Interview with Pharmakon

Margaret in Redlight District’s backyard.

I Want to talk about Pharmakon’s beginning. Tell me about where you were in your life, at that time.

Well, I guess at the time that I started Pharmakon; it was a really lonely time… but I think it is not as though ‘the place’ was the reason. It was always dark before then, too. It has always been dark. It wasn’t specifically that time or place that bred Pharmakon; it was something that accumulated over the course of my entire life.

When I found out about noise, it was an amazing revelation. I had found my medium. It was like: ‘Holy shit, this exists, this is what I have been looking for. This is what I have needed for all these years’… I was making this other stuff [music] that just wasn’t doing it for me. Pharmakon was something that had been boiling inside of me for sixteen years.  I could finally fucking exorcise it out of me. And look at it. And evaluate it. It wasn’t where I was living or what I was doing, [pharmakon] had been coming a long time.

Do you still feel the same way about Pharmakon?

Yes. Whenever I have problems with Pharmakon I am a complete fucking wreck and I find it really hard to function. I feel very, very depressed, very withdrawn. Very driven, but also very negative. I question myself, and the world, every step of the way.

There is always this part when I break through… I have a fucking revelation and then it’s like … The set has come together. Everything is okay again and I feel empowered and I can move on.

So Pharmakon is the Most important thing in your life? 

I could not stop doing it or I would literally go insane. Pharmakon is about a very specific concept, but it is not something that is outside of myself, it is an extension of myself. It is not like Pharmakon is my alter ego or just some alias that I go under. Pharmakon is me. At all times. There is no way to extricate myself from it, which is kind of scary and depressing.

Do you feel comfortable talking a little bit about the specific concepts behind Pharmakon?

The name it’s self is the gateway to understanding what the project is about. Pharmakon is an ancient Greek word; it means both poison and remedy, at the same time. It is the philosophy of something being dual in nature. The idea that something which could harm you, could also help you. But the distinction that is important to me is that the project is about duality, not juxtaposition, it is not about two things that are on opposite sides of the same spectrum, it is about two things that are opposite being the same thing.

There are many themes that fall under that umbrella. If you break [Pharmakon] down to it’s core, it is human connection. It’s not some cold power electronics project. It’s hot and sticky. It is the moisture in your groin. What is it? You can’t help it; it’s just there. I didn’t mean to put it there. I know it’s offensive, but the human race is disgusting. If they think I am acceptable, then I am doing something wrong, frankly.

You’ve had several releases in the past but they are extremely difficult to get your hands on. Very limited editions. Is that intentional or is that just the only means that you had to release your recordings?

It is a little of both.  I’ve had many offers from various labels, small, medium and large offering to put stuff out, but I feel that a release as a finished project is something that is so specific, especially in noise/industrial/PE that it is something that has to be whole and complete. Part of that is the music, the lyrics, the artwork and the label that it is on. It does say something about the context of the record.

(Laughs) Well, there is an entire record that I have recorded TWICE. The material was written in 2009 and it still hasn’t come out. I have entire full lengths that I have recorded and have an inclination to release but… I am true to myself. And my art. And if it isn’t what it is supposed to be, I am not going to release it. I am not going to jam for two hours and think that someone is going to care. If I am not completely at peace and passionate about a release, I could not expect

anybody else to give two shits about it. And if they did like it, I would be extremely upset at them. I would rather have someone hate me for the wrong reasons than like me for the wrong reasons.

The accidental part is that I mostly focus on live performance. Pharmakon is a live project, essentially. I am, right now, moving more towards recording but it has also been really important to me to play live because of the experience that it is.

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Margaret gives me a preview of her set for Saturday’s show with Bone Awl.

Do you think it is more important for people to see you live than to listen to a recording? What is going on before, during and after a Pharmakon live show and how do you want people to feel when they see you perform live?

I think it is important to see my project live. I think if you are casually watching videos on youtube, or you are hearing one release or a collaboration that I have done with someone else you have absolutely no scope of what the project actually is. Live performance is incredibly important to me because live performance deals with the intangible and the impalpable. It deals with the “x-factor”, the other thing that is in music that cannot possibly come across in recording. Performance deals with a personal connection to other people through the music. Obviously, this is experienced through recording, but live, it is a completely different thing.

Connection to the audience is something that is incredibly important to me. It is a weird, parasitic, symbiotic relationship that I have. I feed off the audiences energy. But they throw back what I am feeding to them. You can play a show to three fucking people, and it is in some weird basement that smells like shit and can play through a PA that sounds like somebody farting underwater and you can have the best fucking show. Those three people can know you and understand your music and feel it and give you that energy that you need to kill it. Other shows, you can be there, and there can be a bunch of people but…

There are many different ways to connect to an audience, too. Over the years I have experimented with many different ways. People who go to a live performance have a need to connect with other human beings. Currently, in the 21st century, when we have all this technology that makes [connection] easy… It is cheapened, a lot. People don’t know how to physically and viscerally connect anymore. It is tragic…

The person who is performing has to have a need to connect. It is perverse. And I’m a fucking pervert; I need to connect with the audience in a way that is uncomfortable. Maybe it is something as simple as looking into people’s eyes.

Even that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

 It does. And it is funny, too. Some people try to laugh, like it’s not big deal. I look into their eyes the longest; because they laugh out of nervous laughter. I am saying what I need to say, and I am looking them in the eyes and they are laughing. They are uncomfortable and I keep looking. Eventually, they start to get more comfortable. They stop laughing. It’s not funny anymore.

But my favorites are people that I am not reaching. My favorites are when I am looking into the audience, and I am telling them something and they have a disconnect and they think that they can look at me and not have a connection with me. No. I am getting inside of you. Right now. No matter how they decide to react, I have made them react. That is my control.

So we are talking about levels of connection. There is something as simple as looking someone in the eye and then it goes to more aggressive behaviors, which are appropriate sometimes. A long-standing tradition in power electronics.

You’re chipped tooth looks really good, by the way.

Thanks! That aggressive approach is sometimes appropriate or needed but is not always. It is typically what I am the least interested in, but it is somehow what people seem to perceive my contact to be. What I am really more interested in is something that I have been experimenting more with recently, which is what happens… At the Tesco USA show, or something.

There are a lot of people at the show. I am up on the stage, kind of separate. I was interested in breaking that boundary and come into the audience. It wasn’t an aggressive thing, where I have some sort of ego or bravado to say I am this ONE person in a couple hundred and I can fucking intimidate you. It is not about intimidation. It was me wanting to be touching a specific person in the audience: I am touching you; I am saying this to you. It might make you feel extremely uncomfortable, but do you think that it is more comfortable to be on stage with all these people having access only to you? No.

You know that everyone in the room is looking at you. If not they are looking at their phone or something, but guess what? I am going to fucking make you look at me. That is a problem with live performance. A lot of people in the audience are more interested in seeing the other people at the live performance as opposed to the performer.

They want to be seen. Fuck that. If you are coming here and you have any idea what this genre of music is about, you should be able to handle me caressing you and coming up behind you.

WARNING.

Warning. I am going to look you in the eye. Guess what? That is the most basic form of human interaction. I swear to fucking god, 75% of the population cannot handle it…we live in an age when you don’t have to look people in the eye. How many fucking parties have you gone to, where half the fucking people there are looking at their fucking Iphones, talking to people who are not at the party. About the party. They are taking to someone on the phone because I don’t actually want to be present. Live performance is about presence.

Live performance is also sonic. The sonic presence of live performance is something that you cannot get from recording… The presence of the sound mixed with the psychological and emotional and artists’ presence of the performer and the energy of the room… Which is what I am talking about when I talk about ‘x-factor’, that. All this stuff I do with connection is digging at people trying to get at that thing, that ‘x-factor’. That thing that you can not explain after going to see a live performance, this thing. It is not that it sounded great; it wasn’t that the performer was flailing around on stage or something like that, it is just the energy in the room, collectively, and that requires other people.

It is so interesting to watch the connections that you make with people, sometimes. For, example, Tesco fest. I also get my rocks off watching you perform and watching other people’s reactions to you performing live. Watching people squirm. But I felt like people were scared of you. A lot of people only know a little bit about you, or have heard something about you and don’t know what to expect. When you went into the audience, it was like you could feel collective discomfort in the room because people didn’t know what was going to happen next.

It is a powerful thing because people think that aggression is the way to influence people or to get under their skin. But when I went out into the audience, the moshing stopped, and that was what I wanted. It was a tender thing… I am not going out into the audience and pushing people… I am a five-foot tall girl. I look like white bread, whatever. Aggression is not the tradition of power electronics that I am grasping from. I think it is much more powerful and much more threatened by human interaction than the bravado of ‘I’m tougher than you’. That is really important. When I am performing, and I touch someone on the shoulder, everyone in the audience is wondering who is next. They are scared of that, and why? Right?

That is why live performance is important to me. This is a solo project. It’s just me. I am responsible for all the material, content, concepts, words, electronics, vocals, recording, and performance… I play by myself. But live, there is another layer. It is not as though the audience are collaborators, but there is something for me to suck up.

Do you have any experiences with people who just don’t get it, that stick out in your mind at all? How do you deal with people who just don’t fucking get it?

This is the thing; people will not come up to you after a show and say, to your face that they don’t get it. If they don’t get it, they go on the computer and talk shit about you. They don’t talk shit to you. If someone has a problem with what I do, I fucking DARE them to come up to me and tell me what they think about it. And I will talk to them. I will be fucking psyched. But guess what? Not a single person has ever done that.

People don’t ever ask you questions about what you just did after a performance? Thoughtfully? Or even unthoughfully? Drunkenly?

Questions, no. People have given me ‘statements’…I get a lot of comments… ‘YOU GO GIRL! That is empowering! It is great what you are doing as a girl!’ …. Do [they] think that gender was the major factor in play? Do [they] think that performance was about gender? Fuck off. It is really trivializing. I wish they didn’t like me. I would rather have someone hate me for the wrong reasons than like me for the wrong reasons. Can I piss during this interview?

Can I record it?

YEAH! [Margaret records a steady stream]

So what is the climate in noise right now? A lot of people that used to do harsh noise have gravitated towards doing more industrial stuff, or techno or dance. I know that you are a fan of some of these artists, but what is it like being a power electronics artist right now?

 I do feel fairly lonely. Especially regionally. From what I have observed in the meager five or six years that I have been involved with this there are so many waves. Shit comes in and out of fashion and frankly I don’t really care. I guess when you are making noise or industrial or power electronics you don’t get much feedback as it is. I feel as though I create in a vacuum all of the time. So weather or not there is an appreciation, or a space, or a community that appreciates what I do specially, I am going to keep doing what I do.

In 2006, I felt like there was more of a community for p.e. and noise, harsh shit. And now it’s not so much. But, I also have this privilege of being a part of a group of friends that are insanely critical and supportive. I am extremely lucky to have people around me that hold me accountable for what I do, regardless of the genre. I feel that the art that I make is outside of genre. It doesn’t matter weather of not power electronics or noise are popular at the moment, because that is what this project is and I will make it regardless of weather people like it or not.

We’ve had a hard time booking shows at our house recently, because there are simply not that many good projects around anymore. So we’ll have tours coming through, and we wondering who we will book on the show and it’s crickets. There are not that many good bands.

Even in New York City.

Even in fucking New York City! We are in a bit of a lull point, but I don’t really care. It picks up, is farts out, it picks up it farts out. To me, Pharmakon is a painful project. And it will always be painful. But never more or less depending on the climate.

Speaking of community, you live at a venue in Far Rockaway. Far the fuck out.

There is a reason why “far” is part of the name.

It is kind of lawless over here. It is like Wild West by the sea. It is a little bit scary. As far as location, it is isolated, but you have an inspiring group of friends that you live with. What is the Redlight District to you and how do you feel after Nick (Diaphragm, former room mate at RLD), Jesse Allen and Jackie (Very close confidants to all the room mates at the RLD) all moving away at the same time.

It’s funny. This is actually an extremely simple answer to a very complicated question. Redlight District is a group of friends. There may be 13 or 15 bands that come out of our group, but it’s really just a couple dudes connected on a very important level who make art together. And so the fact that Jackie, Jesse and Nick moved away doesn’t make them any less close to us. This is our family. What we have as a group of people is love for each other.

I don’t use the word love lightly. Love to me is something very rare. Very exotic, foreign. Hard to understand. And yet, I am so fucking lucky because I exist within a group of people who love each other. Who can fucking say that?

These are friends that transcend periods of time and space. Literally, the Redlight District is something that exists nowhere. We live in this house. It doesn’t fucking matter. Here is a set of people who have found that every single person feels [love] for every person in a group of people. This is something that does not occur, typically.

A lot of the Redlight District went to college together for sound. All of them say that what they learned had nothing to do with their schooling, but through the people that they met through that experience, and that is the group of friends that we have right now. It is something that I can’t explain and frankly I do not have the right to explain it. None of us individually have the words to do that. Gebo, the rune, the one that looks like an x, that the Nazi’s misused… The idea that the sum is greater than it’s parts. That is what the Redlight District is. Individually, we wouldn’t have what we have together and space and time cannot fuck with that. People can live wherever the fuck they want, we still have that.

But they try to insert themselves into it. People try to ride your collective dick a lot.

You can always spot a phony,

So, obviously there is inspiration is the Redlight District but where else do you find inspiration?

People are always like ‘what are your influences’, but you are asking what inspires me… Inspiration is life. Inspiration is not just the people that I am surrounded by or the music that I listen to, literature that I read. What inspires you to think? Why are you a human and not an ape? That is inspiration.

I understand that you are preparing a new set for a show with Bone Awl. What can we expect? What are you working on? What is changing?

This set is a weird combination/transitional composition between new ideas I had while writing the new Lp, mixed with some shit that I had been putting on the backburner a little bit. Stuff I didn’t want to deal with yet, emotionally. So this is a purge forward, grasping at grandiose ideas for the next phase of Pharmakon. A lurch forward towards what will happen next.

Collaged flyer designed by Margaret.

How is recording going for the upcoming LP?

All of the electronics are recorded and are in the process of being bounced. Ryan (Yellow Tears, DYsgeniX, etc) is helping me record on an 8-track, which gives it a full sound. The vocals are next, so I guess I can tell you after that. That is always the most harrowing, difficult part of the process I think. It is all I have been focusing on lately. When you say ‘how is it going’, I don’t know how to respond to that. How is my life going? I’ve been obsessed.

You go to school for visual art, and you are a visual artist as well, so what are the differences for you between visual art and noise? What do you get out of visual art that you do not get out of noise? Pharmakon does not satisfy all of your creative urges… you still feel the desire to make visual art.

All of the art that I make starts first and foremost with a concept, an idea. Then I scramble and claw at a way to produce this concept, to express this concept. I believe that different ideas and concepts need to be produced in different ways. Not every concept can be funneled into the same process. The same way as Pharmakon is an extension of myself, the same goes for my visual art. It’s just different ways that it is expressed.

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Margaret posing with her mummifying severed duck head, which will be used in a visual piece at a later time.

The last question is a little bleak. You’ve been doing Pharmakon for a long time. Will it ever be over? How will you know that it’s over?

When I die.

Pharmakon is performing alongside Bone Awl and a FFH & HIV Coroner Collab, at the Redlight District. 4/6/2012. 8 pm.

10 responses to “Interview with Pharmakon

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