Mette Krah analogue photography
Chapter 5IVE: Samir Bantal & Rem Koolhaas
Chapter 4OUR: Abundance
In April 2022 we collaborated with the electronic musician Parrish Smith, who has over the years pushed the boundaries within conventional electronic club music by working interdisciplinary and working with various makers.
For his video project ‘Never Break Faith’, linked to his debut album ‘Light, Cruel & Vain’ (Dekmantel Records), he used Het HEM’s building as a backdrop and exhibited the piece. The video, directed in collaboration with Gijs Ranitz and Djoa Lekatompessy, featured a throne-shaped sculpture by Philip Atanavos and a root-like installation by Alice Héron and spiritual plasterwork of Irma Joanne.
Gregory Markus, Project Leader at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, sat down with Parrish Smith and had an openhearted conversation his personal development and growth, career choices and the electronic music industry as a whole.
Read the interview below to learn more about his personal journey.
Gregory Markus (GM): Let’s talk first about the concept of the Never Break Faith exhibition and the LP ‘Light, Cruel and Vain’- It’s your first full-length record. These two things, the exhibition and the album are connected? What’s the general concept?
Parrish Smith (PS): The general concept? It’s a definition of something I want to talk about. Of the cruel world and how vain it is. I see it very bleakly, to be able to digest what’s going on. How I feel about the cruel world and the concept is, “How would we survive in a world like this?” Cause I still have to grow as a person, while knowing I don’t have the whole strength yet to become what I want to be, you know?
I need to grow to fully accept who I am. And I think the biggest fear for people is to accept yourself and your negative points. Mostly the bad sides. It's hard to look at yourself in the mirror and go, “Alright, this is bad, this is bad.” And for me it was the acceptance of who I am and how I wanted to grow. And the story of Never Break Faith is how I struggled with myself as an artist in this ever-changing fast landscape of the electronic music world. So I wrote the story for Never Break Faith about an artist who succumbs to the world of social media and status and image. And to tie it back to the beginning, what I experienced is that I had multiple chances to go commercial or mainstream in an instant. And like I said, I wasn’t feeling ready for that. Because I was nowhere near.
GM: What I'm curious to hear more about is, now with these projects and the new album. They are the product of you taking time to reflect on where you were as an artist and where you actually wanted to go. And so my curiosity is what prevented you from having those thoughts sooner?
PS: Well, it took so long because I already knew that I needed this long time to be where I'm at right now, so I made this long-term plan from 2014 to 2016. From there on, I wanted to learn from software music and then I made a punk band to learn how it is to work with punk music and to work with another musician.
And from there on I wanted to be a DJ, to be more in the club and go outside of the niche circles. After that, my biggest dream was to make my own band and to do this kind of hybrid music and to take everything that I've learned from my parents from a family, you know, from friends; everything I picked up in music and to bring it all together.
But in order to bring it all together and to make it something new for me, it felt like I had to accept myself as who I am and also the world I want to take with me. It's very hard to describe actually why it took so long because for me it seemed very clear. But for others it could be very wavy.
I think I've experienced many, many things. Also, mental things. Things I had to go through first, before I could really express it.
And I think now that I’m 30 now, I can really talk about who I am and what I am. And where I want to grow towards…actually, discard the part that I'm growing older, because now that I'm growing older, I feel younger. I started to know myself better and better. And that’s the way I want to grow as an artist. That's why I took so long.
GM: The imagery that we see behind us, the poster for the exhibition for the premiere of the video. It really lends itself or owes its style to 70s horror and later. Of course, there’s been a revival of horror in the past 15 years. What do you like about darkness or horror?
PS: As I started to grow older, I would look differently towards darkness, and blackness and nothingness. And I always had this feeling while watching dark movies….
I think as an introverted person, I always felt love for it and I always found something in nothingness because you could fall so deep into it. You could still dwell and dwell and dwell and find stories within nothing. You know, we can create something out of nothing.
And also it's interesting because if you have a full black room and you have one lighter, it really lights up the whole room. The contrast between light and dark was really interesting for me and there was more to look at in darkness because I felt more free.
During the last couple of years, I think maybe these last two years I found that. There is a lot of beauty in darkness. So, to embrace it and accept it as it is because of the beauty in it is like, everything could grow from this.
GM: But it seems like they're [points towards screens in the exhibition] also trying to shed a light in the darkness to relieve us. Cause for most other people, darkness is not freeing or liberating. It's claustrophobic, confining and confusing. But yeah, you chose to turn the lights on in a dark room.
Do you really like the darkness or do you just like being able to show people the beauty that you can find in it?
GM: To show another side, I should say.
PS: Yes, I like to show a different side of that aspect of the definition of darkness. And also because it became… You know everybody would look at me like, “he's making harsh, dark music. He's probably an unhappy person”. But I am a really happy person because I found myself in this and I think the story is really to find beauty in darkness and to accept your bad side, your negative sides, the things everybody has been through. To not disregard it and put it to the side. You should always face it and look at it.
So, blackness and darkness don’t mean darkness itself but it also means the other aspects we forgot, we forget about ourselves.
GM: This record… for better or worse, is something that Dekmantel has never released before stylistically. Why Dekmantel?
PS: Why Dekmantel?
GM: Why not change scenes altogether? Why not play the rover and why not release on a metal label or a punk label? What is it that you want that's encouraging you to stay within dance music or electronic music, or the experimental music scene, as opposed to, going into a world that maybe would accept your music already? Not that people don't accept it now. So, somewhere that is more comfortable.
PS: I believe you need young and talented people around you who think the same progressive way as you do. In order to reach the next level as a person in music and professionally, you need people who can adapt fast because it’s a fast time, you know. Everything goes faster and faster...so why Dekmantel? I think they're one of the most interesting platforms and festivals and will always look one year ahead of the current music scene. Also the people around it are like, they’ve worked for years and years in the Amsterdam music scene. And they always gave me a chance.
And I looked at how people would work back in the days, how labels would kill other people’s careers. Metaphorically speaking they would go for bodies and I thought the best chance is to work with people that you really know. That's the best for you in order to grow to where you want to grow towards and Dekmantel always gave me the spot.
GM: As an artist of colour making nü metal, punk, experimental hip-hop, whatever. In the Netherlands, an artist of colour making the music you make. How’s the feeling? Do you feel like you have the opportunity to be a role model for other artists of Surinamese descent to say, you know, you can also make this kind of music as well?
PS: It wasn't ever my intention, but…
GM: Do you feel responsibility? Or that you could be a nice role model.
PS: For myself, I feel responsibility. But it feels better nowadays, you know, because there's more money in the electronic scene. The money drips down to the other scenes.
GM: Trickle-down economics works, huh?
PS: Yeah, it trickles down, so there's now more space for everyone to step into whatever they want to. And I see that the scenes are more diverse, but I don't know if I feel a responsibility. I just saw I didn't have many role models of colour in this kind of music, and I thought it was… Yeah, it gave me more energy, actually to do it in this way. I couldn't help it.
When I was born, reggae music was on all the time but also like Iron Maiden, Jimi Hendrix. I never really asked this to be…. To be who I wanted to be…. It just occurred to me and I took it. That was it and…. Yeah, that was it, actually. I never really thought deeply about it before, but now I do because I see there's like a big hole in this.
GM: But, so, you said you wrote a plan in 2014. Have you written a new plan?
PS: No, the plan is still the same.
GM: What do you want to do next? You've talked a lot about composing.
GM: You want to be a film composer. Why? What does that give you as an expressive outlet that doing an album is not giving you?
PS: The album is cinematic, I think. Because I visualise everything in my mind before I put it on paper and that's also why I work with other people. Because I don't have the skills and talent to put everything on paper because I can only do so many things. Working with different people helps me express my world. I think I will expand this album and I will just expand the sounds. Now I'm doing research on the new sounds. I'm working together with my band and we’ll incorporate new instruments.
GM: Will you start to tour as a live band?
PS: Yes, for sure.
GM: How many people are into the setup?
PS: We got four people for now.
GM: If you're playing in a band, you're going to possibly play different festivals or different clubs, and I guess at different times of day which might be the biggest change. Are you comfortable with playing an 8 PM show at Paradiso with the band for 45 minutes? Or do you always need to do the DJing on the side to get that other outlet of expression?
PS: I think I will always DJ, but it does matter.. I take care of my health immensely, so I'm really happy I could, you know, play live and go to bed early.
GM: There you go. I knew it mattered.
PS: But then the sacrifices you have to make as a DJ like no sleep. I'm ready to do that too.
GM: To sleep?
PS: Not sleep.
GM: You're ready to not sleep for…
PS: For being a DJ. Yeah.
GM: And sleep when you're in the band.
PS: Yes, that’s why I want to do both.
Parrish Smith is now the project Genesis Black, a musical and spoken word album about the history of Suriname and his roots. In addition, Parrish is focussing on a solo live show and the launch of a band show on a very special festival. Follow his Instagram to stay up to date.