While he might not yet have the name recognition of some of the Bay's new rappers (aka thou whom raps about brand names), those who take a listen to so-called witch house producer GuMMy†Be▲R (aka Chris Johnson) cannot doubt his devotion to music and the degree to which influences like hip-hop play a role in it. Ahead of his set this Friday at the Elbo Room's 120 Minutes party, the local producer took some time to talk to us about those influences, the burgeoning genre of witch house, and how the Bay Area influences his output.
Why the moniker GuMMy†Be▲R!?
At the time I was still experimenting with different sounds and styles, so I didn't want people to take my music too seriously. So I thought of the most unserious name I could think of. Originally I was going to change it once I felt I had gotten better, but I couldn't be bothered to do it now.
Is there a particular reason for the ancient pagan symbols?
Well, I spelled it out that way because I thought it looked funny.
How did you start producing?
I've never really focused on trying to sound like any specific genre, but when my track "GURL" was released by Mishka on a "3-disk" complication that they called "The Guide to Grave Wave," more people started to classify my music as witch house. GURL by GuMMy†Be▲R!
Your music has been categorized as all different genres, though. One person called it "Future Hyphy Wizard Beats." What do you like to call it?
(Laughs.) I like that! I've heard people call it everything from witch house to dubstep, but to me it's just music. I use a wide variety of sounds in every track I release, so I find it strange that people try to put me in a box.
Why do you think people often scoff at a genre called witch house?
I don't think people hate witch house, I think they hate the idea of categorizing music every time something new comes around.
With all the hype surrounding Oakland -- with people rapping about brand names, gangs, etc. -- how do you think your music reflects your town?
Oakland is sort of a crazy place, things here are constantly moving and changing, and I'm sure my music is as chaotic as my surroundings. My last release was even titled Oakland, because I felt like it was the soundtrack for the city. While I was making it I had just moved back here after staying in Vallejo for two years, and the difference in people and atmosphere was a lot greater then I had thought it would be. Oakland was a way for me to express that vast difference I'd felt.
Are there influences in your music that people might not think of firsthand?
I've always been into instrumental hip-hop, so some of my biggest influences would be J.Dilla, Nujabes, Scott Storch, Uyama Hiroto, DJ Premier, Madlib, and Kanye West.
Your track titles consist of phrases like "Cognitive Ascension" and "Runic Alphabet." How do you think of these titles?
I'm really into science fiction stories, and when I can't seem to be able to think of a name for a track, I usually tend to look through one of my books.
How strong do you think the local presence of witch house, futuristic goth, etc., is, with parties like 120 Minutes selling out?
The Bay Area has always been this land of strange people and cultures, so the acceptance of gothed-out hip-hop seems to be a no brainer here. Also there are a ton of artists here that focus on the darker spectrum of music, so I'd say the presence is very strong.
How about versus in the rest of the world? I see that your music has even reached Japan!
That's pretty amazing. Just knowing that there are people all around the world that listen to my music is really inspiring to me.
You recently became a part of Disaro Records. How did that come about?
It kind of just fell into place. I was asked if I wanted to release music as a DISARO artist and I of course said yes.
Are you planning on releasing any EPs this year, since you are getting quite an amount of attention on Soundcloud?
Yeah the EP Time will be released on Disaro Records this year.
Lastly, what do you hope to achieve with your music this year?
Honestly, I've already achieved way more then what I ever expected to musically. So I'm just going to see what happens next!