Interview by Guled Muse
Transcription by Paulina Velasco
Join Guled Muse as he sits down with Christian Riechert to talk about instrumental hip hop and the motivation behind running a creative enterprise. Christian shares his wisdom and experience running the publishing cooperative Allied Forces Press and record label Fuzzoscope that he helped start with Jared Pittack in 2012 in San Francisco. How is instrumental hip hop culture about community? What kind of community is it? What's the bigger picture? Let's check it out with these two:
Guled Muse: My first question to you is how did you discover the instrumental hip hop scene or that music scene in general?
Christian: It honestly connects back to bigger labels, and then, getting turned on to those kinds of sounds, and that concept of making music… you got your Doom's, your Madlib's, your Dilla's – down to the cutty old-school hip hop that I grew up listening to in and around Los Angeles and Long Beach. It was about listening to all that stuff in the mix, and over the years, as you evolve, just gravitating towards elements or ideas you like more. And then obviously with the expansion of your MySpace's, your SoundCloud's, your Facebook's, your Bandcamp's, all those different platforms or little avenues into finding out about new groups of people or individuals that are doing their own thing out in the middle of nowhere (or the outskirts of somewhere). Really just losing the geographic boundaries that used to exist when trying to build a community, but a local scene is also super crucial because it needs to connect back somewhere physically too.
GM: You're going deep into the rabbit hole, because right there you touched on the topic of the internet. The internet was an equalizer between us and major record labels...
Christian: It put everyone on somewhat of an equal footing... though not really, because it always comes back to listernership, or viewership, or fanbase - or, whatever the hell – and those people from the major labels have access to crazy platforms. Hella people are going to sony.com, or universal.com, or wherever; to these places where it's like, anything you need, we got it. Oh, you need 10,000 copies of it? Alright, we're going to put in a call right now, get those manufactured right up, cold hard business style. If you hit up some of these small labels, you put in an order for 10,000 records, they would laugh at you. Like, nah dude, we do not make 10,000 records – that does not happen. Download digitals all day, there may be 10,000 digital copies floating around on the internet, around different peoples’ phones, or computers… but you've got to build that more organically, compared to just being plugged into some preexisting business marketing structure.
GM: How do you feel about this in relation to the instrumental hip hop scene ? What do you feel the internet has done for the producer?
Christian: I would almost think that music, or styles of music, or subgenres of music, can evolve quicker, or even potentially die quicker when it's a fad or a fashionable thing. The real shit stays, the fashionable shit comes and goes, and hype people move on to the next bullshit. I feel like the cycles and turn-around times have sped up with the internet. Back in the day, you had to get radio play, or pass around mix tapes, and snail mail shit – we're still snail mailing tapes – but people get the digital copy the second they cop a tape. So, it's so much faster to (a) build an audience from scratch and/or (b) connect with a like-minded community, because that community is going to exist in any kind of art or cultural genre or musical subgenre etc.
GM: For us, what defines community is what we contribute to the pot. I want to talk about your contributions to the community – and that's Allied Forces Press and Fuzzoscope. So can you tell me a little bit about how you guys started it all?
Christian: Yeah, so it all started with Allied Forces Press, which we launched in 2012. Prior to that, we had been – and when I say we, I'm talking about my dude Jared Pittack (the other half of Allied and Fuzzo). I grew up with that guy through childhood, and we've always been friends. He put me on a lot of game, a lot of crazy music back in the day; he was making all kinds of weird shit. Making wallets out of vinyl and sewing machines in high school, and lacing up all the high school homies with them. It's like – do you go cop a wallet, or do you go make your own wallet? He’s a huge inspiration to me, and helped cultivate that kind of mentality in me.
He was dropping these solo illustration zines that I was really inspired by. There's an early one he did called “Relax”, there's another early one he did – I can't remember the name any more... I was looking at them and thinking, “this is the illest motherfucking shit ever”, and I began to think harder about the whole concept of zine culture and independent publishing. He put me on to creating books, creating something physical, making a small batch of cutty artifacts to get something off your chest or communicate a message or share information.
And after those first couple one-off zines, we had the idea to start the quarterly magazine, and to do something bigger and denser and a little more structured than the average zine you would get passed or come across. So we dropped the first quarterly (ALFQ Issue No. 1) in December 2012, and the rest is pretty much history.
GM: That's really dope how it started – especially from high school, people don't usually follow up on what they want to pursue in high school. You and your homies were really focused when you were doing that in Southern California… What was it like in and around LA, and what was it that made you want to move out here to the Bay Area?
Christian: I grew up and went to school down there, but I had a couple of homies at the end of high school who came to the Bay and went to SF State. So I was coming up here a couple of times a year to kick it with them. Going to the Bay and seeing Digable Planets on molly and catching the late-night MUNI bus, coming unprepared in just a t-shirt shivering in the early morning bay fog, running around on rooftops, just little things that slowly brought me closer to this place…I finally said to myself – “Yo – I have to get the hell out of So Cal, and get up to SF.”
GM: So you talked about your Allied Forces Press, how did you start Fuzzoscope?
Christian: Allied Forces Press is technically a publishing company; we put out zines, magazines, and books. We were also pairing a digital compilation tape with each quarterly release, and the Q&A's in the magazine would feature musicians that had been on the tapes. We really wanted to keep Allied Forces focused more on print media, as opposed to putting out music, so starting FUZZOSCOPE in 2013 was a natural evolution from doing the digital Earwax comps.
GM: What do you see as future developments? Where do you see Allied Forces Press going?
Christian: We have a lot of things in the works that we're keeping on the low right now… We are about to drop a new book called “Art Headache”. We are about to get a monthly show going in San Francisco this summer that can really showcase these sounds and connect back to the local community - and we're going to relaunch fuzzo.tv along with that. We are also starting work on ALFA 2 and the next Earwax cassette set to drop in early 2017.
Then just continue to build with the people we gravitate towards and who gravitate towards us, people that are on the same wavelength. It's crazy to see all of the different heads from all of these different areas shuffling around the globe. A lot of people are transplanting to LA (as usual/always), but at the end of the day, I’m about holding it down for the West Coast. For people who are REALLY loving this shit, people coming from all over to visit these places, to see it all go down, be it the Bay Area or in LA.
GM: That's why I think West Coast unity is so important. As far as music is concerned, I always will say, that the Bay has been slept on for so many years. I believe that the Bay has been that place for innovation. To you – is there a difference between the Bay and LA? Do the movements differ? Are there similarities?
Christian: I think you can answer that question first if you look at the numbers – the amount of people living in LA and the amount of people living in the Bay Area. I think even just the sheer amount of people down there and the fact that it is the entertainment capital of the world makes a difference. People are there to go out and see shows and peep shit and party. The Bay's not necessarily known for that, but I don't really know how to compare the two. I just think there's a lot more going on down there, quantitatively, there's a lot more crews and there's a lot more producers. But it leads to a lot of cliqued-out shit, people having closed circles… building a fanbase vs actually building something more valuable. Devolution into a scenario where money making is disguised as community building.
That happens up here too, but I think if you're keeping your eyes and ears out for the kind of stuff we're talking about, there's not as much of it going on up here. Maybe the Bay is slept on – but a lot of the cats in the Bay are also sleeping. I think it's crucial to maintain that Bay-LA connection, and we hope to strengthen it.
GM: You're right, it's about building community. Don't get me twisted – I love LA whenever I go out there. Game recognize game. What I'm trying to emphasize is not whether one scene is better than the other – but what is unique about each of these places.
Final question: We do this shit for a reason. Every day we wake up, we try to figure out our purpose. What keeps you motivated to do this? What keeps you still inspired and still invested within the instrumental hip hop movement, even after all these years?
Christian: I think more than anything, it's that back in the day, a long time ago, I used to make music too. I was in a band in high school, another band in college; I made beats on my own time. Long story short, before starting all this stuff with Jared, I had a feeling that it could be a conflict of interest to try to be promoting myself and my own work within a platform I helped create. I feel like a lot of people are doing that, and underhandedly are just trying to push their own shit. It's cool to pepper it in, because at the end of the day you're interested in this because you yourself are artistic and creative. AFP & FUZZO has turned my focus away from actually creating music myself. I still spend a lot of time digging through records – both contemporary and classic shit – and I love manipulating sounds.
At the end of the day, all this is about focusing on building a unique community with like-minded individuals.
GM: Any last words?
Christian: Rest in peace