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Xexify Bio

What is Xexify? A Brief History/Explanation

Xexify is essentially the hive­mind embodiment of the art and processes of David Chaim Cohen (me). I first came up with the term in high school, around the 9th grade, after giving myself the artist name “Doctor Xex”. I was making experimental electronic music on cassette tape and would give the tapes to my friends, and they would say “Xexify Records” on them, even after I moved on from the moniker of Dr. Xex.

Later I took on the name “the Dog of Tears,” which is a character from a Jose Saramago book called Blindness. At this time, I was not fully involved in psychedelic trance, and tDoT was a noise project— a brutal noise project. Live iterations were punctuated by the presence of a band featuring Adam Somers and Sean Price on electronics and processing, as well as Wylie Vasquez Cable on upright bass. I would do vocals and additional electronics. Sean and Adam would simultaneously process my vocals. The band was called The Dog of Tears Orchestra.

During the reign of the orchestra, 3 tDoT albums were produced, all under the imprint of Xexify. There were a hundred or so made of each CD, and they were handed out for free or trade at consecutive Burning Man events. These albums were entitled:

Reflections in a Toilet Bowl

Human Instrumentality

and

Goggle Dub.


Most of these were packaged in America OnLine demo CD cases I would collect, which I would then hand paint. Each one was unique, I had a giant closet filled with various styes of AOL demo cd’s— my favorite were these boxy ones with a magnetic latch. I’ve never seen any of these albums pop up in any ones hands, and I think I only ever got 1 e­mail ever after handing them out at Burning Man. I currently have just 1 copy of Human Instrumentality (my favorite of these early albums), given to me by Adam, who had saved his. If you ever encounter someone in possession of one of these albums, please imprison them in a rusted cage and then bring them to me for arbitration.

This was all taking place during my college years, which I spent at the venerable asylum known as The California Institute of the Arts. Attending this school had a profound impact on the way I thought about art and process, and I became much more productive and motivated as each year went on. I was studying experimental filmmaking, spending most days/nights locked away in my studio in the basement of CalArts, hanging out with my colleague Sandy Ding, who had a studio next to mine. We would do all sorts of fucked up things for ridiculously long stretches of time without stopping (I’m not talking about drugs here, I’m talking about WORK), constantly jumping between the optical printer room, the hand processing lab, and our studios. I developed a system of hand processing up to 200 ft of black and white 16mm movie film at once with better­than­lab­quality results. Later I started working with color film, and would end every session by speeding 85 mph to Fotokem in Burbank, where they would process and print my film with a 24 hour turn around. In this fashion I could basically work without stopping except to sleep.

The one thing Sandy and I would leave the sub­level for (besides class) was a psychedelic trance party. I didn’t really like psytrance at first, but I liked the parties— outdoors, in a truly remote location, and with honest­to­god FREAKS dancing around a fire, replete with face tattoos and the highest quality menu of psychedelic partakings. I had just a handful of trance albums that I liked at that time, mixed in with all the other much more experimental music I was listening to. I didn’t really like rave music. In high school, I met a pretty cool guy named Justin Maxwell (a.k.a. Stupid Octave Cat) through the online synth community — he introduced me to acts like The Delta and X­Dream, as well as Finnish music like Texas Faggott. I really liked everything he would send me, but when I tried to branch out on my own, I found most other trance to be completely cheesy/cookie­cutter in exactly the way I didn’t like.

Then when I got to CalArts, I met Adam Somers as well as another friend, Aaron Auerbach, who both became rabidly obsessed with getting me to accompany them to trance events as soon as they discovered I knew a handful of obscure artists. I tried to convince them that I wasn’t really that into trance, but to no avail... they just kept pestering me. So I started going to events— first Moontribe, then Psytribe, then finally a small Mojave desert party thrown by a guy called Aaron Catalyx/Mindfull Productions.

I was not on any drugs at this event, but it was the first time I ever heard a set by Ghreg on Earth, who to this day is one of my single favorite trance producers. I danced my ass off, and was shocked— it sounded like Skinny Puppy turned into fast dance music. Like ancient castles disintegrating in the sky. Like rusted daggers spearing a loaf of sinews and reptilian skin. Any how, it was good, and I was shocked, because it struck me as being both experimental and stylistically original, unlike all the other psytrance I had heard at these events up until that point. I noticed people were dancing, and that this guy was being treated as the headliner. This gave me the idea that I could make interesting music for this scene, and perhaps people would be willing to accept and digest it. Unfortunately, I was a bit wrong (a lot wrong?), but more on that later.

After this experience, I officially thought psytrance was cool. I went to Aaron Auerbach’s house and asked him to give me any thing that was similar to Ghreg on Earth. I couldn’t really find any thing with that style, but I did begin to get hooked on “dark trance” artists like Kin Dza Dza, Derango, Psykovsky, and others. At the next event I thoroughly enjoyed all the music and had a life­altering synesthetic experience. I dragged Sandy along, and we began going to all events thrown by Mindfull as well as Mistress of Evil, and any thing else with a half-decent dark trance lineup. And then, finally, I attended my first Goa Gil party, at that time hosted by Mistress of Evil. Sandy and I were both enamored with Goa Gil’s performance, we couldn’t believe the utter structural perfection and level of integrity being consistently displayed for 24 hours+ continuously. We stayed until the very end, we had to hear his last track. Back then we would never camp out or even bring a tent, so afterwords (at about midnight on Sunday night), we got in our cars and drove home. I remember waking up at a rest stop at 6 am, still about 4 or 5 hours from LA, thinking that we both had class at 9. It was a good weekend.

By now I was pretty much making psy trance, and beginning to terrorize people around California. Adam had lots of experience making trance music in high school (he was quite precocious), and tried to teach me how to make proper bass and kick, and how to structure things, but it was hopeless— I was bent on fusing psytrance beats with ear­-piercing noise, and from the beginning I challenged myself to mostly use my outboard synthesizer collection and not rely on soft synths and plug ins. The first track was called “Obsidian Puddle” and it produced hilarious and shocked reactions in Adam and Sean when I played it for them. Honestly, my production was terrible and I think I hurt a lot of peoples ears. I just didn’t have the ear for it back then, because to me a pile of improvised noise and electronic mayhem was just par for the course.

I did become quite good at DJing, however, and since I’d spent my entire life collecting and listening to obscure albums, I had a good knack for wading through shitty trance comps and picking what I thought were the really killer tracks. I had a terrible CDJ setup to practice on, when you hit play from a cue­-point there was always a half second or so delay before the track would fire— so I always had to hit the jog wheel to get things back in sync. This helped me develop pretty good mixing skills from early on; when I would use actual Pioneer CDJ’s at a party the whole thing seemed much easier.

I got the idea that I should throw a party. XEXIFY should throw a party. I had friends in the scene at this point who could help me, and I wanted to play a DJ set, and hear my favorite friends all play in a row at a single event. I also wanted to perform dark ambient music to close the party, a feature that has since become a tradition at all Xexify events (to end with dark ambient). I didn’t have an outdoor location, but I had performed multiple times with the Orchestra band at a place called Il Corral near Hollywood. This was basically my friend Stane’s house, but it was a warehouse­ish kind of place, and he would have shows there. He agreed to let me have an all night party there— the first (and only) of its kind at that venue. I teamed up with Patricia “Karo” Karolina, a vibrant and goddess-­like character who has always been popular in the scene. She helped me organize and promote the event, and I dubbed her “Vice President of Xexify.”

The event went off fairly well, though we annoyed the hell out of the people actually living there, especially when the party dragged on past 8AM. Also there was a show there right before our event was supposed to start, and I recall quite the clash of egos at the time of appointed cross over. I think I eventually went on at around 11 or 11:30PM, I began with the Coil track “Higher Beings Command” to try and clear the dancefloor of people from the prior event, then I played a bunch of cool psytrance. At the end I sped up to well over 160 bpm which was more uncommon at that time, and I ended the set by slowly fading into the first track on Merzbow’s “Venereology”... that was my idea of how to end a set. I was told by numerous that it was perhaps “too much.”

So by this point Xexify was both an imprint for my DIY music releases, and a collective that would throw parties. Our first outdoor event was a renegade party held near Castaic Lake on the weekend of my birthday in July. It was a historic success. I charged people $10 at the door, and asked them if they wanted one free gift or two. The sound was donated. There was no lighting except a neon blue glow­thing in a tree in the middle of the dancefloor. Did I mention it was a new moon? Psytribe DJ Dai played a Ninja-­Gaiden­-like set of comic­-book paced fatalities and super-saiyan transformations.

Then I teamed up with Catalyx from Mindfull to throw Xexify’s first ever Mojave desert party. For me, those events were some of the hugest influences on my trance-­consciousness, and I really wanted to carry on the torch of hosting them, since both Mindfull and MoE were beginning to become less active. We planned it for Spring Equinox weekend, the same time when most of the previous Mojave events had been held in our scene. We became privy to another brand new group called Terrakroma (who has since then become a well established collective) that was also trying to have an event that weekend. They were more into tech and progressive style of trance. Not wanting to collide with another event in the LA area, we teamed up with them— they were in charge of Friday night and Saturday day, and we were in charge of Saturday night and Sunday day. We promoted the event together. There were no presales, we would just run a gate and collect peoples money there. It was a renegade event— we later found out the land was owned by Lockheed Martin and was military testing grounds (I swear we had no idea. Swear.) The event was called Lunar Sun.

So this Terrakroma group, they didn’t fully understand the brevity of a renegade event at that time, in fact it was their first outdoor of any kind, and they promoted the party on MySpace. Heavily promoted. I remember around 5pm on Friday some people started showing up. Shortly after it was caravans of people. By 8 or 9PM that night, it was a seemingly endless stream of headlights. I started to become very, very nervous. This was way too many people. The average Mojave event before this had only around 120 participants. I was expecting any minute for one of the caravans to light up with blue and red police sirens. Eventually I got a hold of myself and started thinking about the money— far too much for a bunch of strangers to be handling at the gate— and I started hanging out up there and taking care of drops. I noticed I was the only one of the four main organizers at the event who seemed to give a shit about this crucial aspect. I also noticed that a lot of the people coming in the gate were total newbie prep types from USC and other mainstreamy colleges, who had certainly never been to an outdoor event of this caliber.

Finally around 1 or 2 in the morning the stream of people died down, and we hadn’t been busted. As soon as the sun rose on Saturday, I’d say about 2/3 of those people left. They simply were not down for this kind of event. This was well before everyone and their math teacher was going to Burning Man. It was basically back to a normal Mojave dark­trance event, with slightly more people than usual. The Xexify half of the event began, and my DJ’s and performers started coming on. I started to become incredibly nervous about playing... I had given myself a set at 3AM, right after Mubali and before the out­of­towner, Amber. By the middle of Mubali’s set I had come to the full realization that the music I was planning on playing was really, really different from what everyone else had played. I was shaking.

I came on the decks. My set consisted of a combination of the most experimental trance I could find at that time, as well as 4 or 5 of my own noise­laiden tracks from that era. I played that Alien Mental track with the Tim Leary samples (coincidentally, the same ones Skinny Puppy sampled in the obscure “Lefthand Shake”) and the polyrhythmic beat. I played a Ghreg on Earth track that starts at 138 bpm and then switches to 155. I played a fucking Mandrugorrah track, that I had slightly remixed, a couple Amanda tracks, a really good Acid Goblins track, pretty sure I snuck a piece of Para Halu­ Mantrax in there... and I remember, it was like each track I would play would trigger more and more people on the dancefloor. To hate me. To be embodied with fear and uncertainty. To run away. A small handful of my friends seemed quite enamored, but the vast majority of the crowd either left the dancefloor or stared at me in disgust. I specifically remember Valentine Tarasov of Parus walking in front of the DJ booth, crossing his arms, and just staring me down in the most evil possible way, an image I will never forget. This was near the end/fast part of my set. I was supposed to play two hours, but Amber came to check in after 90 minutes and I begged her to take my place (she didn’t seem too happy about that, but obliged nonetheless).

Afterwords I discovered that Valentine’s twin brother, Marek, had literally gone running into the open desert in fear, which I imagine was around the time I got the stare down. They were both ex-­military and I got the idea that perhaps I had triggered traumatic flashbacks. Another friend (well he wasn’t then, but he is now), Emi, came up to me with his wife, the Goa­native Sangeeta, who was walking in circles behind him, unable to make eye-­contact with me, seemingly filled with fear. This was a woman with a LOT of psychedelic experience. Emi assured me that I would not be booked to play at any event for a long, long time. Valentine was there too, and he told me that if him or his brother ever heard me playing on a sound system again, they would personally unplug it. They told me I had no good ideas— absolutely not a single one, and that I didn’t know a single thing about good sound. (We’re all friends now, by the way).

This was the beginning of my infamy, and I carried it with me for many years. I indeed did not get bookings for a long time, and people I had never met seemed to already have an established impression of me and an opinion about my music, even though it was impossible for them to have heard it before (I had no releases). I found that when I did finally start getting gigs again, dancefloors in California would have a pre­conceived notion of what I was going to do, and I often dealt with furrowed brows. I took it all to heart in a strong way and tried very hard to learn how to make something people would like. It took me a long time to learn that music does not communicate and I would not be able to control peoples reactions and emotions.

Any how, none of this deterred me from continuing to produce music and make parties. I threw a Mojave desert event on Spring Equinox every year since then until the writing of this essay— we just did the 9th one in March. One time it was in La Jolla Indian Reservation instead of the desert, cus we teamed up with Psytribe to do it and that was the location they already had. I also became heavily involved in the organization of the Goa Gil parties in California— there are two a year, one on Memorial Day Weekend and one on Gil’s birthday in October.

The watershed moment really came when Gil started to play my tracks at his parties. It occurred at about 1 in the afternoon on a Sunday in the form of a 147 bpm track entitled “Emulsive Gestalt.” Later in the party he played the other two tracks I had sent him— “Lizard Mammals Exist,” and “Moisture for the Dead.” At the next party he played 5 of my tracks. At the next one, I sent him 16 tracks, and he played all 16 of them— I was the most played artist of that party. By then he was already featuring me on his Divine Dozen lists and the track “Hermetic Rust” was about to be released on his next compilation CD. My reputation began to change. People started to respect me more. If Babaji was playing it, then certainly it must be good, right? Ever so slowly I inched my way to the more venerable reputation I hold today (which still seems a little iffy, to be honest).

I also began focusing more on my side­projects— A.C. Lyon and D.C. Offset. These gave me an outlet to fulfill the more far­out/experimental ideas I had for ambient and IDM kinds of music. I got into the habit of always jamming out some not­-trance between every formal trance track I would finish, and this helped me stay focused on making more “dancefloor­oriented” psytrance. In some sense, those side projects have actually grown to be my preferred output, I have about 4 albums completed for these projects that I’ve been putting off releasing.

I released my first tDoT trance album with Active Meditation Music— a free download album called “Charsi Chicken Soup”. Boris from AMM released many of my tracks on his CD compilations. Gil would always put me on his comps. Sometimes friends from Jellyfish or Anomalistic would release tracks, usually on 30­-track long download only comps that I’m convinced barely any one listens to sequentially. I did not really like the way my music was being released— the mastering was terrible and unprofessional and would sound worse than the original mix, the artwork was cheesy and computer­-generated (I’m a painter, damnit), and a lot of the content was just not very high­-quality. A great effort seemed to be being placed on quantity over quality in general with some of these comps. I did manage to hire my friend Gregg Janman to do the mastering for Charsi Chicken Soup, and to this day I’m very happy about that decision, it’s a well mastered release and I can still play those tracks in my set rotations.

What I really wanted to do was go back to releasing everything exclusively through my own imprint, Xexify. I decided to up the ego ante a little bit and stop giving away tracks for free to my friends for 3­-disc long comps with no real mastering. My concept was that I could make a limited run of CD’s for any given release, and do everything myself— artwork, CD copying, etc, all for a pretty small investment, and easily make it back with a small profit by selling all the CD’s directly from my website or in person. The CD’s would have handmade artwork that would be unique to each disc, and they’d all be hand­numbered and signed, making them collectors items.

So I put out dogspiral1. 200 beautiful CDs, sold only through xexify.com and in person at parties. I only ever promoted the disc through occasional facebook posts. They were all gone within about 6 or 7 months with little to no effort on my part (besides making them, of course). Sean Price, who used to perform in the Orchestra, did the mastering, and I felt that it came out great. At this point I had procured my first really quality recording piece, an Antelope Orion sound card. I started to become obsessed with fidelity, dynamics, and all the ways one can create a sexy sound with outboard gear.

During this time period I also started to perform as A.C. Lyon and D.C. Offset more frequently, including numerous appearances at the Church of Serge events held monthly at Robotspeak in San Francisco. I also took so­called “chillout sets” at trance parties where I would pummel people with weird­beat and drone. I would bring different small­-setups to every gig, almost always making an original liveset for that one occasion. This has always been great fun and I hope one day to focus more on these projects than tDoT.

A year or so after dogspiral1 I finally achieved my life­long dream of having high­-end 3­-way speakers, Barefoot MM­-45’s to be specific. I had first heard Barefoot speakers in Lalith Rao’s (a.k.a. Alien Mental) studio, those were MM­27s, and they blew me away. I was very upset after I heard them. I felt I couldn’t do what I wanted to do with sound unless I was armed with speakers of that quality and clarity. So I started saving. I thought I would also get the 27’s, but around the time I was finally ready to purchase, the 45’s came out, and they seemed much better suited to the size of my room. I essentially bought them blind, and I don’t think I will ever upgrade my speakers until I can build a studio­-building from the ground up to be acoustically treated in its entire structure and handle huge amplitudes without shaking.

After just a few weeks with the Barefoots, I started thinking it would now be pretty easy to master peoples music. In the past, various folks had asked me to master their music, to which I would usually respond by directing them to someone I trust like Sean or Gregg. On rare occasion I would master my friends music and I was personally never happy with the results. They were much clearer than average trance masters but just not close to perfect or loud enough for my personal neurosis. I firmly believe that the guy or gal who masters your music should have a much, much nicer studio setup than you, so that they can identify anomalies that you wouldn’t be able to hear. Mastering is all about helping someone see their personal vision to completion, it is NOT about being the Mix Police, and I feel that all criticisms/mix feedback at the mastering stage should operate under the assumption that the mixer/producer just can’t hear certain things in their space— not that they’re stupid and don’t know what sounds good.

My friend Nelson Baboon approached me with his latest album and wanted me to master it for him. This would be my first real attempt on the Barefoots, and I was excited. He makes “noise”/free­form music and I knew I would have a lot of sonic lee­way to work with without distracting from the music. At the time my mastering setup was just an Overstayer Instrument Driver and a Bugbrand dual PEQ, and some Voxengo software. I somehow managed to get some excellent sonic results from this way-­less­-than­-ideal chain. He had over 20 tracks on his album, so I did it marathon style one after the other and managed to finish them all in about two days. The following night I had a lucid dream, one of the very few I’ve ever had in my life. I felt my body floating in a kind of primordial ooze, and my mind had control over a kind of mind/body Program Equalizer with various bands and Q-settings. In the dream I felt the sensation of “EQ’ing myself”... I could feel each band of EQ cutting or boosting various aspects of my self, in various dimensions. It was one of the most pleasing sensations I’ve ever felt. When I awoke, I knew I had to be a mastering engineer!

So I began to take more and more mastering jobs, and get cumulatively better and better. I kept saving money to spend on more esoteric mastering gear. I became as obsessed with mastering EQs and compressors as I previously was with modular synthesizers and drum machines. And Xexify somehow became a mastering service, something I never really expected or planned for. Personally I feel kind of bad about calling myself an “engineer,” I mean, it’s not like I have a degree in sound or somesuch, I’m just a nerd who’s really obsessed with what I do. I think in the past, “Mastering Engineer,” was something someone achieved through apprenticeship and ladder­climbing, now it seems more about social engineering and gear hoarding— I’m not sure how I feel about all that. I feel more humble as an ME than as an electronic musician. My attitude is more like “yes I would be honored to master your music” rather than “I am the best”... though at the same time I’m completely offended by folks charging 10 or 20 dollars a track for mastering and using a bunch of stolen software on shitty 2­way speakers in an untreated room. In some sense these folks are just as bad as mp3’s.

So the whole dogspiral1 thing was really great, but it was also somewhat too formal for every release. I wanted to also sell some albums and EPs as digital downloads, more economically priced and without the fancy handmade artwork. I am somewhat disgusted with services like Bandcamp that take their own cut and force you to use their silly looking MySpace-­like themes and widgets. Somehow it seems that we live in an era where the Personal Homepage is basically dead— if you can’t get it on social media services then it doesn’t exist to the average internet user. Well, fuck that, I want to sell all my music directly, with no go­-between. If you want xexify music, you have to come to xexify.com.

The first release in this format is the now­-available “Dog Day Afternoon”... this was a collection of studio tracks I wanted to release for a while now, something that wasn’t quite as conceptually cohesive as I would want for a proper “CD album” and also not long enough (and also not short enough to qualify as an EP), but nonetheless very worthy of being released. You can think of this as a kind of fundraiser for the next run of proper CD releases. I also want to feature some free albums that I will host here by my various experimental side projects.

Is Xexify just me? No. As a party collective many folks are involved, namely: Sivan Bokra, Justin Psyclone, Patricia Karolina, Megan Young, Toni Latimer and many many others over the years. Musically I’ve always wanted Xexify to encompass more artists than just my projects— the future is yet to reveal itself in this regard. And mastering­-wise I couldn’t have figured out much without the help of Sean Price and Gregg Janman, and a host of friends who allowed me to experiment on their mixes.

That is a brief summary of the story of Xexify up until now. TL;DR— we release music, master music, and throw parties. Bom

-­David Chaim Cohen, June 2016
Russian River, California