While at Mysteryland USA 2014, writer/photographer Chris De Cotis had the opportunity to sit down on Sunday, May 25th with DJ and electronic musician Moby, not long after he arrived at Bethel Woods Center For The Arts. Richard Melville Hall is a classically trained musician who has been performing in the electronic dance music scene for three decades. He ascended to fame and commercial success in the late nineties while I was still in college and earned a Grammy award three years in a row from 2001-2003. I asked him questions about his career as a musician and about his perspective on electronic dance music, music festivals, and the music industry. His stage name is a nickname given to him at birth; he is a distant relative of Moby Dick author Herman Melville and is a part of a family with a long arts tradition.
Chris De Cotis: How do you think music festivals have changed the music business?
Moby: I first started playing festivals twenty five years ago, and mainly in Europe, because at that point festival culture didn’t really exist in the States. Festival culture in the States seems like it was Woodstock, then Altamont, then US festival, then there weren’t really that many festivals. And then Lollapalooza happened, which is a travelling festival. And Lollapalooza was a festival in that it involved a lot of musicians, but it didn’t feel the same way as like, a Glastonbury. And then slowly European festival culture came to the states, Coachella being one of the first really big European-style festivals, and now, it’s everywhere. And I think, one of the ways it’s changed the music business is that the utility, or the criteria by which a lot of music is judged now is ‘how does it work at a festival?’
Still, a lot of music is judged on how it works in your living room, how it works in your car, how it works in your earbuds when you’re going to work. But now, there’s this… like dance music, most music played here isn’t the sort of music you’d necessarily want to listen to at eight o’clock in the morning when you’re making breakfast, but it has a utility where it makes perfect sense here.
CD: How do British festivals compare with American festivals?
Moby: It’s very hard to generalize. There are great European festivals, and there are shitty European festivals. There are great American festivals, and there are terrible American festivals. They’re neither better nor worse, they’re at times different and at times quite similar.
CD: Outside of the PR part of it, your set, and then the Speaker’s Tent engagement, will you get to see any other parts of the festival?
Moby: I have about three hours between the public speaking I’m doing and my DJ set, and so I’ll be walking around, probably going to a vegan food truck and going to different stages, seeing what’s going on.
CD: Is there anything in particular that you really want to see?
Moby: To be honest with you, I haven’t really looked at the festival lineup. The nice thing about a festival is that you can wander around and be randomly, accidentally exposed to things.
CD: Do you have a favorite genre of EDM?
Moby: No, I like everything. I mean, when I’m home I listen to a lot of, you know, I listen to WC and I listen to Led Zeppelin, and I listen to Pantera and you know, I like everything.
CD: Do any one of these genres inspire you right now, more than any other?
Moby: No, again, I just like everything.
CD: Do you think dance music is, or will be, or has been considered ‘pop’ music, generally?
Moby: The funny thing is, if you look at the state of electronic music in 2014, there is Lady Gaga, and then there is, you know, big pop records that are made by electronic musicians, and then there is obscure, minimal Berlin techno which will never get played on the radio. As a very broad musical genre, it can exist at the most mainstream and the most underground concurrently.
CD: Has it become harder for you to evolve or progress as a musician as you’ve achieved more success?
Moby: I don’t know. My goal as a musician is just to make music that I love, and hopefully in the process make music that other people like, or that other people love. I’m not too concerned with evolving or progressing, I’m more interested in just how the music resonates with people emotionally.
CD: What other things that you are passionate about has your success allowed you to pursue?
Moby: I’ve been an animal rights activist for a very long time, and so, as a result of whatever random, weird success I’ve had, I’ve been able to financially help different animal welfare organizations, and environmental organizations and human rights organizations, and I think, as a quasi-public figure, when I look at an issue that I’m interested in or concerned about, it’s figuring out how to be the most effective activist. And sometimes that means just donating money, sometimes it means speaking out about it publicly and trying to draw more attention to it. Sometimes it means getting creatively involved with an organization to see if I can help them in other ways.
CD: What topic will you be discussing at the Speaker’s Tent today?
Moby: I started working about ten years ago at an organization called the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. It was started by Oliver Sacks, who is a neuroscientist, a neurologist. I will be talking about music therapy from both the personal anecdotal level and from a clinical level. Looking at the science behind music therapy, how it effects the endocrine system, how it affects neurotransmitters.
CD: What is your assessment of the dance music scene over the past five years, and where do you feel we will be five years from now?
Moby: My background is very strange. When I was really young I played classical music, and then I grew up playing in punk rock bands and studying music theory. Djing and electronic music is… something I came to later, for me.
What’s been very interesting, because I started making electronic music in the late eighties, and at that point electronic music really was a ghetto, and now, practically speaking, it’s become like the most ubiquitous dominant musical form on the planet. Because every hip-hop artist, most pop artists, dance artists, they all use the same equipment. I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that probably eighty to ninety percent of the music currently being listened to on the planet is produced in some context electronically, and I don’t see that ending because the means of production used to be so much more complicated.*
Now you just need software, and I feel that the ubiquity of the software, and how egalitarian it is means that anyone can make electronic music, and I just see that continuing to lead to electronic music just being so ubiquitous.
Stay tuned for Chris’ review and photos from Mysteryland USA next week on .com
*Ed. note: The late eighties and early nineties marked the beginning of a large growth in the availability and variety of specialized professional audio equipment like synthesizers, drum machines and samplers to more people and at lower, yet still generally high prices.