Helping to kickstart the Halloween weekend is Portland, Oregon-based electronic dance/performance art duo YACHT. Originally the solo project of Jona Bechtolt (who also contributed his electronic wizardry to indie-pop group The Blow), YACHT grew by one in 2008, inducting Claire L. Evans as a full member, just in time to add her no nonsense vocals to their newest album See Mystery Lights.
Speaking of their music, it’s an experience within itself. Our sister site Austinist, when it interviewed YACHT (pre-Claire), noted that “his eye and ear-boggling work with his pet project YACHT testifies to the hamster on acid that is constantly running in the wheel full speed in his head.” The New Yorker refered to their music as “artisanal cotton candy: one part Tom Tom Club, one part Yoko Ono.”
Where: Yuyintang, 1731 Yanan Xi Lu, near Kaixuan Lu 延安西路1731号(凯旋路)
Starts: Friday, October 30, 9PM
Cover: 60 RMB
You can check them out on myspace, their website, and if you’ve gotten a way past the GFW, their tumblr and twitter. Yeah, they’re pretty internet prolific.
We got the chance to talk to Yacht about the last time they were (or rather he was) in China, how its been different with Claire tagging along, and whether or not his music is “cult-ish.”
So you’ve been here before in 2007. What did you think of your trip to China back then?
Jona: I had no idea what to expect and I was blown away with the kindness and openess of all the people I met. I wanted to return as soon as possible, and right now is the soonest we were able to return to China due to our insanely busy schedule of recording, touring, and producing all of the materials, graphics, and videos that correspond to our releases and live performances.
The last time you came to China, you were just one person – what’s it like coming back as a duo? How different do you think the show’s going to be now?
Jona: Now, the YACHT show is the true YACHT show. Only once Claire and I saw the Mystery Lights of Marfa, Texas, were we able to focus our message and the best way to communicate it directly to people…through pop music.
What does “Young Americans Challenging High Technology” mean?
Jona: Young Americans Challenging High Technology was an extracurricular program in our hometown of Portland, Oregon designed for restless teenagers to experiment with duality. The class was split into two groups, one focused on embracing technology and using computers as tools to accomplish as much as possible with as little as possible. The other focused on avoiding technology at all costs, almost in the political vein of the Unabomber Manifesto, but more on the side of a post-apocalyptic survivalist course. Each day the groups would switch with each other half way through, which was troubling to say the least.
YACHT was shut down due to some administrative darkness and the mystery behind it will always linger on in us.
We’ve noticed this strong triangle motif, in your logo and all over your blog – what’s it supposed to mean?
Claire: The Triangle is a symbol that has been used for centuries in almost all aspects of human culture. It’s part of an ancient symbolic language that has many manifestations. All religions have some special reverence for the triangle, from the ancient Hindu “seed of manifestation,” to Mayan writing, to the simple Trinity of the Christian faith. It has echoed in religious art, cave drawings, mathematics, philosophy, science, graphic design, and architecture throughout human history. It has so many potential meanings and such a variety of symbolic significances that it has become almost a blank slate — it stands for both everything and nothing. This is what we prize about the Triangle. Each individual person can find something personal and special within the Triangle, and they need not divulge its secrets to anyone else.
We felt it was important for YACHT to have a symbol if we were to be something more than a band. Religions have symbols, and so do punk bands. These things, despite their differences, are two forms of tribes. Someone wearing a Black Flag patch on their jacket is not saying “I like the band Black Flag.” They are saying, “I’m a punk, I am a member of a tribe and culture that is bigger than music or fashion.” The same is true of a star of David or a Christian cross. We hope to imbue the Triangle with this kind of symbolic potency, and desire for people to use it as a way to self-identify themselves with a culture of ideas.
We’ve also noticed you’ve had to specify that YACHT is not a cult. Have people really ever mistaken you for one?
Claire: We hope to pre-empt any accusations that YACHT is a cult. We find that the mainstream culture uses words like “cult” to marginalize offshoot religious groups. There is something richly American and powerfully human about people who strike off to create their own religious or cultural identities — everywhere from starting hippie communes to having religious visions — and we really respect that tradition. We find it distasteful how the conservative religious mainstream condemns this kind of behavior, as we see it as true spirituality. We always identify with the underdogs because we both grew up in a punk culture in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. I suppose that YACHT is attempting to forge connections between underground musical culture and underground spiritual culture. After all, both are motivated by the desire to create something more real, special, and rare than what is being presented by conventional organizations.
How do the two of you create songs? Who does what?
Claire: YACHT was a solo project for many years before it became a duo, so it was difficult at the beginning to understand how to work together. However, we were lucky to have shared many powerful experiences together — most importantly the “Mystery Lights” for which our album is named, a paranormal light phenomena that occurs in the desert of Texas — and we were able to draw on shared motivations for our work. After two years now, our creative process has refined itself into something very crystalline, very collaborative. We each have our strengths, and we divvy up work accordingly. Everything, in the end, has to come together, and when it does, it becomes larger than each of our personal egos or identities. It becomes YACHT.
Your style’s been described as eclectic and it seems like your tastes are too, but out of that big jumble of hip hop and electronic and everything else, who would you cite as your biggest influences?
Jona: As we isolate ourselves to work on music, our inspirations are mostly nonmusical. For the making of See Mystery Lights, we only had one inspiration: the Mystery Lights themselves. They are a paranormal, optical phenomenon that occur in the West Texas desert, near the small town of Marfa, Texas. We witnessed them for the first time on journey across the country from Texas to California, and we were completely blown away by the presence of something which was both absolutely real and totally mysterious. The Lights are like stars which have fallen down from the sky, to float erratically on the horizon, coming together and pulling apart. The experience is inexplicable and very humbling. It is like standing on the edge of everything you’ve ever known as being “reality” and looking out into the abyss.
The Lights completely reorganized our belief system, as well as our naive understanding of the Universe. We realized that for centuries of humankind, before magic became science, even the most banal phenomena in the world were inscrutable mysteries. In this information-rich world, and for people like us who grew up with access to computers, whose entire lives have been influenced by constant access to knowledge, the mystery that the Marfa Lights represents is very powerful. It’s a perspective-changing experience. YACHT could never be the same afterwards, so we devoted ourselves to making music which reflected what we were feeling, the things we were meditating about in the presence of these Lights.
That said, we do consider ourselves to be a sieve through which thousands of ephemeral pieces of cultural detritus pass every day. Our influences range from visual art (Ed Ruscha, Yayoi Kusama, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Italian Futurism, David Hockney) to writing, contemporary video and new media art, poetry, esotericism, and the paranormal. We recently designed and produced a giant poster of all our nonmusical influences — a kind of index — ranging from religious iconography to films and poetry. Some of the films we decided to include in this index were Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Uccellaci E Uccellinni, Donnie Darko, Star Trek, and various documentaries about modern religious movements like Scientology and the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. It also includes mathematical images, William Blake, magazine covers, photos of Charles Manson, punk bands, maps, and images of UFOs. Our influences are quite diverse: the world is open to us.
Describe what you’re hoping your show will be like here.
Jona: YACHT live shows are always different. We try to make it so that each individual concert is unique from any others, so that people never experience the same YACHT performance twice. This means changing the video elements, rearranging and remixing the songs, designing new ways to directly interact with the audience, and changing our very energies so that the spirit is radically changed. Only a few things are consistent from one show to the next: it will include two human beings (Jona and Claire) and a computer. Everything else is a surprise.
What’s up next for you?
Jona: We are willing to play (almost) any concert we are offered. We have a philosophy: “Say Yes.” It’s simple. We see this particular moment in time, in our lives, as being very special and rare. We do not have the luxury of turning down new opportunities and experiences. Because of this attitude, our touring schedule is usually full of color, and completely illogical, spanning the globe in unlikely ways. This year, we are touring in China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil.