‘Pharma’: Nmesh Interview (2018)

words by Val Bauer

I talked to electronic artist Nmesh (Alex Koenig) about his newest release ‘Pharma,’ released August 4, 2017 on Orange Milk Records. ‘Pharma’ most notably took #7 on the Needle Drop’s ‘Highest Rated Electronic Albums of 2017,’ Resident Advisor’s 2017 ‘September’s Best Music’ and Tiny Mix Tapes’ ‘2017: Favorite 50 Music Releases.’

(Bandcamp/Keith Rankin)

First of all, compliments on the new album. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying listening to it and so have some of our other DJs. How would you say Pharma is different from your previous releases? What were your biggest influences in producing it creatively/personally/otherwise?

I feel like ‘Pharma’ was the inevitable culmination of all my plunderphonic work over the last several years.  I released ‘Nu.wav Hallucinations’ back in 2013, and that one was about as bare bones “vaporwave” as I’m capable of making.  It was intended to be a one-off conceptual release in which I tried my hand at making some ‘ecco-jams’.  ‘Dream Sequins®’, the follow-up to ‘Nu.wav’ on AMDISCS, was unequivocally a much needed experimental step in the right direction, and much more thought out.  I’ve seen people refer to it as what it might sound like if The Future Sound Of London made vaporwave, which I’d like to think is a fitting way to describe it.  Finally, ‘Pharma’ goes balls to the wall and turns all the rules and ideologies about vaporwave on its head.  It’s rather difficult to pinpoint any particular influence in the creation of the album, as I worked on it off and on over a period of 3-4 years.  I was listening to a lot of Hype Williams and old Ferraro, so that’s probably where the evidence of lo-fi / hypnagogic material kicks in.  Other than that, I spent a lot of time getting back into the experimental underground, so you could say I took a lot of inspiration from the output of labels such as Orange Milk, PAN, Hippos In Tanks, stuff like that.

What is your process when manipulating and arranging samples?

Depending on the track style, the sampling madness will either come into play immediately, or else once I have the framework down.  With the beat-oriented material, I treat samples as the finishing touch, or the icing on the cake – it’s a lot of random experimentation, trial and error, etc.  In my plunderphonic work, the process has a lot to do with spontaneous sample grabbing, and just mucking about.  With television and film, I habitually record samples on the front end of projects – if there’s a movie or a YouTube clip I think might contain some worthy bits, I’ll keep it recording in real-time and tidy up the reel later on.  I’ve amassed a colossal sample library by these means.  It’s a time-saver when it comes to the final stages of working on a track, and easily the most enjoyable part – I can just go in and start making ridiculously detailed edits and candy-coating everything with an extra layer of eccentricity.

As one of the most well-known artists in the vaporwave genre, would you still consider what you produce to fall under the scope of vaporwave? What is your opinion on the current state of vaporwave?

It’s 50/50 on that first one.  It’s a weird thing I’ve been struggling with for the past couple years — I’ve attempted to branch away from that pigeonhole, because I know my music falls more under a broader electronic spectrum.  Whether or not I’ve had any luck with that is hard to determine.  Not to say some of the material off the new album doesn’t fall under that umbrella, I just feel it’s not entirely accurate to continually dub me a “vaporwave” artist – but then again, what even is vaporwave in 2018?  The straight and narrow path of Floral Shoppe era has come and gone.  Vaporwave has spawned so many subgenres, and much of the music under the scope is simply guilty by association.

What have you been listening to lately? Any new releases you’re excited for?

Always a loaded question, and a pleasure to try and answer… Been listening to loads of Lee Bannon, Machine Girl, Asha Mirr, Simo Cell, all the usual ‘lo-fi house’ suspects like Ross From Friends, DJ Boring, Grant, DJ Seinfeld etc.   I recently discovered SEEKERSINTERNATIONAL through their dub rework of Red Snapper’s “Prince Blimey” and am currently entrenched in their discography.  In recent months, I had an itch to revisit all of The Black Dog’s albums that flew under the radar.  I’ve really been digging their minimal techno output, despite them sounding like a totally different group from the early days on Warp.  Albums such as “Neither Neither” and “Tranklements” have been on repeat. There’s been a surge in female electronic producers that have my fullest attention, such as JASSS, Yaeji, Pan Daijing, and Bosco on Fool’s Gold Records, who happens to also be a fan of my ‘Dream Sequins®’ record.  Laurel Halo’s ‘Dust’ might very well have been my favorite release of the year.  Kelela put out a phenomenal full-length debut on Warp, and as a bonus I discovered the awesome music of her tour-mate Lafawndah. Continually trudging my way through the entire discographies of James Ferraro, Software (thank you George Clanton for reissuing those gems), and King Gizzard (I’m fairly new to them, but thoroughly impressed with their already vast catalog of music – quantity nor quality is lacking).  I could go on forever…  I can’t really think of any upcoming records I’m excited for off the top of my head.  I’ll know them when I see them.

Lastly, are there any upcoming projects/releases/represses/mixes/anything else you have going on that you’d like to publicize?
Sure.  Although it’s been out for several months, I released a 100+ track charity compilation in honor of Leyland Kirby’s ‘Caretaker’ project, entitled “Memories Overlooked”. (There’s a Shining pun in there somewhere).   All digital proceeds go to The Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org), and the project has raised over $1,200 to date.  Leyland Kirby himself donated to cause and had some nice words to say.  No Problema Tapes in Santiago put out a run of gorgeous 4x cassette boxes of the compilation, which sold out in a matter of days.  Aside from that, I’ve been trying to play catch-up on a lot of things.  I kicked off 2018 working on a few collaborations – a remix for FIRE-TOOLZ, my fourth collaborative track with 회사AUTO, etc.  I’ve been putting quite a bit of time into an upcoming 3-hour mindfuck guest mix for Resident Advisor.  There’s a bunch of other random projects that may or may not come to fruition.  Full disclosure, prolificness in 2018 may end up suffering a bit on the music front, due to the recent acquisition of an SNES Classic — hope everyone understands!

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