Chrissy Murderbot is about to be kind of a big deal. His latest record, Women’s Studies, out May 9, could be a career game-changer; it could potentially take his music beyond just the juke and booty scenes and into the broader “people who like to drink and dance” scene.
Murderbot’s been in the game for a while, though. He’s made several records, owned several labels, and remixed countless tracks since 2005. He spent a lot of 2009 and 2010 making a mix-tape a week and posting them on his blog, consequently highlighting the best of everything from U.K. funky to songs about weed and sex. Currently, he’s on tour in Europe, but will be back in Chicago this summer to play the Pitchfork Music Festival. The A.V. Club laid down the big bucks for a trans-Atlantic call to talk about Women’s Studies, Americans’ aversion to dance music, and, of course, 2 Live Crew.
The A.V. Club: I’ll just insult you right away: Do people ever think you’re a girl because your name is Chrissy?
Chrissy Murderbot: Occasionally, yeah, but I don’t know. Chrissy is like Billy or Ricky. I’ve been called Chrissy since I was little. It occasionally confuses people, but part of the whole reason behind the name is that so many people, especially people in kind of the juke/ghetto house/grind/bashment/dubstep/international bass music world always have these names that are so trying to prove to the world how hard they are, I guess, and I wanted something that poked fun at that a little. There’s a juxtaposition to the name, and it’s a joke that’s lost on some people.
What can you do? I did think about changing my name to Crispy Tater Tot at one point, but they don’t have tater tots in England.
AVC: Do you think you’re bigger in Europe than you are in the U.S.?
CM: Dance music, in general, is bigger here [in Europe] than in the states. I’m fortunate enough to be able to tour Europe—I think this is my ninth tour here—and I’m fortunate enough to go twice a year. I make decent money playing records for people, but in America that’s much more difficult. I’m just now getting to the point where America is paying enough attention to make flying me places kind of financially feasible for promoters.
The not-rambling answer is that, yes, I do better in Europe, but that’s changing.
AVC: Why do you think that is? Like, why doesn’t the United States “get” dance music?
CM: It’s always difficult in America. If I have to get really lofty and political, and perhaps a little controversial, about it, I think Europe has much more of a problem with racism than America does, and America has more of a problem with homophobia than Europe does. Anything that’s perceived as descended from disco is going to have a roadblock to its acceptance in America. There are a lot of attitudes about dance music or house or post-house, and even the really macho genres like juke or ghetto house or whatever, still, in the minds of most people, end up with these assumptions, negative assumptions whether people realize it or not, that grew out of 1970s homophobia. There’s drama around that. I think it holds dance music back in America, and it’s just less popular than rock.
Then again, it does go in waves. I think that a lot of those assumptions that people our parents’ age had about disco have become really irrelevant and almost forgotten. Hopefully we can get to the point where good, thoughtful, quality dance music is embraced.
AVC: I think that homophobia ties into Americans not wanting to actually dance, too.
CM: Americans drink a lot less than Europeans, which is another thing. Europeans are terrified of dancing as well, but they go so smashed that they forget to feel terrified. Americans are a little more ... I don’t know.
This is turning into a Yakov Smirnoff bit. “In modern Russia, Twitter follows you!”
AVC: Are you excited to do Pitchfork this summer, though? I think the kids will be dancing.
CM: That’s going to be big. I’m excited about it. MC Zulu is MCing with me, and that’s exciting.
The other big obstacle to dance music in America is that rock kids don’t really understand DJ culture. When you play something like Pitchfork—well, I come from a world where you’d never think to watch music happen on a stage. You listen to music and you dance to it, and the stage is completely superfluous. So, at something like Pitchfork, you have to find a way to make that translate to people who do want an onstage experience, and who want to view the process of music happening. DJs haven’t always been successful at giving those people that experience.
People who come from the tradition of rock music, hip-hop, pop music, whatever, need to be visually stimulated while they listen to music. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not something that I came from, so it only makes sense to me in as much that I’ve noticed it’s a thing. I mean, can you provide that without becoming Deadmau5 and sacrificing art to be a visual experience? Dance music is so much more focused around composition than around being on a stage and going through the process of playing something live. If you can make that visual without selling your soul ... well, it doesn’t come naturally.
I think performing with Zulu, we can think of a way for the two of us to work together that’ll be really visual and really true to the music. I think this is going to be a fun show to actually watch and see on a stage that big. In addition, I want to kind of pull that real dance-music experience and DJ culture from a club setting and put it out to Pitchfork.
AVC: You have started at least three different labels—Loose Squares, Sleazetone, and Dead Homies—but then you went with Planet Mu for your new record. What’s the difference between those labels, and why is doing that kind of stuff important to you?
CM: The inside secret is that the only difference between running one label and three labels is that instead of one Illustrator file, you have three Illustrator files of three different logos. Business-wise, it’s the same company with three different brands. It’s just that if there’s a record in a store and you see it’s on this label, you have an idea of what it’s going to sound like. You won’t get home and be disappointed.
Two of those three labels I’ve started are still active and pushing. Sleazetone is kind of house-y disco-y party music. It’s like a loft-party kind of vibe. Loose Squares is very new, and that’s more on, like, a booty music, ghetto house juke, stuff like that. It’s faster and more bass-heavy. It’s just a little more fun, but it’s still party music.
AVC: This might seem like a dumb question, but readers might want to know: How do you keep all the genres separate? It seems like in both dance music and metal, there’s this obsessive tendency to separate genres into these minute categories, and it’s just kind of mind-boggling. How do you keep ghetto house separate from booty, from U.K. funky, from whatever?
CM: It’s true. The same is true with rock music, though. It’s just that, especially in rock press, people are so inundated with it that it just goes by and people don’t notice. For instance, math rock is one of those terms you don’t hear so much anymore, but I don’t for the life of me know what the hell that means. So, yeah, there’s the same thing in rock culture, albeit a lot less.
I think it is a little ridiculous and out of hand in dance music, though. There are so many sub- sub- subgenres. I don’t know; you just kind of figure it out over time by hearing DJs.
I’m not so much into actual techno techno, so when people talk to me about the different subgenres of techno, like tech-house and minimal techno, those often sound indistinguishable to me. I can’t tell which is which. To be fair, there’s a lot of overlap, but I know people who are really into minimal techno that hate tech house and would never listen to it. To them, it’s a very big difference.
I think you figure out as much as management is to you, or that’s relevant in your life. Even people in the dance-music scene aren’t necessarily up on everything. Minimal techno guys couldn’t talk about dubstep, grind, U.K. funky, bashment. Also, sometimes there’s no difference. There’s a lot of overlap in the spectrum.
AVC: Your record and your tastes kind of lean toward intense, high-energy stuff. What do you listen to when you want to wind down or go to sleep?
CM: I don’t really listen to a lot of chilly-outy music. Generally I really like disco and old soul records, or house and deep house things that tend to be a little slower. I can get behind really slow music, as long as it’s really driving and thumpy, like sex dungeon machine music. It’s the mid-tempo stuff that bores me, to be honest. I like my music stupidly fast or stupidly slow. If it’s in the middle, I don’t have a lot of time for it. So, I guess, really slow house music or soul or reggae.
But then, of course, when I make music, it comes out like chipmunk 2 Live Crew.
AVC: You have a lot of collaborators on Women’s Studies. Who would you collaborate with in your dream of dreams?
CM: Maybe Sylvester. I’d really like to make a record with George Michael. He’s obviously very, very different than I am stylistically, but he’s a great pop songwriter, and that’s what I’m into: pop songwriting that doesn’t take itself too seriously and realizes its place in the world.
There’s a whole host of dancehall artists I’d love to do something with. Shaggy. That’s it, Shaggy and George Michael on the same record. That would be my dream collaboration.
AVC: You’ve made probably hundreds of mix-tapes. How long does it actually take you to make one now?
CM: It’s funny that you ask, because I’m making one right now. I was doing it to kill time before the phone rang.
I usually come up with an idea, and go through all my music and see what makes sense with that idea—that’s usually about 50 songs. Then I narrow that down to 20 or 30 that actually fit together really well and make a coherent whole. The process of planning out a track listing takes me, if I’m actually working at it, a couple of hours. And then actually recording it is another one or two on top of that. I usually give it a little mastering just to fix levels and make everything sounds pretty, and that’s another hour, I suppose. It’s about six or seven hours, all things told. I can whip one out in a day if I’m really making myself be focused.
AVC: Are you working from actual records, or are you doing everything digitally now?
CM: I used to have a lot of physical vinyl, like 3,500 records, but I went through this process of recording all of them onto computer, and I play my DJ sets off my computer. It’s so I don’t have to lug 150 pounds of records out to nightclubs and onto airplanes. Once I had that done and all backed up—because would that be a shame if my hard drive crashed—once I did all that, I started selling my record collection off. Now I only have about 700 records.
I just looked through my computer, and of the music that I have on here—that’s music I actually know and love and like enough to play out and am familiar with, not counting like some B-side on a record that someone sent me in an e-mail that I don’t know or hate, that actual music—I have about a month and a half’s worth, if I were to listen to it back-to-back all the way through.
I’m a pretty big music nerd. I’m a big collector of all sorts of different kinds of things.
AVC: Do you know in High Fidelity how the main character, Rob, talks about how you have to start it off impressively, then take it up a notch, then slow it down? Do you have rules like that for making mix-tapes?
CM: I definitely think there’s a way. You have to start with something impressive, and you can’t end with a song that fades out, because what a sad, impotent little whimper of an ending is that? There’s definitely a rule to how you start and end.
I personally think that the tempo at the beginning should be different than the tempo at the end. Some dance-music DJs do a whole set at 125 bpm, or whatever. They’ll play only house music, and their whole set will be 130 bpm, start to finish, with no variation in tempo. I think that’s a little boring. I mean, it’s not always boring. You can still do a really good DJ set, but removing tempo variations from a repertoire of things you can do makes it harder. Why limit yourself? I personally won’t usually make a mix-tape without tempo shifting a lot, and that kind of adds a challenge. How do I change this tempo without freaking out people who might be dancing? Those are really the only rules I abide by.
AVC: Last question: I have this theory that the first band that people love when they’re little shapes what music they’ll like when they’re adults. What was the first band you really liked?
CM: Devo. You’re absolutely correct, too. I hadn’t really thought about it, but there is a kind of tongue-in-cheek sexual objectification in a lot of my work that’s, I guess, making fun of both sides of the subject matter in a way. Now that I’m thinking about it, it really does owe a lot to Devo, like “Girl U Want” or “Whip It.” On the surface they’re really kind of objectifying songs, but then at the same time they’re also making fun of people who are juvenile and objectifying. I guess that’s why my record is called Women’s Studies. It’s basically like a 2 Live Crew record, or poking fun at 2 Live Crew records. I tried to stay in the middle, though. It’s like an episode of The Simpsons, where one type of person can watch and pick certain jokes to like, and another person can pick totally different jokes. There’s something there for everybody.