DECAYCAST Interviews: Anna Cuevas of Dès Vu “This Will Become A Memory”

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Dès Vu. photo:  Liesa Cole

Even before i met Anna Cuevas, her project Dès Vu was  enshrined with a sort of mythical presence. My partner first turned me onto her work when we were sourcing bands and projects for a benefit show to combat the  racist and xenophobic US border crisis, which has denied safe entry for thousands of asylum seekers to the US, we reached out to several acts and the first one to respond with a resounding yes, almost instantly,  was Dès Vu.  Benefit shows can be tough, as underground music shows usually have a razor thin margin financially for paying artists/performers as it is,  without even taking into consideration money for the space/promoters, never mind extra money to donate to a cause. The financial logistics of running a small to mid sized DIY show and coming out in the black are often next to impossible without a big crowd, sponsors, and a hefty amount of press backing the event.

“Dès Vu means the the awareness that this will become a memory,”

For many micro scenes benefit shows often require the artists and space to donate their time, money and resources to be able to raise enough money to make a big enough financial  impact, with the artists donating their time, talent, and resources for free. Putting together (last minute) or any benefit shows often cuts down the choices of  performers, as many simply cannot donate their labor for free or  discounted artist fees, so the fact that Dès Vu not  only agreed to  play our show, and immediately stated that she didn’t need payment, and we’re excited to participate was just the boost we needed to get the benefit show rolling, only later, and still at the time of this interview am I figuring out that activism is a big part of the work of Des Vu, so it was no surprise that she were our first ally in bringing together a solid lineup. We sat down and spoke with  Anna about her creative process, education, and future creative endeavors.

Welcome to Decaycast Interviews, please  talk a little bit about the origin of your current recording and performance project Dés Vu?

Dès Vu (day voo) quickly manifested early 2018 in Birmingham, AL, my hometown. After a long writer’s block, one day I played one of the synths of my now-producer, and what became the EP’s “cycling affect” flowed out. That breakthrough compelled me to transform sketches I’d been writing on my synth into full songs. Dès Vu means “the awareness that this will become a memory,” and that all feels like a dream now that my musical path pulled me to the Bay.

How is the Bay Area different from Birmingham based on your experience within music artists and activist circles?

I’m really grateful for my Birmingham roots helping me bloom into who I’m becoming, but I see and hear myself far more in the Bay Area creative communities. Here there’s a lot more music in the spirit of what I make, and I don’t get questioned about being racially ambiguous, which has been really refreshing. In many ways I feel more comfortable performing here despite not knowing nearly as many people as where I grew up. Birmingham has a strong DIY community and network of grassroots movements, but those circles were pretty separate. Here there’s much more overlap which really resonates with my music. There’s also more people and resources for more radical organizing and direct actions, but the movement in Birmingham works as hard, just in a different way. They are such different places and I’m still adjusting to what initially felt like culture shock but in a good way for me. One’s preference just depends on what one is seeking and wanting.

Can you talk a little bit more about radical Organizing and the connection to your work if any?

Though not an inherently political project, my music instinctively weaves some radical anthems among more prominent ballads centering mental health. I consider those themes deeply connected; one way being how racism and capitalism shape the climate of modern society.

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photo :  Jaysen Michael

In Alabama I did a lot of grassroots work with workers’ rights, immigrant justice, prison abolition, reproductive and gender equity, and police brutality. Despite no longer having the stamina to continue frontline organizing, solidarity will always be a part of my work as I feel compelled to embrace the movement In my platform. However, while the EP’s “decolonize” and the single “for Rojava” highlight anti-imperialism and anti-fascism, my music primarily strives to create a world beyond this one.

 

So more of a vision of a different future than responding to the current one?

I like how you put that – it does respond to the current one but is also pushing for something more in a healing way.

Also knowing you’re a teacher In Oakland, had this affected your work at all in any way ? Have you ever we shown your students your music?

Actually yes, I recently had a music idea come to me about when public schools close for good and all the dynamics that entails.  It’s not something those outside of education probably hear much about and discuss even less but through music,  I can highlight that disparity that branches beyond schools and seeps into our communities, and yes I have shown my students my music.

 

Do you think social distancing has had an impact on your practice so far? Have you been in the mood to make music / art or not so much?]

Social distancing has had a big impact on my practice so far the first nearly three weeks (at the time of this interview) of quarantine, I really struggled with maintaining a creative focus. At first,  I started feeling imposter syndrome, like why was I not using this extra time to churn out new material. . Then I realized that the change to working remotely in education was not only not allowing as much free time as many who sadly lost their jobs, but was also taking an extra emotional toll with the urgency to prioritize mutual aid for our school’s families. Parent conferences by phone prefaced academic updates with asking what basic needs, if any, the families lacked.  Some weren’t sure how they were even going to get more diapers diving in to a bit of mutual aid outside of my job, looking to social media more to stay connected, and feeling the need to stay updated with news deeply affected my headspace for a while before I noticed how much it had negatively impacted my basic self-care. I felt kind of selfish for wanting to work on my music more than usual during these times, but now i’m reminded how crucial our own healthy wellbeing is before helping others so much embracing that notion now, i’ve started naturally practicing, writing, and recording fluidly again. As a solo artist with a bedroom recording setup.  my imposter syndrome was exaggerated  since i wasn’t even having to adjust to virtual group practices like many I know. Creating feels more like medicine than it ever has as it’s helping me process our new collective reality. My practice feels even more purposed now; though still very much digging inward, i’m projecting outward a lot more, like sending energy instead of staying in my own head so much. This will likely be a permanent shift as it will be impossible to ever completely forget these times we’re currently navigating.

Any future projects you’d like to discuss or general things to let our readers know about anything?

My producer is nearly done mastering the re-release of my EP, though unsure when I’ll be able to tour on it. My music video locations are also currently on pause, but I’ve been working on new songs for about a year and am learning to produce it myself
I do have another music project I’ve started but haven’t announced more details of yet and am not rushing it.
Generally, I encourage those who are financially able to donate to Bay Area mutual aid efforts: some that come to mind are houseless aid through :

East Oakland Collective

The Village,

West Oakland Punks With Lunch;

Bay Area Workers Support (sex workers),

Oakland Food Workers’ Fund, and We Are The Ones Mutual Care Fund — * for the unhoused, East Oakland Collective is taking donations for hand-washing stations ($162 / month) and portable toilets ($142 / month) PayPal:  kandace.e@gmail.com

Follow Des Vu on Instagram : @mind__mirage

Being The Machine : DECAYCAST Interviews Derek Rush (Chthonic Streams, Compactor)

Being The Machine : DECAYCAST Interviews Derek Rush (Chthonic Streams, Compactor)

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Compactor live at Knockdown Center, NYC during the No Workers Paradise release show. Photo by Kim Wirt.

Derek Rush is a man of many hats in the contemporary noise/industrial scene; like many artists these days, Rush has taken a ground-up, DIY ethos to his various musical projects, his imprint Chthonic Streams, his DJ sets, as well as mixing, mastering, and designing artwork for his releases. Many times, when artists spread themselves this razor-thin, for a myriad of creative, philosophical, and logistical reasons, aspects of the work suffer, or appear rushed, but not in the case of Derek Rush. His commitment to the preservation and documentation of the New York City and North American noise and industrial scene is impressive to say the least. Make sure to keep up with his various projects here and here.

Hello Derek and welcome to Decaycast. Can you talk a little bit about your current creative projects and what you’re up to these days both with your label, Chthonic Streams and related projects?

My main current project is as SysAdmin for Compactor. This means I’m overseeing the production of recorded Documents, and I handle tech, setup and breakdown of Live Shifts. Compactor is a machine, or series of machines, operated by a uniformed person called The Worker. The idea is that this is an anonymous figure who could be anyone, they represent everyone who works for a living. The project is a series of ongoing statements about work and its place in society, the dehumanization of people, the focus, fetishization, and trust in technology, the push-pull of how it can be pretty cool but also pretty destructive. In May 2018 Oppressive Resistance Recordings released the full-length CD “Technology Worship.”

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Chthonic Streams started as an outlet to release my own work when other labels are unavailable, as well as distribute the work of others I’m even tangentially involved with. Recently I’ve been expanding it to put out short-run releases of artists I like. I usually collaborate on some aspect, at least the design, sometimes a bit of mastering or even mixing, it varies. The latest release as we’re talking now is a tape by Endless Chasm, a dark ambient/experimental artist from Kansas. I also try to combine the release with a show I present under the Chthonic Streams banner with a variety of complementary artists.

As for other related projects happening now, I’ve been contributing to Theologian, which is the project of Lee Bartow. I recently sent him some melodic/harmonic elements which were turned into a track on the cassette “Reconcile,” and we have been sending files back and forth for the next major album, “Contrapasso.”

How did the collaboration with Theologian come about? How do you (if at all) separate the sounds you use for Compactor vs. the sounds you use for Theologian or other collaborations, and also how important is collaboration to you on general?
Theologian is Lee Bartow, but sometimes he likes to collaborate with others. We’ve known each other from a distance for years, but connected more in 2010 when I asked him to remix a song from my band Dream Into Dust. In return, he asked me to contribute to a project called Love Is Nothing, and then he sent me material which I added to along with others that became the Theologian EP “Some Things Have To Be Endured”. I mixed the “Forced Utopia” album last year, and I’ve been editing/producing material for the forthcoming album “Contrapasso.” The “Reconcile” album came about because of the Darkness Descends industrial festival in Cleveland put on by Stephen Petrus of Murderous Vision. Lee asked Stephen, Andy (The Vomit Arsonist) and myself to send material that he would turn into an album (mixed by Mike McClatchey of Lament Cityscape), and the four of us played in Theologian for the fest.

The mindset, sound, and material for Compactor is very different from other projects or collaborations. Compactor sonically is all about different textures of primarily atonal sounds. The material I sent in for “Reconcile” was very melodic and droning and in a specific key. In general when working on Theologian, I know what that sound is and where Lee is coming from, and I’m just trying to do something that goes along with that but adds a dimension he doesn’t usually do when working on his own, things like trying to add a different structure or little synth melodies and string parts.

I think in any collaboration, it’s important to find out what the other person wants and needs, which may not be the same thing. I’m mostly just trying to help their project be the best it can be to my ears. But in the end, they give the final seal of approval and may even change things I’ve done initially. I find that totally democratic collaboration often doesn’t work. Someone has to be in charge of a project and someone else in more of a supportive role.

Seems like the sounds of Compactor and your collaborative projects come from very different places, intention-wise. Oftentimes in experimental music artists can take an “anything goes” approach, but that might end up not working for every situation, or even many situations. Do you think noise and experimental music, more than other genres, emphasize collaboration, or on the contrary does it discourage collaboration and focus on promoting the individual. Is removing yourself from the identity of Compactor a conceptual move or does it occur for different reasons? 
I think noise music by its nature might not discourage collaboration, but it’s kind of unnecessary and sometimes a bad idea. With many types of noise, the more distortion and frequencies that are happening, the harder it is to fit in other sounds. It needs to have people even more attuned to each other than in conventional music, to know what and when to play or not play. Otherwise it can just become total white noise, filling up every space. There’s a place for that, obviously HN and HNW, but even one person can generate that on their own. So collaboration usually seems to come more out of a need for cameraderie and community. I think there’s a lot of loners, myself included, for whom noise has somehow had the opposite effect of connecting with others on the same wavelength. So it’s not like a rock band where you’re a guitarist who needs a bassist and drummer. You can do it all yourself, but you want your buddies with you, especially if they by themselves create something you respect.

Compactor being the machine, operated by the faceless figure of The Worker, is something that naturally came about from the early titles and imagery. It basically wrote its own backstory. Once that was in place, other details just obviously follow. The Worker’s story is a conglomeration of what goes on in this country and other parts of the world. The greed and inhumanity of corporations, the constantly working, often exhausted working class and shrinking middle class. It’s more important, and more interesting, to refer to these things than just say, wow work sucked today, I’m going to write a song about that. Because it’s not about me, it’s about everyone. And it’s sadly a pretty common feeling.

Can you talk a little bit more of the aesthetics of “The Worker” or “Compactor” from the mask/outfit to the unified aesthetics in the artworks well as music videos?

The predominantly black, white, and grey color schemes are just naturally bleak, and also give things a vintage or archival quality. A lot of the look of things is intentionally old, outdated, and ragged looking. For all the advancements in technology, there’s still a lot of old stuff being used by businesses that aren’t upgrading in order to save money. The Worker is kind of a personification of that, wearing a gas mask from 30 years ago, always the same worn-out shirt and work boots, and a generic cap, sometimes additional tools that are old, dirty, rusted or cheap-looking. It seems like a lot of companies are providing the bare minimum, or even leaving it up to employees to take care of their own uniforms or supplies.

Most of the videos in the past were outsourced to F Squared Media, who do some amazing work. Something to note is that there are never any people in them, in order to increase feelings of dehumanization and isolation.

Speaking of unified aesthetics, let’s talk about your imprint, Chthonic Streams. Most of your releases are rather involved with artist editions and elaborate packaging, including a boxset housed in a tool box?!? Is this true, care to elaborate?!

I’ve only started doing more elaborate packaging in the past few years, but have always strived to make sure there is really something to hold in your hands and look at. Also, it has to make sense and have a purpose. Although I appreciate albums that come with buttons and stickers, that’s not my thing. So I come up with images, words, and objects that bring the meaning of the music into the physical world.

The boxset you’re talking about is “No Workers Paradise”, which is 8 x 60-minute tapes, each one from a different noise artist. Compactor, Gnawed, Redrot, The Vomit Arsonist, Filth, Blsphm, Existence In Decline, and Work/Death each recorded a full album’s worth of material, so the total time is 8 hours, the standard American work day (although many people work longer than that). It also includes a 7″x10″ 12-page booklet with images, credits, and an essay I wrote about the prevalent relationship of people to work these days. Putting it in a tool box just made the most sense to me, as though someone woNWPboxuld carry it to work with them and listen to it all day. Though this was my concept I have to give serious props and thanks to all the artists, who did some of their best work.

What is the most difficult part of running your own imprint and also what is the most rewarding? Also please discuss any upcoming releases you have for both the label, and Compactor.

The most difficult part is dealing with money. While I can save money doing pretty much everything myself, as soon as you start adding in the kind of crazy ideas I have, the cost goes right back up again. Not to mention the time and labor. I’m cheating myself in some ways, but I guess I’d rather do that than cheat an artist. Then again, probably a lot of labels at this level operate this way, which is sad. We’ve become so used to busting our asses incredibly hard just to get anything done and not lose our shirts.

On the positive side, it’s so rewarding to hear from other artists that they’re happy with how a release came out. These are people whose work I respect a lot, and we are friends and peers, so that’s the most important thing. Though we’re also happy to sell out of things too!

Just released is a compilation called Prematurely Purgatoried, which is a benefit for fellow musician Casey Grabowski (Nearest, Obligate Surrogate, Secret Societies) who has cancer. In the works is a release from Seattle-based artist Morher, who was until recently known as OKA Amnesia. I’ve booked her a number of times, and she recorded several long pieces live to multitrack at my studio, with plans to do more and make it a full-length, which I’ll be mixing, as I did with STCLVR’s Predator. She’s also a visual artist and we hope to collaborate using her work to come up with some kind of special edition that suits her and this material, which is incredibly open and visceral. It’s gorgeous sung and spoken word live and looped vocals, with ethereal backing based on field recordings bleeding into harsh noise.

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By winter there will also be a special edition cassette by Mortuary Womb, a duo project between myself and the late John Binder of Exhuma and Arkanau. It’s full-on death industrial in the vein of early Cold Meat Industry and Slaughter Productions, recorded in Winter 2014. The limited edition will include a second cassette with the final recordings John did before he left us.

Compactor will have split releases with Vitriol Gauge and Ruiner. coming in Fall and Winter, respectively. There will also be tracks on compilations from Black Ring Rituals (for Fargo Noise Fest) and Spiricom Tapes, as well as a remix on the deluxe reissue of the Theologian/Lament Cityscape album. Beyond that, work has begun on a gabber album for Sonic Terror Recordings.

Chthonic Streams: www.chthonicstreams.com
Compactor: www.wastemgt.info