In music, inspiration and influences can come from anywhere. For New Jersey-based musician Mark Rahman — who works by the name Rotwang — inspiration is gathered from other artists, giallo films, and some crafty musical innovations. For this month’s unsigned artist spotlight, Rotwang gives The Aquarian a peek at his underlying stimuli, other band endeavors, and his latest LP, Dark Age.
Where are you from?
Currently in Elizabeth, NJ. Down the street from the home where L. Ron Hubbard began Scientology.
How long have you been an active musician and how did you get started?
I’ve been making music since I was at least 12 years old, playing guitar in various metal and hardcore bands all through middle school and high school. In about 2007, a flood caused the basement where my band Letters rehearsed to implode and fill up with mud, which more or less knocked that whole project off of the rails.
At the same time, I was getting more and more interested in Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, and other electronic artists of the “IDM” scene and began accumulating an arsenal of old analog synths, drum machines, samplers, vocoders, etc.
Vintage synths must have been selling for dirt cheap on eBay at the time, because I have no clue where I got the money for all of that stuff. I began experimenting with a lot of different approaches to writing electronic music over the next year or so, and was encouraged by friends to keep it up. Ultimately, after a lot of encouragement, I released the album Awful and a year later, the Crisis EP.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
Music made with analog synths and drum machines from the ‘80s that doesn’t sound like it belongs in an exercise video, but belongs in a horror movie set in a dystopian future.
What was your latest release of music and can you talk about that a bit?
After years of more or less inactivity I finally put together an album of eight tracks, Dark Age, which came out on May 15th. It’s the first installment of material I’ve been sporadically working on over those years. I was binge watching a lot of Italian giallo films [a genre of Italian murder-mystery thrillers] when recording that stuff, so I think a bit more of that side probably came through in Dark Age. Ennio Morricone and Goblin [composer] always get me going.
What is your writing and recording process like?
It often begins with me just playing around with programming different sounds on one of my synths and I’ll end up playing a rough melody or chord progression. I usually then shift over to the sequencer where I can start putting it together. And usually I end up building new parts based off of that first part.
Later, I’ll experiment with different structures for the song. A lot really comes out as a result of experimentation. There’s a part on Dark Age where I used a microphone on a subwoofer that was playing an alternate drum part — that I never ended up using — and put the signal through a vocoder. Now it exists as a synth part. I’ll offer a special prize to whoever can figure out where that is.
What are current projects you are working on?
I promised a lot of my friends remixes for their support on releasing Dark Age, so that’s first on my list. I instructed them to go wild with their picks, one of them picked two different Milli Vanilli songs, so that should be fun.
What is your favorite memory as a musician?
One that comes to mind is a show I had played with my friend Joe Fen, who does live VJing. We were opening for a bunch of Brooklyn indie rock bands, one of whom was filming a music video at the show. Naturally, they got all their most attractive friends to show up. I had discreetly turned up the PA without the sound guy knowing and as soon as we started there was a rush of people not accustomed to loud music covering their ears, running out of the venue.
What are your goals for the future as a musician?
To make more time to make more music to make more time to make more music. That’s not a typo. Outside of working to pay the bills I keep myself very busy with a lot of different stuff. In addition to Rotwang, I also play bass in a punk band called Fang Gang, and we’re in the middle of recording a demo. But ultimately, I’d say my goal would be to find a way to have my passion for music allow me to spend less time making someone else rich off of my labor and more time doing what I love to do.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
Immediate tasks are to get Dark Age out to as many listeners as possible with the limited resources I have, finish those remixes I owe people, and begin working on the next Rotwang release. There are already five or so songs complete and a few others that need to be revisited, so I’d expect something within the next year if I can keep my nose to the grindstone.