Terre Thaemlitz is an award winning multi-media producer, writer, public speaker, educator, audio remixer, DJ and owner of the Comatonse Recordings record label. Her work combines a critical look at identity politics – including gender, sexuality, class, linguistics, ethnicity and race – with an ongoing analysis of the socio-economics of commercial media production. He has released over 15 solo albums, as well as numerous 12-inch singles and video works. Her writings on music and culture have been published internationally in a number of books, academic journals and magazines. As a speaker and educator on issues of non-essentialist Transgenderism and Queerness, Thaemlitz has lectured and participated in panel discussions throughout Europe and Japan. As of January, 2001, he resides in Kawasaki, Japan.
Cameo Gallery is also giving away a FREE pair of tickets to The ALL NIGHT LONG with… DJ SPRINKLES event on September 14th…
ENTER HERE: http://gimme.io/TERRE914
Are there current artists that you’ve been listening to/inspired by?
I just finished performing Soulnessless in Australia, and one of the people I met there turned me on to an old Michael Nyman album from 1978, Decay Music. The A-side piano solo “1-100″ is really great.
Do you still spend time going out in Japan or are you only producing when you are home?
Even before I moved to Japan, I’ve never really gone out much. I almost never go to clubs or events unless I’m working, or it’s a kind of social obligation for a friend. But I also don’t spend as much time on production as I’d like. Email is a time-suck. And I work alone, without management or agents, so I get side tracked by a lot of administrative work. I’m in the process of wrapping up my last commissioned remix, for Francis Harris’ upcoming album. After that I’m free to focus on my own stuff. Next year I’m not taking any gigs outside of Japan until May, so hopefully I can get a little something done in the months between.
Next year I’m not taking any gigs outside of Japan until May, so hopefully I can get a little something done in the months between.
How has your record selecting process evolved? Has the way you build a DJ Set changed over time?
I pretty much wing it. I bring a shitload of materials, and select on the spot. But my selection process is not so much based on what the crowd wants – I’ve never been good at playing to a crowd. Seriously, I just don’t know what people want. Even when they come up and request stuff, I don’t know it or have it. But I know what they don’t want. They tell me what they don’t like when they hear it. And I just have to kinda not give a shit. Especially since they usually complain when I’m playing a track of my own. And even if I explain that to them, like, “Hey, this is my own track, and these guys flew me all the way from Japan to play this, so I’m sorry, I know it sucks, but…,” they keep arguing at me, like I’m back in 1989 sneaking in a cassette tape of some unreleased demo track between the “real music” I was hired to play.
I think I’m doing something right if, after all these years, nothing changes in that regard.
I think I’m doing something right if, after all these years, nothing changes in that regard. Especially with regard to the DJ Sprinkles stuff, which is all about the unknown DJ’s nobody had ever heard of, playing unknown records nobody wanted to listen to… but today they all call them “classics.” Any promoter who writes in their press release that I was a popular DJ in New York clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about – but that mistake happens all the fucking time. Hell, most people think I still live in New York, so… you know… Flavor Flav had a line about that kind of situation… But it’s funny, when I tell people they should correct their press releases and just change “popular” to “unpopular,” they really don’t get it. They’d rather just take the whole line out, rather than introduce this other concept of how the “unknown” or invisible interacts with underground audio. It’s no pop music! Of course, the unknown is integral to underground music’s relationship to mainstream music! It was the classic antagonism within old school Ball culture, too! Who’s known and unknown, real and unreal… In all of that, I was definitely unknown. Most everyone was! Get over it and out with it already, if you’re going to talk about “music from back in the day!” It makes no sense to have every discussion of house revolving around the same few DJ gods, who really held a business monopoly that kept other DJ’s and sounds out of clubs for decades.
Comatonse Recordings started out as an outlet for your own productions and eventually expanded to include others. Is there a method to the amount of material still being released each year?
Comatonse Recordings has never had a proper release schedule or strategy. It’s always been run in a very non-cooperative way with conventional business standards. Most distributors won’t order from me because I require pre-payment and won’t take returns… but that’s because most shops and distributors I’ve worked with early on didn’t pay their fucking commissions or send back the returns! So fuck that, with shops screwing over out-of-pocket labels like my own.
2013 is actually the 20th anniversary of Comatonse, and I’m not sure I’ll manage to get out anything special to celebrate, so that shows how un-methodological it can be. But in general, it’s always been the place for me to release stuff others refuse to put out, or for things I don’t want to enter into contracts with others around, like the Dead Stock Archive or Soulnessless. Actually, I had hoped to update the Dead Stock Archive as part of Comatonse’s 20th anniversary, but I’m just not sure I’ll find the time before year’s end.
Your Queerifications & Ruins compilation was recently released via Mule Musiq, looking back at your remix collection between 2006-2013, it incorporates a very diverse roster of artists (from Matt Tolfrey to Ducktails). What criteria do you look for in a submitted song that allows you to commit to devoting time and energy towards a remix?
I approach remixing as a kind of sampling, just like I’d listen for good samples in other records. So when someone sends me a track they’d like remixed, I really listen to the individual sounds, and try to imagine what the multi-tracks will actually be. If I hear sounds I think I could work with, and if they accept my terms in return, then it happens. Like sampling from other records, it isn’t a requirement that I like the original source. It helps, but it’s not a requirement. To the contrary, sometimes liking a track too much is a problem, because then I find myself trying to handle it too preciously. It’s more about liking some sounds, or some aspect of the production. And that’s also why I can work with a variety of producers. I think a lot of my remixes share a similar mood, but I don’t think anyone could accuse me of doing that kind of cookie-cutter remixing like Masters at Work and a lot of others did. In fact, I still get into trouble with labels sometimes because I don’t deliver what they expected. But it’s actually one of my completely unreasonable remix conditions that I have final approval of the remix – not the label – just because I’ve been burned so many times over the years with people who refused to pay for work delivered. Most of them wanted some kind of NRG pumper. How the fuck they found me in the first place, I’ll never know. So, clearly, only people who trust me would ever agree to give me final approval, and that gives me some psychological assurance to do my thing.
sometimes liking a track too much is a problem, because then I find myself trying to handle it too preciously.
Actually, you mentioned Ducktails… I know his label already told this story, so I might as well tell it too, but that was one of those cases where my bad experiences in the past had me convinced they had no idea who I was. And I, for sure, had no idea who Matt Mondanile was, or Real Estate, etc. I don’t know anything about the whole US indie rock scene, if that’s even what people would call it. So I was just convinced they were going to be totally miserable with anything I delivered, and basically tried to talk them out of it. But I guess both Matt, and Kris from Domino Records, knew my work, and were like, “No, no, it’s okay, just relax…” [Laughs] For that track, it was the synth solo that sold me (in my remix it comes in at 7:35). It may not sound like it, but I actually used bits from almost all of the original multi-tracks in my mix – even guitar and stuff I didn’t expect to use.
You’ve been releasing with mule musiq since 2008. How did that relationship start and how do you determine which content of yours is published through them?
Well, the You? Again? compilation came out in 2006. That one compiled a lot of previously vinyl-only materials from the Comatonse catalog. We tried to do it in a way that didn’t overlap too much with my self-released Fagjazz compilation from 2000. The relationship came about because Mule’s owner, Toshiya Kawasaki, was friends with Yojiro Hara, who was the person behind my 2003-2006 Deeperama residency at Club Module in Shibuya. At some point we got introduced, and later Toshiya emailed me about doing a compilation of Comatonse rarities. The fact they’re all previously released tracks, some almost a decade old at that point, is why I called it, “You? Again?” Like, “Shit, Terre’s just going to keep recycling these same old tracks?!!! Do some new stuff!”
Actually, other than Midtown 120 Blues, everything Mule has put out of mine has just been the licensing of previously released materials. So I look at it more like a licensing relationship. I’ve never been a proper Mule artist, although a lot of people seem to see it that way. I think those people are just really unfamiliar with my catalog, and how long I’ve been producing house. Which is fine, but it’s weird they construct alternate histories around their misconceptions. And these kinds of mistakes and misdirections are all over our understandings of the history of music.
‘Where Dancefloors Stand Still’ is a collection of songs pooled together as tracks you’ve always included in DJ sets. Do you remember specific instances when you first discovered a few of them?
I discovered many of them in New York at the old Dance Tracks record shop on East 3rd Street. That was back when Stan ran the place, and Joe Claussell worked cashier – before Joe became one of the owners. I was working as a secretary in those days, moonlighting three nights a week as a DJ at Sally’s II at the Carter Hotel on 43rd. The first track on the compilation, Braxton Holmes’ “12 Inches of Pleasure,” was – and remains – my all time favorite deep house cut. But shit, people fucking hated it on the dancefloor! It was too slow for people on coke and E. They would stop dancing, a lot of times shouting at me in the DJ booth to “Pick it up…!” and I was just, like, giving them a shit-eating grin back, struggling to enjoy hearing it on a big system. One time even Dorian Corey – whom I loved and admired so much, and who was always so patient with me – really gave me hell for playing it right after one of her stage shows. She totally freaked, “No! Uh-uh! What the hell are you doing? You can’t play this shit! People want to get up and dance after a show! Take that shit off! Take that shit off now!” For her, getting up and dancing could only be done to upbeat disco by Tata Vega or someone like that. [Laughs] That’s why for me “12 Inches of Pleasure” is really the perfect opener for a mix called Where Dancefloors Stand Still.
You last played Cameo Gallery in 2011, and the following year at House of Yes in Bushwick. Do you spend much time here before/after gigs?
I do try and touch base with a few old friends, but I generally try to keep my trips abroad as short as possible. I’m really a homebody. If I had enough local work in Japan to sustain myself without performing abroad, I would totally just stay here. But realistically speaking, I doubt that will ever happen. It’s actually really rare to even get work in the US. Most of my work is still in Europe.
Cameo Gallery will play host to DJ Sprinkles this upcoming Sept 14th for a full 4 hour set!
Starting at Midnight, you can get the full Terre experience, buy your tickets in advance: