Straight from the Chains
As he explains in the title track of his first EP, Gold Chains (a.k.a. Topher Lafata) comes from San Francisco. His combination of bumping electro jams, toned-down playfully vicious lyrics, and raspy vocal flow functions equally well as hip hop for the educated smart-ass as booty music for even the most stoic IDM fan. While his self-titled debut (released on Orthlorng Musork) found Gold Chains bragging on his skills ("#1 Face in Hip Hop") as well as his hosting abilities ("Rock the Parti"), on his latest EP, Straight from your Radio (released on Tigerbeat6) Gold Chains gets a bit more explicit ("I Treat Your Coochie Like A Maze") as well as a bit more intense ("Mountains of Coke"). While it is sure to bring forth a barrage of DJ Assault comparisons, Straight from your Radio is best when listened to (as Lafata stated on his website) as "pretty much a bunch of club-bumpers.” Dusted Magazine's Sam Hunt got a chance to speak with Lafata before his show at Chicago's Empty Bottle this past May:
Sam: I don't know too much about your history, what made you start doing music, when did you start performing as Gold Chains?
Gold Chains: I've been doing music since I was 13 or 14. I was in a Joy Division cover band, playing guitar and singing, and then I was in an industrial band when I was 15 or 16…some Wax Trax type of shit. I grew up in Pennsylvania. And since then I've just been in like a bunch of punk bands. Then the first time I went on tour I was doing Gold Chains stuff for awhile and just doing a lot of tracks -- just dance music stuff…
S: With no vocals?
G: With no vocals, and sometimes with vocals and sometimes without, and then I just started doing the Gold Chains stuff probably like 3 or 4 years ago, maybe even more, but I went on tour for the first time (as Gold Chains) like 2 years ago.
S: How did you hook up with (Orthlorng Musork founder and Gold Chains collaborater) Kit Clayton?
G: We're just friends. I've known Joshua for a couple years and when I wanted to do my Gold Chains record, him and Sue (Contstable, also of Musork) were like "Oh, we wanna put out the Gold Chains record" and then we worked on it together.
S: How long have you been out in San Francisco?
G: 7 years
S: Are you still living in the City?
G: Yeah, I live in the Mission. I lived on 48th Avenue for a little bit and that was cool. Then I just met Miguel when he moved up there. He moved up 2 years ago to Oakland and we just became friends.
S: And he's putting out the new Gold Chains release?
G: Yeah, it's just an EP. I'm almost done with it so hopefully it'll be done in like 6 or 8 weeks. And then in the fall I should have an LP coming out, but I don't know if that'll be in America because that's with some Europe shit.
S: Have you toured through Europe at all? I saw that NME was getting ready to blow you up Andrew WK-style
G: Yeah, I don't necessarily think that's a very good idea.
S: They seem to think it is!
G: They're cool. All the people I met over there are cool. But yeah, I think I've done like four tours of Europe. Two of them were in the UK, one of them was Northern Europe, and one was just like Italy and Switzerland and stuff.
S: How does your popularity out there compare with it in the US?
G: I didn't do any press or anything for the record in America, but I did some shit in the UK, and that's where I'm gonna put stuff out on PIAS, so I got hooked up with them, with their UK press out there. But I don't know, in terms of popularity it's really weird.
S: When you play live, what are you doing exactly? You seem to be going back and forth between a number of things, but it's not exactly clear what these things are. When I saw you in SF last year it looked like you were going back and forth between your drum machine and your laptop, but I wasn't sure.
G: Oh yeah, it's not a drum machine. Well…I have a drum machine now, but I didn't have one then. I have this thing called MAX/MSP, which is this programming language that does audio processing and MIDI processing and stuff, so like I just wrote this Max patch to do my live stuff and it can loop stuff or play sound files and it has a bunch of effects.
S: Is it a text-based code that you have to write out yourself?
G: It's visual, but it's like code, yeah.
S: So that's for the drum sounds?
G: No, that's for everything. Everything comes out of there. Everything is digital audio except for the drum machine that I have now.
S: And that just stores beats that you can easily start and stop at various parts?
G: Yeah…I mean, the drum machine hasn't been getting used too much. I just started playing with it, and I can't synch it up to my other stuff so I have to synch it by hand.
S: So then is it still a pretty complicated or confusing show to perform?
G: I mean it's like the same thing. Sometimes I just play a sound file and rap over it.
S: Can you talk a bit about the Gold Chains persona versus Topher Lafata? I mean, it's obviously not entirely serious, but…
G: Yeah, I hear what you're saying. It's weird…especially with a lot of the newer stuff, it's definitely some weird part of me and maybe it's amplified like once I start making tracks or whatever. But, I mean, that's really the stuff I care about: music, beats, girls, clubs, stuff like that. A lot of people ask me that, and it's not really like some "persona." I don't just switch into Gold Chains, I just talk shit all the time. I don't think that the Gold Chains stuff comes off being snobby or anything.
S: Is it comfortable for you? Has it always been? You mentioned playing in the Joy Division band in high school, being up on stage with a guitar. And I've seen it with Cex as well. Like, how does that growth process work?
G: Like from punk to electronic?
S: More the growth of onstage performance type stuff.
G: I don't really have a performance, I mean I just kinda sing and stuff, you know? I try to get my vibe going on and all, but I don't really have any like set maneuvers or anything. I'm not like "alright, PERFORM PERFORM," I'm just trying to kick it out.
S: People seem into it…it seems to work well.
G: Sometimes…sometimes not.
S: Is it A LOT more difficult to do Gold Chains stuff to a crowd that's smaller or not paying as much attention?
G: It's a lot more difficult when the room's empty, but it doesn't bother me. I care more about how it sounds, and if it sounds good and I can play well, then I'm happy.
S: So feeding off of crowd energy isn't so important?
G: That always works, I'm sure, on some level, but I'm always worried about just trying to play the stuff well and making sure that the mix is good and that the sound system sounds good and that things are loud enough and all that.
S: The San Francisco music scene seems to be coming together really well right now. It seems way better than it was during any time that I was ever out there…when pop was dominant.
G: Yeah, I agree. In the last couple of years it's really picked up. There's tons of art-punk bands there too, so like it all kinda comes together because everyone's friends and a lot of people, like me, are from a more punk background. And I'm not talking about like Green Day, I'm talking about like art punk, like weird shit. Everyone's friends. Like, I'll play shows with Pink and Brown or Lightning Bolt, so it's pretty cool and everyone's pretty supportive.
S: And people (fans) seem a lot more supportive of tons of different styles of music. Like, when I went to an Anticon show with Kevin Blectum it was amazing for me to see a bunch of hip hop kids with their heads down listening to heavy, droning glitchy electronic music for an hour and a half. I couldn't really imagine anything like that happening anywhere else without at least a good degree of restlessness.
G: I mean, I think it's just a part of the fact that a lot of these people are friends. People will go to a punk show then they'll go straight to a dance show.
S: Do you think that this is something then that could expand beyond the Bay Area…that is, people opening up to so many genres?
G: It seems like some of the bands are blowing up a little bit, like Pink and Brown, which is cool. I think so, I mean even just with my stuff, at least to me it seems like there's a core nucleus of people and it's not that big but it's like people doing a whole bunch of different stuff, and hopefully it'll all get out. The good thing is that with Miguel (a.k.a. Kid606 – ed.) is that it's helping him get more punk bands and electronic trashy punk shit for Tigerbeat so he's gonna start putting out a bunch of new things. There's this band called The Numbers and there's another band called Hot Fucking Jets that's not really playing, but I wanna do that record later in the summer…it's like an electronic punk thing.
S: So do you work with Miguel doing Tigerbeat stuff?
G: I was just gonna start my own record label and it doesn't really make any sense. With him things getting out, he has pretty good distro for where he's at and he's starting to roll with the Tigerbeat shit so it's good for these bands. I think people will get to hear lots more stuff, especially once a lot of the punk stuff comes out and just crosses over.
S: What's your day job these days?
G: I don't have one. I just quit my job actually, I was a software engineer but I just quit a month and a half ago.
S: So now you'll do Gold Chains stuff full time?
G: Yeah, I'm gonna do that for awhile and see what goes on. I've saved up a bunch of money so it should be alright. It was sort of killing me; for awhile I was trying to do both and it just wasn't happening. For like a year I was just super-tired. It was just: go to work, come home, work on music, go to bed, go to work, etc, and then work on music all weekend. It just started getting really weird, but now I'm probably getting even weirder because I don't even go out of my house, except when I go on tour.
S: And this tour is going pretty well?
G: Yeah. I've been playing with Miguel a lot during the past couple of years and we always have a lot of fun and do good stuff. We play shitty shows and really good shows. There's a lot of shit talking, but it's all good.
S: And does Gold Chains usually come out on top?
G: No way. Miguel is a real fucking character.
S: You don't ever try to thrown down some shit-talking rhymes on stage to up the ante?
G: I'm not really into like all of the hip hop stuff, so it's weird. I rap a lot, but I'm way more into just like a club-like, dance, house-y type thing than hip hop and the accoutrements of hip hop and what's hip hop and like "I'm hip hop and you're not!" and I just don't even really have any desire to even deal with that. If people like the music then it's cool and if they don't like it and they're hating on it then that's cool too…you know, YOU put out some records!
S: Does this come up often with you?
G: Surprisingly not that many people bring it up. People will talk about it with me and then it's just not even an issue, especially if they see me play, then they're just like "whatever, he's just doing whatever the hell he wants, he's not trying to be, like, Jay-Z or something"
S: What kind of stuff do you listen to these days?
G: It's weird, I don't listen to that much music, really. That's not totally true. Some stuff I keep up on. I try to keep up on German techno and ambient hypno-jams and anything that's kind of dark or relaxing. And punk stuff, too. There's nothing in particular that I can really think of off the top of my head. I'm into those DJ Screw things. He's this DJ from Dallas, (who's dead now) who made all of these mix-tapes that are all slowed down commercial rap -- like at -15% or -18% -- and it's like mellow codeine jams.
S: Has Cex (Rjyan Kidwell) ever asked you to rap on any of his records?
G: Yeah, we've talked about it a bunch. We went on tour a long time ago -- me, him and Miguel. If you listen to that "Fur Coat" jam that he has in the middle of his new record you can hear him say "Yo Chains!" and then there's like 16 bars of blank music, just beats, because I never got around to it. I have so much shit to do, but hopefully at some point we can do something. I just saw him the other night and he seems to just be becoming a better and better MC. He's a real entertainer.
S: Thanks a lot for talking with us.
G: No problem.
By Sam Hunt