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The multi-instrumentalist has always refused to coalesce around conformity. Niloo Sharifi delves deep into the open source identity that gives Podge’s music such soaring liberation.
It’s easy to forget that life is supposed to be fun. Music is a good way to remember. PODGE went about becoming a musician all backwards. “Before I considered myself good enough at guitar to start writing music, I was thinking what wacky shit I would do if I was having a TV interview,” they begin. “The reason I started [making music was for] the results that come from it – it kind of gets all the wires crossed. As I tried to get better at music, I learned that perspective is counterproductive. I feel like I started off making music for kind of selfish reasons, I was just trying to impress people. Then I fell in love with it. It’s like starting a job because you want to make money and then falling in love with the job over the years after you learn what it actually is.”
It’s hard to imagine Podge as a self-conscious teen suffering under the yoke of elitism. Their new EP, Samuso, released via NTS, feels joyful, light and casually personal. It sounds like it was made by a heartbroken robot living at the end of time, who misses humans, so makes music to commemorate the living; scanning what’s left of the internet for cultural ephemera still in orbit – samples and feelings.
Podge joins a growing contingent of magpie producers who don’t mind whether something’s expensive as long as it’s shiny; they’ll take anything from anywhere, choosing to ignore the confines of genre and intellectual property. “It’s weird that people are still against samples. It just feels weird to take ownership of stuff. I feel really weird about trying to make a living off music,” they say. “I’m pro pirating – I don’t know whether that’s just the internet mindset, but it feels weird to stop people from wanting to enjoy your art just ’cos they don’t wanna spend the money.”
The genre-bending this cutpurse attitude results in does away with old hierarchies that draw a line between the significant and the trivial. Samuso features Podge singing catchy hooks, rapping, sampling all manner of things – Auto-Tuned voice notes; anime. Sugary synths, bleeps and bloops weave among acoustic and distorted guitars. So many influences thread themselves through the songs that it’s hardly worth getting into it. You just need to hear it. “You wouldn’t need to make the art if you could describe it in the first place,” they say. “It feels pointless making stuff that’s already been done, just ’cos, well, it’s already been done.”
Pursuing the crooked, less-travelled road has its own challenges; the context of a commercial industry rewards what is quickly recognisable and easily summed up. “It’s hard to develop that kind of confidence when you’re doing something that you can’t draw parallels with what other people are doing,” they begin. “There’s not many people I can look at and think, ‘That guy’s doing it, so I could do it’, but when I do find people like that, I really latch onto them.” They are wearing a 100 gecs hoodie when we meet in the park today, a band who are a definite example of those who’re ‘doing it’ in a guise Podge is interested by. “Last year I was obsessed with JPEGMAFIA and Vegyn because they seem like they’re in their own lanes and they’re not following a formula, not just stylistically, but the way they navigate the industry,” they add.
The diffuse pull of hybridity draws those attracted to it into a protracted search for a life that expresses a reality belonging only to you, unbound by location. “I don’t identify with where I came from at all, maybe to some extent my ethnicity. But my nationality, it seems weird identifying with where you’re from ’cos you didn’t have much control of it,” says Podge. “When you’ve got the internet and you can pick and choose from so many places in the world, it seems odd to make something you have no control of your identity.”
With everything online, a purely localised sense of self starts to feel like a relic of an obsolete past, like internet dial-up. It’s hard not to find yourself immersed in a bigger picture than your immediate environment. It’s given Podge a certain overview. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever done is just you, even you being born someone else’s work’s gone into it,” they respond. “If anything, you’re the smallest part in it. It feels like most things you do you are flicking the domino and someone’s already set up all the dominoes to fall and make a pattern. So, it’s weird to be so attached to it. If it wasn’t for other people passing on the information you wouldn’t be able to do it ever.”
Practicalities sometimes get in the way of this type of common sense. Artists have always had to get past some type of dragon, be it a patron or an industry. They always have to live in the distance between their dreams and mundane reality’s unalterable demands. The reasoning of a money world that prizes victory and possession infects everything – even what starts as playtime, something frivolous and in-the-moment. Art can start to feel like something you own in the same way you might own a plot of land. “When you take a step in the street you don’t look back on the path and think, ‘I was that step’,” says Podge, “but if I make an EP it’s hard not to think of it like a part of me. Like, obviously I’ve put effort into it, but, in the end, I’m not the thing I made.”
There’s less ego at stake with every failure when you look at it like that. It becomes less about coming up with something that proves how great you are and more about letting something pass into the world through you. “Lots of people view it like they’re the person driving the car down the road and pushing the pedals, but it’s more like you’re the road,” they explain. “If the car’s not going down the road right, it might just be ’cos the car’s not as fast, but it could also be that the road is all beat up and it’s hard for the car to go down it.” If the artist is the road, then getting better at art is more about bearing the weight of it patiently, pressing yourself flat so it can go along you smoothly – rather than zooming around all the time, all wheels and metal.
It’s a more relaxing perspective and, for Podge, learning how to relax helped them get there. “When I started doing meditation and stuff like that, it’s weird how much it improved my art, not in the sense that it made me a better technical person, but it allowed me to tap into those less thought-about parts of yourself.” Getting somewhere by turning away from it doesn’t sound like it would work. “I used to think that meditation doesn’t do anything because you’re not really doing anything. I thought, ‘I’ll try this for two months’, but those two months were just putting trust in it, and with music it’s kind of that in the long-term scale.”
Enclosed within systems obsessed with zero-sum games, where one person’s win is another person’s loss, it feels like it makes sense to obsess about achievement and self-flagellate when we don’t succeed in reaching the top of the hill we’re desperately running at. But it’s not the only way to go about things. “I’ve heard that since I was a kid,” they reply, “not to think about the results and the fruits of your labour will grow on their own. But it’s so hard to see it that way until you’re backed into a corner and you’ve got no other way of looking at it.”
Podge’s journey, which started with a desire to objectively succeed has revealed something unexpected, something weird and paradoxical at play that only reveals itself once you realise trying only gets you so far. “Don’t try just wait for what’s next/Don’t stress you’re probably next”, Podge tells us on Get_Up_Again.
A more casual approach makes for a more constant flow and chill vibes. You can find Podge on Instagram letting you in on the process: making beats live, posting micro-tutorials and sampling bird noises in the forest with their OP-1. When you’re focused on the material outcome of the work, making mistakes feels like evidence that nothing will ever come of it; it’s helped Podge to realise that failure and continuous graft is part of the process. “No one ever said that making good art was easy. It’s just unhealthy the way that people portray artists a lot of the time,” they say. “You could find hundreds of hours of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar really good, but I don’t think I could find footage of Jimi Hendrix in the studio trying to redo a take, like, 10 times in a row, which he obviously did, everyone does that.” The internet has helped to demystify the figure of the artist, dissolving the untouchable halo that creates a hierarchy of creatives and non-creatives. “It seems like everyone has the capability to make art,” Podge tells me.
And by the same token, sometimes artists struggle to make art, and that’s just part of it. “I always viewed the enlightened artist as someone who can make good music whenever they want, but it’s more like someone who can understand that they don’t have any control over whether they make anything good or not. That’s why I really envied people who started it out of a love for music, ’cos they’re doing it for fun.” The future has a way of beckoning with strange hands – Podge might have started with backwards ideas, focused on the outward results, but that’s not where they ended up.
It’s so hard to remember that life is supposed to be fun, but music makes it easier, even if it’s pointless. Without the self-imposed pressure of impressing other people or reaching a certain summit, it’s hard for them to even articulate the end goal. “I always think, ‘Would I make music if I was stranded on a different planet, and there was no chance of anyone else finding the stuff that I made?’ I think maybe I would,” says Podge. “I don’t think I’ll ever properly know why I do it, but I think the reason for it is probably because I can’t explain it.”
Samuso is available now via NTS.