INTERVIEW: Alex Koenig on Sand Worms, the Viper Saga, and Batdancing!

Pictured above: Nmesh fears no chemtrails!

You may know Alex Koenig as the man behind Nmesh, his musical alias for the last decade or so, that chops, and screws sound electronically in all manner of forms. He’s worn a lot of hats in his day. Starting off as a drummer in the metal scene, Koenig developed a love for electronics, specifically in how he could bend and distort music to his will, reshaping source material into something wholly original. As such, Koenig is a bit of an alchemist taking bits of Weezer or Ween and reconstituting them into nightmarish dreamscapes that defy your imagination. In addition to Nmesh, Koenig is also the man behind ZONΞ ΞATΞR, a digital morass of metal musings bit crushed into something, well, difficult to describe with any word other than brutal. Imagine if a Terminator lost at Poker, got pissed off, flipped the table, and started gatlin gunning down his opponents. On Arrakis. That’s kind of what this is. His most recent project is with the amazing Dream Catalogue label with the equally inspiring work of Telepath. You can listen to that below. We talked to Koenig about composing, his near collaboration with Viper, and Batdancing. Read on!

NN: When did you realize music was something you wanted to pursue? What was the first instrument that you played and why?

AK: I’ve been music-obsessed from the time I was a young. I suppose I made a conscious effort to pursue it when I joined my first band, sometime around 1997. My output, in some form or fashion has been consistent ever since. If you don’t count pots and pans and kazoos, then the first instrument I played was the piano, when I was six years old. I can’t remember if I chose it, or my parents kind of decided for me, but I’m thinking the latter might be the case. I took lessons for several years, and we had an upright piano in the living room, which is still there to this day. I didn’t start drumming until I was twelve years old, but that was something I was hell-bent on pursuing, without a doubt.

“I’ve been music-obsessed from the time I was a young.”

NN: Tell us your musical resume. How did Nmesh start? What about Zone Eater?

AK: Nmesh started sometime in my senior year in high school, back in 2001. I was doing these weird ambient edits of tracks from the band I was in at the time, Nemesis, in Cakewalk I think?  I was just fucking around, but it was highly addictive.  The next thing I did was make a remix EP of plunderphonic renditions of Weezer songs off their first album.  I called it “Weezer… On Acid.”  Go figure…  However, that kind of spawned what was to become my first few serious tracks.  At that point in time I was just learning the ropes of the software I was using, but it quickly became an obsession, and by the end of 2002 I had already completed two full-length records.

ZONΞ ΞATΞR, I guess you could say is my first proper side-project that doesn’t fall under the Nmesh moniker, because it’s so stylistically different – Despite using some of the same editing techniques, I feel like it falls entirely into a new genre.  I’ve done work spanning countless styles, but I still felt like most could be still lumped under one ‘electronic umbrella,’ until this idea came along. I had my own vision and theme I wanted to incorporate into the project, that being sampled-based death metal, which ultimately turns out sounding like psychedelic grindcore, revolving around sandworms… It’s totally fucking nuts, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to work on – an interesting alternative to the “normal” stuff, whatever that is.

NN: How would you describe either to anyone unfamiliar to that sort of music?

AK: See, that’s a hard one – Nmesh, that is. I think using the broad term ‘electronic’ music is a safe (and rather lazy) label, or even ‘experimental-electronic’ might be fitting.  I tend to describe my music as psychedelic, because that’s the spin / twist I put on most of my productions, but it’s a pain in the ass trying to tell someone you’ve dabbled in IDM, drum & bass, experimental, chill-out, house, industrial, glitch, breakcore, sound collage, ambient, hip-hop, and have now been pigeonholed as a vaporwave artist for the past 3 years. It’s exhausting. Describing ZONΞ ΞATΞR is relatively easy, cos I can be like “It’s sample-based, chopped & screwed death metal with a sandworm theme”.  Cue the puzzled looks on faces when I tell someone that.

NN: How do you split your attention between the two? When composing, do you need to get warmed up when starting one project or another?

AK: It all depends on what mood I’m in, and more importantly what deadlines I’m looking at. Nmesh is my main project, and probably always will be, so that takes up most of my time. I’ve only released a 5-track EP with ZONΞ ΞATΞR so far, although that’s about to change in the near future. But to better answer the question, for instance, up until the time of this interview, I’ve been strapped for ‘free’ time because of DJ mixes and collaborative projects (I’ve been in high demand this year) and I can feel myself getting a little burnt out – hence, why I’m so gung-ho to revive ZONΞ ΞATΞR again for 2016. It’s a nice break away from the usual, and since I’m not tied to a label yet, I can work on it at my leisure.

I’ve got plans to put out a split full-length with §E▲ ▓F D▓G§, who is best known for coining the micro-genre ‘ocean grunge’ – which applies some of the same basic vaporwave techniques, but uses a mix of 90’s grunge or power metal as the main sample source, and then completely douses everything in loads of delay, reverb, and water ambience – almost resulting in a wall-of-noise effect.  What’s also nice about ZΞ is, you know I come from a background of playing in metal bands, and still hold a soft spot for it in my heart, so this is a good exercise in getting some of that urge out of my system without actually having to form or join a band – not to mention, I’m in complete control of the outcome, which is always a beautiful thing.

NN: Relative to that, how do you balance parenthood (and the requisite responsibilities therein) and creative output?

AK: It’s been tough, and there have been a lot of sacrifices made, but it’s totally worth it in the end. I’ve always had difficulty adjusting as far as my free time dwindling away because of other responsibilities, and changing my routine in general. It’s like an uphill battle for a long time where I get bitter and frustrated, but eventually I figure out how much I’m still capable of managing, and I just have to make it work. When I do find the time, it’s all about making it count and trying not to fuck around on things that aren’t worth fucking around on in the long run.

“I might come off like a faceless product of the internet in the URL world, but I’m really just a 31-year-old “goober” (as my best friend likes to say) who’s happy to be able to come home to a house full of sweet smiles, and the occasional explosive diaper.”

Right now, I’ve figured out that the best time for me to get work done is after everyone else hits the hay, which gives me a couple hours if I’m lucky on the average weeknight. It’s become pretty typical to put on a half-pot of coffee around 11 pm. My wife understands the need for my creative output, which I’m very appreciative of.  Sometimes it feels like I’m leading two very different lives. I might come off like a faceless product of the internet in the URL world, but I’m really just a 31-year-old “goober” (as my best friend likes to say) who’s happy to be able to come home to a house full of sweet smiles, and the occasional explosive diaper.

NN: How did you get involved with Dream Catalogue?

AK: I started talking to HKE (ex-Hong Kong Express, co-owner of Dream Catalogue) sometime shortly after the conception of the label back in early 2014.  I was really digging his music, and even made the suggestion that he submit something to The Future Sound Of London’s label, FSOLdigital (not knowing what kind of powerhouse that Dream Catalogue was destined to become over the next couple years).  He kindly offered to release one of my albums on DC at some point in the future, if was ever freed up to do so.  I had followed HKE’s music regularly, and I was already an avid fan of the label’s co-owner t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, who I did the split LP “ロストエデンへのパス” with this year.

t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 started releasing music independently sometime in 2013 I think, and was pumping out gem after gem.  I was enthralled with the beauty of his work (which, if you haven’t heard before, is very ambient in nature).  He’s a real quiet guy and secretive of his identity, which I totally respect. We started going back and forth, and it turned out he was a fan of my work as well. Over the course of the year we discussed the possibility of doing some sort of collaborative effort, an idea we were both really into. Luckily we were both able to work it into our schedules, and a split LP came into fruition. Dream Catalogue was the natural label choice to release it on, especially since this was an idea discussed between the three of us from the very get-go. I guess you could also say I got my foot in the door earlier in the year when I contributed a track to their massive “Eternal Dream System” double-cassette compilation.

NN: Tell us about your work as a producer. How did you get involved working with local hip-hop? Are those mercenary jobs for you, or do you have to be engaged in the material to collaborate?

AK: Despite the occasional guest vocals on my own hip-hop tracks, I legitimately got involved in the Louisville hip-hop scene in 2011/2012 when I approached Lamar Kendrick (aka Kogan Dumb) about doing some tracks for his group Bird Zoo – who at the time were going under the name Triple B, or Broken Bottle Brigade. Lamar was a visual arts classmate of mine, all four years of high school at DuPont Manual. I remember watching one of his videos with Jas, “Rowtundow” and thought, man, this is so good… It was dark and gritty, which is right up my alley.

I’ve listened to a lot of Anti-Pop Consortium over the years, and so I have this strong urge to want to get experimental in my hip-hop productions, and I thought I could really work some magic with these guys. I did a couple tracks for them, and then wound up engineering almost the entirety of their Body 10 record. It took us a solid year to finish. I didn’t work on much else in 2012. That was my first real experience devoting so much time to someone else’s project. First time it’s ever really felt like a job. I had them in the studio working with me a lot the time, which always made for a drunken or stoned, but productive good time. Hopefully that wasn’t a one-off kind of deal, cos I’d like to be able to do some future production for those guys. I absolutely love what they’re doing, and how the local scene has really come together as a force to be reckoned with in the past few years. I’ve also worked with Touch A.C. and Filthy Rich on some remixes, those guys are incredibly talented as well. Dundiff and I have discussed possibly working together on something next year.

NN: What can you tell us about your brush with Viper?

AK: This was the most disappointing outcome in music for me this year… If anyone’s not familiar with Viper, he’s an eccentric rapper based out of Houston who gained a lot of notoriety for his 2012 album “You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack,” along with the fact that he’s put out somewhere along the lines of 900 mixtapes in the span of his career. If you spend any time on the internet at all, chances are you’ve heard of him. I’d always dismissed him as a joke until one day I started listening to his albums on a whim, and wound up finding an appreciation for his unconventional style. I approached him about doing some work on a track, and requested some original vocals. He asked me to PayPal him $39.

At first I was trying to decide if it would be worth the investment, so I inquired about it on Facebook, and within minutes I had fans PayPaling me the funds because apparently this had to happen. So I sent Viper his $39 and said “let’s do this.” Thus began the great ‘Viper Vocal Saga Of 2015’ in which it took him literally four months to send me something. I started messaging him frequent reminders after a month or two, and it was always met with “Remind me tomorrow, fam”, or else some unreadable jargon. I kept the fans and donors posted on the progress (or lack-there-of) because after a while, his flaky behavior and the pursuit of these vocals became comical. Eventually he got everything to me, and I immediately started working on what would become this glitched out epic 10-minute Viper track, that to my ears, sounded unlike anything else that previously had his name attached to it. I had a boatload of special guest remixers onboard as well. Ian Klarer (another visual arts classmate of mine) was going to be doing original artwork for the cover, after having just finished the official Run The Jewels tour poster. So it was gearing up to be a massive release, instead of just a single collab track as originally planned.

“Separating the art from the artist is not always an easy thing to do.”

Unfortunately, in the coming weeks, said rapper began uploading some really tasteless and questionable video footage to YouTube that had me trying to decide whether or not it would be wise to continue to involve myself with him. It’s one thing when he’s got a reputation for being a scammer and having this bogus real estate business – to his internet fan base, it just adds to his appeal, and is part of what makes this guy such a whack job – but he crossed a line that painted a rather creepy picture, and I didn’t care to associate with that.  Separating the art from the artist is not always an easy thing to do, and so I decided to axe the project. It was met with disappointment, but everyone seemed to be very supportive and understanding of my decision. A couple weeks later, one of the remixers uploaded his rendition of the track, and so I caved and ‘leaked’ the demos, posting it for those who made the original donations as a way of saying thanks for the support. All in all, the whole ordeal served as a reminder that sometimes shit’s going to happen that’s out of my control. What can I do, but just move on…

NN: Does a recorded piece of work need to be reproducible live?

AK: Not in my case. I don’t play live shows, or at least I don’t anymore. Nmesh is 99.9% a studio project, for a number of reasons – mainly because I don’t have the means to recreate the amount of detail that goes into my recorded pieces in a live manner. On top of that, I have a limited amount of hardware. I’ve never seen myself as the kind of guy to get up on stage and poke around on a lap-top. That’s not entertainment to me, and it seems a bit sad. I’m much more comfortable behind the scenes. So, long story short – do I think my recorded pieces need to be reproducible live? Absolutely not, and they probably never will be.

NN: How important is a good live show? For that matter, what constitutes a good show and why?

AK: Something entertaining on an audible level doesn’t always translate to the stage well, as I sort of mentioned, and vice versa.  For me, a good show involves putting some passion into the performance, and if you’re not the showman-type, than I think some good visuals should be in order. I’ve attended shows with shitty bands that had a really strong stage presence, and I’ve attended shows with incredible musicians who are about as interesting to watch as paint dry. I feel like if you’re lacking on both sides of the street, it might be time to rethink your live show.

Reminds me, I recently attended an Autechre show in Chicago, and they performed in total darkness – a “blackout” show, if you will. All there was to see your own hands in front of your face was the dim backlight of the exit signs. There wasn’t a semblance of life on that stage, only the faint LED glow of some of their equipment – but no doubt they were there, and they killed it. Plus, I think that’s a really cool and abstract concept. All that you’re left with is the pounding bass and bat shit insane sound design to penetrate your brain and ears.  That was an incredible experience.

NN: Why do you think anyone has any animosity towards music created digitally?

AK: Not sure. Maybe there’s a mentality with a certain uneducated older generation that, if you can’t pick it up and play it in a traditional sense, then it’s not ‘real’ or there’s no talent involved. Like, all any electronic musician is doing is pushing some buttons, and voila, you’ve got music.

NN: How good do you think you can Batdance? How often do you think about Batdancing?

AK: What’s a Batdance? I’m thinking about it now, and scratching my head. Google doesn’t even want to tell me what that is.

“What’s a Batdance? I’m thinking about it now, and scratching my head. Google doesn’t even want to tell me what that is.”

NN: Who would you identify as your number one musical enemy and why?

AK: This dude Pootertoots on Soundcloud is a total turd. Fuck that guy.

NN: What non-musical things have gotten you excited lately and why? Read, watched, eaten, or drank anything interesting lately?

AK: My 9-month old has me excited on a daily basis. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing her big cheesy grin and watching her progress and turn into a little human being with a personality. No time to read (that sounds horribly sad, I realize), but I am able to squeeze in a little bit of television with the wife most nights. We recently finished all of Madmen – that was a great show, and I was pleasantly surprised with how it left off.  I was previously a bit jaded about picking up any new shows after Dexter’s WTF lumberjack ending. (Spoiler alert?) Anxiously waiting for Game Of Thrones to come back on, as well as for Walking Dead to pick back up.  Seen a lot of good movies, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head other than the newest Mad Max. Drinking a variety of good bourbon, working on developing an appreciation for scotch. Continuing to keep Pabst Blue Ribbon in business.

NN: What have you been listening to lately and why?

AK: I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time this year trying to keep up with all the new Bandcamp releases from my peers, which is hard to do when I’m typically collecting more albums on a daily basis than I am knocking them off the to-listen list. Still making my way through James Ferraro’s massive CDr back catalog, which is quite a project in itself – There’s infinite lo-fi multiverses to explore.  I spent a lot of time at the top of the of year enjoying Aphex Twin’s data dump of old tunes on Soundcloud, as well as Mike Paradinas’ data dump.  The couple new LP’s that have been on repeat most have to be Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden Of Delete (Mutant Standard, holy shit) as well as Ferraro’s newest Skid Row.  Those guys can do no wrong to my ears.

Some of my other favorite albums this year are as follows:  DarksleepObviate / Death’s dynamic shroud.wmvI’ll Try Living Like This / nano神社 (✪㉨✪) + Nazo Daȯken█▓▒▒F U N S L I D E▒▒▓█ / nano神社 (✪㉨✪) – █▓▒▒F U N S T A T I O N▒▒▓█ / Julia HolterHave You In My Wilderness / Nico NiquoEpitaph / 2814 – 新しい日の誕生 / OSCOB & Digital Sex – Overgrowth / Jade Statues – Executive Towers / AFXOrphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008) / George Clanton100% Electronica / HKE & t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – Gateway アセンション” / The Future Sound Of London – Archived 8 / VAPERRORPOLYCHGROMATIC COMPILER / Bataille SolaireDolby’s ON  / Holly HerndonPlatform / Death GripsFashion Week.  I’m sure I’m leaving out a ton.