I recently had the opportunity and privilege to interview the politically-charged noise juggernaut Contraktor. Bent on political radicalism and confrontational sonic breakdowns, Contraktor is a truly prolific and passionate figure in American noise.
GRVD: When did Contraktor start, and what prompted you to start making noise? Was it a natural progression from playing other extreme styles of music, or was it more of an outlet for frustrations in those genres?
C: Contraktor first came into being around the summer of 2013, I was 19 going on 20 and there were a lot of factors that led to it's creation. I was extremely frustrated with my situation in life (had lost my first apartment with an ex-girlfriend, was starving myself and over-working out because of my perceived obesity and I had just taken legal action over a molestation that occurred when I was very young) and my old noise project (that will remain nameless, it's awful, trust me) had been dead for almost two years at that point. I started making noise / noise rock type stuff in my early teens (14-18) after I had discovered Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' and the genre of Japanoise. Something about noise spoke to me on an extremely deep level, it was pure sonic freedom. Although my first project was terrible it was essential to my evolution as a noise musician in that I feel I made my mistakes early. The main mistake was humor. That's not to say Contraktor isn't humorous at points or that I don't like noise that isn't serious, but there's more of a dark sarcasm now instead of blatant teenage humor, I guess I just learned how to refine it to a level I was comfortable with that didn't make it impossible to take me seriously.
GRVD: What was the first Contraktor performance like? Was it a positive or negative experience or neither?
C: The first Contraktor show was both a positive and negative thing for me. It was kind of hilarious, just on face value, of me playing with a folk-punk singer, thrash metal group and a pop-punk group. Needless to say not many people were thrilled with my performance. That's about the extent of the negativity. The positive I took away from this was my overcoming of stage fright (although I've been musically active since 14 this was my first legitimate show, noise or otherwise) and that I still to this day feel like I played a great set. It was all about finding a balance between appearance, live electronic improvisation and delivery of my lyrics. This show paved the way for all of my other sets, I'm actually pretty glad I played to such an unreceptive audience.
GRVD: What were the primary influences on Contraktor from a sonic standpoint? Were there/are there any specific noise artists that "clicked" and are a go-to for influence, or do you find yourself more influenced by non-musical things?
C: I'm glad you phrased the question this way, I feel like when people ask about influences they are always looking for musical influences. Contraktor has as many non-musical influences as musical ones and I'm glad to finally get into that. Musically I was very influenced by Japanoise, I was always a fan of 30-minute jams with layers and layers of noise. Stuff like Hijokaidan and Incapacitants were very important to my musical development. Punk Rock and Grindcore are also a big influence on what I do, I like to think of my music as very "punk" in delivery and attitude. Waves Crashing Piano Chords is probably the number one influence on my music and still a go-to for inspiration to this day. His whole style, everything about the project just resonated with me like nothing else. I owe everything to WCPC, the style of my first 10 or so releases, my labeling myself as "Emo" Power Electronics (in reference to his Juggalo Power Electronics) even the way I recorded and made noise (playing my setup through a Marshall half-stack) was modeled after him! On the non-musical side there are just as many if not more influences. Betrayal, love and lack thereof, tension with my family, my own eating disorder, depression, anxiety, anger - as awful as they felt they were and still are important to my noise. What was especially influential, and probably the most important factor in the birth of Contraktor was the industrial setting and way of life around here. I grew up in northeast Kansas, and unlike the rest of Kansas where you have images of rolling wheatfields and small close-knit towns, northeast Kansas is very industrial and urban. There is an industrial park in my hometown, and at least one in every town in 4 counties I can think of. That's where the name Contraktor comes from actually, contractor jobs are a HUGE source of employment around here The industrial way of life, the alienation of the proletariat, was what mattered to me. I think I can sum it up pretty well with my own lyrics "All you need to raise a family of four is a cock and high school degree / What can you do for paycheck around here? / What does this work get you? / Nothing but bad health and industrial sadness"
GRVD: Contraktor seems to be very politically charged, and you yourself seem to be a pretty passionate person when it comes to your political views. Where do you lie on the political spectrum, how does it influence Contraktor, and how important do you think those views are to the project?
C: I do not like to refer to myself as a leftist or anarchist because of the connotations both of those words have. Most people don't take "anarchists" seriously, especially other anarchists, and most people have a big problem with generalized "leftism". I would call myself "post-left" but the actual post-left movement and ideologies are much more conservative than I am. At the very core of my being I am a Marxist, a political nihilist, and an anti-fascist. I am a radical egalitarian and vehement anti-statist. Contraktor is a 200% political project. I may not always have the time or money to support local anarchist groups and their actions, so I have always felt this project is my way of remaining active as an activist. Without this I feel I have no voice in the movement. On the same token I don't see myself as leading the charge or being a head honcho by any means, but I feel that every bit helps. Without politics I honestly feel Contraktor would be lost in the plethora of generic noise content; pedophilia, violence, etc. etc. Sometimes I'm afraid the more sensitive leftists will hear my music and fall prey to my tongue-in-cheek conservatism, there are times I use extreme homophobia and conservative language as a sarcastic attack on right-wingers, so it's always nice to get a chance to clarify.
GRVD: Have you been following the U.S. presidential election at all? If so, what's your reaction to what's happening right now?
C: Yes I have, there's really no way to stay ignorant about this year's presidential race. It's everywhere. I don't know where to begin. There's the fact that people still feel the need to support the system and by into this shit. It's 2016, there's more information and more ways to access it than ever before. That being said, how the hell can we still say we need this government, this system, this way of life? The politicians and public employees literally do nothing for us, bleed us dry and send our children to die. And that's putting it as simply and unintellectually as I can. The constitution and declaration are out-of-date invalid documents that don't mean shit as far as I'm concerned, and I find it idiotic there are still people worshipping them. I also hate the "if you don't vote, you can't complain" argument. YOU people (not even a majority I might point out) consistently vote sociopathic criminals into positions of high power and then proceed to act surprised when this country falls further down the shitter. I would like to support Bernie, I would, my inner 16-year-old is jumping for joy that he's running. But the 22-year-old cynic and nihilist I have become can't bring myself to do it. At the end of the day he's an elected official who's held office forever, he's another career politician and "socialist" or not he's part of the problem. In fact his self-labeling as "democratic socialist" and still seeking the democratic party, the referring to him and his supporters in mainstream media as "socialists" and "communists" is distressing, it's pure recuperation. Don't even get me started on Trump. He's pure fascism, plain and simple.
GRVD: Noise, like black metal, has always seemed to be a very committed, self-serious, and self-important genre of music, and I don't mean that in an insult in any way - if anything I mean it as a compliment. In the same way black metal artists will be one-man projects, cover themselves in corpsepaint, and completely devote themselves to their music, noise artists seem to have that same level of commitment, if not more. Why do you think this is?
C: I think maybe it's because we play such an unknown and unaccessible music. I think, like black metal, it takes a higher state of patience and artistic and self-awareness. If you are easily offended by the imagery and lyricism of black metal you're probably the same person who can't stomach noise. There's something about it people just can't wrap their heads around. Those of us who make it, and make it well, understand it completely. We get what each other are doing artistically, we understand what we are trying to say and the way we are going about it. There's also the technical standpoint, unlike other genres there's no definite set of instruments to play it and there's no right/wrong way to have a noise setup. Most of us noise musicians are also audio nerds, we know the equipment we're using and we know HOW to use it. Some people (like me) have tabletops full of gear, some of us can use as little as one microphone, some people build their own instruments and some of us rely on laptops. It's a beautiful thing. I think it's this reliance on gear that truly makes this genre a one-man-band type of genre. When you don't have to rely on any other humans (which can get hairy and frustrating) it just feels kind of natural to do it yourself. DIY or die!
GRVD: You recently started a label. Tell us about that.
C: Big Pharma Records! I'm not the smartest cookie, but I feel like this area, the Kansas/Missouri/Nebraska/etc. area is particularly lacking in representation for experimental music (again, I could be wrong). Noise and music overall is my one true passion in this life. I also love the compact disc, I know a lot of us are audiophiles, and I love tapes as much as the next guy, but I'm an early nineties child and the CD means everything to me. The CDr is our main focus as far as physical releases go. I started this label for anyone and everyone. My goal is to be THE guy to go to. The nice guy. I can't tell you how many times I've been dicked around and given false promises by labels. There's also a culture of "you're not good enough for me or my label" (I feel) in underground community, and especially in noise there's shittalking and beefing and overall not a whole lot of friendliness. Fuck all that. If you make experimental music Big Pharma is for you. I don't care if you're a 76-year-old black transwoman making dark ambient from a shed in Kentucky, I want to hear it, I want to support you, I want to give you a platform for your voice and a physical outlet for your music.
GRVD: What are some projects - noise and not noise - that you're particularly into right now?
C: Lately I've been jamming a lot of Death In June, El-P and Piebald. I've also been on a kick of Xiu Xiu, Soft Shoulder and old-school death metal. Starting the label has been one of the best decisions I've ever made based purely on all the great music I've heard, stuff like How I Met Lauren and Existence Cemetery especially. Also a lot of Bonemagic and Shadowpiercer in the mix.
GRVD: Any last shout outs or final thoughts?
C: Be yourself and live completely free and uninhibited - whatever that means to you. No one defines your sense of humanity and freedom. We are born to die on this helpless rock and one day all of existence will fold in on itself; your life and everything in it is completely meaningless - so make it fucking important, make it count, give it that meaning. Let no one stand in your way, you are born a human - you are free, you are equal.
I'd like to give a shoutout to Lou Reed, may he rest in peace. Without him my life would have taken an extremely different turn. I'd also like to thank Crowhurst for making music that continually intrigues and inspires me. A shoutout to Patrick Harsh for his undying friendship and loyalty. He's been like a mentor and a brother to me and without him I'd be truly lost at this point. Lastly and most importantly I'd like to thank Sean Beard of WCPC from the very bottom of my heart. Without him and his music Contraktor would never have been.
This whole time I've been typing and formulating my responses all I can think about is September 2013, sitting by my computer, creating the Contraktor bandcamp and facebook and uploading the first EP. It's been a wild three years and I never would have imagined to have had the success I've had. To anyone I've forgot to mention - If I've met you, played a show with you, done a split with you, talked with you on facebook, released you on my label - I truly love each and every last one of you, thank you for making my life worth living and giving me purpose.