Interview with Heatsick by Annie Toller



Heatsick is Steven Warwick, a British artist who relocated to Berlin in 2006. He began experimenting with tape loops at the age of 14 and went on to play in heavy metal outfit Birds of Prey, whose main release was a CDR charmingly entitled I’ve Got Heroin in my AIDS. He later formed experimental noise duo Birds of Delay with BOP bandmate Luke Younger (HELM).  These days, under the Heatsick moniker, he makes playful and repetitive dance music with nods to disco, Chicago deep house, noise and drone. Though his style is increasingly streamlined and accessible, there’s remains a certain graininess and DIY quality that’s drawn, to some extent, from his medium of choice: the humble Casio keyboard. His recorded material is gradually expanding to include elements like live percussion, guitar and saxophone, but Warwick still tours with a basic setup of Casio, effects and drum machine. A Heatsick performance is an impressive demonstration of timing, stamina and control as Warwick manually taps out and manipulates every pattern and deviation, sometimes for hours at a time.

Warwick has put out material on Not Not Fun, Rush Hour, his own Alcoholic Narcolepsy imprint and most recently on Bill Kouligas’ label PAN. Occupying a kind of liminal space between experimental music and dance, Heatsick is well-matched with PAN, whose output encompasses dancefloor-friendly ‘body music’ as well as industrial techno and ambient noise.

Warwick is also a visual artist; he exhibited just last year at Berlin’s Kinderhook & Caracas gallery. He has studied both film and fine arts, and there is a seamless flow between his music, his visual work and the underlying intellectual concerns. Although he cites influences as diverse as Bruce Nauman, Malcolm McLaren and Chris Morris, Warwick’s critical preoccupations fall roughly within a couple of overarching themes. In particular, he’s interested in the apparent paradox of potentiality, which necessarily arises from constraint, as well as the contingency of concepts and structures, their enabling power and converse tendency towards reification, and their role in the solidification of symbolic - and actual – power.

Warwick responds to these themes with a  sense of humour and playfulness – blurring genres, circumventing expectations and exploring the relationship between continuity and discontinuity through repetition. He elaborates on the possibility inherent in heavily structured and codified situations through the diverse sounds produced by his restricted hardware, not to mention the unpredictability of the dance floor and the dissociative experience of sweating it out at three o’clock in the morning.

For a time Warwick toured a show called Extended Play, performing a single track with incremental shifts and modulations over a period of hours. With a powerful lighting rig behind him radiating heat and perfumes diffusing through the air, the club environment would be transformed into an installation piece. During the show Warwick would stretch the time leading from buildup to gratification, disturbing viewers’ sense of temporality and injecting what was essentially a structured situation with an element of undecidability.

The first Heatsick LP on PAN, 2011’s Intersex, was inspired in part by German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish homosexual and intellectual who was persecuted under the Nazi regime. Hirschfeld theorised that human sexuality is flux and that our sexual categories belong only to an artificial scheme of classification. The 2012 EP Déviation was named after the French term for a traffic diversion and refers to the large-scale 19th century redevelopment of Paris by Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Haussmann’s plan was designed to reflect the glory of state and empire whilst simultaneously precluding social interactions of the kind that could lead to occurrences like the Paris Commune of 1871. The record is a meditation on the ways in which minor anomalies, or detours, within a system can be magnified through a feedback effect, leading to a modification of the structure as a whole.

Warwick recently announced that his fifth album, Re-engineering, will be released on PAN at the end of the month. As with his previous work, Warwick is again looking at structures and interventions – specifically the emergence and the unlocking, or re-engineering, of supposedly fixed concepts. The theoretic point of departure here is the field of cybernetics: a kind of systems theory that emerged with the development of computing in the post-war era. Cybernetics conceives of both organic and mechanical objects as information processing systems of varying sophistication. As it was initially conceived by Norbert Wiener, cybernetics offered an almost Aristotelian ideal of human flourishing through securing and enabling our systems’ innate physiological and cognitive potential.

I spoke with Steven Warwick on the even of his Australian tour – which will include an artist book launch and Re-engineering listening party at Motto in Melbourne – about science fiction, cybernetics, live performance and his upcoming release.



CYCLIC DEFROST: Could you explain a little bit about the ideas behind Extended Play?

STEVEN WARWICK: Sure. It’s like an extension of what I’ve been doing, and it’s informed by my visual work. As opposed to just relying on one sense – well, two senses, the standard hearing and seeing – with the light grid I’ve been playing around with how we receive information. Obviously when you have a light grid it’s also incredibly hot, so you have temperature settings. And then I play around with the olfactory as well, so with scent.

CD: How do you do that?

SW: I usually have scent diffusers or perfumes which I select, and also smells which I’ll have in the room. I’m interested in how the mind processes these and what effect they have upon us. It’s based around cybernetics as well, so it’s looking at how we’re processing this information. And with the light grid obviously it’s like post-war computing – the development of that, which rose out of wartime and then entered into mass consciousness. And obviously also the Dreamachine of Brion Gysin. So it’s a way we can use these techniques towards something more positive or liberational.

CD: In what sense liberational?

SW: Well, in that you’re trying to expand something more to a positive end – of course I am also very wary of the term freedom, in terms of ‘freedom to what’s – but in terms of making the experience a lot more pleasant and creating a space for more potentiality. It’s like you could look at an object, an experience or a sound for what it is or for what it could be. There is potential invested in that, and that’s what I’m interested in. It’s like that Spinozan idea [of modality].

CD: Do any of those ideas come to bear on the show that you will be touring [in Australia and New Zealand], since you’re not bringing Extended Play?

SW: Yes. I also have a film which I will be bringing with me, some visuals which I commissioned a friend to make. That’s from the grid from the Déviation 12″. That’s based around cybernetic feedback and urban planning, specifically the Haussmannisation of Paris. And it’s like the Manuel De Landa idea of having the kind of reification or crystallisation of a state, which then becomes a population. So this video will be having a moulding, shifting or mutating state from the grid which is on the 12″ and reforming itself whilst I’m playing, which is kind of visually complementing the music I’m making.

CD: It sounds a little bit – from my pretty basic knowledge of this sort of stuff – like how I understand the Situationists. Like, this idea of how space and geography can shape subjectivity —

SW: There is some of that in there, yeah. It’s kind of ideas that arose out of that which I then expanded upon.

CD: And the idea of creating a situation as a disruption of that…

SW: Yes, exactly. It’s also a bit like that Burroughs idea where you would record a sound and then bring it back to a place in which you wanted to cause a disruption, play it back and it would cause riots. And even something like the Paradise Garage, where there would be a lot of sound effects, like rain, and then the sprinklers would come on. I’m kind of treating all of these ideas as being of equal value and worth and interest and then relating it back to the cybernetics of the early 20th century, in which game theory and the cybernetic way of thinking changed the way that we process information, which has resulted in the internet and  also the way that we interconnect with people and other objects, and how objects interact with each other.

CD: How do you find that these ideas are given expression sonically in what you do?

SW: Well, I’m looping them with very limited means. So, as I said before, I’m taking something of a very limited actual state and then creating something invested in that with a lot of potential in that it’s almost like a live aural sculpture, with the loops building and building on top of each other. And then they all start to intermesh and interlink, again evolving in their state. And with the repetition, the listener will be processing it in different ways. So they might focus on a certain sound and then focus on a different sound. And then also, as it’s constantly evolving, you will have a different perceptual cognition of this. So with the sound, in terms of it constantly being remoulded in real time, it’s also the idea of having an event or a situation which is like a kind of malleable or congealing mass.

CD: You talk a lot about working within limited means, but I sort of understood that you were trying to move away from just performing with the Casio?

SW: That’s correct. Yes, I am. I mean, it’s also a project which is shifting. It’s not stuck on the Casio, and I would rather not just be thought of as someone just playing the Casio. So yes, I’m opening it up and it’s subject to transition.

CD: What kind of gear will you be taking with you on this tour that’s different from that normal set up of the Casio and effects pedals?

SW: Essentially I’m still actually using the Casio and some percussion, [turns and looks around his apartment]and perhaps I might bring the drum machine with me, although at the moment I’m still in the transition of it. When I record a record it’s with several different instruments which I can’t always play at the same time, just by default – I’ll play guitar, I’ll play a bass. So I’ll represent that with the Casio on this tour.

CD:  I’ve seen pictures of that thing and it seems to have an awful lot of keys missing.

SW: [Laughs] Yeah.

CD: Is that becoming challenging?

SW: Slowly. But this is the second one that I’ve had. The first one did have most of its keys missing and that was something more that I would play the ‘Dream Tennis’ track on. In a way it was interesting for me to – like, I viewed it as a challenge, and I again liked working with its limited means. I can read music but at the same time I wanted to kind of unlearn that. Just in terms of the position of the keys or like – under the keyboard you’ll have these suckers, which look a bit like an octopus or something, and it became more a way of retraining how you look at something. So it’s kind of a way of remoulding how you understand patterns. So it’s not just music; it could also be pattern repetition or recognition.

CD: Since Déviation, Intersex and Convergence seem to have a strong conceptual basis, drawing inspiration from literature, theory and that sort of thing, I was wondering what the reference points are for the new album.

SW: Okay.  On Re-engineering I’m looking at some science fiction, like Samuel Delany or even Octavia Butler or J.G. Ballard. And also there’s some poetry from William Carlos Williams, Richard Brautigan, and then philosophy such as Manuel De Landa and Timothy Morton. Timothy Morton is looking at ecology without nature. This arises out of object-oriented philosophy, where one views life not just anthropomorphically, investing the subject onto the object, but the object as having equal worth with the subject and that they are equally existing on the planet. So it’s not just an anthropomorphic history of the world – which you could also argue in the writing of, say, Alain Robbe-Grillet and a lot of the French ’50s writers. He’s the guy who wrote Last Year at Marienbad, which had a lot of implications for David Lynch. With all of these writers I’m interested in the reception of information and how we process and cognise or re-cognise concepts and ideas. We could look at everything that is in existence in the world and beyond as liquifying, solidifying or evaporating. They’re in a state of constant flux and sometimes they become reified into concepts, like a population or a city or plant life or humans. I’m looking at these ideas of emergence.

CD: Emergence of subjectivity?

SW: Yeah, or of populations, and, relating that to the music, that it’s kind of malleable, subject to change. It’s kind of expanding upon the ideas I was having in Intersex, where Magnus Hirschfeld proposed that gender or sexuality is not on a fixed scale; it’s constantly shifting.

CD: And so this is where the name Re-engineering comes in – it’s like treating ideas or the self as a work to be elaborated?

SW: Yeah, not just self, also ideas which have been placed or interpolated from outside of ourselves and for us to kind of unfold or unlock them. It’s also viewing the album a bit like a manual or a toolbox, but using it in a positive way. A lot of ideas and concepts that we have seem to be locked or accepted, and I think it’s time – and I’m not saying I’m the first person, but I think it’s good for people to try to unfold and unlock these and to make them a bit more fluid. Because the flip side of it is that a lot of these ideas – like, if we talk about ideas of liquidity and fluidity, they have been absorbed in a kind of neoliberal dialogue or ideal, and I think it’s good to kind of reposit that so that it’s not just bound up in those ideas, and it could be more for a creative commons.

CD: Since you mentioned neoliberalism then, I noticed that the album art on your last 12″ references Ayn Rand. I was just wondering what the idea was behind that, since she’s the poster girl for neoliberalism.

SW: Yeah, yeah. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of humour in my records as well. I thought, you know, it’s a bit like if you have a ‘Stop nuclear war’ badge or you have a ‘Nuclear war now!’ t-shirt. [Laughs] It might make people think a bit more.

CD: Sure. Kind of culture jamming.

SW: Yeah, somewhat. Also with the idea of this globe – it’s got the picture of the whole earth in a heart shape, and by having Ayn Rand’s signature next to it, it’s almost  playing around with the idea that there’s a kind of hidden violence behind a lot of these cute, friendly, interconnected gestures. So it’s more a play on that, like high… well, not highlighting but commenting on that. There is a lot of this, like, good cop, bad cop idea of like a smiley, friendly face but then, you know, they’re holding a knife or something. [Laughs] But I do think it’s also important to read Ayn Rand or to think about her. Obviously it doesn’t mean that you agree with her. I’m interested in the way the language in her novels and her characters are so ideologically explicit. There’s no hidden agenda, so to speak. I think it’s important or interesting to read, in the same way that you could read the Daily Mail and recent arguments attacking Ed Milliband, you know. It doesn’t mean you like these things, it means that you’re interested in looking at the apparatus.

CD: Someone actually said to me quite recently that they were sort of nervous of reading Ayn Rand because they’d heard that her writing was so charismatic that it seems to win people over to this idea of rampant individualism.

SW: [Laughs] I guess I’ll let you know when I’ve finished it. It’s very simple, too. I mean, I just started reading one of her books, Atlas Shrugged. I think it’s like watching a very funny film, to be honest. But, you know, equally I find someone like Samuel Delany 10 times more interesting and of a lot more merit. He did a book called Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand.

CD: That’s a good title.

SW: Yeah, it’s a great title. It’s from ’84, and he’s kind of anticipating the internet with this concept of ‘general information’. He also has this idea called ‘creative fugue’. This is what I’m interested in, kind of almost like a science fiction narrative, because you’re talking about things which are existing but then it’s a record, it’s an abstraction, but also, like in the case of Ayn Rand, it could be a tool or something. So it’s kind of playing around with these ideas.

CD: What’s the idea of ‘creative fugue’?

SW: Creative fugue is where the ideas are so present, because with general information, the idea of it being like the internet is that the internet is essentially in your head. So you’re like, ‘I wonder what the time is in another place’ and this idea will come into your head. And I think creative fugue is where it’s become so saturated that people get destroyed by it. [Laughs]

CD: Yeah, totally. It’s kind of like an anaesthetic, really, the feeling to me of spending the whole day on the internet. You literally feel like this kind of disjointed, schizophrenic subjectivity. You’ve got no attention span anymore and you’re exhausted, you know.

SW: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s all been flattened in this kind of temporal-spatio decompression. And I really like it in that Delany novel how he’s kind of anticipating that, because it’s almost got a kind of – what’s that film by Cronenberg? – like a Scanners kind of quality to it. I thought it was great how in ’84 he anticipated that. I mean, there’s a lot more going on in that book as well. I definitely recommend reading it; it’s fantastic.

CD: Yeah, okay. I’ve been meaning to read Ballard as well. His name crops up a lot at the moment for some reason.

SW: Yeah, he’s a writer I just grew up reading as a teenager. Obviously you’ve got books like Crash and the Atrocity Exhibition, but I also find novels like Concrete Island really fascinating. That’s about a guy who is driving, he crashes onto a roundabout on a motorway circular and no one comes to find him. And it’s this advanced dystopia. In a way it’s a bit like that Gravity film or something, where it’s quite simple in a way but it’s also completely scary.

CD: So it’s not like a fantasy dystopia, it’s just like this guy who’s – the world falls away from him in a way?

SW: Yeah. In a way it’s quite mundane, which I enjoy. But I think it’s the fact that the possibility of it is so scary. That, I think, is really interesting in this Ballard. And that, in turn, is what’s maybe interesting with Atlas Shrugged, especially with the US shutdown two weeks ago – I mean, the world could stop and retreat. And that’s kind of one of the reasons I started reading it, actually, because I was thinking about – well, what if the world did just stop?

CD: Well, it was less than 15 years ago that people were talking about that as a real possibility with Y2K.

SW: That’s right, exactly. [Laughs]

CD: And it is a horrifying idea, because we’re all so inept, really. Or we would be without the technology.

SW: Yeah, exactly. And that’s kind of why I find it so fascinating to read about it. It’s like in this Octavia Butler novel as well. Wait a minute, I’ll try and remember the name… Ugh, sorry . But that’s also set in LA, where it’s just an advanced dystopia. It’s not so much the individualism, it’s more the kind of dystopia that fascinates me. You know, we live in such a saturated environment that someone like Michael Haneke – I love his films as well, but they’re not something I’m going to watch everyday – something like the Seventh Continent I think is fantastic. And I found it really interesting in that film – that’s his first one and it’s basically an upper middle – well, middle middle – class family who retreat back into their house and with no explanation they start systematically destroying all of their objects and commit suicide. And the idea that bothered people the most, the image that bothered people the most, Haneke was saying, is the part where they flush all of their money down the toilet.

CD: Rather than the part where they kill themselves.

SW: Exactly. And that’s really an insight, I would say.


Heatsick Tour Dates:

14/11/13 Brisbane, AU

15/11/13 Perth, AU Connections Nightclub w/ Tama Sumo

16/11/13 Melbourne, AU Boney

17/11/13 Melbourne, AU Motto, publication launch and listening party

20/11/13 Dunedin, NZ Chicks Hotel

21/11/13 Auckland, NZ Whammy

22/11/13 Wellington, NZ Puppies

23/11/13 Christchurch, NZ Third Door Down

24/11/13 Palmerston North, NZ The Fish

30/11/13 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Novas Frequencias Festival

01/12/13 Rio De Janiero, Brazil,  panel discussion



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