[Interview] Zebbler Encanti Experience Dissolve Reality
The Zebbler Encanti Experience is a warped world of profound profanity. It tickles the amygdala and wiggles there, wriggling giggles out of the listener. If you like to get heady, these guys go about as deep as it gets. I saw a lot of familiar, friendly faces as we gathered at Aisle 5 for their tour stop in Atlanta. Sixis was absolutely wonderful as the direct support. He played the perfect opening set for Z.E.E.; impressing while simmering the audience, gradually priming them for the intellectual onslaught that would soon arrive. I got to sit down with the duo before their performance to learn a bit more about their process and how they see the world.
I’ll be attending Moogfest 2017, and one of the themes is technoshamanism (read our interview with Moogfest Co-Creative Director Emmy Parker here). That makes me think of you guys because you teach and spread knowledge with your skills. Encanti, you taught for Berklee in Spain, right?
Encanti: Still teach. I live in Valencia, Spain.
That’s great that you teach face-to-face. Especially since we’re entering an era where the internet is under such great threat.
Encanti: Man, I love this interview so far. This is some deep shit. The internet is in constant danger, but “facts” itself are in constant danger. Intelligence, objective reality. I feel like objective reality right now has been more up in the air than it’s ever been before.
And access to information. Universities hold publicly-funded knowledge behind paywalls. The grants are funded with tax money, but not everyone can get to the information.
Encanti: That’s been something really enlightening to me about being an educator. When I was a student, the exchange was such that it was, I give you money, you teach me stuff. I show up, and you give me information that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. But, that’s not the case anymore. Information is trivial. Information is something you can get anywhere. That is not what's valuable. So where is the value in education? That question is something that all of the educators behind the scene are needing to ask themselves.
What’s becoming clear to me as an educator, is that it’s not about the information. It’s the larger picture behind the information. How does it all connect as a part of a narrative? Where is the information that you can’t tell with information, do you know what I’m saying? It’s like, I can hang out and I can show you all the cool knobs to twist, I can tell you all the music theory. That doesn’t mean you’re going to make great music. So, how do you connect all these dots that show the bigger picture that you can’t describe through a Wikipedia article? How do you talk about something that can’t be described in a technical tutorial? This isn’t anything new. It’s form and technique, and all those elusive parts of creativity that are captured in the classroom that isn’t online.
Speaking of creativity, where do you guys see the future of human creativity as artificial intelligence starts to outpace our own?
Zebbler: I think being afraid of things that are out of our control is silly. This is the future, right? The machines are going to be more and more intelligent. They’re going to actually learn how to be creative and “out-creative” human beings. But just because it’s a fact doesn’t mean that we have to resist it or fight against it. We might as well use it as an asset, and use artificial intelligence to its full potential. Blend with it, become one with it, and evolve into these godlike states that are our real potential. Because, why the hell not?
We really could be that powerful, both in our imagination when we merge with machines that way, and in our capability as well. I say we embrace it. I say we go all the way as far as we can, and I think there’s still going to be a lot of very interesting things that we as humans can do. Combined with the artificial intelligence, I don’t think we have to look at it as “us versus the machines.” Really, it’s all us. It’s all our creative expression. It comes from us, it’s still human.
Encanti: That presents a really fun question. Is all intelligence artificial?
Or are computers alive?
Zebbler: I think we’re getting there.
With the horns and the wings on your backdrop, you’re playing with some pretty polar themes. Do you think that “good” and “evil” are real things, or are they just what we perceive?
Zebbler: I don’t think they’re polar themes at all. I think they’re only polar if you think of it as a Christian symbol. To us, these are playful icons that we are re-embracing that have been absorbed by a variety of cultures, a variety of sets of expressions, and we like them. There’s something intuitively right about them. There’s something soaring, something devilish, something playful, something very fun about this whole setup. And I just want to look at it that way, and not try to go into black and white definite meaning. Because I think there’s a variety of ways you can interpret it.
As far as whether or not there’s good and evil, I think the answer to it, from my perspective, is rather obvious. Consider how we evolved as creatures. We came from a chemical soup on the early primordial earth. The reason we exist is because some of the molecules were able to replicate the molecules next to them into their copies. That which was able to continuously replicate until this very moment is here now, and we call it life. Is there at any point of this anything that seems to you that is a definitive “this is good” and “this is evil?” The way I’m looking at it, it’s literally like a mathematical formula unraveling through time and asking math whether it’s good or evil is kind of silly.
The way I like to look at it is that none of us really know what life is. None of us really know why we’re alive and what it all means, right? So, to say otherwise is, really, to lie to yourself or lie to other people because it’s all a giant mystery. But, as a mystery, I feel like I am personally incredibly blessed to be alive, so every single second of my life is, scientifically speaking, a miracle. We don’t understand why I’m alive, why you’re alive, why any of us are alive; but it is so incredibly rare for that reason to feel alive and to witness this. And the fact that the universe is billions and billions of years old, yet my lifetime may be under a hundred… makes me feel like I should just enjoy this experience and really just live. It’s as simple as that.
(To Zebbler) You’re someone who grew up in the former U.S.S.R. and you have had your life threatened; and perhaps more importantly, your creativity threatened. We find ourselves in this new relationship with Russia that we haven’t had since the Cold War. What is something about Russian culture that would be valuable for Americans to know? And what is something that under the pressure of creative constraint allowed you and some others to keep that spark alive? There are clearly a lot of creative lights that were extinguished under those conditions.
Zebbler: I feel like we should sit down for several hours with a bottle of vodka, and I should show you the Russian spirit. But, to try to answer your question, there are a ton of really creative, amazing, beautiful people in Russian culture and in Eastern culture. If you think of all the really creative Russian writers, they’re still relevant and they’re still amazing and beautiful. The writing is really exquisite.
So, the way the Russians break down is, there is this intelligentsia class, who are just smart intelligent people, and they kind of see things how they really are. And then there are these hyper-patriotic masses that follow Putin that are pretty easily led to patriotism through some kind of ritualistic evocation. And then there’s just people who tune everything out.
Well, we have that here, too. Here it seems to be largely divided by urban versus rural communities.
Encanti: It makes sense to me as a creative person. I’m from Alaska. People move to Alaska to get away from everything else.
Is Alaska the one true Libertarian state in the nation?
Encanti: No, we’re not anything. Everyone can fuck off, that’s the motto of Alaska. Everyone else can fuck off. Don’t call us anything. You call yourself something. We’re Alaska, that’s it. And people move there because we don’t want laws, we don’t want people labeling us, we don’t want regulations. If I want to have twenty turkeys in my front yard and broken pile of Buicks in my back yard, I can do that. And if my neighbor has a problem with it, they’ll come talk to me, and they won’t create a law that says I can’t have 20 turkeys, like they do in Massachusetts or somewhere random.
It really works for Alaska, but just to comment on what you said about cities… I grew up there feeling really, really alone, as a lot of people do up there, you know, it’s really isolating. I wanted to make music, I wanted to make electronic music. Freaky music! I wanted to make really crazy fucked up shit, and everyone around me that wanted to stay there wants to stay in their communities that are a lot more simple and close-knit. Life is about getting a house, and locking down your great job, and having the kids. It makes sense that the cities are liberal because that’s where everyone goes to escape those other people. I feel like that’s been happening for generations and generations. Why do you think all the LGBTs go to the city? It’s because they’re trying to get away from the bullies that beat them up in high school! People are trying to go to where other creative people are, and that hub tends to be cities.
As someone who came from the country, to come and thrive in a city like Boston, which is where I met Zebbler and started doing stuff, to me was a very clear cut decision. It was, you’re going to stay here and try to build something on what you have directly around you, or you’re going to connect with other people that have this special weird energy that you’re feeling. And there’s no other place to find those people en masse than in large groups of people. But, I forgot what we were talking about… (to Zebbler) give us some Eastern Europe advice. Tell us what we can expect here now that we’re becoming the second world.
Zebbler: It’s really hard to congeal it into just a few sentences, I feel like it’s a really large topic. But, the way that the Russian culture is right now… first of all, Putin is incredibly smart and he’s a really long-term player. In the United States, you cannot do this. It’s a country of corporations who are responsible to their board of directors who is responsible to the stockholders who are only looking for profits. Quarterly profits, that is! Everything goes really fast and everyone is looking for instantaneous results.
When a country like this, with elections that are continuously going through, and people are already talking about the next cycle of elections and it’s a continuous type of propaganda, like next-next-next, get results all the time… in that type of environment, it’s really actually quite hard to out-maneuver people who can plan for 20 - 30 years ahead of time. It’s practically impossible. That is something that strategically the Russians have that they could trump us with. (chuckles) It’s something that the Chinese have. They have a really rich cultural tradition, but they’re ruled by the communists, and the communists also do have a hundred year plan. The United States don’t.
My other point is that in spite of all of that, the way Russia is ruled right now is very mafia-style. You are either with us, or we’ll kill you. This is the thing that happened to me in high school in the United States. I befriended a few Russian-speaking people, and somehow at a certain point, when I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore, they literally jumped me. They said, you can’t just leave this or you’re a traitor.
As an artist, as someone who is a creative type, who is a thinker, who wants to affiliate with whomever I choose to at the moment; I really value that freedom. That freedom of free association, the freedom of free expression, free speech, free creativity. That is something you don’t get in Russia precisely because of that mentality of the country being ruled mafia-style. The top guy is always right no matter what, and you cannot leave the clan as soon as you are absorbed into it; otherwise, there is a threat of real violence against you.
And so, this is the fundamental culture clash between the Western Europe and the Eastern Europe, and I personally have chosen to associate with Western Europe and with the United States. And that’s not to say there are no problems there or problems here, but I feel free to self-express. I feel free to do my art. I feel free to go as dark or as light as possible in my self-expression, and I don’t feel that much censorship here. The most censorship I feel really is coming from me, my self-censorship. So, there’s still a lot of room for me to self-express here, and I really value it. That is the reason I’m here.
You guys are on your “Get Psychic” tour right now. What’s coming up next for you?
Zebbler: Whatever we feel at the moment is right.
Encanti: This is the craziest tour we’ve ever done. 25 shows in 30 days. It’s on the road until early June, and then I’m flying right back to Spain. I’ve got to finish up a short Summer semester. While I do that, and going into the rest of the Summer, I’m going to be working on a lot of new Z.E.E. music. If everything goes smoothly, I’m saying maybe by Fall or Winter we’re going to have our next release. The fun thing about this tour is that we got a portion of it finished, so a lot of what we’re playing tonight is going to be stuff that isn’t out there other than just on tour. Visually and audio-wise.
That has been the fundamental part of our collaboration. How do we take what each other is doing and translate it into the other person’s medium? Usually, that is me writing the music and I bring it over to Zebbler, but I find that with what we do as a band, Zebbler is very much a creative director. He can jump in on a track and say “I want this to get really smeared here and then feel like I’m sucked into some sub-sonic space and then explode!”
It’s great because I went to music school, so I talk to other musicians who are like, "Yeah, add a minor 7 sharp three, and then go back to the…“
Zebbler speaks with his emotion. For me, it’s been really exciting translating his ideas from a completely abstract point of view. Like, “Make it spicy right here, and then come in with a heavy gust of wind, and then send me down the toilet!”
He can describe things really abstractly, and I figure out how to translate it, because meanwhile he’s got visual ideas that are happening in his mind. So, part of the collaboration is this going back and forth, and we call it an experience because we’re trying to weave the audio and the visuals at the same time, so they’re really interconnected.
If you’ve never had the chance to see the Zebbler Encanti Experience, it is something to behold. The most violently psychedelic visuals imaginable are displayed on a screen while they contort their bodies and basically just freak out on stage. At one point, they put on masks and robes for effect, while at other times they accepted fanning from the girls in the front row to cool themselves down.
The stage they perform on is a giant infinity mirror, and every element of their show is designed to surprise and delight the viewer. I was laughing with my jaw on the floor throughout, and they have catapulted themselves to near the top of my list of acts who I most want to see perform again. If they’re coming to a city near you, grab your friends and maybe some friendly little plants, and make it a point to witness the Zebbler Encanti Experience.
Photos by Stephanie Heath for Bullet Music.