The Durian is a South-East Asian fruit renowned for its pervasive rotting stench, equal to its potent erotic qualities.
The intersections of sex, permission, danger, transgression and release are a minefield of suggestion, consensus, rights and wrongs; all of which are contained within the Durian’s spiked husk. Like all fruits, the Durian is essentially a prickly tumescence designed to attract willing participants to its edible orgy of wanton procreation. Despite what humans perceive as a stinky deterrent, we’ve learnt to appreciate that behind the blinking red light of our evolutionary biology lies something unusual that elevates us by the choices we make against ourselves. It might be that by piercing the veil of conditioning we reach an empowered state, ready to be welcomed by a community of those who have also stepped beyond the norm and into the darkness of culinary transgression. Who knows what else these behavioural mutants might also be into?
Ex-Breakcore artist Ed Flis has tasted the Durian, he has walked through dark landscapes and visited the wastelands that existed before doughy paths charted the unbroken yet knotted spaghetti lives of normalcy which reduce humans to beasts of burden not much different than the cattle they farm for slaughter. Why make music so unusual, so contrary to popular taste that for many it’s considered a raunchy delicacy best sampled as a dare.
What is the history of Duran Duran Duran and how did you get into Breakcore?
I grew up in Philadelphia in a neighbourhood called Frankford where there wasn’t much to do except hang out on train tracks and do drugs. My friends and I were always trying to find the best music to listen to on drugs. We started off with classic rock and then got into metal and industrial and then tangentially started discovering electronic music like Autechre. Most everyone at that time was into rap so that had a big influence as well.
I think I heard Alec Empire on college radio in like ’97 or so, and that changed everything because, unlike alot of the other electronic music I heard around then, it didn’t sound very hard to make. I met a guy named Mike Chaiken at the video store I used to work at who also had a couple DHR records and we started making music together. That was basically the beginning of Duran Duran Duran. It was initially three people.
What was the American scene that you came from?
Well when I was a teenager I wasn’t really part of a scene unless maybe you consider smoking blunts a scene, but I went to all different kinds of shows: rock, noise, rap, electronic, whatever. I guess I got involved with a crew called 215noise around 1999 when they saw me a play a show at a local noise venue called the Astrocade.
We did a bunch of parties at various venues around town, just a mix of various different kinds of darker/harder electronic music. There wasn’t really a defined kind of “breakcore” sound back then, so it was a lot of rhythmic noise, jungle, digital hardcore, dub or whatever kind of weird stuff we could find local people doing that would fit. Through doing shows with them we connected with a lot of people across the country doing similar kinds of stuff. This was kind of the early days of message boards and social media, which made people a lot more accessible.
How did you interpret Breakcore as a genre and did/do you find the association comfortable, or did you consider yourself outside of that?
I guess I was more interested in it back when it didn’t have a defined sound. Sometime around 2003-2004 it started to feel like everything got streamlined and began to sound the same, but genre names never really meant much to me and I like doing my own thing.
It’s been 12 years since Very Pleasure came out how do you view that record now?
Tough to listen to. It basically sounds like shit to me now. Although sometimes I do listen to Purple Passion as it has some sentimental significance for me. But I don’t tell anyone about it.
You’ve always toyed with homo-erotic imagery and jokes, why? A reaction against the bro-ness of the scene, a subtle laugh in the face of dance music convention (big tits on album covers), or a reflection of your inner monologues?
My first jobs were in video stores and dvd warehouses, so I was surrounded by lots of pornographic imagery during my formative years. Not many people know this, but most video stores (at least back when there were video stores) make about 60% of their revenue from pornography.
Sexual imagery can obviously be extremely cheesy and overtly commercial, like the example you mentioned, or it can be subversive and hilarious. I’ve always been interested in artists who skirted the line, like Russ Meyer, John Waters, and Jeff Koons. But anyway, that’s just my personal taste.
A post-modern dig, an in-joke, a nod to Donna Summer, how did you come up with the name Duran Duran Duran?
I guess anyone who starts a band knows about making endless lists of super dumb names and then eventually you find one that’s you keep coming back to because you can’t beat it. In the end it was a toss-up between “Duran Duran Duran” and “Joe Cocker Live”.
It’s hard not to over-intellectualise Breakcore, juxtaposed samples, punkish cultural appropriation, lo-culture samples, anti-social messages. For something that is unashamedly fun and energetic. Why do you think it also has a intellectual depth?
I’m not sure that it does. If anything I think it’s probably a reaction to over-intellectualised music, or maybe just a way for pissed off people to blow off steam after work. On the other hand I guess it warrants intellectual examination just as much as anything else. In that sense I reckon it depends on which level you want to enjoy it on.
Duran is a distinct musical departure from Very Pleasure and Over Hard, what prompted you to investigate new types of music?
I’ve always been interested in all types of music, but never really had the patience to make different kinds of music until I got older.
I’ve read that you work at Ableton. What do you do there, or is it just your favourite DAW?
Both, I guess!
Was there are reason why around 2005 a bunch of people (including you) released breakcore mixes of Slayer (Bong Ra, Amon Tobin, etc)?
I don’t know really, it’s hard to remember back that far! I seem to remember Amon Tobin doing it first, but sampling metal was already pretty old hat in the hardcore scene by 2005.
A surprising number of Breakcore artists are really into heavy metal as well, was that your background?
I was definitely into death metal when I was young, but I got kind of bored with guitar sounds at some point. My background is more rap-influenced I’d say.
What technological advances in music making have you made use of in the last five years?
I can’t say I can think of any big recent technological advances in music-making. My workflow is still fairly cut-and-paste like the old days, just with updated software. I often download iOS music apps hoping to find “the one” but for the most part they’re mostly just toys, albeit sometimes really interesting ones.
In a way it feels like music technology has reached a bit of a plateau over the past 10 years or so. Everything is possible now, the options are almost overwhelming, so you see a lot of people scaling back and going back to hardware. The next big breakthrough I can imagine will probably be making music with your brainwaves or some kind of VR music-making environment. I guess one rather recent thing I quite like using for collaboration is Splice, it makes it easy to pass projects back and forth, but even that I use quite sparsely.
What prompted the move to Berlin?
I guess for an electronic musician it’s sort of the best place to be. Philadelphia was really beating me down and I needed a change. I only expected to be in Berlin for about six months or so, if I was lucky, and now it’s coming up on 10 years.
For musicians like yourself is it still a good place to live and work? What is the best thing that Berlin has to offer?
It’s not as cheap as it used to be, but then again, what is? I still know tons of people getting by doing freelance work, it’s pretty hard to find a place to live though. I guess it’s more about community and meeting other people who are doing weird electronic music, rather than just being the only person in your city. For me the best thing still is that clubs never close and you can drink on the street, it’s sort of proof that in the absence of rules people manage to self-regulate.
Outside of Duran Duran Duran do you also perform and record under other names? If so do you approach these other projects differently?
Not really, I wish I did but there are only so many hours in the day!
What does the future hold for Ed Flis?
Who knows? Only death is certain.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to Trebuchet.
London based writer and photographer whose work has graced the grimy pages of most UK music publications. Marshmallowed with age he dreams of touring the Cairngorms and writing romantic prose about semantic pathways. As it is, until that cliché he is this one.