` Fair Play & Zoom Lens Discuss "Love Without Domination"








The following interview was conducted by record label / radio show FAIR PLAY on December 10th, 2016 at KCHUNG Radio in Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA.

The focus was to discuss Zoom Lens' latest compilation, Love Without Domination, which was created in benefit of ACLU, Border Angels & Planned Parenthood, in response to the recent political climate of the United States. Joined by Meishi Smile & Thought Tempo were live performances by Doji & Comrade(s).

This interview has been edited for length & clarity.

 

 

[Meishi Smile “Hate Floods Slow” ends]

Fair Play: You’re listening to Fair Play, and today we’re inviting Zoom Lens. We just did a series of 4 performances, with Maxin from Berlin, Ophelia from United Kingdom, as well as Doji and Comrade(s). They’re from Los Angeles and a part of Zoom Lens. We’re gonna use the last 30 minutes just to talk about the new compilation they just released.

It’s titled Love Without Domination and it’s a compilation of 20 people, right?


Love Without Domination - Artwork by Brian Vu


Meishi Smile: Yeah, it’s about 22 artists. Basically the whole concept of creating the compilation album was conceived directly after the presidential elect of the United States, and that song that I just played was the newest Meishi Smile song. I actually recorded the vocals right after Trump was announced president.

The whole compilation was obviously a response to the political climate. We’re donating all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood, Border Angels and ACLU.

It's also an opportunity to bring together everyone on the label, and a lot of people who haven’t been able to present their work as a part of the label yet.

A lot of people in our community [restoring] self-love and confidence in themselves, in their voice, and what they’re doing right now. To be able to prepare for the next step in what we all need to do in terms of artists being able to come together and speak their mind against what’s happening.

It’s a sad tragedy with a lot of things that are happening right now too, such as Oakland. A lot of people say in times like this, it’s the artist’s voice that is being suppressed by these powers. It’s already happening from incidents like that where all these spaces are starting to be closed [as a reaction]. It’s an important time for us to come together.

FP: I want to go back to what you were talking about in terms of community. You guys have a very specific community. Maybe a little Internet. I just thought it was interesting that you mentioned that you’ve kind of used your platform as a way to bolster the community that you’ve created. I just wanted to ask, can you describe or explain who’s apart of the label? What is this community that you’re really working with?

We [have] the SoundCloud community and all that right now, or we did. But now it’s been bought out. You go on there and the top promoted track song is “Goldman Sach’s Speech”...

Meishi Smile, on Internet spaces


MS: Another interesting thing that I guess you can say comes with this space after the election, is that Zoom Lens has always perhaps been considered a sort of digital label.

[Zoom Lens takes] a lot of cues from netlabels. Netlabels being something that really proliferated in Japan as a response to a lot of mainstream record labels. Trying to do something a bit more DIY, something more within the vein of their own sort of vision, and to that extent, it’s a very punk way to approach the turn of digital music.

So when people began creating that in the Untied States as well, as the Internet first started being born and people were able to share music like that - it’s kind of in a weird place now because I think the Internet is becoming a lot less liberated and a lot of the online spaces are now being co-opted.

We [have] the SoundCloud community and all that right now, or we did. But now it’s been bought out. You go on there and the top promoted track song is “Goldman Sach’s Speech” or something like that. It’s really weird to see that kind of stuff.

It’s like online music used to be a little more special, now everybody kind of has the ability to be on there. Which is a good thing as well, but it also sort of allows other people outside of it to begin to infiltrate it and change it into something that it really wasn’t before.




Goldman Sachs Promoted Track on SoundCloud



Thought Tempo: The whole scene is evolving and that is a natural thing that is gonna happen, but I feel the way Zoom Lens fits into that is considered the same ethos that we had 5, 6 years ago when we were coming out together as people.

Things started off the ground. How it relates to things now and all the current events, I think it’s more of a time than ever for that community feeling to come together and solidify. [We’re reflecting on] how this naturally came together in the first place.

The collective is really like a family at this point. It's a part of this community, and it’s a really great feeling, and given how fucked up the past few months have been, it’s nice that we can come together and that we can do something and really show how we feel.

FP: So you guys are also a gang of individuals, not only online, but also in California and in Los Angeles. How did you guys all meet? I only now know 4 or 5 people. How many people are in Los Angeles? Because while you guys also occupy an interesting space on the Internet, you have your own presence in LA and you have the community here as well.

MS: I think the LA roster has sort of been a natural process. I’ve been friends with Plaster Cast since high school and Thought Tempo, who is his cousin, I actually met through-

TT: That’s not true. What’s a blood test, anyway?

MS: We met on New Years.

TT: So Meishi Smile doesn’t remember this actually, but the first time I ever met them was at Hogue Barmichaels, and you guys were playing that show.

MS: It’s a really crummy venue where promoters exploit high school students who are trying to make music [by] making you sell tickets.

TT: I was 14, I think?

MS: That’s when Sean first saw me.

FP: Sounds like most promoters, to be honest.

MS: Yeah, I guess that continues even now.




Meishi Smile & Thought Tempo at KCHUNG Radio


TT: It wasn’t until New Years of 2010 when we were at my cousin’s house, and Meishi Smile, and Plaster, my cousin, were at the same place that I was at.

We just kind of got together that night, and I think we played some KoRn and Aphex Twin on the piano, and kind of had a big comradery till the [New Year’s Ball].

I think before the clock struck 12, or was it after 12? I don’t know if it was the new year or the old year, but we all got together and played some tracks and everything just sort of grew from there.

So that’s how we got together. It’s just been kind of growing since then, and not just the LA scene, there’s so many artists all across the world.

FP: You guys really maintain a strong presence of that. You just toured Japan, Meishi?

 



LLLL & Meishi Smile Perform Together at WWW X in Shibuya, Tokyo



MS: Yeah, just mostly through Tokyo and Fukuoka. I would say [it is] hard to condense things down, but it was an inspiring experience to reconnect with a lot of Zoom Lens out there because I haven’t been there for 2 1/2 years.

If you still want to give an optimistic look on the Internet-side of Zoom Lens, there’s a lot of people there who are a part of the label that were still waiting for us to come back, and for us to join up again and still really believed in it.

It once again reinstates the power of being able to connect to people no matter the physical distance. But also, after everything lately, I feel like Zoom Lens’ place is to be here in America right now. There's a lot of things that the artists here are experiencing where we need to stand our ground about everything that is happening. But that is also something that does effect other people around the world of course.

So a part of the compilation too is that we had some people like Yoshino Yoshikawa from Japan and Moon Mask from the Philippines who wanted to speak on that, and that solidarity. Everyone on the label is very politically aware and aware of each others emotions. I think everyone sympathizes with each other and puts their voice alongside the message.

 

Fair Play Remains - Artwork by Hannah Rose Stewart


FP: I find that really interesting, because especially with what we do over at Fair Play, it seems like [with all the] amount of different networks that you can be a part of and foster, I find myself doing a lot of the same things.

Tapping into an international network of producers, usually from really weird corners of the world, like small towns, sometimes big cities. Usually in the queer or minority-race electronic music scene.

Establishing those networks, although everyone is so remote, it is very interesting to utilize the platform as a way for people to culminate and kind of have a community, even when it’s not necessarily like a physical one, which is what we’ve seen.

TT: Totally, and I feel like something for the compilation that we just put out, what’s interesting is that we’re all coming together for the same reason. We’re all sort of galvanized by the state of how everything is in the moment.

But at the same time, it’s interesting that the palette is so wide because you have all these artists that [aren’t even] from the United States. So their artistic insight is interesting because it’s a novel perspective, where as ours is from the United States. So it’s different, it’s interesting, it’s something that I’m really inspired by, personally, and I’m really proud to be apart of it and hopefully the next compilation we have will be for a more positive reason.

MS: So another track we have here is Thought Tempo’s track, so if you wanna give some insight on that?

TT: That track sucks. Fuck that track, yeah fuck it.

 

 

[Thought Tempo “Unpolished trk .4 unpolish fuk. amen. nahman” fades in]

FP: You’re listening to Fair Play and we’re in conversation with Zoom Lens. This is Thought Tempo.

TT: This track is called “Unpolished trk .4 unpolish fuk. amen. nahman.”

FP: I’m so glad we’re not an FM station.

[Thought Tempo “Unpolished trk .4 unpolish fuk. amen. nahman” ends]

FP: So before we wrap it up, I just wanna talk a little bit about pop music. I said this at the beginning, but it’s something you have on your SoundCloud page that I really resonate with.

It’s a phrase that goes along the lines of “collapsing the binary between experimental & pop music,” and I find that to be something that I really wanna do as well, and that’s what Fair Play also tries to do.

So I just wanted to talk about “pop music” and what your role in that is, and where you see your artists and Zoom Lens arriving at as pop musicians. Are they pop musicians? Am I assuming too much? What do you consider it as?




Tallinn, a Zoom Lens Artist From NY, who first alluded to the pop/experimental binary of the label



MS: The phrase was alluding to something that one of our artists said. Tallinn wrote about Plaster Cast, actually.

[Speaking of] another musician who is affiliated with Zoom Lens, I was talking to Gus from Kero Kero Bonito, maybe about 2 years ago when KKB had just started to play shows, and someone came up to him after a show and said “Oh, it was really great what you did tonight. It was really great that you played pop music.” And that kind of struck him as odd.

Since when did it become brave to perform pop music? And with that sentiment, I started thinking “what are people equating musically & emotionally to pop music now?”

I would say personally, Meishi Smile is like a pop project. I feel like where I came from first creating noise music, which is something very exuberant, very fabricated, in a sense, you’re trying to put on a certain idealism of yourself, similar to pop.

To that extent, mainstream pop is always going to be based upon what people in the underground are doing as well. So I think it’s easy to say that all music is inherently pop music. I think that I’m attracted to the artists on Zoom Lens because of their sense of authenticity, and their sense of being very open about their emotions and being very unafraid to directly express who they are. So to me, pop music is a philosophy that I’m reclaiming with Zoom Lens.

 

I’d like to call it pop music because we’re trying to break down the separation of saying something that is more “experimental” or “strange” is less than a different genre of music.

Meishi Smile, on Zoom Lens being "pop"


FP: It's very interesting that someone approached [Gus and said] “that’s really bold that you’re doing this.”

Extending off that a little more, the people who kind of perform pop music now, I feel like in some ways it fits a very standard sonic mold. All the songs sound homogeneous and they’re produced by the same writer. Then the people who perform it, they look a certain way too, or there’s a certain identity mold as well. Sort of like a sonic mold that kind of comes into the general sphere of Top 40 pop music, or what people consider to be mainstream pop music.

It was really interesting because I feel like a lot of the artists that I work with, and maybe you see yourself doing the same thing, is that they don’t necessarily always fit that mold, [even] physically sometimes. They may not “look” like a pop star, and also maybe their music doesn’t as well.

It is also really bold to consider that music to be pop music, and to consider it something that you can play and it’s supposed to be something that’s intended for a wide audience.

MS: It's reclaiming what the identity is of pop music, and music that should be more readily consumable and accepted by the masses. I feel like we are all trying to say very important things, that unfortunately, having to go through the avenues of certain publications, or certain venues, etc., that voice is stifled a lot.

Going back to the ethos of Zoom Lens and Love Without Domination. It’s trying to take a lot of what most people would consider to be as “marginalized” voices, and trying to put that into a place where you have all those together to create something that’s bigger than the sum of what society places those people as.

So in that sense, I’d like to call it pop music because we’re trying to break down the separation of saying something that is more “experimental” or “strange” is less than a different genre of music.

FP: Totally. I actually want to take this time to talk about your performance and the first time that I saw you play live in LA. It was actually at that Kero Kero Bonito show, I believe.

It was really interesting because when I saw Meishi Smile play, there was a huge crowd there. It was a packed house, I think the show was sold-out as you were opening for Kero Kero Bonito, and I found it very interesting. The music that you played was all over the place. It wasn’t just “beats,” - you had noise, you were screaming, you were playing super distorted stuff, you were playing some more happy stuff, or melancholic.

It was a great set, but it was also extremely all over the place, and I found that really interesting because it seemed like whatever you did, the crowd just really liked it. They accepted your performance.

It was jarring for me, but I think the jarring nature of it was something that made it more exciting and it made more kind of interesting, even though the show was sort of like a “pop music” show - Kero Kero’s music is very playful, and very fun, and I thought it was interesting that you were even opening for them. The audience really received that and really engaged with that, and it was a very dynamic and a great performance all around.

 

Meishi Smile's LA Performance, Closing With "Belong"

MS: Yeah, I was pretty surprised back then about the reception as well. The nature of Meishi Smile’s performance is a lot of that which I derive from my identity.

I feel like to express only one format of music doesn’t necessarily fit what I want to express emotionally, so I feel that it has to have that sense of duality of not just being very abrasive, but also having [its] more dance-y, accessible, pop-moments as well.

So I think when you combine those two, it leaves this door open for other people to be able to join in. To people who might not like experimental music. To people who might not like purely pop music. They’ll be able to find a middle-ground in that, and that’s why Zoom Lens is trying to be musically diverse as well. Not to completely reduce it down to this, but I think it would be a little "boring" if it was just focused on one genre of music.

I think the point is that we’re trying to have this place where people are very able to explore why they like music, not limited to a genre, but how people emotionally react to it, which can allow them to be open to different things.

TT: It’s always nice when you go to a show and you have two performers who are playing back-to-back and they come from completely different places. It sort of refreshes the palette, and I feel like the demographic and the fans that come out to a KKB show and a Meishi Smile show are open-minded enough to enjoy that.

I remember that show, it was actually a great show. It was sort of like a spa. You know when you go to a spa or a steam room? When you go to a steam, they [also] have an ice room. You ever do that? It feels good. So sometimes [it’s] that juxtaposition. I was creatively galvanized by that show. Like I had to go to a spa to figure it out [and ask] “why do I feel this way?” And it wasn’t till I stepped out of that steam room that I realized, “of course! It makes sense… It makes sense….. It makes sense.”




Doji at KCHUNG Radio


FP: I want to also talk about what you said about artists and their authenticity.

I feel in a lot of the “avant-garde” type music scenes, is that more often than not, there’s a disjunction in-between the practice and how authentic it is.

I think that music, at least a lot of the music I listen to, is extremely conceptual. I think even though it really has that sort of appeal, having that approach of just presenting your authentic self, rather than like an “icy” sort-of just hatched, conceptual artist, [which there is a space for], that overwhelms a lot of really great music at the forefront.

It seems that sometimes I feel the intentions and the meaning of the music can sometimes get really abstracted, at least from what my observations have been. They don’t necessarily always feel personal, I feel like in that connection you can establish.

Going back to Doji’s performance.

[Turns to Doji]

I really liked what you did. It was super personal and it was great, and I feel that type of influence is definitely a testament to having these amazing lyrics and a great kind of sound that is sometimes lost in more “avant-garde” or whatever that means. I hate that word [laughs].

...we lit it on fire. He pissed on it. I pissed on it. Everyone started shitting on it. Yeah, it was wild. Then these homeless people from outside came in, and then they had sex on it.

Thought Tempo, on performing his first noise show


MS: My personal background is coming from a lot of “experimental,” harsh noise, and power-electronics kind of scenes. That was pretty big in Orange County for awhile and they had an annual noise fest in Santa Ana, and Thought Tempo collaborated with me on a few of those shows too.

TT: That was a fun show. Let’s talk about that show.

MS: I think you have a better “lore” about it.

TT: I could never forget that show. It was me, Meishi, Plaster Cast, liquid sunshine. Who else was there? A couple of other people, I can’t really pin my mind on it.

I had never played in a noise show before, so I didn’t bring any earbuds. That didn’t end well because I couldn’t hear anything afterwards. But it was great, I think we were just slamming down music, and after the first 20 minutes it kind of became a sort of, not to sound tripe, but it was a sort of spiritual thing.

It wasn’t till Meishi took out some CDs from some bands that we didn’t like, and some DVDs from some directors and actors we didn’t like, and I think we threw them into a big pile? Then we pissed on it, and then we lit it on fire. He pissed on it. I pissed on it. Everyone started shitting on it. Yeah, it was wild. Then these homeless people from outside came in, and then they had sex on it.




Yuko Imada, Meishi Smile's Former Noise Project, Performing in 2010


FP: Whoa! Harsh noise.

TT: Yeah, it was a noise show. Tons of fun.

FP: I have to go. That sounds really interesting, and this was in Orange County too?

TT: Yeah, Santa Ana, right? That’s EXACTLY what happened. Isn’t that exactly what happened?

MS: Yeah, exactly.

[Everyone laughs]

FP: Is that really what happened, though?

[Everyone continues to laugh]

FP: I almost can’t believe it now that you’re all laughing.

TT: If my memory serves me correctly…

MS: Yeah, if my memory based off Sean’s memory is-

FP: So that is actually what happened?

TT: There’s actually a YouTube video of it. Online. You can check it out.

FP: Are you being serious? I have to watch that video, wow.

 



Yuko Imada Performing at Santa Ana Noise Fest (2011)


MS: Yeah, so a lot of people in that scene were pretty close-minded though. They’d say - “because we’re into experimental music, because we’re into ‘avant-garde’ music, we are very open-minded towards everything.”

So there was a certain point where it felt very stagnating, and I showed them a lot of what I was working on at the time, and they’d say “you can’t make music like that.”

Like you can’t incorporate pop music into what you’re doing because that’s something you’d “play on the radio.” This struck me as very strange being a part of an "avant-garde" scene, but not wanting to incorporate other sort of genres or emotions into it, and it was sort of like what you said. It was based more off a conceptual…

FP: …detached idea?

MS: Yeah, the way people would portray “violence” or very visceral emotions, there was never any love in it. It sort of felt like it was more to serve a purpose just to simply shock people, and not to really express something that was connected to themselves, in a sense.

TT: Which is really unfortunate that it was like that, you know?

MS: Because the shitting was real.

TT: The shitting was real. The missing toilet paper - real. There was nothing there. So we were gonna use the music. We use the music to cleanse ourselves.

FP: Do you have anything else you guys would like to add at all?

TT: Thank you for having us, I love you.

MS: Comrade(s) would like to take the floor.

Comrade(s) & Fair Play Set Up For Performance


Comrade(s): I didn’t get to mention this before my set, but my set [was dedicated to] the growing anxiety I’ve had since this election.

[This] sort of bleak future and [the] very disturbing future my parents have, and every immigrant has ahead of us, as well as to my brothers and sisters who are enslaved by profiting prisons and put into an unjust system.

The fear that I see in my students eyes because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them or their families.

To the reoccurring nightmares of seeing my father die, and realizing that might be a reality with the current situations that we have in America, especially with the amplified voice and normalization of white supremacy, as well as anyone who feels like their existence is put into grave danger because of the recent events - and all of that went out to [the listeners].

FP: Thanks everyone. That was Zoom Lens - Meishi Smile, Thought Tempo, Doji and Comrade(s). All really great music, and I definitely recommend checking it all out. They do awesome music. It’s very hard to describe other than to say “awesome,” but it’s very awesome [laughs]. Doji, also. That performance was really great, and the new compilation, Love Without Domination.

Please donate, and again, you’re listening to Fair Play. We’re gonna close it out with Plaster Cast.