Mukqs' Noisey Mix Is the Perfect Escape-from-Reality Music
The Chicago-based experimenter released a disorienting full-length earlier this month and will put out another next week. His new mix is full of similarly transcendent beats.
Max Allison releases a lot of music, on his own under the name Mukqs and in collaboration with others—most famously in the drone trio Good Willsmith, but also in a number of other configurations.He's made a habit out of chunking out disorienting and otherworldly electronic music at a pace that's pretty hard to keep up with. Earlier this month, he released SD Biomix, a full-length project for the boundary-pushing experimental label Orange Milk, and next week, he'll release another called Mem Aleph on the more dance-focused label Jacktone. Earlier this year, he released a tape with the Chicago folk-rap legend Sharkula, and he plans to have even more music out before the end of 2019. There's probably more that I'm not even aware of.
Each release is distinct from the last. Allison's as likely to turn in a straight up techno tape as he is frenetic sound collages and blunted rap beats. His catalog is predictable only in the sense that it is unpredictable, but for him, that's part of the point of putting out all this stuff. "I like the idea of an overarching project that contains so many different styles that it's impossible to guess what awaits you when you press play on a given album," he says. "To me, this embodies the important concept that people are not just one thing, and don't have to feel like they're cornered into meeting expectations once they establish some kind of norm."
It's a vision of a freer kind of music-making, driven by an ability to follow any particular idea down to its end point. The resultant stuff never fits neatly into any given genre, but that's where the best music lives anyway, in the in-between spaces, melting across the borders between sounds and styles. Allison demonstrates this approach, in all its vibrancy, on the six skittering tracks that make up Mem Aleph. He's able to swim through aqueous electro, dizzy ambient passages, and more thunderous techno tropes with ease—splatter painting sequenced synths across it in a way that feels indebted to brainy 90s Warp releases. It's a whole lot of sounds and moods all bleeding into each other—an example in microcosm of the joy of following his catalog as a whole.
In celebration of SD Biomix and Mem Aleph, Allison put together an hour-long mix for our series, which, as expected, doesn't really hold fast to any specific genre. There's fleet-footed singeli from Tanzania, butting right up against experimental Japanese pop music, and busted up club tracks from Pittsburgh. It's overwhelming, in a good way. You'll want to surrender to the flood. Listen below, alongside an interview with Allison about his delirious approach to production.
NOISEY: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Max Allison: I tend to use music as a means of escaping whatever is going on around me, to enter another little dimension at will and escape the real world. This mix could be listened to for a little vacation while you're sitting at a desk working on some other task, or zoning in on something that you really don't want to be dealing with. That being said, it would probably sound nice while you're sitting by a body of water tripping your face off or relaxing however you choose to relax.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
When I was putting this mix together I compiled a list of 60+ songs that I've been into lately, and grouped them all into categories like "FRENETIC DANCE" or "PURE DRIFT" or "LOOPY GLITCH," etc. From there I tried to figure out the exact transitions between these moods, with the goal of making either a lot of harsh juxtapositions or to keep the mood flowing between tracks.
Do you have a favorite moment on this mix?
I've been obsessed with this song from the soundtrack of the anime series White Album 2 for years now. The series revolves around an extracurricular music club at a high school who come together to play very "basic" guitar + piano + vocals ballads, but the tracks that they perform all really connect with me on an emotional level. So it was fun for me to plant that maximum emotional atmosphere as the juxtaposition after the Container track, which represents a peak of manic, wild energy to me.
Is synesthesia a real thing? If so, what color is this mix?
I fully believe in synesthesia and experience some small degree of it myself when I listen to music, but I feel like the people that harp on it and brag about their synesthetic powers are kind of full of shit and seeking attention. I have a friend who experiences very distinct colors when she sees certain numbers, but you would never know that about her from just hanging with her because she doesn't really talk about it. This is the approach to synesthesia that I appreciate.
The first overtly like, full imagery / color / landscape experience I can ever remember having while listening to music was the first time I listened to Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" when I was like 13. I remember being totally stunned by the hugeness of the stereo spread, the way that so many different instruments and multiple rhythm sections / horn sections / keyboards / etc. were all stacked together in such a vast array that seemed to create a physical space beyond the world we know. I remember seeing a massive orange / blue wall (probably in keeping with the album cover tones) that was rippling at various levels in my mind, and just being floored by the whole landscape in my head.
I think the color of this mix is somewhere in that realm, where the sounds and textures are moving too fast past you to create any sort of discrete color, but make more like a multicolor mosaic that's constantly quivering and shifting into new forms.
This is maybe an existential question, but with all the different music you've released as Mukqs, what do you feel like is the shared DNA between all of that stuff?
This is hard for me to answer because I think part of my approach to the project is trying to work on many different ideas and albums that might not seem to vibe together on the basic level of genre or style.
I think people are way too complex to limit themselves to any one form of expression, and I feel like people often get trapped in this mindset when they make something that they perceive to be appreciated by other people and then feel pressure to follow it up with something similar, or something that takes one baby step away from that original style. To me, baby steps aren't interesting. I would rather plunge into something totally different and fool around there for a while and experiment, rather than reiterate whatever I've already made. At this point, there have been too many branches of the Mukqs project for that to be a problem anymore—nothing can really be reiterated, because there has never been a solid ground to stand on.
That being said, there are some major tenets that I think connect the different styles I work in. I get bored very easily when making music, and always err on the side of constant mutation and variation within a given song or album. This comes through in the "noise" material I make, in the "dance" material I make, in the music inspired by hip-hop or video game music, and especially in the sound collage idiom, which I think has the most freedom for more randomized recombination and juxtaposition of sounds.
Mem Aleph , like most of your Mukqs work, comes from improvised live sessions. Can you speak generally about hone something so open as that into a coherent project? And then specifically, what were the raw materials and ideas that informed this record?
Everything is live, and performed on my rig of hardware, but everything is not necessarily fully "improvised." Some tracks come from a more strictly regimented performance where I've set up a very specific set of samples or a narrative structure that I'm following pretty closely—even if the individual sounds or synth patches or drum patterns that appear within that track might have originated in a moment of improv. At that point, it's more like stacking together the random bits into something that might resemble a track. This happens to the most extreme degree on my Orange Milk album SD Biomix, which contains both tracks that are fully improvised from top to bottom with hands on electronics / drum machines / loopers, etcetera, and tracks that are more deliberate in how I trigger a sampler to play back a specific palette of tones.
For the Mem Aleph material, improvisation comes into play in a couple ways. I performed the A side (tracks 1-3) on my drum machine and sampler, and while there were some general cues—I was aiming for to transition between tracks every 6-8 minutes or whatever—the individual decisions I make about what drum patterns or synth samples to activate are all on the spot, so the narratives are improvised based on whatever sounds I decided to trigger to transition between different parts. The B-side (tracks 4-6), which I performed with a tape deck, looper, and drum machine, relies more heavily on random chance.
Can you tell me about your history with the dancefloor and how that side of your interest have eked into Mukqs over time? To what degree does "the rave" figure into the stuff you are doing?
All of the music that I've made in the "dance"-related style came into being because my friends asked me to play live sets at their specific events, and I wanted to do those events justice, with the hope that people could have fun listening to my sets. These events are all "raves" to some degree, so that's the style that I end up working within. Outside of those specific events, I love dancing, love going to see DJs or live electronic music. This is one of my favorite things in the world, and I've been lucky enough to meet a lot of friends who always take me to interesting mental and physical places when they perform in those styles. But "the rave" is only one small aspect of a huge spread of different music. I think as I get older I come to see how deeply all these genres and types of performances are connected, in terms of individual musical elements and in terms of just the general atmosphere and good will emanating from making and performing art. Nothing stands alone—everything is everything, obviously.
What's next? I know that's a wild thing to be asking when you've put out two full-lengths in a month. When do you sleep?
Honestly, both of these full-length projects represent music that I made somewhere in the 2016-2018 time period, so to me they're more like time capsules that both happened to be unearthed by my friends' labels at a similar time just due to the way that their release schedules worked out.
I haven't made any new Mukqs music since the beginning of 2019, partially because I've been too busy with other projects and working to make money to live, partially because I have been anticipating the release of these albums (plus the two other albums that came out earlier in the year), and have been waiting for all this "old" material to finally surface, so I can move on from it and make something totally different. The vast majority of the time I've spent making art over the last six months has been working on album art for our releases on Hausu Mountain, which is something that I've been trying to personally level up and take very seriously.
That, plus way too many other musical projects—but those are all collaborative projects, and typically take the form of discrete rehearsals and live sets—situations where I'm not locked away in my room forever working on tracks. But I'm about to hit another stride this summer of working on new Mukqs stuff, and hopefully performing more and more, so I'm looking forward to that. Also, there is definitely more music from me coming out in 2019, which represents stuff I made at the end of last year—the "newest" material that I have in the vault. Stoked for that, for sure.
Mukqs “Love Machine” unreleased 
Nobukazu Takemura “Icefall” Scope 
Unknown Artist “Akazéhé Par Deux Jeunes Filles” Musique Du Burundi 
Puto Tito “Mestre Das Artes” Carregando A Vida Atrás Das Costas 
Nadah El Shazly “Afqid Adh-Dhakira (I Lose Memory)” Ahwar 
Dos Monos “Abdication b4 he dies” Dos City 
Lockbox “Spiral Incubus” Soundcloud loosie 
Kota Hoshino "EG Expression II - Will” Evergrace OST 
Mukqs “A5 Demoloin (For Carl Stone)” unreleased 
Koeosaeme “Head” Sonorant 
Simulation “The Reverse Can Be Said” Death’s Head Speaks 
H Takahashi “Crystal” Escapism 
Elliott Sharp “Looppool” Looppool 
Doc Sleep “Baltic Amber” Your Ruling Planet 
W00DY “Hell” Relentless Kickdrum 
Container “Mottle” Soundcloud loosie 
Naoya Shimokawa “Piano and Guitar” White Album 2 OST 
Wednesday Campanella “Yaku No Jitsugetsubushi” Yakushima Treasure 
Jay Mitta “2015” Tatizo Pesa 
Khaki Blazer “Black Mesh” Optikk 
Mukqs “Stolas” unreleased 
Woopheadclrms “Beauty tattoo paper“ Asaga Fu an Fumoragu Aria 
Emamouse “ î~é╠ë╠” Eye Cavity 
Nuno Canavarro “Blu Terra” Mr. Wollogallu 
Pascale Project “Sexy Inc” Just Feel Good For A Moment 
Mukqs “For Diane” Mem Aleph 
Taeko Ohnuki “Sargasso Sea” Sunshower