If you use Spotify, you’re probably familiar with “This Is,” a series of editorial playlists designed to help new listeners get to know popular artists. “This Isn’t” is my effort to do the same for artists who mean a lot to me but don’t meet whatever opaque, data-driven quota Spotify uses to make their official mixes. First up: Matmos.
Matmos have been making weird, wonderful experimental electronic music for over 20 years. Partners in music and life, Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt use musique concrète composition techniques to make songs you can actually sort of dance to. Along with more typical electronic dance music elements like synthesizers and four-on-the-floor rhythms, you’ll hear the sounds of balloons inflating, human bodies being surgically altered, things breaking, things falling apart, and a thousand other recognizable and unrecognizable noises that make their music utterly unique.
Almost all Matmos albums are built on a concept. Sometimes the gimmick is material: for example, 2001’s A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure sampled recordings of medical procedures, while 2016’s Ultimate Care II used beats generated by Daniel and Schmidt’s washing machine. I first encountered Matmos through 2006’s The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, one of their headier concept albums, and arguably, one of their best: each track is a tribute to a queer artist that influenced the duo, with subjects ranging from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein to Space Age ’60s record producer Joe Meek to would-be Warhol assassin and radical feminist Valerie Solanis. (I kicked off the mix with their Solanis track, a reading from the “S.C.U.M. Manifesto.”)
It’s always fun going through an artist’s back catalog to find songs that fit together, but especially fun when it come to an group as eclectic as Matmos. Each Matmos album is, in a pretty literal way, made differently, but in trying to connect them you notice the recurring patterns, themes and techniques that make Matmos sound like Matmos. Making this playlist was a worthwhile exercise just to get to know a group I love a little better, but I hope you enjoy it too.
At 17, The Rose Has Teeth blew my mind. Matmos did things with sound that seemed positively illegal, and yet the results were tuneful, catchy, campy and frequently beautiful. And that’s the great thing about Matmos: they play by their own rules, but they don’t ignore the traditional logic of beat and melody. They realize that music is just organized noise, but they don’t take the “noise” part too seriously. Artists with a noise/industrial bent often get hung up on making music that sounds cold, harsh and alienating. Matmos know how to make noise fun.
Plastic Anniversary came out March 15th on Thrill Jockey Records. Buy it from Bandcamp.