Emerging from New York City's early-'90s acid house rave scene, Moby debuted with a deep, aqueous, tribal sound that would veer from ecstasy-rich techno to aggro industrial before crystalizing into the crossover poptronica of 1999's multi-platinum Play.
Along the way, this socio-politically outspoken musician became an unlikely figurehead as his juxtaposition of orchestral synths, earthy percussion, and gnarled guitars helped take electronic music from the faceless club scene to the mainstream. In the last decade, though, he has released increasingly understated, creatively bleary works, culminating with the upcoming Destroyed, which shares its title with a companion collection of still images.
Recently, Crossfade spoke with Moby about technology, Glenn Beck, and the perks of subtlety.
Crossfade: As someone who's known for being outspoken, do you think that now, with the million and one ways for people to voice their opinions, it's easier or hardier to be heard than when you were emerging in the '90s?
In many ways, I love the fact that the old gatekeepers of information have been rendered fairly obsolete, and now anybody with a laptop or a decent cell phone can communicate almost as effectively as, you know, a talking head on one of the cable news networks. But sometimes people, myself included, confuse volume for content. And a lot of times, loud is just loud. And not to sound like a crazy lefty, but in an age where everything is loud and overwhelming, how do you develop the ability to hear things that are maybe a little quieter and more subtle?
You're telling me you're not a Glenn Beck fan?
You know, I think Glenn Beck is a very entertaining crazy person. He reminds me of someone like P.T. Barnum on methamphetamine. Whereas in the old days someone like Barnum would try to get you to pay attention to his elephants and his clowns, now Glenn Beck is trying to get you to pay attention to politics and policy and legislation. I think sideshow barkers are much better [suited] to yelling about circus freaks than politicians.
So, going back to what you said about listening to quieter things, have you turned toward subtler sounds to counteract the noise?
Yes, I think so. It's also because there are so many musicians who are really good at being abrasive and loud. And I mean, I like bombastic music and I like things that are unsubtle. I just don't think I'm very good at making unsubtle pop sounds. So I'd rather focus on quieter music, understanding full well that fewer people are going to pay attention. I know there isn't much of an audience for them. But it still feels nice to make these kinds of records.
Every once in awhile do you miss the extremely unsubtle old days when you'd end performances standing on top of a synth as the beats pounded? I always felt kind of sorry for that synth.
[Laughs] A lot of synths got stood on and you'd be surprised how intrepid they are. You could stand on a synth a 100 times and it still plays just fine. It's, you know, that fine Japanese craftsmanship. But, I mean, that's the odd thing, the records I make now do tend to be a lot quieter and more subtle, but when I DJ or when I tour, the shows that I do still tend to have that quality of bombast.
Well, thinking back to your most bombastic days ... The one time I met you was in 2001 at the Area:One tour kick off in Atlanta. You organized that tour, which featured artists such as OutKast, the Orb, New Order, Carl Cox, Gwen Stefani, Kelis, and a bunch of others, and at the time it seemed like a great time to have this celebration of quirky electronic performers mixed with big pop artists. How do you look at things now compared to when you were putting together a festival back then?
Well, what it was like back then was it was so self-involved. I never expected to have a career as a musician, and then somehow I ended up having a weird career as a musician. And somehow, to my great shame, around the time of Area:One, I fell in love with the fruits and the pitfalls of fame.
In hindsight, you know, it wasn't such a healthy obsession to have, because I had never expected anyone to like me or pay attention to what I did and so when people liked me and paid attention to me, I got a little crazy and I wanted more. But the end result was feeling like, sort of like partially compromised, spiritually compromised, artistically compromised and certainly I ended up irritating all of my friends. Area:One, I enjoyed doing it. It was back when I drank and did a lot of drugs, so I was kind of in a blackout the whole time.
-- Tony Ware
Moby as part of the Ultra Music Festival with a performance Saturday, March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Carl Cox and Friends Arena.Bicentennial Park, 1075 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Gates open at noon on Saturday. Tickets are sold out. Visit ultramusicfestival.com.
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