Amsterdam Based Artist Mirjam Debets Walks Us Through Her Wild and Colorful Visual World


IF: Can you start off by telling us a little about your background and how you first became interested in the world of VJing?

MD: I studied 2D animation at the HKU (Utrecht University of the Arts), where we mostly worked on making short films. I liked it, but I kind of struggled with the format of a narrative short film. I never really knew how to express my ideas in 2 minutes, or my concepts ended up being too big or too abstract. So the second half of my studies I started looking for a way of creating visual arts that felt less rational and more intuitive to me. That lead me to combining animation with music, because simply listening to a song has always created an infinite flow of visuals in my mind. That same time I went to an EDM festival in the Netherlands, where I got a bit of an idea of what most VJing was like. Then It felt like I just had to try it!

IF: How would you describe VJing for someone that perhaps has never heard the term? (Maybe imagine trying to explain your art to your 45 year-old Uncle who works at the Post Office)

MD: I’ve had to explain this quite a bit to my actual uncles and aunts, but I think I told them something like ‘working at concerts and using small clips of video and trigger and mix them to the music that is playing, which the audience can see on the screens’. I’m often a bit cautious with saying the visuals are there to complement or amplify the music, as I think in the ideal world those two strengthen each other equally.

IF: It seems that VJing is most often associated with DJing, particularly in the EDM world. What are your thoughts regarding this seemingly inevitable connection?

MD: I guess that makes sense, as the biggest VJ scene is probably still in EDM, but I think it’s starting to get bigger in other genres as well.

IF: Are you interested in working with DJ’s at all? Do you feel there is a strong difference between working with a DJ versus a band? (Particularly regarding the crowd and how they view / interact with with the visuals)

MD: I’d love to work with DJ’s! I think working with my band was actually quite similar to working with a DJ, as the focus wasn’t so much on the performance of the musicians. When working with a band there’s usually someone very charismatic up on the stage, or the dynamic between the musicians to look at. With a DJ you can create much more than just a ‘visual backdrop’, because you’ll have a lot more of the audience’s attention.

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Artist Spotlight – Nicholas Bohac

IF: Tell us about how you originally connected with Son Step. How did the collaboration unfold?

NB: Son Step actually contacted me. I just looked back at my records to see if I could figure out how that all started, and I see that Joel actually sent me a text message last fall. At the time, I didn’t know who he was, but I have a public number that I keep online, just for this purpose. He sent over a few texts basically telling me about his band, how they liked my work, they were prepping an album and wanted to know if I worked with bands. And I do. Back when I was growing up and still living in Omaha, I played in a punk band. That was a really fruitful time for music in Omaha and the Midwest, no matter what type of music you were making. We were super active, went on tours and released more than a few records. At one point, my buddy Kevin & I actually started a small label that had these grand aspirations. Being involved in music at that time got me interested in all of the other stuff that goes into music – packaging, merch, trying to make the funds to tour. So before I ever moved out to San Francisco, I had designed more than a few album covers, silkscreened a few thousand t-shirts and all of that other stuff.

Joel texting me is a pretty common occurrence for me. Bands will see my stuff around the internet and send something over asking if ever do album covers. And I do, because I like music and I like having my work out there like that. Almost every time, the musicians I work with just end up wanting to license a painting or drawing that is already completed. These days, a lot of stuff is just released digitally, but sometimes the groups I work with release stuff on cd, or vinyl. Some do posters. There’s a fairly long history of musicians and visual artists working together, and yeah, I’m stoked to keep doing projects like that. I don’t have the time to play music really anymore and was really never that great to begin with, but it’s cool to stay involved with that stuff.

Aaron, the drummer I played with way back when, he’s in a group that just released their first album with Bridge Nine last week. That dude was and is the real deal, as far as music is involved. I’m content to just work on images that people feel illustrates what they’re talking about in their music.


IF: What was your process during the initial creation of the piece that was used as the cover art?  What is the meaning of the piece to you, as its on entity, aside from an album art cover?

NB: So, the painting is titled “Others”. I just went back and looked to see when I made that painting, and I think I finished it around the end of 2013. Like, maybe closer to summer/fall? I keep awful records of this stuff and really need to get better.

Around this time, I was just painting and seeing what happened. I had been out of graduate school for about five or six years. In that time, I had my stuff represented by a few galleries that unfortunately ended up closing. So I was at this point where I had no representation, knew a lot of people, but could experiment a bit more. I started playing with some different processes that I hadn’t used before. The year or so before I had started to tape my canvases a lot more. Like, when I first came out of grad school, my work was almost entirely collage. Torn sheets of paper that were pasted onto a rigid support to build landscapes. A few years out of school I had started to paint a lot more.

This painting has a large aqueduct in the background that was painted in. I taped off the shape of the structure and then used a squeegee to pull paint over this, effectively creating a stencil. Then I pulled the tape up and the structure, made up of texture paint, remained. There’s also a stencil in the sky that references a Dyson sphere, or even maybe a Buckminster Fuller dome. Something that gives structure to the sky and reinforces that there’s something holding the surrounding landscape together. Up on the aqueduct are some figures that you can see, and in the foreground is a colorful structure with two figures looking up at the others on the bridge that connects the two sides of the crumbling aqueduct.

Naming it “Others”, I hoped to imply that the figures in the foreground maybe be weary of what they’re seeing on the bridge. People are weary when they don’t know things about the others around them. They exist in this psychedelic landscape, with a diamond mountain range in the background, implications of technology that’s crumbling. Maybe it’s a post nuclear landscape, maybe it’s somebody’s fantasies in a virtual reality world they’re experiencing in an Oculus Rift.

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INTERVIEW W/ KEITH RANKIN – the visionary behind Giant Claw and Orange Milk Records

IF: Tell us a little about your life leading up to the creation of Orange Milk Records. How did it all begin?

KR: I co-run Orange Milk with Seth Graham, we met each other in Dayton Ohio, and I think we were both starting to get into noise and synthesizer music being released on tape around 2008 or 09. I wanted to be involved with that music somehow, and we wanted a place to showcase our own music. Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to different communities or scenes, feeling the urge to be a part of something or to associate with likeminded people, but those communities have always left me feeling alienated after a while. The beginning of Orange Milk was probably at the start of one of those urges.

IF: What is your current role in OMR? What has changed since the beginning?

KR: There’s obviously more work involved now but our roles haven’t changed very much. We switch off shipping duties every year or so, Seth is handling that right now. I do most of the visual art, and we will both talk to artists and split other duties.

IF: How do you find the artist on the label? Is there anything in particular you are looking for?

KR: I do a lot of soundcloud searching, and we get a lot of great demos. There are extremely vague parameters stylistically that we look for, it’s easier to define as an ambition or work ethic that shines through in someones work. It’s exciting to me when experimentation mixes with an inner drive, the effect is almost like someone pushing beyond their limitations, like when a singer goes just above and outside their octave range. That’s usually an interesting place to be musically. We also obviously have our whole life’s worth of experiences that have built up into a continually refined aesthetic which is constantly being transposed over the music we’re considering, like “does this fit my idea of cool?”

IF: In a recent interview you said “A lot of response to the record so far have discarded the conceptual aspects in favor of the purely musical ones, which I think is perfectly fine and justifiable – that musical reality is a deep part of the work and is by far the easiest entry point into it” What are some of these more conceptual aspects you aim to reach in your music and art?

KR: I think there’s a dual stigma with intellectualizing art and also not being conceptual enough, you’re caricaturized in either scenario. But every action anyone takes has an entire history behind it, we just choose to access that history or conceptual backing in different ways. I find making music more enjoyable when I have a conceptual world brewing behind it, and that usually starts as a vague or general philosophy. For example, I’ve been thinking about how much taste and style is determined by the culture and class systems we’re born into and how that changes a lot of ideas about individuality in the arts. That’s obviously a topic with a lot of facets, so I’ll daydream about it while recording or working. Eventually I find that the recording process, or the simple act of relying on a skill set, merges with whatever my mind has been preoccupied with, and the act of creating music starts to refine and clarify those initially cloudy ideas. It’s difficult to explain exactly, but have you ever been in emotional turmoil and then felt better after verbalizing your thoughts to someone? I think making art is like using a non-verbal language to bring a similar clarity.


IF: We first discovered you through Kate NV. We remember seeing the album cover artwork and being pulled in before ever hearing her music. What was your process in creating this particular album artwork?

KR: Kate had wanted some more abstract, Kandinsky-like art for her cover, and we both tried pieces like that that didn’t seem to work. Actually we both liked what the other had done but didn’t like our own attempts. I remember after that sitting down and thinking “I’m gonna try to really translate this music into a visual.” I’m not as skilled with that translation when it comes to visual art, but it worked for that one, in my opinion. There’s a clearness and calmness to Kate’s NV music and also a bittersweet joy that I latched onto.

IF: What role do you believe album artwork plays in the grand scheme of things?

KR: From my experience, people seem more in tune with their visual sense than other senses, like it’s a visual interface we consciously perceive the world through. Hearing might be more in the realm of subconscious detection, there’s always a lot of sound happening that isn’t considered unless it’s disruptive or specific. That’s all to say that when visuals are paired with any of the other senses the impact can’t be underestimated. Covers dictate our perception of the music, more popular artists use their entire persona and style in that way, to express an identity and a worldview, but for many smaller artists the album cover is all there is to set the scene.

IF: You’ve mentioned the importance of growing up with the internet and also the endless rabbit hole that it can lead to. What are some of positive aspects you see in this as well as any fears you may have?

KR: The internet is creating a more global culture, which also means it will eventually erase a lot of localized culture, or at least replace them with hyper specific internet niche cultures. I’m sure that’s good for some bad for others. Personally, the net let me escape or expand the local culture I was born into, and allowed for probably my first really in depth communication with people different from me which I saw as a blessing. I don’t know, it’s a very big subject. I think the increase of accessible data is creating more malleable and expansive identities, but probably a lot of mental dissonance as a byproduct of the rapid shift. Most aspects of globalization could be seen as good or bad depending on the context.


IF: What are you doing when you’re not creating music or running a record label? Any special interest or hobbies?

KR: Going to a movie theater helps me relax, so does talking to people I know. Sometimes when I’m taking a break from music or art I’ll get on facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, all social media and scroll through my feed endlessly.

IF: How did you come up with the names Giant Claw and Orange Milk?

KR: Giant Claw was something I picked on a whim, I didn’t think I would continue making music under the name but that’s how it worked out. When I think about that name I start to hate it sometimes, but that happens when I think about my real name too. Maybe I’ll change it soon? Orange Milk I can’t even remember, I think I just wanted something liquid related.

IF: The year is 2059, the internet has been forbidden for 30 years and all technological progress has been halted. Where are you?

KR: In a concentration camp I guess?

Keith Rankin