Burning for the Masses: A Conversation with Chris Martinez of Moodie Black

Moodie Black

Operating on the fringes of rap, indie and punk, Moodie Black have emerged as one of the most unique and engaging groups in modern music. Just before their tour stop in Austin at Hotel Vegas with BLXPLTN, we got the chance to sit down with Moodie Black mastermind Chris C. Martinez about the band’s influence on modern hip hop, the problem with pretenders who “put on” an aesthetic and queer representation in hip hop.

Morgan Davis for Ovrld: Moodie Black are arguably the pioneers of noiserap, which comes up a lot in online conversations about your group and the misconception that you’re “influenced by” Death Grips. Lately you’ve differentiated yourself even further from other noiserap acts by pushing yourself closer to the noise end of the equation, with new tracks like “Landgun” utilizing more vocal loops and samples than traditional rapping. Is that a conscious effort to stand out from the competition? Were there other artists that inspired you to pursue this new version of your sound?

Chris Martinez for Moodie Black: I’d consider Bomb Squad, Public Enemy, NWA and countless influences to really be the pioneers. I always say the forefathers are Dalek. As far as this new era of what we call noiserap I’d say we are definitely at the beginning along with B L A C K I E. DG and clipping came after but I still consider all of us a new evolution of rap that no one else can claim. I haven’t made conscious efforts to separate myself but it’s just a natural progression of what I’ve been doing. We have always been different from the other noiserap acts. We all have significant unique contributions.

What are your thoughts on the noiserap tag on the whole? Especially now that many of the other acts associated with it have broken up or are in limbo. Did you ever feel like it was an actual community or just a critical concept?

MB: We own noiserap.com. I’m sure I am not, but I like to think we were the first to use it regularly and brand our sound under it. I have been trying to build a community with other noise acts, particularly the ones I mentioned but no one contacts me back and everyone is doing bigger better shit.

I’ve always felt that Moodie Black were one of the best produced acts to come out of that scene. The sound has never been lo-fi, instead it seems fairer to label it maximalist anarchy. What goes into achieving that grimy, aggressive aesthetic? Was there a specific early track that established it for you or was it a gradual process?

MB: Thanks. It’s all been an accident and a lot of brutal self-criticism and growth. I’ve always wanted to make albums that sound as good as major shit like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or some of the new Kanye albums. I don’t have the resources but I like to think we get super close especially for our limited means.

The new material you’ve been teasing seems to showcase a heavy cinematic influence, with some of the beat fragments you’ve put up on your Soundcloud bridging the gap between John Carpenter’s innovative synth scores and noisy modern work like disasterpeace’s It Follows compositions and Trent Reznor’s work for David Fincher. Do you view Moodie Black as an extension of that minimalist horror aesthetic? It seems to get referenced in your scratchy album art and videos as well.

MB: I think I used to. Then I wondered what I was trying to portray, if it was authentic to always be this scary aggressive “shocking” thing, and it wasn’t. I stopped feeling comfortable “acting” intense for the sake of being avant garde or whatever. I think it is always part of me and part of the sound I am but I’ve been trying to be cognizant of what my message is as it pertains to how I actually feel. That gets lost a lot with performers or musicians right now and it’s super obvious when I see someone “putting on” an aesthetic. I don’t feel moved by that and I cringe at the thought of being that way.

At the same time, Moodie Black’s lyrics have a significant clever streak, particularly on classics like “Hipster Death,” where you skewer indie music tropes and criticism. What is your secret to maintaining that subtle balance between bleak and darkly humorous? Who do you consider your chief lyrical targets?

MB: The lyrics are just how I see things. I’ve always had this unique perspective on things. I can’t ever be black or white. I can’t be underground or mainstream. I can’t be a man or a woman. I’m all of these things all the time and sometimes I have issues with certain aspects and I try to be as honest and raw as possible. I say how I feel with an awareness that it may get me in trouble but I really value my integrity.

A big part of the appeal of Moodie Black has been your live shows, which utilize visual media and heavy amounts of screeching guitar. Performance has always been an issue in hip hop, where so many acts literally phone it in. What do you do to keep your live events interesting for yourselves and your fans?

MB: I just love putting on live shows. I love giving people an experience. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with performances and the feel of any sort of live show, act, or live sporting event. Pro wrestling. I absolutely love the feeling of arenas and theatres. I used to go to arenas with my mom and sneak in just because I loved the feel of being at one. I like the anticipation and excitement. So naturally I dedicate a lot of time to the live shows. I have a hand in ABSOLUTELY every aspect. From the mixes, masters of the live music transitions, visuals, arrangements, lighting. That makes the live shows really unique and they can’t be duplicated. I think people really pick up on that because it’s RARE to see live bands that can do what we do without being a major like NIN.

You’re playing in Austin with BLXPLTN, another genre-bending, noisy and rebellious act who you have played with in town before. The last time I saw you play with them was the first time they had seen you, and I remember them telling me how blown away they were by your show. Do you consider them to be a sibling act of sorts? Do you feel your philosophies are in sync?

MB: I fucking love BLXPLTN. I consider them peers and contributors to a more raw rap. They are unique and hard as fuck. I admire and feel very aligned with what they represent, that’s why I can’t wait to play with then again. Been way too long.

How has the response been to this current tour? Have you made any new discoveries with opening acts?

MB: The response has been amazing. For whatever reason I think the material is resonating more than ever with the casual audience. It’s more and more rare to find openers that inspire me. The ones that do, I usually become friends with because they are cool as fuck. Newer groups I like have been our friends belly belt and Coolzey. I like performers and entertainers. A lot of acts we play with these days are usually alright but it’s always about being loud and acting like they are artsy. No disrespect but I can see right through that and it doesn’t inspire me. As far as rap support it’s the same thing.

You recently came out as genderqueer, and spoke eloquently and bluntly about your issues with masculinity. Although hip hop has a reputation for toxic masculinity and bigotry, it seemed like the noiserap community was generally supportive, and it’s interesting that one of its other pioneers, BLACKIE, is similarly open about gender fluidity. Do you hope other figures in the hip hop scene will follow your lead and be more open? Do you feel the community is more supportive in even just the past couple years than it was five or ten years ago?

MB: Yeah. I identify as trans femme. Aka genderfluid aka gender queer kinda non binary. I’ve been this way my entire life and that masculinity made me hide it. I have liberated myself from that because I got tired of not being fully authentic while representing being authentic. I also wanted to come out on my own terms and not have the hip hop or music community bad mouth me. That’s the unfortunate reality of the ignorance that is still heavily prevalent in hip hop and rap. It has been really interesting to see that noiserap has kind of embraced gender queer people. I actually first noticed it on Death Grips’ album art for The Money Store with the bondage and mix matched genitalia. Then I heard of people like Mykki Blanco and Lief who have more abrasive forms of rap. They really inspired me to embrace it because for the longest time I didn’t want to be known as a trans rapper. It has been a weight off my shoulders and I am really proud to not only be trans but to be a part of a music scene that does seem to represent it as a piece of rap. In a way we are revolutionizing not only the sound but all that misogyny and the perception of women within the community. I do notice it has gotten better but I also have noticed it’s become more violent. This is even more reason I feel responsible to be visible. I think there need to be many more representations of trans people than what we are traditionally used to seeing. I think we will make huge progress over the next few years and I hope to be a big part of that.

It’s been a little over a year since your last release, the MBII EP. You’ve been teasing new material on your Soundcloud, how is the process for the next release going? What can we expect from it?

I can’t believe it’s been that long. The new material on Soundcloud is really just leftover and older material that will not be in the new record. None of it really hints at the way the new album sounds. I did release lo fi versions of a track or two on podcasts and what I did preview were the slowest songs in the new shit. It’s going to be an MB pop album. Our version of a pop record.

Moodie Black play tomorrow, Saturday, May 14th at Hotel Vegas with BLXPLTN.

Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.