by carl wilson

Inside Extermination Music Night
(In-Depth Version)

emn4.jpg

Zoilus amanuensis Chris Randle ran an interview with the organizers of Toronto fabled surreptitious-music-series Extermination Music Night in Eye weekly last month, but it was much truncated. This weekend, on the occasion of the latest in the EMN series (Sat at midnight; see the gig guide), we thought we'd run the full shebang. (Man, that's the dirtiest word.)

Chris: What inspired you to start doing the series?

Dan: I'd gone to these Wasteland events put on by Jubal Brown in the late 90s, that were done in factories...I started going to those when I was 17 or 18 and that had a pretty profound effect on me. Initially for me it was more of an aesthetic thing than a conceptual thing - maybe I thought about the conceptual aspects a bit later after the fact ...

Matt: I was living in Calgary for a while when I got out of school and I'd been interested in just going and looking at buildings like that, I did the same when I came here. I'd heard about the Wasteland parties that Jubal had done and I'd probably heard or read in magazines about people doing shows with generators...During certain years in Toronto people started putting on shows at alternate spaces so it kind of led off of that - why not do something where you rent the generator and then do it in an abandoned space?

[... continues ...]

What's the process for scouting out new locations? I know some of them are already used by skaters or rave kids...do you only use those established venues, or go looking for new ones?

Matt: We try to go and look for new ones. Dan does a lot of driving around looking at places. The thing is, most of the places that we've used are documented on the [urban] infiltration sites and stuff, just because they end up being the most reliable in a lot of ways.

Dan: Yeah. The last one I found out about from an urban exploration photoblog. A couple of friends had told us about the second one in the Buns Master factory. Our friend Ian had gone to a rave there a year previous or something. But yeah, mostly we'll find something on the internet and go check it out.

Matt: We sometimes come across places that we see and aren't sure if they're possible. There was one that...actually, that was the last one. I'd seen that site a while back and a friend had told me that...I don't know what it was, an assembly plant? And a friend of mine lives near there, he'd shown me that a couple years ago...I mentioned it to Dan but at that time it seemed really impossible. And it turned out to show up on one of those infiltration blogs. Then you realized "oh, okay, you can get in there."

Dan: They didn't have the location specified but they'd taken a photo from the tenth floor. And then I emailed Matt...

I know it's not a uniform thing, but what has the reaction from the cops been like? I remember there was one where they found you guys and then let it happen...

Matt: Yeah, there was one cop that came - we had just finished setting up when we could see their shadows wandering around the building. They opened up the door and they didn't come in, but they talked to Dan and asked us if we were allowed to be there. There was some hemming and hawing and then they said "In a word, no...You'll probably get a noise complaint, but good luck to you," and they left. It varies a lot depending on who it is.

Like, the last one, the cops were probably a bit more pissed off than they've been - although that's hard to say. They react depending on the situation. There's one that we did under the Lansdowne bridge and there was a fire lit under there, people chopping wood, and when they looked down on that and saw that it was on the train tracks they weren't too happy. But there've been other guys who almost... you look at them and you think they're kind of into it.

Dan: Yeah.

The last one was kind of insane - I don't know if you were out there for most of it but there was a Cockney bobby for some reason...

Dan: He came up to the eighth floor. He was pissed off. He was so pissed. Or he was acting pissed.

Yeah, they kept being like, "we're gonna let out the dogs..."

Matt: Did you see a dog?

I think they had - there was an ominous van, but...

Dan: Steve Kado's theory was that it was an mp3 dog. Just dog sounds.

Matt: I want to hear confirmation that somebody saw a dog. I heard a lot about hearing dogs, but nobody can claim to have seen a dog.

There were some pretty hilarious threats, like the whole "art party" thing ...

Matt: Yeah, that was pretty good. I enjoyed that.

It seems that they don't really care about it overall, though. They're not assigning a task force to it or anything.

Dan: No. Yeah, I guess ever since the rave scene died it's not really much of a concern.

Matt: And that could change on a dime, right? Any time these go off, we're just so happy because you know how those things can change. If something bad were to happen - if somebody were to do something stupid and hurt themselves or whatever...You know that they would make it Priority One. Stamp out illegal art parties!

Dan: There was one [urban-explorer] guy who died, a photographer. ... There wasn't much follow-up after that.

Matt: Yeah, I was worried. When I read about that happening just before the last one I thought, oh, this is going to make it into public consciousness and they're going to be all over this.

I think that sort of adds a sense of occasion, though, because not only is it something that only happens once in a site-specific sense, but it could also all end if some politician tries to crack down on it.

Dan: Yeah. I don't see how they'd be able to crack down on it, really. If they decided to charge us or something...

Matt: I think if they got really belligerent about it and were able to find out who was organizing it they would just slam those people really hard... Slamming them with the largest fines that they could. Not to say that I think this will happen.

There's that danger there, I guess. I think that's part of the appeal.

Matt: I'm sure that people either enjoy the sites or the architecture or just being in these places that they would never see ... the music, whatever goes on, the occasion of it, but on a fundamental level it's like when you're younger and the older kids come to your door and want to play a game of Fugitive or Manhunt or whatever... You're running around after dark with these kids ten years older than you -

It's play, not work...

Matt: I don't think that people really feel any fear going to this, but there's a certain level of -

Dan: There's a charge.

Matt: Yeah.

Dan: Just by the fact that there's no bureaucracy or mediating thing between the space and the event.

You're not actually risking your life, it's just this adrenaline -

Dan: Yeah.

Matt: I think - the analogy with the younger and older kids, and you know that it's a game but if they capture you they're gonna at least give you a really bad snakebite... it's the same with the cops. You could get a fine, they're going to be really nasty to you or whatever... It's that small amount of fear that gives it the charge.

Dan: Certainly for me, within the narrative of the series the authority factor doesn't figure in that prominently for me. For me it's not reactionary against the way music is normally performed, it's just an operation outside of that.

Matt: Yeah.

So it's not an oppositional thing.

Dan: No. That's not the intention, I don't understand how it could be read as that. The police don't factor into the narrative for me at all. Although, it's undeniable that when you put that many people in a space within that context, there will be a certain atmosphere that self-produces as a result of being unsanctioned.

Do you guys worry about it becoming too popular, just for logistical reasons? I know there was that one - not the last one, the one before - with 500 people or whatever...

Matt: I guess I would worry about it if it came to the point where this wasn't possible for some reason, but otherwise I don't give a shit about that. I'm not into saying "oh, this person should be here and this person shouldn't," or any of that shit. I don't care if 500 people show up or not, myself, other than that I want the thing to happen.

Dan: Fundamentally I don't care, but I have to admit that that one felt like it was too many people. Or not even too many people, but - I don't want to say the wrong type of people, but there were a lot of people there who didn't seem to get it, like it was just another party. I don't know.

Matt: I think that that's true, but at the same time I think if you say 50 people came simply because it was a party, and even 40 of them left just thinking "cool party!", there were probably at least ten people who were like, "weird," who were like, "What is this about?" It's their choice how to interpret it, and maybe most of them will interpret it as just "party," but it's worth it if ten people come away thinking "oh, there's something interesting here." Maybe it does something to somebody.

Dan: Yeah, for sure. I think you have to consider relational aesthetics, how the audience is interacting with one another in the space. I don't know, I don't really give a shit.

Matt: [laughs]

Are you guys experimenting with the formula at all? I know that one had the record sale, and at this last one there was the art on each floor...Do you have any idea what you're going to do with that in the future?

Dan: This summer - excluding the one that's coming up, because there isn't much of an art component to that - with the first two, [we were] definitely ushering in another phase...EMN 3.0?

[laughs]

Dan: But yeah, that was done to create a more total environment, and to more palpably recontextualize the space rather than just set up music...

Matt: In a lot of ways, it doesn't matter that that last one was busted. It still happened, it was there for a couple hours, and a lot of people still got to see interesting things for a short time. But it's a shame in a way, because that one I really felt was the place to be very different. It really was going to be mostly about those performance artists on those ten floors for the majority of the night - most of the music, or at least half of it, was going to happen on the roof, almost like... "Celebration" is too much, but I looked forward to it as being "everything else happened, now go look at this view up on the roof."

I was looking forward to the fact that it was based so much on the artwork, and it would be nice to do another one like that. This thing started off as being a lot about music, but people have come to it for other reasons. I think there's a lot of room to do interesting things because of that.

Dan: Yeah. I mean, definitely the original motivation for me was presenting music in a context that wasn't a bar - and actually, that last one, I have to say that I think the police presence kind of figured into the narrative

It was pretty awesome how you guys kept playing up there -

Dan: Even though I said that this isn't a reactionary thing, that felt really reactionary and overtly anti-authoritarian, maybe even in a corny way? I thought it was great.

Matt: We can't really take credit for that. The band was up there and they came to me as everyone was getting busted downstairs and were like, "what should we do? Should we play?" The thought of them playing at that point hadn't even occurred to me, I just assumed that it would all wind down, people would get ushered out. I wasn't really thinking about what we should do next, more responding to what's going to happen next. And then I was just like, "yeah, why not?" And they went ahead and did it.

[crosstalk]

Matt: I would love if somebody had footage of what was going on down on the ground with the cops at that time, because what I've heard from people is that there was a real reaction from them at that moment. Definitely not from the standpoint of "fuck you, cops," but I'd like to see the reaction on their face. I heard that it was just surprise. They were like, "Are you kidding me? The band is actually starting up with all these cop cars down here?"

One of the cops actually knew one of the people at the show.

Dan: I heard about that.

Matt: Really?

Dan: Yeah, there was a girl in a gold-lame bathing suit and she was like, "Karen!?" And the cop was like, "Kimberly!?"

Matt: Seriously. Really. That was that woman cop?

Dan: The woman cop, yeah.

There was this hilarious mix of reactions. I was just there with my hands up thinking it would be kind of gangster if Sandro Perri got a Polaris nomination and arrested in the same month.

Matt: What happened after these two recognized each other?

They were, y'know, hugging and stuff, at this crime scene...

Matt: That right there is the reason that this should get busted from time to time. That needs to happen on some level, you know? A cop should see - "oh, a friend of mine is here?" It's not criminal activity.

Was it conscious on your part to have the series be so widespread geographically? You've done one in the east end, you've done stuff right up on the beach or on Leslie Spit...

Matt: Totally. Yeah. I think the moment that really took hold was when Dan suggested doing one at the Guild Inn in Scarborough, and at first my initial reaction was, "Oh, that's too far, no one will go." And then I was like, "yeah, of course they'll go!" You can do these anywhere. I've been driving around a bit, and it may not even be possible - I just don't know if anything's available - but I'd really love to do one in Mimico or something like that, go in the other direction.

Dan: Yeah, for sure. Mississauga?

Matt: Yeah, yeah. And I'd love to go back and do one in Scarborough. Secretly, I'd love to do the Guild Inn. I think that - being very different from the other locations was also -

- with the columns?

Matt: Yeah. I'm kind of obsessed. I think it would be very interesting.

A lot of writers now talk about how the notion of a local scene is dead, because of the internet, or whatever, and I think EMN is a good response to that. It's like you're representing the totality of the city, rather than just a few bars and a few streets downtown...

Dan: I don't think Extermination Night would be as interesting in a city like Detroit, because abandoned buildings are par for the course there. Whereas here, it's like stepping out of - not necessarily a comfort zone, but stepping outside of the norm a bit, as far as the venue is concerned, and also as far as the location of the venue is concerned. Because of course the trip to the location is important. And also, just on a purely practical note, most of the locations that we can use happen to be outside of town.

Matt: We should be doing this interview in that abandoned house around the corner.

Dan: I think it would be really funny to do an Extermination Night in the alley behind Sneaky Dee's.

[laughs]

Dan: You should think about that. Put that on the backburner.

Matt: For some reason I've been interested in doing one that's, like, outdoors but walled in. It's not an original idea, I've seen pictures of shows that happened in spaces like that, but there's something really interesting about it. I wish we could find a place that's between some abandoned buildings, where you're not in the building, but in these - a maze, or an alleyway. That'd be really awesome. Especially if it was daytime.

[crosstalk]

It's almost as if it changes the way you think about the landscape. If you go to a bunch of these, when you're walking along you might start thinking "hey, this would be a good place for a show," instead of "hey, this is a weird, creepy abandoned building."

Dan: Yeah. Yeah, that's great. I mean, that's what I always think about when I look at these. My interest in ruins is primarily event-based. And that ties into the fact that it's unsanctioned. You can use this space, you just have to do it. You just have to do it! That's it.

Matt: By the same token, I'm interested in a more traditional sense - tradition in that, yeah, there's a history, a subculture of people who do this infiltration. I'm happy to hear if somebody goes to one of these things and is like, "I never even thought of looking at these buildings," and even if they're not looking at these spaces as "an event can go there," that there's an appreciation. I'd be happy to hear that people are like, "Yeah, one weekend I didn't have anything to do so some friends of mine, we thought about these events and just wanted to go look at some of these buildings." That's cool too.

In a normal show the centre of the attention is obviously the band and you're sort of spreading that around. ... You emphasize the building and even the audience more than usual.

Matt: I think as time goes on that becomes more pronounced. I really believe that a lot of people who come to this - as time goes on they come back for reasons other than a band playing there. They're just really interested in seeing these sites.

Dan: I'd say the emphasis is more towards the space than the people because...so many local shows I find that the emphasis is on the people rather than the band....Increasingly I find that shows in regular venues are more of a social call.

Matt: There's been some pretty brutal examples of that recently. To a level that I've never seen in Toronto before, to the point where there's an alleyway full of 200 people and inside where the band is actually playing there's 10.

Are you talking about that Cinecycle show?

Matt: Yeah. I've never been more upset by a show, actually. I was really - I don't mean to be negative or a nanny or anything, but I was really disappointed in us. As a city. At that show.

Do you just look at local bands, or -

Matt: No, we think about out-of-town stuff all the time, we just haven't had much luck with it. Primarily because ... given all the ways that this can fail - not fail, it never fails. Given all the ways that this can go wrong, it's hard for people to get up the gumption... They're really putting themselves out on the line by even participating in something like that.

It sounds like a story some serial killer would lure people in with.

Matt: We can't offer money or any sort of guarantee about anything, that they'll even get to play. And so understandably, touring bands or people from outside the city, it's kinda hard to do. I mean, the most we've been able to muster is bringing in a band from Guelph at this point

[laughs].

Dan: I was talking to this guy in Buffalo...Who's the big minimalist violin player? He named the Velvet Underground?

Tony Conrad?

Dan: Yeah, I was talking to Tony Conrad. I actually talked to him on the phone and he was into the idea, and then I never heard back from him.

Matt: I've talked to some bands from out west in the States and some bands from Texas, friends of mine, and sent a lot of information about this thing and people are very excited about it, but it's just a matter of, does the actual date line up with them being on tour and halfway across their country? It's hard if you're trying to find someone close to where we are who's also willing to do this at a specific time.

Dan: We've definitely thought about people who are relatively close-by, like Wolf Eyes or even New York bands.

[banter]

Dan: That's pretty comprehensive.

Matt: A lot better than the CBC interview.

What'd they interview you guys for?

Matt: The Leslie Spit one.

Dan: The whole event sounded very quaint..."You know, we're just listening to some music on the beach here, whatever..."

Matt: And we sounded at the same time like pretentious hosers. I don't know how you managed to sound like a hoser.

Maybe they edited it down, so every third sentence you'd be like "So as Debord says..."

Dan: Kinda. I didn't quote anybody. Oh, there was one quote...there's an article in Spacing coming out, and I quoted Zizek. This was the quote. The quote was this. Let me tell you what the quote was. A true act...a true act, uh...creates the, um...oh, fuck.

Matt: What, did you bring the book along? Was it an email interview?

Dan: It wasn't an email interview! It was an interview in person...The quote is something like "a true act creates the conditions for its own possibility." There it is.

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 19 at 4:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

COMMENTS

Ah. Makes sense... Thanks for clarifying, guys.

Posted by A Reader on September 22, 2008 3:34 AM

 

 

Yes, sorry that was my misunderstanding from the transcript - I didn't think they meant Jeff, but for reasons not worth explaining, I mistook the small-i for large.

Posted by zoilus on September 21, 2008 8:42 PM

 

 

I'm pretty sure they weren't talking about Ninjalicious, because he passed away a few years ago and the other explorer was apparently killed in some abandoned space just before an EMN this summer. The transcript could be misleading in that respect, though - I think the other poor guy was only a small-I infilitrator, not a large-I one...

Posted by Chris on September 21, 2008 5:53 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson