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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ghosts On Tape Comes Out Creepy

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 9:54 AM

Tropical plants and girls with the daisy dukes on." "The future and the dirty south." "Brain sandwich." These are a few of the phrases used by Ryan Merry, the DJ behind Ghosts On Tape, to describe the sounds he makes with floppy discs and turntables. 

Ghosts On Tape's music is a drug that will put rave-friendly edibles out of business: imagine taking an unsteady boat ride through Willy Wonka's underground tunnel, or a demented "It's A Small World" ride at Disneyland. Measures of his mixes are set to a hyperactive pace like a caffeine rush. They contain the heavy snares of electronica and mix various vocals and rhythms to add substance often missing from traditional techno. By offering few genre guidelines, the music forces you to turn over your go-to club moves. What may come instead is a full body throttle or variation of Indian folk dance. Perhaps a sudden cumbia step or ghetto funky jiggle.

See what we mean about Ghosts on Tape at the All Shook Down Festival this Sunday. We recently had a chat with Merry about life as a DJ, whether his glasses slide while spinning, and what he ate for breakfast. 

Your Facebook profile influences include some atypical sources for musical inspiration such as "dirt," "sweat," "scary basements," and "girls with daisy dukes." What occurs in your brain to strike a connection between object and sound? 

When I make music, I try to envision the best scenario in which it will be listened to or enjoyed. I haven't really thought about it that much. I just try to do it. I just try to imagine the best party that I could be at, and [create] a track that sums up that feeling.

In an interview with online magazine Resident Advisor, you describe a creepy, eerie side to your style. Where does that come from? 

Growing up, I was into horror movies, and when I was a teenager I was into industrial music and hardcore East Coast rap, like the Wu-Tang Clan & Gravediggaz. I've always had this fascination with the dark side, though I'm not a dark person. Usually when I'm in the studio and not trying to make a dance track -- just fucking around to see what naturally happens and having fun with it -- it ends up coming out weird and dark and creepy. I don't have any control over what actually comes out. It's weird.

Are these available to the public? 

Not really. I have loads of old 4-track tapes sitting around the house that I recorded that stuff onto, so if people want to hear it, they can come over and I'll play it for them. 

Are you into French musique concrete, which mixes industrial and natural sounds with electronica? 

I think that some of [my] creepy stuff definitely has that sort of sound. I've never really tried that, because personally I don't listen to that stuff. I could definitely see the similarities though. BBC Music puts out series of sound effect discs with really specific stuff - like one is called "A Woman Walking Down Hallways In a Hungarian Supermarket," [and others have] specific birdcalls and sounds of the forest. I use to use those a lot for an extra layer of depth. I'm putting together material for an album that will probably be more of that stuff -- not quite as much dance music. 

You mentioned in the Resident Advisor interview that you prefer using floppy discs over computers and vinyl. Have you stuck with that? 

When I DJ, I actually use a laptop, but for live sets, where I'm basically only playing music that I created, I use the floppy discs. I've gotten away from that a bit. It takes a lot more preparation and set-up, so it's harder to do.

Did you always want to be a DJ? 

I started with the intention of being a live performer. I got my first sampler in '98 or '99, and didn't really know what I wanted to do with it. I just wanted to make tracks. I knew how to DJ -- I had turntables before -- but I didn't really take it seriously. Within the past year, I've gotten a lot more serious about it. That's more the direction I want to go now. I want to focus on production. I want the live PA thing to be more of a special occasion, because the equipment I use is old, and I don't want to ruin it. My shit can break down at any moment.

How do you pick a song to remix? 

It has to have one part that inspires me, like a cool vocal. If I'm going to do a remix of something, I listen to every single part separately in the song. I hear the one thing, and that's what I'm going to use. It's hard to explain in words. 

Which beats do you have the most fun working with? 

Lately, I've been into house music and incorporating reggaeton rhythms into it. People are calling that kind of sound UK Funky. I do the techno at 100 beats per minute, then throw a reggaeton beat on top of it. It's a whole different type of music.

You've switched your music website from MySpace to Facebook. Is the changeover a trend among musicians today? 

Most musicians still have a MySpace page, but everyone can pretty much agree it's a dead zone. It's not good for promo anymore. As far as it being an interactive tool goes, those days are over, because it's been abandoned by a lot of people.

So is Facebook better for networking? 

Facebook is okay, but it doesn't have the same random factor as MySpace did. You have to be searching specifically for an artist, whereas MySpace is a lot of checking out other people's friends. I don't think Facebook is better but it's what people are using now. 

What is your favorite thing about being a DJ? 

It's a really nice feeling to see a crowd of people you don't know dancing and going apeshit to a track that you made. If it's my friends dancing, it's cool; I expect them to dance because they're my friends and they have to. But if it's a stranger who doesn't give a shit about me, that's a genuine reaction. 

Do you wear glasses when you spin, and if so, do you have problems with them sliding? 

Totally. For some reason I start sweating even when it's not hot. I just sweat when I DJ. It gets the "slideage" going. 

Have you purchased glasses that are customized to resist the "slideage"? 

No, but somebody should invent that. Or I can just wear sports goggles that strap to my head. 

How do you spin your set while remaining attentive to the crowd's response? 

The way I look at it is that you have a responsibility to expose people to stuff they've never heard before. You have to have confidence in your taste. Obviously you don't want to kill the room; you want to keep people dancing. There's a fine balance between playing what you want and what the crowd wants to hear. 

Which songs have you played to strike that balance? 

Recently I've been playing tracks by this guy Brenmar from New York who does remixes of R&B songs. He did a dance house remix that I just played the other week of Cassie's "Me and U." People love it. It gets people singing, dancing - totally that perfect combination. It's the right tempo, so it can mix well with anything, too. He also did Aaliyah's "R U That Somebody." That's a great remix and it works wonders. 

A random fact, or what you ate for breakfast? 

I made some delicious egg tacos for breakfast. I drank a large cup of coffee like I do everyday. I run on caffeine, if that's something the world wants to know. I need a lot to get me going throughout the day.

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Alex Wolens


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