Tadd Mullinix - Social Ecology in Electronic Music

Tadd Mullinix - Social Ecology in Electronic Music

November 26, 2018

Written by:

Beatrice Sommer

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Who is Tadd Mullinix?

From hip-hop to acid techno and abstract electronics, the Ann Arbor based musician Tadd Mullinix is an artist of many talents and personas.

Starting his career with a series of releases on the cult underground imprint Rewind! Records along with Todd Osborn, Mullinix has crossed through various music sub-cultures, witnessed different generations and trends and, eventually, experienced with many different genres. His approach to music is so wide that transcends any possible industry trend, leading often to a certain difficulty in trying to categorise it in any way. Or even put it into words, whatever that may be. Giving birth to an uncompromising sound and music direction (be it hip-hop/funk, harsh electronics or anything beyond), the American musician contributed to a high extent to the quality of the music of today.

Besides making music, Tadd Mullinix is a visual artist, painting and exhibiting his works in art galleries.

Sculptured in a visionary way throughout more or less two decades, Mullinix’s music universe comprises of many aliases (Charles Manier, Dabrye, James T. Cotton, Soundmurderer & SK-1, X-Altera), some of them which found their home into the catalogue of his own imprint, Bopside. Nevertheless, his entire music career follows an intriguing path which, eventually, leads to the final question: who actually is Tadd Mullinix?

We try to solve the mystery in the following conversation with Tadd himself, surfing through various topics such as the Detroit parties from the ‘90s, why he avoided ”higher” education, avant-garde music, Dubplate Pressure (the small record shop owned by Todd Osborn), how he got involved with Traxx's record label Nation and more.


BS: Starting things off, how do you feel about the electronic music of today? Do you consider it absorbed into a corrupted medium, purposed only for escapist enjoyment?

TM: Escaping would be a virtue. That's good for the mind, lets people incubate their thoughts, and they can share that time together. Corruption would be something with less meaning or purpose, an empty spectacle, and shallow voyeurism. That's happening too, of course.

What exactly is corrupted?

If I understand what you mean by “corrupted medium”-- a means or channel for expression that is essentially commercialized, then I think the result would essentially be a shallow spectacle, people’s least challenging and most trite proclivities will be pandered to.

Maybe its lack of meaningful lyrics is a drawback to clubbing’s potential? Can this shortage be viewed as an effect of people’s becoming inarticulate and diffuse in opinion?

Sometimes lyrics are meant to be only evocative. The imagery can serve to carry the music and leave questions with the listener. I find it difficult to make judgments about them. Lyrics can be meaningful but also utterly trite. So in tribute to dadaist practice, I don't make rules about lyrical content.

Who are “these people” you are referring to, in your lyrics?

Generally, uncritical, ignorant, nihilistic, and indoctrinated people in American society.
I would like to know more about general bourgeois philistinism in modern times. I haven't seen enough data on that. Of course, I experience it but it’s only anecdotal. I’ve seen a few articles suggesting that the average IQ has been on the decline since the 70s and that people are reading fewer books, but I need to know more.


Photo credits: Nayiri Mullinix
Photo credits: Nayiri Mullinix
What’s one of your best memories from a performance?

Memories of Detroit parties, raves, blend together. There isn't a single favorite memory but a collection of experiences that make up my most impressioned years. I don't think I've ever played a show that resembles those parties. I remember navigating through hung tarp mazes of an entryway. There were vast, dark spaces filled with hundreds to thousands of friendly unspoiled ravers, jit dancers, skaters, and freaks. White bursts from a strobe light burned the dancers, still like statues, into my retinae. A few trainspotters by the decks, not rows of people staring. At least one separate room was dedicated to jungle, deep/gospel house, or ghettotech. Detroit jitters were in "the booty room". Honestly, those experiences led me to this profession and that's the environment in which my sets would be best conveyed. I've seen nothing like it for decades.

What were the booty rooms?

That’s what we called the side room where DJs played Chicago booty house, Detroit ghettotech, and Miami bass.

How do you and those who shared these experiences with you remember these coming to an end and giving way to what’s happening nowadays?

I remember people not causing many drug related problems overall. Cops started busting parties and there was some bad local press surrounding the drugs. So the culture adapted to the clubs. But then there was less freedom. What’s more, it brought alcohol into the picture. There was relatively little alcohol at the parties. That’s pretty impressive in retrospect.


How did the Nation collective form? How were all of you drawn into Jakbeat?

Traxx, D’Marc Cantu and I started collaborating. The musical sensibility has raw quality and is a common thread through industrial, acid house, techno, EBM, New Wave, Disco, and other kinds of music. New dance music which drew from artists like Ron Hardy and Spencer Kinsey was among the desiderata. Apart from what Traxx had done with The Dirty Criminals, Jamal Moss, and only a few others, there was no one making music like that at the time. This was when minimal techno was massive. Not Hood & Mills minimal but Perlon and Kompakt "MNML". I spent six months in Berlin spinning acid, old-school techno, and Chicago jack tracks to crowds that were sometimes hostile toward anything more dynamic than the "oom-pah" and irresolute musicality of minimal. I loved Berlin but, still, this aspect was glaring.

Traxx found me when I was DJing back in the midwest and praised my work, especially the B side to Bang Bang Lover which I recorded as Charles Manier. He told me that I essentially decoded Liaisons Dangereuses/CH-BB and he wanted us to collaborate. He played me his own tracks, mostly material he created with a comrade or an engineer. I was really into it. Traxx eventually traveled to Ann Arbor from Chicago to make more music. My friend and flatmate, Nicolas D'Marc Cantu, was also into this music. He already started producing good stuff on his own so he naturally joined us in the studio. There was an urgency to call our sound something before writers pigeon-holed what we’d done. I started casually calling it jackbeat tracks in respect to the jacking house forefathers who influenced our sound. Soon after, Traxx and/or D'Marc – I can't remember – preferred the term "Jakbeat", removing "c" and "track" to distinguish our sound from Chicago jack tracks.

All of this time Traxx had his own network of people he'd collaborated with over the years to help build Kode and Nation. It's funny how many people were involved. I keep meeting more of them to this day. Everyone knows that he was very impassioned in his mission to position Nation and Jakbeat in the faces of posers, sycophants, and simulacra.
Photo credits: Nayiri Mullinix
Photo credits: Nayiri Mullinix

From Dubplate Pressure to avant-garde music

How have you been connected with the academic environment in Ann Arbor?

The University of Michigan here is ranked among top Ivy League schools and some of the most prestigious universities worldwide. Also, Eastern Michigan University is in Ypsilanti, our neighbors to the east. Ann Arbor has its problems but it was an oasis for me when I started coming here for a variety of reasons. Public policy protects the many trees and natural areas. We have fresh air for that reason. Many young people, some of the most brilliant artists and artisans, come from Open Schools, innovative teen centers, and community Jazz programs. The community places great emphasis on education... actual education, not just training, but critical development.

Were you involved in any way with these Open Schools?

I wasn't, unfortunately. I wasn't here for college either. In fact, I had little experience with Ann Arbor's education culture. I didn't come from money and I avoided higher education -- partly because I saw students in my position being mired in a system of debt peonage. Beyond being insanely costly, college is not required in my profession. Nevertheless, I wanted more of the residual effects of the diversity, art, and culture that the University attracts.

Were students coming to Dubplate Pressure?

I started working for Todd at Dubplate Pressure and eventually moved to Ann Arbor from Metro-Detroit in 2000. Ghostly boss, Sam Valenti was a U of M student when Todd introduced us in his shop. If I hadn't come to work here I don't know if any of this would have happened. As people came and went (as you might expect happens in a small college town), I decided to remain and settle down. I furthered my education by working at the best used record shop downtown, Encore Recordings, for about 15 years before transitioning to music and painting full-time. Over the years I became acquainted with Mark Jacobson, top dude and senior programming manager at the University Musical Society. He hired me for various performances, including "Indeterminacy" with Laura Kuhn, founding trustee and executive director of The John Cage Trust. This was at Once Again Festival, a celebration of the original ONCE Festival of New Music founded in the 1960s by Ann Arborites Robert Ashley, Roger Reynolds, Gordon Mumma, and more.

What are some of the things you’ve observed across the years regarding women’s presence in the electronic music scene?

Linda G, Stacy Hale, Minx, K Hand, Liz Warner (Copeland), Meighen Lovelace, Lauren Flax, Lauren Hill, and many more, have been essential in Detroit and throughout my career. While disentitled, women have always been central to our milieu. It's a fact that clubs still attract creeps. Creeps are still standing on the sidelines. Awareness has been amplified on social media but it's important that we extend egalitarian values across all aspects of society, not only in our insular scenes. It's much more commonplace to find women in the industry now but our task is remembering that it’s still male-dominated.

How have you encountered the field of electronic avant-garde? Is it (still) an inspiration for what you do?

A lot of records from post-war academic electronica eventually came to Encore. People would come in to sell their collections. Encore was known for buying all kinds. It was a priceless education. Electronic avant-garde and electroacoustic music are perpetually inspirational. Along with New Music, especially John Cage's, they are the most relevant disciplines as a listener. It is a totally exploratory experience that helps me realign with the mystery and creative curiosities that drew me to sound in the first place.

X-Altera and a good book

How is your world of visual arts different from the one of music?

Painting takes more time. I have more confidence in making music but hopefully, momentum will pick up for my paintings. It's always changing. Three/Three took me 11 years. On the other hand, I once made an album in 2 weeks. It was some of my better work too.

Speaking of different music projects, how did the X-Altera came about?

It came about after mulling over ways to return to a junglist approach in the studio. Todd Osborn and I released jungle on our label, Rewind, in the late 90s with the names Soundmurderer & SK-1. After that, we moved on to other projects. I had been making drum n bass sketches over the years, and Rewind's catalog was reissued by Rephlex, but new tracks were seldom completed. After recent years, I missed the structure and method of making that music so I looked for new ways forward which could integrate some other interests like deep techno, proto-idm, and ambient music. These styles resonated with me during my formative years and I thought about how the transitional period of late-era hardcore into inchoate drum n bass, might overlap with deep techno, with ambient, and IDM.

What have you been listening to lately?

Occasionally I will put on some hard bop jazz record. Maybe Wardell Grey or Walter Bishop Jr. but mostly I listen to my environment.

Do any books or films that we should check out come to your mind?

I've been going over essays by Murray Bookchin and his book, The Ecology Of Freedom. He was probably one of the most relevant people to talk about how the human race can get out of this ridiculous mess we're in and create a sane society. It's very inspiring stuff!
About the Author

Beatrice Sommer

Beatrice is an Anthropology student and everyday life enthusiast. She has an affinity for avant-garde music and is involved in the alternative underground scene of Bucharest.

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