48 Volts: Mars Dynamo
Here’s a story you’ve probably heard: just when your favorite loft space, underground venue, or party house is growing bigger and gaining a following - it gets shut down or the people who run it leave town. Such was the case with the Myour party house and the musician behind it, Mars Dynamo. I had first heard about Myour house last year from Limbs when he said they were throwing some pretty crazy parties and a while back when a party organized by Mars exploded in Wicker Park. It’s too bad Mars recently moved to San Francisco because her honesty and earnestness and sheer energetic/magnetic force is exactly what is needed to combat the armadillo like skin of the Chicago music scene. Haters are gonna hate, but Mars doesn’t give a fuck and pours out her love anyway, and that aggressive approach to unity against all odds is what we need in this town. Musically she is all over the place, but quoting from her Soundcloud: “Chicago based underground electronic princess. Grundgy dirty electro bubble gum pop indi rock twat core dance punk type of jam.” Check out our super in-depth interview with Mars as she talks about growing up in China, gender politics, race, and the philosophy behind Myour house.
Soapbox: Where did you grow up? How did you first get involved with music and art?
Mars Dynamo: I grew up in Dalian, China, eventually moved to the east coast with just my mom and dad, and then moved to Chicago for college. I was fortunate enough to have a crazy “Asian Tiger” mom, who exposed me to all types of art and sports when I was a child. My free time was taken up by ballet classes, piano classes, english courses, ping pong, physics study classes, drawing and painting classes. My mom was very dedicated in the sense that she wanted me to be exposed to the world. I appreciate that aspect of the upbringing, but of course I dropped everything when we moved to the U.S. because my dad was getting his Ph.D. at the time, so we weren’t in a financial position to get me lessons. I always had an artistic streak, I had always won random awards and had a genuine interest in noise making when I was a child. I knew I had a lot of talent, because music and art came easy to me, and I enjoyed it while the other kids in the class were forced to be there and didn’t apply themselves as readily. My parents wanted me to go to Harvard, but I chose to go to art school. I got accepted in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and during college I was able to actually explore the fields I was interested in. Artists are extremely important in any society because they provide a critique of what’s going on. I always thought it was important to immerse myself in art and music, to get a greater sense of what’s going on in the world.
Soapbox: Can you talk a little bit about MYOUR house? What was the philosophy behind that space, what were its goals?
MD: The Myour house was our underground all ages venue dedicated to new music and the unity of people. The idea was simple enough in the beginning - we just wanted a space to perform whatever, whenever, and throw dope ass dance parties that people would remember. It was an awesome 4000 sq ft event space where we lived and partied. Our upstairs, which was the office/bedroom/VIP room, had a jacuzzi right in the middle of it. Our downstairs had no walls, it was all open space and the basement was sectioned off for smoking and all kinds of debaucheries. The space was right between the tech college and the crack head corner, on the verge of the ghetto where the cops didn’t even care! We threw fundraisers for artists and for the southside community arts center, tried out bizarre live performances, and tested new style designs for our flyers. It was like a test ground for all things creative for the first three months. There was one time where a kid from the suburbs somehow picked up one of our flyers an came to one of our Myour parties, and he came up to me to say, “I’ve never seen a gay person before, I just met my first gay person, and who the fuck cares ‘cause we’re all getting drunk together tonight on the dance floor!” I love that. I have always loved the idea of connecting people, overcoming adversities, and trying to understand people with different backgrounds. Chicago is a unique city. We are incredibly ethnic and cultural, yet completely segregated. I have made the point to check out every scene, because I was curious about people in general. I hung out with hispanic kids, african american kids, asian kids, and white kids, and watched how they speak about each other. There is always some stupid beef that is completely illogical. Despite all having similar backgrounds the Puerto Ricans hate the Mexicans, or vice-versa, or the Mexicans can’t stand the Blacks in their neighborhood, the Asians are annoyed with the Italians and so on. At one point or another, our parents or grandparents were immigrants in this country, we all really go through some of the same turmoil and scrutiny. It’s completely ludicrous to me that we are segregated. The ethnic community really has a lot more in common with each other than a suburban Caucasian kid who’s lucky enough to have wealthy parents to give them a stellar education and enough funds to travel the world before the age 17. Know what I mean? Point is, one of my life goals and vision is to show people that they can mingle and have an awesome time even if they think they can’t get along with one another. It is also incredibly rewarding once someone shares their culture, food, music, and cultural nuances.
Soapbox: What is your creative process when working on a new project?
MD: Any artist that tells you that you can just punch out creative work everyday is probably lying. Art is a reflection of life. I need to live life before I make art about it. I remember back in art school, one of my professors came into the class all pissed - this amazing Japanese guy who’s a film teacher, and he’s literally spitting in our faces, because he’s mad at the fact that our project was about being in art school. I’ll never forget, he’s like “if you are making shit about art school, then you don’t know shit about life, so go and live a little and then get back to me and stop wasting your parent’s money.” I have to be in the right reflective mind set to create and work on a new project. With music, most of my work is made while acclimating myself with the program. This is probably why “Made on Mars”, my first album, sounds like it’s coming from eight different studios, besides the fact that it has literally jumped through 4 different studios. I will share this really great trick with you guys, and it’s benefited me throughout all of my creative processes. I go into the studio, open up a program like Cubase, Logic Pro, or FL studios, and I will start about 5-10 different sketches. I will write about ten seconds of a song, and just spit out whatever I feel like at the moment. Then the next day I will go back to listening to it, and pick out the three that I will work on. I have extreme A.D.D. and a strange fear of finishing things, so I like to fluctuate between these different projects until a week later I’ve made three songs miraculously. The rest of the sketches I just keep in a folder, and I’ll never know when I’ll need them again.
Soapbox: How do you prefer to engage people with your work and why? Shows, gallery, recordings, other?
MD: I used to play shows often during my time at the Myour House. Honestly I just want to make a ton of work, release it on the different avenues online and whatever happens happens. I know this is where record labels can jump in and give me a marketing push - I really hate spending time marketing. It is the most mind numbing and unimaginative way an artist can spend his or her time on yet extremely important. There are marketing geniuses out there for that, and I’ve done my fair share, but it really cuts into my time in the development of my art. I agree with what Jay-Z said - the live show has to be more exciting than the flash of the artist. The artist has to deliver live as much as she or he does in the photos and whatever flash they got going. I’m working on amping my live show, that means doing something really theatrical and outrageous but genuine. I am still trying to find that group of special people who are willing to do that, the type who just love the theatrics of it all and who can get lost in it. I don’t think coordinated dancing is really necessary. In fact, it’s extremely goofy and corny. There is no good reason why an artist must prance about the stage like a moron to get some attention. For one of my songs, BFGF, couples get on stage while I’m doing my set and they rip each other’s clothes off and make out. It’s important that they are madly in love with each other because then it’s genuine and every ounce of genuine emotion will be picked up by the viewer. I think I’ll have better luck out in San Francisco because people here seem to have a freer vibe.
Soapbox: Do you think nostalgia is a curse or a blessing?
MD: Nostalgia is a blessing. I am nostalgic all the time, because I like to remember the good stuff and that’s what made me. The bad stuff gets filed back but really there’s no good reason or need to remember any of it.
Soapbox: How do you feel about the Chicago music scene?
MD: I love the Chicago music scene. I think it’s got a very masculine energy to it. It fits the setting because of all the concrete and metal we see. All the sounds are hard hitting and grand. Actually my song Grand City is completely about the Chicago vibe, as a single person living in this giant death winter city. A lot of fans have told me that it captures Chicago perfectly; it refers to the lonely people in the scene who are really just trying to find love. The people behind the music are interesting. I think there are two types of artists, the ones who create, and support the creative community, and the ones who do it purely for the ego of it all. I see a lot of that in the dance corner, but having been there myself, I’ll admit it is completely miserable. An artist’s sole purpose is to communicate an idea or feeling, or comment on some type of existence to the world. When egos get involved, it makes people hold back on the communication because they are so worried how others might see them. Chicago is the type of city that could use a bit more unity. In New York everyone works with everyone, no biggie, not too much fuss. Chicago is clique oriented. I’ve seen many of the artists badmouth each other, but in the end also work together, simply because it really is the only way to survive. You can’t get anywhere if you are divided, and I wish more people understood that.
Soapbox: How do race and gender politics affect artistic communities?
MD: Race and gender not only affects artistic communities, it affects all communities in society. America as a country is not progressive enough yet. The fact that women are paid less than men is ridiculous to me, and when the economic downturn happened women were the first ones to get laid off from wall street. You can name countless examples like that. The fact that Hillary Clinton running for office sparked massive bar fights is obscene to me. I mean, sure Obama was more likable, but I found that during the election people were polarized by Hillary Clinton unlike the other democratic candidates. It was either “I hate her, she’s the devil,” or “I think she’s going to ruin our country.” As a member of the arts community, I have personally witnessed a lot of inequality, but I know it’s getting better everyday. I know a piece of art work will be perceived differently by the masses if it is made by a man versus a woman. I wanted to release my visual work under a very androgynous name back in college so people would be unbiased when viewing it. When I released work under just my real name the work gravitated towards an offensive and aggressive style because I wanted to see the reactions from people, and it was never good, because it was so unexpected. It proved my point though, so I got what I needed out of these art experiments. When I punched out my album, I used to show other male producers my music, and the first thing that came out of their mouths were “who made the beats for this, who composed the background music?” - assuming that I had nothing to do with the production of it besides singing on top of it. Then I tell them that it’s me, I did everything, and they get stupidly surprised like “Oh, I thought you were just the singer.” I get this constantly. If I never got asked, I would probably never be sensitive to it. Bottom line, a female can do everything a male can do, it’s whether she chooses to do it or not. Our society doesn’t expect a woman to geek out over software or hardware or develop an in depth hobby for electronics, so I think as a result, many of them stay away from it. I have photographer girlfriends who don’t want to touch Photoshop, which is ridiculous - how can you not know Photoshop if you are a photographer in 2011? I just knew from an early age that learning and discovering was what kept me sane and happy. I needed to have my own revelations.
Soapbox: What’s the origin of original thought?
MD: My active ovaries. I have no idea. It comes from learning new shit.
Soapbox: Any upcoming projects you are working on?
MD: Yeah, I am supposed to be releasing my second album. It’s done and pressed to go, but I have not gotten around to it. It’s a collection of songs made with other amazing producers, such as Benn Jordan, DJ Limbs, Quelle Christopher, Kahil El’Zabar, and other people. I wanted to see how I’d work with other artists and mingle my energy with theirs. It’s been a really interesting ride. I am also working on a electro dance punk project called “Kids in Suits” with Quelle Christopher, he just makes the dopest sounding beats.
Soapbox: Anybody you’d like to shoutout in Chicago?
MD: Everyone who’s ever been to the Myour House! I LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU! Jessica Arch(i)e Pappalardo, Ricardo Martinez, thanks for getting arrested for me. LOL XOXOXO.