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With the techno and minimal house scenes continuing to consolidate their reign over Berlin’s nightlife, one club night stood in unwavering defiance: Janus. Originated by artist-turned-producer M.E.S.H. (aka James Whipple), the night came together with the object of transcending the constraints of the “Hype, Hate, Copy” trend cycle, garnering a league of like-minded contemporaries in the form of Lotic, KaBlam and Total Freedom. Said residency is now sadly defunct, but Whipple continues to channel its spirit via his own musical endeavours – exhibit A is 2014’s Scythians EP, a singularly brilliant release treading sonic territory between grimy and glossy, as conducive to Berghain’s monstrous sound system as it is to headphone-mediated soundtracking of late-night transit. And so we called up the man himself, fully intending to discuss newly released and eagerly awaited debut full-length Piteous Gate and his attraction to the melodramatic. We emerged with both musical insight and an urgent need to re-evaluate our familial priorities.
Considering the melodrama of your new album, Piteous Gate, I’m curious as to whether this theatricality extends to your day-to-day.
Shit – that’s a good question. I guess it’s an interaction between sort of histrionic feelings, the feelings you can have in a nightclub, social anxiety and the opposite, having a dopamine rush off being with people you like or hearing good music. Maybe you feel rejected, maybe you feel horny, maybe you feel sad… these places where we experience music are places in society where we’re kind of allowed to feel these things – things you wouldn’t necessarily feel sanctioned to be able to feel in your daily life.
I don’t get the sense that you’re a particularly histrionic person.
Maybe I am mentally, but my social persona is a little bit more streamlined, I guess.
So you’re not throwing hissy fits regularly?
No, but I guess I’m maybe surrounded by people that are. Sometimes I feel like that [Laughs].
Who would you say influenced you in making the album?
That’s pretty hard, man. I mean, all my friends and the people I know that are making music right now. I mean, everyone from the Janus people like KaBlam and Lotic, to Elysia Crampton, TCF, Amnesia Scanner. Just the whole crew.
You’ve spoken before about producers making unconsidered use of samples. Do you feel a responsibility to ensure sounds are recontextualised respectfully?
Yeah, absolutely. As a DJ, I draw from so many different genres and it’s important for me to represent that with the way that I DJ. But at the same time, as an artist and music producer, I’m not really interested in quoting other people’s voices in that way. It’s more about drawing influence where I can, but trying to also stand on my own two feet and have my own point of view. I’m not gonna go release a conceptual ballroom vogue record, you know?
I mean, you could…
I definitely could. It wouldn’t be very good [Laughs]. But it’s tricky. People are so ready to demonise people and make outrage their hobby. But at the same time, it’s a really important debate. And it’s really important to be sensitive about context.
Speaking of which, I was wondering where that vocal sample, the guy with the English accent in ‘Kritikal & X’, came from.
It’s actually two professional Counterstrike players arguing on some livestreaming pro-gaming YouTube channel.
Okay. You’ve totally appropriated them, man.
Yeah, absolutely. No respect for gamer culture.
You have to stay in your lane.
I’m a shitlord.
What does [Piteous Gate track] ‘Methy Imbiß’ refer to?
Well, ‘imbiß’ is the German word for a snack bar. Berlin has all these 24-hour gambling places and snack bars and smoking bars and stuff like that. And just, the vibe of that track, I can’t even listen to it any more ’cause it hurts my head, but there’s a lot of these late-night, bright, fluorescent places still left in Berlin and it’s this really particular Berliner culture. And then methy… obviously, the feeling of coming out of a club and going into one of these places.
Right. I assumed it was, like, some meth-based snack. Tiding yourself over with some casual meth between meals. But yeah… so I was thinking, the other day, about the impact your music had had on me personally, and concluded that it’s changed a couple of things in my life.
Yeah? Let’s hear it!
First off, you broadened my perception of what club music can be, especially when I first heard Scythians. Do you intentionally challenge your audience during your live sets?
It’s funny because I find the whole thing of, like, a DJ ‘educating’ a crowd sort of pretentious. But it’s more like, when we do Janus parties in Berlin, they’re not these austere music nerd kind of things. It’s more a house-party vibe, you know what I mean? It’s less about challenging people in this boring, serious music way and more like opening up what you can do as a DJ in terms of what you’re going to allow yourself to play. But not in the sense of punishing or educating people. It’s more about an expanded palette of sounds you can draw from. That’s the way I see it with my own DJ-ing.
Yeah, the idea of, like, 50 dudes stroking their chins, shaking their heads, squinting and trying to get a glimpse of the decks is pretty unappealing.
I find that really stressful to be honest. I’m happiest if I’m DJ-ing in a club that’s a really good mix of male, female, gay, straight – just people from different backgrounds. That feels like an actual social mix, as opposed to all these dudes caught up on the music press just stroking their chins. I mean, bless those guys, they’re great, they buy albums and stuff [Laughs]. But, like, in terms of a fun party, it’s nice to go out and not know what to expect, not know who you’re going to meet, what’s going to happen to you that night.
But you’re still more than willing to exploit these nerds.
[Laughs] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I am a music nerd, I fucking obsess about things. When I get into something, I really get into it. But sometimes I kind of leave that at home when I go out, you know?
That’s the way it should be. So… back to my life. Besides broadening my musical horizons, your music’s had a direct impact on my relationships.
I played my girlfriend ‘Epithet’ the other day, and she said it made her feel like she was being shot. And my parents, when I made the mistake of playing some of your tunes to them, they shook their heads in a way that conveyed both disappointment and concern.
So, through your music I now resent some of the people closest to me. My question is: should I emancipate myself from them?
I think family and romance come before music. I think it’s important to be a good son and a good boyfriend, so you should conform to what they want you to do. For sure.
I was expecting your advice to be much more radical.
I’m pretty traditionalist, I guess.
But… they’re plebeians. You just have to say the word and it’s done, they’re a thing of the past and it’s just me and ‘Captivated’ on repeat.
There’s always the option of fucking off and then, in the middle of your life, realising everything you’ve done [wrong] and making amends with the people you were closest to and leaving my music behind.
Wow, that’s brutal. But best of both worlds, I guess.
Yeah. ‘Family first,’ says M.E.S.H. You can put that in the subhead. I have some nice stuff too, you know. It’s not all ‘Epithet’. There’s some pleasant stuff in the catalogue.
Actually, in attempting to win over people who might not necessarily gravitate naturally towards your ‘scene’, how would you have me describe your music?
Wow, that’s a hard one… But I had this idea that, for my next record, I’d write a different press release for each press outlet it’s sent out to, and then just see what people write. I’m just curious if that would force people to write about things in different ways. And then what would happen if all the reviews came out and it’s like writing about completely different music that’s actually the same music.
That’s diabolical… I read that you recorded a lot of the album in a state of isolation. True?
I wouldn’t call it isolation, I still had healthy relationships with my friends and stuff. But I guess I was going out slightly less during that period, for sure.
So you’re not, like, a hermitic misanthrope.
No, no. It’s interesting that that’s come up, ’cause I’m not a super extroverted person, but… I like people, man. I leave the house a lot [Laughs].
Leaving the house is good; people are as well. It’s good to establish you’re okay with humans, set the record straight.
All right man, that just about wraps it up on my end. Any shout-outs? Closing statements?
I’ve made enough shout-outs this time. Shout out to everyone. My mum… Yeah.
[Shouts out to M.E.S.H.’s mum.]
M.E.S.H.’s Piteous Gate is out now on PAN. He plays Discovery Festival at the Amsterdam Science Center NEMO on 25 September.