American powerviolence trio Robocop have been turning heads with their hostile and innovative sound that references d-beat punk, doom, power electronics, thrash and noise as much as it does Man Is The Bastard, and so far the band have made all their releases available for free download. After a short hiatus back in July of last year, Robocop are back in action with a furious new split with Canadian hardcore marauders Detroit, so M3 caught up with guitarist/vocalist Ryan Page to talk free music, the pros and cons of digital distribution and the fallout from the SOPA debacle…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Ryan – I’m Ryan Page. I play guitar Robocop, as well as vocals and electronics. I also have a solo project (Body Hammer) and when I’m not working with other labels, I run a small imprint for publishing my own work called Name Like His Master. I’m currently a graduate student at Mills College, working towards an MFA in electronic music and recording media.
What inspired you to form Robocop? What are your own musical backgrounds?
Initially I was recruited to play guitar by our drummer Tom. When it came time to record our demo, we all ended up contributing vocals, and I added occasional electronics. For our full-length, I became much more involved in the recording and production process (whereas Luke did nearly all of the production work on our demo). We have all added to creative process in different ways, so it would be difficult to trace the areas of influence to our own musical backgrounds, but my own background is in experimental composition and sound art. Parallel to that, I’ve been playing extreme music in various forms for about ten years.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Simply because of the instability of my living situation, I find that MP3s are typically how I listen to music. For my own habits, in an ideal situation, I would be able to listen to a variety of mediums dependent on the content. When I was younger, having an album meant spending at least a month listening to it steadily, because I could not afford otherwise (this was before the internet). After nearly ten years of steadily increasing access to a wide variety of music, I find that it is harder to stay with an album, especially as something that becomes associated with a particular period of time or place.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
It has for a number of reasons. I feel that it is partially because people are not making albums they intend to be listened to, start to finish. I think some people want the accomplishment of putting out a lot of releases without trying to create something cohesive and worth releasing. I personally discard a lot of work for this particular reason. I’m someone who goes a bit overboard with the execution of this (“Dead Language, Foreign Bodies”, and “II” are prime examples of this), but I personally don’t feel that every album can simply cohere instantly, so I’ve become known as someone who spends a lot of time crafting each release. I hope that this translates into an experience listeners can spend some time with, but of course, I am probably the last one to know if that is really the case.
Why did you decide to make many of your releases available for free download?
I feel it is better to be honest about how most people engage with the music they listen to, rather than pretending most people don’t have the ability to get it themselves if they really want to. We still offer the option to pay using a sliding scale on our Bandcamp page, and we still sell physical copies of our music when we can afford to keep it in print. That is particularly helpful when it comes to something like paying for the art to the recent split.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have you encountered through this distribution method?
Digital Distribution, and in particular posting our music, lyrics and artwork online for free has been an important aspect in achieving our most basic goal; to allow people to engage with our music. Especially in the context of our current situation and being unable to perform live for most of the year.
The biggest disadvantage is that there is simply too much to wade through and I know that I’m often bogged down with too much terrible music to get to interesting new music. I have found that it takes a few years after a worthwhile underground album is released for me to discover it.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
In general we are not a touring band, but I know that during our time playing shows in Maine we lost money almost every time. The only time I remember us actually making money was a show Tom and I agreed to that Luke couldn’t make, and was probably the worst show we’ve ever played. It was the only time I felt genuinely bad for the person putting on a show.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
The human relationship with technology is too unpredictable to make determinations about what will be possible with regard to copyright enforcement, but I can’t see cultural trends regarding our relationship to media reversing. Culturally, I think it would be very difficult for most people to go back to the idea of paying for music in the way they did before. With that said, a number of events I thought were impossible up until recently, like the government seizure of Megaupload and the near passage of SOPA have made me rethink that. I’m not entirely sure where I stand on all of this. I couldn’t help but feel pissed off at both sides of the debate (and the unnecessary dichotomy itself). For example, in protest of SOPA people were posting images about how everyone should stop buying media for a month to hurt the entertainment industry (if you derive your political philosophy from a JPEG, I’m sorry, but you’ve lost any respect I might have had for you). This is, percentage wise, much more damaging to independent music and film than it is to the majors, and the fact that lazy internet crusaders didn’t take that into consideration was extremely frustrating.
With that said, I personally will never sue anyone for copyright violation unless it was being used for a profit. If I ever saw “Fed to the Wolves” in a Dodge commercial, I would gladly take them for what they’re worth and promptly release our back catalogue on vinyl and commission a series of t-shirts from sin eater (or put it into rare laserdiscs… shoot for the moon right?).
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
I have absolutely no idea. I do know that it will be driven by necessity, much like the recent return of vinyl and tape. I think MP3 on the hard drives of media players and computers will be around for at least a few more years, until it simply becomes more convenient to stream from an online database. From there who knows? The history of storage media for music is consistently one of convenience over quality (up to a point of course).
Finally, what does the future hold for Robocop?
We’ve just released a split with a band from Alberta Canada (Detroit) called “Dead Language, Foreign Bodies”. It is a purposeful departure from the last release, much in the way “II” was a departure from our demo. Lyrically, it focuses much less on the personal than the last album, and draws on a number of my interests at the time: media theory, linguistics, acts of provocation towards overarching systems, conspiracy theories, sex, cryptography, etc.
Recently we’ve been discussing recording an album influenced by doom, power electronics, and early industrial music. Something not dissimilar from early Swans and Godflesh, but expressed through our particular aesthetic. I have a demo of Luke and I fucking around with this idea, and I was quite happy with it as a test run, so I’m hoping this project comes together. There has also been talk of recording in the woods, as a kind of literal realization of a cliche often used to describe our music. Anything to keep things interesting.
For more information about Robocop, you can visit their official Facebook page. You can also purchase their music through the official Name Like His Master page, or freely download it through their Bandcamp page and Grindcore Karaoke.