Many people treat the practise of sampling with scepticism, with the idea of re-appropriating audio still carries the stigma of a shortcut in some camps. New York based musician Nick Koenig (AKA Hot Sugar) has elevated the practise to an artform, but don’t expect the stock standard drops and hooks. You’re far more likely to come across the sound of a rat’s heartbeat standing in for a snare than a Clipse-esque air horn in a Hot Sugar composition. The Authenticity Issue of provided the perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper into the artist’s world.
Do you mind introducing yourself?
I’m Nick, call me Hot Sugar.
Can you explain the concept of ‘associative music’ to us?
Associative music is an accumulation of techniques where we try to use sounds that we come across in our environments. In a direct example it would be taking a sound you hear every single day and turning that into an instrument and making a melody out of it. The whole point is that it’s derived from Pavlov’s associative learning studies. I wanted to provoke the same sort of physical reaction in the audience.
Do you think that you can elicit a physical response?
A physical response like a dog drooling? It doesn’t need to be that drastic. It can be like the slightest unease or stimulation and I’ll be satisfied.
Music is always going to elicit some sort of emotional response; do you think that you can take that further?
That’s the point – associative music works in tandem with that the power of composition and hopefully it’s some synergetic next level.
Do you see it as being linked to an urban environment specifically?
Not at all. I mean I just happen to live in New York City so there are a million sounds here, but if I lived by the beach but then the ocean would be a lot more significant and if I lived in the mountains the sound of crickets would do something for me. I’m just trying to pay attention to all the sounds around us that we ignore.
So you’re quite reluctant to use conventional sampling techniques, right?
I think it’s so lazy. I think as talented as a person is, if they sample someone else’s music and I can tell what song it is – I’m really turned off.
I guess it’s a pretty widely accepted practice though.
It is. But it doesn’t make it right. What if during the Renaissance people weren’t painting but taking other people’s paintings and throwing a couple of splotches of ink on it and calling it theirs?
I guess some people may find it hard to comprehend because working with conventional instruments gives you a framework to work within. When you suddenly open it up and say you can use anything to make music you don’t have that same guidance.
At the same time if you take a small step, I mean it might be intimidating, but if you take a small step you’ll realise things are a lot easier and its just an open road. I don’t mind if I make mistakes because no one is here to tell me how something is supposed to sound. If you go to a mixing studio someone will tell you “This is how you mix a guitar” or “This is how you mix drums” but how is someone going to tell me how I’m meant to mix the sound of ten crickets smacking against a screen door?
What is the furthest length you’ve gone to get a recording or a sample?
I don’t know – I’ve recorded human bones in the Catacombs of Paris, which was fun.
If someone comes across your music without knowing the background, do you think they have a different perception of your work?
The problem is the assumption is that I make very avant-garde experimental music because I’m out here turning a pickle jar into a bass.
But it’s quite accessible and easy to listen to as well.
Exactly. These techniques are supposed to lend themselves to accessible pop music. I don’t want people listening knowing that they’re listening to a pickle jar. I want them to listen and to appreciate the sound of the bass and wonder how I achieve that. It’s not supposed to sound like chaos.
Purchase the Authenticity Issue here.
See the full cover shoot featuring Hot Sugar and Chippy Nonstop here.