Otto von Schirach Does Studio A
Not all creatures thrive in sunlight. The iconoclastic, Miami-based electro-noise terrorist Otto von Schirach works by moonlight.
The later the hour, the more his creations flourish. They're unpredictable, belching, screaming things that thump in the night. A Dr. Frankenstein of electronic music, Schirach assembles works from disparate elements. The resulting tracks are a patchwork of tinny bleeps, death metal crunches, and booty-shaking bass lines stitched together with a twisted sense of humor.
But people get it. Well, certain people — like the attendees of the Zombie Halloween party in October at downtown venue PS 14. Schirach, a regular performer at the occasional zombie-theme parties, ravaged the stage while wearing a black Superman-style outfit — spandex tights, cape, and all. He screamed into the microphone and occasionally tapped at his laptop while a vodou witch doctor (fellow artist Peasants with Feathers) convulsed and swiveled his stick in the background. Standout track "Tea Bagging the Dead" throbbed from the amps with a Miami bass boom periodically interrupted by gurgles and thrashing double-bass drumbeats. Fans erupted into a dancing, head-banging frenzy.
The song first gained international momentum when it appeared on Maxipad Detention, Schirach's seventh official full-length album and his first for California-based Ipecac Recordings. The 18-track disc's drilling beats jackhammer into the brain, taking the listener on a sonic voyage that begins with metal riffage and bass and ends in the septic tank of a haunted house.
Otto Von Shirach - Tea Bagging The Dead
In the album's (relatively) traditional-song-oriented moments, a steady drum kick emerges long enough to get people on the floor. But the tracks often turn chaotic. Textured, squishy noises and ear-stabbing glitches hopscotch with schizophrenic glee. On Track 11, "Submarine Mammal Milk," people fuck, a baby cries, and cows moo, all simultaneously — and that's before the album takes a turn for the creepy. As Maxipad spirals into horror-movie territory, the auditory turbulence becomes deeper and darker, with less of a dance sensibility. The album ends with black magic chanting, a bell's toll of doom, sewer noises, and haunted house creaks.
"Maxipad is almost like a compilation of the past 10 years of my musical journey ... or my unmusical journey," Schirach says.
In the beginning, this boy from the other side of the glowstick didn't have much appeal. "When I put out my first [self-released] record, it sucked. People in Miami hated it. The only people who liked my record were Romulo del Castillo and Josh Kay, the owners of Schematic. Romulo saw that I alienated myself from Miami," he says. "Romulo was like, 'Don't worry — you have a home [at Schematic].'"
Schematic Records is one of the few cultivators of the so-called intelligent dance music scene in Miami. The inaccessibility of Schirach's early releases made them a perfect fit for the label's repertoire. Beats were disjointed and erupted with no melody to carry them; they were sounds to contemplate rather than dance to.
This sort of computer-with-Tourette's sound garnered a small underground following in Miami, but overseas the masses readily submitted to Schirach's mojo. And it still is that way. Schirach regularly draws crowds at large experimental music festivals, especially around Belgium and Germany. In fact he spent much of this summer on the road in Europe with Skinny Puppy and the Locust, where his unhinged art was met by unhinged audiences.
"One day [Skinny Puppy and I] played this festival in Germany," Schirach recalls. "All of a sudden these people started getting naked, like 10 people. But one of the dudes looked like Sloth from the Goonies. He was so huge, really tall, fucked-up face, and his penis was micro.... I think he got into a fight. He was all bloody. Europeans party to the limit, you know."
Schirach certainly knows. He travels for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. But it's not always freaks, fun, and flagrant nudity.
"The only thing that sucks is when you're all alone somewhere and you're like, 'Fuck, dude, I'd rather be making tunes.' And you look forward to coming home and hanging out, always," Schirach says. "You're playing your music every day, but in reality, you don't feel like a musician 'cause you're not creating that much. You drink a bottle of wine a day, you're floating like a gypsy through Europe.... It's like an adventure, and when you come home, it takes you like a week to adjust."
Recently Schirach has been satisfying those crazy Europeans and anyone else he happens upon while on the road, with Spine Serpents of Sperm Swamp, a bootleg of rare cuts and unfinished tracks. During his time off, Schirach is relatively stationary — but hardly stagnant — in his Miami apartment.
Skinny Puppy founder cEvin Key recruited Schirach to work for his movie-scoring company, Scaremeister. And locally, Schirach is working on several projects, including a collaboration with Doormouse that has been five years in the making. "When we started making [the record], we had more time, and then we both got really busy," says Schirach. "It's actually better that way because every song is a different genre." One song is a humorous take on the rave scene in Europe, he says, and other tracks are "like almost traditional pimp music with electronic stuff over it — old Seventies hustler music." He's also working on something he describes as "like if some gangster dude was making black metal and burning churches. It's like Dr. Dre beats with horror guitars and some guy who goes from screaming to Three 6 Mafia chanting."
A freestyle record is also in the works — a natural step, considering Schirach's progression from early spasmodic soundscapes to a more structured, techno-crunk bass. "I progressed in the sense that I've always wanted to make a freestyle Miami bass record, and 10 years ago I would have never done it, 'cause I thought it was too cheesy or I couldn't sit down and make that," he says. "I wanted to make some spine-tingling spooky nightmare song. Now I'm doing both."
The record in progress is a byproduct of his steady headway toward a catchier sound. While Schirach has aurally assaulted musical masochists on a grand scale in Europe, and a niche group locally, his monster is ready to emerge from subterranean depths to consume new victims.
And, he says, one man can help him: DJ Laz. "I would be honored if one day some of that stuff would get played on Power 96," Schirach says. "I would love if I had something to do with bringing freestyle back with a new-school sound — new kinds of beats but still some of the old. Like more 2007 and not so much 1987."
But his old-school fans and IDM elitists need not fret. Schirach isn't giving up screeching glitches, drum 'n' bass beats, and gore-core speed metal just yet. To do so would betray his trademark, and he's not changing his formula for destruction anytime soon.
"I don't know how to make music at all, and that's the secret," Schirach says. "I know how to unmake music."
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