"Option" article with Jared Hendrickson of Chemlab



by Sandy Masuo

Jared Hendrikson lives in a gray world. But far from being dreary, it's full of mystery, intrigue and "chaos music," the term he applies to the kind of computer- and sampler-based sounds he and Dylan Thomas More have been generating as Chemlab for the past six years. The New York-based duo is currently ensconced in Chemlab's "sort of illegal" mobile studio, working on the follow-up to their 1994 full-length debut, Burn Out At the Hydrogen Bar (Metal Blade). As Hendrikson zig-zags between the fuzzy facts of his life and the concrete beliefs behind Chemlab's music, segments of intense, interwoven rhythms waft in the background.

 Ask his age and he responds obliquely with an appreciation of the Internet, where you aren't defined by gender, race or age, but by what you have to say. Inquire about his past and you'll get vague references to formative years in Europe and Africa, gutters and streets. At the American University in Washington, D.C., Hendrikson, the product of an organic chemist father and an agnostic mother, , pursued a double major in Soviet studies and Russian language, plus a minor in French, until his "conflict of interest between experiencing life on the streets and being an 'A' student" drove him out of academia and into the D.C. music scene.

 "Living on the streets sort of came as a byproduct of being tremendously interested in the art scene and the music scene," he explains. "The performance scene in D.C. in the early '80s wasn't dictated by the Christian fundamentalist-like sentiments of certain bands." Hendrikson discreetly avoids the words Minor Threat or Fugazi. "It was a much wider spectrum, socio-culturally. It was clique-y but people's minds were a little more open, I think, 'cause all of us were still dealing with ripples that were ballooning out from the late-'70s-the explosion of industrial music and how all of those forces came together. It provided a lot of fertile ground to fuck around with, so..." His voice trails off for a moment, then cuts back in: "Does that sound like a lot of clap-trap or what?"

It's a typical Hendrikson move, undercutting his own observation, leaving the point dangling somewhere between ardent sincerity and mocking irony. After a long diatribe about the failure of the neo-punk brigade to truly push any boundaries-political or aesthetic-he rejects the implication that Chemlab does any such thing. "God, are you crazy?" he exclaims. "We're making nothing out of something, making a molehill out of a mountain, taking a lot of talent and churning out pop songs." But far from being self-contradictory, Hendrikson's point is about the fallacy of absolutes: one that mirrors the juxtaposition of dance pop and industrial textures in Chemlab's music.

 "We're completely entranced with this philosophy of absolutes," he says. "Everything's gotta be either black or white. That's just so fucking easy. And that's not real life. It's not that simple. And so when I say that my perception of rock'n'roll is that it's this 'force,' I mean it's a force that has certain aspects of entropy in it-a planned obsolescence almost. I don't think it's a political motivator. It's a personal motivator."

 The revolution may not be televised, according to Chemlab, but it will be digitized. The cyberpunks Chemlab played to while on tour with Nine Inch Nails in 1991 grew up on the nets, not watching TV. The original punk movement, predicated on a rejection of the gluttony of the record industry, eschewed the high-tech studio aesthetic as virulently as the corporations which controlled it. Now that the tables have turned, it's the cyberpunks armed with computers who are the greatest threat to the status quo.

"The sampler is an instrument. In fact, it's the instrument. It's the new kid on the block, Mr. Guitar," he says with a sinister laugh. "Because, you see, the guitar is an absolute and and the sampler is a gray area."