Moby talks Hotel:Ambient, creative freedom, and making a living in the EDM age
“It’s just music that I’ve always loved and I wanted it to be out in the world.”
The hold music clicks off and a soft-spoken “Hello” rings through the receiver. On the other end of the line is Richard Melville, the artist better known as Moby. It’s December and the holidays loom on the horizon, but his mind is elsewhere; he’s just wrapped up Hotel:Ambient, a revival of his 2005 album and accompanying performance experience held at the Masonic Temple in Los Angeles.
For years the record had remained under wraps, collateral damage from his often publicized distaste for major labels. A far cry from his festival and radio presence, Moby’s motivation to bring the album to life was decidedly one-dimensional. “I understood that releasing an album of very quiet, instrumental, ambient music — something with neither drums, nor vocals, nor songs — wasn’t going to be a big seller. It’s just music that I’ve always loved and I wanted it to be out in the world. I’d be surprised if it sells 100 copies.”
Art for the sake of art, music for the sake of music – it’s a concept far removed from today’s EDM stars. For four nights in Los Angeles, strange ambient soundscapes bled from the Masonic Temple, set to a visual backdrop from long-time collaborator and friend David Lynch. The show will likely never be reproduced; “It’s very quiet and it requires an audience who is familiar with ambient and electronic music because it is not a conventional show. We may try to do it in maybe one or two more cities but its not the sort of thing we could do as an actual tour.”
Beyond his music, Richard is a pragmatic and highly-analytic artist, musician, and thinker. His free music project Mobi Gratis seeks to alleviate the cost of independent film making; but the platform makes a grander statement about the freemium movement and shrinking label profits. “Owning an MP3 five years from now is going to feel old and out dated,” he scoffs, “the landscape has changed, but a savvy artists will always be able to make a living. The thing that has changed is that now musicians need to know how to do everything. In the past you could do one thing, you could just be a bass player, just a drummer. And now you need to be a composer, DJ, remixer, songwriter.”
In his lifetime he’s seen two waves of electronic music dominate global airwaves, but his thoughts on the latest wave of EDM stars is met with pessimism for the genre’s future; “When I start hearing credible DJs playing Katy Perry remixes, I think it’s definitely time for a change.” The pattern is obvious and he has no problem turning the scene’s mirror on itself. The main stream commercialization of the genre is it’s greatest enemy. “All genres have a similar trajectory; The music always comes from the underground, it gets embraced by the mainstream, it gets corrupted and watered down by the mainstream and then it goes back underground.”
Moby’s also never been an ally of record labels, so when Soundcloud and the major’s squelching of creative freedom enter our conversation, little is off limits. While hate may be a strong word, perhaps vehement distaste reflects his thoughts on their recent tactics more suitably. “Removing content is not the way to protect a label. The labels tried to do it with Napster, they tried to do it with Limewire. A lot of the smarter indies have learned that the way to stay in business to to work with good artists and make good records.” Restricting fans access to content, he attests, has never been successful.
But what about plans for his own music? His most recent collaborations with Lucky Date and ACTi shocked some of his long time fans, but the term “selling out” is not in his vocabulary. When the topic is broached he remains even-keeled, almost dismissive, towards his critics. To Richard it’s absurd that someone could get angry with an artist for trying something new. “When I was young I played classical, then I played in punk rock bands, then I was a hip hop DJ, then a house DJ. I just accepted a long time ago that if I was going to experiment with music I was going to confuse people.”
Admittedly, he came to work with Lucky Date and ACTi for purely selfish reasons, “I just like making music with people,” he says frankly, “I emailed them because I liked some of their tracks. It’s just a fun and interesting collaborative process. I don’t think about sales or chart success or career development.”
His last official album was 2013’s Innocents, his 11th full length work and a stunning example of his career as an electronic artist — the word producer does not do him justice. The term DJ? A harsh misnomer. “I don’t worry about what types of music I’m making, I’m just making music because it is interesting to me.”
Richard and I wrap up our conversation debating the finer points of the access versus creativity debate. In today’s climate anyone with an internet connection and Bit Torrent can start on their career as a producer. “The laptop revolution did great things for the industry. With so many people making music on their laptops it just makes the chance that much greater that someone is going to make an amazing dance record.” Many of his peers criticize the new wave of electronic musicians, citing that with the barriers to entry so low the music itself has suffered. Moby staunchly disagrees.
“Most older electronic musicians are critical of how easy it is to make dance records today, but I think it is amazing. Sure, making dance records 20 years ago was definitely much more challenging, but that doesn’t make the music better.”
Photos by Katy Baugh