Drexciya: „Why not give it a try again and see what will happen?“
Drexciya: A place. A duo from Detroit. An enigma.
The music of James Stinson and Gerald Donald is equal parts electro, techno, and funk. Murky and mysterious, produced by aqua-men who are seen only in paintings, you’ll hear references to seminal groups like Parliament, Kraftwerk, Jonzun Crew, and New Order, but the Drexciyan mythology and aquatic atmospheres are unique and truly unlike the sound produced by any other artist.
In the linernotes to their 1997 album „The Quest“ Stinson and Donald explain the background of the name: “Drexciya” is an underwater country populated by the unborn children of pregnant African women who were thrown off of slave ships; the babies had adapted to breathe underwater in their mothers’ wombs.“
Drexciya formed in 1991 and were recording music until the tragic early death of James Stinson in 2002. Within their active times they released four albums, „The Quest“, „Neptune´s Lair“, „Harnessed the Storm“ and „Grava 4“ and two handful of 12-inches; the dutch label and distribution company Clone re-published the full catalogue later on as „Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I-IV“
After remaining silent over the years and doing just two or three rare interviews, Drexciya came in 1999 out of the shadows to talk about „Neptune’s Lair“. In North America, Andrew Duke was given an exclusive opportunity to speak with Drexciya. He spoke with James Stinson in December 2001.
Prepare yourself for immersion; breathe deep, then dive in.
What are the ideas, thoughts, and concepts behind Drexciya?
James Stinson: Basically they just come from the inside – the way we feel with the vibes of the music. And whichever way it takes us, that’s the direction we go in, so far as the titles and the songs themselves when they’re being created. Wherever the current takes us, that’s where we’re going. Any given time a title could pop up or a song could pop up, there’s nothing that’s really preplanned. We flow with the current.
Though you say you “flow with the current”, the movement, the ebb, is one of your own design. Drexciyan releases follow no set schedule, you’ve never been captured by a lens, your music has never been remixed, and until now, interviews with Drexciya have been extremely rare.
Why is it so important to you to go against the rules in the music industry?
I guess you could say we do it to do something different, to try something different. Sometimes you might have the physical laws and properties saying that you can’t do this, or that this is impossible, but hey: why not give it a try again and see what will happen?
For instance, the laws and properties of different music styles, the way things are supposed to be arranged, that they’re supposed to be like this or that. Well, technically, we have no rules and no instructions on the way music is supposed to be, so that’s how we’re able to do anything and make it beautiful. It’s all about controlling and harnessing the energy.”
While some tracks from Drexciya are full songs, sometimes there will be just a short excerpt, often stopping just as it feels like the track is about to kick in. It’s as if you’re content to offer just a brief look at what you’re doing, cloaking the majority from ear shot and eye range.
That’s right on the money because it’s just another view of the world of Drexciya. I guess you could just say it’s just where we’re at right now-part of the current. You might be going down some rough water this time, next time you might be on some calm, still water, you know. Next time you might hit a whirlpool or something like this, so it depends on which way we’re gonna go with it.
In the world of Drexciya, you talk of many places, but you most often talk about a place called Lardossa. Tell me about it.
Lardossa is just another city that’s on the other side of Drexciya. There’s many different cities around there, and as time goes on we’ll bring them forth or whatnot. It’s a place on the other side of the Red Hills, it’s a very calm tranquil place where things are very easy-going, there’s not really that hustle and bustle and it’s more or less carefree and mellow, like you’re in a trance.
What would a Drexciyan concert be like?
Well, that’s yet to be seen, but if we were to do a show, it would be a hell of a show and much more than just an appearance with a couple of keyboards. Once we get ready to come out and make our appearance on stage, it’s really gonna be a hell of a show, that’s the way we want to do it-a full-fledged concert, not just at a party, like at half-time or something like that. When we do our show it’s gonna be a concert where you come to see us and you see other people, then afterwards, there might be an after-party or something, but our concert will be done like it’s supposed to be.
Would you want to perform underwater?
Yeah-anywhere. In a sewer, underwater, in a swimming pool, in the middle of a swamp, in a back alley somewhere, it doesn’t make a difference, we’ll appear anywhere, it all depends.
How does water relate to your music and Drexciya?
Well, water is the most powerful element on this planet. Water has many different properties. It comes in many different forms and many different shapes and different weights. And that’s the way we see our music – we can come in any different size or shape that we want depending on the rhythm of the song, how aggressive the song is, how transparent or how big it is, how clear, how diluted, how fast, how slow, it all depends-the same properties as water.
Water runs fasts, water runs slow, and the best way to put a visual picture in your mind of Drexciya and what we’re all about is that we [Drexciya and water] go hand in hand. You have to have all the dimensions, you have to have the visual, the sonic side of things, and you have to have a purpose, a concept, to make it real.
So once you bring in the world of Drexciya and the people and how they’re living their lives in Drexciya, you know, you put the element of water, which is the basic element of life for anyone-period. Once you factor in all your different things, this is how it is with Drexciya and how the basic principles are.
How does the water itself affect the music? Music under water as opposed to music above water.
It’s the difference in degree. Sometimes you might be going through some rough rapids, or there’s a strong undertow or whatnot. Or, better yet, maybe it’s just still, very calm, a very gentle flow. So when you’re making music it all depends entirely on which water you’re in.
Why is it so important that you don’t make it easy for people to understand Drexciya? You could lay it all out on the line, but you don’t do that, you hold back.
Basically, we want people to tap into their minds and their creativity. It’s like ‘I’ll put this out here for you and I need your help’ to where it’s like ‘damn!’ But there’s a little more to it, so once you really look at it, and really listen to it, there’s more going on inside the music then what you think you’re really hearing. It’s like going to the record store and dropping the needle [on a record from Drexciya] and listening to it for two seconds. [laughs]
You haven’t heard all of a Drexciya record until you listen to the whole entire track because there are a lot of things that are going on in there. So basically, you know, we kind of do that intentionally to stimulate their minds and take them deeper into the world of Drexciya. Instead of just laying it out there and making it dull and boring; once you have something that is a mystery, people enjoy that more. For example, picture what you think when you look at a couch and how you might look at things differently, feel things differently, you know. So it’s like instead of ‘hmmm, that’s very simple, it’s just a couch sitting over there in the corner’, what if things were changed? What if you have some weird transparent liquid chair over there that’s moving, then you’re gonna want to take a closer look at it and go like ‘what the hell is that? Damn! What’s over there, a couch?’ Then you go and sit down on it and it wraps itself around you and caresses you and it makes you go ‘ooooh’ and puts little chills down your back, makes the hair raise up on the back of your neck.
That’s the kind of effect that we’re putting into the music, to where it’s a 50/50 thing with a little bit of a mystery to it.
You want your music to be like an exercise, a process, as opposed to a final result, so it can be different for everyone, people get back what they put in, a push-pull give-take kind of thing.
Right. Oh yeah, action and reaction. I’d rather have something to where it’s gonna stimulate you and where it’s gonna move you in different ways that have something that is just there and is hum-drum, kind of boring, the same typical thing that you hear every single day.”
In your releases, you often mention the Red Hills of Lardossa. What are some of the other places in Drexciya’s world?
Well, basically, the main thing that we want to work on is the new lab, „Neptune’s Lair“. Right now we’re in the process of doing a lot of experiments and whatnot, so in the forthcoming years you’ll be hearing a lot more experiments. That’s one thing we want to start doing because it’s time now to go back and do some more research on some different kinds of elements and whatnot. One of the things is Polymono Plexusgel; that’s the gel that is alive but not alive. The energy that makes it live is from the energy that lives in Drexciya, the magic, and it comes from the Earth. The Polymono Plexusgel and the strands tap themselves right down into the planet. The planet actually gives itself life, can you catch me? If you look at the album [„Neptune’s Lair“], there’s a lot of different titles – the different elements that’s on there – that go along with these concepts. We’re developing a little mystery and the people kind of go along with that and follow it.
You do things on your own terms when you release material as Drexciya as opposed to some artists who might put out material on a more regular basis. In 1997 you dissolved the group and disappeared until you surfaced momentarily with two tracks on Underground Resistance’s „Interstellar Fugitives“ release. Why is it important that you took a break from recording and what made you decide to come back now with this album on Berlin’s Tresor imprint, „Neptune’s Lair“?
There’s no difference between then and now; the only difference is that I feel we need to start picking up the pace. We might still put out some stuff with Mike [Banks’s UR label], that’s a given. We take breaks to get away from everything and come back fresh. Basically, during that time where we took a break, inspiration, with the way things were going around here, it just wasn’t right, you know. But it just came to a point where it was like ‘we can’t give it up’. We couldn’t do that because it’s in our blood, it’s in our veins, we can’t just get out of it, we can’t stop doing what we do. So we decided ‘hey, we’ve got to go for it, we’ve got to do it, we’ve got to pick up the pace and come back and do what we do best.
You make music to make people happy, not because of money or because of ego.
Right. Most definitely. And that’s the way it should be. Because if you make music for any other purpose, it’s not going to come out right. It’s not going to feel free, you’re not going to be able to create freely like you’re supposed to. You’ll be making music to survive, you’ll be making music for phony reasons. But if you make music because you love it and because it’s in your blood, I think you’re going to make some of the most beautiful things that anybody has ever heard.
Look at Quincy Jones, look at Stevie Wonder; those guys are still making beautiful music. They do it because they love it, they’re not doing it because they want the money.
I mean look at Prince now. He’s still making music and putting it out because he loves it. He could have went out there and got fat record deals from Warner Brothers and whoever else screwed him, could have got millions and millions of dollars, but he doesn’t care about that. He wanted to do his thing. If you don’t love it, leave it alone.
Do you think there’s too much music being released these days?
I really don’t know. When I’m in the process of working in the lab, I tend to stay away from everything and don’t keep up on that and monitor that.
What do you think about the music that is released for the wrong reasons, where it is released purely to make money and satisfy ego, or to keep up a release schedule? Do you think it is important that that music come out because it shows people a contrast between that and the music that is made with heart, or do you think it would be better if there wasn’t “bad” music out there?
You need a balance. I feel like this because this is a very big world and people are gonna do whatever they wanna do. Just like how electronic music comes out in many forms. I’m not gonna blast or criticize rave music no more or anything else because I finally realized as I became older that this is a big planet and there’s enough room for everybody. The thing is, as long as we don’t step on each others’ toes and try to push each other down, then it shouldn’t be a problem, shouldn’t be a conflict. The only time I have a problem is when people try to step on my toes or try to do something like that. You’re going to have some people that have problems and are on an ego trip and that’s fine and dandy-that’s them. Whatever they do doesn’t affect me because I’m going to be responsible for what I do.
What was the catalyst that took you into the world of Drexciya when you began? Was it something like the song “Alleys Of Your Mind” from 1983 from Detroit’s Juan Atkins and Rik Davis’ Cybotron, or was it something before that? What made you realize that you had to make music?
It started in the 70s, actually, back in the disco era with some of the more underground type disco songs, you know with the really deep heavy bass riffs, and it started picking up in the early 80s when the Cybotron came out. Then there was the whole musical revolution in the 80s, you know, it goes across the whole entire board-from rock to punk to new wave to r´n´b to funk to techno to hiphop, so the whole music really molded us.
At that point [when we started recording] it was like we had no choice but to do this because we were busting at the seams. Like a big ripe grape and you’re getting ready to transform into a raisin. You know what I’m saying? Life goes on. We just kept going to the point where we started tinkering around to see what we could do. We started messing around and we realized ‘yeah, this is what we should be doing.
To finish our conversation, tell me what it’s like to ride a manta ray.
[laughs] It’s fun, it’s pretty fun. You’re dashing through the water, you know, it’s almost like a dolphin, but a little bit slower at times.
Originally published by Andrew Duke on this website Cognition Audioworks.
Kaput thanks the author for the permission to republish the interview.