Words and photos by Jon Reino
"History, genocide, climate change, anti-imperialism, queer representation, food scarcity and inequality are all major themes within my music." Max Narotzky is the mind behind Ultra Deluxe, an experimental post-rock project based in New York City. "A lot of my lyrical inspiration comes from the political climate of the world." As the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States, New York City has been thrust into the sociopolitical spotlight. In these strange times we live in, few are more impacted than independent artists. Happy Pill caught up with Max to discuss their experiences during this crisis, how it is effecting the music scene, politics, and of course the music of Ultra Deluxe.
"Some of my biggest musical influences are Thursday, Efterklang, The Octopus Project and Rage Against the Machine. I’d say Efkterklang is the most notable because of their unique approach to post rock that relies on mixing synthetic and organic textures which I have adopted in my own way." Part screamo part chiptune, overtly 8-bit, and always aggressive, Ultra Deluxe displays a wide variety of instrumentation. The anticipated synthesizers give way to harmonica, distortion and orchestra strings dance in a noise punk ode to nintendo. A dark yet uplifting tone defined by driving bass lines and screams that echo the struggles of the proletariat.
Max is the sole creative force behind Ultra Deluxe. A true multi-instrumentalist, they electrify any stage (or basement floor) through power behind the drum kit, kinetic screams on vocals, and chaotic expression while drifting through the crowd. "Music is a huge catharsis for me. When I was younger, I had a lot of emotional problems and I still struggle with anxiety and depression to this day. My live performance is the place where I can 'void my brain', as I like to call it. I am able to empty out my mind of every single thought and anxiety I have and just focus on performing. When an Ultra Deluxe set is over, I am usually profusely out of breath and [cannot] form coherent sentences for the next 10 minutes because I literally emptied myself out. I do this for me and me alone."
In summer 2019, Ultra Deluxe brought their act to Japan for a tour of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. "Those 10 days in Japan will forever be the greatest 10 days of my entire life. I was able to spend time with my good friend Jackson (of Sativa Cult and KoKoRoNoMe) who lives in Osaka and it was amazing to see my old friend and his wife and experience another country from a citizen’s point of view. The food was out of this world. Every band we played with in Japan exuded such immense energy in their performances that is truly a sight to behold. I was especially amazed by the bands D.A.M and Design Sound Works."
Filmed by Jordan Mary
A few short months after their return from Asia, Coronavirus began to spread it's way around the world. By early April, Max's home of New York City was essentially shut down, having become the center of the global crisis. Outside of music, Max spends their time as a teacher, which gives them a unique perspective of the struggles facing the city. "I have now transitioned into teaching exclusively online. I work at a school in East Harlem and the economic disparities that my students face are even more present in the age of Coronavirus. Many students do not have access to WIFI and computers therefore even getting homework done is a huge challenge. Many of my students’ parents are out of work and this causes immense food and rent shortages that Governor Cuomo is neglecting to address." The virus continues to hinder our society, and traditionally marginalized groups find themselves in an even darker place than they were before. With unemployment systems overwhelmed, many people will receive the financial support they need once it is too late. Many artists and creators now find themselves in this situation. "I am scared for the future of the music industry and specifically small venues. There have been no efforts in New York to advocate for rent forgiveness and this will disproportionately affect small and struggling businesses the most." Many venues have already started GoFundMe campaigns to fund their expenses, a trend that will surely continue in the months ahead. Concerts and festivals are expected to be the last to return to normal.
More than just the social and economic impact of the crisis, we also turn our attention to our families, our health, and our own well being. "Most importantly I am concerned for my father’s health. In February he had open heart surgery and is still recovering. He is definitely at a huge risk for COVID and the virus has been scary, but has also brought our family closer together which I value more than anything. My family has been very supportive of my music, my queer identity, my politics, my career, pretty much everything and I love them very much. As for my personal life I am much more sedentary than I previously was, I am working on new music instead of touring, taking piano lessons and cooking more. I am very fortunate and lucky to still be employed and working from home right now as many others are not."
"Contact is the 2nd LP chronologically in the Contact saga. In Contact, Adrian Park pilots a ship set out by the tyrannical United Galactic Federation (UGF) to mine for resources on the nutrient rich planet Xevium. The ship crashes and Commander Nora Alsaidi sends troops to recover the captain and invade the planet. The invasion is successful and they defeat the Xevian empress and conquer the planet.
I am currently working on an EP, titled Prologue, which introduces four new characters that are part of the rebel anti-fascist Contra alliance. The Contra aims to dismantle this tyrannical government and free the Xevians. After that EP, LP 2 which actually comes after Prologue but before Contact (in the story chronologically) will come out titled A Call to Arms. I have stories and songs written for about 3 other LPs at least, and will continue to write and expand on this story for as long as I can.
Above all else, Ultra Deluxe is a statement, a DIY message for all that change is possible and that you already posses the tools to accomplish it. The message behind the music inspires, while the energy behind the performance motivates. "I am hugely influenced by historical and current events such as the British occupation of Hong Kong, the Communist Revolution. The Palestinian Genocide, The Holocaust, and early colonialism. Additionally, the Contact Saga is my prediction of a future where the virus of Capitalism is unchecked, has destroyed planet Earth and seeks to destroy other planets in its wake." Indeed, the direction our society is currently heading echoes these fears. Now with 'Space Force' the US seeks to control space and the economic benefits of the resources found there, rather than to share the bounty with the rest of humanity. More than any other time in history, Max's prophecy rings true. "I would hope that as a society we can progress further left but without a drastic recalibrating of the economic system and higher taxation to the 1% this will be near impossible. It is best to educate and aide allies through understanding discussion rather than building walls between us."
The fact that people enjoy the weird music I make is hugely impactful. I’m just here making weird music to seek an emotional catharsis and the fact that people come out to see us, listen to us and watch me do that kind of makes me feel like I am no longer the outcast I was when I was 14. I hope to inspire in others that with new music technology learning an instrument is now easier than ever. I made all the instrumentals to Contact on a free phone app called Beatwave. You do not need to be classically trained to make music and I encourage everyone to start a band. I want people to know that there are tons of free apps Beatwave, Auxy, GarageBand that you can make music with! If you want to start a band you can!"
Filmed by Jordan Mary
Follow Ultra Deluxe at the links below. Please support them through bandcamp, much of their discography is available there exclusively. If streaming is more your vibe, please enjoy their music on Spotify. Special thanks to Jordan Mary for providing videos from their Japan tour, follow her on instagram @beautyinthedirt
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