First Impressions: Dirty Art Club
Could Charlotte’s Dirty Art Club be the next of those now-you-see-them now-they-cost-way-too-much-money-to-catch-on-tour acts? The duo’s only four or five live gigs in and already gathering momentum, so now might be your chance to bathe in their cinematic soundscapes from less than half a mile away.
DAC is the brainchild of Charlotte-based production wizards Matt Cagle and Johnny “Madwreck” McKiever. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to characterize what these guys do, but the density of layers in DAC’s work creates a beat-meets-psych quality that’s rich and nostalgic. Rarified samples on top of field recordings on top of gritty instrumentation conjure DJ Shadow and Black Moth Super Rainbow.
Signed to Montreal’s Phonosaurus Records, DAC dropped a darkly devastating eight-track EP, Hexes, in July. Hexes follows full-length Heavy Starch, released in February 2011. A 23-track epic, Heavy Starch moves you through a vast array of moods with uncompromising fluidity. The transitions are smooth and hypnotic. Analog synths thicken two-to-three-minute sample-based tracks that bleed and blend into a mesmerizing electro-trip.
Hexes crafts less of a traditional feel-good vibe and more of a dangerous sonic edge — it’s an aural flirtation with catastrophe that dares you to keep it on loop. Shuffle’s Hannah Levinson caught up with Cagle and Madwreck to find out a little bit more about their motivation for starting DAC, their production process, and what the future holds.
Shuffle: You guys have been doing this type of work for a while now in various iterations — production for hip hop acts, other artists, and solo projects. Can you tell us a bit more about what you were doing before and what your motivation was to start this project together?
Matt Cagle: John and I had always talked about doing some kind of instrumental project. Before this started, I just made beats for locals and worked on other side projects. We both play a few different instruments and have recorded a lot of songs on our own that have nothing to do with rap or sampling.
Johnny “Madwreck” McKiever: We were both mainly doing hip-hop production, so Marcus Kiser (visual/mixed media artist of Charlotte-based collective God City 7) asked us to create a soundtrack for his art book “Heavy Starch.” The project turned into an album.
Shuffle: Both albums are clearly meant to be listened to in a single sitting. Are you attempting to achieve or communicate anything specific with those holistic experiences? What’s the through-line or narrative of each album?
JM: Heavy Starch was a “beat tape” kind of album, but we made sure the tracks flowed together nicely. I guess our goal was to make people nod their heads and get that old instrumental hip-hop vibe. On Hexes we wanted to give the listener more of an experience—less boom bap.
MC: Hexes turned into some sort of trip through the darker corridors. That being said, we didn’t intend for it to sound sad or melancholy. We wanted it to represent everything between nightmares and bliss.
Shuffle: The “tracks” on both are built around minute to minute-and-a-half long samples that give the records their cohesion. Let us in on your creative process–where do you find your samples? Are there specific kinds of music that draw you in?
JM: The samples are actually short cuts from songs, sometimes only a second or two long, that we mend together to give the effect of being one song. We usually stay with in the realm of the late 60′s to early 80′s, before the digital age arrived. Everything was sonically much thicker and warmer back then.
MC: I’m not drawn to any type of music when it comes to what I’ll sample, but I guess I prefer certain chord structures. I like any song that will allow me to rearrange the chords and still come up with something that makes sense without it sounding forced. Almost every song we have has at least one piece in it that was played by us, though. We use analog synthesizers and other instruments to create parts that we mix in with the samples.
You released Heavy Starch more than a year before you unveiled it to a live audience. It was well worth the wait, but what was behind the decision to hold off on playing the material out?
MC: We never really thought of playing this stuff live; we never thought anything would come of this project besides what it was intended for in the first place. We were asked to open for a local group we respected, so we did. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was a real cool night.
Shuffle: Do you guys put together the visuals you use during shows? I read somewhere that your material “draws inspiration from” Marcus Kiser’s work—do Marcus or other visual artists have any part in putting together that facet of your act?
JM: We put together some visuals for our first show. We meshed some weird found footage together that worked well with our sound.
MC: Yeah, we found all kinds of creepy shit. We also got this one dude to arrange some 80s war movie footage for one of our songs. It’s got Rambo blowing up huts and forests. And Marcus Kiser is definitely an inspiration; he is the sole reason we stopped procrastinating with this project.
Following on that, how collaborative of a product is or do you envision DAC being/becoming? Is it meant to be an outlet for your creative process or an effort that brings other musicians, producers, visual and performance artists into the mix?
JM: I think it’s just for us. Our goal isn’t really to bring other artists together as our name might insinuate; our goal is to enhance the lives of our listeners.
MC: I agree. We have no need to incorporate other members in what we do. We just want to make you feel good.
Shuffle: What’s coming down the pike?
MC: We’re finishing up another EP right now. As far as the live shows are concerned, I think we’re going to chill out until early next year. The guys at our label want us to play SXSW and go to Europe for some shows. I guess we’re going to take it easy and get our shit together while we wait.
JM: New EP. Another LP. World travels.