Terre Thaemlitz, aka DJ Sprinkles, is a DJ, musician, public speaker and the owner of Comatonse Records. But she is also far more than those simple labels suggest. Her work seeks to explore and critique the themes of identity politics and the socio-economics of commercial media production, using not just music, but photography, video, graphic design, text and illustration to do so. In our interview, DJ Sprinkles covers a range of subjects, including social alienation, how the delivery of content is prioritised over the content itself, counter-culture amnesia and a whole load more besides. Due to the nature of the interview, we have decided to release it in its entirety, unedited, over four separate parts.
In Part One of our interview, DJ Sprinkles talks about why an audience’s pleasure is not the only gauge of a media’s success, how people are culturally overloaded with harmful information, how the delivery of content is prioritised over the content itself and more.
In regards to your audience, you’ve said that, “Sometimes discomfort is a kind of proof of work, you know?” Can you expand on that for us please?
Well, I simply mean that an audience’s “pleasure” should not be the only gauge of media’s success – particularly if the themes one is concerned with are not about pleasure. As a counter example, mega clubs are all about spoon-feeding pleasure to crowds who ultimately don’t care about, or have any connection to, the media and sounds they are being immersed in. If you turn the music louder, the crowd reflexively shouts and raises their hands. It doesn’t matter what they are actually hearing. There is no listening happening in those spaces. And on an industry level, that is the ideal, right? Mega clubs are the sonic equivalent to a Marvel Comic superhero movie. There is no room for deviating from prescribed formulas. To the contrary, deviation is frowned upon. It’s a “buzz kill” or whatever.
In terms of “alternative” or “outsider” or “underground” cultural production, the “buzz kill” is part and parcel of acts of deviation. Discomfort, boredom, awkwardness… these are tools to disrupt standardization. They are also commonly shared aspects of sexual and gender expression among those of us who identify ourselves as inhabiting cultural peripheries.
You’ve commented on how some of our “traditional” forms of escapism, drugs, alcohol, religion, only serve to further entrench people within the situation from which they wish to escape. Yet people continue to turn towards those methods instead of addressing the underlying issues that have led them there in the first place. In the past, people would say that this behaviour would stem from a form of ignorance, or a lack of information. Do you think this is still the case?
Well, rather than a “lack of information,” I would say people are culturally overloaded with harmful information. Harmful in that those forms of escapism you mention serve to maintain and sustain existing social dominations – specifically, the maintenance of poverty en masse. This results in a real absence of tools for thinking and behaving in other ways. It results in serious difficulty when attempting to develop material-based practices of organization. We keep being led back to church, if you know what I mean… whether it’s a formal religious church, or a 12-step program, or an ideologically programmed process around gender transitioning, etc. So this lack of information is a kind of ignorance, yes. Not ignorance in a judgemental way, but ignorance on a basic level of the absence of specific information. And that absence is the result of cultural climates that actively and violently repress “unacceptable” information.
You’ve said that “a song or painting or whatever is considered to embody active protest, when at best it is simply offering a theme for discussion.” But you then go on to point out how most people are excluded from this because they are “outside the required spheres of linguistic and social indoctrination”. Do you think a lot of artists refuse to interact with their audience as they have nothing worthwhile to add to the discussion beyond what they’ve already contributed?
I do think that deriving content from most of the fine arts involves a certain level of education, as the agendas are not intuitive (despite claims of art’s “universal appeal”… the same goes for a lot of music). But I think most producers, artists, musicians, etc., are pretty vapid. We are just as stupid and brainwashed as everyone else, often times drawn to media production through an uncritical infatuation with those ideologies of “creativity,” “self-expression,” “uniqueness,” “heart,” “soul,” etc. I mean, the odds of getting profundity from media producers is about the same as getting it from spiritual leaders – next to none – because for most people the point of entry into these fields involves a near blind acceptance and faith in those cultural processes. That will not bear much useful cultural critique. It will simply lead to a lot of familiar lip service.
You’ve talked about identities being traps, saying “we need to actively recognise them as traps, but without adapting some meaningless liberal bullshit about “people are people,” which inadvertently once again encourages people to “ignore” the inescapable traps.” For a lot of clubbers, that “people are people” mantra is at the very heart of their clubbing experience. Do you feel trying to engage with them on the level you’d like, taking off their blinkers, so to speak, is akin to speaking with religious and political zealots or homophobes? In that their beliefs are such a product of the heteronormative, patriarchal culture, and therefore so ingrained and normalised to them, that it’s very hard to get them to see things from such a different perspective?
Yes, it’s difficult to speak of certain issues without people presuming I have some kind of agenda to convert people or something. That is an inevitable by-product of living in a world overflowing with conversion-based ideological strategies and social practices. I feel that conventional practice you refer to, of setting out to familiarize people with a “different perspective,” usually fails to take closets into consideration, and the queer reality “we are everywhere” (meaning we at times pretend not to understand a perspective in order to protect ourselves from outing, etc.) I trust for some readers all of this is quite familiar. I would say they are more my intended audience. Beyond that, “teaching a different perspective” is just a kind of by-product of information marketing on your side.
Maybe to put it another way, I personally place more value in the notion of someone who is struggling with these issues reading this and finding some kind of resonance that diminishes their loneliness, rather than the notion of opening up someone’s mind to things they had never considered, likely because their life experiences never required them to do so. Those latter people are constantly being targeted by mainstream LGBT agendas, so they get more than enough attention from elsewhere. It’s not my interest.
You’ve talked about “how consumers are trained to absorb music and other media almost exclusively in relation to a “positive consumer experience.”” Do you think this situation instantly lessens the mediums ability to convey any form of serious message, or at least convey it in such a way that it will be heard by people on a more meaningful level other than their own personal enjoyment at that moment?
Absolutely. Pleasure based consumption is often the death of content.
Do you think that the way people now consume music, cherry-picking what they want in the search for instant gratification, has had an adverse influence on the music that is being produced?
Yeah, in a way, content means nothing. Cultural production and consumption is all about the devices and delivery these days. On a mainstream level, whatever one puts on their device is generally meaningless and interchangeable.
Do you think that the ease with which people can get their music out there has led to popularity superseding quality?
There is almost zero emphasis on sound quality anymore. When I started recording audio in the ’80s I used to always master things twice, once at CD quality (44.1kHz 16bit) and again at DAT quality (48kHz 24bit), assuming with time that the higher quality would replace CD. The opposite is true. MP3’s are a massive step down from CD quality, which was already not ideal from the start, and inferior to other existing formats. We might as well have gone from DAT back to cassette tape. Many people don’t even own stereo speakers anymore. They either listen through earbuds or “2.1” systems with bass going through a monophonic subwoofer. Culturally, information delivery systems have cost us our ability to listen. It’s a skill people aren’t required to learn.
You’ve talked about “the big ruse of democracy via internet access”, and how people are excluded from this by the finances involved [in purchasing devices and paying for connection services] alone. Do you view this as another distraction technique, in that by giving people a small slice of what they think they want, it prevents them from understanding what they’re actually missing out on? And as a side note to this, what did you make of the recent Apple software launch and their ‘gift’ of the latest U2 album?
Massively successful commercial group U2 seals deal that secures them millions in publishing and licensing royalties. It’s all SOP. Not much of anything interesting to make of it, is there? It could have been a Coldplay album, or Lady Gaga… It wouldn’t matter, would it? Like I said, device content is generally interchangeable.
You’ve talked about the vinyl versus digital argument before and, for me, put across one of the best points to bring this discussion to a conclusion when you said that it didn’t make sense to defend one format over the other, as people’s relationships with the formats have shifted over generations and with time. However, vinyl is now making somewhat of a comeback, for want of a better phrase. Do you think this is because people are rediscovering an appreciation for the things you can’t get with a digital release, such as the physicality of owning something; the images; the notes? And do you think, in turn, this will encourage artists to again put more effort into this side of their release?
Well, my vinyl sales during this “comeback” are about 1/3 to 1/6 of the quantities I used to press up, so I wouldn’t believe the hype. Like, maybe vinyl is doing better now than ten years ago, but still far worse than ten years before that crash….
I think a new generation of producers exists now who never really had the same kind of physical relationship to albums as my generation, so I’m not convinced the “vinyl boom” will bring about those changes in graphics and liner notes, simply because I am not sure those were ever part of the consumer experiences of younger producers, or ever registered as somehow vital to them…?
Like I said, I think we’re in an era where the devices and delivery systems are culturally more important than the content of information delivered. So culturally speaking, I think most music is really just elevator BGM. House music is played in department stores. It’s the soundtrack for clothes and other objects we buy. Socially speaking, those objects seem to be what has replaced the album sleeve. Grim stuff.