Daisy Hyde speaks with the Baltimore based producer trying to deconstruct dance music to get the feel-good out – and bring in a new kind of fun
“If you go to any party in Baltimore, or most parties in Baltimore, you will definitely hear “Dance That Pain Away” by Rooney or “Mr Postman” by K-Swift,” declares Co La. “There is this historical element to the club scene. When I was first living in Baltimore, K-Swift was on the radio every day and actually they still play K-Swift on the radio every day. So there is this pervasive element of club culture here where there is actually the music that is popular like party music.”
No No, Co La’s new release on Software, works like a document of psychosis on the dancefloor. It’s fast moving and full of content. Layering field-recorded samples from life in his current hometown Baltimore over a bed of computer-programmed beats, he bridges the gap between the physical and the digital worlds, The album flitters between the comical and the disturbing, as fragments of sound flow in and out of its sonic peripheries at an alarming rate. During a Skype chat Co La aka Matt Papich reveals that the idea is to produce tracks that are open to the preverbal communication and social anxieties that occur in the day-to-day. “The album is about introducing a language,” he explains, “like a system or a code or an alphabet, in a way that dance music is an alphabet. Club music has these formal rules. And then, when you go so far with that language, it becomes something else entirely by the end.”
The Pennsylvania born Papich moved to Baltimore to study time-based media. At college he formed the group Ecstatic Sunshine with Dustin Wong, a duo which he describes as being “based around two guitars at extremely loud volumes. Making drone music but playing really fast.” His solo project Co La comes with this same speedy momentum (albeit a club-centric one), drawing parallels with the sound collage work of artists such as the Ohio based producer Keith Rankin aka Giant Claw. Whereas his previous releases as Co La, such as Moody Coup or Daydream Repeater, worked in a more deconstructive way – starting with prerecorded music and tearing it apart – No No begins from the bottom up. Samples are made from recording his everyday experiences as well as trawling the net for interesting sound snippets (the series of Wilhelm-type screams on the track “Shrink” came from this). The outcome is an obscure palate of guttural groans, scraping knives, coughs and screams, which he claims to use as an act of resistance to feel-good sampling. “If dance music is all about feeling really good – and it can be kind of a form of exotica that takes you out of your head or something – this record is way more about taking people out of their heads, but then also putting them right back there at some point. Like moving people towards a dance and then slowly devolving that so that there’s a feeling of sadness involved instead of just euphoria. There are definitely elements of a reworking, but there is also straight up elements of going against a lot of the moves and like… just going against an expectation of what happens in relations to dance; what happens in the club.
“Instead of using samples of an air horn or something which makes people feel really good,” he continues, “using samples of, like, a baby crying, that makes people feel anxious, you know? Part of it is using these sounds that in a way are trigger sounds that are stress inducing.”
I counter this with the statement that not all dance music is joyous. “No clearly,” he agrees. “I think it’s often personal. I don’t think it’s an anxiety that has to be coming from a turn of events or things that are in the news or are sexual in that way. I think it can be personal anxieties that are based on how you feel in a room with other people or how someone looking at you makes you feel. There is all this communication in the club that’s mostly non-verbal.
“It’s related to this culture of a certain rhythm existing in the club, this certain kind of like, normal structure being present for people to think of the music as dance,” he continues. “My record definitely sets out to twist all those things and invert all those feelings.”
I ask him if he’s experienced something like sadness or anxiety in a club. “Well, that something that I am trying to create,” he responds. “It’s not something that I witness in the club very much. And a critique of the dance, in a way, is that it’s often one. It’s within a set of moods that are allowed in a danceable head space, which tend to veer towards positivity, you know. And so by working in opposition to that I feel like I can start to communicate more delicate topics.”
Barely a horror show, No No feels more like a flirtation with the modern age. Its hi-tech/hi-def crisp delivery adds to the contradictions occurring within the music. “I mean I feel the density is a response to the density of information,” Papich explains. “I am one of those people that’s completely addicted to reading the news, following what’s happening in terms of social justice.”
He refers to the Baltimore protests earlier this year and the social media storm that happened during that time. “An overload of information can cause anxiety,” he states, “but then once you are in that, there’s a feeling that you’re kind of opening the code where you can be far more empathic than you could have been ten years ago.”
The conversation draws to a close with a discussion about how this technology has affected his music. “In a way it’s this version of… it’s like sci-fi, you know?” he concludes. “It’s pushing two extremes: it’s pushing the human and it’s pushing the technocratic. And that reminds me a lot of the world that I live in.”
No No is released by Software on 9 October