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Container: Forget What You Know About Dance Music

The king of DIY techno-noise talks his sound, his life, and making his first trip to Mexico.
July 30, 2015, 3:48pm

Container, the project from madman Ren Schofield of Providence, Rhode Island, will completely fuck up any perception you had of the dance floor. It might be because he comes from an intensely DIY background in noise music, it might be because he can’t stand being at parties, it might be because he used to live in a shack and his father was a hitchhiking carnie. Or it might just be that his approach to electronic music is absolutely genius. It is a truly outsider, truly underground take on an increasingly mainstream culture. And the results are unfuckwithable.

With a Roland MC-909 synthesizer/sequencer/sampler, 4-track cassette recorder, tapes, and some delay pedals, Container plunges his intense techno through waves of noise, distortion, and feedback. He creates a spiritual journey both live and on record, pushing our perceptions of how we can move our bodies to very strange places. I have had the pleasure of seeing Container play live many times (and had him on my radio show), and have always felt moments of utter confusion and utter ecstasy during his performances. I simultaneously want to bang my head so fucking hard, and groove my hips so fucking smooth; and somehow my body lets me do both.

In this interview we discuss bad tours, bouncing between different scenes, leaches in the music industry, and realizing maybe you should have just gone to college instead. Container is traveling south, and makes his Mexico City debut on Friday July 31. Details after the interview.

NOISEY: Can you give us a general rundown on your musical trajectory? When did you first start playing music? What projects have you been in and how has your style evolved? Particularly do you have anything to say about the transition from God Willing to Container?

Container: I started playing guitar when I was 12, drums when I was 16, and electronics when I was 17. From 2002 through 2008 I played drums in a bunch of different bands, mostly noise rock and free form style, some of them being The Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment, Dynasty, Gang Wizard, and Deep Jew. Somewhere amongst all this I started a solo project called God Willing that was based around tape noise, feedback loops, and guitar drone, and from around 2007 to 2010 this was my main project. In 2009 I started both Container and a cassette collage band called Form A Log. Form A Log remains active in spurts due to the members all living in different cities, but from 2011 on, Container has been my primary focus. And recently in addition to that I’ve been occasionally playing synth and tapes under my own name, and psychedelic lo-fi noise with a band called Pool.

What's the worst tour you've ever been on?

Wow, there’s been some rough ones. It’s funny thinking back to the first ones I ever did, with just no clue what’s going on, where like the first show would be in Chicago (a 17 hour drive from home), or we’d drive all the way to the west coast and not play a show in Los Angeles. Coming home completely broke and without a job. I’ve been on three separate tours where the vehicle died completely and was towed away and we were stranded on the side of the road with all our equipment. One tour where we didn’t figure out how to get a car until the first day of the trip. There were tours where the band would break up mid tour and a new band would form to finish the rest. Those were insane times, but fun in the moment, and my memories of them aren’t bad, it’s just in retrospect with all I’ve learned about touring since then and the way I’m touring now it seems so ridiculous.

Do you see yourself as more part of a noise scene or more part of a dance scene?

I’m more into the idea of techno than the reality of it, so usually the only time I’m ever at a techno party is if I’m playing one. I prefer being at noise shows I suppose, but really I’m just drawn to interesting weird music, genre unspecific. Container seems to be in limbo between many scenes, I’m often playing techno parties, noise shows, with rock bands, and sometimes shows where I’m the only person playing, so I don’t even know what kind of show you’d call that. It doesn’t matter! I’m happy to not be stuck in some highly specific musical world.

Why don't you like to DJ?

Basically it just doesn’t interest me and I don’t think I have anything I could bring to the table. But the idea of a really good DJ impresses me, to have such a vast knowledge of music and a sharp memory for all these specific parts and the ability to relate them to each other and create a fluid and morphing piece of music out of it all, on the spot, is quite honestly, amazing. That said, it’s just not my thing. I think being in a room with people DJing techno is maybe the most bored I’ve ever been in my life! Ideally I would like to see a DJ play to room of maybe 4 people, two couches, two people on each couch, a table with some snacks on it in the middle, a cooler full of drinks on the floor, and the DJ is off in the corner ripping a set at a volume that allows occasional conversation. I think I could appreciate it more in that setting. Part of what turns me off to it is that DJ’s are usually presented in a ‘party’ setting and they’re expected to ‘keep the party going,’ that just doesn’t appeal to me at all. I guess I just don’t like parties actually, I like shows. I want to just stand there and watch someone play music.

What's the biggest audience you've played in front of? What did it feel like?

I’m not exactly sure, but I would guess maybe a couple thousand. At those shows there tends to be a huge distance between the audience and the performer, and usually a lot of lights too, so it basically just feels like you’re alone.

What have you learned through Container?

This is a heavy question, because the answer is: a lot. Previous to this project becoming more known I was completely immersed in a very tight pocket of the US underground and I pretty much only paid attention to things directly relating to that scene. So everything I knew about how music worked, in terms of how shows are, how labels are run, and how it can be promoted, were all the ways it worked within this somewhat insular bubble. To be sucked out of this bubble and into a new world with an entirely different operating structure was a lot of things; certainly it was confusing, exciting, definitely informative, but also a bit disheartening. When I first started playing some of these bigger festivals I was really appalled by some of the blatant schmoozing and networking attempts I was witnessing. It was just this awkward sea of journalists and promoters and label owners and artists all trying to get on each others good side in this transparent manner that wouldn’t have been tolerated in the culture I was used to. I started to see the formula of how music is treated and popularized in the internet and festival world take shape, and realizing that an artist’s success within this world depended mostly upon their associations and marketing campaigns was a gross fact to confront, both because that was just how it worked and also because it was actually working, people were buying into it. Apparently everyone besides me knew this had been going on all along and accepted it, but I remained blissfully ignorant to the political side of music (the industry, if you will) for a long time so being shoved into it and forced to try and make sense of it has been interesting. This is going to sound silly, but I think it’s taught me a lot about society as a whole. And on the positive tip, through Container I’ve been exposed to a lot of different music that I might not otherwise have ever known about, I’ve learned more about my own music and what I want to do with it, and it’s allowed me to travel all over to countries and cities I never would ever have thought I’d visit and am still confused by the fact that I have, which has been educational in a very assaulting way.

Are you able to make a living off music? If not, is that a goal?

Yes, for the past three years or so I’ve been able to get by just with Container related things. It’s pretty good, but there are some strange changes that go along with it. There’s definitely been some low moments where I’m like “Fuck, I wish I’d gone to college and gotten a real job”, but the high moments far outweigh them.

What is your family like? Are they into your music? Do they "get" you?

My dad quit school when he was a teenager and joined the carnival, hitchhiked around the US and Mexico in the 60’s, and drove a cab in NYC and Boston before eventually starting a freelance carpentry business. So both my parents are down with people living bizarre lifestyles and they’re into what I’m doing, but I’m not so sure they’re actually into the music necessarily.

How do you feel about your new LP?

Everything takes so long with the pressing plants these days, by the time the record comes out you’ve moved onto something else entirely, so there was enough time for me to have some second thoughts about it because a lot of the music seems old to me now, but now that its finally released I would say I’m happy with it.

What's coming up for you?

I just finished a new EP, which will be out on Diagonal Records later in the year. Now I’m going to start working on more new tracks which will eventually comprise some other type of record on some label at some point in time. My 31st birthday is coming up next month. I’m touring in Europe for a few weeks in September and October. Other than that I’ll probably just be taking it easy, relaxing up here in Providence.

Container makes his Mexico City debut on Friday July 31, playing a live set at Genesis Afterhours DJ Club with A—rp, OCCULTDANCE, Alias616, and DJs AAAA and Francisco. For the love of god, do not miss it.

Reed Dunlea never even knew what he knew about dance music in the first place.