Techno legend Jeff Mills has a beautiful quote making the rounds on social media, responding to the question of audience. He’s still making music for them, he says – but doesn’t want to get pulled into simply giving them what he knows will work. Watch from about 8:30 for the video above, in its original context (a 2010 tugobot piece).

It resonates for me with the Milton Babbitt’s “Who Cares if You Listen?” (That’s a title Babbitt claimed he never used; this is a tale so familiar to contemporary music that it has its own Wikipedia entry, for those of you catching up at home.)

But what I love about Mills’ sentiment is not that it’s somehow anti-audience. It’s that it’s a challenge made by the artist to himself. It’s not that he loathes audiences, but that he wants to “think in the other direction … in order to be able to move further …” It’s about going somewhere, “to become more creative.”

“It’s for them … but I don’t want to know what they think; I don’t want to know what they like … I only want to be able to go as far as I can with this music before I stop.”

Of course, this appears to have a specific meaning to him. Ignore audiences at your own peril. This is a musician building on experience, on an intuitive ability to connect. This disconnection is a particular form of liberation replaced with a directed creative impulse. But it does give us room for reflection.

Apart from crowds throwing their hands up, we’re in a world of endless statistics (hello, Facebook Insights on Facebook Pages), of year-end round-ups and reader polls. But more than that, each of us is vulnerable to our own desire to please. And there’s not even anything wrong with that, until it stops us from moving.

So what I love about this quote is that Jeff Mills keeps returning to movement.

You can click Like on it, anyway.

And by the way, if you want to know Babbitt’s solution to avoiding popularism and entering the realm of experimentation? It was “voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media.”

Maybe that’s the best thing about this clash of ideas. Electronic music has become the most public and populist, back in the realm of the party. Then again, if you’re brave, maybe you can experiment in front of a crowd. Just ask Jeff Mills.

Interview details:

Jeff Mills talks about the Sleeper Wakes, influences, inspirations and the circle.
Performance at sala Razzmatazz in 18/03/2010; interview at Fabra i Coats arts center in 19/03/2010. Barcelona, Spain.

This is part of a series of interviews for the tugobot project.
+ info: http://www.tugobot.com

interview: Juliana Mori
images: Luis Ushirobira
audio: Rodrigo Carvalho
editing: Juliana Mori

thanks to:
Frederic Djaaleb
Mikaël Benhamou
Luis Costa
Axis Records
Sonar
Razzmatazz
Fabra i Coats

  • Krzysztof Cybulski

    At the other hand, I like Lutoslawski’s sincere admition, that firstly he writes music for himself, and if he wouldn’t he woud be betraying both himself and his audience. Or, in yet another way, some psychologist said that success comes when “subjective attractiveness” of the things you do overlap with “objective attractiveness” of it

    • Foosnark

      I figure, if I make music that I like, chances are pretty good that there are other people who will also like it.

      I like some pretty strange things, but those strange things include artists with a loyal considerable following and moderate commercial success. So while there might not be precedent out there for my music, there’s precedent for weird music, and that’s encouraging enough for me.

  • Krzysztof Cybulski

    At the other hand, I like Lutoslawski’s sincere admition, that firstly he writes music for himself, and if he wouldn’t he woud be betraying both himself and his audience. Or, in yet another way, some psychologist said that success comes when “subjective attractiveness” of the things you do overlap with “objective attractiveness” of it

    • Foosnark

      I figure, if I make music that I like, chances are pretty good that there are other people who will also like it.

      I like some pretty strange things, but those strange things include artists with a loyal considerable following and moderate commercial success. So while there might not be precedent out there for my music, there’s precedent for weird music, and that’s encouraging enough for me.

  • Krzysztof Cybulski

    At the other hand, I like Lutoslawski’s sincere admition, that firstly he writes music for himself, and if he wouldn’t he woud be betraying both himself and his audience. Or, in yet another way, some psychologist said that success comes when “subjective attractiveness” of the things you do overlap with “objective attractiveness” of it

    • Foosnark

      I figure, if I make music that I like, chances are pretty good that there are other people who will also like it.

      I like some pretty strange things, but those strange things include artists with a loyal considerable following and moderate commercial success. So while there might not be precedent out there for my music, there’s precedent for weird music, and that’s encouraging enough for me.

  • kobamoto rin

    nice article. Personally and I truly believe this, that it really doesn’t matter what other people think. I believe that the whole trick is even remotely caring in the first place and that if you’re even considering it that you’re falling for a hoax. I hope I’m being understood, when I say that there is an untold amount of types of music out there and a myriad of sounds to go with them from polka stabs mixed with farting and blow pop whistles to orchestration for geese, imho the emphasis in it’s entirety should be put on finding your audience and when I say entirety I mean 100% !!! cause there is an audience out there for what ever kind of noise you make and that’s an already proven fact. there are superstars if that’s what you want to be attached to every single kind of sound out there and it doesn’t matter how great or awful you think somebody’s music is, somebody else thinks just the opposite of you so this whole discussion of does it matter or does it not is really the trick within itself. whatever and who ever you think sucks, it could be teisto, it could be you hate rap music, it could be you hate country music, it could be you hate the sound of someone taking a crap on stage, it really doesn’t matter because there are other people who are just as human as you are who can’t get enough of it and will fill up a room for it. In my opinion that’s the only fact that even matters and everything else is irrelevant so the last thing a musician/ songwriter should do is give a flying puck about what somebody else thinks, not out of arrogance but because it’s simply just not logical… Instead spend all of your time trying to connect with people who want to hear what you do, if you’re spitting your dope rhymes at a river dance party or a heehaw hodown then the problem is not that you just didn’t add enough twang to your sound. Don’t make music for your audience just know who your audience is.

  • kobamoto rin

    nice article. Personally and I truly believe this, that it really doesn’t matter what other people think. I believe that the whole trick is even remotely caring in the first place and that if you’re even considering it that you’re falling for a hoax. I hope I’m being understood, when I say that there is an untold amount of types of music out there and a myriad of sounds to go with them from polka stabs mixed with farting and blow pop whistles to orchestration for geese, imho the emphasis in it’s entirety should be put on finding your audience and when I say entirety I mean 100% !!! cause there is an audience out there for what ever kind of noise you make and that’s an already proven fact. there are superstars if that’s what you want to be attached to every single kind of sound out there and it doesn’t matter how great or awful you think somebody’s music is, somebody else thinks just the opposite of you so this whole discussion of does it matter or does it not is really the trick within itself. whatever and who ever you think sucks, it could be teisto, it could be you hate rap music, it could be you hate country music, it could be you hate the sound of someone taking a crap on stage, it really doesn’t matter because there are other people who are just as human as you are who can’t get enough of it and will fill up a room for it. In my opinion that’s the only fact that even matters and everything else is irrelevant so the last thing a musician/ songwriter should do is give a flying puck about what somebody else thinks, not out of arrogance but because it’s simply just not logical… Instead spend all of your time trying to connect with people who want to hear what you do, if you’re spitting your dope rhymes at a river dance party or a heehaw hodown then the problem is not that you just didn’t add enough twang to your sound. Don’t make music for your audience just know who your audience is.

  • kobamoto rin

    nice article. Personally and I truly believe this, that it really doesn’t matter what other people think. I believe that the whole trick is even remotely caring in the first place and that if you’re even considering it that you’re falling for a hoax. I hope I’m being understood, when I say that there is an untold amount of types of music out there and a myriad of sounds to go with them from polka stabs mixed with farting and blow pop whistles to orchestration for geese, imho the emphasis in it’s entirety should be put on finding your audience and when I say entirety I mean 100% !!! cause there is an audience out there for what ever kind of noise you make and that’s an already proven fact. there are superstars if that’s what you want to be attached to every single kind of sound out there and it doesn’t matter how great or awful you think somebody’s music is, somebody else thinks just the opposite of you so this whole discussion of does it matter or does it not is really the trick within itself. whatever and who ever you think sucks, it could be teisto, it could be you hate rap music, it could be you hate country music, it could be you hate the sound of someone taking a crap on stage, it really doesn’t matter because there are other people who are just as human as you are who can’t get enough of it and will fill up a room for it. In my opinion that’s the only fact that even matters and everything else is irrelevant so the last thing a musician/ songwriter should do is give a flying puck about what somebody else thinks, not out of arrogance but because it’s simply just not logical… Instead spend all of your time trying to connect with people who want to hear what you do, if you’re spitting your dope rhymes at a river dance party or a heehaw hodown then the problem is not that you just didn’t add enough twang to your sound. Don’t make music for your audience just know who your audience is.

  • heinrichz

    very cool !

  • heinrichz

    very cool !

  • heinrichz

    very cool !

  • André Godoy

    inspiring, thanks for tracking down this interview, i was wondering about it since that quote surface on my timeline 😀

  • André Godoy

    inspiring, thanks for tracking down this interview, i was wondering about it since that quote surface on my timeline 😀

  • André Godoy

    inspiring, thanks for tracking down this interview, i was wondering about it since that quote surface on my timeline 😀

  • Axel Rigaud

    Then why is he sticking to 4/4 patterns with a kick on every beat? There’s so many rhythmic possibilities yet even the most “artistic” DJs stick to basic patterns. 7/8 and 5/8 could be danceable too.

    • ilana yocheved

      1. Because “kicks on none of the beats” didn’t go over well
      2. Scarce resource in this modern digital age what with these iPhones and Googles and whatnot
      3. Bad day; He’s grumpy
      4. Possibly

      But for real, I hear what you’re saying but at the same time I don’t think the reasonable measure of experimentation in a genre is forsaking the basic structure of that genre. A painter could choose to paint on the back side of the canvas or a jazz musician could choose to play in an entirely different key and tempo than the rest of the band but those things would break an accepted standard in how the genres work. What makes for interesting experimental music, IMO, is where you take the sound while staying within certain boundaries. Those boundaries are where the artistic challenge comes in.

      There’s just so much more to a techno tune than the kick, you know?

      • lala

        So where is the evolution supposed to be here?
        Don’t get fooled, he is doing exactly the same thing he did 20 years ago
        It’s boom boom boom,dial the bass out, dial the bass back in
        What used to be an artistic view of the future has become a standard. Meh.
        So more more future, please. and not the same rituals we did 20 years ago.

        • ilana yocheved

          That’s a fair criticism of Mills. I was arguing more against the “break all conventions” view of art than I was in favor of Mills being exciting or self-innovative.

          I’ll ask because I honestly can’t say: Who is doing music that sounds like The Future right now?

          • lala

            I thought I would get a lot for this, lol 🙂

            I don’t know, looks like we’re still looking for what the future sounds like 🙂

          • lala

            I thought I would get a lot *of hate* for this
            Didn’t happen, great 🙂

          • lambdoid

            I suppose that’s because there are very few barriers left to break now soundwise. CPU processing power has got to the point that every sound imaginable can be made additively already and every sound that can be synthesized sounds like other sounds that have been made before. Techno with any other beat than a 4 to the floor kick turns into other genres of music like breaks and electro(proper electro not the house kind). Drum and bass (and its offshoots eg dubstep, neurohop) has always been a forward-looking genre, but even that’s stagnating now due to the limitations of what can be achieved sonically.

    • mercury

      4/4 kick is like a white canvas for dance music.

    • lambdoid

      I made a 5/8 techno tune that reminded me of some of Jeff Mills’ more experimental stuff, and it worked very well. It didn’t have a big thumping kick at all.

  • Axel Rigaud

    Then why is he sticking to 4/4 patterns with a kick on every beat? There’s so many rhythmic possibilities yet even the most “artistic” DJs stick to basic things. edit : There is a nice 5/8 pattern over 4/4 at 8’10, but still. Why so few dynamics? Why is it so agressive all the time? Am I too old?

    • nothingnatural

      1. Because “kicks on none of the beats” didn’t go over well
      2. Scarce resource in this modern digital age what with these iPhones and Googles and whatnot
      3. Bad day; He’s grumpy
      4. Possibly

      But for real, I hear what you’re saying. At the same time, I don’t think the measurable quality of an artist’s experimentation rests in how much they forsake the basic structure of the genre. A jazz musician could choose to play in an entirely different key and tempo than the rest of the band but those do so would break an accepted standard in how the genre works.

      What makes for interesting experimental music, IMO, is where you take the sound while staying within certain boundaries. Those boundaries are where the artistic challenge comes in. “Evolution, not revolution”, or something along those lines.

      There’s just so much more to a techno tune than the kick, you know?

      • lala

        So where is the evolution supposed to be here?
        Don’t get fooled, he is doing exactly the same thing he did 20 years ago
        It’s boom boom boom,dial the bass out, dial the bass back in
        What used to be an artistic view of the future has become a standard. Meh.
        So more more future, please. and not the same rituals we did 20 years ago.

        • nothingnatural

          That’s a fair criticism of Mills. I was arguing more against the “break all conventions” view of art than I was in favor of Mills being exciting or self-innovative.

          I’ll ask because I honestly can’t say: Who is doing music that sounds like The Future right now?

          • lala

            I thought I would get a lot for this, lol 🙂

            I don’t know, looks like we’re still looking for what the future sounds like 🙂

          • lala

            I thought I would get a lot *of hate* for this
            Didn’t happen, great 🙂

          • lambdoid

            I suppose that’s because there are very few barriers left to break now soundwise. CPU processing power has got to the point that every sound imaginable can be made additively already and every sound that can be synthesized sounds like other sounds that have been made before. Techno with any other beat than a 4 to the floor kick turns into other genres of music like breaks and electro(proper electro not the house kind). Drum and bass (and its offshoots eg dubstep, neurohop) has always been a forward-looking genre, but even that’s stagnating now due to the limitations of what can be achieved sonically.

    • mercury

      4/4 kick is like a white canvas for dance music.

    • lambdoid

      I made a 5/8 techno tune that reminded me of some of Jeff Mills’ more experimental stuff, and it worked very well. It didn’t have a big thumping kick at all.

  • Axel Rigaud

    Then why is he sticking to 4/4 patterns with a kick on every beat? There’s so many rhythmic possibilities yet even the most “artistic” DJs stick to basic things. edit : There is a nice 5/8 pattern over 4/4 at 8’10, but still. Why so few dynamics? Why is it so agressive all the time? Am I too old?

    • nothingnatural

      1. Because “kicks on none of the beats” didn’t go over well
      2. Scarce resource in this modern digital age what with these iPhones and Googles and whatnot
      3. Bad day; He’s grumpy
      4. Possibly

      But for real, I hear what you’re saying. At the same time, I don’t think the measurable quality of an artist’s experimentation rests in how much they forsake the basic structure of the genre. A jazz musician could choose to play in an entirely different key and tempo than the rest of the band but those do so would break an accepted standard in how the genre works.

      What makes for interesting experimental music, IMO, is where you take the sound while staying within certain boundaries. Those boundaries are where the artistic challenge comes in. “Evolution, not revolution”, or something along those lines.

      There’s just so much more to a techno tune than the kick, you know?

      • lala

        So where is the evolution supposed to be here?
        Don’t get fooled, he is doing exactly the same thing he did 20 years ago
        It’s boom boom boom,dial the bass out, dial the bass back in
        What used to be an artistic view of the future has become a standard. Meh.
        So more more future, please. and not the same rituals we did 20 years ago.

        • nothingnatural

          That’s a fair criticism of Mills. I was arguing more against the “break all conventions” view of art than I was in favor of Mills being exciting or self-innovative.

          I’ll ask because I honestly can’t say: Who is doing music that sounds like The Future right now?

          • lala

            I thought I would get a lot for this, lol 🙂

            I don’t know, looks like we’re still looking for what the future sounds like 🙂

          • lala

            I thought I would get a lot *of hate* for this
            Didn’t happen, great 🙂

          • lambdoid

            I suppose that’s because there are very few barriers left to break now soundwise. CPU processing power has got to the point that every sound imaginable can be made additively already and every sound that can be synthesized sounds like other sounds that have been made before. Techno with any other beat than a 4 to the floor kick turns into other genres of music like breaks and electro(proper electro not the house kind). Drum and bass (and its offshoots eg dubstep, neurohop) has always been a forward-looking genre, but even that’s stagnating now due to the limitations of what can be achieved sonically.

    • mercury

      4/4 kick is like a white canvas for dance music.

    • lambdoid

      I made a 5/8 techno tune that reminded me of some of Jeff Mills’ more experimental stuff, and it worked very well. It didn’t have a big thumping kick at all.

  • kobamoto rin

    the thing is , we are not in the future we are in the present, and what does that have to do with good music anyway?

  • kobamoto rin

    the thing is , we are not in the future we are in the present, and what does that have to do with good music anyway?

  • kobamoto rin

    the thing is , we are not in the future we are in the present, and what does that have to do with good music anyway?

  • ted_mintes

    I think if you hear his new album, the interview makes more sense. There’s songs that aren’t 4/4 and have no kicks.

  • ted_mintes

    I think if you hear his new album, the interview makes more sense. There’s songs that aren’t 4/4 and have no kicks.

  • ted_mintes

    I think if you hear his new album, the interview makes more sense. There’s songs that aren’t 4/4 and have no kicks.