MAXX KLAXON: Electroclash of Civilizations? No Way!
Interview by Erkki Rautio / pHinnWeb
2 January, 2004 -- So comrades, come rally! Read here the amazing story of Maxx Klaxon (no relation to Dutch electro label Klakson), a purveyor of subversive electro beats from New York City! How he was raised and programmed near Disney World in Florida by a technology-worshipping cult! How he got involved in the conspiracy of government and music industry officials, which nearly destroyed him! And how he was incredibly saved from this gloomy destiny (and electroclash) by electro pop, Leonard Cohen, Iron Maiden, and 'The Internationale', the classic workers' hymn!
Arise ye workers from your slumbers / Arise ye prisoners of want...
- So, what's now happening in the life of Maxx Klaxon, any news?
I've been working on a remix for Club Telex Noise Ensemble, plus I have a new song of my own in the works. And I've been playing around with my website, which is a great way to waste time.
- How did you start to make music?
I've actually been making music since I built my first synthesizer at the age of six. I was raised near Disney World in Florida, by a technology-worshipping cult. From the time I was a baby, they bombarded me with Switched-On Bach, Doctor Who, and sleep-learning tapes, to make me into a techno-musical genius.
It worked, of course, and in the early 80s, I became a synthpop superstar. Unfortunately, I got so big that a conspiracy of music industry insiders and government officials decided that I had to be stopped. They destroyed my records, and their mind control signals completely erased the public's memory of me.
The 90s was a very dark time for me: too much vodka, not enough money. You'll learn all about it when VH1 does the 'Behind the Music' special. Finally, a couple of years ago, I figured out a way to jam the conspiracy's mind control signals, and I started plotting my comeback.
That's the official history, anyway...
I did have some musical training as a kid, and messed around with tape recorders and keyboards a lot as a teenager. I did some independent video projects, went to film school, and learned a lot about sound editing. In early 2002, I recorded a cover of Leonard Cohen's 'First We Take Manhattan'. The guys from Add (N) to X were doing some DJ gigs here in New York. I gave them a demo version of the song, and to my surprise, they actually played it in their sets. A lot of people heard the track and liked it, and that got the ball rolling.
- How would you describe your style of music?
Maybe I'd call it "electro/pop". I'm just mixing together electronic styles that I enjoy. I've always loved classic synthpop: the Human League, Yazoo, Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys, A-ha... artful melodies and harmonies, smart lyrics, a touch of melancholy. But I also dig the rhythms of electro and everything that came after it. So I want to make intelligent pop that you can groove to. Something for both sides of the brain, something for your headphones and for the dance floor. Is it possible to create synthpop along the lines of the greats from the early 80s, but informed by all the rhythmic experimentation of electro, hip-hop, techno, and IDM? That's what I want to attempt, anyway.
- Are the any role models or influential artists for you?
Those synthpop pioneers I mentioned -- the Pet Shop Boys' first album is one of my all-time favourites. But I also listened to classical electronica like Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita from a very young age, and later Vangelis, and a lot of other weird ambient and New Age stuff. I got into the rhythmic side early on too... I still remember the first time I heard 'Planet Rock' in a skating ring as a kid. I didn't even know what it was, but it gave me chills, and stuck in my brain for years.
And then I've always been a fan of experimental artists like Laurie Anderson, who play with technology and also make clever and dark comments on modern existence. I saw her perform in NYC two makes after September 11th, doing mostly old material, but it was incredibly powerful. Just read the lyrics to 'O Superman', and you can imagine the impact it had at that moment. "Here come the planes... they're American planes..."
- And any current acts which would particularly impress you, or you feel are on the same wavelength with you?
Recently I've been enjoying Gater, Basement Jaxx, and Freezepop a lot. I don't know if anyone is exactly on my wavelength, but one act I like is an electro/synthpop duo here in NYC called the Plantains. They also put on these cool multimedia cabaret nights with lots of other acts. The Plantains have a full-length coming out soon, and one of them, Mitgang, has just released a solo album on Suction Records.
The most exciting stuff I've heard from Europe lately is Imatran Voima. For Scandinavians, they know a hell of a lot about Miami Bass! That was a style of music I grew around -- in Miami there were plenty of "cars that go boom". I didn't come to fully appreciate the bass sound until later, when people like Aphex Twin and the jungle pioneers put it in a different context.
- What kind of equipment do you create you create your own music with? And your favourite musical instruments?
I keep it simple. I've got two synths, a Yamaha AN1X and a cheap ten-year-old keyboard that produces some good sounds. FM digital synthesis can be interesting, if you abuse it enough! I've also got a bunch of electronic toys that make strange lo-fi noises. I record everything into computer, and use a couple simple programs for editing and mixing. But I think my favourite instrument these days is the accordion. I plan to use it on my next song.
- You have covered Iron Maiden's 'Die With Your Boots On' (for an Iron Maiden electro tribute compilation Powerslaves, also Leonard Cohen's 'First We Take Manhattan' and 'The Internationale', the classic leftist workers' anthem? Pretty eclectic choices, aren't they? Can you tell something about the backgrounds here?
'First We Take Manhattan' evokes this kind of twisted nostalgia for the 80s and the Cold War era, but it also seems to relate to the present time. Since September 11th, there have been some sinister things in the air. Evil people on all sides are plotting evil things. I always thought 'First We Take Manhattan' should have been recorded as a new wave song in the first place... so finally, I went ahead and did it.
'Die With Your Boots On' happened because Vince Koreman at Angelmaker Records in Amsterdam asked me to participate in the Iron Maiden tribute. I listened to a bunch of Maiden tracks, and this one grabbed me, partly because, again, it seemed like it could apply to the present moment. I recorded it right before the invasion of Iraq, when we were being fed all the weapons of mass destruction hype to convince us to go to war. The lyrics of the Maiden song fit perfectly.
A couple of months later I was listening to old recordings of 'The Internationale'. It was very stiff and old-fashioned, not at all something that would work as an electro track. So, of course I decided to do it! Billy Bragg covered it about ten years ago, with new lyrics, but I wasn't wild about his version. I went back to the original English translation of the French lyrics, which were very hardcore, about fighting about exploitation. I updated the wording, but tried to keep the original meaning and spirit intact. I also added a couple of new segments to make the song a little less repetitive.
About 'Internationale 2000' you say: "This is not kitsch, irony, or radical chic. The 'Internationale' was once the fight song of the global working class. But these days, the class war is only being fought by the other side. The proletariat need to open their eyes and ears, and get their butts in gear. 'Internationale 2000' should help them do all three." And on 'Die With Your Boots On' you also sample George W. Bush's speech. So, should we now understand Maxx Klaxon as a political artist?
Who, me? Political? *laughs*
Yes, there have been political overtones to all of my songs so far. For me, 'Die With Your Boots On' was about resisting war, but also about being prepared for whatever might come. In New York, you never know what's next. We had the World Trade Center attacks, then the anthrax scare, then huge anti-war protests last winter, and in September the Republican party will have its big political convention here, to cash in on the third anniversary of 9/11. If you aren't at least a little bit political these days, you have your head in the sand.
'Internationale 2000' was obviously political... actually more blatant than I normally like to be. It was meant seriously as a message to the "working class" -- which I consider to be all of us who have to work for a living -- not to let ourselves be exploited and misled. But I was also having fun with it, in terms of the electro-funk groove, which I think is pretty enjoyable, and just the craziness of doing that song in that style.
Not every song I do will carry a big political statement. My new track is totally non-political... it's sort of a cheesy pop homage to Italodisco. The first concern is making good music. Politics won't make anyone listen to a song, and it can actually turn people off. Also, it helps to have a sense of humour. If you take yourself too seriously, no one will be interested. First get people dancing, and maybe laughing, then say what you have to say.
- And what's your opinion on US politics at the moment, post-9/11...?
Some very bad stuff has gone down since Bush came into office. We were attacked, and certainly had to defend ourselves. But invading Iraq was idiotic. It made us far less safe, and it made the world angry at us. Meanwhile, the country is mostly being governed by, and for, large corporations. Every day I'm amazed that people don't see what a joke George W. Bush is, a bad joke. I'm looking forward to the next presidential election -- like the bumper sticker says, "regime change begins at home".
- What about live performances?
I've been busy with preparing songs and other stuff, so I haven't done any live gigs yet. But I'm preparing for live shows some time in the next few months. My female vocalist, Zoreta, will be part of it. Hopefully there will be some video elements too. Meanwhile, you can catch me making occasional appearances in selected karaoke bars along the East Coast of the U.S...
- What is your own take on the "electroclash" craze?
Mixed feelings. A lot of hype was ridiculous, but many of the new acts and sounds that were coming out of the scene were exciting. Now there's a backlash against anything electro, which is just as ridiculous. I've tried to focus on the music and the performers, not the hype or the backlash. I think a lot of people are still uncomfortable with electronic music, or with music that involves irony, intelligence, outrageous performances, et cetera.
- How's the music scene in New York at the moment? For example, any good clubs there?Luxx, the main "electroclash" club in Brooklyn, shut down last summer, but there's so much else going on that no one will miss it. There are great local and visiting acts, and great DJ sets, a couple of time a week in small venues somewhere in the city. Overall I think New York has shifted to a focus on rock and disco-rock -- acts like the Strokes and the Rapture. The electro scene has gone back underground somewhat. But that's actually much better... the people who are still into it are much more passionate about the music.
Your own Top Ten for the moment/all-time?Recent listening:
"Water" - Gater
"Kish Kash" - Basement Jaxx (feat. Siouxsie Sioux)
"Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)" - Hashim
"Aces High" - Imatran Voima
"Manipulate" - Freezepop
"Ghettomusick" - Outkast
"Tour de France Etape 1" - Kraftwerk
"Two Divided By Zero" - Pet Shop Boys
"Pop Iconography" - The Plantains
"Hands Around My Throat (Adult. remix)" - Death In Vegas
- Your own future plans now?
'Die With Your Boots On' from the Powerslaves comp will be coming out on vinyl soon, from Star Whores, a Spanish label. They're releasing a 12" called 666 vs. 808, with my song and three others from the CD.
I'm going to get away from the NYC winter and enjoy some sun (and karaoke!) in Miami for a week or so. Then I'll come back and finish my next track. After that, live shows! And hopefully soon an EP.
- Your favourite question they never ask in interviews?
Q. You were described by one website as "newly jumping on the bandwagon of electroclash". Another described you as "pseudo-neo-Marxist" after hearing 'Internationale 2000' on German radio. Are you in fact a pseudo-neo-Marxist electroclash bandwagon-jumper?
A. The music I'm making now is the outgrowth of what I've always been interested in. I'm not sure what is and isn't "electroclash[tm]", but the "scene" is dead and I'm still here. I really don't care how people categorize me. As for my politics, I'm not really a Marxist, but I am in favour of economic justice and democracy, and against imperialism. Again, categories are irrelevant. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing.
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