In December and January, I visited Mexico City and had the pleasure of attending an amazing concert at El Quinto Piso, a venue that inhabits the fifth floor of a parking garage. It is one of the most amazing DIY venues I have ever seen and that night it was teeming with a large crowd of young musicians and other artists. Le Trash Can, the solo noise unit featuring Manu Armida, closed the night with a ecstatic performance. After the event, approached him for an interview about his work. This is the second in a series of interviews I will be publishing with musicians active on the Mexico City experimental music scene.
CB: What does noise symbolize to you?
MA: To draw outside the line.
Cisco Bradley: Where do you come from? What were your formative musical experiences growing up?
Manuel Armida: My grandma had a piano at her house. I pretty much grew up there so I remember always banging on the thing. That was really instructive. Years later she died and now the piano is at my mom’s. (RIP Grandma Luz E. Robles)
My first introduction to recording was made possible through my mom’s tape recorder and her tapes. She sings in a choir and at the time she used to record the concerts and rehearsals. I would then make these sound-on-sound recordings with the portable tape recorder and my boom-box. Experimented quite a bit. I made jingles, commercials and a sort of radio-soap opera when I was in fourth grade. I owe them both a lot.
CB: Did you do formal musical training? How did that shape your craft?
MA: I had some really basic music training. Most of it during my secondary and high-school days. I grew up surrounded by it since my mother sings for a choir and I was always exposed to the recordings, the concerts and the sheet music all over our place.
I am glad I learned a little about rhythmic notation. It just stuck with me and I am glad it did.
CB: Who/what do you consider to be your major influences?
MA: Like many others I share a great excitement for contemporary sounds and creators, its long tradition and its curious case in history. In a nutshell I draw my influences mostly/partly from the so-called Americanoise and Japanoise traditions. I also have a big heart for the Texan noise community in particular, the few but valuable harsh heads in Mexico and its incredible improvisational figures and concert series. But my main influence is live sound itself, the configuration or context does not matter much to me. That which I have witnessed live all over the place and that which I haven’t. That which can or cannot be “noise” (mostly it isn’t!). Mushrooms. The modern world I am living and the cities and people I’ve met. Moving and still images. Poetry. Friendship and kind spirits.
CB: How did you get involved in the Mexico City scene in particular?
MA: I started to play live in music by the time I was fourteen so I’ve shifted scenes and collaborators quite a few times. Before moving to Montreal in 2010 I had already played in different bands but knew beforehand that I would have to come up with something solo in case I got the chance to play live music in Canada. I was mostly playing guitar improvisations by this point.
By the time I settled back in Mexico City,almost four years later, some of the people I initially started playing music with were still active and well. I went to my first Lxs Grises fest that year and reconnected with a bunch of old friends. I noticed the shows were far more attended and that the organization had overall raised the bar a bunch. A new wave of Sludge and Post-Metal bands held by that collective did an awful lot to configure effectively other branches such as Punk and Stoner, from both older and newer generations. Aside from the yearly fest, they hosted several shows a year. I also noticed touring was more accessible with all of this new organization, it was way easier. I got invited to a show at El Under in Mexico City and didn’t really stop. Shortly after I joined the noise-rock outfit Jacques Cousteau and we did some touring and played a handful of local shows with the Lxs Grises collective household names. Sometimes I would play a Le TRASH CAN set before or after our band sets.
I had to look out actively for harsher sounds and improvisational based music. I knew the name of a couple labels and projects and went from there. Went to the shows. Quickly found out there was this fascinating underground built upon of all sorts of uncompromising artists in my own hometown.
CB: What are your main musical projects and how have they progressed over the years?
MA: My main project is Le TRASH CAN. I’ve released noise under my own name but it’s still secondary or derivative from it. Aside from that I have a couple Static/HNW oriented projects (La Telenovela and Florida Man Child) that I do not perform live and mostly release digitally.
As for Le TRASH CAN the sound has progressed a great deal over the years. It started in Montreal in 2011 as a way for me to get into producing electronic sounds with emphasis on disjointed rhythm and fractured atmospheres. My first two albums: “1.” and “2.” portrait that era very clearly. I am removed from it now but still utilize some tools that I found during those early computer DAW explorations. A section of the backbone of what I do can be found on those early albums that I self-released in the now defunct tape label God Athletics. Now a days the sound is recorded externally and only afterwards and occasionally I edit on the computer.
Been running the microlabel Ediciones Apaga Máquinas which is trying to focus on contemporary creators from Mexico City. Still on the works. For now the catalogue includes a series of projects and one-off’s that I’ve been working on with various collaborators. Valle Del Guapo, Niñas Del Internado and the HNW oriented projects are the basis of the label for now. Excited about actually turning it into an actual label that could continually release tapes and other physical media. I’ve also released a couple of albums under my own name.
CB: Are there common narratives you are telling through your music?
MA: I want to believe so yet I can’t tell for sure. None moralistic or political though, that’s for sure. Although what you might be calling narrative I mostly refer to as approach. I want to believe that I am working towards cohesiveness and commonality. I want to feel happy with what I do, that’s it. I also want to believe that I am getting closer each day. My live-set is the most accomplished part of this project. If anything, I am struggling with releasing the most optimal takes of what I record and produce. Artwork-wise I am lagging. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with incredible artists (Frappa, Daves Man, Gabriel Matthiew Thompson, Pandu) and yet it has taken me a while to properly illustrate the project without their help and visions.
CB: Where have you performed and how have those tours impacted you as an artist?
MA: The project started in Montreal and was running for a couple of years before my first US tour in 2014. Ever since, touring has been an essential part of my work as a performer. My first tour had a huge impact in the way I perceived what I was doing and what I wanted more of. Toured the east coast with Montreal’s now defunct Hard Coral, one of the most life changing trips I’ve ever had. Got exposed to the sounds of a ridiculous variety of styles and inspirations. Fucked me up. First night I wasn’t playing but got to see Dromez and Sobering touring from Texas at this house in Carrboro, NC. Those two sets (we were late so that’s all I got that night) shaped the tone in many ways for the rest of the tour. I was also deeply affected and crushed by acts such as Forbidden Colors (San Francisco via Philadelphia), Rachel Slurr, COMPACTOR, Torschlusspanik (Chattanooga, TN) and Sagan Boys (Chappel Hill, NC). I owe a lot to those promoters/performers who supported us back then. We went from, in little less than two weeks, Massachusetts to Florida and it was a great time. Then I flew to Mexico City.
Next year they invited me to play the Hassle Fest in Boston, MA. I arranged a solo tour through a bunch of Greyhound buses and terminals. This time the tour started in Texas and it was a whole different beast. Johnathan Cash (Breakdancing Donald Reagan/Cheek Biting, Noise Guru Colorado via Austin, one of the best promoters and performers in the game IMO) booked me to play his birthday show and to this day I believe I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without that show. My set was terrible but the PA was loud and a big portion of the Austin Noise crew played amazing sets. That night I met the duo Illicit Relationship whom which I would play at Multiforo Alicia years later in Mexico City. Wapstan from Montreal played too. I also got exposed to labels such as Instincto, 2 Dollar Recs, Ram Horn Records and Forever Escaping Boredom. Somewhere in between I met sound visionary Noise Nomads. We shared the bill in Virginia and I had a few days off so off I went with him to Raleigh and then to Nashville. I had the chance to see the set three times in a row and took notes the three nights. He was playing an amplified cymbal set and had his own speaker and amplification system. Bananas. Boston Hassle was really interesting too. It was my first fest in the USA and I played alongside fantastic local acts such as Quicksails, Couples Counseling (Now Cc) and KTB. Body/Head and Bill Orcutt where the headliners for night two and they were really special sets. The tour ended in Chattanooga, a city that I also visited on the first tour and that I weirdly fell in love with. There I met really good and inspiring people. Shared the bill once more with Luna Mitchell’s Torschlusspanik. I was also introduced to the work, ideals and mythology behind the Shaking Ray Levis and Society. Hearing about this collective and its immense bodywork first hand from people that were close to Dennis Palmer was really formative on many levels, they taught me a lot of things that took years to crystalize in my own practice and some, too many, that are yet to bloom. I had the privilege to work with Bob Stagner and Evan Lipson in a studio in Chattanooga and we made some really unique recordings that have yet to be released. My conversations with Evan (ex-Satanized, Normal Love, and frequent collaborator of Jack Wright, Kath Bloom and many others) about sound, improvisation and life have lead me to believe that he is a true friend.
My last tour was made possible thanks to Gabriel Matthew Thompson AKA Gym Mat Nap, visual artist and sound wizard. We met the first time I was in Austin. He gave me a Dromez live tape, one with slowed down Afrobeat tracks and another one with the audio track of an old Dr. Who episode. I proposed him to tour with me out of some sort of spark that happened at the moment. I just loved that gift so much and knew he was a fantastic artist, not just some harsh noise project. I am still very happy with how that tape came together, Mathew released it on his own label $2 Records. He then invited Mike from San Antonio (AKA Atheist, performed as MXCG during that tour) to join us. He also made a CD for Mike’s project Atheist. My friend Guillaume Vallée made a really wacky and badass video-flyer for the tour for us. We then made a split album with collaborative artwork between our projects and sold them at the shows. We called it: “Cultural Cockblocks / Alien Pranks”. We played all over Texas and New Orleans together. Mike stayed in Texas though. Met Jesse Kling in San Antonio and talked with him all night. After NOLA I went on my own to Atlanta and Chattanooga. My bus got stuck and I couldn’t make it to the CHA show. In Atlanta I played with 25 Antlers (Developer, Denton, OH) and something switched then for me once again. We traded tapes and it was a good time. I didn’t know then that I would become such a fanboy of his project and label (Factotum Tapes) shortly after. Robby Kee (promoter) recorded my set of that night and I am really thankful he did so. We crashed his living room and then they drove me to the infamous Atlanta Greyhound Station. A lot of the bands I saw during that tour really have zero to none existent online presence or recordings which made my memories of those shows really special. Some highlights include: the “non-idiomatic improvisational ensamble” Maramuresh from Houston (I counted 9+ guitars), Suffer Bomb Damage from Atlanta (delirious noise power-trio) and Satan’s Pubes (Chattanooga/Nashville spastic freak-outs and pantomime with Evan Lipson on bass). New Orleans was also really good for us. Loved the city and the people. Far-out good vibes. By the end of the tour I was surprised all my gear still worked.
CB: Could you talk about your different recordings and how you have evolved as an artist?
MA: I struggled for years to capture the CRUNCH I am searching for. I am still struggling with handling my sonic tool-box. Thing is: I strive to replicate the things I produce with the Laptop with my hardware and pedals as well as the other way around. So there’s a lot of feedback loops (literally and non-literally) throughout my recordings. Some concepts get a second or third chance while others are removed from the get-go. I’ve learned to let go of them though, slowly. They used to make me cringe every-single-time. Now I can make a healthier distinction between all the stages that every release has to go through. I am getting closer to being able to frame the intention and approach of the finished tracks before even recording them. I can step out and choose now. My options are limited but they’re mine. I want to believe.
CB: Where did you get the idea to record amplified scraps of metal for your record Episodicos Alegre/Empalado? Can you describe the process of doing that recording?
MA: That is a fairly-common technique in the field that I had yet to try out myself (mostly pioneered and/or explored by legendary artist such as Z’EV, The Haters and Black Leather Jesus, among others). I wanted to rest up the vocal approach for a bit and at the moment just happened to have some pieces of it (nails, metal sheets, cables, coins) lying around so I had to build my own shaker box and contact microphones. That was Step 1.
I had a couple of used tapes that I bought outside of Metro La Raza. Mostly cheesy, overplayed and literally rusty #1 Hits. I had the intention of picking up this specific place in one of the songs where it sings: “esto es lo que sientooo”. And ended up adding it in both tracks of the release. Also took some slowed-down phrases from those tapes. I added some beats that I made years ago with a Korg Electribe. My Hard Drive is full of hours, entire days and week’s worth of recordings so I enjoy digging for some brief seconds of those long ass sessions and bring them to a place of clarity. That was Step 1-2.
Lastly I overdubbed a couple tracks of Junk Noise into one nasty-base track.
CB: What impact has live jazz had upon you as an artist?
MA: Some thoughts on my experience with live jazz and my introduction to it’s newer forms. I was blessed enough to attend Festival Aural (along with El Nicho) around 2008 and 2009. This festival (mostly curated and made possible by Rogelio Sosa) came about from the now defunct Festival De La Ciudad De México and it really shaped the landscape than less than a decade later would be to come. There I saw Aaron Dilloway, Chris Corsano, C Spencer Yeh and Alan Licht, the enigmatically performer known as the Evan Dando of noise. That festival really put the city in the map in terms of what North American and European performers in the so called improv-fest-circle could achieve in Mexico. Possibly the only place in Latin America where this accesibility is so widely manifested. Getting to see the likes of Okkyung Lee, Bill Orcutt, Keith Rowe and Sylvie Courvoisier (among many, many others) work for free in my own hometown has been truly a blessing for a lot of us fans.
While living in Montréal I volunteered three times in a row for the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV). There I was part of the crew handling the gear. It was really eye opening and shocking to put it simply. Got me really excited to be a part of it all. I had to get my French in check and it was three unforgetable times. Originally I attended because Merzbow was playing the festival. Alongside Wolf Eyes from Michigan and Richard Pinhas from Paris. I didn’t know it at the time but they were to perform simulataneously. Needless to say I got hooked. That happened in 2011. Got to experience live the “Echo Echo Mirror House” by Anthony Braxton, a couple of works and ensambles by John Zorn, The Ex (Dutch band) and Matana Roberts with a handful of amazing performers from Montréal like Xarah Dion and Thierry Amar. All of these sets expanded my appreciation for the improvisatory/jazz community and its fruitful activity and niches.
Locally I was first introduced to German Bringas and his Jazzorca venue in southern Mexico City. I went to one of their anniversary shows and got exposed to a lot of performers at once. I did a bit of research behind the venue and took it from there. Bringas has played with a lot of really important players (Akira Sakata, Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Tatsuya Yoshida to name a few international figures). I was fascinated with his devotion to free jazz and new music and also by the fact that he embraced his neighborhood in such a personal way. And boy, his devotion to new blood. Not an elitist. Before knowing about Jazzorca I never really hung around Colonia Portales. Now there’s two Jazz venues in the same street which is pretty nice (Pizza Jazz Café). He builds his own amplified Tank Drums and has been an active force that seems to be getting stronger. His brother Francisco Bringas is also an amazing musician. His son Ivan Bringas resides in Italy and is a really accomplished extended guitar player. A lot of the artists whose work I was familiar with all appear in the compilation series “Beyond the Pyramid: The Other Mexico” edited by Julian Bonequi founder of Audition Records (member of SIC with Rodrigo Ambriz of Cacophonic Joy). Had the chance to play with prolific drummer Gabriel Lauber for a show hosted by the Volta + Ruido Horrible crew. I hope to repeat that session sometime! I actually hope this year brings more collaboration down my way.
My main collaborative project from last years involved a really expanded and overwhelming Big Band called TOHUWABOHU. Primarily enlisted by drummer Jorge Berumen the thing was a really wild experience. Got to meet Deborah Silberer, Adriana Camacho and Maricarmen Graue there. The line-up shifted but it was mostly loud, chaotic, dreamy improvisations with different degrees of composition and arrangement. It was challenging for everyone involved. But really rewarding. Berumen currently resides in Durango, Mexico, where a local community of improvisers is starting to boil. Still yet to visit.
CB: Thank you!