This article was originally published in THUMP UK
I spent my teenage years going to punk rock, hardcore and metal shows, which were both the most fun and most stifling and weird places you can grow up. Sure, you can drink your body weight in cheap cider and sniff poppers on the Barfly floor as Leftöver Crack make the walls heave, but the highs of "alternative music" aren't really that alternative, are they? Quick! Get your alternative lifestyle uniform on, the scene police are coming! It's not just peer pressure on the fans to be cooler and more holy-than-thou than the next, either. After x albums and y tours, the lifestyle for artists gets fairly rote. The crowds just want to hear your old stuff, and you end up in your late 30s, broke and miserable that 14-year-old kids complain that "you don't sound as good as you used to, bro."
Well, what do you do after comparative success in scenes like metal? You can make a terrible album about German poetry and prostitutes with Lou Reed like Metallica did, or you can do a breakneck volte-face like Iggor Cavalera. As the drummer of gargantuan Brazilian metal band Sepultura, Iggor spent the best part of his musical career thrashing it out around the world with Sepultura, as well as his brother Max's Soulfly and then their collaborative project Cavalera Conspiracy.
More recently though, he got bored of it all and started, um, making acid house with his pretty cool wife, Laima. Now signed to Boys Noize Records and getting love from Erol Alkan, their live renditions (with Iggor on drums, of course) have attracted shock and surprise from dance and metal fans alike. With our interest piqued, we caught up with Iggor and Laima about Mixhell, and grabbed a mix of theirs too.
THUMP: What made you want to give up being in one of the biggest metal bands in the world to start your acid project as Mixhell?
Iggor: I felt like the music, especially metal and hardcore, was really boring at the time. Nobody was doing anything exciting. Of course there's always good bands here and there, but as a scene for me it was just really nothing to do with what I loved.
Laima: It was all systematic.
Iggor: It was very predictable. It became this system where a band would do the album, then go on tour and people would know exactly what would happen. You'd go on stage play the record, play a few old songs and then you'd go home. It was so boring. At the time Laima was working at the Museum of Modern Art, so I started going to the museum, and I thought, maybe I should just get a job here. I was sick of music in general.
Laima: But every time he went to the museum, everyone used to stop him and ask for autographs. That was never going to work, you were never going to work a normal proper job! He started out by was getting invited to do celebrity DJ sets in Brazil. He used to go and play music that people didn't expect so he made a lot of enemies.
Were you being booked to DJ as "the guy from Sepultura?"
Iggor: Yeah, exactly. They invited me to play at this rock night in a techno club, and people went to see their idols play the music they liked. The first time I did it, I just played Mexican hip-hop all night. and people hated it. I thought this was it, it was in my hands now. People came there to see me but I wasn't going to do what they expected, so that was really exciting and challenging at the same time. Of course, the promoters were really mad at me. They were like, "Man, you just ruined my rock night!"
What are the rock nights like in Brazil?
Laima: There are some, but this one in particular was the Mecca of electronic music in Brazil. But Monday is the rock night. People expect to go and listen to rock and punk-ish stuff, but not techno.
Did you go to dance clubs when you were in Brazil?
Iggor: That's pretty much how Mixhell was born. It was something that me and Laima didn't plan at all. I kept getting invited to these gigs, but then I started bringing Laima with me and we started putting on stuff that would make people hate me even more. She would play something totally girly in the middle of the set. People were like, "What is this shit?!" I was really intrigued by that. By playing back to back, we started editing stuff to play rather than just playing records, and that's how the project grew.
Laima: You had Simian Mobile Disco, Justice, Soulwax doing similar things at the time.
Iggor: It was really fun to discover all these people in different places, like Soulwax in Belgium and James Murphy was doing the same thing in New York and then we got to hang out and experience the same ideas. It was really cool to see that I wasn't alone in this. It would make sense to me. I'd play electronic music, but it would have this rock edge to it.
Laima: We saw the Justice shows, and they were more metal than the metal shows!
Iggor: Yeah, last week I saw Slayer. Obviously they are amazing, but the show was so boring. That's what that world has become.
Which is more intense—a rave or a rock show?
Iggor: It depends on that moment when it clicks. It can be us playing in Berlin at like 4 or 5 in the morning, or it can be at a festival during the day. You can't predict when that's going to happen, when people really get into the music. It's hard to say which one is better or worse.
How have Sepultura fans responded then? Have you seen any of them at your shows?
Iggor: Yeah it's weird. At first, I got a million death threats and people were like "This guy is fucking gay now!" Going from metal to electronic, that was like the two extremes. For me it was also quite appealing, because when we started the band it was about that too. We were these little crazy kids who were playing black metal in Brazil. Nobody understood. I like the fact that not everyone understands what I'm doing at the time.
What do the Sepultura fans do in the club? Do they dance?
Iggor: I'd see black metal kids with full-on make up in the club. I thought they'd come here to kill me. I was expecting them to set the club on fire or something.
Laima: There are guys who come with stacks of old Sepultura records for Igor to sign, way before we get into the DJ booth.
It's just like a meet and greet, isn't it.
Laima: Yeah, but it's cool, because it's Igor's nature is to go back to the fence, to put his feet on the floor and restart whenever he starts to get successful. When he's making money and doing good, he feels like restarting.
Igor: And then I fuck everything up again.
What's the worst reaction you've had from a fan?
Iggor: When people who have the guts to come and hang out, you don't really get people saying "What you're doing is complete shit, I hate what you're doing." Back in the days with Sepultura, kids would come up and say "Ah man, I didn't like that last song." And you're like, "Whatever." But now there's none of that. There's no confrontation anymore. It's all behind the laptop screen.
Laima: The most honest person is your hairdresser. He really hates what we do. He's like, "I hate this techno music you guys do, I'm into rockabilly." But he still loves to come because it's so fun. He always comes to the club and gets wasted. He broke his nose at our last show.
Has anyone ever started a circle pit at one of your shows?
Iggor: Haha, no. We did this thing once at SXSW, where they had this idea that we would DJ between all of the bands at this metal fest. It wasn't like a mosh pit—it was a reverse, where kids were like "Are you gonna play this techno shit? Come on, Motorhead are about to play!"
Laima: We played in between Justice and Digitalism as well, and played a more rock-y set there.
Iggor: We're out of place no matter where we play.
Is your setup kind of like The Prodigy, who were essentially a rock band with electronic equipment?
Laima: Yeah, them and The Chemical Brothers were acts that we focused on.
Iggor: Even with The Prodigy—I got to see them live a few times, and I felt that it was more visual than anything. The guy wasn't really adding much to it. For us, if we were going to do it, we had to do it right. People had to really feel the drums, and not just me being like a little monkey in the mirror.
Laima: Yeah, it took a long time to put the drums in. Kids wanted to see Igor drumming, and it had to be proper.
Iggor: It couldn't be like a gimmick thing.
The classic acid sound is the 303, it's such a simple piece of gear but you can do so much with it. How did that work with the drums?
Iggor: It was a nightmare. Anyone who knows the 303 knows that it's a super difficult machine.
Laima: It's like a girl. It's complex, it does things like multiple in the same time. I was joking with Joe from Hot Chip the other day about that. To program it, it's not that easy. It's a pain in the ass. If you're going to compose one thing out of nothing it's quite cool, although you have to keep holding the tempo. You have to do everything manually. Today you can do everything with computers, and it seems like that piece of equipment is for dinosaurs. Then when you hear the sound that comes out of it, you see that it's worth doing.
Iggor: Trying to emulate some of those sounds was difficult because it was very pure. The whole acid house movement in general felt very much like a punk rock thing. Of course, at one point, it got really big over here, but the roots of the movement were the same.
Laima: With acid house, they had the instruments that they re-use like the 303 and 909. They are constantly being used on most of the tracks. Its like bands having bass, guitar and drums. The frequencies of the sounds are very much in order.
Hows the crowd reaction been when you play live?
Laima: The cool thing about playing acid live is that in between this whole crossover. There was a time when people used to come to see Mixhell just to stare at us and see Igor playing, so the attitude would be much more of a rock band on stage. The crowd would stand there with crossed arms. Once we started doing long versions of more bassy stuff, you'd see people turning their backs to you and just dancing.
Iggor: The energy is more present because of the live element. It's fun again.
But you've still carried on playing metal right?
Iggor: I still do some stuff with my brother. And I get invited to do a few things with people that I like. I recorded a whole album with the hardcore band called Strife from California. I still get my fix of hardcore and metal. It's fun because I don't have that weight on my shoulders. The fans don't expect anything anymore. At the beginning of the Mixhell process, I decided to get back with my brother. He invited me onto a new project, and that's how the Cavalera Conspiracy thing came along. We do a few tours during the year. I take a break from Mixhell, and he takes a break from Soulfly.
Laima: We sometimes get get metal singers to participate in our records as well.
Yeah you got Greg Puciato from Dillinger Escape Plan to sing on "Spaces" right?
Iggor: It's weird. We were making this one track, and there was a break on it that I wanted some crazy screams for. Some weird noises, but with a voice instead of synth. I thought of another good friend, Mike Patton from Faith No More, but he didn't know when he was going to be back in the studio. Then I thought of Greg. When he sent the vocals back, he said "I've done some more than just the screaming thing, I hope you guys like it". It was incredible. He was singing.He turned an instrumental into a completely new track.
Laima: It became a bit Depeche Mode-y.
Iggor: Even Dillinger fans were like "Greg, what the fuck are you doing?!"
How did you end up working with Boys Noize?
Laima: We were touring with Soulwax and Boys Noize was on board for a lot of it. With Igor having been on so many labels throughout his career, he wasn't really that eager to sign as fast as he could've. We did one EP with Kitsune and then finally Alex [Boys Noize] invited us to join the label to release the LP, and we accepted because he was an amazing friend and a good label manager.
Iggor: The label was very focused on techno and stuff that works in the club. When we did the record, we sent him it but thought he wouldn't like it because it wasn't just for the club. The remixes are, but he totally understood that.
Laima: That was the same year he was doing Chilly Gonzales and Spank Rock, so it fit in well.
And how about Gui Boratto?
Iggor: He's a really good friend. He knew Laima before he knew me. I showed him the record and told him we had a bit of trouble mixing it, because there was so much we did for it. We needed somebody to help us organize it. He said he had no time, but after we went for dinner and talked about the whole concept and what we wanted to do, he called me like an hour later and said "I'm in! I'm going to make some time!" All I needed to do was buy him sushi.
You can follow Mixhell here: @therealMIXHELL
You can follow Lauren Martin on Twitter here too: @codeinedrums