Of the emerging genre classifications applied to music, it seems the application of the term \’future\’ seems to receive the most debate. Amongst the difference in opinion is those that claim it to be a re-classification of garage based music and those that believe it is specific to the sounds presented by recent artists. Despite the debate, one thing is certain: the tracks are grabbing a lot of traction in dance music with no sign of slowing down. Perhaps at the forefront of this movement in Chicago is Autograf. Consisting of three members that united under a common passion for art, they don\’t seem concerned with the genre classifications or debates. Instead the focus, at least in terms of their productions and musical performances, is to push the music into places it has not yet been. Utilizing the incorporation of traditional instruments amongst the common DJ rig, they seemed to have found the answer to the monotonous pop influence on electronic music. There may be debate over labeling it future, tropical, or the like, but there is no debate regarding their success.: Autograf presents a fresh and captivating approach to making music.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Autograf prior to their performance at Subterranean to find out what is behind the music that has been dominating the Hype Machine charts.
John C: First off, I want to thank you guys for taking the interview; I know you have been quite busy getting ready for this show. Lets start from the beginning and discuss what brought the group together as “Autograf?”
Louis: I think it would have to do with our love of making art and working on art projects together. From the first event we had, our focus was very art-related. We all come from an art background as well as music, and it was a collaboration of all of these interests and a desire for doing something a bit different than what else was out there, musically. It was basically our outlet for making art and the music really came later. It was kind of like ‘let’s just create some art and make sculptures.’ Jake went to art school for sculpture and painting, but he doesn’t really do that anymore.
Jake: (Interjecting) Yes I Do!
Louis: …and Mikul used to do street art, which he doesn’t really do as much either, so we started it just to kind of start doing some cool shit with art again and to have an outlet for it.
John C: I recently came across some pictures of pieces Autograf had done for the Andy Warhol party. Was that event your first?
Louis: Yeah, those were a lot of the first art pieces we did together, cases and soup cans, and they are all sitting in Mikul’s garage right now… looking for a gallery… looking for anything (laughs) – Anyone who would take it at this point.
John C: I did see many many pictures, they are really well done!
Louis: Yeah, I would totally take them in my place if I could, but they wouldn’t even fit through the door (Laughs).
John C: While we are on the art topic, I have read that you guys were interested in expanding the art influence of your shows, most notably though the incorporation of more visuals for a full on audio/visual experience. Is that still in the works for Autograf?
Louis: Yes, Absolutely! It is something we think about a lot. Obviously we focus on the music a lot, and the live performance, but we want to be able to control the visuals as well. It is bringing both of them together that we are working towards.
John C: On the music side, you guys have seen a lot of success lately, including recent tracks topping the HypeM charts, which can be a good indicator of your audience growth as the HypeM\’s ranking is user based. Was the very quick success on the music side expected as you began to release tracks?
Louis: Not really. It kind of surprised us all, I mean, we just started putting music out and like instantly things like HypeM and Soundcloud and the various blogs started making the music blow up a bit, and we started to realize we should focus on the music. It has lead to us losing touch with the art side a bit, just because there has been so much demand for the music. I mean, it just keeps getting more and more and more. We keep saying we want to get back to the art or that we should get back to the art, but then everyone wants a new remix, everyone wants a new original. At some point we just have to say, let’s take a break from the music and allow us to focus on the art for now.
John C: So far a lot of the music has focused on the re-emergence of garage, tropical house, or what is being referred to lately as ‘future\’ house. What lead the group in that stylistic direction, or was it just the music that naturally came to be out of the collaboration?
Louis: It was just a different sound that was coming out with a different atmosphere that came with it at shows. It just became interesting to us. It’s not like playing straight classic house, it has it’s own twist to it, and it kind of fits in terms of what we are wanting to do and allowed us to be different from a lot of what is out there.
John C: On the live performance aspect, you guys have a combination of technology-based performance as well as playing traditional instruments in a hybrid fashion. What are your overall thoughts on technology’s role in music performance – as it seems to have become a controversial thing?
Louis: I think we are really for it, I mean we have our own midi instruments that we are building. We are trying to push what we can do it with it in a live setting and see where it can take us as use it. However we also focus utilizing real instruments, which give us a bit of a different approach. So we may be playing ‘electronic’ songs, but we are very much incorporating live instruments as well.
Jake: The thing is, people fucking forget about these instruments. If you look at it historically, bands…and, well, band classes in general, are at historically low levels. Not just in the United States, but around the world. We are losing touch with many of these traditional instruments. That isn’t saying it is necessarily a bad thing, we are human so we make bigger and better things, we still need to know these things. That is what we like to bring back… at least a little bit anyway.
John C: Do you feel like the incorporation of instruments into a DJ set allow for more creativity on stage?
Jake: No, because I think DJs are creative in their own ways. So it isn\’t more creative one way or the other. In my mind, that is it’s own instrument. I have been to shows where DJs couldn’t read sheet music or show you middle C on a piano, but they will blow your mind in a live show, just through how they transition, how they move from song to song. That definitely is it’s own instrument in my mind. However, knowing all of these old school instruments, like what we used to have before even speakers were around, I think it is important, and it is something that is not present in dance music now days. There might have been more of it in the 90s, you know like trance guys playing stringed instruments, for example. But I think it is cool, and we have the technology to utilize that sort of stuff into our sets these days, so we should bring it back. We are not just up there twisting knobs. We are performing. We are doing all of these things right in front of you.
John C: Expanding from the classic instruments, it seems you guys have a desire to incorporate even non-traditional instruments. What is the inspiration behind their incorporation? Does it tie back to the art influence?
Jake: I mean realistically, everything can be turned into instruments. Just within the last 20 years, the field of what it means to be a musician has expanded exponentially, within the digital realm especially. For one, you don’t have to be wealthy to make music anymore and you don’t have to technically go to school to learn how to play an instrument anymore and it really has thrown the door open for a lot more people. If you look at someone like Mozart – If you are the type to pay attention to that guy – he was born and raised in a very privileged household and was lucky enough to be born with that kind of talent. Nowadays, music in the traditional sense is not embraced at all – at least in America, maybe in Japan or Austria – I don’t know, but it is definitely lacking here and we focus on bringing what we can into the performance. So there really isn\’t a traditional anymore. Music can come from anything, it is how you do it.
John C: Keeping that approach in mind, there has been a lot of criticism towards the pop side of electronic music and how it is overshadows a lot of the really innovative music out there. However if we look outside this green room, there is a packed room of attendees and they are here to see an Autograf show, an act that is bringing a very complex approach to the music and performance on stage. Do you feel as if the music scene you are a part of has been impacted or is the audience coming to your shows indicative of it not having an impact?
Mikul: (Laughing) I don’t want to say I hate pop music, but…(pauses)
John C: (Laughing) You don\’t have to hold back, the attitude wouldn\’t be unheard of from our prior interviews and I am critical of pop.
Mikul: But it’s not really true, for most. Look at Michael Jackson. That is pop music and he was an amazing fucking artist. I don’t want to say that pop music is necessarily bad. I think what is bad is that now the pop music like EDM is just bringing back the same exact repetitive sounds. That is what is making it boring. People just seem to be pacing along and ignorant to the fact that the song that came out this week sounds exactly like the song that came out last week. The originality is being lost right now. We do perform remixes of pop music and some of them have become some of our favorite songs, but we put our own twist on it, we don\’t just repeat the song\’s success. I think some pop is just becoming a bit too much and seems like the same stuff pasted over and over.
John C: Very fair point on the recognition of quality pop artists. It is unfortunate that many of them are not considered when responding to that question due to some of the lesser quality tracks that flood the market. Shifting back to your performances. As you popularity has escalated, you seem to be receiving more bookings for your performances from promoters. With your origins stemming from the original art parties, do you guys anticipate taking more control by hosting more of you own events in the future?
Mikul: Well, it has been really difficult to do outside of Chicago unfortunately. If you look at what goes into those shows, we build all of that ourselves, so its not something we can easily bring with us. We are trying to do Art Basil in Miami. I think as more become interested in them we can find more opportunity.
John C: As I watched your stage set and sound check before our interview, I took note of some of the instruments you will be utilizing for your set. What does the live performance rig include?
Mikul: It really varies from show to show right now. Like yesterday we played a show where it was just one of us DJing. So sometimes the set up can be as simple as that and then nights like tonight we go as far as to include lasers on time code. It really depends on the show and it varies every time.
John C: So what does the future look like for Autograf?
Mikul: Definitely originals. Up to this point we have been very focused on our remixes and we are going to start focusing on originals. As for our live performance, it will be kind of a trial and error thing as we do it. Who knows what we will end up liking or choosing to use next time.
John C: Is that part of the fun of it?
Mikul: Yeah (laughs), we take that approach to it because we started as focusing on the art and just explore with the music. It is kind of liberating, so we will see how it turns out.
John C: What other artists have you worked with, and I ask that without necessarily focusing on the music. I heard you have built custom midi controllers for some?
Mikul: Yeah, we did one for Crystal Method most recently. They had these CDJ based guitars, and they wanted to have a touch grip on the handle where they could modify audio such as opening and closing filters. It was fun to work on.
John C: In terms of support, which artists have you been receiving support from?
Mikul: Recently – and I meant recently as in like two days ago, Kygo had put us on his new mixtape, so that was pretty big. We did a remix for Odesza and we were also included in one of their mixes. On the remixes in general we have been connecting with many artists.
John C: Since the group is very focused on the incorporation of all elements, including art, audio/visual synergy and the like, from an experience standpoint, what kind of experience do you strive to have a person attending an Autograf show leave with?
Jake: Realistically, the demographic that we have coming out is 18 to 24. I am 28. I think about when I was 18-24 when I was heading out to a show, I wasn\’t just out looking for chicks, I wanted to experience the show, I wanted to have an emotional experience with the music. I think that is what we strive for. We are not here to get you fucked up or get you in that mood, we want you to have an emotional experience, we want you to experience it, an endorphin rush, or whatever you want to call it. That\’s what we want.
John C: Alright, we are approaching your stage time so I will squeeze in one last question. As Chicago artists, if you had to name one or two Chicago based artists that are deserving of some spotlight for what they have accomplished, who would those artists be?
Jake: Old school Chicago artist?
John C: No, new or emerging electronic artist. Someone pushing their way through the scene in a good way.
Jake: Man you are putting me in a pickle here man … You are going to publish this… but I am not going to do the whole no comment shit (long pause). I have a friend named Justin James, and he produces under the name Modest. Really talented guy.
Louis: (Shouting from the stairway down to the stage) Yo Jake! Come on.
(At this point Jake jumps up from the couch and excuses himself towards the stage entrance.)
Jake: (Shouting as he makes his way towards the staircase) Oh! Orville Kline. Orville Kline of Porn and Chicken. Definitely include him!
I would like to thank Jake, Louis, and Mikul for taking the time for the interview, especially amongst a very busy show prep and sound check. Check out their newest release, a remix of Neon Hallway by Corbu:
Check out Jake\’s Recommended Chicago Artists