Pharmacy isn’t the only new release Eugene Ward, aka Tuff Sherm, aka Dro Carey, has out this week. While Pharmacy is a physical 12 inch released via Trilogy Tapes, he’s also released a brand new digital-only EP under his Dro Carey name. There’s a lot of data to digest here, and I’m having trouble presenting it in a linear fashion, so just bear with us.
The new Dro Carey EP is called Westernzone. On his Facebook page, Mr DC explains that it’s meant to sound like if Stalker was set in Western Australia. You can purchase it for two bucks here.
Back to the topic at hand, Pharmacy is the first proper vinyl release for Tuff Sherm, the more rhythmically-straightforward project of Dro’s. As he told us in an interview, there have been cassettes, but Pharmacy feels like a real stepping up: there are elements reminiscent of Shackleton’s less step-infused material, but listen to when the snare kicks in here, and I bet you didn’t expect it to be right there, where it is. Anyway, have a listen.
Dro Carey is postmillennial dread and disorientation. It’s electronic dance music borne of sensory overload; a melee of digital information obscuring fundamentally danceable beats. Dro Carey is helmed by Sydney producer Eugene Hector, who has despatched five official releases on labels like Trilogy Tapes and Hum & Buzz, though much of his work trickles weekly onto his Tumblr.
Our chat took place over a dodgy voice-only Skype connection. Eugene is quietly spoken and articulate, which was initially a surprise given the hyperactive nature of his productions. Eugene also releases more straightforward dance floor friendly techno under the name Tuff Sherm, though our conversation today focused mostly on his Dro Carey material.
I’ve never asked before – why “Dro Carey”?
It was kinda a jokey name that occurred to me when I was younger, but not as an actual music-related thing, just as a silly parody of Drew Carey. I’m not totally sure why but when I started to work in more beat-oriented stuff – because I’d been interested in ambient and improv before that – it just seemed like the right thing to call it.
About 8 months ago I mentioned on Twitter that I was playing the video game Dark Souls and you said you wanted to play it. Have you?
Oh no! I haven’t actually, I’ve still really been meaning to get that game, but I haven’t had much time to play video games lately. I did end up buying something, because it was so much cheaper, called Shadow of the Damned. It’s by that Suda 51 guy, who’s a bit of an auteur I guess in video game design. I started to play that and it was alright, just a kind of conventional beat ‘em up kind of thing. I hadn’t played any games before that for a while.
I bring video games up because the bass line in ‘Leary Blips’ reminds me of a video game in a way. It’s not an 8-bit sound explicitly, but more like 8-bit in 3D. Were you exposed to a lot of video game music growing up?
Yeah. I’m definitely a big video game nerd and it’s only been because I’ve been busy with music and other stuff that I haven’t played any lately. But that’s not entirely true because I play a lot on my mobile. I’ve got an Android and I’ve got emulators of of 8 and 16-bit consoles. So whenever I’m going somewhere I’m playing all these old games I played when I was 5-years-old: Game Boy and Super Nintendo games, Mega Drive games. I’d say
were really influential because I spent so much time exposed to them. When I play these games on my phone now, on silent, particularly something like Pokémon and Mario, I hear all the sound effects in my head despite the phone being on silent. I just know the sounds and the music. That indicates that they’re quite strongly embedded in my brain.
The tracks on Candy Red and Journey With the Heavy are quite elaborate and thickly textured, but Leary Blips is comparatively sparse. What caused that shift?
There was a conscious sense that I wanted to do something a bit like the first release (Venus Knock EP, 2011). I wanted to go back to something that wasn’t perhaps as funky or jazzy as the Ramp and Hum & Buzz releases. I guess it had just evolved a bit from the really dense and noisy synths in Venus Knock to something that was exploring the same sonic territory, except my approach had changed to something a bit more minimal. I think the main influence was revisiting that style but taking it somewhere different. Every time I do a new release I try to create a different feel.
Leary Blips is quite claustrophobic, but there’s a garish cartoon element that offsets the darkness a little bit. Was there a particular mood you were trying to create? Is there ever?
I like when there’s a sense of balancing two really distinct moods. So one, like you said, is claustrophobic and dark, and then one is almost saccharine or comedic. I do try to maintain both of those feels in a lot of the stuff that I do. There’s not really a specific reason that I go for that combination, I just find that if you do that it can be really different to different listeners. People have very different takes on it.
“What an Underground Resistance techno record was fantastically constructing [in the ‘90s] is actually a reality now, so you don’t really need to look into the future, you’ve got the full realisation of those techno Futurists right here today.”
The funny thing about your material – particularly Journey With the Heavy – is that it doesn’t really sound composed at all. It sounds like code operating within its own logic. Do you agree that your music sounds non-human?
I think so, and I guess that’s to do with how I make it, which is usually editing the MIDI and not really performing or recording anything live. It’s just editing and playing it back and not really jamming along. Sometimes I’ll do that, but not really recording the live playing. It’s about splicing together a lot of independently running bits of code that kinda become an ensemble in a way, and pushing that as far as it goes before it becomes too incongruous.
I’m interested in your usage of vocal samples. In ‘958’ the vocals sound enslaved, like house vocals taken out of their original context. Why do you use them in that manner?
When you use them in a percussive way they cut through the mix of everything else in a way that no instrument or drum sound would. There’s just a lot of character that they bring. But then when you enslave it into an unnatural rhythm, despite it being a natural source, I think that kinda grabs someone’s attention as they listen. There’s something appealing about it on that level. It can take a while to find the right vocal sample for the right track: it’s not something that you can just randomly find. There has to be some considered element to it because often I will think “yeah I want to do this with this track” but then I’ll try with a few different a capellas but I won’t achieve the combination. There are some long vocal samples on Journey With the Heavy, but these days it’s almost entirely short and percussive ones, and I’m not really using them in a traditional melodic sense.
With ‘958’ it feels like the source vocals have a platitudinal, sentimental sound, like the vocals in a lot of house tracks I guess. But the way you re-contextualise them makes them sound inhuman and robotic. Is that intentional?
I think it definitely is. There’s a lot of electronic music that takes an a capella and then does a great arrangement, like a harmonious arrangement around them, and essentially remixes them in quite a traditional sense. It sounds good, but to me it’s not the most interesting thing that you could potentially achieve with the sample. It’s definitely about how the new context changes it into something that is darker or robotic.
Do you find that result is just a byproduct, or is the robotic, disembodied feel something that you’re aesthetically going for?
I’d say that that’s just what occurs fairly naturally when I sit down to make stuff. Interestingly, I’ve been working on some different kinds of beats that are more hip-hop and r&b oriented, so they’re more conventional in the sense of having a defined key and chord changes and typical percussion. So the whole style of fully composing something is something that I’ve explored a bit as well. Some of that material is going to be in a mix that’s coming out soon on In The Mix. It’s a collaborative project with this guy Ian Evans, who performs as Napolian – he’s on a label called Software. It’s basically hip-hop and r&b beats that we’ve been working on, I guess somewhat like Hudson Mohawke and Lunas Project. But yeah, I’ve been doing some stuff in that style and that’s definitely a completely different mindset where if I were to include a vocal sample it would be a longer loop and everything would be composed to harmoniously fit around it. But when I’m doing the Dro Carey dance stuff – loosely electronic and dance related – I’m more interested in chopping it up into an uneasy juxtaposition between the vocals and the beats.
Do you make tracks with the dance floor in mind?
It’s definitely affected how I mix the audio now, particularly just making the bass more prominent and considering the overall mix. It’s something I consider a bit, but then of course I’ve gone back and listened to tracks and thought “well, there are so many things that make this difficult for someone to try to mix”. But then people do, which is really cool. I definitely am getting more aware of that and I think it’s a logical influence, but obviously I don’t want that to drive me away from what makes it interesting in the first place.
What do you think makes it interesting?
It’s always really hard to evaluate my own stuff. I guess it’s just palettes being extracted from a lot of different influences and then all thrown together. Hopefully it’s a unique combination of popular genre influences and more experimental composition, coming together in all senses, in a textural sense and a compositional sense. I guess that’s what I would think is interesting.
Last time we spoke you said you spend a lot of time watching YouTube, and that your music is inspired by that in many ways. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
I think the thing with YouTube being an important influence is not so much the specific things that I find, but a kinda general sense that I get when I’m exploring videos on it, and the behavior of people. The behavior of uploading quite personal things and narrating all kinds of mundane things, such as showing new items that they’ve bought, or reviewing DVDs, or cooking. And then doing hundreds of these videos. I feel like that’s similar to what I do when I create music: I’m doing something that is quite personal and unremarkable, but that is then viewed in a way that I can’t comprehend. I feel a kind of solidarity with those people. I don’t know why but that’s what I kinda feel like I’m doing as well.
It also relates to the way Dro Carey sounds too I feel. The sound is so maximal, there’s so much going on and so many tiny influences at play. Do you think the proliferation of homemade media and the millions of hours of new content available to us every day is an aesthetic influence also?
Yeah, I think it’s a strong sense of being overwhelmed by information. I think that’s very relevant to electronic music and to dance music, where previously people were composing this kind of music but there wasn’t the same magnitude, the same glut of information. I feel it’s quite a new context to be making this kind of music in. There used to be something quite unfathomable about electronic music – people would buy it on vinyl and wouldn’t really be aware of what the process [making] it was. It just emerged. Whereas now there are entirely browser based dubstep making flash programs. People create music by using YouTube Doubler, which is just playing two YouTube videos at once, so you know, someone can cynically put TI rapping over an ambient Tim Hecker track and then call it their witch house project. But things like that, where there’s a melee of information and technologies, I think that’s an interesting thing, and then trying to capture this overwhelming storm of information.
It’s interesting that an artist like Oneohtrix Point Never can take a short loop and run it for four minutes, post it on YouTube, and that can result in a beautiful piece of music that moves a lot of people.
Yeah, and I guess I just don’t have the confidence to do something that minimal and then be satisfied with it. It’s definitely how I begin – with one sample and then stretching or manipulating it into its own minimal loop, but then I just keep repeating that process rather than finishing there.
Eary electronic dance music had a strong Futurist impulse, but nowadays it seems to draw more from the present condition. The present seems more fascinating than any imagined future.
Yeah, because I think now is actually the reality of what the early 90s Futurist aesthetic was alluding to in a fictional way – a fear of technology and what it could entail. I guess at that point in time the structures and the theory and the networks existed so that people could predict that aesthetic, but it was all quite abstracted and it related to science fiction and other aesthetics. But now when you look at the current cultures that are so digitally embedded and digitally affected, you’re seeing the dominating control of technology in everyone’s life, not just enthusiasts or nerds or whatever. It continues to disseminate really rapidly. People don’t really talk about being “addicted” to using the computer anymore, whereas when I was growing up it was a weird thing to be using a computer a lot more frequently than other people. It’s not really seen in that sense anymore. The amount that people check Facebook is less harshly observed. What an Underground Resistance techno record was fantastically constructing [in the ‘90s] is actually a reality now, so you don’t really need to look into the future, you’ve got the full realisation of those techno Futurists right here today.
What kind of imagined future could there be, if a traditionally forward-thinking style of music has stopped imagining something just around the corner?
Well I guess now it’s reached the point where technology is so powerful that you can imagine a future where there is a Terminator scenario or a Matrix scenario: a direct conflict. When people misuse technology to produce art, using programs or equipment in unintended ways, that’s almost like a protest or an act of conflict. I guess that’s how I see myself sometimes, really connecting the incorrect wires together. But hopefully still producing something that still has some kind of aesthetic appeal to it. But the process, without sounding too cheesy, is rebelling against the technology a bit.