Interview with False Witness

Originally printed in Issue 20
Portrait by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.
Interview by Claire Milbrath

False Witness, aka producer Marco Gomez, is a force of chaotic good in the underground club landscape. In step with the socio-political environment that produced techno and dance culture, Gomez’s music functions as a response to the highly charged political atmosphere in which we live—it is musical armour for anxious and futile times, embracing dark, manic energies. In all the ways reactionary art has let us down, False Witness prevails. Hyper-masculine, almost physically imposing, the music of False Witness shocks and incites dancefloors worldwide. Despite accusations that Gomez is a cynic, I believe they present a “cruel optimism,” affirmed in the title of a track they released this year. Also an art writer, I talked to Gomez about the state of the art world and the shortcomings of escapism.

Your music is anti-escapist, opting instead to go into the eye of the storm. On bad days, it gives me strength. Would you say your practice is therapeutic?

It has to be. I’ve been told that my reflections on art and music come off as really cynical. I don’t believe in divorcing art production from the reality of our world for the sake of utopic values we can’t ever uphold.

Nick Scavo’s piece on worldbuilding from a year ago (“2018: Against Worldbuilding,” published by TMT) deeply resonated with me, in that we need to stop prescribing new worlds to escape into in lieu of actually rebuilding a better world. I believe in holistic therapies and restorative justice; looking at our problems as systemic issues. Music is a part of that. I make music from this POV, I always have, even if I didn’t have the terminology for it years ago. I was introduced to Nina Simone in my early 20s when I learned how to DJ and make music, and this quote came with it: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

Derrick May said that techno was a response to the “ugly mess” in Detroit. UK rave culture was born out of Thatcher’s right-wing agenda. Is dance culture still a reflection of our economic and political destitution, as it was at its inception?

Again, my cynicism comes to the forefront. I don’t know how long after Derrick’s concept of techno, or how long after the UK’s summer of Love 88, it was before “dance culture” morphed into capital. I imagine fairly quickly, almost instantaneously. That’s what happens to art. We can only hope that techno, or art in general, retains something to reflect on and gives us meaning after its commodification.

Do you consider your music a call to action?

If it inspires you to dance, make more music, or emote, sure. I’m dubious, or would be very concerned about it calling any other kinds of actions. I hope my music is the background noise of a revolution, or a workout, or sex. That’d be great.

What about camp and shock value? Are these even viable now that we live in this era of post- irony and overstimulation?

I think it’s funny how music and art oscillates between what we consider camp—maximal, overstimulating—and what’s minimal, progressive, and subdued. Art feels very subdued lately, like any grand gestures are tacky or in bad taste. The art world dreads bad taste. God forbid anyone have anything truly transgressive to say, or make something one standard deviation below what’s considered “good art.” No wonder everyone is bored.

I think a lot of discourse around shock value is just a facade for racism or misogyny. Richard Prince comes to mind. I don’t want to walk into something and think, “you jerk.” Being an asshole isn’t stimulating, it’s exhausting.

The last few shows I’ve seen in Berlin and New York have been muted: narratives are implied, everything is very self-referential. Art still seems preoccupied with wanting to get away with something, in a Warholian sense. For the average white Blue Chip artist, this just means some combination of racism, misogyny, and basic art tropes. Meanwhile, in techno music at least, trance music is having this big revival. I’m a big fan of it too, I always have been, since I was younger. Trance is considered ultra-emotive, kitsch even, with its melodies and chord progressions. Trance is real camp, and I love it. It’s a bold slap in the face to the last 20 years of minimal techno. The arbiters of American good-taste will fight me to the end on this, but I welcome the drama.

My old roommate back in New York also did an article for Artforum about John Waters, the master of camp aesthetics. What I liked about that piece was that it illuminates how camp is amorphous, it’s whatever goes against the grain. Sleaziness and shock value are qualities that operate against the conservative values of the time, so there’s always space for it. ContraPoints on YouTube also has this quality to her videos, and I think it’s a total compliment and she should embrace it. It speaks to her great taste. Her latest video on opulence is just fab. However, what I don’t care for is a troll type DJ set. Don’t troll my good time.

What’s your take on the state of the art world right now?

Worldbuilding is the wave, but I’m not here for it. I like gloss but I also like the real. Carol Bove does a good job at this.

What kind of art endures?

I hope none of it endures, burn it all down and dance around the fire. Then make new art on top of the ash, or not.

What does the future look like to you?

A bigot’s worst nightmare. Perpetual revolution. A borderless Earth.

Listen to False Witness’ mix for Editorial below: