anybody will say. I will fight them tooth and nail about it.
There is nothing to replace the feeling of a physical archive of something, one that you can hold in your hands. There's real value there. If it's too big of an ecological footprint, then they should shut down all those factories creating computer chips and we'll see how much that affects the environment. Like, let the rest of us who want to collect our pieces of vinyl and sell our 800 pieces of vinyl worldwide do it. Leave us alone. Stop reporting the death of vinyl. We have it because we like it. And it's not going to destroy the planet.
CD's are disappearing and they'll most likely be gone, aside from those that you need to burn information on. But actual CD's that you buy in a store? It's going to be gone. So, the only thing that will be left of the music is vinyl. And we're trying to get back to the 1970's where artists, big artists, would do covers for bands. We want you to line up the Ransom Notes so that you can look at the spine and look at the different archives there. We're doing it proper-like, the spine, everything. Because we want people to be into it, to line up the releases on the ground and be able to tell a story with it.
Were you doing that as a kid?
I have thousands of old 7-inch records that are in storage. I've always been a collector. Of books, music. That's my thing. I still buy books. And I don't get it. People think it would be crazy if books would disappear, so why do people think it's OK that the physical manifestation of music is going to disappear? I mean, doesn't it freak people out? It freaks me out.
Speaking of books, one of your recent PR photos has you reading a book. What are some of your favorites?
Right now my favorite author is definitely W.G. Sebald. I'm a big Thomas Bernhard fan. J. M. Coetzee. Thomas Pynchon.
What does Sebald do in his writing that you like so much?
Sebald was amazing because he did such a good job of tapping into post-World War II humanity or post-nuclear humanity. The massive amount of loss that we've all experienced and how our culture has silenced it. Our culture is so interested in what's new or what's coming next that no one is thinking about what's happened and how that effects how we think about ourselves and how we think about our memory.
Sebald is sort of like a modern version of Proust in a way. He's interested in objects, photographs, things and how they co-exist with memories, of your childhood or what has already happened and then reinvestigating that. And loss and how that plays into our culture and identity. Sebald was focused, obviously, on "How does a German talk about German history, German literature, or German poetry when part of that history is the extermination of millions of people?" It's a really heavy and interesting subject, and I think his writing is just mindblowingly beautiful.
You mentioned Proust. And I know you named a track that appears on the new mix "Madeleine."
Yes. That's Proust's madeleines.
It's a really interesting song. There's a backward…something in that track.
It's a guitar. I recorded an acoustic guitar. I actually play a lot of instruments on my tracks, you'd just never know it. I'm really heavily into sampling right now. I've been interested in building synths in Reaktor or Max/MSP and using real samples to build it from there, as opposed to using soft synths or something like that.
But, yeah, that guitar is really the hook of the track. It was a proper guitar line, reversed. I didn't want it to sound so straight. And, of course, I reversed it as well because madeleines are about going backwards. In Proust, he sees the madeleine and things go backward.
Let's talk a bit about the recent mix that you did. Label mixes must be tough to do.
Extremely tough. Yeah, that's probably one of the biggest challenges I've had so far in music so far. You have a very limited palette and not that Audiomatique isn't a great label—because it is—but I think that my DJ sets aren't Audiomatique DJ sets. The label has a little bit more straightforward techno sound. I had a lot of great music to choose from, but it wasn't stuff that I would usually play in my set, which is why I tailored the mix to make it more my vibe. So I added a lot of my own loops and samples to give it that brooding Adultnapper feel to it. It took a while—and they didn't give me a lot of time to do it (and it was also a quite difficult period in my life). So that's why I think it has that sort of energy to it. I hope that people listen to it, you know, and think that it was just some lazy thing that I did in the studio. There was a lot of investment there.
The only thing that I think might be saving that sort of thing is being able to sell the tracks individually on Beatport. I'm sure that's the way that most people are going to make their money. I think what's it going to end up being is mix compilations and they're all going to be digital so that they don’t have to produce a physical copy of it. I'm sure they don't produce a lot of those physical copies now anyway. Although, I don't know. I'm no position to do a mix compilation on my label. I just assume that it must be on its way out. I assume.
It's funny, before the mix even came out, how people think they're being nice to you by coming up to you at a show and telling you that they've already downloaded the mix off one of those torrent sites. I was like, "Uh, thanks…" [laughs]
You know, it's out there. And the people from Audiomatique, the label manager Tobias—a guy who was part of the Superstition Network from the very beginning—works so hard to do things right. They treat everybody right, they do contracts right, they do royalty statements right. The amount of time to make that happen is enormous. And then you have these douchebags who want to be lazy and want everything. That's what the world is.
There's this divide between people who put their heart and soul into things and people who want to cheat to get there. And I think that the digital thing makes that persona shine. People who are lazy and don't want to do the work for anything: they just want everything instantaneously. Right now. Which is sort of a part of American culture. They don't want to take the time to do anything. They don't want to take the time to read a book. They don't want to take the time to go somewhere. Or walk somewhere. Or do something. Or give something a chance. It's all about instant gratification. And if they can't have it right now, they don't want it. It's a symptom of proto-axiomatic capital…I don't know.
To me, if you're having someone say that you can't be a techno producer if you aren't getting rid of vinyl and involving yourself fully in new technologies, tells me that you're saying "fuck you" to Underground Resistance and to everybody who was against that consumer capitalism. And the moment that techno becomes associated with consumer capitalism, I'll fucking walk right away. I don't give a shit. Sure, I want to make a living, but I don't want to invest fully in my artform to create this consumer product for people to digest—and contribute to an ever-growing problem of people who don't want to take the time to understand an art or take the time to understand to actually involve themselves in something and have a real conversation about something. And I think the digital realm takes that away. Everybody thought that if you open the internet that it was going to be, "Oh wow, it's freedom." But as you can see, it's basically populist fascism.
That sounds really pretentious, doesn't it?
It might. [laughter] Where do you see this music going in a couple of years? With this deep house revival, etc. etc. Everything seems to be recycled.
I don't think it's recycled. Everything goes in cycles. I think what minimal did is that it innovated some of the production techniques and gave a new breath to it and those new techniques are going to be integrated into old forms. I mean, you're not going to kill a groove. I don't care what you say. A great groove is a great groove and you'll be able to listen to it 150 years from now and it's still going to be a great groove. And that's what house music is about. Techno has always been about innovating, innovating new production techniques and using new technologies, which is awesome and great. It's always informed house music—and made it something new. It's all part of this energy. I don't think it's going to be house and minimal is going to die, it just constantly moves and grows. And I hope I do too.