Morgan Geist

A contemporary disco phenom ponders the extinction.

It’s not hard to consider dance music, on nearly all platforms, to be synonymous with enormous soundsystem clubs and those that choose to “feel” rather than “listen.” There’s the producer or sound nerd that really does give a shit about the quality of the mp3 and the dude who really, in effect, couldn’t give a shit because he wants to hear loud bass and easy-to-digest sequenced beats. It’s the way the dance music world works, like it or not. But 35-year-old Environ imprint owner and veteran producer Morgan Geist doesn’t like it. And his newest offering in 11 years, Double Night Time (Environ) is more than proof.

With a healthy blend of potent analog-synth-driven space, and chunky yet melodic basslines, Geist has truly mastered the concept of taking his listeners on a painstakingly detailed expedition that can’t necessarily be digested in a mere club setting. Though he’s explored a weird variety of tech-disco as one-half of Metro Area, Geist takes his solo craft exceptionally seriously. Whether it’s a mixing process that can last months or contempt for the shallow nature of DJing versus creating, Geist wants to make a disco difference. soma caught up with the somewhat disgruntled Brooklynite to discuss the extinction of attentive listening and a doomed generation of music listeners.

— What are the pros and cons of DJing and producing in 2008?
— I’ve been doing the Environ label, production and DJing for a while now and it’s always been hard, but now it’s getting harder as selling recorded music becomes less and less valuable. People put everything up for file shares. DJing is more lucrative than making records for me at this point, which is sad because I don’t give much of a fuck about DJing. I feel lucky that I can do it, but I’m more passionate about making records. If I could DJ every weekend in New York in an isolated booth, not destroying my ears and staying up until unreasonable hours, I would enjoy it more. But it will never scratch the creative itch. It’s not what I signed up for, I signed up to make music.

— How has file sharing affected you as a label owner and producer?
— It really bums me out that what I really want to do with my life is becoming less and less viable. People listen to and consume music in different ways and I’m a little conflicted, because if I didn’t make music and own a label, I’d be downloading music right and left. When I’ve worked for years on something and some fucking journalist puts it up for share, because they’re the people that get the album first, it’s like a giant slap in the face. I mean, they didn’t even have to pay for it. I’m not a violent person, but I do get the tendency to want to do physical violence, to run into their house and break shit in front of them. That’s how it feels.

— How do people consume dance music differently now?
— First of all, recorded music used to be a tangible product. David Byrne and others may argue that it’s artificial, but artificial or not, that’s how I grew up. I prefer recorded music to live music and records have been most special musical experiences, not going to concerts. Sitting alone listening to a record really deeply is better to me. I’m a dork, I like pouring over the cover and liner notes. That’s something that younger people aren’t gonna know. Each generation has something that freaks people out, but with each prior evolution, there was another path to get revenue, but now, that’s the end of that. Then there’s the way people relate to music. I have a sister that’s 15 and she gives me insight into the way kids listen to music. I see it on the ground—nobody pays for music, they listen to it on iPods and on cell phones, so the idea of sitting down with a record on a good sound system and listening to details is gone. That’s the way listeners, and consequently the people making music, have evolved. People are making records to sound good through laptops and earbuds. Dynamics are all but gone, squashed to fuck and as loud as possible.

— It seems like a lot of indie-types are signing to major labels and recording with enormous budgets. How does your work compare to that of a lot of major label artists and how does it reflect on fans of major label music?
— I put out at most one cd over two years on my label, each release with no filler whatsoever. Every song is labored over and is made caring about the listener. I’ll eq a kick drum for, like, fucking 48 hours. Yes, I do this shit for myself too, but mainly I do it so that my listeners can pay attention to detail and have a good experience. That’s the opposite of the way major labels are and they deserve to be screwed. But people equate me with that when I’m on a file-sharing site next to Jay-Z and Madonna. I’m burned out about everything and Double Night Time expresses that. I’m buying time as an artist and that’s the way any good artist is too. It took me ten years to get out this album. I’m a slow worker, so if I have to bust my ass at another job, I’ll never get anything out. I’m like any other human being and I need to work to support myself. When I was younger, I wouldn’t care about money or anything, but I’m 35 years old now and we don’t live like that—this is a capitalist society. I chose this life and I’m glad that I’m not cleaning urinals or in Iraq, but you can’t use relativism to demolish your concerns. Things could be worse, but that doesn’t mean things are going well. 

TEXT BY Fred Miketa