Photo: Tyler Woodford
The raw energy of a Machine Girl show is hard to overstate. From the extremely cathartic noisy synth and blast beats to the numerous dance music and obscure media references that span countries and decades, the duo hardly leaves the audience with any breathing room. Machine Girl’s live set is a painstakingly well-rehearsed cacophony of modern digital anguish. I make my best efforts to see them every time they come to Los Angeles, usually co-headlining with the slower, yet equally as intense Girl Pusher.
These two bands are at the forefront of a re-emerging cyberpunk scene that’s found growing roots in the seeping internet-based mindset that’s been festering in the brains of the newest generation of 20-somethings who spent their teenage years digesting and creating a culture that has become wholly their own. Now, they form a bicoastal crew of mosh-by-night, rave-by-morning fast music addicts that beneath the harsh music exterior are snarky, nerdy weeaboos agitated by the internet and raised on a steady diet of fucked up punk and electronic music.
Singer/producer Matt Stephenson and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Sean Kelly make up the duo that’s responsible for the sound. Both of them stem from creative backgrounds, with Matt a former film school student and Sean being classically trained in percussion and music. After an unsuccessful attempt at an interview from a chaotic sold-out Friday night show, I sat down with them, Jarrod Hine aka Resign1991 of Girl Pusher, and Jade of 99Jakes before their encore performance on a Tuesday night to chat about their most insane live shows, the burgeoning cyberpunk scene, and their creative process.
If you could cut off your arm and replace it with a cybernetic arm with a bunch of high-tech robot shit, but you have to cut off your own arm, would you do it?
Matt: I’d do it. I feel like especially where we got the name of the band from, the specific movie, I’d kinda have to cut it off to put some sort of attachment on it… maybe just, like, my left hand.
Sean: I wouldn’t do it. Or maybe… my right foot. My kick drum foot. Cuz that’s the biggest challenge of being a drummer is getting your kick drum foot to be, like, really strong.
Who do you have beside you here?
Jade: I’m 99Jakes, my real name is Jade. I’m touring with Machine Girl, so far it’s been great. I love hanging with Matt and Sean. Book Machine Girl in your city, it’ll lead you to good opportunities.
And who’s across from you here, in the orange sweater?
Matt: A creep.
Sean: We’ve never met this person in our life. We met this guy on the street and he won’t stop texting us. He keeps sending us like a bunch of weird videos. He loves ambulances… I don’t know.
Matt: Nah, just kidding, This is Jarrod. He’s in Girl Pusher. Girl Pusher is a fucking sick band. We play with them, like, every time we come to LA.
How’d you guys first meet Jarrod?
Matt: We met on the internet. I found Girl Pusher. I don’t know why or how, but someone made a post on Facebook or something and I was like, what is this? And it clicked it and I was like, damn, this is fucking crazy. And then I messaged their SoundCloud.
Sean: I remember we played this really horrible LA show, which [Jarrod] got us on, which was awesome because we didn’t have an LA show. Don Bolles was deejaying this little bar in Silver Lake or something. It was like an open mic night, but it was the most LA thing. I just had a blast. It was really fun.
Matt: We first met in Brooklyn, though, when they came to NYC for the first time, we played this really horrible place called The Gateway, it was fucked up. The sound guy wasn’t there and nothing was working, plus there was a louder rave going on upstairs which was actually tight, but their sound kept going off too and it was, like, $40 to get in. It was so weird. It was a very Brooklyn situation.
Jarrod: Machine Girl is my favorite band, easily. Like, I listened and tried to drum to those songs and I just couldn’t so I played along at half speed and I fuckin’ got there.
You guys just came back from Mexico today, yeah?
Jarrod: Yeah, that was so much fun, we’re going to go back. Me and Gabby have just been talking about it, we want to spend a week in Mexico. Just explore. It’s so cool.
And it was your birthday that day, huh?
Jarrod: Yeah it, was.
I got a birthday gift for you, an M.I.A. single of XXXO.
Jarrod: Yo, this is the only M.I.A. record I don’t have. Fucking, sick. Holy shit.
Matt: Underrated album, honestly.
What can you say about M.I.A.?
Jarrod: After Dystopia I think she was probably my second favorite artist as a kid and just intensely inspirational. Like, one of the most beautiful people on the planet, definitely. To be honest, /\/\ /\ Y /\ wasn’t my favorite. I’m not gonna lie. It’s good, but it’s not her best. Her first one is the best. Just her self-production is like, amazing. When she makes her own beats, it’s like “Oh fuck yeah.” “Bananas Skit” is the best song.
Back to Matt and Sean, how was the New Year’s Eve show with Show Me the Body, what happened there?
Sean: That’s actually one of the craziest experiences, like, ever. It was already like an illegal warehouse show, but it was very professional. It was very well done. And the police showed up during the first act and broke it all up. And uh, we took the PA and put it in my van and drove to a house. It’s a house called Heck that’s no longer operational because the police also shut that down. And we just moved the whole show to Heck and only told certain people to go and everyone just crammed in this basement and played. So basically, as we were counting down to midnight, we were loading in this PA into this house to play a show. So it was just, like, a whole night of avoiding the police and just driving around Brooklyn trying to figure out a place to play and it was awesome, we made a ton of friends doing that. It was pretty sweet.
Can you explain what’s going on in this photo?
Sean: Oh god, this story, haha. Do you want to tell this story?
Matt: Sure. It was just a fucking weird night… like, we were playing a show at The Glove in Brooklyn and right as I was about to set up on stage, I put my backpack down for, like, two minutes next to the stage and when I came back, it was gone and there were these two really sketchy looking people that, you know, of course, went missing as soon as the bag did. So I knew it was them and I was wearing shorts that don’t have pockets. So my phone was in my backpack and we were able to use the find-your-phone thing and track the backpack to where they were.
Sean: They were, like, the worst thieves in the world because they fucking went into the bar next door.
Matt: So once we figured that out, the whole show stormed into the bar and, like, 40 people went in to get our shit back. It was so sick. Then Sean found my backpack stuffed under a couch and we found the guy had a backpack on and all my shit was in his backpack and it was underneath all these, like, hypodermic needles and all this weird drug paraphernalia, like, really intense shit. Someone at the show had already called the cops, so I had to go with the police to go file a police report and shit. We still played the show even though a lot of people had left by that point. But yeah, it was pretty nuts. And before the police were coming to arrest the guy or whatever, we took a selfie with him.
Sean: And he still denied stealing shit! Half the stuff we found, the other half he ditched. So it was like, okay, just tell us where the rest of it is and you can just go, dude, like, we don’t want to deal with police. And he refused to tell us, and since somebody called the cops and I didn’t even know the cops were coming. So I was like, okay, let’s take pictures of this guy’s face so he’s not allowed to go to shows anymore. And so we just posed with him and honestly, the best part about that photo is that he’s smiling and… he was just so fucked up. He was just loopy, like a heroin addict or something. It was so bizarre.
So how was playing in the pool hall show in Texas?
Sean: Horrible. Awful. Jade killed it though. We got double booked on a pool tournament and there were only maybe six or seven people to actually see us and the sound guy didn’t show up. They actually had a really decent sound system, but we could only get half of it to work. People from the crowd were walking up to turn down the mixer.
Matt: One of the opening acts was just a guy with an electric guitar, just strumming it really softly. Before Jade’s set, this woman came running out and was like, “You gotta tell this guy to stop” and I was like, “Yo, we’re not gonna get to play.” But then they waited for the pool tournament to end and yeah, it was just a weird vibe. Jade’s set is happy hardcore, you know, and it was just these high-pitched samples with, like, crazy gabber beats, and there was just these guys just playing pool, looking over and staring. And I think some people kind of dug it, actually, but by the time we played people were like, “What the fuck is this?”
This one’s for Matt, favorite game to play on Dreamcast?
Matt: Oooh, I’m gonna have to go with three games. Powerstone, the whole franchise, Marvel vs Capcom 2, and Jet Set Radio. Probably Jet Set Radio though, I love that soundtrack, I was listening to it today. I actually made a whole EP out of the Jet Set Radio songs.
Sean, you live below Five Star Hotel?
Sean: I currently live below Five Star Hotel, yeah.
How’s that work? Do you guys make a lot of music together?
Sean: We don’t do as much as we should, but we rehearse in the house and it’s good to live with a bunch of musicians. You skip a lot of steps and you show each other music. It’s really nice. I think we’ve had a good year because of that. Just living with other people, other freaks.
This one’s for Sean: what do you teach?
Sean: I actually don’t teach at the moment, but when I was living in New York I was a teacher for seven years, I taught private music lessons and I taught guitar and drums and piano to, like, rich kids in Queens.
Do they know about Machine Girl?
Some of the older kids, yeah, I would show them Machine Girl, and some of them would call it video game music, like 11-year-olds. It’s really interesting to hear them say that. They didn’t hear The Ugly Art though. I don’t know what they would think about The Ugly Art because I think they might hear it differently, but yeah, I don’t have, like, little kids to show them weird music and gauge their reactions anymore. But I used to do that a lot.
Speaking of The Ugly Art, how’d you record the drums for this record? Because it’s your guys’ first record with live drums, yeah?
Sean: Yeah, we tried three different things and only the third one worked. The first one, we recorded in a fancy studio. The second one, we recorded in a house with really nice microphones, and then the third one, we just recorded it in our house with, like, normal SM57s, just kind of really, really standard live mics and Matt would just like process the shit out of it to get it to fit on top of the synths. And uh, I pretty much had to re-record everything. Almost everything you hear on the album was recorded three different times throughout the whole summer. So yeah, it was really annoying but it was okay, though, because then I got slowly got better at playing them. So it was fun.
So you used pretty standard equipment?
Sean: Standard equipment for a live setting, yeah. Like, it was something you would find at a normal venue, but not in any normal studio. So it was probably, like, five microphones. Each of them was $100 that we already owned and then I guess the interface was a $600 interface, right? Yeah. You would have to drop some money to do what we did, but it was just shit we had bought slowly over the course of years. I think some of those 57s I bought when I was, like, 19 or something and we still had them so it was, like, shit in my bedroom. That’s really how it was made.
Matt: And also we did get a lot of help from friends. We would not have figured it out on our own.
Sean: Yeah, it would have sounded pretty stale. We had a couple of friends give us some really, really helpful mixing tips. It helps to have weird friends doing something so similar to us. So we ask everybody for help all the time, which is probably the best advice if anyone wants to know how to make music. Ask friends to do it, make a lot of friends and ask them for help and it helps them with other shit, you know.
Jarrod: It really sounds like when you guys play live.
Speaking of which, because you guys have been growing this new cyberpunk scene, what do you think about the genre and the scene as a whole?
Matt: Yeah, there’s a lot of younger, new bands popping up. Friends of ours that make a lot of electronic shit. I think it’s overall pretty exciting because it feels like whatever it is doesn’t fully exist yet and feels like we’re at the beginning of something we don’t really understand yet. I think that there’s a lot of really cool shit being made right now and I think really exciting shit is gonna come out of this. I think it’s really cool, like, between us, Girl Pusher, and Deli Girls… a lot of girl-named bands, actually… Kill Alters, Dreamcrusher, and obviously Death Grips is kind of the granddaddy of a lot of this shit.
Sean: Yeah, it’s like they made it more acceptable. You know, it opened up a lot of young people’s ears and got them used to hearing very, very, very aggressive electronic music which honestly has existed for decades now.
Matt: Yeah, they definitely kind of opened the floodgates to a lot of new shit. But yeah, it’s really cool what’s happening today. I think a lot of really creative, exciting shit is gonna happen. I mean, again, it’s happening right now, but I think we’re all gonna know about it very soon.
You excited for the 20s?
Matt: No. Maybe for music but not in general, if we’re talking about the world, then no.
Sean: Yeah, if you’re talking about art, then yes, but the other thing, no. We drove through this forest fire the other day and it was pretty fucked. Shit’s gonna get real weird.
You guys have so many fucking tracks per album. I’m just like, how the fuck do you not get writer’s block?
Matt: I do. All the time. I used to write things using a very different method and also I had fucking writer’s block for, like, two years and uh, took me a time to get out of that. I had just a lot of mental health recovery type shit that affected my creative output. But this last year, I’ve been trying to focus more on writing things more organically. So I used to write things in arrangement view in Ableton and it didn’t really work when it came to like starting an idea. It took me forever to write something good, basically. But now I’ve switched to doing it the session view. I don’t have many tracks yet because I just keep making new loops, but I’m planning on turning all those into tracks and releasing all of it. So now there’s going to be even more shit than before. But yeah, with electronic music, you can just write and churn things out so fast. Even if you have writer’s block, it’s not like being in a fucking band where it’s like you write the song and now you have to wait to record it or whatever. Or you got to rehearse it three hours a day over and over again so it sounds good. You just save so much time. If you want to really ask someone about churning shit out, Jade fucking churns shit out really fast. He was saying that he has, like, what, 500 songs or something?
Jade: I only have, like, 25 that I’ve released but I make music pretty much every day when I’m home. So I probably have like a catalog of, like, 300 songs.
Jarrod: That you would release?
Jade: No, mostly that I would just keep as remixes or something that I’d drop into a live set or something. And that’s what my most recent release &fmt = 18 was, kind of. It was just a bunch of remixes that I had, and I asked friends to give me videos uploaded from a certain time period of YouTube and I remixed some of those songs as well as songs that I wanted to remix and I turned it into an album. But yeah, I’m always trying to make music as much as I can.
Jarrod: Yeah I gotta try session view, I’ve definitely got that arrangement view writer’s block right now. Have you seen that how to make gabber in one minute in Ableton video? He clicks, like, five buttons and clicks play and it’s just the sickest gabber song you’ve ever heard. And he does nothing. It’s amazing. I made a gabber song doing that and it’s tight as fuck. It doesn’t make any sense.
Jade: Oh shit, I’ll have to check that out. People need to listen to more gabber, for sure.
Alright, so I’m gonna do a quick sort of rapid fire ‘This or That’ portion:
Neon Genesis or Cowboy Bebop?
Matt: COWBOY BEBOP.
Sean: Neon Genesis, come on. It’s a brilliant fucking show. Plus I love kaiju shit.
Amen break or anime samples?
All: Amen break.
Sean: Amen break lives in my soul. It’s, like, part of my identity.
Matt: I don’t think you can really have one without the other. I’d say both, honestly.
Tek Life or Dischord records?
Matt: Tek Life.
Sean: Yeah, Tek Life. I’m sick of those fucking Dischord dads, no more.
Death Grips or Atari Teenage Riot?
All: Death Grips.
Jarrod: Atari Teenage Riot kinda sucks as a band, honestly.
Matt: Yeah, honestly, I’ve never really made music thinking it was digital hardcore which is always what people call it, it sucks.
Sean: It’s funny when I see that on YouTube comments and I’m just like, neither of us really ever liked Atari Teenage Riot. But it’s like it’s two sides of the same coin, like, they combine certain things and work certain things and recombine them in the same way, but it’s from such a different palette. It’s such a different place. Like, it’s going for a different energy. He’s a cool guy though, Alec Empire. I fuck with his solo work.
Matt: The only Atari Teenage Riot thing I associate with is Lolita Storm. Yeah. We just have to show you that. It’s the best. The three singers singing in unison, fuck, it’s just really fucked up. It’s really good. I think Atari Teenage Riot just didn’t age well at the end of the day. I heard it as a teenager and I thought it was the craziest thing ever in my life, but I never really had a moment with it.
Spirited Away or Akira?
Matt: I’ll say this: Spirited Away is a better movie, but Akira is more special to me.
Sean: Matt has the first four mangas, and I have the last two. That’s how you know Machine Girl has broken up is when I have all six, that’s how you’ll know we don’t fuck with each other.
What are some artists that you think don’t get enough attention?
Matt: LOVESPREAD, RIP. Definitely go check them out.
Sea: This crazy Simpsons-themed grindcore band that we played with the other night called Max Power.
Matt: Sea Moss, I would say, because nobody knows about Sea Moss. They are, like, scary good.
Sean: Yeah, they’re still in the early stages of being a band but it’s crazy fucked up Lightning Bolt-influenced music.
Jarrod: Soaked in Disillusion, from LA, some of the craziest shit ever. Unbelievable, unbelievable. It trips me the fuck out.
Sean: Container is really fucking sick, also NAH. The was the first noisy drum-influenced hip-hop that I heard. I just wanna go on record that I heard NAH in, like, 2009 before I heard Death Grips and I thought they sounded like NAH. Also B L A C K I E deserves way more attention, his music is fucking sick. He put out an album last year and it was fucking crazy. He plays, like, a million instruments on it. It’s like a fucking Frank Zappa album or something. It’s really crazy.
Jarrod: Pictureplane, also. Fucking awesome early witch house.
Cool, that wraps up pretty much all our time, thanks so much for the interview!
Matt: Thanks so much. Yeah, catch us on tour, follow us on Instagram, all that stuff.
Sean: Yeah, book Machine Girl in your city.
Jade: 909 Worldwide hardcore will never die.