The DJ Trainwreck story has been online for a long time, but I’d forgotten about it until today when my friend Sean re-linked it in a Facebook comment. It still makes me laugh, but I can also imagine this kid in his room trying to one-shot this drum & bass mix and putting all his will and effort into it.
Anyway, I’ll let Sandeep tell the story:
Back when I lived in Houston I had a radio show on the local college station (KTRU). The show was called “MKUltra”. It was on Friday nights, and I played mostly electronic music. I had a lot of guest djs for the show in those days… local talent like Andrei Morant, Abiel, Chris Anderson & Tim Xavier would often drop by.
Listeners and local scenesters would sometimes mail me their mixes, and sometimes I’d air them. If I really liked it, I would have them come in and do a live set.
In the summer of ’99 I got a mix in my mailbox at the radio station. It came recorded on a dubbed over dictasette, and was enclosed with a short note. This is one of the worst mixtapes I have ever heard. It is so horrifically bad that I listened to it non-stop that summer.
1999 was a rough year for me. My mom was fighting cancer. My girlfriend had just broken up with me. I hated my job. And I was depressed. But that summer, this mixtape took my mind off all that crap. And it made me think: no matter how bad things got, it couldn’t get any worse than this mix.
They say a good dj is supposed to make you feel things you haven’t felt before. To play music you haven’t heard before. And to hopefully play music in a context that is new. Unexpected. Fresh.
If so, then this may be one of the best mixes I know of. Each time I listen to it I hear things I’ve never heard before. And I feel things I normally don’t feel when I listen to music. Irritation, disgust, mild pain. Occasionally hope (when some mixes appear almost over). Anger (when they come back).
But mostly, this tape clears my mind of all life’s daily clutter. When I’m feeling a little down, I pop this in and jam out. So mad props to you dj Trainwreck. Unfortunately, I never did get you on the show. I moved away from Houston before that could happen. But thanks for the tape. And know that it was definitely heard.
I’ve been meaning to encode this tape for the last 5 years. I finally got around to it, and now I’m sharing it with you.
Download the tape! (right click, save as)
FWIW, I made it about 3 minutes into the mix.
I’ve talked in the past about being a promoter in Dallas in the late 90s and early 00s. It was a pretty incredible time and I’ll cherish all of those memories because they made me who I am today. One of the defining times of my life was operating our warehouse space, Decibel, with my friends. However, one gang-related incident on Christmas 1999 forever marred an otherwise amazing experience…
Decibel used to be a trucking warehouse in a crime-ridden, post-apocalyptic section of downtown Dallas at the corner of Corinth and Cockrell Avenue. It wasn’t really a place you walked around by yourself at night and if you did, you hoped you didn’t run into anyone else. The entire block was owned by a complete dickhead with a myriad of businesses including remodeling supply warehouses, restaurants, and truck repair depots. He used the building for parade float storage during the holidays, but most of the year it sat empty. When, my partner, James and I, first toured the building there were gigantic paper mache heads sitting on the floor waiting to be attached to floats for some random parade in God-knows-where. After walking the space, we instantly saw its potential, and signed a lease. About 48 hours later we started DIYing a new party space.
In a few months we had the best spot in town. We could cram a 1000+ people in on a Saturday night with room to spare. We routinely booked the biggest DJs, other promoters hated us (the mark of real success!), and had enough money to buy some questionable Chinese food at ‘Chicken n Things’ across the street. We could also sock away a little cash for improvements, like larger AC units and plumbing in the women’s bathroom that could withstand the incredible amount of abuse it was put under every weekend. Life was good. We felt like we were getting “there,” but we could do better…
We were always looking for a way to supplement our income during off-nights, so we partnered with a promoter that specialized in a specific segment of the market. Tony and his guys were Vietnamese club promoters who catered to the Asian club-goer community exclusively. In those days (and maybe now, I don’t know) the Asian population partied together. They promoted their shows in their own communities, they had their own DJs, and they had their own circuit of nightclubs. They were, generally, welcoming of others if not a little standoffish. If you didn’t care about a language barrier, were into the latest Armani gear, and dancing your ass off to big-room trance then you’d have a blast. Just like anyone else a large majority of them were trying to fit in and have a good time.
Unbeknownst to us though, there were issues bubbling under the surface. Just as these events were almost exclusively Asian, each nationality/ethnicity had its own clique inside the party. The Koreans hung with the Koreans, the Vietnamese hung with the Vietnamese, and so on. Then some of these cliques had disputes within their own peer groups. Tony did his best to keep us clued into ongoing issues and problems by keeping his ear to the ground. Often times if he ID’ed a troublemaker, we would deny them entry or ask the off-duty police officers to escort them away. One night, when I asked someone to step out of line I got a punch in the nose for the effort. That instantly escalated into an all out brawl between 40+ people. Another night, some poor kid was stabbed with a screwdriver that a girl had shoved in her panties (really?!). Yet, we were told, and believed, these were isolated incidents.
In retrospect, we should’ve put a stop to the events and realized that we were entering a danger zone. I also don’t think we fully understood, or ignored, that the “cliques” weren’t cliques at all. These were full on gangs tooling up over perceived beefs. Yet, after the stabbing we had assurances from Tony’s crew that everything was cool. I got the impression that maybe some people talked to people and that no one wanted to lose another party space. There would be no need to cancel the Christmas night event.
We were told later that things unfolded elsewhere that shaped the course of the night and there was nothing we could’ve really done to prevent it, but it didn’t make it feel any better.
At some point that evening, a Vietnamese gang got into an altercation with a Cambodian gang at another club roughly ten miles away. The Viet group left the first club, but were followed to Decibel by the group of Cambodians. The Vietnamese crowd made it inside the club to party, meanwhile the group of Cambodians stayed outside.
Inside, the party was kicking along just fine, the dance floor was packed, and there was no hint of trouble. There were some people milling around outside talking, laughing, and waiting to get in. In retrospect, I dont remember feeling like the security team was on edge and I remember joking around like any other night. Things felt pretty jovial…it was Christmas.
At some point, hours later, one of the Vietnamese crowd named Vu Kieu, came outside for a smoke or a breather. He was likely recognized by the waiting Cambodians and confronted. The official account says he attempted to play the peacemaker and approached the Cambodians with his hands raised. It didn’t matter. The assailants immediately opened fire, killing him and then indiscriminately firing on everyone standing outside, severely injuring Thieu Nguyen as he dove for the ground. Our off-duty police officers quickly took control of the scene and ended it before even more people were hurt. I was told later that there was an AK-47 loaded with armor-piercing rounds in the trunk of their car. If it had been fired it would have shredded the walls of the club and many more people would’ve been hurt.
Here’s a portion of the Dallas Morning News article about the shooting:
A 19-year-old Grand Prairie man was killed and a 17-year-old man critically injured in a gunbattle in the crowded parking lot of a nightclub early Sunday morning. Police said Vu Hoang Kieu was trying to mediate a dispute when he was shot outside Club Decibel in the 2100 block of Cockrell Avenue. He was pronounced dead at Baylor University Medical Center at 3:35 a.m. The 17-year-old, Thieu Nguyen of Mesquite, was shot in the head…
While digging for more information, I came across this archived post on a Google Group from 2001. It details the aftermath of the shooting on the hopes and dreams of the three immigrant families involved. It’s a poignant reminder of how pointless and stupid the entire thing was and how it completely destroyed so many lives over some perceived slight.
How one violent crime in Dallas snuffed Asian immigrants’ dreams
The three fathers who had endured the ravages of postwar Vietnam or the killing fields of Cambodia were intent on carving out new lives for themselves and their families in a new American homeland.
But as Christmas 1999 slipped away outside a Deep Ellum rave club, the hopes and dreams of Bay Kieu, Chi Nguyen and Phorn Chin unraveled amid a hail of bullets in a gang shootout.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Mr. Kieu’s son was dead, Mr. Nguyen’s only son was maimed – and Mr. Chin’s teenage son was facing 20 years in prison.
The young men, police and prosecutors say, were a part of a generation of young Southeast Asian refugees – pulled between two vastly different cultures and seeking full membership in both – who are experiencing the kind of terror that their parents fled so far and suffered so much to avoid.
The second of two young men who opened fire on a crowd of teenagers, killing Vu Kieu and leaving Thieu Nguyen paralyzed, was convicted of murder in January and sentenced to 20 years in prison. An accomplice received a life prison term last fall.
For the fathers of the victims, the convictions offered little solace for what they had lost. For outsiders, the concern is that the bloodletting is far from over.
“It is the greatest American tragedy, these unfulfilled dreams,” said Ron Cowart, a former Dallas police officer who has worked with immigrant families in East Dallas for 15 years.
“These kids have adopted Western traits that clash with the Asian culture, and many of them just don’t know how to balance the two worlds, and their parents know nothing of how to help them through it.”
The Dallas police crime intelligence unit has monitored Asian gang activity for seven years, and its data show that the ranks of gang members are growing and spreading out as immigrant families move away from urban enclaves where they first settled, such as Dallas’ Little Asia.
Officer Danny Nguyen has tracked about 15 loosely organized Asian gangs that operate in the Dallas area. During testimony at the trial of Mr. Chin’s son last month, he said the gangs mimic some traits of well-established and well-armed street gangs, but he said Asian gangs are more interested in making money by stealing cars than claiming a small piece of turf.
They “stick together for self-defense from established African-American and Hispanic gangs in the neighborhoods,” said Officer Nguyen, whose family emigrated from Vietnam in 1975. “But they prey on their own, since their victims are less likely to report crimes against them.”
The stories of the immigrant families go beyond crime and punishment, said prosecutor Nancy Mulder.
“We’re a country that can be hard on its immigrants,” she said. “We’re not accepting of differences, and these kids just want to fit in.
“To be frank, the ones that are weak of character will get sucked in and do whatever the other gang members are doing, despite what they’ve been taught at home.”
For the fathers of Vu Kieu, Thieu Nguyen and Sopheap Chin, the chain of events that led to Dec. 25, 1999, started more than 9,000 miles west of Dallas.
The Kieu family
Bay Kieu sat quietly in the courtroom last fall during the trial of a young Cambodian man who killed his 19-year-old son, Vu.
Unable to speak English, he waited patiently for his daughter-in-law to summarize testimony in Vietnamese during breaks in the trial. The leathery crags in his face barely shifted as the story was retold, his eyes giving the only clue to the numbness inside.
“I lost my right hand … my hope, my dreams, my future,” he said. “It’s all gone now.”
Mr. Kieu slipped out of Ho Chi Minh City in 1988 when a sympathetic boat captain made room for him and 8-year-old Vu for an eight-day voyage through the South China Sea to Malaysia.
Two years and three refugee camps later, he and Vu gained refugee visas and passage to the United States. Mr. Kieu’s plan was to
bring his wife and three daughters over as money became available.
Mr. Kieu, whose only skill was as a fisherman, became a cook.
In 1995, he moved to Dallas from Southern California and took a restaurant job in Garland. His teenage son joined a street
At 17, however, Vu walked away from the gang, got married and went to work. Two years later, he became a father.
On Christmas 1999, Vu and his wife, Thao Tran, found a baby sitter for a rare evening out of the house.
The $25 cover charge at Deep Ellum’s Decibel Club was beyond their budget. They were about to leave, Ms. Tran said, when a young man asked her husband to make peace between two rival gangs who were about to face off down the street.
She said the last thing she remembered him saying was, “I’m cool….”
When the chaos from more than 40 shots subsided, Vu lay between parked cars, bleeding to death from four gunshot wounds. Witnesses said the only thing he did to provoke Ros Pin to open fire from 5 feet away was raise his hands to show he was unarmed.
Mr. Pin’s life prison sentence brought little comfort to Mr. Kieu, who is still grieving.
“He’ll call us now and then to check up on his granddaughter,” Ms. Tran said. “But if he hears her voice, it reminds him of Vu, and he’ll get quiet and then hang up.”
Mr. Kieu moved back to California and shares a house with a dozen other Vietnamese immigrants. He doesn’t want to go home, and he doesn’t want to bring the rest of his family to the United States.
“I see no benefit as to what any of that would do,” he said.
The Chin family
Phorn Chin wouldn’t talk about his life after his 19-year-old son’s trial in February, humiliated by the grief caused from the
shootout and upset at his son’s 20-year prison sentence.
But his testimony on behalf of his son told the price he paid before he crossed the Cambodian border to freedom in 1979.
He was a schoolteacher in Cambodia until 1970, when the Khmer Rouge began a systematic slaughter of anyone suspected of opposing its agrarian Communist government. Mr. Chin said he pretended to be illiterate to avoid the attention of dictator Pol Pot’s henchmen during the nine-year reign of terror.
During that time, his first wife starved to
“It was a hard life under the Communist regime, and I wanted to be free from it,” he told jurors.
While living in a Thai refugee camp, he remarried, and Sopheap was born in 1981. Within months of being accepted into a refugee program, the Chins arrived in Texas.
By 1995, the Chin family had grown to five children, and the former schoolteacher and his wife worked as custodians in the
Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district.
Sopheap joined a street gang of Cambodians while his parents worked long hours to make ends meet.
“Since I came to the United States I haven’t had any time to improve myself,” Mr. Chin told jurors through an interpreter. “It’s taken too much time to make a living.”
Mr. Chin said he first learned from a police officer that Sopheap was running with a gang. He didn’t know what to do or say to his son.
“I have to think he knows right from wrong, but sometimes he goes his own way,” he said.
After struggling to speak his mind, Mr. Chin made one last statement to jurors.
“I am his father,” he said, measuring each word carefully. “It’s my fault what he did. I didn’t hold him close enough. I am responsible.”
Those simple words were the only ones in the trial that drew a reaction from his son, whose eyes welled with tears as his chin sank to his chest.
As his family filed out of the courtroom, Mr. Chin stood and watched bailiffs lead his son back to jail, a goodbye spoken only with a longing glance at his boy.
The Nguyen family
Chi Nguyen was left behind as Communist forces closed in on Saigon in April 1975 and an airport bus never showed.
While his sisters made it out of the country that day and eventually settled in Dallas, he waited 17 years before leaving Vietnam.
The new regime shut down schools just before his senior year, and Mr. Nguyen abandoned his dream of going to college and becoming an architect. His family’s home was partitioned to make room for more families, and Mr. Nguyen married and got a job selling bulk tobacco for a state-run company. Their only son, Thieu, was born in 1982.
“The government took over people’s houses and lands, then kicked the owners out,” he said. “A lot of people committed suicide because they would rather die than live with the Communists.”
His family didn’t suffer direct retribution from the Communist regime, so Mr. Nguyen waited patiently for word from the West, as Vietnam’s economy stumbled and fell to the point that 25 percent of the people were jobless.
“We lost everything,” he said. “Our future, our money, our occupations, our lives.”
When the Nguyen family received visas to the United States, they arrived in North Texas and returned to the middle-class lifestyle that had been cut short so many years earlier.
Family members had worked for years to get things ready. The Nguyens soon found jobs and moved into an immaculate home in Mesquite.
By Christmas 1999, Thieu was 17 and earning A’s and B’s in the classroom and a spot on the varsity tennis team when he decided to tag along with a friend to the Decibel Club.
He knew there were Asian gangs in Dallas but had never run across any members because, he said, he was “the only Vietnamese guy in my school.”
The smoke drove him out into the crisp night air about 20 minutes after he went inside the noisy underage club. He was too shy to ask any of the girls inside to dance, anyway. Shots rang down the sidewalk as he talked to others waiting to get in.
As people dived to the sidewalk, Thieu looked on. As a friend pulled him to the ground for protection, a bullet hit him in the
“All I remember is, my friend kept telling me not to close my eyes,” he said. “Then I passed out.”
He awoke from a coma three weeks later, and his family told him that the bullet that was still lodged under the top of his skull had badly damaged his ability to control movement in his arms and legs.
By summer, insurance coverage for physical rehabilitation ended just as he was able to gain control of his right hand to drive a motorized wheelchair. Mr. Nguyen had to help his lanky son bathe and dress, and the irony was not lost on him that his son’s future was more clouded than his own had been 25 years ago.
The dining room became Thieu’s bedroom because doors in the Nguyen home weren’t wide enough for his wheelchair. When the family went out, Thieu slipped into a collapsible wheelchair that could be stuffed in the trunk of the car.
After a summer of home schooling, Thieu rolled into the doors of Poteet High School in August to begin his senior year.
“I’d forget where my classes were or I’d go to the wrong one and then get lost,” he said. “Still, sometimes I can’t seem to remember a thing.”
When it came his turn to testify in the trials, however, Thieu charmed the juries and showed no signs of anger or bitterness at his
“When you’re angry, you’re just hurting yourself,” he said. “Why be angry? I think only the gang-bangers are angry and hate themselves.”
Little by little, hope is returning to the Nguyen family. Thieu passed all his classes last semester and works feverishly to learn how to walk again. He wants his driver’s license, and he’s considering going to college to study physical therapy.
Ms. Mulder, the prosecutor who asked for maximum sentences for the two gang members, expects that she will have to prosecute more gang-related shootings like the one in Deep Ellum that scarred three families.
“My heart goes out to the parents of these kids, the hardships they’ve undergone just to get here and the loss they’ve had to suffer in so many ways,” she said. “But there are a lot of Asian teenagers who came here and, despite all the difficulties, chose not to join a street gang.”
Nothing was ever really the same and within a month Decibel was shut down permanently. We still had a lease, so we were able to run a few more parties in the back but the clock was ticking. 32 Degrees dissolved within a year and most of us went onto other projects.
The owner of the building lost it in ’08 and it was demolished in 2010. The 32 Degrees logo remained on the door for the remainder of the building’s life. Miraculously, even when the rest of the building was tagged from top to bottom, that sticker was left alone. There’s something poignant in that…
My old buddy, Cobradoll, was jonesing for some Full Cycle/Bristol 2000-2001 sets, and while while I struck out looking for that stuff, I did find this mix from Die and Jakes that appeared in ATM (aka Atmosphere) Mag. This mix was done as a promotion tool for Die’s Clear Skyz label back in March of 2008, issue 76 to be exact, and it’s quite the fun little jam session.
1. Die – Intro Clear Skyz Safety Instructions 1:08
2. Die & Break – Untitled 1:49
3. Bassface Sascha – International Sound (Die Edit) 2:10
4. Cubist – Memory Lapse 2:10
5. Die & Clipz Back Inside 3:57
6. Kubiks – Forgotten Lands 1:49
7. Die & Clipz – Good Old Days 2:10
8. Roni Size & Die – Music Box (Sigma Remix) 4:21
9. Die – Slow Burn 2:10
10. A-Sides – Lustrous 2:54
11. Die featuring Ben Westbeech – The Reasons Why 3:36
12a. Heist – Bookem 4:21
12b. Die – Indian Summer
Well, I had intended for this next B&P to be a podcast showcasing some new tunes…however after a massive gear failure, a sick child, and the impending arrival of house guests I’ve called that off for the time being. I still intend to do the podcast, but I’ll need to get the gear sorted out first.
Anyway, let’s just do this the old fashioned way!
Response – S.O.S/Control – Ingredients – OUT NOW
S.O.S aka “Son of Sevenless” is a masher with a chilling intro and a straight angry break. I like this one when you’re stepping into the club and nothing has gone right at all up to that point. The flip, Control is the antithesis of S.O.S with a lighter feel and steppy snare leading a powerful female vocal. This release from Manchester’s Ingredients crew is an interesting case in drum & bass’ continued duality.
Sizzla – Champion Sound EP Remixes – Muti Music – OUT NOW
Sizzla‘s latest album, Born A King, has enjoyed tremendous success since it’s release several months ago and now the album is getting a fourth remix installment. This time the drum & bass, glitch, and dubstep community take a whack at its biggest choon, Champion Sound. Tunes from Dub Phizix, Skeptical, Spoonbill, and Hypha do their best to outclass one another remix fi remix. Personally speaking…Phizix takes the crown!
Andy Pain/Z-Connection – Take It/Horizon – Diffrent Music – Out 28 September
I often feel like Diffrent Music are playing chess when a lot of other indie labels are playing checkers. They’ve paired up a couple of Russian producers for GSTEP004 that rinse a bit of juke and footwork. They’re both wonderfully hectic pieces of music, but Take It is the mellower of the two (if you can even call it that!). It’s a nice change of pace…well done folks!
Here’s a mighty strong jump-up tune from Hex on FreeLove Digi that’s…well…free! Quality work, Hex!
I’m way behind on this release, but this was in my top five favorites last month. S’all about Kick’n Ya Door for me on the EP, but all four tunes are incredible rollers. Amanda Seal has the eponymous Say What You Want on total lock down with that vocal and Paranoia instills exactly what the title describes. DBR UK and Dispatch Recordings aren’t fucking about lately.
IIRC, this set is from 2011 when Bukem, Fabio, Grooverider, and a host of others re-formed as a tribute to their legendary “Speed” night from the 90s. Moose and GQ handle mic duties on this set, but it’s mellow enough for a lot of the MC haters.
In an extract from his new book on Arthur Russell, Tim Lawrence explains the story of how one of the most famous tracks in dance music history came to be: The Making of “Is it all over my face?” on Resident Advisor
Larry Levan’s female vocal version:
Original, unreleased male vocal version:
Here’s a list of things I’ll never, ever do:
1. Buy argyle socks.
2. Get a manicure.
3. Pop my shirt collar intentionally.
4. Drink 22 Jack and Cokes again.
5. Not buy a Warm Communications release, especially this one by the mighty Break because it’s fucking ridiculous and is worth the loot. Clink the link below, support a US label, and smash some tunes.
I couldn’t decide which set to post today, Hannah Wants 0914 mixtape or DJ Zinc’s August ’14 mix, so I opted to post both. Booty.
This is a first on Shadowboxing and, while it’s only tangentially related to music, I thought it was a good way to add in a bit of diversity. So, let’s get literary!
You may or may not be aware, but Stephen Aaron Grey aka DJ Freaky Flow is now a published author and his new book, Ant Farm: A Novel About What’s Bugging Society, just hit the streets. I’ve known Mr. Grey for many years, so when he sent me a copy of the book I had to take the opportunity to have a quick chat about the book, it’s history, and how he might make the changes he wants to see in the world.
**Here’s the prerequisite disclaimer: This interview is an endorsement of any political system or ideological values for Shadowboxing.org or the author of this blog post.
Why did you decide to write a book, and a book that has nothing to do with music, at that?
Obviously, music is a huge passion of mine, but there are other things that have become important to me too, like trying to educate people about how many different world problems have come to be, and how many of these problems could potentially be solved. As much as I love being involved in music, that outlet doesn’t lend itself well to being able to spread messages like these, but a book does.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm (which you credit), was an allegory about Russia’s devolution from communist paradise into a dictatorship ruled by fear and terror. Ant Farm is also an allegory, but would you say it’s more about free market, deregulation, libertarianism, or some other social or political ideals? Maybe, “anarcho-captitalist?” Though, the words that make up that descriptor have many negative connotations…
I think the term “free market” is a good one, because it leaves little room for misinterpretation, unlike some of the other terms you’ve listed. For example, some people use the term “deregulation” to refer to an industry that was once strictly regulated, and is now less regulated, but still state-legislated nonetheless. Some people use the term “libertarianism” to mean pro-military intervention under certain circumstances. Some people use “anarchist” to describe a society with Molotov cocktails, violence, no rules, and chaos. Some people use “capitalism” to describe a system in which corporations pay off politicians to influence laws to their mutual benefit. But all these terms also have other meanings to other people, and in my book, none of these aforementioned examples are situations that the insects who found Ant Farm are seeking, so I wouldn’t use those terms to describe the book, unless we’re all on the same page about exactly what those terms mean.
To avoid ambiguity, I prefer to describe Ant Farm simply as a “fictional” (but familiar) story about a free market society that deteriorates into a totalitarian society. Some people also like to use the word “voluntaryist” or “voluntarist” to describe this type of philosophy, but I don’t think either of those are widely understood yet.
What was the impetus for Ant Farm? Was there a particular moment or incident that made you want to write this story?
I first had just a nugget of an idea for this book several years ago, so unfortunately, I can’t remember if there was a particular moment or incident that inspired me. But I do know that I’ve thought about these issues for some time.
Like most pro-liberty people I’ve met, I didn’t become this way overnight. It took a lot of reading, listening, observing, and critiquing before I became fully convinced that letting people live completely freely, without state initiation of aggressive physical force of any kind, is the best (although still imperfect) way for a society to function.
There are countless examples I could give you about my transition, but let me give you just one here: When 9/11 first happened, like many people, I was extremely angry, and fully supported the U.S. military’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But since then, as I’ve learned more about the terrorists’ warranted reasons for their sentiments (even though their actions were extremely unjustified), and I’ve taken a full 180-degree turn on my thoughts about the matter. Now, I realize I was wrong, and that the U.S. military should not have invaded those countries – they’ve only made things worse, as we’re starting to see now with even harsher organizations like ISIS gaining traction. Anyway, I wanted to show political/philosophical laypeople, and young adults, that government “solutions” to problems are almost always the wrong way to go about things, and almost always lead to those very problems being exacerbated, rather than solved.
Has your career as a touring DJ had an influence on Ant Farm’s story?
The DJing itself probably didn’t have much influence on the story of Ant Farm. There are no turntables or glowsticks in the book. But the touring part has led me to perform in several different countries, and during these travels, I’ve come to notice societal differences from nation to nation. So I guess the actual travels have definitely influenced the story. I noticed that some places have more societal woes than others, so that got me wondering about what the causes were for these differences. I researched these causes, and found that, almost every time, the causes were spawned by the actions of governments. The nations with the most restrictive governments generally seem to have the worst problems, and the nations with the least restrictive governments generally seem to have far fewer ailments. Even more demonstrative of this point is another phenomenon I noticed: When nations transition from restrictive to freer, their people generally enjoy improved rates of literacy, life expectancy, GDP, and homicide, and when they transition from freer to more restrictive, the opposite occurs.
How long has it taken to write the book?
From the time I first started brainstorming notes about how I wanted the book to go until the time that I actually completed the first draft was probably about two years. But after that, I think I spent another two years tweaking the story, getting feedback from people, and revising another 12 drafts until I finally had this finished version ready to go.
Because they’re so damned cute and cuddly. KIDDING!
I guess the real reason is threefold: First, I wanted to model my story’s structure after Orwell’s Animal Farm. I thought his use of non-humans really helped to give an outsider’s perspective that the average Joe can understand. Second, instead of using farm animals, like Orwell did, I chose different creatures to further differentiate my story from his, in addition to the dramatically different philosophies that permeate each of our books. Third, worker ants feel like a great metaphor for hard-working humans.
Is there any significance to the colors (besides red & blue) and pattern naming scheme for the ants in the book?
I think the only other significant colors are the white cockroaches, as well as the navy and crimson ants. For a dramatic effect late in the story, involving a flag (the specifics of which I won’t reveal here), the cockroaches had to be white. Also, for some reason, white cockroaches just seem way more terrifying to me than black cockroaches. Can you imagine if you saw a white cockroach scurry across your kitchen floor? What the hell!? You’d freak out! As for the others I mentioned, I wanted some ants to be clearly aligned with red ants, and others to be clearly aligned with blue ants. So crimson and navy ants, respectively, seemed to convey this quite well, since the shades are so similar to the ants I wanted to align them with. Also, ‘navy’ and ‘crimson’ have historical military connotations, and those particular ants also serve military functions in the book. For the rest of the ants, I needed to differentiate them from one another somehow, so I just kept trying to come up with new colors and patterns that I hadn’t already used.
At the beginning of the book there’s an emphasis on the ant’s freedom of movement, or lack thereof. Is that portion of the story inspired by agencies like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or Homeland Security (HSA)?
Generally speaking, most situations and characters in my book aren’t usually meant to convey a single, specific, real-world example. Rather, I’ve created amalgams of several different real-world cases and people, and outlined fictional anecdotes based on those composites.
For example, as you’ve mentioned, in the beginning of the story, before the ants initially flee from their oppressive society to form a new, free society, yes, their movement is heavily restricted by a fictional government agency. For this agency, I drew not only from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Homeland Security Advisory System, as you’ve correctly surmised, but also from other restrictive historical and current factions, like the Nazi SS, the North Korean National Defence Commission, the Canada Border Services Agency, and others.
I read Orwell’s Animal Farm for the first time in a high school, is that where you see a market for Ant Farm? Or is there a target market?
I too read Orwell’s book when I was young, but I know of many people who read Animal Farm when they were older, and for them too, it clearly illustrated how a well-intentioned state-run forced communist society can lead to disaster. I hope my book will similarly illustrate how any forced state-run paradigm – even a democratic one – can lead to similar disaster, when personal liberty is not respected, and voluntary interaction is thrown to the wayside. I think it would be great if people were exposed to these kinds of messages when they’re young, but it’s never too late to be introduced to these concepts, even when you’re older, so my book is really meant to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.
In your opinion does deregulation work in every market and sector of society?
As people will hopefully see in Ant Farm, free markets don’t solve all problems, but in my opinion – based on the hard data I’ve studied – free, voluntary interaction always creates more peace and prosperity, and less poverty and suffering, than aggressively forced, coercive interaction does, no matter the situation.
If you had the power to snap your fingers and make the basis of Ant Farm a reality, where would you start?
I would remove the government’s power to aggressively force people to do things, just as the ants of my book do when they first establish Ant Farm. If real life police squads, fire departments, military divisions, and judicial systems all had to convince you to spend your money with them over other competing companies (that are often banned today) – rather than threatening you with prison time if you didn’t (as they always do today) – then I have no doubt that we’d see way less corruption, much more accountability, and far higher personal satisfaction with all of those aforementioned organizations.
Are you involved in any campaigns or efforts towards a free market?
Well, my book is certainly one of those efforts, and there are many other organizations out there that are trying to spread great information, but ultimately, I think the only thing that can really lead to greater liberty is concrete action.
Unfortunately, where I live in Los Angeles, the population is just way too huge for me and other liberty-loving individuals to peacefully make much of a dent in the system. There is a very promising movement that I’m aware of, called the Free State Project, where a bunch of liberty-loving people are all trying to move to a less populated area, New Hampshire; there, because they aren’t as outnumbered, they’ve made some notable leaps forward, and I expect they’ll continue to do so. Under different circumstances, I’d certainly love to be a part of that movement, but I’m just way too scared of cold winters again. Remember, I lived in Toronto for 30 years, and one of the main reasons I left was because of cold weather! Also, as far as work in the music business goes, Los Angeles is the better place to be, and there’s also In-N-Out hamburgers here. Perhaps someday, I’ll make the move, so that any activism I might do would be much more effective.
There’s also another thing I’ve become involved in – Bitcoin – although, I’m pretty sure that a great many people using Bitcoin aren’t concerned with free markets; rather, they just care about the usefulness and value of Bitcoin. But there is a liberty angle too: When you buy goods and services with Bitcoin, you’re not using a currency that any government controls and can inflate, like regular fiat currency. Whatever a person’s reasons may be for using it, I think Bitcoin is a good thing any way you slice it.
Is becoming a writer part of a transition plan away from DJing?
You mean I’m not allowed to do both? Ha!
Many thanks to Stephen for taking time to answer our questions! Oh, and just for grins here’s a mix from Mr. Grey aka Freaky Flow.