PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 14
INTERVIEW BY WHITNEY MALLETT
PHOTO BY LUIS NIETO DICKENS
Mykki Blanco and his Dogfood crew threw an intimate summer solstice party in LA’s Chinatown on the longest night of the year. During someone else’s set, I watched Mykki aka Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., shut a door so it wasn’t swinging into a wing of the small but writhing crowd that had packed the gallery space. It was a subtle gesture which, to use a cliche, spoke volumes. Mykki has a way that’s idealistic without being naive, smart without being pretentious, and it bleeds into the plans for his new project, a label called Dogfood Music Group, set to release its first album C-ORE September 18, featuring three songs each by three artists chosen by Mykki, PsychoEgyptian, Violence, and Yves Tumor, plus one Mykki Blanco track.
I caught up with Mykki about it all when he was visiting family in North Carolina. Our conversation came on the heels of another late-night one I had that revealed to me the system of debt and tight contracts a lot of my friends are in with mid-level indie labels. In contrast to the sneaky business practices that pervade the industry, Mykki’s approach to Dogfood MG is refreshing; prioritizing community-building and really aspiring to give a platform to emerging artists.
What’s the thread between all of the music on this group album?
The record feels dystopian. There’s an insanely rebellious thread that runs through it, and I also feel like there’s almost this sense of “fuck you” to the whole entire thing. I think that people who are into that kind of music are going to like it. Production wise: people that appreciate good production as well as lo-fi production are going to be super into it because some of the songs are so complex. I think lyrically PsychoEgyptian and Violence, their tracks stand but Rahel Ali as Yves Tumor, he authors these really insanely harsh noise ballads. But it’s not just noise for noise’s sake. You start to listen and you realize there’s this growing syncopation and percussion and then he completely switches gears and produces a track that’s really steely and cool and almost like a swan song. I didn’t put them together on a release for no reason. I think when people listen to it they will hear the cohesion. Rahel is actually the one who executive produced it. He chose the track order and chose the interludes to put into it.
What motivated you to start a label?
Honestly it started as a way for us to be able to go on tour together. I had gone on tour with PsychoEgyptian who is Devin Cuthbertson in 2013. And it was such an awesome experience having him and boychild and my DJ Larry B. We had built this reputation as this complete almost cabaret. Then in 2014 I kind of continued that and went on a huge Asian tour with Rahel Ali who goes by Yves Tumor. And Rahel actually introduced me to the music of Palmtrees. I was scheduled to do another Asian tour and was going to bring Rahel and Palmtrees with me but I shifted gears and realized the better idea wouldn’t be to bring them as openers on a Mykki Blanco bill but for us to do something completely original.
I had gotten signed to !K7 records, who are based in London and Berlin, and one of the things that !K7 and I had agreed upon in my contract was that if I ever wanted to start my own label that they would be supportive of that. At the time that was mentioned, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I was focusing on my own art and writing, but then about three or four months later when I was thinking about doing some kind of group project I remembered that this was a part of my contract.
Dogfood Music Group is going to be a way for me to give attention, distribution, and exposure to really talented people that are maybe a bit more underground or not as careerist. Some of the best musicians tend to have personalities that are not very careerist. I’m literally surrounded by really talented people who maybe don’t have that desire to seek a manager. I’m excited about this first release because I think the quality and artistry of this release will attract other musicians, other producers, and other people who are doing live musical performance art, and it will bring them into the fold.
Why I specifically chose these three guys, besides the fact that we had already toured together and I knew that their music was really good, was that they each are actually really strong performers. That’s what I wanted to make the crux of Dogfood. We all know how disposable online culture is and it’s like no matter what, that live show when you actually touch someone in the audience, that is what they are going to remember.
That’s cool the label !K7 is really supportive. I’ve heard horror stories about some labels.
What they’re doing for me is they have access to label services so they’re enabling me to start my own imprint as a division of their corporation. It’s a win-win. They invest a certain amount of money in the project and we’re given a budget, but it’s not working in a way where we produce debt. What was nice is that they were able to create these deadlines and were able to facilitate a lot of the project and now we’ll go out and tour and they’ll make a percentage of the tour and eventually make the money back that they invested. And the guys and myself, our music and artistry will be recognized on a larger scale.
With Dogfood MG, let me put it like this, I haven’t signed anyone to my imprint. The idea is that if I can help people, facilitate a way for them to gain exposure through our initial working together and creating an awesome project that gets off the ground, and then we tour it, that’s good for me. And if a larger label like Sony or Interscope or XL sees one of the artists I’m working with and they say, “Oh this person is really great. We love the energy,” and they reach out to one of those artists, that’s exactly what we want. This is a way for me to work on awesome projects I believe in and want to tour with and to give back I guess [laughs] utilizing what I have as far as my organic fan base.
It’s interesting because this is the first project I’m doing with !K7 and they’re a really big entity. This is my first project not being independent, not being indie. It’s going to have a much larger reach than anything I’ve done before with Mykki Blanco, and of course when my own album comes out in 2016—because I’m recording new music all the way until November—that’s going to be my first proper studio album. So it’s interesting that I’m choosing a group project to be my first debut working with this larger label.
And was that just an organic decision to do something with a group right now? When you finished touring as much as you have in the past few years did you feel you needed to reorient?
For me personally, talking about Mykki Blanco, it was like being on the road for two and a half years, touring the world three times was fucking amazing but it was pretty gruelling. I recently revealed in the media that since I’ve had a career, a year and a half before I actually even had a career, I was diagnosed as HIV positive. I came out about it at a really important time for me because I was so tired of not having a personal life. I was so tired of not being able to meet other guys who were HIV positive or just be completely open so that people positive or negative would know immediately what they were getting into.
I also knew in the beginning I could not come out about it because it wasn’t the right time. The world was a very different place four and a half years ago, and even if I were to pump out music and to do this and to do that people would still kind of pity me. Now it’s like, guess what? This isn’t something that happened to me a month ago, it’s been before even my first music video. It’s been the whole time motherfuckers! I think that allows people to see that I’m ok, I’m healthy, I’m more than healthy. I’ve been able to endure a gruelling tour schedule and lifestyle that most people who aren’t infected with HIV can’t.
You got to control the narrative this way.
Right. I’m glad that it’s coming at a time when I’m about to have a whole bunch of new shit come out because I’m not stupid, I know that now that I’ve come out about it that, for some people, it will always be a part of my narrative. But the more that I continue to do projects and diverse projects—and I plan to pursue entertainment and acting and I’m talking to a director right now about starting a short performance film in August—it’s like can you really squeeze HIV into the story? I know how the press works. I know that you can only beat something into the ground so much.
It’s like the exact same thing when people used to describe me and Le1f as gay rappers when we first started out. People were literally like, “gay rapper, gay rap, gay rapper, gay rap.” We had to say, at what point are you going to realize that this is not what our music is about? When are you going to realize that by continuing to say that you are actually being homophobic because you are not calling our music what it actually is?
Right. It’s like so much culture reporting doesn’t realize that it’s not progressive to have a Black woman author in your newspaper or magazine if you’re only talking about the fact she’s a Black woman and not anything else. It’s like there’s this identity politics fad going on right now.
I would definitely agree with that term identity politics fad. Let me tell you, I know that some people are going to continue to attach HIV to my narrative but at a certain point if I come out with more hit singles—and that’s the plan—and more projects, it’s like if a song is a good dance song are you going to call it HIV music? HIV Punk? It can get that ridiculous.
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