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