We talk to the exciting new art-music collective Autograf about their hometown Chicago, the future of EDM and how to get a job at the Department of Defense.
Visual art and music can, oddly enough, seem like two distinct entities, one for the gallery or instillation, the other for the headphones or club. Autograf, three guys based in Chicago, take a different approach, dissolving the boundaries between the visual and the sonic they are as much artists as they are musicians. With a varied range of backgrounds, including a derivatives trader (whatever that might be exactly…) and an almost-solider, they’re an original and thoughtful group with a clear vision; to put a sense of the aesthetic into the EDM scene.
EDM is that distinctly American name for dance music and its US scene that’s frequently populated by neon-clad jocks waving glow-sticks, essentially. Cue Autograf, who with their intelligent remixes, fresh sounds and visual approach are changing the game – they first caught attention for nailing animal-shaped-blackboard cutouts around Chicago during one of the city’s EDM festivals. Now, with a new track ‘Metaphysical’ out recently, as well as a forthcoming album, don’t be surprised to hear more from these guys as they alter the face of the EDM scene, one glow-stick at a time.
We sit down for a revealing chat with the Autograf guys, who are every bit at as funny, subversive and as interesting as you would expect.
You started out as a visual art project: can you tell us about your background?
Jake Carpenter: I almost went into the military but went to art school instead for painting and sculpture, so that was a pretty big 180. Initially my parents weren’t too thrilled about art school but when I said I was thinking of enlisting in the army, all of the sudden they were very supportive of the art. Ironically, I built this 8 foot robot for my sculpture thesis that an army colonel saw at an art gallery. He immediately offered me a job at the Department of Defense.
Mikul Wing: I did different kinds of street art like wheat paste, stencil and graffiti along with some pop art techniques like screen printing and wood cut outs. Me and my friends would rent out these raw loft spaces and do all kinds of things with it like turn it into an art gallery, screen printing studio, or clothing store. And of course threw lots of art parties.
Louis Kha: I guess I was the derivatives trader turned musician turned artist. When I was a kid, I never thought I’d be any of those things. There’s so much to do in life, why limit yourself? You can be anyone you want to be. That’s the whole mantra behind Leave Your Autograf. We’re all born artists, leaving our mark on the world.
You caught some attention for your Chicago-based, blank-canvas-safari-animal stuff. Could you talk about that a little?
Mikul: We started Autograf because we were getting tired of what electronic music was becoming. The art and fashion scene was pretty closely tied to the music back in the early Indie-dance or Indie-Electro days of Justice, MGMT, Digitalism and Empire of the Sun. Then all of the sudden the neon wearing YOLO “EDM” generation came along and kind of dumbed everything down to just getting “Turnt Up” and mindlessly jumping up and down at festivals. Somehow the art and fashion got lost with electronic music. So we made these blackboard woodcut outs in the shape of safari animals, nailed them around outside North Coast Festival, and left a bucket of chalk next to them. It was to encourage the new EDM generation to make art.
Jake: Oh and of course by the end of the festival one of the giraffe’s heads got ripped off. It was probably some overly “Turnt Up” bro raging to EDM haha
Louis: I hear there’s lot of drugs involved at those things.
Jake: Uh yeah..
When did you decide to move from visual-art to music?
Louis: We were all doing music beforehand so it was kind of inevitable.
Mikul: We started Autograf as a creative outlet to do visual art because we found ourselves getting away from it.
Jake: We all had this background in art but weren’t using it at least I wasn’t using it as much as I thought back, when I was in art school. I was using my metal sculpture welding skills by working at a welding factory. Not exactly the most inspiring creative place, so we said heck let’s start this art project to make some damn art.
Louis: Yeah we modeled the group as our sort of own Andy Warhol factory, just this space where 3 individuals came together creatively to make cool stuff. And one of those things eventually was a song. The music did so well online initially, we just kept going and going with it. And now here we are, a band.
Is Chicago an important place artistically to you given that it’s the birthplace of House.
Mikul: Yeah all the old school House DJs still play around the city. Guys like Paul Johnson, DJ Funk, Derirck Carter, Gene Ferris. They’re all legends and you can still see them play regularly. So those guys plus all the old school house heads that have been following them from back in the day are at these shows, and you know they’re all super snobby about their House music, so it keeps you rooted and also keeps you on your toes.
The “E.D.M” movement has really picked up traction and mainstream success in America in the last few years, but obviously British Rave Culture and the music at its core has been extremely influential since the early 90s – is it something you look to/know a lot about?
Louis: Oh yeah the original raver and their huge JNCO jeans. Ummm yeah.. that was me haha. EDM is the second coming of the raver. It’s kind of weird. I thought trends aren’t supposed to recycle that fast. When are bell bottoms and disco making a come back? I listened to all that 90s electronic music, and then the Electro Clash stuff of the mid-2000s with Felix da Housecat and Tiga, but what got me really into electronic music was the Indie-dance stuff like Justice.
Mikul: I was really into Aphex Twin and Square Pusher.
Jake: Daft Punk all the way.
Lots of your output is intelligent remixes of familiar songs but who are some of your favourite musicians?
Jake: Danger, Trentemoller, Royksopp, Chemical brothers, Bassment jaxx. And for right now, Majid Jordan.
Louis: New Order, Joy Division. I haven’t listened to this in forever, but I used to have Bob Dylan’s “Desire” album on repeat.
And, following on from the previous question: which visual-artists (contemporary or traditional) do you find inspiring?
Mikul: Faile, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Roy Lichtenstein
Jake: Javier Marin
Louis: Basquiat, Van Gogh
Outside of music and art, what else inspires you to get creative?
Jake: I find a lot of inspiration in mundane laborious tasks like yard work or other manual labor. That’s why I bought Logic in the first place. I was working in a welding factory and hearing all these songs in my head, so I just had to go home and make the songs that were playing in my head.
Louis: Nature and traveling for me. It’s really hard to get inspired sitting at a desk or on a computer. You need to get out there and see the world. Actually touring is really nice because there’s this down time while traveling that forces you to think creatively. Whereas if you were at home your mind would be too preoccupied with doing all the things you have to do.
Mikul: It seems the common theme is you need quiet time to let your mind wander.
Are we going to see an L.P. anytime soon?
Yes finishing it up now!
Lastly, where do you see yourself in give years?
Louis: If the past is any indication, then I probably won’t be doing whatever I’m doing now.
Jake: 5 years I don’t know, but in 50 years you can find me in Sardinia painting!
Mikul: In 5 years, I’ll be leaving my Autograf.
WORDS: Benji Walters