ART:CAST #102 & INTERVIEW Ghostwhip

For the moment he’s the primary source for experimental lofi music, probably the term that best covers Ghosthwhip‘s musical influences, which go from Detroit Techno to Chicago House to some Dirty South Hip-Hop back to Death Metal over to Electronica. But whatever caused his rave-madness the Canadian certainly and currently has a finger on the pulse with his music as his latest release on Amsterdam label Filament impressively shows. Aside from producing few but quality lofi tunes, Ghostwhip runs his own imprint Posse Up! and is the active force at Philthtrax – two labels that have been writing musical history for a few years and give home to like-minded artists with an equal passion for the arts. And speaking of history, the B.C. resident just finished his studies to teach the creme de la creme subject as a consequence to make people and especially younger people get the big picture. Latter seems to be the aspect that Ghostwhip refers to with most things he does, with most things he explains, always connecting the dots, always remaining self-reflective, self-aware yet humble and open to try new things, to experiment. Besides letting us dive deeper into his mind and getting to know the person behind the Ghostwhip-moniker, Ben, he mixed and compiled the first art:cast of 2021 – adding quite some magic to the game.

Torture the Artist: It’s close to 10:56 PM, tell us something about your day Ben.

Ghostwhip: My cats have been puking in protest. I gave them this cardboard box and cut out holes in it so it could be a kitty hotel and they absolutely loved it, but I took it away from them cause it made my kitchen look janky. In the end I had to return it cause I’d rather have a kitty hotel in my kitchen than cat puke on everything. I’ll likely have a box in my kitchen forever now. What else? Oh, I jumped into the river this morning on sum Wim Hoff polar bear swim ish. Couldn’t feel my legs for quite awhile, not sure if that is supposed to happen. Good way to start the new year though.

Torture the Artist: 2020 might go down in history as probably not everyone’s favorite year, what challenges did you have to face or undergo and what do you want to do differently this year?

Ghostwhip: Yeah, 2020 was the equivalent of being forced into a dentist chair with nothing playing but Nickelback for an entire year. I don’t like to admit it, but I had my moments when I got sucked into doom scrolling. Honestly, I think the more people spend reading through currently published material to try to understand where we’re at just adds insult to injury. I think we’re better off reading about history to understand where we are at. Aside from my girlfriend’s uncle dying of Covid, we’ve been pretty lucky all things considered. Shouts to everyone who’ve made it through this sh**storm of a year, keep yer head up.

I see my own friends repeating disinformation and it’s that breaking point where I need to be part of the solution.

Torture the Artist: Speaking of history, besides running your own label, Posse Up, co-running Philthtrax and producing music, you’ve decided to become a History teacher, how did that come about?

Ghostwhip: <laughs> Yes, I haven’t told anyone in the music scene about that yet as I usually try to keep my personal life separate from my music persona, especially since I tend to play some weird music. I just started seeing the bigger picture more. I had a previous career in AV and telecom and it was good for a while, but it was just living, there was nothing big picture about it. I’ve seen first-hand how uneducated people are easily manipulated. Discerning what is real and what is not are skills that are facilitated through education. I mean, I couldn’t write a paper without citing peer-reviewed sources, yet people are engaging with baseless information on a very large scale everyday. I see my own friends repeating disinformation and it’s that breaking point where I need to be part of the solution. The best solution, I believe, is to equip the next generation with these skills to a level that is better than what we received. If I can be a part of this process, then I can die happily knowing I’ve done something useful. History specifically, in my opinion, is the creme de la creme. It’s all about context and I feel like that is exactly what is needed right now.

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It has also helped me approach music differently. As DJs we’re engaging with musical artifacts that are a product of a specific space and time. When we play a Detroit Techno track or a Kraftwerk track, for instance, we’re engaging with some serious history. As DJs in 2021, we’re basically historians, shuffling around contexts in a set to create a story, just as academics might create a direction or argument. Historians typically prefer primary sources, yet secondary sources can be useful in other ways. When a guy like me is playing a Chicago Ghetto House record, I think it is best to understand that I am secondary source at best, redistributing the Ghetto House sound through a different context and lens than what initially gave rise to this music. A certain amount of respect is owed to the people and the context that created the music styles that live on today. While I feel most see this, the occasional person doesn’t seem to get it – they just think music is music – they either like it or they don’t. Like when this woman I know was dissing the music when Armando’s Don’t Take It came on at a festival, and I was baffled. Like, OK, you don’t have to like this, but understand this is history from below at it’s finest – a woman empowering her female audience during changes times, vocals like “Well this is 80s, we don’t have to accept this anymore…ladies are moving up in the world…taking over men jobs,” over a TB-303 no less. I mean if this same woman grew up in the 80s she would have identified with it, as she is living the very life that can be tied back to this context.

I always longed for this earlier hybrid period of rave music.

Torture the Artist: Taking us through musical history, what ‘historical’ event made you decide to turn to electronic music and how have you remained passionate about the music?

Ghostwhip: Listening to my older sister’s rave tapes. She started raving as a fourteen-year-old, which meant that I was listening to her tapes as an eleven-year-old in the mid 90s. She had this slightly older tape by Dr. No who was a UK guy that moved to Toronto and was one of the OGs of bringing the rave scene to Canada. I mean, he was bringing over records in 1991, so it was during that crossover time, when breakbeats were added to Techno and House. Dr. No only DJed, but he was highly creative, like he was known for playing 33rpm Techno tracks at 45rpm and getting up to those jungle BPMs before records were produced like that. Many of the big-name DJs in Canada today don’t even know about this history, even though they exist in the wake of what they created. I always longed for this earlier hybrid period of rave music, but before the internet it was hard to find.

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During this period, my brother and I were recording guitars, drums, drum machine, million guitar pedals and the like, and we had a lot of fun being creative and experimenting with recordings. It was just a natural progression into dance music. I mean the only successful music people in my neighbourhood were jungle producers. Illfingaz was one of my brother’s best friends and he showed me his rack sampler / Cubase / DAT machine setup back when I was in grade 9. He started releasing records and created his own record company. Then there was Slip n Slide who made that Man of Steel jungle anthem that everyone from Kenny Ken to Hype were playing at the time. Then I became friends with Gremlinz in like ’99, and he did the same thing a couple years later. So the path to releasing music was shown to me early on, but although I loved Jungle, it just seemed too complicated and expensive for lil ol’ me, so I just started collecting Hip-Hop classics and went to college, and just had fun with music.

He seemed to be having way more fun than I was having with Hip-Hop.

Then my brother was making D&B tracks in like 2005, and he seemed to be having way more fun than I was having with Hip-Hop by that point, so in like 2007 I started turning back to Dance music, mostly as a DJ at first. I played a show with Cryogenetic and Barbi iaround 2008, and they played a Ghetto-Tech set and I immediately knew what I wanted to do. Ghettohouse and Ghetto-Tech occasionally made its way into the Toronto rave scene years before, but this was more focused, Cryo was the real deal, and he had releases on Twilight76. It was what those earlier Jungle/D&B guys I grew up with were doing, but on a parallel path. It all made sense to me. The first track I released was in 2009, but I didn’t come up with the Ghostwhip alias until years later.

You will be more fulfilled from petting cute animals than paying a PR company for your Mixmag “opportunity.”

What keeps me going? Well, then as now, it’s a hobby. I did some postproduction audio for a year after college, and it morphed my love for audio and turned it into work, which ruined it for me. So I never wanted to repeat that. Lately I’ve been getting approached for podcasts with messages like “we’re really into you because you’re a cutting-edge upcoming artist,” and I’m thinking to myself, like LMAO, that’s not my approach at all. Though I do have to admit that it was amusing to see my track Je’taime go viral on Tickity-Tok. I am the last person in the world I thought that would happen to. Honestly, that could have been a jumping off point for me, but I tore down my studio for six months instead. F*ck all that. I’d rather pet my cat. For any upcoming artists reading, know this: You will be more fulfilled from petting cute animals than paying a PR company for your Mixmag “opportunity.” Massage a furry animal rather than the levers of payola and you will grow to the ripe age of 126 whilst bumping proper underground traxx along the way. <winks>

Torture the Artist: What’s a track or maybe the track that reminds you of your early days in the electronic music scene and what do you associate or connect with it?

Ghostwhip: Cloud 9 – You Got Me Burning.

The story goes like this: My brother and I accidentally recorded over one of sister’s rave tapes on the 4-track but only used 2 tracks. When I played the tape back on the other side, I could hear our Death Metal in reverse over You Got Me Burning’ (*our 4-track worked by stealing the reverse stereo track on the other side I think). I remember it because of how distinctly creepy it was. At the time, only my sister raved and the rest of my family thought raves were evil, so hearing this track with reverse Death Metal over it was basically our own biases about the rave scene transplanted over the perfect rave anthem, I’ll never forget it.

Torture the Artist: Even though your personal as well as label-sound have significant features and always hit at a deeper base, you seem to have a preference to switch in-between sub-/ and genres, where does your love for experimentation come from and what’s something you’d definitely like to musically try out but have not?

Ghostwhip: I think it goes back to that context is everything approach. Let’s be real here, I currently live in the middle of the mountains in British Columbia in 2021. It’s not the type of context that gives rise to a new form of music, so instead I engage with my previous influences. Living in the middle of nature is good for that, so long as you already have a foundation to carry with you. That said, we had a good crew out here which helped us develop our tastes further: Nurmi, Garneau, Cherriep, Chvvnes. But Cherriep and Garneau moved back to the cities, Toronto and Vancouver respectively. F*ck those guys anyways.. <winks>

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One day it would be cool to get into Post-Punk or something. Like some sort of Dance hybrid with real instruments. I love stuff like Mutant Beat Dance, I could def get into some sort of left-field hybrid direction. I just love weird timbres and hearing the grit and dirt on things. Lately I’ve been inspired by using effects in ways that are sorta outside of the practices of typical dance music, so I’m sure this direction will only continue. In a sense this would be going full circle to when I was recording music with my brother on the 4-track.

Torture the Artist: What’s more important for your artistical development: Hip-Hop or Detroit techno?

Ghostwhip: Damn that’s a serious question. Shiii, well I was a Hip-Hop DJ for many years before producing and I listened to a ridiculous amount of classic Hip-Hop tapes in the walkman as a teenager.I know I‘m sounding like a broken record here, but context is everything. If you asked me this in the 90s, I would have said Hip-Hop, but that’s only because I didn’t know back then that the jungle I grew up on was a result of Detroit Techno and Chicago House making its way overseas, giving rise to something else as a response to Margaret Thatcher neo-liberalism and making its way back over the ocean via my older sister’s rave tapes. In hindsight, I might be inclined to say Detroit Techno, but I think that is incorrect more broadly. This is the sort of stuff historians grapple with; which context is more accurate, me commenting today on what was more important, or what I would have said at the time?

Torture the Artist: What’s a track from Three 6 Mafia that stuck with you?

Ghostwhip: Chickenhead. That’s the first track I heard of theirs. It came out when I was 17. Nobody knew about their older Memphis tapes back then, at least not in Canada, that ish was confined down south at the local level, but when it made its way to us, it did so through BET music videos, the first of which I remember was bock-bock-chicken-chicken-bock-bock-chicken-head.

Torture the Artist: As beforementioned, you run Posse Up or ran Posse Up!, do you have any plans of reviving this label or putting all your effort and energy into Philthtrax, which you run with Cherriep?

Ghostwhip: I’m still running Posse Up! by myself. I love how DIY it is, and how I am just ignoring all the things a label is “supposed to do.” I don’t even send these releases to Juno or Beatport <laughs>; it’s pretty liberating. I’m still attached to Philthtrax though. While Cherriep handles the digital stuff now, Philthtrax is where I put out other’s people’s music out on the physical front. It was just a natural progression to take Philthtrax to the physical level, first with tapes, then with wax and landing the P&D deal with Clone (shouts to Ranie and the fam!). I’ve also known Cherriep since grade four, so it’s hard not to work with him. I love that guy. Having him finally being the lone face of Philthtrax is a good thing though, cause his name is also Ben, same age, everything, so people would get us notoriously mixed up and that created significant confusion for running a label. Also shouts to Detroit’s Filthiest, couldn’t have asked for better releases to kick off the wax, and that guy is absolutely legendary and a true artist if I’ve ever met one, not to mention pioneer of the sound.

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Torture the Artist: Personally you do not release much music, in 2020 you had a track on Filament’s fest ii various artist EP called 10:56 PM. Are you more of a DJ than a producer or too much of a perfectionist so that there is not more music from your side being released?

Ghostwhip: Shouts to Filament, and damn, that record sounds amazing – significantly better than the digital masters! Yes, it is true I didn’t put out many tracks in 2020, but I’d rather release a single track on a project with a unique direction than ten digital tracks, so I am quite happy with the year because of that record alone. The crazy thing about Filament is that they came up with the festival on wax concept pre-covid! It’s a cool thing to put on a record and transplant one’s self to a festival experience with each track labelled as a well-curated timeslot. They sent me a Christmas card with a photo of an inside of porta-potty, which is the sort of stuff festival dreams are made of. But yeah, now that I am a student again, I stop myself from going into the studio. As mentioned before, I tore down my studio for a semester so I could focus. Still, I’m not nearly as fast at making tracks as my friends Garneau and Cherriep. That said, I got some finished tracks that are concept pieces that are just waiting for the right tracks to couple them with. The NAS.RAR cassette with Cherriep was like that, one of those tracks was like 6 years old by the time it was released. I have the beginnings of a couple concept releases that I hope to get out before 2040. Stay tuned for some electro ghost tracks forthcoming Posse Up in the next couple months too. Perfectionist? Nah I’m just slow.

Torture the Artist: You also edit tracks, at least according to your mixes, what’s a track you’d enjoy to remix if you were asked to do so?

Ghostwhip: Yeah, my current DJ-setup allows me to deconstruct and loop in segments quite easily whereas it used to be difficult to do live. I can even cut up tracks into samples and scratch them in real time, and you’ll hear that in this mix. My old DJ-crew Philthkids was all about this direction – deconstructing and reconstructing – and that has really stuck with me. It’s raw and feels more creative than just playing 100% studio tracks. The edits that make it into Ableton are very much a result of DJing. That said, I like to keep the human feeling with edits, so I won’t perfectly quantize the samples and that. I did that with the Donkey edit on this mix, one-take recording playing the samples and one-take recording on the TR-707. But yeah, I would love to remix like old Moving Shadow records and the like one day. Whether or not stems exist for those records is the sort of question that keeps brain surgeons up at night.

I want to sit in the studio with 1993 RZA not 2021 RZA. I’m way more interested in how music was produced in context.

Torture the Artist: Following the question before, what’s a producer or artist you’d like to sit in the studio with, and why?

Ghostwhip: Honestly, most of my favourite new producers I am brushing shoulders with, like Club Cab and Turk Turkelton and the like. It’s really sweet to be putting out their music. <smiles>

However, I had this wicked dream the other night where I was in a studio with RZA. Again, context is everything; I want to sit in the studio with 1993 RZA not 2021 RZA. I’m way more interested in how music was produced in context. If I could have been there when Mickey Finn produced Some Justice by sampling a car horn into an Amiga computer in 1991 that would have blown my mind. Shouts to Pete Cannon for making videos of producing like that today!

The live feeling of this mix is facilitated with real-time jams, the odd rewind, scratch and sip of a holiday beverage.

Torture the Artist: You’re kickin’ off Torture the Artist’s art:cast series of 2021, what was your approach for your mix and when/where would you recommend best to listen to it?

Ghostwhip: It’s a pleasure to be here Holger. Although this is a studio mix, I approached it as a live mix. I just feel like it would be nice to fill the void of going out dancing with a studio mix that sounded more live. Live-sets to me are unpredictable, like, no matter what a DJ has in mind, they’ll usually divert and adapt to the party. The last booking request I got was to play Vancouver via Max Ulis. He usually has this Dark Techno side room with a single red light. I would have requested to play that room rather than the main room where I played last time, so was envisioning this while recording. Like coming on after a Techno DJ in a tiny pitch-black room and playing Techno tracks before getting into the weird period before morning. Also, for those not familiar with my DJing, I like to mess with people and see what I can get away with – there might be a hint of that in this mix. This is probably the slowest I’ve ever recorded too. Lately I’ve been enjoying playing tracks way slower or way faster than they were originally recorded at. It seems DJs used to do this more in the past but it is returning. I mean this is how Ghetto-Tech was created, initially a DJ style with insanely skilled and creative DJs that would speed up tracks and make it right for their scene (e.g., Jesse the Body). I usually record fast, but in real life I sometimes play slow given the time slot, location etc., so I thought it would be cool to actually reflect that in a recording. The live feeling of this mix is facilitated with real-time jams, the odd rewind, scratch and sip of a holiday beverage.

Just like everything else, we should have tolerance for the other, and that extends to music.

Torture the Artist: Your bio states “Hybriding obscure 90’s music for the development of music that should have been but never was.” Do you think music and also a lot of electronic music is too repetitive rather than innovative and do you see yourself as a kind of ambassador for people to be more creative when it comes to producing music?

Ghostwhip: What I mean by that is that my approach is very 1990s. I may use Ableton rather than rack samplers andCubase, but that aside, I am approaching it in the same fashion. As an example, some producers today, myself included, have been sampling old Memphis tapes the last couple years. No one did that back in the day because dance producers didn’t know that music existed, even though it was a product of the same time period. So the music I am making today could have been made back then under different circumstances. I also don’t use processing or production techniques that were unavailable back then. For instance, I am not at all a fan of multiband compression, just hit me with an EQ, tape saturation and a limiter. I don’t like anything new and fancy on my tracks and I use plugins that model old Akai samplers and efx processors. I like to hear a bitta grit over my music to make it seem more tangible. I even love 90s tracks that aren’t mixed “properly,” as it adds to the uniqueness. The lofi scene is cool in that regard. There’s a couple tracks that embody strange mixdowns in this mix.

That said, I don’t see myself as an ambassador, and I think people should stick to their own thing. As for repetitive, some people like that sorta thing, so I’m not bashing it. For instance, the music scene where I live in rural British Columbia couldn’t be any more indifferent from my tastes. It used to bother me, but now I see it as a positive. It allowed me to ignore my music surroundings and focus within. All in all, I wish those pursuing music I detest all the best, so long as it brings them joy. I’d rather say they do that than they copy my approach. I’ve also come to realize that they are being creative in their own way. Some of the coolest people I have met are into music that I can’t stand. This one chap I was kicking it with in Thailand was a newschool Gabber producer who made the worst music I’ve ever heard in my life, but as a person he was top. Just like everything else, we should have tolerance for the other, and that extends to music. Divided as Individuals ~ United as One.

Torture the Artist: What’s the sick car you are driving and what’s your current top5 in your car?

Ghostwhip: I just bought a used white Honda CRV. The only way I could afford it was to buy it with significant hail damage, literally an insurance write-off, so there’s dents all over the roof. It’s wicked though, I can cruise up the mountains and jump in glacier lakes and that. Probably not what you were expecting to hear, but my last whip was a Civic and it treated me so good that I’m probably a Honda guy for life now. That said, like everybody else in the world, I would kill a baby koala for a Toyota Trueno AE86 (just kidding about the Koala <smiles>). Actually, there are a ton of import Japanesse whips around here that they ship across the ocean for cheap, the only reason I don’t have one is because my girlfriend isn’t comfortable with a steering wheel on the “wrong side” of the car. Other favs include: Mitsubishi Delica, Honda S2000, Nissan Pulsar GTI, and the OG Maximas.

Mad shouts to Torture the Artist and err’one who I’ve met along the way. – Ghostwhip.

Interview by Holger Breuer