in Galatea 2.2, tech-literati Richard Powers wrote “Self only took us so far. I wanted her to associate the meaning inherent in the words of a story with the heft and weight and bruise of a story’s own existence.” Powers was speaking of training a neural net to understand the physical tangential of a world of words. He wanted his massive tangle of wires and logarithms to feel the hush and blush of art’s physical body, so much more than a comprehension on the doctorate level.

There are similarities gleaned in Juan Maclean’s remarkable debut record, Less Than Human. After all, this is a man who’s made his career out of half-android, bloodless throbs to cold, cement dancefloors. As he readily admits to anyone willing to listen, his life has been one of hardship and confusion. He’s been detached from humanity at total sum, and that feeling of distance covers his sweaty dance tracks with a proper proportion. It’s the sense of a misshapen cube of ice melting into a grizzled mass of misfired communication lines.

But there has to be a tangible house for this sort of magnetic artistry. Perhaps compact discs sell this voice short. Perhaps we need injection via needle, something unacknowledged by the naked eye, to catch up with Juan’s musical version of Philip Dick and Stanislaw Lem. This is science-fiction as pulse and dance-magma, taken in through the skin and sweated out through our myriad dream-states. If androids do indeed dream of electric sheep, then Maclean’s disco-lunacy might just soundtrack their graceless plummet through mind’s air.

A sort of tribal confusion of sexual beast, analytic human-box, and myth, Maclean summons his past to bear witness to the timelessness of his musical vision. Yeah, Six Finger Satellite is long-since dead. Years after the robotic twitch in dance music began to make sense again, one that with any historical revisionism would claim Maclean as founding-father, it would be easy to write Less Than Human off as another DFA-clone, and one that post-Human After All, seems less than pressing. But, like the best records in the genre, this is an album for bedroom revelers as much as dancefloors stiff with week-dank hair and urban gloom. Limber Bootsy-inspired log-jams intersect with jungled congo rhythms. Computers hum a cappella into a blinking sheet of light. Live instruments cut crude against programmed instruments, institutionalized by their need for repetition and slight mimicry.

Sure, Juan’s twelve-inchers served as notice of a major-league talent. They also masked the depth of his endurance. Somehow, Less Than Human makes good on both without succumbing to the clamor for a standout or a single. This is an album-lover’s record, and it’s all the more shocking given his past with the label. But what the fuck does all this glamorized summary amount to without the man’s own thoughts? That’s what we’re here for after all. Recently, we sat down across half the continent with Juan himself to ask him a few questions about the heft and bruise of his “band’s” forthcoming debut. . .

How do you feel now looking back on the music you made as part of Six Finger Satellite?

As the person who wrote the music and recorded most of the albums, it is getting easier to assess the whole thing a bit better now that some time has gone by. I put on Severe Exposure the other day for the first time in about 6 years, and I was truly blown away. I'm proud of what we did, not just musically, but in the sense of doing whatever the fuck we wanted, without ever tolerating interference from outside parties. Maybe that interference would have made us more commercially viable, but fuck that. We willfully created an atmosphere of menace on both personal and musical levels, the way we conducted ourselves, so that people at Sub Pop, for example, would not dream of offering 'guidance,' and that is perhaps what I feel best about it, the integrity part.

Compare and contrast your experiences being in a band vs. being a solo artist.

I really don't like being a 'solo' artist, honestly. And it's not that much of a 'solo' anyway. Even now I am trying to integrate people on a more permanant basis. Certainly a bunch of people contributed quite heavily to the making of the album—Tim Goldsworthy, James Murphy, Nancy Whang—so I'm not so sure it could be considered a solo album. I don't have the capacity to pull something off like that more than once. I don't think many people do. It's much more interesting to work with other people, but you have to give up some on the ego front to do that, which is OK for me. I'm not really any sort of control freak when it comes to that. In the end, I like playing music with other people more than trying to show that world that I did something all by myself.

Would you consider Less Than Human a concept album?

Certainly the same themes seem to pop up, but I owe that more to the rigidity of my aesthetics than any formal thought going into overarching concepts. The juxtaposition of the awful and the beautiful, the tension of menace and melody, the lyrical themes of alienation and yearning. That's the shit I've been doing since the beginning.

On that tip, aren't machines actually better than humans?

I don't know. I don't like people very much. In general, people are pretty stupid and selfish. And weak. Religion, TV, poor grammar, fast food. These things really fucking bother me. And that some fucker like George Bush gets elected. I like girls though, and if they really did make some machine, well an android I guess, that you could just shut off after you fucked it then I would have no need for girls in general.

Understood. You’ve always made it clear how much your shared taste for old-school dance music like Kraftwerk bonded you with Murphy (first, obviously, as live soundman behind Six Finger Satellite) and Goldsworthy. The first thing that came across to me in hearing the first few cuts on the new record was how much more outstated the Kraftwerk-influence appeared as compared with earlier singles. Was this a conscious thing or is the shit just in your blood by now?

I've been into Kraftwerk for so long I just can't even listen to it any more. I think that because I started listening to them at such a young age it solidified some sort of template in my head. I didn't really mean that stuff about the girls I said before. I love girls, they just scare me.

Has being a part of DFA for the last several years in any way shaped the way you look at/make music, aside from your long-standing friendship with James Murphy? How much group-think does being in what might best be seen as a loose collective like DFA promote amongst its artists?

Of course being a part of DFA has shaped my perspective on music. In the end, though, I always seem to come back to the same things. Typically, I have always tried to steer clear of engaging in any discussion about music with people that work at record labels, cuz they are not artists. They tend to be people who are the most up to date in terms of taste or whatever, but the taste is not their own. It is acquired in an entirely unoriginal fashion. DFA is a little different. For example, Tim Goldsworthy, who owns the label with James Murphy and Jon Galkin, is a very original and I think brilliant, I'm not sure what to call him, 'artist' or music guy or whatever. The shit he does is amazing, and I have complete trust in his instincts. I think people have a pretty skewed perspective of DFA being this label that has an agenda or something. This is completely not the case. The first thing you have to keep in mind is that there are only four acts on the label—the Juan Maclean, The Black Dice, LCD Soundsystem, and Dhelia and Gavin. There is an incredible amount of disparity among those acts, yet DFA gets pegged as a label with some sort of uniformity under the 'disco punk' banner, which LCD may be the kings of, but I don't see it dominating the label.

Obvious question #1: does the current political state of things (i.e. Orwellian tech-state) in any way interest you as a musician and shape the way you make music?

I am completely interested. It is not so much the motherfuckers in power that bother me as the retard living next door who votes for these people, who is swayed by their heavy handed manipulation. Even worse sometimes are the morons who make up the 'counter-culture,' sponsored by some corporate entity. Hence 'Crush The Liberation.' There is no liberation, and that bores me to tears. Especially in the music world. Especially in the music business world, where there is very little leeway for originality.

Obvious question #2: what other acts/artists are you really into right now? What were you listening to as you were making Less Than Human?

Always the same—Chrome, Paperclip People, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Throbbing Gristle, Bread, Jim Croce, a lot of soft rock, Cerrone, Boney M, Moroder, that's what comes to mind first.

Let’s switch topics. Describe the Juan Maclean live show.

I think people are pretty surprised by the live show. It's a cross between Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, and maybe Bread or Fleetwood Mac. There is a fair amount of chaos, and we play short sets. The band is me, Eric Broucek, Gerhardt Fuchs, and Nathalie Fowler. That seems to be the most stable lineup.

Speaking of playing live, making dance music for hipsters/the-it-kids has obvious drawbacks. Most similar shows I've been to seem to play through the audience more than into them, as the audience just seems too cool to dance? Has this been your experience, or are your live shows pretty fucking live?

They've tended to be pretty crazy, and sometimes we baffle people. One nice thing is that I have noticed a particularly excited response from young kids, like teenagers. That's cool. I like kids. I just got done with a six-year stretch of teaching in a facility for juvenile delinquents, so I know what kids are about to a certain extent. Fucked up kids, at least. I guess I always hope that live shows will somehow provide a transcendent experience for people. I know that's a pretty fucking big order, but the idea of just getting up there and playing some songs from a record and having people get all excited because they were told they should is really depressing. I like chaos, and noise.

You’ve made a lot in the past of �recreational’ (whatever that means) drug use and its role in your life. Given the explosion in dance culture via the rave in the nineties, and the intrinsic link in the popular consciousness between dancing and drugs, talk drugs and creativity to me, generally regarding dance music and specifically regarding this full-length.

When I first started taking drugs, many years ago (25, to be exact), drugs were pretty inspirational. I was even productive while taking them—I truly believe I created music that I would not if I were straight. However, that honeymoon period was pretty short-lived. Things fairly quickly went from using drugs to enhance some sort of experience to reliance on drugs at all costs. Of course, heroin addiction is different than being addicted to pot, in terms of your day-to-day existence, but pot was just as bad in many ways.

At this point, it seems like drugs are an inherent part of dance music culture. I am not anti-drug in any way, but this is sad to me, because it immediately adds an air of illegitimacy to dance music. Outside of its insular world, electronic music is a prime target, along with rap, for the type of criticism that labels it 'not real music,' because it is not 'played by musicians.' On top of that charge, if people have to be off their heads on drugs to enjoy it, well, that's not exactly helping matters. I feel badly for people who have to do loads of drugs in order to have a good time, or for whatever reason. I encounter these people all the time, and it's always a sad affair.

My album resonates with drug experience. It would be impossible for it not to, because that is one of the principal aspects of my personality. On some levels I realize this is alienating for people. My entire waking and sleeping life is riddled with the desire to do drugs again. Just saying that puts me on the line for criticism, because it's really easy for people to say 'stop being so dramatic, just don't do them.' But like it or not, that's the reality of my life, and if I started doing drugs again, when I start doing them again, I will be a menace to those around me and then I will be dead, and there is no predicting the time frame.

This album, amongst those who follow Stylus and the independent music scene (make of that what you will), was easily one of the year's most hotly anticipated. Did you feel that that while making it? Was there a sense of pressure for living up to your singles/the adoration of these fans?

I would be a big fucking liar if I said 'no.' It really freaked me out at points, because there was so much hype about DFA, and me, and with the hype there must always be a backlash. People really get off on being the first to tear something down, and I was sure I would be right in the sights of those motherfuckers, especially putting out an album after LCD. 'Not nearly as good as labelmates LCD,' that 's what I was expecting. Now though, it has pretty clearly not turned out that way, even though the album hasn't even come out yet. I'm on a totally different track than LCD. Perhaps a less ambitious one commercially, but a different one nonetheless.

What do you have in the works now that your debut as The Juan Maclean is out in the UK and soon-to-be in the US?

Probably record a new 12" that is more oriented to the live shows, with the people that I play with now. Lots of touring, of course. Album #2. Make a short movie with a soundtrack. Shit like that.


By: Derek Miller
Published on: 2005-07-11
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