Q&A: Ruby Ridge and the politics of EDM

ruby ridgeAmid the candy-colored luster of the Together Fest, one group remains resolutely unpolished.

Named for the infamous 1992 standoff in rural Idaho that left three dead, Cambridge wife-and-husband duo Ruby Ridge (John Bittrich and Callan Blank) are the unrepentant ugly ducklings of Boston EDM. In a genre dominated by high-gloss club anthems, their dark, abrasive, noisy, overtly political music cuts hard against the grain, harkening back to hard-hitting 70s techno pioneers Throbbing Gristle and Suicide while still confronting the most urgent issues of the present. They’ve played both the club circuit and the basement noise-music scene, and have ties with both camps even though there is generally very little exchange between them. “We’re outliers,” says Bittrich.

Aside from making music, Bittrich and Blank also book shows around town under the name Interzoning (a nod to fellow dystopian visionary William S. Burroughs) and live upstairs from Bhoomi Music (289 Columbia Ave.) an inconspicuous art space and record store that opens on an ad hoc basis for small shows. Interzoning’s next show, happening tomorrow night at PA’s Lounge in Somerville, will feature the dark and atmospheric synth-pop of NYC’s Black Marble, along with Impersonator, AVOXBLUE, and Ruby Ridge themselves. Scout Cambridge caught up with Ruby Ridge at Friendly Toast in Kendall Square for a chat about music, politics and the space in between.

What is the role of politics in your music?
CB: “Our music is pretty dark. It’s rooted in a lot of really bleak influences, between industrial and post-punk and the edgier end of techno music. As an artist, I feel like what I say should be a reflection of what the music sounds like. So there is an abstract [dark] feeling that goes into the creative process for us. But we also live in pretty dark times. There’s an infinite glut of material to choose your dystopia, and that’s what we do. We have a song that’s very explicitly about global warming, we have a song that’s very explicitly about drone strikes, and one about the absurdity of American politics. There’s a lot of dark cultural and social and political material to draw on that augments the general darkness of the music itself. I like that symmetry.”
You don’t see that very often these days, especially in electronic music.
JB: “From [electronic music’s] inception, the message was built into the medium: you don’t need to have a van full of amplifiers and guitars, you don’t need to be up on a stage with everybody watching your every move – you can just be in the corner in a DJ booth. An electronic music event is more about the individual experience of everybody there, and the collective experience they have when they’re in the group together. I think that’s more political than your standard rock show by a long shot. But almost because it has that political undertone through its very medium, people are less interested in making it overt.”
How do you make your music political without resorting to sloganeering?
CB: “There’s a layer of narrative that goes over the political positioning. Our song ‘No Shade’ is very much a dystopian vision of the world that awaits us if we continue to just stay the course and not change our attitude in terms of global warming. But the lyrics were written in terms of a sort of story I envisioned of little kids who live in a bunker and can only go out for a few hours a day before it becomes, like, a thousand degrees outside. I address the issue through that narrative, instead of just making some activist-y, brow-beating cry for action.”