Inspired by his dad’s rock en metal records, Parrish Smith began making his own music. Starting at the age of only 21, his unmistakable mixture of EBM-post-punk and distorted guitar riffs caught the attention of Nina Kraviz. Parrish Smith isn’t just about hard-hitting notes. He worked on several socio-musical projects about oppression, surveillance and power. But don’t dare to call the young artist an “elitist”. Parrish Smith stays true and honest to himself which enables him to express himself freely.
By Joris Knikkink
“No elitism, no prejudices, no 4/4, no genre, hypnotic, tense, comprehensible, a state of mind.”
This seems to be a mantra you hold dearly. It’s pretty straightforward. “No elitism” is one of the more interesting parts of the quote. How do you experience elitism in the music scene and what are the problematic aspects of it according to your view?
I formulated that quote as a guideline, a sort of ground rule for how I wish to express my artistic freedom and guide my life based off of that. “No elitism” expresses how I will never work within specific frameworks and how I will never bind myself to a specific group or genre. This actually means that I should be able to develop my music and evolve myself without any prejudices.
The quote guides me to believe in myself and my music, by being honest with myself and staying close to the music that defines me. Particularly music that’s hypnotic, intense and candid. Music that’s not bound by any time period.
Eventually listeners are able to choose themselves what they hear, experience and how they share it with others.”
Besides your “club”-orientated work, you’ve made many various contributions to social music projects; about slavery (in collaboration with Het Instituut voor Beeld en geluid), soundscapes that compliment the exposition of the Chinese photographer and activist Ai Weiwei. Is it important for you to contribute to social and public debates?
I’m really thankful for the fact that I’ve had the opportunities to deliver contributions for such beautiful projects. The various subjects of the projects are present in large scales of the society. Subjects like oppression, discrimination and surveillance that causes us to rethink and redefine freedom.
In my opinion, everyone recognizes these elements, but maybe on a smaller scale. These subjects coincidentally touched me on a personal level and it transformed into this weighted project for which I wrote my story that paralleled it. These are challenging projects that include my goal to stimulate more awareness about the hierarchies of power we find ourselves in, how we maneuver through them and how these systems of power influence us.
Eventually we should be able to expose these systems and hopefully change them.
Your music reached Nina Kraviz via different roads, which resulted in your first release on her label trip. To what extend has “luck” played a part in your career?
I believe in hard work and dedication. My music ended up at Nina Kraviz via someone who has always believed in me. If it hadn’t reached Nina Kraviz, it would’ve reached somewhere else beautiful. Maybe it has to do with luck that I was able to make these choices, but on the other hand, I sacrifice a lot of myself to be in this position and I wouldn’t attribute that to just luck.
I firmly believe that the right moments cross your path if you throw yourself into your work/art with the right intentions.
Your music can be described as a combination of wave, industrial, R&B, EBM and post-punk. Especially that last one has gained popularity the last couple of years. Although, there are very few artists that literally make use of organic instruments like screaming guitars in their productions. Would you see the use of those instruments as one of your unique selling points?
I’ve always had an intrinsic love for the guitar. That love can be traced back to my roots, given by my father and my uncles who are dedicated rock and reggae fans. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, of whom I actually found an old VHS-video from back in the days. This find changed my life but I only realized that when I was 21 and starting to make my own music.
The concept of combining techno, guitar riffs and post-punk elements are not particularly never done before or unique, but it is unique in a big room techno setting. I have a feeling that this kind of sound can touch people deeply and this is the right time for exploring these grounds. I love taking the risk of failing and we’ll see how it plays out.
You perform as Parrish Smith and as Volition Immanent, with both you play intense live-sets. We can describe you as a “performance artist”. Artists like that sometimes point out to be extravert on stage, but introvert in daily life. You’ve indicated in the past to be an introvert as well. How do you handle that on stage?
On stage, I always aim for a certain coherency with the needed intensity. Unifying people and stimulating them to dance or to listen to what I feel and what I think they feel deep inside themselves as well. That primitive feeling of letting everything go, energizes me. It’s a way of communicating that doesn’t always go according to plan, but if it does work out, that emotional connection is made. That gives me a particular freedom and hopefully others the freedom to let go.
You made your debut in BASIS two years ago in 2018. How do you think back to that night?
I grew up in Nieuwegein, a place in Utrecht, so it feels good to be appreciated by the place you’re from. There will be more beautiful memories made together with the BASIS-crew, that’s for sure.
You are officially a curator for a new club night in BASIS. You’ve chosen Phase Fatale, who has been making a name for himself in the more Industrial EBM, but also Unhuman and An-i. Two artists that, just like you, are keen to explore. Was this choice of artists, one that you immediately thought of?
Yes, this billing was one of the programs I was thinking about beforehand. Unhuman is a great talented DJ and producer in EBM/Industrial and I’m really happy to finally see him perform in a good club. An-I is just as adamant and that is one of his most beautiful traits. For those who do not know, An-I’s biggest hit is on Cititrax. Their latest EP on LIES with little hints to Liasons Dangereuses is well-executed. For most EBM-enthusiasts, Liasons Dangereuses is still very inspiring and iconic.
I am very happy to have this night in Utrecht where we’re surely not playing it safe, because too many people already do that right?