by Ilya Stemkovsky
If you simply hear Deantoni Parks’ newest record, Technoself, you’ll be impressed with the selection of beats and samples that exist somewhere between a club and a sentient computer. But it’s in the live setting that you realize that it’s beyond Parks merely “pulling it off” with super left-hand chops playing a small guerilla kit and his right hand playing a synthesizer, simultaneously. It’s just how involved his awareness of detail is, juggling mind and body to create a real future music. MD Online caught up with Parks before his New York City Technoself debut at Rough Trade to learn about the exciting new project.
MD: What were the origins of Technoself?
Deantoni: I was trying to find a word to describe what I was interested in doing. I’ve always been interested in technology and humanity together. I was looking through some engineering terms, and someone just began saying “technoself” in 2013. And it’s a word for studies, and that’s what I’m doing, studying and experimenting. And it helps to have a word that really puts you in that zone so you can go there. It’s a word of awareness. I am a machine, but on a deeper scale. And it started when my friends in Atlanta clubs would let me come in and play after the trap DJs, from midnight until 4 a.m. So I’d find something to segue right out of the DJs, and I became that idea – that this is the music for all night. The first time I did it I cleared the dance floor. And the people were like ‘Wait, someone’s playing?’ But they were interested because they were processing it. And a few shows later, I’d be zoning out with my eyes closed and people would be dancing and on stage. I’d be getting call and response things happening. Real communication.
MD: How did you evolve to this place where you’re playing drums with half your body and the other half is on synthesizer, totally live and organically?
Deantoni: Early on I was playing drums, but soon after I started playing piano and synthesizer. My dad had that stuff in the basement. It’s been an evolution because I’ve been around those elements together for so long. I would sequence parts on the synth and then jump on the drums. In the late 1990s I went through a phase with triggers. So it’s always in the back of all modern drummers’ minds. Like, ‘How am I going to make myself into a machine?’ With Bosnian Rainbows [featuring ex–Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Le Butcherettes singer Teri Gender Bender] I did a whole two-year tour like this. I dropped the one stick because there was no other way to pull off the stuff I wrote with the personnel we had. Most of the [drumming] I could do with one hand. If you think about the parts you’re playing, you could really play it with one hand if you had to.
MD: Why lead with your left and play keys with your right?
Deantoni: I wanted the open-hand feel. And on stage more for visuals.
MD: Did you prepare in any way by doing left-hand exercises to get your left stronger? Or was it there already?
Deantoni: It was there. I was prepared, especially from my drum ’n’ bass phase. Pulling those things off is just acrobatic, so your left hand is way faster than you think it is. A lot of it is trickery because you do have attack on the samples and your left foot on the hi-hats.
MD: For the quick side-sticking on a song like “Ashes,” is it a super loose grip or tight?
Deantoni: No, I’m never loose grip. No bounce. I like that sound. I’ve been that way since marching-band days. And I like the snare loose, a more fat sound. A more sampled sound. A piccolo doesn’t sound as good with this style. I keep both drums low without losing tone. It’s harder to play. You have to wrist a lot of stuff.
MD: What’s in your wedge, a nice even mix?
Deantoni: I have kick, snare, hi-hats. I have to have the war drums blasting. They have to fill a big space.
MD: How did you come up with what’s in the samples?
Deantoni: Just inspiring pieces of music, more from the pop or singer/songwriter world. I don’t sing or play guitar, so I sample James Taylor or Black Sabbath. And I’m not in any sampling trouble, because it’s so quick. No producer has ever sampled the way a drummer attacks a drum. They’re going to become obsolete because they can’t make an attack on the spot like we can.
I have this vision of the future where everyone is basically outlawed to perform music, except for government-appointed whoever. And I’m one of those people. So when you want to go hear music in New York, for instance, you go to one place, and it’s a stream so you can tap into your Google Glass or whatever, and you’re just seeing one dude play all night—me. It’s a twelve-hour set and it’s this shit. [laughs] But it’s songs that you might know. Like ‘Oh, that’s a Beatles song’ but it’s all ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka like this. All filtered through a rhythmic machine.
MD: How far away are we from that?
Deantoni: We’re here now. We’re here tonight.
MD: When your playing sounds like the machines are on the fritz, purposefully, is it a reference to the machines taking over in the future?
Deantoni: I’m into Silicon Valley and I taught in Palo Alto, and I’m paying attention to that. When that does happen, when A.I. takes over, robots are going to want to make music too. They’re going to need that Deantoni Quantized Filter. I’ll exist as software then. They’ll keep the valuable human data. So we will live on. [We need to] just make something cool for them to want. That’s where my aim is with this. It gives me a direction.
MD: This stuff isn’t about the big bass drop. Is it tough communicating this music to people?
Deantoni: I’m really preying on people’s “inner” more than their “outer.” I want to go out and party too and hear that big bass drop if I’m in the right mood. But I don’t want to hear it outside of that situation. I feel like this music I’m preparing is for an even broader situation. I feel like I’m appealing to what’s inside you so you can go more cerebral. There are visuals when you see me. So you can take a vacation from yourself. I’m not playing a song they know. I’m feeling them out and letting them feel me out. So I know what they’re not feeling. Same as a DJ, you’re just reading people all night. Switch that tempo, slow it down, speed it up.
MD: So can you play the songs off the record, or are they different each time?
Deantoni: No, I can play them, but the method is the real show.