SNS Madrid, Spain / Charada Club de Baile / August 2010
On Tuesday, November 9th, Philly-based audio-visual innovator duo, Rucyl Mills & King Britt of SATURN NEVER SLEEPS (SNS) are returning to Brooklyn's Knitting Factory along with DJ Spinna, Mike Slott, Snack n Cmish, and Moustachio in support of Paris-based producer, ONRA's much anticipated debut performance (check out my interview with him later). According to their own definition, "SNS in ensemble form combines audio visual micro-components into a thought altering world of sight and sound". What started out as two incredibly successful tribute performances in Philadelphia and in New York honoring intergalactic key-holder SUN RA and drawing over 2700 attendees, has grown into a movement that had guest-featured artists like Flying Lotus, RAS-G, AFTA-1, Shabazz Palace, Step Eye, Sarah White, Rico Mendez, Taylor McFerrin, and Tokimonsta among others. Since their debut show in July 2009, King & Rucyl have had several releases and an impressive international tour schedule hitting venues in Istanbul, Berlin, Madrid, Zurich, and Basel under their belt. I've been a friend and a long-time fan of their work--- beside being an amazing producer and singer, Rucyl is one of the most brilliant technological innovators (readers might remeber the MIDI-controller she'd built herself that I featured here before), while King has had a hugely successful carrier as a producer and DJ, having known for his productions in several different genres ranging from deep house, hip-hop, afro-tech, funk, to nu-jazz (he used to be my favorite deep house producer, read his bio here). I've been meaning to do an interview with them for a long time, so their upcoming performance provided the perfect opportunity to spread some love. This show is not to be missed!
LICHIBAN: If I remember correctly, the original concept behind the SATURN NEVER SLEEPS project was a series of tribute shows to SUN RA, one of the most important pioneers of experimental music. SUN RA was not only a musical innovator but also a spiritual artist who was never afraid to push the boundaries of imagination. In what way did he influence your carrier and do you also have a spiritual component to your music?
King: I grew up going to his house in Philly w/ my mom. I think being in that environment definitely helped me understand that an 'outer' power exists in the universe and thru our music it is channelled to the masses. I feel all music, no matter how good or bad, has a spiritual component connected to it. Music is the organization of frequencies/sounds, which come from spiritual intention.....
Rucyl: I learned about Sun Ra when I happened upon his film "Space is the Place" in the early 90s and consequently started gathering all the information I could about him and his work. I read his biography then had a June Tyson obsession for a minute - I was impressed by her style and confidence in her own abilities to sing in her own personal style with no rules. Music for me is completely spiritual and and is the best way to get to know myself and other people intimately. Self-expression is the fastest way to self-knowledge.
Sun Ra:Lectric PreVue from Saturn Never Sleeps on Vimeo.
L: You two are the perfect team, your individual passion & talents compliment each other perfectly. Could you each give an intro about each other's expertise to someone who is not familiar with your work and include something that people wouldn't normally know or assume about each of you?
King: I think Rucyl is an expert in many things. She not only is an amazing singer, producer and multimedia artist but I feel her strongest expertise is hook writing. It may not be your obvious pop hooks but once you hear them, you will find yourself humming them for days/months to come. That is a very difficult thing to do and still keep the lyrics interesting and not bubblegum.
Rucyl: King is so dedicated to music and so professional in his execution and studio manner, teaching me that while emotions are always important and valid, to never let them keep you from making music. As artists sometimes we get caught up in day to day challenges and I've learned from King that these challenges are adjectives in your life process, not the verbs, that can be used in your art rather than serve as obstacles. Besides the obvious fact that he's an incredible producer and dj, King is a living encyclopedia of the history of all genres of music and the Philadelphia sound, he's a gear head with a programmers sensibility, and also one of the most non-judgemental people I've known. His desire to always progress and take chances is what makes him the formidable artist he is. Oh - and he's a really good with visual media - directing and photography.
L: You both had successful carriers as performing artists? In what way did your past work help or created a challenge taking a new direction in your musical growth?
King: My problem was more of a fear of taking the step into the experimental side. Rucyl definitely helped me push through the block that was holding me back. It was fear of losing my audience and fear of confusing my brand. I wish I had done it earlier...I think my past work is great but its very 'safe' to a certain extent ....now its time to be unsafe.
Rucyl: My past musical history was adventurous, to say the least, as I got involved in the music industry at a very young age. Like King said, it's time to be unsafe. Saturn Never Sleeps has given us an opportunity to express ourselves without conforming to any genre, especially with the uncertain state of patriarchal systems to confine our direction or creativity. It's good to be free.
SNS Live in Istanbul from Saturn Never Sleeps on Vimeo.
L: One of the unique elements of your live shows is that there is no rehearsal or preconceived concept before you get on stage; everything is created in the moment as a spontaneous improvisation piece. In a way, your shows created a new model for electronic audio-visual experimentation by blurring the line between performance art, visual installation, and live musical production. What is your arsenal? What would you like people to take home from the shows?
King: I think the main thing we want people to leave with is a sense of freedom. A feeling of uncertainty but simultaneously a feeling of excitement and wanting more. A feeling like maybe they can do it too. A feeling like they can take chances too.
Rucyl: Our arsenals change constantly, but the APC is pretty much a constant along with Roland's Kaoss line. I would really like to reflect with our performances the concept of the process being the art, living in the now, and most importantly enjoying yourself and removing your ego from the equation so more universal energy can flow through.
SNS featuring RAS-G at the Kinitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY. photo by King Texas
L: You guys had your debut live performance in NY with a hugely successful SUN RA tribute that packed over 2700 peoples last July 2009 and had a number of shows in New York since. It seems to me that most of the artists you have featured in your performances are from the West Coast or from overseas. How does New York's receptivity to this kind of experimental projects compares to other cities and countries you've visited over the last year?
SNS featuring Ras-G, Sarah White, Rico Mendez, Steph Eye, and AFTA-1 at Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY 12/11/09 photo Lenyon Whitaker
The next gigs were all amazing as well but circumstances were never as perfect as that one. BUT they have all had their own magic. We have done Madrid, Berlin, Basel, Zurich, NYC, Philly, Istanbul and January Japan and Australia. Each gig has had its great crowd and moments. I still think everyone is a bit confused as to what to expect but they always leave excited for more.
We are working on a full length now, which we feel the tour for it will truly define exactly what SNS really is. I think the past year was a process to get to this point of doing an album.
SNS Sun Ra:Lectric / The Institute for Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania / July 2009
L:What was your favorite show so far and why?
King: For me, it will always be the first show at the ICA (check video recap here). It was such an out of body and mind experience. To happen during a Sun Ra exhibition and create what we did for true Ra heads was enough to cry. It was also the beginning of Rucyl and I working together, which was monumental !
Rucyl: ICA was incredible.. it really felt like we were immersed in the experience and Sun Ra was watching from Saturn. I also really loved our recent show at Moogfest. SNS has grown so much in the last year so that every last show we do is my favorite show at this point - each performance I learn so much more, and as long as I'm learning, growing and changing, I feel successful.
King: Angels and Demons at play. Its such a trippy arrangement and execution. Big Band Space Music at its best!
Rucyl: Though I love his music, the "Space is the Place" movie is my favorite of his works. To understand the importance of visual media at that time is so incredible! He was like a musical Marshall McLuhan. The medium is the message.. the medium is the massage.
L: I heard that you are working on some new SNS projects as well as solo projects as well?
King: SNS album.....early 2011......
Rucyl: We've got a bunch of releases coming out, but most pressing right now is the SNS full length record in 2011.
King: I think we got it this past year, the APC40..... it was like the missing link.
Rucyl: Hard question because there's so much I want to try out.. I love the APC, but I'm thinking about adding on the Code controller by Livid Instruments. Eventually I want to build something like Chris Carter's Tutti Box for vocal effects...
L: How would you like SNS to evolve in the future? Any dream places to take the show to?
King: Trying not to think about it because it has been so organic. We actually started big and now are concentrating on just us two. So we in a way went opposite....which is very exciting. We just rely on each other.
Rucyl: We're definitely trying to let SNS tell us what it wants to do since it's been leading us in the right direction so far. But we are definitely developing a new visual element for performance to coincide with the release of our first full-length record.
SNS at Moogfest 2010 photos copyright Ruslan Tumash and Moogfest
L: You just returned from the Moogfest recently? How was it? What were the highlights, any artist you'd recommend to watch?
King: Moogfest was the best festival I have been to in years. Top 3 acts: Dam-Funk (always), Sleigh Bells and Caribou.
Rucyl: Moogfest rocked! I learned so much from other performances in such a short period of time. I'm usually a bit crowd shy, but it was so organized and drama free for a festival. The acts that King mentioned were slammin, as well as Nosaj Thing and I loved Dan Deacon's ambient experimental Moog set. I also got to see Nortec Collective's and Matmos' gear up close and ask them questions. Awesome.
L: What should we expect on November 9th?
King: The unexpected.
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