Posted 2010-04-12 in News   Permalink

Interview: Stuart Argabright

Diskotopia get an exclusive interview with 80s no-wave legend Stuart Argabright, the man behind Death Comet Crew, Ike Yard, Dominatrix and more.

Stuart Argabright is a producer and director who has been working in music and multimedia in NYC since 1978. Stuart has created The Futants, Ike Yard, Dominatrix (with their infamous cult club track Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight), DCC aka Death Comet Crew, The Voodooists, Black Rain and more. We were lucky enough to get him to take some time out of his busy schedule of running a record label, and constantly making music under his various projects, to answer a few questions for our readers.

When did you first start making music and what lead you to do it?

‘74 -‘75 ?  I began to jam with classmates I knew from art classes in High School. I was always drawing and listening to music. My older sister had turned me onto ‘60’s music, in the ‘70’s it was hard rock, glam like Bowie and Eno, Roxy Music then punk came.

How many bands, projects have you been in or been a part of in total?

In the 1980’s I was in the position to form new groups in order to create new music hybrids. With Ike Yard, Death Comet Crew and Voodooists, a pattern emerged where we would do a couple of releases each before falling apart; either changing modes or circumstance, or simply not being asked to do another record by the previous label. One result was I was able to be involved in Washington DC early punk (The Rudements), early electronic experimental AND pop music with Ike Yard, early street hiphop in Death Comet Crew,  plus mid-late ‘80’s cyber music hybrids like Voodooists, and furthermore, recasting punk, post punk and industrial with Black Rain in late ‘80’s

Overall there have been 8 groups from 1977 to 2010 but with smaller projects like metal percussion duo Will To Power, The Voodooists and Dystopians also presenting new styles and music modes.

Could you talk us through them?

From 1977 to 1978 I was in The Rudements, a punk group I put together with High School friends. Following that, Futants in NYC from 1979 to ‘80, which was a post punk electro rock group formed after meeting Berliner Martin Fischer down at the Mudd Club. Martin brought in his synthesizers, and we jammed with guitarist from Ultravox, but we never recorded. So no known recordings of this group exist, to my knowledge.

I guess you are best known for the output you were responsible for in the 1980s, and it’s these projects that have come together again in recent years. Could you talk a bit about that?

At the start of the 80s I was looking to form another group asap after taking a short break from NYC during an off - season. That was Ike Yard.

Ike Yard was a group whose music evolved quickly from a no wave, urban music performed in a basic drums -bass -guitar -synth -vocals lineup - into a full on electronic quartet by the second release - the album on Factory Records. We just wanted to push as far forward as we could, in those times. At one point we shared a space where Madonna rehearsed down the hall, we played with Factory Record’s New Order and Section 25 and in our final form where all operating synths with a central control device. We wrote our song pieces based on group improvisation. Often termed as ‘dark’, one has to remember we wrote in a group that had barely escaped bankruptcy and there was a blackout not too long before we formed! By now, we accept it when called ’ Cold wave’ or so on as I feel we were related to German groups like DAF and Liasions Dangeruses  (I am half German , Michael Diekmann also half ).

I never expected or imagined the group would need to reform, play Europe and record another release but it happened!

{Ike Yard currently has new 10” out which should become available in Japan through P-Vine. CD album “Nord” is also coming out soon. Furthermore they are  currently remixing Vladislav Delay for the Phthalo Record label}

{The review of the new 10” is on their Myspace}   {Pitchfork on the rerelease}

And then of course, there’s Dominatrix…

Our one 1984 club classic “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” by the ‘one hit wonder’ Dominatrix has been sampled by amongst others, DJ Carl Cox, Junior Cartier and Puff Daddy, and ripped off more times then I can mention. As well as being compiled a fair few times, it appearing on the soundtracks of Grosse Pointe Blank and the Jean Michel Basquiat documentary, “The Radiant Child” . It was then also rereleased on DJ Hell’s Inernational Gigolo DJ’s label in 2003 with a sweet Black Strobe remix.

I co-produced the original video with Director Beth B, which was then banned from MTV in ‘84. It now resides in NYC’s Museum Of Modern Art permanent collection. It was recently referenced in Lady Gaga’s LoveGame video.



In 2008 I began reviving the Dom project and last year released the first new Dominatrix tracks since ‘84 on my label Rec, with cover art by David Levinthal.

{Check it out here}

For 2010, they’ll be a second EP, a Dominatrix remix EP, and eventually, a Dominatrix album.

After the success of Sleeps Tonight, I was intent on having fun with musician friends and formed Death Comet Crew with Michael Diekmann from Ike Yard, Shinichi Shimokawa on bass, also Nick Taylor aka DJ High Priest. Our MC was The Rammellzee . We made a fresh raw kind of hiphop, I have called ‘riphop’.

{there’s a Pitchfork review of 2004’s This Is Riphop here}

A brand new EP and album are now being mixed for release this year with guests from Hercules & Love Affair’s Nomi, Carolyn ‘Honeychild’ Coleman and The Rammellzee.

What about some of these other “smaller projects” you mentioned earlier?

Voodooists, our ‘cyber voudou’ project ran from 1989 to 1991. We actually recorded with a 5th generation Haitian voudou priest and his two mambos. Our track Queen of Voudou was released as a 7” split with Deborah Harry and was featured on the soundtrack of Jonathan Demme’s “Married To The Mob”. Also a “Video Voudou” Laser Disc released in Japan through Toshiba / EMI in 1992.

Some of the Voodooists’ material has been recently rereleased on my label REC

In the 90s there was Black Rain. Envisioned as a combination of Misfits and Einsturzende Neubauten, Black Rain took punk into post-industrial. We played East Village squats after the T Square Riots, set fire to the stage at The Bank on a bill with Taro Jiro and also played at GG Allin’s last gig at Gas Station in I think ‘92.

Phase two of the Black Rain became largely a soundtrack producing unit; the results being custom soundtracks for author William Gibson’s Neuromancer audio book at the author’s request in ‘94, followed by original music for Robert Longo’s 1995 Sony film Johnny Mnemonic. We will also be rereleasing some Black Rain material on REC at some point…

I worked as Dystopians from approximately 2004- 2009 with Bones from Black Rain. In 2008, Dystopians started performing a series of live movie soundtrack nights including ‘Replicant’s Night’ (Bladerunner),  and with guitarist Norman Westberg (Swans) we did THX 1138 and Alien in ‘09. A Dystopians EP is to be released on REC this year.

I’m currently working on my Outpost project, our new psych electro dub group formed with Mark C from Live Skull.

{more info on that here}
{Outpost Myspace}

So you have certainly had a busy and versatile career!

Any groups I was lucky to form made anything good because of a combination of talented mates …

I was only a child during the 80s and grew up in the UK so really wasn’t familiar with your work until introduced to The Domanatrix Sleeps Tonight by Andrew Weatherall on his compilation Nine O’Clock Drop, which just preceded a massive international revival of post-punk and dark 80s synth-pop. To what extent did this revival affect your career?

Things did being to build again… Dominatrix had been on the Tommy Boy compilation Perfect Beats (Vol.2) in 1998, and then again on the Weatherall release in 2000. Also in 2000, Munich based label Gomma did their Anti NY compilation that both Ike Yard and Death Comet Crew were on and things picked up from there. And are still following through as almost every group has gotten it’s proper rerelease.

Producing post no-wave and proto electro music for New York Noise 3 for Soul Jazz end of 2006 was another level of involvement with the whole ‘70’s -‘80’s post punk NYC music revival.

What did you think about the electroclash, disco-punk movement that coincided with the revival?

The electro revival / mutation I could enjoy and feel the energy and point of. Never got on with the ‘disco punk’ thing though !

What about fellow New Yorkan production force and label DFA? Admittedly they have transcended the whole “disco punk” thing, but they certainly were tarnished with that brush to begin with. Are/were you in to that sound?

I had known those guys from the scene, and was invited to remix “Beat Connection” for LCD, and it was good to work with Tim Goldsworthy . We made it sound a bit like an electro Japanese CM, but it remains ‘unreleased’. I don’t think we left enough of the original for someone’s taste!

Did you feel that there had been a dramatic change in the club scene from the time of Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight’s first release in the 80s and the aforementioned revival period? If so what had changed?

Sure, in the ’80s everything was up for grabs, although we used to get criticized for using synths! All tribes mixed and partied together. Back then, one would get a record deal and go into a great Studio to record and work with great engineers and get stellar results. For artists today ‘making records in their bedroom’ that’s cool too, but they can lack the perspectives, ideas and good work done by engineers who really know the gear, or have some that one may not have even known about. 

We learned so much from those doing those ‘80’s records !   

I’m sure you have been asked this questions millions of times over your career, but what was it like working with Rammellzee, such an important player in the initial crossover of hip hop culture to the mainstream?

We met in West Berlin 1983 when I attended an opening of his art work, we hit it off and when we got back to NYC we did Death Comet Crew and invited Ramm in for the Beggars Banquet 12” recordings and we had a lot of fun. The tracks speak for themselves, crazy energy. We worked together on a couple cuts for Black Rain’s second phase, then after the Gomma “Anti NY” connection , I thought it was high time for Rammellzee to do his own Album and we came up with 2003’s Bi Conicals Of The Rammellzee for Gomma. Afterwards, Death Comet Crew reformed and we toured Europe together 3 times and also went to Japan after the rerelease there. Lastly, Ramm is on the new DCC album …

What do you think about the current state of hiphop?

I keep an ear on how it’s evolving; like some cuts on the new Jay-Z (w/Swizz Bts). Personally I felt hiphop more when Timbaland, Missy and Aaliyah had their hits. Erykah Badu still does it for me.

Yeah, that new Erykah Badu tune, Window Seat is great! What did you think about the controversy surrounding the video, and ‘disorderly conduct’ charges that came about from it?

Well, she knows what she’s doing. Free press and a finger in the eye of those conservatives and straights who couldn’t get it. “The Healer” was so killer!

How many times have you been to Japan in total?

10 

So you must like it here! What do you like so much about Tokyo and Japan?

I love the city Tokyo like I love NYC, and between Noyuri {Stuart’s wife} and me, we have many friends in Tokyo. Since my first trip in ‘87, each visit has been something special; Tokyo Bay, cyberpunk projects, developing things with artists, directors and authors. My Last trip to Kyoto in January ‘08 was excellent; making new music on my laptop while watching light snow fall in the imperial park across the street….

Are you a fan of any particular Japanese music, or artists?

Yes. Gagaku ,Ryuichi Sakamoto, my old friend and collaborator Shinichi Shimokawa, some X Japan - Hide, Kan Takagi, DJ Latin Ras Kaz, Rin Toshite Shigure aka Ling Tosite Sigure, Nisennenmondai ….

Why did you decide to start your own label?

I had been thinking about it around 2004, but was super busy with the reformed Death Comet Crew, then reforming Ike Yard, so it took a few years to get around to it. For one thing, I needed to complete the rerelease cycle and had  Voodooists and Black Rain still to go. For another thing, I was still into the underground scenes and feel there is great stuff being made - the question became how will it all come out plus get recognized in the shifting music business and then by 2008- the bad economy. So i studied labels, the business and felt the time was right to go for it.

Not only for music, but for audio book & audio movie hybrids, new publishing and media we are at the edge of now in 2010…

What are you currently working on musically and do you have any releases coming out?

We’re mixing out first Outpost recordings and continuing on the JG Ballard project. Looking to bring it to Japan…! There’s the new Author Luca Davis’ Adventure Stories audio movie ‘EP to be released on REC. Collaboration with Mirror Mirror on the RVNG.INT series FRKWAYS EP. The Units remix for Connections on Opilec Music, Italy. Plus more remixes and more electronic club tracks in near future and for years to come.

Could you elaborate a bit more about the Ballard thing you are doing with Outpost?

I had met J. G. Ballard at a book signing and slipped him a cassette mix, and Mark C and I have always been into Ballard. We would have liked for him to hear what we are doing-but he passed. So I wanted to try to make sure that people who didn’t know his work could do so possibly through our presentations. We produce sessions with narrators we like, compose soundtracks to go with them and do video films to go with the major pieces like Atrocity Exhibition and Time, memory and Inner Space. We would like to add music & visual artists in each city we go to. That could include Tokyo 2011 …

In general, Sci Fi, near future speculations are what I like. From Ike Yard’s name found in “A Clockwork Orange”, to Death Comet Crew (originally ‘Death Star Crew’ until we got a letter from lawyer saying ‘not a good idea’) and the William Gibson soundtracks.

Are you a fan of any slightly younger artists or producers around at the moment?

I listen to everything, and I especially like Jamie Vex’d, Hudson Mohawke, Nick Zinner, Maga Bo, and Joy Orbison.

Thank you very much!

Stuart has kindly let us share a free download of an Ike Yard tune taken from the Gomma release Anti NY:

Download: Ike Yard - N.C.R.

photo (c) by Matt Woebot

Stuart Argabright

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