Deathface Talks Blood Baths, Ritual Sacrifice, and the Overthrow's Black Magick Party
Once upon a time, Chicago-bred, L.A.-based DJ/producer Johnny Love
was best known on underground dance floors as half of Guns and Bombs.
That project, as the name implies, was all about going hard and going big, full of searing chainsaw basslines and "subtlety" turned into a four-letter word. At the peak of the electro-house craze, they were bona fide rockstars -- and this, Love says, was precisely when he became disillusioned with the entire scene.
Love had cut his musical teeth, after all, in the diverse Chicago rave scene of the late '90s, when warrens of rooms offering different sounds, and partiers up for all of them, were par for the course. Electro-house, meanwhile, as he was finding it to develop, was turning into an exercise in homogeneity.
And so, he kissed Guns and Bombs goodbye and returned as the much darker Deathface
. It was good timing, just as everyone was overdosing on neon vomit and turning to heavier sounds in electronic music. With the rise of dubstep, Deathface's churning, slow-burning, tracks like the stormer "Blood Rave" found welcoming ears, quickly.
Deathface's debut album, Fall of Man, was released earlier this month, and further explores this sonic turf. Don't just call it a dubstep record, though. As an avowed fan of Atari Teenage Riot and the like, he prefers to refer to it as "digital hardcore," an apt description, considering most of the track's pounding, punk-style drums and snatches of screamed vocals. These come, actually, from a female (yay), the brunette beauty Adri Law.
Deathface performs this Saturday at Trouble & Bass' and the Overthrow's Black Magick Party at their very own castle (much more about that event here
). In advance of the show, we reached him by phone to discuss getting over electro, his first encounter with the Overthrow, and the best brands of fake blood.
Crossfade: So what exactly happened with Guns and Bombs?
Deathface: I mean, if it's any indication, I'm suing my old manager, my old partner, so that's about as much as I can say about that.
Did that happen before or after you wanted to go in a different musical direction?
I had stopped playing "electro" maybe after the first year of Guns and Bombs' existence. It was getting really bland and generic. It was at the point where everyone else was finally catching on, adn then the whole bandwagon started, and then there was just a plethora of producers making the same nonsense over and over, like bad carbon copies of Justice tracks.
Then it was to the point now where like, Wolfgang Gartner and Deadmau5 sound like.... It's just people copying the same sound over and over again, and it sounds like garbage.
So I was like, "I can't play this stuff anymore, I'm not feeling it, it's not exciting to me." The reason I got into it was because electro was new and exciting, and didn't sound like the rest of the stuff. So as soon as it became the norm, I was like, well, I can't do this.
So I started moving in a heavy bass territory, playing bassline and stuff that sounded like speed garage, and then I started playing dubstep and stuff like that in my sets. So I moved away from the chainsaw basslines way before Guns and Bombs was over. I guess Deathface was a long time coming.
What kind of stuff were you playing before Guns and Bombs even existed?
It depended. I did a lot of parties in Chicago and for different parties I'd play different genres. There's one party I would play ghetto-tech and booty-house and Miami bass, real black dance music. And then I would have my loft parties where I would play disco and Italo disco and acid and early house. Then another party I would play kind of techno-ey, kind of the industrial revival stuff.
So I played a lot of different things, bceause it was Chicago and you could play a lot of different stuff at different parties, which unfortunately isn't the case anymore. But I was pretty varied.
Why can't you be as diverse in what you play in Chicago these days?
Well, the scene isn't as strong as it used to be in Chicago. It's to the point where I think it's a pale shadow of its former self. When I was doing this stuff, I think it was five years after the rave scene was completely dead in Chicago, but a lot of the big-time promoters were still around and had moved into clubs. So a lot of people who were going to raves were around my age, so it was a lot of peopel who used to go to raves, and were not used ot hearing the same genre of music all night.
In addition to that, since I was like 22 or something, there were also younger kids coming in, and because I was doing th eparties, I was kind of dictating what the kids were going to listen to. This was enabled by the fact that we had a loft in the middle of the hip neighborhood, Wicker Park. So we did that every month, and people would come and dance. I had a strict music policy where it was no Top 40, nothing you could hear on the radio, and we just educated the kids.
Now, the city of Chicago shut every illegal space down, and I left -- that's what caused me to move to L.A. It's been six years since I left, and there's been no one who's even come close to replicating anything as forward-thinking. It's kind of sad. And all the old promoters quit because everything else died. It's a bummer.
When you started playing bassline and stuff like that, were you still doing that as Guns and Bombs, or were you doing that under your own name?
I was doing it as Guns and Bombs.
What was the reaction from teh crowd, if they were expecting one sound and hearing another?
Well, I was still getting booked twice a weekend, so it's not like I was getting complaints. There are people still out there who still play the same goddamn tracks from three or four years ago.
It's not like I was playing stuff that wasn't accessible, though. I was playing stuff like Crookers, for instance, before fidget became the same thing, a fucking parody of itself. I remember that Crookers gave me the "Day N Nite" remix a year before it blew up. That's the kind of stuff I was playing, just before it got really worn out. It's not like I was playing minimal techno and boring the kids to death, you know?
But it's funny because there was a promoter who I won't name who was like, "Well, Johnny, I know you play kind of deep....." And I was like, "Are you kidding me? I play deep? I play the farthest from deep!" Some promoters are just completely clueless, because I wasn't playing "Satisfaction" or "Waters of Nazareth," they thought I was playing deep. I was like, "You're a promoter, pay some fucking attention."
Was there a specific moment you had when you just knew you were really done with electro-house?
I mean, like I said, I don't think there was a certain moment where I had an epiphany. I think part of it was that, in L.A., the electro thing got really, really popular. We could go out every night and it was really surreal, because we would get treated like rock stars. We would walk into a place, and they would announce us on a microphone, and give us a bunch of drink tickets, and blah blah blah.
I was seeing the next generation of these DJs come up in L.A., and it sounded like they all just got Serato, and would just stand there looking at the screen. Then if there was a reason they had to mix without looking at the screen, it was a huge train wreck. And they were all playing the same 12 songs!
I was just like, "You know what, I can't do this." Because the background I came from, the last thing i was into when I was a raver was that I was drum 'n; bass, where you really appreciated if someone came in with a dubplate that nobody else had. So for me to hear the same goddamn 12 songs three times in one night, I was just done.
When did you offiically pull the plug on Guns and Bombs, and when do you consider Deathface to have been officially born?
I think Deathface was created in April of '09, pretty much. Guns and Bombs ended like, February of '09.
Would you consider Deathface to be dubstep?
I mean, it isn't, exactly. The "Blood Rave" track is a pretty dubsteppy track, but the rest of it isn't. Because dubstep is becoming the same parody of itself the way electro and fidget became. Like, "Here's a copy-and-paste formula, let's do this." So I'm not trying to do the same goddamn thing over and ove again.
How would you describe your sound, then?
I mean, I don't know. I didn't have like, a set goal when I started making this. It just kind of popped out. I guess the closest thing is digital hardcore, I guess you'd call it that.
How much do you think your old taste for drum ' n' bass has figured into what you're doing now?
Oh, a lot, because the first bunch of Deathface tracks I did were all at 140 and all had amen breaks. So it actually sounded like breakbeat hardcore, which is the precursor to drum 'n' bass. So I mean, a lot. It has a lot to do with it.
My next question, since you mentioned "digital hardcore," is that on your Facebook page you have a really glowing quote from Alec Empire. How did you get in contact with him, and what's the story behind that?
It's funny, I Twittered asking if anyone had any contact. I remember I was playing in Washington, D.C. that night, and I went up to play, and when I was done DJing, he had Twittered back to me, "Hey, here I am." I was screaming like a little girl. I loved this guy when I was 13 or 14, and now he's Twittering me!
Did you get to work with him?
No, I've never even met him. I was like, "Hey man, I'm a big fan," etcetera and I sent him a track, and he said, "This is great, I wish this was a few years ago so we'd have Digital Hardcore still and put it out and you'd make a ton of money." So he started talking about it without prompting from me, so that was cool, because I guess he did genuinely enjoy it. But he doesn't run a record label, so what is he gonna do?
What's behind all the death and blood themes that keepcoming up in your track names and your whole aesthetic?
It's funny, I was looking up an old message board I used to have. There was a thread where we were discussing industrial. It was myself, this guy Passions who used to be on Trouble & bass and now does goth stuff, and this guy Norris, who's Salem's manager. We were all on the same thread, and we were talking about how everything was going to go to goth next, because everyone was going to be tired of that neon shit. And that was exactly right.
All this stuff is cyclical, it happens over and over. As soon as something gets really aggro and adolescent, there'll be the backlash where things will get more intelligent, and smoother. But hten people realize, this isn't as fun. Now you've ogtten too serious, so then it goes back and forth, back and forth. The next thing, we're probably all going to be wearing fucking sundresses. Who knows?
Are you worried about getting lumped into this whole goth-y, dubstep thing, or do you figure you'll just reinvent yourself again when the time comes?
Well, I mean, I've never had a problem with getting pigeonholed. So I'm hoping in trascends it, where it enters a popular consciousness. I mean, I'm hoping it becomes successful enoguh where it transcends being part of a big scene and becomes its own thing.
How did you first meet the guys from the Overthrow?
Actually, I first met Lex when I was on the Kitsune Scion tour, and we played Miami. A friend of mine there, the DJ Johnny the Boy, called me and was like, "Come over, we're at Bella Rose, come hang out after your gig." So Johnny was there, and was like, "Meet Lex." So I met Lex [co-founder of the Overthrow], a dude holding a cane. And initially I was like, "Why is this dude holding a cane at a Top 40 club?" I was kind of skeptical at first. Who wouldn't be?
Then I talked to him more, and the dude has his act together, for sure. He's a kindred spirit.
What did he do or say to get you over that initial impression?
Obviously the first night I met him and shook his hand, and he was a dude with a mustache and a hat holding a cane, but I was like, :P. Diddy is playing at your club, and this is not dark at all. If you had been playing the Birthday Party when I walked up, it would be a different story."
It wasn't until later when I was trying to come down to Miami again, and Johnny reminded me of Lex, saying he was doing a party called the Overthrow now. So I hit him up, and I realized from all the imagery he was using that the guy knew a little more than just going out to Hot Topic and buying a cane. It became clear to me that the guy was legit.
The last time you played here for them, it was at a club called White Room, and it had an entire occult ritual staged. How much were you involved in that, and do you have any kind of performance thing planned for your set here in Miami?
I was already doing the blood bath parties before that. Then they were like, "We want to do a sacrifice." So I was like, "Well, that sounds perfect!"
What were your blood bath parties? You'd literally bathe people in fake blood?
Yeah. How it started is, in July of 2009 in Italy. I was playing in this small town of 30,000 people, which is actually where the Bloody Beetroots are from,a nd about half an hour from where my dad's from in Italy. So it was funny because it was the place I used to go to as a child when I'd go visit my family in Italy.
So I was at this party and it was going bananas; it was called Trashdance. They had booked me before as Guns and Bombs, so I said I ahd a new project and they were like, yes, awesome, come back.
So I went to play, and there were these two girls who were like 17-year-old super rich girls, who would just go from city to city goign to parties all over Italy. So they showed up, and they were like, "You wanna use blood?" And this girl had a bottle of fake blood with her, so we just started throwing it everywhere.
So then I did one in Chicago, and in random other cities. So Lex was like, "Oh, let's kick it up and do a sacrifice."
What did you use for your fake blood? Corn syrup?
I'm actually very particular about the fake blood I use, becase I have a lot of experience with it. People think if they get the most expensive fake blood, it's gonna be the best. But that Bill Nye blood with the minty flavor is the absolute worst blood you can use! It's sticky, and it's disgusting.
You put it on, and then it dries on yoru face and it doesn't look natural. It looks like shit, and if it gets in your hair, game over. It looks like you've had 35 men ejaculate on your head. It's the worst.
So what I find to be the best is a thing you call "Gallon o Blood" or "Pint o Blood," because it's liquidy and not sticky at all. It has the consistency of slightly thick water, so it drips and looks natural. You can go to any kind of costume shop, and if they're worth their fake blood, they have at least two or three different brands.
And it's cheaper than the Bill Nye, which is garbage. I can't tell you how much I hate it! I've ruined so many needles and records with that fucking Bill Nye shit.
So do you know if there's anything special planned for your show here in Miami, or it still under wraps?
I don't know if there's anything planned, because you know, the reason I like doing the blood bath party when I DJ is because it gets the crowd involved. I would recruit two or three of my friends, and tell them to go out in the crowd and rub blood on people's faces, or throw blood on them while I'm playing, and it's interactive.
The sacrifice looked really cool and was great for the video and promotion, but it was terrible while I was playing, because nobody was dancing. People were just watching the sacrifice. I was like, "That's really cool, but I'm playing music for people to dance to." So really, I don't want to re-create it at the Overthrow party, because it would just, like, stop the party, know what I'm saying?
Trouble & Bass and the Overthrow present Black Magick Miami Party with Deathface, AC Slater, Star Eyes, the Captain, Caligula, and others. Saturday, March 26. The Castle, 51 NW 20th St., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Visit theoverthrow.com.
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