Prometheus Burning: an interview with Nikki Telladictorian

Prometheus Burning

Formed in 2001, Prometheus Burning is a renegade Electro duo from Pittsburgh PA. With visual artist Nikki Telladictorian delivering lyrical lashings on the frontlines while producer Greg VanEck mans the electro battlestation of drum machines, modular synths, and circuit bent devices, Prometheus Burning attacks you with a full scale sonic assault upon the senses. Operating from the fringe and defying definition, they forge an aggressive and eccentric sound that often blurs the line between electronic genres, from dancefloor killing beats to complex chaotic noise.

How are you doing Nikki?

I’m doing well, thank you. Things are getting very exciting around here. Our latest album “Displacement Disorder” will be released on July 23rd with help from IsoTank who will be our sole distributor. The album features exclusive artwork by Paul McCarroll of Unhinged Art. We have a stop animation music video being produced by Shawn Collins of Lefthandsh8k Studio for our first single off the album entitled “Flesh Addict”. We also have organized release parties internationally for the album, including a big one in our home town of Pittsburgh which we will be performing at along with I, Parasite and Surachai.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Greensburgh PA, moved to Pittsburgh when I was 5 and have lived here most of my life.

How do you occupy your free time?

I like to keep busy with my hands. Usually painting, writing, or reading while chilling out in my art room and listening to music. I also experiment with circuit bending.

Some have made references to Prometheus Burning being like to Psychic TV. How would you define your style? Live and recording?

We often refer to ourselves as ‘Renegade Electro’ when people ask us to describe what type of music we make. It is a self-invented genre we created after being called “renegades” by people over the years. We never set out to be ‘Industrial’ or ‘Powernoise’ or ‘Breakcore’ or any other predetermined style. Those are some of the genre names we have been tagged with over time. Sure I think we can fit into those to some degree. But I don’t think there is a specific style we fit 100%. That is completely fine with us. We try to forge our own path and have no interest in following someone elses rules or expectations. We don’t want anyone to think they know exactly what they can expect from us, neither in the studio or on the stage.

As far as the Psychic TV comparison goes, I don’t see the similarities really. We do take that as compliment though. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has been a long time inspiration to both of us. S/He is truly one of the greatest renegades of our time.

Prometheus BurningWhen you write a song do you set out with intended tones/sounds in mind or do you allow the song to evolve as your write it? Does this depend on the project?

That depends largely upon the project. For our “Plague called huMANity” album, we set down a lot of concepts ahead of time. From the story line about Nyx that we wrote, from the overall tone, even down to making “old school” sounding drum kits and synth patches. We put a lot of pre-production and planning into that album, and had specific goals and sounds we were aiming for.

With albums like our most recent creation “Displacement Disorder” though, it was the total opposite. For Displacement, we wanted to tap into and capture our own unstable emotions as we were experiencing them, experimenting with new ideas, sounds, instruments, letting the music evolve and manifest. Every song was like its own unique ritual with different ways of trying to conjure and capture our inner demons. We adapted concepts from Chaos Magick to work within our studio atmosphere, mentally associating with and empowering sigils we created for specific sounds and such. Ultimately the recordings started to form coherent texture, theme, even color in our minds eye, manifesting and evolving into a double disk album unlike anything we have ever created before and will never be able to replicate again.

How long have you been creating electronic music? Are you classically trained or self-taught?

I’m not classically trained on any of the instruments I play. As a kid I wanted lessons, but my family was too poor so I did the best I could on my own. I used to go to the Radio Shack down the street from my house to play the keyboards. It was a regular activity for me as a kid. The people in the store saw how much it meant to me and never kicked me out. I was around 8 years old when I finally got my first keyboard and then dedicated most of my time teaching myself how to play it. Years later I started jacking my keyboard into the computer as a midi controller and started learning about synthesis using programs like Reason.

Classic question but it has to be asked, where does the name Prometheus Burning come from and how do you think it reflects your music?

Prometheus was a renegade deity who went against the other gods to bring humanity the gift of fire, the rawest form of technology. Prometheus wanted to illuminate us. What he did not realize is what a double edged sword such power would be in the hands of human beings. Here we are in the 21st century, and not only are we dependent upon technology to survive as a modern civilization, we are being controlled, consumed, and ultimately destroyed by it. The fire is burning far beyond our control now, evolving faster than we are. The name Prometheus Burning is a metaphor for this. A god who only wanted to empower us now gets to watch in horror as we come up with more technologically advanced ways of destroying each other, the planet, and beyond.

Prometheus BurningAlso what was the inspiration for “Displacement Disorder”?

Great emotional pain. Feelings of vast hopelessness without any sense of belonging. Hospitals. Funeral homes. Instability. The ache of loss and disappointment. Anxiety disorder and depression. Impending doom. Death threats. Insomnia. Rude awakenings. Trying to swim in a sea of shit without swallowing too much in the process. It was a very challenging and disturbing year for us in 2009, and everything we were experiencing got infused into “Displacement Disorder”. This album became the only positive thing we had to hold onto, and its creation helped keep us afloat.

What does your studio setup consist of? I’ve seen a few photos of modular synths you have been building posted online. How did you begin working with equipment in this sense?

Our studio is a very mixed environment. We utilize everything we can get our hands on or create, from circuit bent toys and noise boxes, to more elaborate devices such as our Virus TI and our ever evolving modular synth which we call The BEAST.

We’ve been interested in modular synths for quite some time. Shortly after releasing our “Plague called huMANity” album, we saw some very inspiring demos by Bryan Erickson of Velvet Acid Christ showing off his Eurorack modular gear. We decided that before we started working on our next album, it was time to make the jump and acquire some of the modules we’ve been gearlusting over for so long. We had a very specific sound we wanted to achieve, and felt some of the modules we were aware of would be best way to achieve it.

For “Displacement Disorder”, we synthesized pretty much every sound from scratch using the modular, or used the modular for effects processing like on my voice and such. There is no saving with modular synths. No presets. You have to know what you want to create, and capture it quickly or else it’s gone forever. This style of raw deliberate chaotic creation was exactly what we had in mind for “Displacement Disorder”.

What is some gear you are looking to acquire or wish to include in your setup?

Really excited about acquiring more modules like the Piston Honda by The Harvestman. Would also love to get a Gristleizer now that it is being offered in Eurorack format.

How did you become involved with Kickstarter.com? Do you think this will become the new way for independent artists to release?

After Crunch Pod suddenly decided to go all digital, we announced online that we still intended to release “Displacement Disorder” as we originally envisioned: a physical double disk box set with a variety of extras like stickers and buttons. Immediately we received support and helpful ideas from fans and friends. Some offered to pick up the album and release it on their label. Others offered to invest or help us self-release it however possible. We decided that the Kickstarter concept as suggested by our friends Matt Fanale of Caustic and MaxMin of Noisescape TV had the most potential. No other bands in the scene had done it yet as far as we knew. It was a fresh idea with potential to get creative with it while keeping complete control over our album.

With Kickstarter we were able to turn the boring business side of things into an artistic experiment while giving our listeners a chance to get involved. It was a gamble but worked out very well for us thanks to the support we received. Labels are becoming increasingly obsolete, especially in the underground music scene, and concepts like Kickstarter and Bandcamp have a lot of potential for independent bands to not only fund and release their music, but to get support for touring and other costly ventures. It allows fans to put their “money where their mouth is” and directly support the bands and music they care about.

We put a lot of work into our Kickstarter project, from the rewards we were offering, to the Noise-A-Thon webcasts to help raise awareness. I think our pledgers saw how much we were putting into everything and respected that. We were throwing ourselves into the effort, putting as much sweat and blood into releasing the album as we did into creating the music for it. We got friends and other artists involved. It became a group effort.

Prometheus BurningAlso how does this affect the bands standing with Crunch Pod?

I don’t know if any other Crunch Pod bands will follow in the footsteps of what we did by utilizing Kickstarter. Crunch Pod has established a great reputation, and up until a few months ago, we were very happy with our experiences with them. A few artists we know have recently put out their newest creations as Crunch Pod digital only releases. If they are content with digital only releases then I see no reason why they wouldn’t continue working with them. If we ever decide to do a digital only release and felt a label was necessary, Crunch Pod would be our first choice to work with again.

We never planned for Displacement Disorder to be a digital-only release though. If there are other Crunch Pod artists who are like us and don’t think the CD is dead yet and want to release one, then they will have to find a way outside of Crunch Pod to achieve this just like we had to do. We feel that just because a format is no longer the most popular does not mean that it is “dead” and should be ignored completely. We like being able to offer our listeners something physical. We like being able to give them as many choices as possible when it comes to acquiring our music. This is why we include a download code in every physical copy of Displacement Disorder allowing our listeners to grab the digital version for free from our Bandcamp page in many high quality digital formats.

We would offer every album we create on Vinyl too if we could. Some people have been saying Vinyl is dead for years, just like some now say about the CD. But we still love buying our favorite music on Vinyl and CD, and it seems many of our listeners do too. Some people still like to have something they can hold and touch for their money or take home after a good live performance. Some people still like to collect and display their favorite albums and artwork. We are among these types of people, and feel that CD’s and Vinyl will never completely die as long as bands continue to make them special and worth paying for. We are very proud of the limited physical version of Displacement Disorder and all of the extras it includes, and are very glad we are able to offer people what we originally envisioned.

What are some highlights for you from past tours and records? Also what do you think makes a great live show?

We have played close to 100 shows since 2004. It’s hard to summarize all the highlights. We’ve met and worked with so many interesting people and creative artists. Most recent to come to mind though would be our opening performance with VNV Nation where Servitor Sanctum 7 joined us on stage providing rhythmic percussion, and Jim Semtex of Rein[Forced] got on stage to sing our “Electronic Saviors” compilation song “Malignant Disco” with me. It was an intensely emotional show and occurred at a very pivotal time for us. If that show hadn’t gone so well I don’t know where our heads would be at right now concerning Prometheus Burning.

To us a great live show is defined by truly connecting with the audience. We view each performance as a unique piece of art. I often improvise on stage lyrically, theatrically, and instrumentally. I find that improvisation is the most effective way to open the doors between the stage and the audience and linking up with them, generating some sort of telepathic feedback loop. The best shows I have ever experienced have felt like vivid dreams, as if I were transported to another state of existence. This is what I hope to achieve with my live performances, and often feel it was a great live show if I am able to tap into that other world and reach that level of connection.

Prometheus BurningAny plans for future side projects (Four Pi Movement, etc), future releases or other extracurricular activities such as your involvement in burlesque performance?

Our second Four Pi Movement release is a collaboration with Theologian that will be released on ANNIHILVS in the near future. We are also experimenting with an old project that has been on the way back burner called COCKMONGLER. We have done some live performances under that name for laptop battles, but have never officially released anything. COCKMONGLER focuses on intensely fast and broken beats, grinding electronic noise, odd time signatures and over the top digital hardcore.

For burlesque performances, it will be one year in July that I have been a member of The Bridge City Bombshells troupe. We challenge our audience with erotic performances often featuring themes of a darker nature. Doing burlesque pushes my creative limits in ways I never could have conceived otherwise. I look forward to continue challenging audiences through this medium.

Any tips for the musicians out there?

Stay true to your self, your art, your vision. Never compromise for some bullshit expectations, scene acceptance, or for music labels. Having a million friends on Myspace means shit. Real fans and friends are all that matter when it comes down to it. They are the ones who will support you when the time comes and appreciate real creative effort.

Relevant links

Prometheus Burning
Prometheus Burning @ BandCamp
Prometheus Buring @ MySpace
Four Pi Movement @ MySpace
Prometheus Burning @ Kickstarter

— interview by James Church (June 2010); photos by Kevin Ross (www.krossprocess.com)