Music producer SINS spills on Toronto's seedy side
Scouring the gloomy corners of the internet's electronic music conclaves, you'll find an almost eerie amount of Toronto and Ontario artists. It feels like every other leather-jacketed punk on the Spadina car is going home to make laptop beats or cruise Craigslist for analog synths. Some of this music is terrible, and some is to die for.
Secretive ϟ†Nϟ falls into the second category, and has developed a large and loyal following, both online and off. After releasing a successful EP on label Black Bus, he's now poised to unleash a full length on Toronto's own Pretty Pretty Records.
ϟ†Nϟ, who plays and DJs regularly, and recently opened for both oOoOO and Gatekeeper, doesn't show his face at live shows, but you may have sat next to him on the TTC. He's got a character from a classic underground film (okay, it's Gummo) stitched onto the back of his jacket, and that's all we're going to give away.
"Dark" is an overused term in music writing, and I'm nothing if not a guilty party. Like most cliched idioms, it now gets the point across (music that almost definitely isn't about barn raising) only at the expense of the subject. We decided to dig deep, and asked ϟ†Nϟ about what keeps his music lingering in the shadows and the substance he's found there - as well as what makes him go all squishy inside with glee (hint: it has four legs and lives in Trinity Bellwoods).
At the core, what and who is ϟ†Nϟ?
ϟ†Nϟ: I am an artist and a musician, with an intense love for drum machines and synths. My work focuses on coming to terms with the bleak remains of our dying world, and transforming the pain into something cosmic and beautiful.
Who do you work with and record with most often right now?
I am recording a new album for Pretty Pretty Records, which features guest vocal by Ell V Gore, Rich from Mauzoleum, and Anna Coquette. I've been putting everything I have into this new album and I feel it's my best work so far. It will be out on vinyl and CD in early 2013.
I also have a side project with my friend Rainbow called Wight Eyes--we've been recording for over a year. It's similar to ϟ†Nϟ in some ways, but has more of an '80s synth pop vibe with more focus on melody.
You've been involved in Toronto's electronic scene for a long time. Can you tell us about your background before ϟ†Nϟ, and how ϟ†Nϟ began?
"Solve et Coagula" is an ancient alchemical term, which essentially means to destroy something, and then rebuild it stronger than it was in its original form. It's a very fitting way to describe what has made me who I am today.
When I moved to Toronto, I was very hungry to change the soundscape of the city, and I started the first electro event in the city with some friends. At the time, electro was fairly unknown; within a short period of time it rose to be very popular, and in some ways I rose with it. I started organizing events all over the city, played with some amazing artists and had some chances to go on tour. I ruined most of the opportunities I had because I had some very self-destructive tendencies; I was in the midst of a crippling addiction, and became extremely volatile.
For many years the only thing that was able to keep me from sinking was my love for music, but I had burnt too many bridges. With no musical outlets left things got very bleak indeed. I literally should be dead; I was constantly finding myself in very dangerous situations out there on the streets, and kept waking up in the hospital with tubes coming out of me. Towards the end, I was essentially homeless.
One day, I had a moment of clarity and realized things needed to change. I was not afraid of dying or going to jail, but I realized that I was wasting my talents and I wanted to make music again. Almost exactly 5 years ago, I was able to stop using drugs and alcohol and I slowly began rebuilding my life. I am grateful that I went through so much pain and despair, because I now have a lust for life that I never could have had without those dark years. Solve et Coagula.
At first it was all about picking up the pieces and stabilizing my life. After a year clean, I moved into my own apartment, set up my TR-808 (one of the only possessions I had left), and started slowly rebuilding my studio. At first, my music went in an electro-industrial direction. I worked with some really great record labels: My Favorite Robot, Battery Park, Intellegenix, and others. I also remixed some great acts like Snuff Crew and Remain. While working on a remix one day, I started playing around with ½ time drums and droney bass lines; everything clicked as soon as I slowed things down. I found the sound I'd spent so many years searching for; I re-formed as ϟ†Nϟ and released my first EP in May of 2012.
2012 was totally played out as the year of the apocalypse, but I think the dread we feel that fueled all the hype is real. Do you feel the dread? What is that?
We are in a car that is hurtling towards a brick wall and everyone is too worried about celebrity gossip and reality TV to care. I refuse to participate in a lot of the bullshit that exists in this day and age. So, yes, I can feel the dread. I focus that dread into my music, and then I am at peace with it.
What are your first memories of recording music?
I played bass guitar in a punk band in high school. When we won a battle of the bands at school, the prize was that our head of the A/V department recorded an album for us on his 4 track recorder. That is the first original material I ever wrote and recorded. My bass lines back then have a consistency with what I write today for ϟ†Nϟ. It's always been about the bass for me.
Where does the name ϟ†Nϟ come from, and how would you explain the symbols?
That's a secret.
What is a ϟ†Nϟ live show like, and what's a perfect live performance for you?
I actually think ϟ†Nϟ is better live--it's more intense and chaotic. Everything is synced to video, and the videos complement the feel of the songs in an immersive performance. I teamed up with a very talented video artist, SARIN, who performs with me at my shows and makes a lot of the video.
To bring even more of a visual element to the show I added a back-up dancer, Chrissy Columbus. Chrissy Columbus is like a ghetto fabulous drag queen meets tricked out gangsta club kid. She is the best.
Why do you perform with a mask, and hide your face?
I don't want people to know who I am. I like that it separates me from the music. I want the music to speak for itself. I chose the type of mask I wear because I want people to know the music is supposed to be menacing, and that I am a threat.
What's your relationship with both underground music and with the mainstream music industry, and how have your feelings about each side changed over the past year, if at all?
I sincerely don't know much, and do not care about mainstream music. There has been a shift in the industry and the output of mainstream music got so bad that I stopped checking or caring what was new. I have surrounded myself with talented underground musicians and artists and I immerse myself in their work, when I'm not busy working on my own songs.
Your music obviously comes from, to use an overused term, a dark place, and Toronto definitely has a seedy side that often goes overlooked. What's the darkest thing you've ever seen go down in the city?
I crawled around the underbelly of Toronto for years while in the height of my self-destruction. I have seen so much fucked up shit that I could write a book. I knew a guy who had been shot in the dick, which is something I would like to avoid. He is still out there doing his thing. I like to do what I can to help those who are still lost in their addictions and show them that there is a way out. That kind of darkness is very comfortable; once you're in it, it no longer seems dark.
We know your soft side is there. What's the cutest thing you've ever seen in Toronto?
I love all animals. I really, really love squirrels. I take peanuts to the park and feed them sometimes. Many of them have big tufts of hair missing from fights with other squirrels. They look pretty punk rock. They remind me of little squirrel versions of the dudes from the Mad Max movies. One day I am going to tape peanuts all over a sweater and let the squirrels crawl all over me.
What's your relationship with the occult, and how did you become interested in occult themes and ideas?
I have always been seeking a deeper understanding of the universe. I bought my first Occult book when I was 11, and then convinced some neighbourhood kids to help me try to summon something out of the cemetery, which I now find pretty odd. What do normal kids do when they are 11?
My path now is that of Thelema. I am initiated into a Thelemic order where I can trace a path directly from those above me to Aleister Crowley. My main goal is to better align myself with the universe and my True Will. I try to take the knowledge and altered states of mind I gain from my meditative and ritual work, and use them in my music with the hope that it resonates with others and helps them on their path.
Your Murmur EP in 2012 was all over the place online. What's been your favourite random fan encounter?
I was on the street car the other day and someone had made a ϟ†Nϟ patch and sewn it onto their bag. That really made my day.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite Toronto DJ: Too many to choose one.
Dogs, or cats: Fish.
Favourite shade of black: Flat Black.
Toronto band or artist you're most excited about right now: Ell V Gore and Mauzoleum
ϟ†Nϟ's 2012 Murmur EP is up for free download right now.
Photos by Denise McMullin. Live photo by Pretty Pretty Records.