Q&A: Alphabethead (The All Seeing Hand)
Okay, so we never do this, we always write the intros, but just this once I’m gonna leave it to his press release, IT’S JUST TOO DAMN GOOD. “Somewhere between the worlds of Hip Hop, Post Punk and Dubstep exists Alphabethead, a tea-drinking, turntable musician from Wellington. Described as “a virtuoso of the phonograph turntable” and “an outrageous performer whom you really must see to fully comprehend”. Once a champion Hip Hop DJ, Alphabethead is now an explorer/destroyer of all sound-on-vinyl. From Mongolian throat singing and psychedelic guitars to field recordings and drum breaks – no LP is taboo. His performances always hold surprises and his unique approach allows him to coax wonderfully strange sounds from the turntable. Expect noise, heavy beats and vinyl trashing. Imagine if Black Sabbath and Flying Lotus were Siamese twins or if Kid Koala scratched post punk.” Yup that’s about the sum of it. Anyway, Take it away Mr Alphabethead…
Tell us in your own words what your sound is:
I piece my music together from snippets of LP’s. My source material is usually ethnic music, prog rock and film soundtracks. My sound used to be old and weathered like the 70’s records I sample from but over the last year I’ve embraced virtual instruments and synthesizes. So these days I would describe my sound as dusty with a dash of digital!
Who makes up your band?
The All Seeing Hand is B Michael Knight (Drums), a rotating group of vocalists and myself (turntables/sampler). Alphabethead is just records, two Technics 1200’s and Mr Roland 404.
What were your influences when you first started writing music? And what are your influences now?
My initial influences were DJ Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike, DJ Shadow, Jam Master Jay, Prince Paul and the X-Men DJ crew.
These days, though digging I’ve been exposed to many genres other than Hip Hop. The artists that have had the greatest affect on me were Charles Mingus, King Crimson, This Heat and Toru Takemitsu. I cannot lie – also new school beat makers (Samiyam, Lorn, Balcam Acab etc), glitch and dubstep have been inescapable.
Non-musical influences would be my job in medical research, downhill mountain biking, assembly lines and B-Movies (sci-fi and monster flicks especially).
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been slowly chipping away at an all sampled based album. Although the genre has faded into obscurity I’m a huge fan of cut-n-paste producers DJ Food, Kid Koala, Cut Chemist etc… Aside from that I sometimes produce single tunes and mixtapes for my website: alphabethead.blog.com I try to make a cut and paste collage for everything I upload there. Also I’m really keen on releasing a couple or glitch hop tunes this year on a new NZ electronic music label Junkfood.
Do you have a procedure for writing music?
I usually grab a random record, needle drop or listen through until a sound catches my ear. I’ll then either scratch it over another record or sample it and build a beat around it. So year, sample first, then drums, bass and additional layers atop of that. Trial and error. I ritualise drinking whilst I work, so I always have a thermos of Dilmah close by.
If you could collaborate with any musician in the world, who would you collaborate with?
Wow, never really thought of that. I have already ‘collaborated’ with some of my favourite artists indirectly through sampling! However, vocalists would be D’Angelo and Beth Gibbons. Rappers Pusha T and Hollow the Don. Drums, Charles Hayward, Colin Stetson on baritone Sax, a young Terje Rypdal on Guitars. Arrangements by Charles Mingus; although I’d be so intimidated by him! He’s one of the gods. Produced by Timbaland, El-P or Brian Eno…
What do you think about Wellington’s music scene? And if you could play anywhere, where would you love to perform?
Strong and vibrant, with a penchant for the noisy and experimental.
I’d like to play or at least produce in a glass domed submarine at the oceans depths but more realistically, Japan.
Seen any good bands lately?
Orchestra Of Spheres is a phenomenal band that tickles all the senses. Locally I also like Deer Park, Electric Wire Hustle and D:UNK. Funnily enough my favourite two kiwi band’s Akaname and Gatherer (This City Sunrise) both relocated to OZ. The last really mindblowing gig I witnessed was Deerhoof last month.
Any interesting stories?
Lots of funny or interesting things have happening over the years; most recent was my gig as a hunch back just last week. Not intentional!
I do downhill mountain biking and I attempted the notorious ‘Deliverance’ track after heavy rain. I bailed so badly several times, the last time flying off my bike and falling with my back smack bang on a rock. Extreme pain – thought I’d need a chopper to airlift me out. Adrenaline allowed me to hobble back to the car. I found it almost impossible to walk or straighten my back. I had a show the following night and, idiotically, attempted to perform. I couldn’t even stand upright and every movement would cause me to wince. I’m quite an animated performer but that night I was an decrepitated old chap with anguished face! It was not pleasant – the audience could see my pain and did not enjoy it.
Not the first time my biking has caused problems. I’ve gigged in an arm cast once before…
In recent news I’ve found the Kim Dotcom/Megaupload debacle very interesting indeed. I will be following the court case with an eager eye.
Where are you playing next?
Super excited about Camp A Low Hum this coming weekend with The All Seeing Hand! The following week is Splore festival with Erykah Badu, Q-Bert and Hudson Hohawke. Damn, gotta get rehearsing for those!
Here’s a little clip of him talking about what he does…
And another dope cut and paste type vid…
As The All Seeing Hand;