Danny Krug is a photographer and writer based in NYC. He publishes a bi-monthly music and culture magazine called 1.21 Gigawatts. In the following interview I try and get commentary on the connections between music journalism, literary labels, and cultural reporting in the digital age. In a time when the multiplicity of channels provided by the internet seems shorted by more narrow channels and tastemakers, where do authors and literary consumers stand? Danny provides insights and says “bullshit” a lot.
MB: Where have you published? What have you published?
DK: I publish a music and art magazine in Brooklyn called 1.21 Gigawatts. That’s my main focus. In the past I’ve also written for various blogs and I did a little work for the Deli magazine in LA. Gigawatts isn’t your normal magazine. Its made by artists not writers. I’m primarily a photographer. I just write because without the writing we’d have a 32 page photo album. We generally do whatever we want with our brand. We aren’t limited to our 32 page print copy. I don’t like including anything in the magazine that I’m not a fan of. Why take up space and people’s time just to tell them that something sucks? If its good we’ll tell you, if it’s not maybe look to Pitchfork or Rolling Stone to fill your negativity quota because we just won’t talk about it. Its how people say “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all” but for music journalism. I firmly believe in talking shit on people and I do it often, but I’m not going to waste my time talking shit on a band I hate in my magazine. Bands I hate include Radiohead and U2. Also Jay-Z can generally fuck off too (so can Conor Oberst, except Desaparecidos, that band rules). No need to talk about it in my magazine. The general Gigawatts state of mind is “This is what we do. This is who we like. If you like em too, if you like us too, that’s great. If not, fuck off.”
Back to the question though, we try to publish every two months. It’s tough though. Print is a beast. With Internet everything is instant. With print we have to wait at least two weeks to get the copies and then we have to take them around to places for people to get them. Every day people tell me print is dead and ask why I do hard copies. Those questions are usually followed up by them telling me how cool the magazine looks as they flip through a copy. Print is far from dead. If cassettes have a place in the world still, then so does print media. The problem with a lot of print media is that it’s bullshit. Stuffed with ads. Articles bought out by corporations to promote their own product as opposed to letting the magazine give their actual opinion. We aren’t driven by money and that’s why our magazine is different. No one on our magazine has made a dime since we started. I’ve personally dumped hundreds of my own dollars into the project. That being said, there is a list of companies I’d love to have advertise in the magazine (Nintendo, Sub Pop, Dr. Martens get at me).
MB: Based on our conversations and hang outs, and what I’ve seen of your work, you seem steeped in the contemporary indie music scene, particularly in NYC. In tracking and re-presenting the work of up-and-coming bands and artists, how much interest is there in ‘literary’ considerations? Is your work always oriented toward the short term, or is there a larger literary/cultural project taking place?
DK: Mainly I’m focused on indie and punk music, but I always maintain that we (as a publication) are open to anything. From the start we’ve wanted the magazine to have no more than 25% text. The other 75% would be visual art. That concept limits our ability to open up to literary ideas, but that’s not to say that I’m closed minded to including anything. If the right story or article comes to my attention I’ll find a way to include it. We recently featured Keith Morris’ new band OFF!, and Keith, as you may know, is the original singer of Black Flag. That guy has been around for a loooong time. If he came to me with some crazy tour stories, I’d feel dumb not to print them. Keith is a crazy dude. I used to see him at the grocery store near my house in LA being totally normal and then I’d see him later that week on stage screaming his lungs out. I’d love to run a piece about what happens in his day-to-day life. Stuff like that is fascinating to me.
Our work is made in relation to the short term (who’s popular/got a new record), but I feel that it should be generally relevant in the long term. What’s good now will still be good in 6 months or a year. Fuck, I still listen to Blink 182 every day. Once something is good it will always be good and worth reading about. We write about bands and artists and we may mention new albums and upcoming exhibitions, but the overall content of the article should still be relevant a year from now or even 10 years from now. The new Babies record came out. We wrote about them and the album. It’s good. It’s worth reading about. There definitely is a larger project taking place. Gigawatts started as a magazine and shortly after its launch we started booking shows as well. Now we have a monthly night at Legion Bar in Williamsburg, and we’re always talking about doing shows here or there. Our lead illustrator and I have also been talking about other ideas. More visually driven ideas. He’s been making custom t-shirts and silk screened pillows. He’s out there sometimes, but I’ve never seen a 19 year old with better ideas than Brandon. Gigawatts is (in a perfect world) a bi-monthly publication. We’re trying to come up with ideas to stay active in the in-between time. Today’s society moves so fast that if we don’t stay visible I fear that people will forget about us. Do we have an end goal for the big picture? No, we’re just kinda having fun and seeing where we can take it and where it can take us. Do I see and end in sight? Not really. Do I want it to end eventually? Yes, but I’m in too deep right now to get out even if I wanted to (which I don’t btw). Once I’m worn out and the team is worn out we’ll figure out what to do next. I’d like to work for NME in a photography capacity (they’re the only decent music magazine anymore).
MB: It seems like music criticism for indie-rock has remained its own thing, in its own world, with only a few writers crossing over into the ‘literature’ zone like Greil Marcus, Chuck Klosterman, and Lester Bangs. How does music criticism and music-related journalism fit into a larger scheme of literature?
DK: I haven’t read much Klosterman or Lester Bangs, that’s not to say I’m not aware of it. I know these are important people. I probably SHOULD read them. But there are a lot of things I should do. As a photographer I should probably be able to name more photographers than David LaChapelle, Terry Richardson and Annie Liebovitz (who I think is fucking boring btw). In the grand scheme of things, for a guy who does what I do, I should probably be more privy to Pitchfork and all that. I don’t really expose myself to other influences regularly. I live in my little Bushwick bubble and it’s comfy here. Basically, I think that music criticism is bullshit in most cases. I don’t care what so and so from Rolling Stone thinks of the new Strokes record. I have ears and an Internet connection. I can figure out what I like and so can you. Where music journalism is successful is with smaller bands. Shit you’ve never heard of. My favorite record this week is Audacity’s Mellow Cruisers (I’m listening to it right now). A lot of people don’t know Audacity. How do I know this? They played last week at Death By Audio as opposed to Madison Square Garden. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Should they play MSG? Probably not. But you should know who they are because they rule. My place in music criticism is to tell people what I’m listening to and that I like it. From there they can go decide on their own. I think guys like Klosterman and Bangs that can write whole books on music and hold people’s attention should totally do so. If I ever write a book on music, don’t buy it. It’s going to be shit. I’m telling you this now. Klosterman and Bangs have a place in literature because they’ve been around the block . I don’t. Pitchfork doesn’t.
MB: Does music criticism and music journalism want to be separate from narrative writing? If so, why?
DK: Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Music reviews and stuff like that obviously would be dumb as narratives. Articles like we write in Gigawatts are a little different. A lot of the bands we feature are either friends of ours that we like to listen to or people that we like to listen to that we’ve become friends with as a result of the magazine. Some of our articles take on more of a narrative feel just because I might meet up with a band and interview them for an article, then put that article on my hard drive and forget about it for weeks, but during those weeks I’m hanging out with the people I’ve interviewed and what we do while hanging out can influence the article. Generally if a band is in the magazine its because we dig their music and wanna hang out with them. We’re really just hoping that one of them gets booked for Coachella and we can get free tickets. Not really, but that would be cool (Hey DIIV, hook a kid up. I know you’re playing that shit next year). Does it wanna be separate? I don’t know. I do know that it’s not always able to stay separate. It’s like how that kid in Almost Famous started the article he spent the whole movie writing by saying that he was on a plane with the band and it was about to crash. That’s way cooler than just saying these assholes are in a band and heres some stuff you should know.
MB: Blogs in all their informal glory have cranked up the output of literary work, but also made low-quality blurb writing the norm. Do you see high quality blog content as work that strives toward literary labels or are well-made blogs a unique form of their own? Are novels grand-daddies and blogs the reckless children in the literary lineage?
DK: I haven’t encountered many well made blogs. I do think a lot of blog writers think they’re cooler than they really are. Blurbs are cool. When it comes to music criticism, it’s generally pointless, but if I’m going to read it it shouldn’t take longer to read than it does to listen to one of the band’s songs. I think most people who write blogs would rather be writing something else. Maybe a magazine article. Maybe a book.
Max Brooks paints nothing professionally, partakes of the highest quality macaroni, and writes like a young Tom Clancy.