Nation founder Melvin Oliphant III speaks in detail with Tony Poland ahead of the label’s most ambitious release to date.
The Modern Electronic Element series has been an exposition undertaken by Chicago’s Nation “designed to show different aspects within Jakbeat”, and was inaugurated back in 2008 with a 12″ featuring the Chicago label’s core crew of Traxx, JTC, D’Marc Cantu, and Beau Wanzer. The second edition, issued in 2011, saw Nation open the series to some like-minded artists with contributions from Jamal Moss as I.B.M., Steve Summers, Baris K, Mick Wills, and Tevo Howard. If you remain tuned into Nation through its preferred channels of communication, you will no doubt be aware of the label’s plans to unleash a third edition of The Modern Electronic Element. Previews of tracks from the compilation have appeared over time on the label’s SoundCloud, and it became clear to us that Nation was undertaking something special.
Earlier this month, a greater picture formed for this third edition with Nation revealing it would take shape in a 25-track seven-LP box set due for release later this year featuring a swathe of compelling artists and projects. Svengalisghost, Andreas Gehm’s Elec Pt.1 project, Gavin Russom, D’Marc Cantu, Darrin Huss of Psyche, Specter, Beau Wanzer, NGLY, and JTC are amongst the contributors along with some names less familiar. Snippets of all 25 tracks can be heard here.
In order to gain a better idea regarding The Modern Electronic Element Serie III, we initially sought out Nation boss Melvin Oliphant III to engage in a round of questions to accompany a news piece. It quickly became clear, however, the Nation founder preferred to discuss this release and the project as a whole in greater depth, so please read on for a full length transcription of that interview, edited only for clarity and repetition.
For those unfamiliar with The Modern Electronic Element Series as a whole, can you explain the concept behind it?
In the early days, when I started to conceive Jakbeat as a mental, physical and musical manifestation between the years of 2000-2006, house, electronics and techno music was still innovative and not as stagnant as it is in many parts of the world these days. My fellow friends, that banded together as label-mates, witnessed these moments first hand, with that same energy that stays with us today. So when I say ‘Jakbeat’, I’m not only talking about acid, 303s and the pigeonholing genre stapling of 4/4 rhythms on the dancefloor. It’s a mindset, a general attitude towards how to consume and be consumed through music.
The concept was to basically break those exact rules we established for ourselves, in order to prevent Jakbeat from becoming yet another formatted and easily conceivable genre category. The Modern Electronic Element showcases the more experimental side of Jakbeat in a way, but still with a close eye on the dancefloor. It’s a snapshot of what Jakbeat is from the label’s artists and those whose music I feel has been done SOLELY for their own creativity, musically taking the risk to share what they feel.
This contributes to the movement of me and my fellow peers from many different angles of sound each time I’m compiling ideas towards this significant and delicate blueprint. As I rarely release on my label unless I have something artistically distinct to present, the idea behind the series was to provide different styles influenced from the early inception of dance music created with no-holds-barred, made by people resisting the current trends of an over-calculated sound which has retained the musicality in keeping the vision very real.
And can you detail how the series has progressed so far?
The first installment of the series was a 12″ that featured tracks by Saturn V; dipping into an early idea of a house track utilising cosmic voices and a simple (FM) analog bassline to come up with Locomotion. There’s Beau Wanzer with his eerie, middle-finger-up track “F U Klaxons” and D’Marc Cantu’s slow and hypnotic “In A Time”. Incidentally, that’s one of D’Marc’s most overlooked tracks he ever done, with one of the best concepts I still hold in high regard today, recorded when no one was interested in the slow-end, low slung styles of dance-music when it came out… That has changed a lot in recent years.
The second installment was a double pack and 7” with contributions from Steve Summers, I.B.M., Beau Wanzer, SSPS and Baris K. For the latter’s track, “200”, there is an incredible story of how I obtained this TIMELESS GEM. I had never heard of Baris K until heads like Lovefingers and Hugo Capablanca dropped tabs on me, and then I heard several links from his Eurasia mixes, for example, or on Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space show, and a mix that went up on Hugo’s Bananamania Podcast where I heard several amazing tracks that I wanted to know, but nobody knew what they were. Months later when I was back on tour in Europe, Hugo threw a party with Baris K. in Berlin at this cool venue called Soju Bar. I was free that weekend and went to go hear him play with the hope of getting the chance to meet him.
I had a moment to ask him about the track I didn’t know which was called “200” and he told me that he made it with his band. When I asked if he would be open to allowing me to release this on my label he agreed. Naturally I got highly excited and called my best guy in Germany, Timo, on his phone from Soju Bar because he had to stay home that night with the flu. I had to tell Timo I met Baris and that I got the track for my label, this all happened while Baris played the track over the PA system in the club with the crowd going nuts…
The Tevo Howard remix is a different story, I released it on the compilation because when Beautiful Granville was running he asked me to make a remix of “Energia”. I originally told him I’m not into making remixes for anyone, even though he is a very good friend of mine. But then I decided to create it from scratch and give it a completely new twist. He heard it and loved it, but wanted me to make an additional remix so he could have 2 mixes to release with the original on his label and I told him this would not be possible. I thought to myself, ‘be lucky I did this for you’ *sigh*. He said if I didn’t make another one he wouldnt release the version I made for him, so I said, okay, ‘I love you, but fuck it. I’m releasing the version I created for you on my own label,’ and so I did. He knew about it and was happy to see it happen, as I gave him a finished copy of the comp.
“Dance Planet” is a track by Quid Pro Quo which is Mick Wills, Isabella Venis and I that came about in Mick’s old studio (Schwingen Der Freiheit) in his hometown Nürtingen, Germany whilst recording another musical alias I do. When we were working on this production it was to show the ying/yang of strenuous tension and comfort in a track.
I sought out Steve Summers due to the focus of his music he was creating at that time, having heard his material on LIES, Clone Jack for Daze, Echovolt, and Construction. A test pressing was personally passed on to me and the more I listened to his tracks and played them out, the more it became clear I felt his idea of sound was in a similar vein to Larry Heard. Summers never copied him in anyway, but the music, like Heard’s, was deeply intelligent. I thought, other than JTC, whom I highly regard, and Jamal Moss – who could cross-bend ideas of Heard’s sound that made a drastic change to tracks in the early years of experimental productions in Chicago – what Summers delivered was far more than what I ever could’ve thought or hoped for. “Make Your Move” is what I call a confrontational track for the jax (dancers) to get in a mosh pit and throw each other around the dancefloor.
Beau Wanzer’s “Rhythm Track 46b” is a bizarre rhythm track using broken tape machines, radio signals, a midi sampler and a 707 beat that instantly captures a Chicago feel, but is oddly strange in its own unique charm. If memory serves me right I think he recorded the track in 2006, but didn’t pass it over until 2011 and when I said to him ‘you’re weird’ and he just chuckled… Such a nerd he is!
For those reading I hope you can understand nearly every one of the participants are personal friends while others I feel have pushed music of the underground to new frontiers.
How long have you been planning this third edition?
I knew I wanted to have another installment in the series for some time, but there really wasn’t an actual plan, but the last 15 months have seen an idea begin to take shape. I’m finally able to present what’s gone into the development for this third edition. I’m still shocked Nation is setting out to do this seven-record-box – which I do not want people to view as a collector’s item – with unreleased demos, music and archives never issued before anywhere in very limited quantity and no repress.
I actually just realised that the first part was the fifth record on the label, the second Part was the 11th release, and now this box is the 17th release, so it’s all spaced six releases apart.
A 25-track, seven-LP box set seems like quite a logistically challenging release – what were your reasons for deciding on this format?
Over the years Nation has gathered a MASS amount of tracks, some of them might never see the light of day, but most of it is seriously outstanding, culture bending and completely original. We wanted to put it out, but to constantly release a 12” every month, if I had the money to do so, which I don’t, is not what I envisioned Nation to be like. So at some point, sat in front of my studio computer with all these great tracks on it, the thought popped into my head: ‘Why not find a way to clean the slate and put them all out at once, or as many as I can do without going overboard?’.
It started out originally as a list of maybe ten tracks or so that originate from when JTC, D’Marc Cantu and myself toured Europe together for the first time in 2007 and all of us stayed in Dresden when we weren’t working. We had a studio space there, called Piesker’s, which was the old bureau of a catering company. We created five or six tracks then, and Tadd (JTC) and Nicolas (D’Marc Cantu) asked me ‘why don’t you release them?’, so four of those tracks will see the light of day on this comp, plus some of my own tracks.
Many people have asked me to repress the first release from the Nation catalogue, but I wanted to do even better than that by presenting the release as a new concept called Nation 1 Alternative/2nd Edition with a brand new version of “Mysterio” completely rewritten as an Acid Ensemble remix by JTC, and a second additional version of “Juz Jak” from X2. Both these feature on the comp as well.
Slowly the more I started to talk to my friends about it, to see what they thought, the more tracks got passed to me. Scary, isn’t it? Everyone I personally made a minor mention to about the compilation wanted to have a track on there but not every single production was up to my standards which is why this became a long process. I do feel confident enough that there are enough people in this community of ‘under the table sound’ heads who will appreciate the compilation, as I already have people knocking at my door to get one. This is why I’m talking about this ahead of time as it’s intensely challenging to get all this done, but we have a great pressing plant who have been with us for quite some time now that we know always comes through.
What will the actual box set look like? Is Tadd Mullinix involved in the artwork process?
Tadd is our in-house designer, well let me elaborate on that for a second. Tadd is our SECOND in-house designer. In the early days of the label, one of my best friends til’ this day, Nestor Yulfo, was responsible for all of the artwork of Nation, from the very first release, and designed the art for the first and second editions of the Modern Electronic Series. Nestor is a very talented artist that lately kinda blew up in the art world, which left him little to no time to work on art for Nation.
Tadd stepped into the fold and slayed the artwork for his Creep Acid album which was released under his JTC moniker, and later did the art for the Charles Manier album and the recently released Doomsday Initiative series. In my book, he outdid himself with that artwork, it’s sublime!
In order to get this all into production I had to undertake extensive research looking into manufacturers that could create a box of this size. We got a hookup through our friend Alessandro from Mannequin Records who put us in touch with one, and the artwork will be created with a booklet of information, art illustrations and text from the artist will be included.
Along with artists closely associated with Nation, there are some new faces present on The Modern Electronic Element Series III. Can you tell us about some of these artists such as Sige Bythos, Jordan Zawideh, and Ariisk?
Sige Bythos is a collaboration between Parrish Smith and Maekkot I didn’t know of that was brought to my attention from a young lad I met in Amsterdam named Ron Van De Kerkhof from the Knekelhuis event organisation. Van De Kerkhof told me Smith dreamed of being on my label and submitted 15 productions, some of them were a bit too out of range for what I felt could intertwine into Jakbeat. I am looking for new faces to represent the next phase where a younger audience actually embodies the movement giving their own interpretation to further the cause, and Sige Bythos represents that. A mythical friendship which symbolises a union of interests through their musical ideology and emotions with the longest and most intriguing loom of pre-proto cosmic electronic sounds made in their vision.
Ariisk’s connection to the box set was through word of Beau Wanzer, a trusted and close friend, who told me of him when he was living in Chicago. Ariisk is now residing in Los Angeles. I asked Beau if he could send me some of Ariisk’s music for me to listen to, and he wouldn’t offer me any, he always kept saying the same thing, ‘go see him play!’ Sadly, I never had the chance to see Ariisk live, but he had a private account on Facebook and I reached out to let him know Beau had strongly recommended his music. We began communicating over email, and when I finally asked him for music I didn’t really know what I was going to get, but I had this strange sense he was going to send me something not of this world. He sent music similar to John Foxx around the time he was making the Metal Beat album, crazy darkwave industrial. I had no idea, but what I received was dynamic electronics that was beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined.
As for Jordan Zawideh, I informed him via Skype that his name has been mentioned by Juno Plus regarding the project for the compilation. He initially wasn’t sure how to react but was happy to explain in his own words how we know each other.
“I’ve known Melvin for a very long time as we first became friends from frequenting the same record stores, a lot, and then more so by DJing at the same parties and club nights here in Chicago… Fast forward to early last year, while working at KSTARKE Records and recording a lot, I originally made this music at home in my studio and we’ve been talking for a long time about doing something for Nation, but I never really played him anything (because I work a lot, but I also record a lot too), so I brought some music over and played him about 10 tracks and when he heard this one, he said to me, “this has to come out,” but thought it was a little too bare-boned, so he invited me over to add a few additional sounds with gear in his studio I hadn’t ever used before which was so refreshing as the parts came right together.”
I’d also like to mention other artist contributions for a first time appearance on The Modern Electronic Element. Dieter Flegel of Transformation, the group that also involves the artists Sandro Stebnitz and Manito Rotschild, who dropped their first release together for L.I.E.S. back in April of 2014, will present his melodic track of electronic substance. There is a debut, original production from MoMo, who dropped one of the most sought out edits of last year on Rat Life, which is not for the faint of heart but mad enough for me and freaks to go crazy and lose their minds on the dancefloor.
L.I.E.S. artist NGLY features with “Caught in the Crossfire”, a vision of Jakbeat that came to me in a strange way but I knew had to feature if I did another compilation or release of a special kind on my label. Ron Morelli had told me of NGLY by name but I wasn’t familiar with his music when that NGLY 12” came out in April last year as Morelli’s label is dropping music continually. I finally had a chance to listen to a NGLY track when hanging out with Mick Wills somewhere in Europe, and he played me an edited version of “Speechless Tape”. I didn’t know what to say when I first heard it because it wasn’t the original that came out on wax on L.I.E.S. White. The track left me speechless, I thought it was an old track from the way it sounds and never thought it was NGLY, but another guy named Blake Baxter. It reminded me of some of the music he did back in the day on KMS Records like “Get Layed’ and “When We Used To Play”.
I later had the chance to meet NGLY in Berlin at a bar with Ron and a big group of people he knew, but we didn’t talk about music, just had a nice night out kickin’ it, puffin and sippin. He emailed me weeks later to say it was cool to meet and then wanted to share music; I thought this was nice of him but I didn’t want to step on Ron by going behind his back, so after a back and forth exchange I wrote to Ron asking permission if NGLY could release a track with me, and he approved with no worry at all. The track I selected from him absolutely captured the essence of Jakbeat. I-F also plays “Speechless Tape” a lot which gave NGLY the number one song position on IFM’s top 100 2014. He was actually with me that day in Leipzig when the IFM announcement was made, hanging out to surprise me at a party I played there with the Rat Life label head and UncannyValley artist Credit 00. An interesting coincidence!
Acid mentalist Elec PT1 (Andreas Gehm) presents a single track idea of Jakbeat that reflects on the old ways of Gherkin. I’ve always wondered how Larry Heard created “Acid Indigestion”, the most difficult track on the Stomp The Beat EP which still makes me go wild when I hear it. When Mr Gehm and I met it was a barrel of laughs and good times, and as I dig some of his musical works on Mathematics, Bunker and other labels, it felt right to work with him. When he sent me four tracks I liked one in particular, “Mind Games,” and when you listen to the track you will see the similarity of the sounds he used to create his vision without copying or sampling Gherkin Jerks.
Ja Ja is a project by Dresden’s Credit 00 and Vogelmenach (Idealfun, Rat Life) which sees the duo programme synths together, whilst Vogel played bass and Credit does the vocals. The featured song was recorded back in 2010, and was yet again something I didn’t expect I would be in to as I know Credit 00 much more than Vogel. But I also wanted to have a variation all over the compilation as I did for the previous two editions, but in an even more far out way of thinking, and when I heard this, it fell right into place without me taking ten days to give a response back to the duo.
A new alias project Altered Form comes into the fold with savage noise which is not easy to deal with but once you let go there is nothing more to fear.
Were there any particular artists you were very happy to have on board for the release?
I’m very happy to have Specter on board who has been in support of Nation since the start, and I’d like to mention “Pipe Bomb” – which dropped on Sound Signature in 2011 – was originally created for Nation. We’ve been very good friends for many years but most people don’t know that. He let Theo (Parrish) hear the track which in turn lead to an opportunity to release on his label, I was very happy for him. He still comes to my place to kick it when I’m home and we talk lots about music, and since the record on Sound Signature, and others, I wanted him to create something for the real cats who know how to get loose on the floor going for the mosh pit craze of getting thrown in the dance-pit. His contribution for the Nation imprint makes our jakbeat sound into a deep and edgy hypnotic slab of crafty riddims with knuckle hook lines gunning for you. He has his own label Tetrode he runs with Damon Lamar and an album is in the works for Sound Signature on the horizon and more.
Another exciting moment I’m proud – and beyond honoured to present for this release – features Darrin Huss from Psyche, one of my favourite electronic bands from the early ‘80s. The story behind Darrin’s appearance dates back to Gavin Russom and I playing together at the Winter Solstice last year at a very special venue in New York that is now closed down called BodyActualizedCenter. Gavin was performing The Crystal Ark in a stripped down live electronic version, and I programmed a deck session segment. After that was a deep night of music appreciation, dancing and a general outlandish celebration until the early morning. The next day Gavin and I caught up and hung out at his studio where he asked me about some of the tracks I played from the nite before which turned out to be some of Psyche’s earlier, less well known material he wasn’t familiar with.
I asked if he could program his synths and drum machines to achieve these sounds which he did, and we created the tracks from scratch using Psyche records on New Rose and V.O.D I brought from home as inspiration. We wrote the music together right then and there for “Venom” and “Empty Spirit of a Psychopath”, but then as we were about to record “Psycho”, I got a phone call on my handy from Excepter’s Jon Nicholson, also known as SSPS, who then came to join us. Jon played additional keys on this track that Gavin and I made which was created 100 per cent live with machines like the Korg KPR-77, Korg Ex-800, Yamaha SK-15 and Yamaha CS-10, seeking to honour the sound of the original and put our spin on it as well.
After the recordings were secured I took the tracks to Nation Studios back home in Chicago to edit and layout the vision I hoped to capture that had influenced me for many years. It was my dream to have Psyche singer Darrin hopefully hear these tracks as I had become connected to him on Facebook but we didn’t exchange lots of words – maybe because I was scared of sharing the music. I spoke to Gavin about this idea to hear his thoughts; he agreed it would be interesting to seek out whether Darrin would be interested in adding vocals to these productions which are deeply inspirational to us with the knowledge Psyche’s music has impacted on our hearts.
I asked Gavin to write to Darrin to gauge his interest in perhaps recording some new vocals for “Psycho” and “Venom”. He responded that there never was a vocal for the original Psyche version of “Venom”, which was instrumental, but he would be completely interested to do vocals for both tracks. “Venom” will be released on the compilation under the name Gavom with vocals from Darrin. I first played “Empty Spirit of a Psychopath” at last year’s Dekmantel festival but maybe people wouldn’t know which track I’m speaking of. If you listen to the recording from the Nation SoundCloud just past the start then you will hear the song which is Gavom’s instrumental vision of what Psyche wrote years ago with no vocals; only music that sounds like dark electronic horror.
It’s extremely exciting to welcome SSPS back with yet another incredible production by the man from beyond with spiritual deepness at an even slower pace; spaced out, lo-fi dub tones that create a universe. I really love his music especially from the earlier years and I have a few other tracks that are just as sick and will play out for now.
I’m additionally pleased to have Svengalisghost on the comp with one of several tracks we did together in Chicago at my old apartment where Nation Studios used to be before I relocated. The idea was to have a concept album about alpha, omega, gamma and names around Greek text/way of dealing in the old century. I still have the other tracks we made, but for me “Gamma” stood out as I did the final editing for the track with the most kaotic blueprint ever layed to a live sequence in one take. I just loved the result of how it was structured, the sound we created was a freefall of unravelling filters on the machines meaning no holds barred, go for it, let loose and then end it. I have played the track out in the US and EU and people tend to react with a point blank face expression of ‘I don’t know what to do’.
There is also “Body Control”, a track from the CD version of Traxx’s debut album Faith released back in 2009. I decided to include it after making a post on the Nation Facebook page in March 2014 gauging support if “Body Control” should come out on wax which many wanted us to do. That’s confirmed and included on the third edition. I’m happy to see people speaking out, letting their voices be heard as the compilation is uniquely various in styles.
Always great to see Beau Wanzer contribute to Nation, and he will do so for this box with Corporate Park, a duo that I again had never heard of until he mentioned them to me. Beau described Corporate Park as a crazy super group whose sound combines Einstürzende Neubauten, Cabaret Voltaire and some dark edge metal beat with attitude. I had the chance to meet Jonah and Shane from Corporate Park in person and see them perform last year in Denton, Texas, at a special loft event where I played a vinyl segment, and I have to say I had no clue what I was gonna hear. After the recording session for the track we have included, Beau was driving back to Chicago during one of the worst winter storms in history and was in a serious accident involving three semi trucks, as they jackknifed in front of him. Hence the name of the track on the comp, “Impending Accident”, nuff said.
Last, but in no way not least, is Charles Manier. What else is there that I can say about Manier? He’s MY personal Liaisons Dangereuses.
Do you have any events planned to celebrate the release of The Modern Electronic Element Series III?
To be honest in the beginning, no I didn’t, because the compilation is a release. This is NOT a collector’s item in anyway, nor am I applauding myself for how many years I’ve been running my label, or to celebrate a certain number of releases after those years. Those things don’t really matter. It’s about the music delivery. I’m setting out by challenging myself to do something I’ve never done, in a small way, but on a grand scale. But as I read this question now, I have to stop for a second and reiterate: I already had this in thought several months ago, but didn’t decide until now that it’s gonna take a moment for people to understand what I’m attempting to do.
As I will come on tour to Europe in 2015 on two occasions, I would like to celebrate not only the third edition of the series, but also the first and the second series. To commemorate all of the artists who worked with me over each compilation, I’ll have promoters and artists work with me by presenting events with myself and the Nation label mates in as many areas, countries and cities all over the globe, as I have crazy cool ideas for events to get some of those artists on the road. We can come up with line-up ideas and suggest artists to play together, but I haven’t even started on this part yet but I can definitely say there will be events sprinkled here and there over the course of this year and next year. For interest on this concept feel free to reach my agent Timo from We like… Booking who will coordinate everything in close proximity with me and all artists involved.
It will be a while before everyone can soak all this in, and as long as we can get the feeling going, we will do our best to make this dream a reality in regards of the compilation series.
What else is planned for Nation in 2015?
After the box there will be a short sabbatical, because like a good red wine every release needs to breathe a bit, so we want to give it the time and space to grow. I will be throwing the second outing of a mini-festival project I started last year in Dresden, Germany, called The Hangout which took place during a special time in the Neustadt in early June of 2014. This year it’s called The Gathering taking place in Dresden again, but this time around the middle-to-end of August. I haven’t secured the date I would like just yet because I’m taking time with each project I’m doing, but here’s some names on the bill: Lena Willikens, NGLY Live, Mick Wills, and Ober Mannkind
In terms of upcoming music, Mutant Beat Dance finally comes home to the label for a two-track 12″, there is a planned 12″ featuring Gavom, SSPS & Psyche on the A-side and Morphosis on the B-side, an EP/Mini-Album by D’Marc Cantu that’s completed, as well as a second album from Black Meteoric Star that is musically completed. Transformation will present the second sketch on Kode in the fall of 2015, if you wanna hear what it sounds like click on Traxx Live At KC Drugstore (Belgrade, Serbia) 2013 and see if you can find it. There are a few additional surprises for now we want to keep for ourselves but this is 2015 done far ahead of time.
Interview by Tony Poland