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Monday, March 2, 2015

Worker/Parasite on OPD Helicopters, Role-Playing Games, and the Importance of Visual Art

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 8:05 AM

click to enlarge worker_parasite_1.jpg
Oakland tech-house producer Ben Versluis has been working under the moniker Worker/Parasite since 2010, sequencing systolic cadences, squelches, inversions and fibrillations into insistent robofunk. His serrated, driving, live-to-tape aesthetic balances gritty naïveté with graphic precision.

Having worked with a variety of Bay Area experimental artists through parties and his own Tundra Dubs label, Versluis hooked up with Barcelona’s like-minded retrofuturists Classicworks to release the Exchange Value EP, his recent four-track circuit through lo-fi, lysergic saturation. Touching base via email, the audio engineer, a Midwest transplant bred on equal parts punk and patch chords, shared some of the historical and environmental factors that color his red-lining, Chicago acid house-influenced arrangements.

SF Weekly: Draw me a timeline of pivotal records and performances that punctuated your relationship with music.
Versluis: As far as records that got me into wanting to make music (in no particular capacity) [there] were the first records I discovered as a kid. Green Day's first three albums made me want to play the drums and be in a band; the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ made me want to learn more about electronic music; Prodigy's ‘Fat of the Land’ was a huge deal to me, too. Later on, bands like Discharge, Dropdead, Charles Bronson, etc., made me want to be a musical lifer.

In terms of performances, the first few hardcore punk shows I attended literally wrinkled my brain. I really feel like those shows changed my life and set me on my path, whatever that is.

Tell me about your incubators … what spaces/parties/promoters/peers were integral to your sound evolution?
Midwestern hardcore punk shows. I didn't grow up going to raves; my exposure to truly DIY music scenes was all thanks to my friends and bandmates who were putting on shows, which I ended up doing myself as well eventually. Old reception halls and weirdo coffee shops with small rooms in the back, nothing too fancy, no Funktion Ones or stage monitors. Sometimes hundreds of kids packed into a space designed for 75-100. One space that was specifically huge to me was Gabe's in Iowa City and the Eagle Reception Hall in Rock Island, Illinois.

In terms of electronic music and more recent influences, I have to count crews like Katabatik, Haceteria, Tri Works, Babeland and Shuffle Co-op. I've played for all of them to be completely transparent, but I really do feel as though the vibe at any of those parties is killer and lineup qualities tend to be quite high.

Have you ever composed because of or specifically for a place you’ve played/stayed?
Oh yeah, I frequently will write tracks the day after playing if possible. I wrote a lot after my wife and I got back from a trip to Europe — Copenhagen, Berlin and Amsterdam. Lots of inspiration pulled from all three cities.

Walk me through your signal chain … what aspect(s) of gear do you find most inspiring/frustrating … what piece of gear is most integral to your creative process?
My signal chain is simple, which is probably why my music is never labeled as complex. I have a studio with hardware — MPC, x0xb0x, drum machines — and I run it all into a Mackie mixer that feeds a cassette deck. I mix everything live and record it to tape and then clean it up and edit in Ableton Live.

The most frustrating part is the limitations of my budget, really. I buy gear only a couple of times a year and just don't have enough to get all of the outboard gear I'd like. It’s a process and the studio is still very much in flux.

The most inspiring part, for me, is the limitations of the hardware. I get too lost when trying to write in Ableton … too many options, I work better when I have hardware and knobs in front of me. I know my gear pretty well. Limitations are freeing. The [MIDI-controlled bassline synthesizer/sequencer] x0xb0x is the key to the entire studio.

What’s the trick to balancing crisp, crunchy, warm and warped?
I don't even know, man. I really love happy accidents and unreliable media forms like cassette tapes. I spend a lot of time cleaning my tracks up and trying to balance grit with a pleasant-sounding track.

What environmental factors, if any, play a part in your inspiration? Public transport? Street noise? Sea smoke?
The constant swarm of OPD helicopters over my apartment whenever a protest happens. I hear rhythms and musical noise a lot, one of the reasons I love living in the Bay Area.

What part, if any, do Bay Area labels and party promotion infrastructure play in your musical direction?
To be honest, I moved to the Bay Area completely ignorant of its contributions to dance music. I've since started collecting a lot of the earlier stuff on Om and have had some close friends school me on the history of dance music from these parts, but I can't honestly say that any of those labels have really had a play in my sound, which isn't to say they're unimportant, just never reached me for any number of reasons.

Currently, I'm working closely with Dr. Sleep and the Jacktone Records crew, which is very inspiring. Main Drain in Oakland has played the biggest part in my sound. Justin, who runs Main Drain, hosts a weekly live stream called ‘Wax n Cats" where he plays records and invites guest to do live PAs or play records. He's had me on a number of times and I'm pretty sure he hosted the first Worker/Parasite live PA sets.

As a fan of hardware, do you look to locally based instrument designers like Dave Smith for components or inspiration?
I'll own a lot of the DSI stuff eventually. The Bay Area's history in synthesis is a constant inspiration.

Does black humor and playful surrealism play a part in your compositions? Is there a visual art/era you consider akin to your sonic experiments?

I don't really know. I think I have a darker sense of humor. One thing I really dislike about house and techno is the seriousness, specifically on the underground level. I haven't found a great way to inject a sense of humor into my music aside from my producing pseudonym, which is a joke directly lifted from the Simpsons. A lot of my tracks are Dungeons & Dragons references, which may or may not be funny to you.

Visual art is important, but I like to focus on audio. If I could have one person design all of my artwork forever, it'd be Zeke Clough. I really like all of this bootleg, warped Simpsons fan art I see online and I hang a lot of those types of prints in my studio. Pen and paper RPGs, specifically D&D and Shadowrun, are huge inspirations to me as are comics that I've been into most of my life: ‘Spawn,’ ‘Sandman’ and more recent stuff like

Brian Woods' ‘Northlanders,’ ‘DMZ,’ as well as anything Warren Ellis does — ‘Transmetropolitan’ being my favorite.

Does a thematic thread tie together your recent EP? Does it set the stage for the future?
The thematic thread on this particular EP is ‘classics,’ or my attempt at the throwback Chicago sound. Chicago house always sounded a rougher around the edges and I've always loved that; one of the elements that hardcore punk and dance music can, and often do, share is the DIY mentality: no money, no real support structure for your music, so you do it your way and sometimes that way is a little less ‘professional’ or produced than other people's methods. I also think, ultimately, the idea of getting a special groove, moment, or pattern on tape or into your computer is more important than mixing the same track for weeks or months at a time to make it sound ‘perfect.’

I have a 12-inch coming out this Spring on Jacktone Records and other stuff that's in early planning stages.

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Tony Ware


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