Tuesday 14 December 2010

TEA with Adam X

The past 20 years have been an 'industrious' 20 for Adam X to say the least. 1990 saw the start of Groove Records later to be named Sonic Groove in 1995. 20 years on where others have fallen to the wayside or succumb to trend Sonic Groove and Adam X has remained resilient and headstrong in producing and releasing a it's brand of no nonsense EBM, Industrial and Noise Rhythmic influenced techno.

19 years after the legendary Storm Raves on the US's east coast Adam X is still creating unearthly weather patterns. 2009 saw the then mysterious Traversable Wormhole first rear it's head to what would later become the 2010 phenomenon to take the world by storm thanks to Chris Leibings' CLR rereleasing the TW series over a 5 volume remix package to an extent the techno community has never seen.

CLR assembled the who's who of post and modern day techno to add their slant on Adam X's TW series. The list of remixers were Surgeon, Marcel Dettmann, Peter Van Hoesen, Monoloc, Brian Sanhaji, Sleeparchive, Kevin Gorman, Function, James Ruskin, Terence Fixmer, Tommy Four Seven and of course Chris Leibing.

TEA caught up with the man behind Traversable Wormhole and ADMX-71 to talk graffiti subculture, that fateful September day in NYC, anonymity in techno and the cats meow of all ice tea's.

First of all congratulations on reaching 20 years of Sonic Groove. Have you had time to take a minute and reflect on those 20 years?

Of course their is always some time for reflection into the past no matter how many years have gone by. I'm quite satisfied with my time involved in all of this. If I could, I would change a few things by traversing back into the past through a wormhole. However this could create a nasty "Paradoxical Consequence". That could make things very complicated for everyone else in the future. So I tend to keep myself firmly footed in the present and future. I'm not much of a past dweller with techno

You mention when growing up that your brother was the DJ of the family but your parents also listened to an interesting range of music. How influential have were their tastes on you?

I'd say quite influential because I can remember our family going roller skating to disco as well as listening to and loving lots of music of the electronic disco variety. To be honest I did not make an influential connection to this until I got into techno & house in 1990. Prior to this I never thought of music as either electronic or acoustic. I just like what I liked as a kid without grouping things into genres. I could listen to Black Sabbath or Public Enemy or Kraftwerk all in one go. Prior to my introduction to techno the main focus throughout my teenage years was painting graffiti art on subway trains. Painting was my primary focus, music was more in the background of my life. I realised later when I became consumed by techno that many of my favourite records in the late 70's and throughout the 80's were of the electronic music variety such as Kraftwerk and a lot of NYC electro acts like Afrika Bambatta, Man Parrish, Planet Patrol as well as some electronic disco and italo from Giorgio Moroder. A lot of this music was heard in my parents car, in the roller rings and on the boomboxes in the parks we used to skate in. When I became involved with techno I started to take note of samples from many of the early records I liked growing up, especially the Kraftwerk samples. It was then that I started to make a connection that I'd always had a passion for more electronic based sounds over acoustic based.

A lot of people don't realise about the extent of your graffiti skills. Tell us a bit about those days in Brooklyn.

To be honest it would take a large book to tell you even "a bit" about it. I do plan to write a book on it. For now though I will keep it short and simple. I have been an active graffiti artist since 1984. I am well known in the graffiti subculture for all the subway cars I painted in NYC in the late 1980's. I was also one of the most wanted graffti artists at the time by the police. I landed on top on their list and had my house under surveillance. Luckily techno came along at the same time I was haivng loads of problems with the authorities. Techno gave me a new artistic outlet and helped keep me out of the constant problems I had during those years with the authorities. I took a rather long hiatus from graffiti throughout the 90's. I gradually returned to painting again at the turn of the millenium. I still continue to paint and draw into this day. A lot of my work is published in dozens of books on the subject. I like to keep my graffti identity seperated from my music, it's two spearate worlds for me. So if you want to see my works you'll have to discover them through research on the internet.

You would have seen the best of the ups and worst of the downs but none worse then September 11, 2001. With your Sonic Groove store only being a few blocks away from ground zero tell us what it was like to experience such an ordeal.

It was a very surreal time. Especially more so because I slept until noon on 9/11, right through the attack and collapse of the buildings. When I woke up their were all these messages on my landline of people telling me they were ok. No one actually said what had happened. It was really hard to get hold of people as the cellular circuits were jammed. When I turned on the TV to see what was going on I was like what the fuck? Is this another sequel to one of those cheesy Die Hard movies. Is what I am watching real? The first person I was able to get hold of was Dave Sumner (Function) who lived around the street from me. He came over to my flat in minutes. I'll never forget the distress and emotion in his voice when he described watching one of the towers collapse from his rooftop. I remember taking a short ride with him in my car to have a look at the NYC skyline from a higher vantage point. All I saw covering lower Manhattan was a plume of smoke and a skyline devoid of two buildings that were noticeable from all points of the city. When we walked back to my car an hour later it was covered in ash that was floating accross the river into Brooklyn. The ash of concrete and charred bodies. I will never forget the smell that drifted over NYC for several weeks. Thankfully I did not know of anyone personally who was killed or injured but my mother did work for a company who lost the second most amount of people at the WTC. They lost about 500 employee's. Many whom she use to work with. My mother had the option to work in the WTC office but chose to work in midtown Manhattan a few years prior. A very lucky choice she made because I believe no one in her WTC office made it out alive that day.

How galvanizing was this for you and the New York music community?

NYC in the aftermath was a very somber place for well over a year. Whether you knew someone who died or not the entire situation felt like the death of a close family member. It took several weeks for people to even venture out to small parties again. The scene was already on a downswing prior to the attacks due to licensing regulations and lack of venues. Now with a much added police network things became enforced even more. Partying seemed to be the last thing on a lot of folks minds. Their was a lot of anxiety in NYC for a long time, fear of more attacks, fear of going to war and the fear of hard economic times. My record shop suffered greatly from the effects of 9/11. Tourism dropped heavily for the next year after. The cause and effect on my shop was significant between the loss of tourist business and my local customers were buying a lot less. Music buying was the last thing on many peoples minds at this time. So business at my shop dropped off at an alarming rate of 60-70% for months to follow. A strong EU currency would cause vinyl prices to skyrocket from $10 USD a record to $13 USD a record. Access to cheaper high speed internet connections enabling fast music downloading and technologies like Final Scratch would eventually wipe out my retail business completely by 2004. I'd say 9/11 started the downswing but it was inevitable that the industry would change thanks to these new technologies. The scene itself in NYC hurt for a long time after 9/11, enough for me to move to Berlin out of frustration and desperation in early 2007. In my opinion it is only in the last two years that the techno scene in NYC has returned to the once thriving scene it was pre 9/11.

Record stores are becoming somewhat of a dinosaur these days. How was it first starting Sonic Groove, to running it, to eventually making the decision to close its doors.

An experience to say the least. Looking back in retrospect I am content with the entire process of it all. It was a rocky road in the early years when we were in Brooklyn as financially we were always a bit in the red. Of course none of us knew much about running a business so it took sometime to work out the kinks. The major breakthrough was when we moved shopped to Manhattan in 1995. The success that we would have for the next five years there was immense and intense. At the time we built the most intuitive database search engine for techno music online. Mailorders and in shop sales skyrocketed. We were selling hundreds of copies of certain records such as early Neil Landstrumm and Surgeon records in weeks. It was mind blowing how many records we were selling. We had a highly profitable business in this 1995-2001 period. Then as I mentioned before things changed with the events of 9/11 and development in technologies. What was once a highly profitable business became a business in major debt. This of course caused a lot of turmoil with my partners and I. It got to the point where I was the only person working the shop in its final year. I saw no hope of getting out of the debt we were in. I decided I also wanted to bow out of the record selling scene gracefully without claiming bankruptcy. So in October 2004 I shuttered the store gates for the final time. It was a great 15 year run and I am very proud and grateful for the experience. People often ask if I miss the shop. My answer is no. Owning the shop was very demanding on my time and it took a lot away from being able to focus on myself as an artist. I'm more then happy with my post-retail shop life. I am very glad I made the move to Berlin in 2007. I have a learnt a lot about life and myself since making the move. This would not of been possible had the shop still existed. Everything in life has its time and its place.

Tell us about your artists on Sonic Groove. What’s the relationship like between everyone and is their something in particular you look from an artist.

I have a great relationship with all the artists on the label. I consider everyone of them friends of mine. Some artists like Orphx and Dipole I have approached after hearing amazing live shows when out at events. Other recent Sonic Groove artists like Obtane and Realmz have reached out to me over the last few years. They said the right things to intrigue me into listening to their music. Then there are people like Dasha Rush who I have been close friends with for several years. I always love to push music from close friends. In general I have a natural instinct in wanting to help push peoples music who I think are making great tracks and who have the right attitude. This instinct comes from selling records in the shop for so many years. I love turning people onto new music. So running a record label is another vehicle for me to do this. I also look at running a label as another creative platform for myself. I would not say that there is a particular sound I look for in an artist. What's more important is that I like most of what I listen to when I'm sent the music to review. I am much more intrigued if someone sends me three great tracks with no filler rather then sifting through dozens of tracks to find something that might standout. I should note that I have closed the label off from any new signings. I have a full roster of artists right now which I am dedicated to pushing in 2011.

You also run the Electrodes and Wires night at Maria am Ostbahnhof.

So far I have had a nice string of about 20 events there for this event. I have booked many top acts from Dopplereffekt, Scan 7, Surgeon, T++, Black Dog, B12 and Ancient Methods. To be honest the entire list of great names who played for me is quite insane. It's been an honor to work with them all. I have slowed down a bit on the event throwing side since the success of Traversable Wormhole has taken up a lot of my time. I am not sure what the future plans are as Maria is supposed to be closing in Summer of 2011 due to gentrification of the area. I would like to plan another event or two there before it closes. Ben the owner of Maria is one of the coolest people I have met since moving to Berlin. I really hope he opens up another club in Berlin. It's a sad day when another music venue shuts because of gentrification.

And your ADMX-71 project is more so devoted to the atmospheric and soundscaped styles of techno.

ADMX-71 for me is the soundtrack to the movie I call my life. It really is me just getting into my deepest of thoughts through music. I feel very liberated when recording material for this project. I am not focused on how it should work on a dancefloor. I just think how to design the deepest of my thoughts into sound waves. I will start recording some new material in 2011. Their will be a new ADMX-71 track called "A Gleam Of Light In A World Of Darkness: out on a vinyl compilation called "Demon Uprising" on MNX records from Glasgow.

You have also just released your 2 track Outflow Boundary EP on Prologue. Tell us a bit about that.

I was looking for another label outlet other then my own for Adam X output. I have too many artists now that I want to focus on so I have very little space on my label for little old me (laughs). Tom from Prologue has been a big supporter of Traversable Wormhole so I thought to make an Adam X release offer to him. He was up for the idea and I was up for the challenge of creating something specifically for Prologue. I took sometime in thinking what I wanted to create for him. I kept redefining what I was working on until I felt it was nailed down. Tom came back to me and said he loved it and now here I am on Prologue!

I’m always intrigued into how artists name their tracks. Any track titles in particular that you would like to share with us?

Ok your probably asking the right person about this because I see a lot of artists not put so much thought into this. I usually spend to many hours coming up with track titles. I also check them against Discogs to make sure they have not been used by other artists. For the new Prologue release the EP title is name "Outflow Boundary" This is the overall weather air pattern for specific types of storms. This past September I was in NYC for a few weeks. A day after I left a freak tornado hit the same area I was staying in. The tornado called a Downburst did massive damage in the area including on the street I stayed on. I decided to call my EP this because I recorded the bulk of it while I stayed in this area. I made the final touches on the songs after watching some live youtube videos of the storm.

In a recent interview with Playground Magazines Richard Brophy you spoke of anonymity in techno. You mentioned that guises can be an outlet for established producers to re invent themselves. You chose to reveal yourself as Traversable Wormhole, was this a premeditated move?

Yes in all honesty it was a premeditated move. I was determined to get techno people to listen to my music in one way or another without stigmatising me for also making pure EBM and Rytmic Noise Industrial music. I spent the better part of last decade experimenting and combining rhythmic noise industrial, electronic body music, experimental and real electro broken beat stuff with techno music. During the mid 2000's I was dealing with minimal techno being the big hype. I started to drift more and more into the industrial and EBM side of things as minimal was not my cup of tea. The more I drifted away from minimal the more I started to become stigmatized as an EBM and Industrial artist. Finally in late 2008 I saw proper techno creeping back up and I started to think a new identity would be a good way to catch people's attention again. I had already been dropping Traversable Wormhole tracks out in dj sets so my intuition told me that I was onto something good. In all honesty I have never had in twenty years of being in this music scene a plan work out so well. To be honest it has been flawless plan thus far.

The Traversable Wormhole remixes have been done by the who’s who of todays techno. Is this something that you specifically sought after?

Chris Liebing and I compiled a list of remixers and then narrowed it down. To be honest I am still in disbelief of the whole package. I can't believe all the time, effort and money CLR spent on my project. I never expected a remix project like this. It still blows my mind how much love they have shown me. I have nothing but praise for CLR!

And Traversable Wormhole, you say that Berghain has had a big influence on its sound.

Absolutely. Those early Sunday mornings in 2007 & 2008 listening to Dettmann and Ben Klock on that system have largely impacted me. I thought many a time about making something that would fit into one of their sets. Traversable Wormhole may have never happened without those moments in Berghain.

In previous interviews you have mentioned how certain peroids of techno have bored you, how are you feeling about it at the moment?

In my opinion techno is in it's best period since the mid 1990's. I am loving it right now. Their is a beautfiul mix of industrial sounds with techno going on right now with the mainstay guys like Surgeon, Monolake and Sleeparchive but now their is the next wave of techno artists like Ancient Methods, Perc , Dasha Rush, Lucy, Obtane and Orphx whom all have roots in experimental and industrial music. So I feel in very good company now unlike five years ago when I felt like an outsider to the scene.

And its future?

Their is no reason for me to think about the future because at the present things are very good within the music scene. I tend to think to the future when things are bad. When they are good you need to savor the moment, and in my opinon things are very good right now.

20 years down, what can we expect from the next 20 years of Adam X and Sonic Groove?

Well if the grim reaper doesn't call my number and I'm still alive and kicking, more music & more art!

I also hear you are a tea drinker, what's your favourite?

In the traditional diner in NYC I order mine light and sweet. It's usually Liptons but I like my PG Tips in the UK. I am into Black Tea, Ice Tea, Green Tea and Chinese Tea. With black tea it definitely needs milk. Sugars, 2-3 spoons please. With Ice Tea it's all about Snapple which I believe you can only find in USA and UK, it's the cat's meow and not worth comparing to Nestea Ice Tea. I do like Liptons hot tea's but their ice tea is crap too. I should make it clear that I never sell out of tea or coffee. Tea rules!

Catch up on all your Adam X & Sonic Groove goss here & here


  1. Adam is a friend and techno staple in NYC! One love from Drae!

  2. Adam is a standup guy: talented and brutally honest. So glad to see such good things happening for him right now. :)

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  4. This is an amazing interview.. Adam X has become a bigger influence in who I am (more than I have realized before). Although I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, We share similar traits of the same passion in different areas of life.. I wish Adam X the best & will continue in his footsteps down a different path in the same direction.. Thank You.