Over a rapidly accumulating pile of releases, the New York trio OPPONENTS has laid claim to a sound that can be endlessly distended and expanded upon: An arresting panorama of synth boil-overs, grit-coated slow-roll electronic growls, arctic slurries, and the sweet, sour burn of Aaron Feinstein’s sometimes disaffected/sometimes elemental vocals. The trio—Feinstein, Joshua Slusher, and Josh Greco—all contort various electronics and create noise avalanches that are architecturally savvy, groove, bulldoze, and linger on the palette. Slusher counts “Excepter, Throbbing Gristle, and Aphex Twin” among his artistic inspiratiosn, and their influence is all over cortex flambés like 2011’s Ambivalent Cloud Designs (Obsolete Units) and 2008 debut Fascist Starship (The Comic Beyond). Sound of the City emailed with OPPONENTS about the band’s name and the shifts in intensity over the years.
How did the name OPPONENTS originate?
Joshua Slusher: When we were thinking of a name back in 2006, I remember the word really resonating with me. I was feeling dissatisfied with the counterculture here in New York and didn’t feel like there was really anything out there that represented any kind of culture of opposition or genuine radicalism artistically or otherwise. I think it is a perfect name to describe our sound, aesthetic, and philosophy.
Aaron Feinstein: I think we never realized the amount we would embody the name when we first thought of it. Our first name was S.K.I.M.A.S.K., but that didn’t seem to cover the intensity of our ideas. I think neither of us was satisfied with it. I know I wasn’t.
I was going to add that there are two possible connotations to the name: either the idea that the opponents are against everyone else, or against one another.
JS: You can look at it that way. These days, to me, it describes more of the role we play artistically, especially in our local scene. I myself am adamantly opposed to a lot of the false counterculture that seems to be prevalent everywhere.
The sound is so much noisier and messier on your early releases. Then Psychic Blast Police arrives, and songs have official names, and there the music is a bit more accessible. How did you guys arrive at that point?
AF: When we started, we improvised in a more open way, feeling that all our music needed to be created in an absolute present. I would mic all sorts of things—televisions, my third eye, the inside of my body—to create a living environment. I think as we have evolved and the Joshes have created complex interlocking parts, while I have become more of a minimalist focusing primarily on the voice. I really like those earlier releases; I kind of miss the frenetic quality of making them. The improvisation has become more focused, but one take is still pretty typical.
JS: I think it’s due in part to getting a little older and not feeling as cathartic when it comes to our work. I have had a growing interest in synthesis for years, and it really all came together when Greco joined the group in 2009. After he joined I got deeper into composing and sequencing parts for our songs, and it was great to have another person hold it all together with me while Feinstein is more free to do his thing. We still leave a ton of room for improvisation; we never play the songs exactly the same way twice.
What is the most cathartic OPPONENTS album, and why?
AF: Probably Thought Control, a cassette which is coming out soon on Baked Tapes. It’s going to blow minds.
JS: Together We Will End the Future was definitely that for me. It took a year and a half to record it and get it released, and it was made during one of the most intense and strange periods of my life. On the other hand, I feel like the two records we have coming out this year have much more emotional content than previous releases. One is a self-titled LP being released on Baked Tapes, and the other is called Telepathic Times and should be out later this year on Prison Tatt Records.
Josh Greco: I will agree that the most cathartic OPPONENTS album has yet to be released.
When you first began working together, was there a specific sound or goal or feel that you were working towards?
AF: We both wanted to create an original sound that felt as intense and psychedelic as the aural landscape of New York City.
JS: Yeah, in the beginning we were more focused on doing all analog synth-based drone noise. Over the years we’ve embraced all kinds of equipment to achieve our sound, which tends to evolve drastically from album to album. I think the goal sonically has always been to create things that are transcendental, but also dark and heavy with an industrial feel.
When you listen to or play songs from various releases live, do you find yourselves transported to different parts of the city?
AF: Listening back to Fascist Starship, I think of crazy Stockholm Street in Bushwick: Car alarms and reggaeton.
Tell me a bit about your gear setup, what each of you play.
JG: I’ve sort of developed an aversion toward boasting about gear, especially when it comes to listing everything in the liner notes on a record. That really pisses me off. It’s something that I feel should remain somewhat of a mystery. It takes away from the art. The best way to find out what kind of gear is being used is to attend a live performance. In fact, that’s actually one of my favorite things about attending live performances, is seeing all the gear set up before anything is actually happening.
AF: I use the vt-1 vocal transformer, overdrive and distortion, and delay for a raw murky vocal sound. But I have played synths, guitars, harmonium and all sorts of space madness since 2006.
JS: When we’re making records, it’s kind of a free-for-all. We have a pretty impressive collection of electronics and instruments in our recording studio. On the albums we use everything from modular synthesizers to old rack-mount gear. We’re always experimenting trying to find new sounds and new ways to connect everything together. For shows we tend to bring 4-5 analog synthesizers, 2-3 digital-analog modeling groovebox style sequencers, effects chains, and a tape delay. we never use laptops or soft synths to create our sound; everything you hear is played live.
What is an effects chain, and how does it work?
JS: It is just a sequence of effects pedals and/or rack mount effects units to process any sound.
The growling, choppy drone on “Cannibal Corpse Superstar” from Fascist Starship is so intense.
JS: Yeah, that seems to be a popular track. It was recently used on the soundtrack to this Canadian indie film called LOWLIFE. It’s pretty interesting; it has this psychedelic Eraserhead-like vibe to it and was filmed sometime last year in Nova Scotia.
You are very calm on stage, and the music is so chaotic. Do you ever experience any jitters prior to or early on in a performance? Do you use ear protection?
JS: I think we’ve all been performing in front of other people long enough that at this point of our lives getting in front of people and possibly making a fool out of yourself is somewhat of a second nature for us, so jitters are never really an issue. For most of our shows there really isn’t a need for ear protection; don’t get me wrong, we are loud, but I don’t think we are anything compared to your average rock concert. I find myself having to use headphones a lot during shows because the PA system isn’t providing me with enough clarity to hear my cues in the songs.
Tell me about how your recent Sleepy Hollow cassette, Broken Divine came together.
JS: Both of those tracks were based off of some modular synth jams I recorded around the time that Bob Bellerue asked us to record something for his new label. Greco and Feinstein came in shortly after and added their parts.
Broken Divine always makes me think of an extended, deconstructed take on the Knight Rider theme.
AF: Maybe—if Kitt was singing the Knight Rider theme a capella, through an effects chain.
OPPONENTS will play Public Assembly tonight as part of the Yo Eskerrik Asko, NYC! festival.