Electronic dance music fans can be thankful that Travis Stewart, who performs as Machinedrum, spends the bulk of his time behind a computer screen. The obvious reasons lie in a voluminous output of material stretching back to his 2001 debut LP Now You Know on the now-defunct Miami label Merck Records. The past two years alone have seen the EP Many Faces through the Hudson Mohawke-helmed Scottish beat collective Luckyme, two 12-inches made with his partner Praveen "Braille" Sharma under the name Sepalcure, and their debut LP in November on Hotflush. Finally, there's Travis's subtle yet propulsive Room(s) on Planet µ, which glides through the urban wilds of Chicago juke music with equal parts melody and grace. All this, alongside upcoming productions with NYC MC Azealia Banks and post-dubstep UK producer Om Unit as Dream Continuum, should be enough to make anyone wonder how a completist can keep up with him.
But just like everyone else, Stewart is often indulging in plenty of mind-melting distractions online, as a thorough exploration of the 725 videos he's casually selected as favorites on YouTube indicates. Selects from the Glouchestershire Cheese Rolling competition of 2009, a montage of Nicholas Cage chewing scenery through the ages, lectures by the controversial Swami Nithyananda, dystopian hip-hop rantings from Sacramento crew Death Grips -- Stewart clearly has a knack for curating some of the most notably illogical outbursts of the Internet's psyche. He sometimes even answers back with his own suitably geeky responses. Occasionally it speaks to his work as an artist; other times it's for fun. Before Stewart performs this Friday (Sept. 30) at 103 Harriet, we insisted he speak for both, and tell us about eight of his favorite YouTube videos...
1. Doncaster Warehouse Tribute Video
Vintage footage from a long-forgotten UK rave back in the scene's "hardcore" period.
TS: What was so fascinating about that time and that period of electronic music was it was a period of discovery. It wasn't just young people learning about electronic music. It was all ages. It was like this brand-new thing to the world, and so it was such a spectacle in a way that I feel that that was the power in it. And then music was simple. It didn't go too over-the-top. It was all about just good, positive vibes. There wasn't a lot of super-testosterone filled music like we have today. First we had the whole Ed Banger-Justice sort of sound that swept the nation. And now we have this whole really annoying chainsaw-dubstep stuff that's kind of polluting our ears. And right now it's less about discovery and more about just kind of making people take off their shirts and do fist-pumps and whatnot. I think that that was not the case back then. It was more a discovery for all ages of new music.
2. Machinedrum, "Now U Know The Deal 4 Real"
Machinedrum's second self-directed video from Room(s)
TS: A friend of mine sent me a clip of just like a YouTube video of a girl that's walking around her apartment. She's like, flipping channels and suddenly her TV breaks, and she discovers this B-size feature with her remote control and starts turning the size of her breasts up and down. Then the rest of the video, which I didn't include, was basically her calling a repair guy and he comes and is trying to mess with the remote while she makes him tea, and he's hitting all of these buttons on the remote and her outfits are changing and it's just pretty ridiculous. And we thought it was really funny. And I discovered just through this suggestive video that there's an insane amount of other videos related to 3D breast expansion. You type this into YouTube, and you can find basically all the clips that I used plus probably 50 more. So I was kind of blown away by the amount of videos, and not even by the same person. There's lots of different 3D animators doing this sort of breast-expansion thing. I was kind of sold on the concept for the video before I even chose a track. And "Now U Know The Deal" kind of fit with it the best, just kind of how it moved and everything. And at first, I was unsure how I should use that track because it kind of has this dark and serious vibe and I felt maybe the video would kind of cheapen that. But I think that is what makes it for me entertaining is the kind of balance between seriousness and playfulness.
3. "The Crystal Method Shreds!"
Machinedrum's contribution to the crap-music overdub "shred" meme.
TS: There was House Of Style Awards in the '90s on MTV and they would have performances in between the awards and stuff. They had Crystal Method play one year, and it was definitely very cringe-worthy, because you could see these giant DAT machines in the background clearly playing the bulk of the track and they would have all this gear onstage and they'd be lifting up the keyboard to be dramatic and just kind of crouching down and holding down one key on the keyboard. It was so hysterical to me, so when I saw all these shred videos, I decided to make my own for electronic music. And so these ones were made for Tiesto and Oakenfold, and I think there's some others out there that were similar. I thought were really funny as well.
4. "Why Hate Furries?"
No explanation necessary
TS: I think that the whole furry thing is a bit more playful -- then go to Dragoncon in Atlanta or some of these sci-fi conventions where people are very serious about that stuff. And Anthrocon, which I guess is the biggest furry convention, it's more playful, and they have a whole dance party centered around it. I kind of wanna go just to see how ridiculous it would be. I actually kind of jokingly said something on Twitter about DJing at it, and they hit me up pretty quickly afterwards and asked me if I really wanted to do it next year. We'll see what happens.
5. Chicago Juke (DJ Slugo) Pt. 3
Fancy footwork and musical background care of one of Daft Punk's teachers
ASD: Why are people coming back to juke at this point?
TS: It's just more or less a resurgence of faster tempos, because for the past five to eight years, most electronic artists and producers have been sticking with these same tempos from 120 to 140 [bpm], and meanwhile there's always been this really raw kind of form of dance music coming out of Chicago and Detroit. I think the fact that it was like a localized music and it's purely made for the dancefloor, purely made to make girls dance and shake their asses, is the appeal to it. It's simple. It's not about who can do the coolest tricks and who's on top of mashing together the latest genres or whatever. It's just feel-good party music. Again, I think there's just a return to that going on right now.
6. Art Of Noise - Amiga Tracker
FYI: A tracker is a software music sequencer where numerical values or hexadecimals stand in for musical notes, as well as effects and parameter shifts on these notes. Machinedrum began creating his music from early software programs such as this.
TS: Well, pretty much the bulk of my tracks are being made solely in Ableton, but I definitely revisit trackers to make melodic sounds or basslines because there are specific ways to make sounds and melodies in trackers that you can't really do in other software. For instance, the whole concept of chiptunes, where you're essentially taking a very small sound sample that, if you played it back, would literally just sound like a snap. And if you loop that sound, it makes a tone. So there was a lot of early music made, electronic music in the '90s, that was made for videogames and what-not. They used this process rather than building it in a synth engine to make the melodic sound. And it kept the file sizes down, but at the same time it has this very unique characteristic to the sound, and there are certain things that you can use in the software that are different. What I do miss about using them for the majority of my work is the limiting factor. I feel like when you don't have tons of options at your fingertips, it forces you to be creative within a certain amount of rules or parameters. Trackers were definitely very limiting. You don't use the mouse that much. You really are flying all over the keyboard, inputting stuff using quickkeys and jumping around in menus. There are newer trackers around where you can input stuff using MIDI controllers, but with Impulse Tracker, which I was using for the longest time, you couldn't use MIDI controllers. There's something that kind of forced you to write in a certain way that it gave it a very unique sound and it's definitely influenced the way that I write in Ableton, the way I think about beats and rhythms structurally.
7. Blood On The Dance Floor, "BEWITCHED" - Official Music Video - Featuring - Lady NoGrady
ASD: You also added Blood On The Dancefloor. I didn't even know those guys were still together after Jessi Slaughter.
TS: It's just insane how that kind of music and that kind of look can have such a gigantic following. I just don't want to get into it. It's just mind-boggling.
ASD: Well, those kids are still living in the fantasy dreamstate of their childhoods -- even if they're 16 or 17.
TS: Or even in their late 20s and they're still stuck in it.
Machinedrum performs tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 30) at 103 Harriet with Zomby, NastyNasty, and more.