It’s time for the third in our series of interviews with the digital age’s most happening music curators. (Interview with Matt Thornton is here; interview with Layla Gibbon is here).

I wouldn’t have been able to enter polite company again nor sputter the word “curator” if I didn’t fire off some pithy questions to Erika Elizabeth, the hostess of the world-beating “Expressway To Yr Skull” radio show (now podcast), and one of the supreme musical tastemakers of the last decade, far as I’m and many other righteous folks are concerned.

It’s not really nepotism or anything – I mean, we had no idea of each other’s existence three years ago – but since discovering her show in 2011, we’ve recognized some like-mindedness in the musical realm, and she’s now Dynamite Hemorrhage fanzine’s contributing editor and largest contributor of content besides myself. (You can order #1 and see all the stuff she wrote here; more is coming in Issue #2 in a couple months).

I interviewed her once before as well, but this thing on curators would be useless without her informed and well-considered take. She’s successfully migrated her show from an analog curation medium (the college radio studio) into the digital age (her podcast, which is the same show, albeit less frequent), while also suffering the existential pathos that stems from trying to stay (somewhat) analog in a world increasingly defined by 0’s and 1’s.

I reckon we should let Erika speak for herself – what do you say?

DH: How do you balance buying new music on vinyl vs. downloading it, and what sort of trade-offs do you make in the process?

Erika Elizabeth: It’s a Sisyphean struggle for me to even try to keep up with buying all of the new music on vinyl that I would like to possess, for a multitude of reasons (my lack of a wealthy benefactor & the record collection that is already monopolizing my studio apartment are but two of them). Waiting to buy records from bands at shows when they play in Portland has been a good way for me to moderate that a little bit – I get to put some money directly into their pockets when they really need it & it forces me to be more deliberate about what music I bring home. But obviously, not every active band with new records that I would like to obtain will be passing through here, so I’m also always picking stuff up via record stores or mail order whenever I can. As much as I love the record stores here in Portland, they’re heavily slanted toward used vinyl, so I usually end up dropping a chunk of change on newer releases every couple of months when I go visit friends in Seattle, since the shops there actually seem to consistently stock new vinyl on smaller labels & working at a tiny vintage/record store doesn’t afford me the big bucks to pay for shipping on a bunch of new singles from Australia or the UK on a regular basis.

Downloads certainly are convenient now that I’m doing a podcast scraped together entirely from my laptop, as opposed to the years I spent doing a show in a fully-equipped radio studio with access to multiple turntables & cassette decks & the like, but since I’d rather save my money to get ahold of new music in a tangible format, any downloading I do is limited to what I can track down for free. So with those limitations in mind, digital music becomes a placeholder of sorts until I can get my hands on physical media, which sometimes might not actually happen (records with ridiculously small runs that immediately go out of print, things that get lost in the shuffle as a new avalanche of releases gets added to my wishlist, etc). If you’re compelled to be an evangelist for all things new & weird & wonderful (as I am), there’s bound to be some trade-offs in how much you can financially support all of the things that you’re hoping to turn other people onto & that’s a dilemma that I face on a constant basis.

DH: What sort of impact does putting together a regular radio show or podcast have on your imperative to scour for new music – or would you be just as curious even without the drive to share your discoveries w/ your listeners?

Erika Elizabeth: Honestly, it’s sort of a chicken-or-egg situation. Let’s just say that there’s a really good reason why I went to graduate school to become a librarian; namely that I absolutely love doing research & digging up information from all sorts of places about things that interest me. I’ve absolutely always been curious about (some would say unhealthily obsessed with) tracking down new/unfamiliar music & that dogged fixation is what ultimately pushed me toward doing college radio/podcasting – it was an opportunity to actually put all of those discoveries that I had culled to good use (meaning, beyond playing records too loudly in my bedroom by myself) & hopefully have a domino effect of turning other people onto music that I felt needed to reach a wider audience. At the same time, knowing in the back of my mind that I have another radio show coming up definitely pushes me to put in a little extra effort to track down a few more new-to-me musical finds than I might have otherwise stumbled across in my typical day-to-day research. And that’s mostly a consequence of me being unreasonably hung up on not repeating myself too much in my playlists – luckily, there’s always a chance for me to dig deeper into the history of all-female Swiss punk bands from the late 1970s or try to find something out there from a band on Harriet Records that’s not already in my personal collection or what have you.

I will say that not being on a fixed, weekly broadcasting schedule has been a huge improvement for my mental health when it comes to putting a show together, because I have way more time in between episodes to really pursue those paths of musical discovery as far as I want to, without the panic of needing to pull together one hundred & twenty minutes of new material in under a week.

DH: What current online or offline resources do you favor in trying to find the music you listen to and recommend to other vis-a-vis your show?

Erika Elizabeth: Well, for someone who does a podcast & (sort of) maintains a blog, I’m really not very digitally-inclined. A substantial amount of the accumulation & pursuit of music that I do utilizes the internet as a secondary source, rather than a primary source. A big part of why I moved to Portland last year is because it’s a total record store town – it’s sort of unreal for a mid-sized city like this to have a dozen or so record shops, most of which at least have their moments of brilliance & one of which I’m fortunate to work at (which means that I literally have hours where I get paid to sort through piles of records looking for things that might be of interest to me).

One of my favorite new-to-me finds from the past few months was an EP from 1982 by this female-fronted band from Seattle called the Visible Targets, which I stumbled across in the bins at a local shop & brought to the listening station based solely on the fact that the sleeve design had an almost textbook early ‘80s post-punk aesthetic, which if reflected in the music would mean that they totally had my number (it was & they did). After I brought it home, I did some research online to see what I could find out about them, which led to finding, among other things, some really great archival video footage, which garnered a really enthusiastic response when I reposted it on the Facebook page for my show. But I don’t have a smartphone, so I’m not going to be Googling from the little screen in my hand as a means of doing some investigating while I flip through record stacks & I kind of like doing online research after my instincts have already guided me toward something offline – I feel like it forces me to be a little more adventurous & take more chances.

When I was an underground music-obsessed teenager stuck in the suburbs before the internet had become fully ubiquitous & I was desperately trying to find new sounds that challenged me, a lot of my methods were simply based on connecting dots from the limited information I did have access to – reading record reviews in zines that mention one band including former members of another band, making note of who was touring with or opening up for bands I liked, working my way through the back catalogs of labels that seemed to put out a lot of records that I already had, etc. I’m very much still in that mindset, although now that it’s 2014 instead of 1999, I can dig up that information much more quickly online. I stumble upon a lot of newer music that I incorporate into my podcast via those sorts of “six degrees of separation” methods – “oh, this band just put out a tape that I really like & there’s like three or four other things on their label’s Bandcamp page that I should probably check out”, that sort of thing.

I’m always looking at local show listings to see if there’s anything on the horizon that I want to hit up, which has led to being unexpectedly charmed by an unknown-to-me band who happened to be on a bill opening for another band I was already planning to go see, or who I checked out after noticing that they were going to be playing one of the venues here in town that fairly consistently hosts the sorts of shows that I’m inclined to go to, not to mention all of the bands that I’ve looked into after noticing (via the miracle of Facebook news feeds) that they were playing shows with my friends in various other corners of the country. I actually don’t keep up with blogs as consistently as I should, but I have a fair number of reliable standbys bookmarked on my laptop & I’ll scroll through those when I’m getting ready to put together a new podcast, to see if there’s anything new & up my alley that isn’t on my radar yet.

DH: Are you pleased with the abundance of music available to you within minutes online, or has something been lost in the process – and by buying vinyl, are you potentially seeking to hold onto a meaningful part what brought you into music obsession in the first place?

Erika Elizabeth: Of course, as a confirmed music obsessive, the convenience of having so much music so readily available to me online is incredible, but at the same time, I do think that something has been lost in the process – namely, a more immediate sense of community & connection. Maybe I’m romanticizing the era of the internet when blog culture hadn’t completely blown up yet, but that was also a time when my music discovery facilitated through online channels was mostly based around trading mixtapes with people from all over the place, which allowed me to find out about music that has profoundly influenced my life in ways that I can’t even begin to quantify; music that I likely never would have stumbled upon on my own if I had been forced to keep relying solely on hearing something by chance on the local college radio station or reading a review of a record in a zine & then actually being able to find a copy of it in the strip mall CD chain stores that I had access to as a teenager in Houston, Texas. I’m still friends with some of those people who sent me tapes in the mail fifteen years ago, which is the sort of connection that is so much harder to make when you’re, say, just downloading something that someone posted on their blog – it becomes more of a one-way transaction. Obviously, there’s exceptions to that (you & I wouldn’t be zine collaborators if you hadn’t emailed me as a result of finding my radio show online!), but so much of the current online exchange of information seems to be this cycle of forwarding & reblogging or whatever, without more personal conversations entering the picture.

My preference for buying vinyl certainly has roots in that community-oriented mindset, not in small part because I’ve been working in record stores for most of the past decade & having face-to-face conversations about music with someone from either side of the record counter gives me a joy like few other things in this world. My media consumption habits were something that I thought of often while I was working on my masters degree, where my entire academic motivation was based around a desire to help make resources more widely accessible to people & to preserve them for future generations. I took an archives course that was really eye-opening as far as the role that technology has on long-term preservation of archival materials goes, specifically the amount of work & resources that it takes to convert information stored on now-archaic file formats (think files & data saved on floppy disks, or increasingly, films that only exist on VHS) into something that can still be accessed & maintained using current technology, which is a never-ending cycle as older formats are continuously phased out & newer formats inevitably become dominant.

So while the internet is a wonderful place for having easy access to all sorts of music & exposing that music to a wider audience, I think having a physical artifact (i.e. vinyl) gives me a greater sense of security & permanence. How often do we lament a once active blog going dormant as the links to mp3s it once provided turn into virtual dead ends, or seeing videos pulled from Youtube for copyright violations, or what have you? Plus, it’s just way more exciting to DJ when you get to dig through a box of singles to throw on the turntable, as opposed to just standing over a table while you scroll through your iTunes library.

DH: How has the state of music accumulation and curation evolved in the last few years? What’s different about, say, 2014 than even 2012 or 2010?

Erika Elizabeth: The sphere of online music curation has obviously expanded exponentially in just the past few years & the one thing that I find myself lamenting is the sort of constant one-upping culture that has emerged now that music blogs are a dime a dozen, feeding off absurd, ego-driven notions of first discovery. Granted, this isn’t exclusive to blogs & the like, but I feel like the immediacy of the internet has greatly distorted the importance of being able to lay claim to “breaking” an undiscovered or relatively under-hyped artist. I tried my hand at writing for online music publications for a spell & I grew so disillusioned with it because the prevailing attitude of so many of those outlets seemed to be geared more toward beating any other music blog or website to covering a particular artist & less toward providing any sort of intelligent, critical assessments or sharing things out of genuine enthusiasm. It turns into this vicious cycle of trying to crank out some short paragraph essentially copy & pasted from a band’s website or press release or whatever, throwing in a link to a Youtube video or a Bandcamp page & waiting for all of the other blogs to catch up to what you’ve just discovered (and often, to recycle the same links & tag lines, ad infinitum). I think that’s why I tend to be drawn to music curation outlets that have a greater distance from that insidious clickbaiting mentality – print zines that are writing about things that came out months before the issue could be published, podcasts where you can actually hear someone talk passionately about music that they want to share with a wider audience, those rare blogs that have a clear focus on smartly & thoroughly highlighting music that would otherwise fall through the cracks without resorting to horrible Buzzfeed-esque list-making, etc.

DH: What parallels does online curation have with the days of flipping through stacks of records in crates, if any – and what sort of mindset does a modern digital curator need to bring to the search for the best obscurities?

Erika Elizabeth: I’m a firm believer that regardless of whether your crate digging is done in actual record bins or just by combing through online resources, you’re only going to get anywhere if you’re not the type of person to play it safe & stick to things that have already been demystified for you. One of my biggest frustrations in booking shows for relatively small potatoes bands over the past few years has been trying to get people in my local community excited about taking a chance on spending $5 to see some band that haven’t heard of yet play in a run-down bookstore or DIY art space (that doesn’t have the added pull of a bar with free-flowing alcohol that they can use to justify attending), only to hear one of my friends say three or four months down the line that they just got around to listening to this same great band & wish that they’d come through town at some point. If you’re trying to be an effective digital curator, don’t be that person. Don’t be afraid to go deep into that internet K-hole of having a half dozen tabs open in your browser while you stream something from a Bandcamp page while simultaneously scouring the band’s Tumblr or Facebook page or whatever for any scraps of information that you can find, just because you came across their name referenced in some other corner of the internet. Sure, you’re probably going to have to sort through a bunch of music that does absolutely nothing for you, but to me, it’s the modern equivalent of what I used to do back in the day when I’d take a chance on a bunch of cheap-as-hell used CDs from the cut-out bin based on which label put them out (and it’s less of a financial gamble than having to sell back those New Wet Kojak albums as a result of your Touch & Go binge).

If you discover something that interests you, dig deeper & do some creative research to find other things that might be affiliated – if you find one great new C86-worshipping band from some random city, there very well might be an entire geographic micro-scene there of other bands making some similar noise that you didn’t even know existed. Or maybe not, but you never know.


Let’s continue with our new series of interviews with the digital age’s most interesting and eye-opening curators, shall we? A few weeks ago we talked to Matt Thornton/UrbanKill, which you can read here. Now we’re going to have a digital chat with Layla Gibbon, a one-woman, scene-expanding underground/DIY teller of truths, and someone who, in the brief time I’ve been following her in all her forums, has turned me onto all manner of “sick” tuneage. When Layla says something’s “sick”, you’d goddamn better sit up and pay attention in a hurry. 

She wrote this best-of-2013 column on her blog, WHAT WE WANT IS FREE, that had me scouring dark corners of the internet for these sounds, and immediately turned me onto Sauna Youth, the Irreperables, Pang and Division Four. I was floored. Who was this clued-in woman, totally wiping all my scene cred under the table? I found out. She’s Modraucous on Tumblr and Twitter; she’s not even a blogger per se – What We Want Is Free is a collection of her columns in MaximumRocknRoll, where she’s instantly the best reason to read that mag since the Reagan/Thatcher era; and she’s – as I found out – the former vocalist of several of Dynamite Hemorrhage’s favorite wild-ass UK/DIY/grrl bands of the 1990s. And so on.

We sent Layla some questions from Norway to San Francisco, where she resides. Those questions arrived back in my inbox  with answers, and here’s what she told us about what it’s like being a clued-in digital and vinyl curator for the sick, sick kids of 2014.

DH: What are your primary means of music discovery now – vinyl you buy or listen to; mp3s or streams you play online; recommendations from other curatorial types; all of the above…? 

Layla Gibbon: A combination of online scavenging (Bandcamps/links from various social medias/message boards etc) and the fact that I am on one of the people that assigns all the records for review at Maximum Rocknroll, which entails a once a month 4-5 hour listening session. It’s one of the things that keeps me excited about the endless possibility of DIY and music; every month there are many bands and records that blow me away. There are also endless examples of why “just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD” is something that should be subliminally messaged out to the more rote/boring minds.

DH: What sorts of online resources do need to scour to find the quality music and weirdo punk rock you like to listen to and recommend?

Layla Gibbon: I browse various message boards for new releases, partially to make sure MRR is getting as much as possible mailed into us for the collection/review/radio play, but also for my own aural nourishment. Most of my friends and “friends” are also musical maniax so I utilize the various social media formats as well (twitter/facebook/tumblr); there are a few blogs I check out including a few DH correspondents!

DH: The things you write about in your MRR column and online tend to be obscure and unwaveringly self-supported. Is there an element of wanting to lift some of these bands out of anonymity and/or some grander purpose in championing them?

Layla Gibbon: I am a fervent fan of certain sounds, and when I hear something that hits me in the correct incendiary manner my first instinct is to broadcast that feeling to the universe. (eg PANG, knowing that an incredible all female band who sound like a post-Eno almost Magazine meets Wire transcendence existed in my own damn town and I only caught their final show PAINS ME CONSIDERABLY! As soon as I heard them, via Sam Lefevbre, I lost my mind and poured its drooping contents into all possible broadcast modes). I am not interested in hoarding new and exciting ideas/sounds/bands; I grew up in a desolate estate in a creepy suburb of London where most people don’t leave/girls get pregnant when they are 15 etc etc, and I firmly believe that music is a transportative force that got me out of that existence, and I want to transmit the possibility to other similar types. Also listening to lots of music every month it’s clear that many people are stuck in genre tropes, and every time I hear something that is transcendent / disgusting in a genius way, it gives me hope whilst trudging thru the tired stadium crust trenches, and maybe someone else will hear a sound that will prevent them from aping a boring idea and nudge them towards a sick band formation. I like all sorta of music though, and while I tend to err on the side of underground/self made sounds, I like some bands that are clearly not of that ilk, that are aiming for a crummy piece of the music biz pie. I think fame is a tired ideal, but that opinion doesn’t negate my love for sounds created by bands who want to be the Beatles etc. I think because MRR is very strict in terms of what it covers; people think that I am that way inclined as a human that listens to music, which isn’t true. But I prefer sounds made for underground minds as a general rule?  

DH: Are you, or were you, a physical “record collector” at any point? What insight can you offer into the state of music accumulation and curation in the digital age, how it’s evolved in the last 15 years of wide mp3 availability, and what it’s done to any taste for vinyl or other formats you may have had or still have?

Layla Gibbon: I still collect records like a maniac… I like that the digital age affords anyone the opportunity to listen to anything, so you don’t have to go to a creepy old man’s house to tape his records any more (an experience me and many girls I know endured in the 80s/90s). I definitely stopped collecting for a bit when I first moved here as all my physical records were in the UK, and I just downloaded things, which I regret now as I am missing physical copies of a few things that are now out of my price range that I loved/that define a certain era for me, eg the Broadcast LPs. But I am still in the vinyl trenches so to speak, I try and buy records from bands I love from now and the past, financing this somewhat expensive habit by flipping bargains found in the Amoeba dollar bin/unloading things that I loved but now no longer relate to. I think it’s sort of sad that kids will no longer buy the terrible Gang Green record and think all Boston HC sucks as a result, and it does feel like people have this insane knowledge of the most obscure music/genre, but then will be missing huge chunks of info / only know about one specific thing. We have experienced this a lot at MRR where a potential reviewer will seem like a vast encylopedia of punk, but will actually only know about Japan in the 1980s and absolutely NOTHING about something as obvious as like, SST records. The internet creates strange focused humans. I have friends who didn’t have to work for a few years in the 90s because of record sales, which is not something that punk bands will get to experience at this point in time because of the internet…but the internet also means that you don’t have to be a crazy bonzer hoarder to know about cool music, which I think is a good thing for the most part. Sorry for the rambling answer!

DH: What parallels do you see to the days of flipping through stacks of records in crates, if any – and what sort of mindset does a modern digital curator need to bring to the search for the best obscurities?

I think the internet means anyone with good taste can potentially make a cool podcast/blog etc, you don’t have to be a Graham Booth or Ryan Richardson to uncover strange sounds from various eras, which is a good thing especially since you can find out about music on your own terms now, without having to deal with as much in-person patronizing/sexist bro mentality, which I think any female record collector has endured…and I think in terms of what is needed for any music hunt is a curious mindset, and a curious take on music in general. Usually people in good bands are involved in a bunch of projects; i.e. good scenes generally are a few people doing everything and a bunch of people just watching it happen.

I guess the short answer would be: being a nerd/sleuth and having a mania for new sounds that excite is a good combination of qualities for such a task. 

DH: Does your love of obscure underground music and your need to share it say anything about Layla, the person – and if so, what might it be saying?

Layla Gibbon: That I am doomed to an underground obscure existence?!


I’ve decided to interview a tiny handful of music curators who continually blow my mind with new discoveries. I’ve written in the past about curation and its crucial role in separating wheat from chaff; my entire music appreciation history has been spent following the superlative taste of others, while attempting to position myself in a similar space. The aim of the interview series is to figure out how music is curated in the digital space, and how things have evolved in finding music for others to listen to just in the last four or five years alone.
To kick off this project, I sent over a few questions to Matt Thornton, aka UrbanKill. You’re already following UrbanKill on Tumblr, right? If not, you’re missing the most dedicated, lightning-quick curation zealot out there, a guy who digs deeper than just about anyone to find you the obscure and intense. His tastes are, shall we say, “sub-underground” – just the way we like it. UrbanKill has turned Dynamite Hemorrhage onto a good dozen or more bands just in the past year alone; we thought it only appropriate that we kick off this series with a few questions for him. It’s long – but you’ve got the time.
Here goes:
DH: What’s your true, non-internet name; where do you reside; and how long have you been in the sub-underground rocknroll curation game (and where/how, if you’ve been online or offline elsewhere)?
UrbanKill, aka Matt Thornton: Matt Thornton. I was named after the first governor of New Hampshire, who was also the last signer of the Declaration of Independence. According to my aunts I am his decedent. They apparently did “rigorous research”, but I do not believe them, at all. One of them has a business designing Nutcrackers, and the other cried for three days when JFK Jr. died. Untrustworthy people if you ask me.

I’ve bounced around quite a bit, but I grew up in North Kingstown, RI, and I live in Rhode Island currently. Also lived in Ohio, San Francisco, and Italy. I have been obsessive about music since I was little. My sister would play lots of Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett. For whatever reason, I took to some of that, as well as The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, etc, early on, which also stemmed from my dad always having classic rock radio playing. My parents were separated, so when I visited my dad on the weekends he’d let me explore music and comedy and lots of things that were probably not suitable for a child. He’d tape Letterman segments and SNL for me, and take me to Providence to buy records on Thayer St (an important place due to its proximity to RISD and Brown University). I owned a lot of vinyl when I was a kid.

As far as the impulse to share music, the kids in my neighborhood didn’t really appreciate me putting my “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” tape in their boomboxes. I managed to make a single kid laugh once by playing him a song from Roger Waters’ “Music From The Body” that solely consisted of flatulence. I remember that being very calculated on my part. I wanted to connect my musical world to the kids around me, and actually borrowed that record from a sister as a way to lay down a path for them. But after the farting noises ceased, so did the interest.
DH: Are you, or were you, a physical “record collector” at any point? What insight can you offer into the state of music accumulation and curation in the digital age, how it’s evolved in the last 15 years of wide mp3 availability, and what it’s done to any taste for vinyl or other formats you may have had or still have?
Matt Thornton: I was a collector as a kid. I had a rough few years going into adolescence that included my mother dying, getting kicked out of school, getting arrested multiple times, drugs, etc. Suddenly rock and roll music didn’t speak to me at all, nor did punk or hardcore, and I think a lot of teens felt that way in the 90s – specifically those who were financially disadvantaged. All of the punks I knew seemed to live in nice houses, in nice neighborhoods, and I couldn’t understand what any of them were angry about. I think by the age of 15 or 16 I started to straighten out, and ended up getting a job at a restaurant. All my money from work went towards vinyl – entirely Hip-Hop 12” singles and LPs, aside from the one token Portishead album that every Hip-Hop kid seemed to have. Skippy Whites in North Providence and Newbury Comics in Warwick were two stores I spent a great deal of time in. Hip-Hop was my primary thing from about 11 all the way until early adulthood. I had a few years after that of blindly buying rock, punk, and indie records, and I think by the time I was 23 I figured out exactly what I liked. Hearing Cheater Slicks for the first time, with no knowledge of their history or fanbase, kind of kicked down some doors for me too. Hip-Hop is still the music that has the greatest effect on me emotionally though.

Vinyl remained constant in my life until a few years ago. It was always an unhealthy addiction for me personally. I never had the kind of money to afford the habit, but I’d drop ridiculous money on a single record and end up short on rent. It was foolish. I’ve spent the last few years trying to break bad habits and unhealthy behavior. I’m not suggesting that record collecting is unhealthy in general, but it was for me. I still buy records but I try to keep it within reason.

DH: Tell me a little about the process you go through to find obscurities from across the web: key sites you use; other curators you trust; links you follow; how quickly you post stuff; where you post it and so on.
Matt Thornton: My RSS feed is my main source. I add record label and band sites to it. Sometimes local city blogs that will post upcoming concerts also include stream links alongside artists, so I’ll add those. And then I just listen when records pop up. I try to keep reviews and opinions out of the way, at least with new music. Not because they shouldn’t be valued, but because I don’t want the interference in the process. The great writers will alter how I experience a record. I tend to want to make up my mind first and then see what they have to say. I end up being influenced by regular, short-form blogs more than critics, but there are definitely writers I love.

There are people who offer quite a bit, on Tumblr specifically. Arturo from Convulsive Records aka isitanart has turned me on to quite a bit, beyond just music. He’s posted art and poetry that have changed how I think about the world. There’s fuckinrecordreviews, who is a gateway to a world that I know little about, and has access to history that is incredibly valuable. Ozkar-Krapo is a genius at sorting through life’s oddities and the obscure. I have always enjoyed your various blogs. You’ve turned me on to a lot of music. There are tons of people. But I’ll just stop there because I’d end up forgetting people.

I never set out to be a curator with Tumblr. I would do this whole routine on my own, for my own satisfaction. Tumblr was just a service that kept me properly distracted and amused during work. But if that’s how others are going to regard me – if they do in fact see me that way – then great! I’ll go ahead and use that. To maybe help some band get a chance to tour and visit other cities, countries. These are experiences we should all have and they are valuable and life-changing. Living in Italy for six months was the greatest experience of my life and it stays with me every day. So if I can play a very small role in a system that enables this culture to keep moving, while the infrastructure around us is crumbling and making it harder than ever to dedicate yourself to art or travel, then I’m happy. To dedicate yourself to music isn’t easy or inexpensive, and I respect anyone who wants to go down that path, especially if they are talented, and have good intentions. If they’re being overshadowed by hype, I want to help.
I absolutely enjoy turning people on to new music. But the idea of being curator is more complicated. When I noticed I was becoming an “mp3 blogging personality”, I started to throw down more roadblocks in between the music posts, to avoid branding myself. The idea of branding is weird and uncomfortable. I don’t want to have a fake version of myself online, and I’m not a good enough writer to take the more esteemed route. I avoid aesthetic consistency as much as I can.

I want people to have to get used to me, because I’m not an easy sell in real life. To have a version of myself online, that everybody could hypothetically like, wouldn’t actually be that hard at all. It would also be a lie. And if I can’t hold my own simply as a writer, then there’s no reason to present myself as an expert. All I have is taste. Beyond that, I can maybe be entertaining and honest.

It doesn’t take much time for me to want to post a song. Whether or not I like a record is pretty immediate. It’s all pop to some degree, or at least what I’m drawn to has that basic structure. I certainly like when people experiment with it, or subvert it, but I’m not listening to drone records. I’ve had great experiences at both drone and noise shows though. But I can’t sit down and listen to either genre, no. And especially not on drugs. I used to listen to Trick Daddy when I did hallucinogens.

DH: What modern tools do you use to turn streams into mp3s – and can you say a few words about your personal ethical stance on doing so?
Matt Thornton: I use add-ons in my browser that auto-download streams. If a band has the stream up on bandcamp, the only reason I’d want to grab it with an add-on is due to presentation. I rotate how I’ll present music, for reasons I mentioned previously. So in that specific case, it makes no difference. Maybe the difference is arbitrary when you’re talking about a record streaming for free online, that people are accessing from their phones on their way to work vs something being shared on slsk. But just support the bands you love when you can. I can’t take a moral high ground or talk about what’s ethical. I haven’t always been a completely ethical person.
Perhaps it’s unethical to rip records and make the decision for the label on your own, yes. But there’s a communal aspect outside of labels, between fans, and I understand where people are coming from when they share new music. It’s not vampirism entirely. There were times when I was dead broke and dying to hear a new record, and certain people always had it there, waiting for me to hear. I love those people. I always wanted to give back to those people. I stopped ripping vinyl some years back, but my motive was always to return the favor.

DH: What musical sub-genres do you explore to find the rare and weird stuff you’re frequently posting, and what have been some of the best “finds” you’ve come across via what I assume is some pretty relentless digging?
Matt Thornton: I don’t necessarily look for specific genres, and certainly try to avoid adherents to genre. Hardcore has weirdly grown on me in the last few years, but it’s usually the groups that have a distinct worldview or sound and can dodge the clichés. Whatever outfit you have on doesn’t matter. Go ahead, wear stained white jeggings, I’ve gotten over my judgment of your filthy white pants. I just want to know how you interpret the world, and not from within an isolated bubble of reality. Stand outside of your comfort zone and tell me what you see and how you feel about it, or put that feeling into the music. Whether you’re serious, funny, ironic, doesn’t matter, but just have a point of view. It doesn’t matter if we agree, I just want to know who you are, and I want you to put your own stamp on the music your making. Dress it up however you like but the foundation is what’s important. You can also, you know, just write a good song, and I’ll be happy too. After years of digging around, you tend just develop the ability to zoom in on the right bands.

Right now I’m obsessed with BnP from New Zealand. Lowercase ‘n’. They’ve maybe a small but loyal following over there. No one cares stateside. I haven’t had any luck getting people to pay attention to them anyway. They’re a punk band. Maybe hardcore roots. A great combination of reckless and smart. Legit and morbid sense of humor. They have a song called “In The Key of Love”, that sounds like something people slow danced at the prom to in 1971 – until they start screaming at the end of the song, anyway. The live clips of them on YouTube are mayhem. Wild energy being let loose with no one trying to control it, with maybe everyone in attendance having a basic trust in each other that things won’t get ugly. They have two full-lengths, two singles, and a live album on Bandcamp. All free.

Other recent discoveries? I’ve gone on and on about Human Abfall from Germany on tumblr. Positive Disintegration from Germany are promising, although they’ve only a couple of songs on Soundcloud. One, “Ruby Cabernet”, is mind blowing and begging for a 7” release. Also: Ivan The Tolerable (UK), Telstar Drugs (Calgary), Taulard (France), Ralph (NZ), Expert Alterations (Baltimore). Not recent, but I still listen to a tape from 2012 by a short-lived Polish noise-punk band, Pustostany, pretty regularly. think people would have – and still would – love that record over here and elsewhere. I’ve listened to Sleaford Mods and Schoolboy Q more than anything recently, though, which places me in the same boat as a lot of folks.

DH: What parallels do you see to the days of flipping through stacks of records in crates, if any – and what sort of mindset does a modern digital curator need to bring to the search for the best obscurities?
Matt Thornton: There’s no real parallel. Digging through music online is not on par with being in a record store, flipping through records, interacting with people, etc. Real life anything wins over the online replacement. But whether one is better as an experience doesn’t mean much to me. We can allow the digital world to replace real-life, or we can grow up and juggle both and use everything to our advantage.

The hype cycles that were built by the record industry still linger and it’s annoying. Everyone can go find music on their own, and I think the music world specifically would be better if we all went down our own paths and brought things back for each other. There’s no need for a fucking chorus line of bloggers pushing some Burger rock, that we all know is going to be rendered worthless within months. And they’re not even making any money. It’s for blog hits. Who cares? Go look around! The internet NEVER ENDS! Find something on your own and develop your own experience with it and share it with the few people that matter to you.
I have total and complete sympathy for people who have busy lives and can’t dedicate time to finding new music, or just have different priorities. But there’s no industry machine for music bloggers to be a part of any more. I don’t get why 300 of them are competing with each other to tell me the same exact thing. I understand why large record companies assault the public with a barrage of advertisements and hype. But why are we willingly trying to replace that system on our own with one that acts the same way, and feeds off people the same way?

As much as I despise most music blogs, good music critics will always be important. If you’re not equipped with the tools to be one, develop a different approach. There’s no shame in that. More people should experiment with how they present music, instead of writing a generic paragraph-per-record where they claim their face gets melted by every record they hear. But good music critics are generally valuable to me because they’re good writers, first and foremost. I can read Daniel Stewart no matter what record he’s talking about, and I’ll generally be more interested in how he presents his ideas than the record he’s talking about. There’s always going to be a place for writers like that, right?