My new “Background Noise” podcast series focuses on the music that artists listen to when they work, what music inspires them, or just music they like. This week, in Volume 6, the focus is on EKG.
Maybe one of the most prolific graffiti writers in New York City right now. If you have been to New York in the past couple of years, there’s no question that you’ve seen EKG’s mark somewhere. Rarely can you go a block without seeing his signature orange EKG lines. I am constantly blown away by how much he gets around. It’s to the point now where this symbol is just part of the city.
When it comes to describing what this symbol means, EKG sums it up best by saying
“in essence a vast visual representation of the heartbeat of the city, a voice of the people, a pulse of the populace.”
He’s not limited to just this single tag though. At a recent solo art show of his at the newly resurrected Pandemic Gallery in Brooklyn, he showed off what he had obviously been meticulously working on for quite some time. Some could have shown up expecting various tags around the gallery of his signature, but what they got could only be compared to the scrawlings of a madman. Not to say EKG is a madman, but what you witnessed when walking into it was nothing short of overwhelming, strictly due to the sheer volume and devotion to detail. It was like this man had nothing more important to him in life than to get this show right. There was black paper that essentially covered the viewing area of the gallery, and on this paper were, in his signature orange color, EKG tags, drawings, phrases, shout-outs to his contemporaries, and much more. I was in absolute awe. It was the work of a brilliant and talented artist.
Despite being anonymous, EKG has a lot to say, so I’ll let him get to it. Read his words below, listen to his mind-melting playlist, and next time you’re in NY, look for his tags, you can’t miss ’em.
EKG’s Nerve Burners (Sonic SSRIs):
some are new favorites, and others haven’t left my iphone in years. if this was an all-time favorites, historically important, or desert island disk list, it would be quite different. black flag, zorn, black sabbath, aesop rock, hendrix, godflesh, zappa, slayer, marilyn manson, ac/dc, minor threat, bad brains, etc, would make appearances. but they aren’t on my iphone right now, because i obsessively listened to them to death. so these are all the songs that i have been listening to lately, frequently on repeat song, but usually on repeat album.
Kataklysm – Push The Venom
Deicide – In The Minds of Evil
Impending Doom – Anything Goes
Despised Icon – MVP
Suicide Silence – Destruction of a Statue
Devourment – Fifty Ton War Machine
Hatebreed – Put It To The Torch
Fake Hooker – Complicated
Warbeast with Phil Anselmo – Birth Of A Psycho
Job For A Cowboy – Entombment Of A Machine
Chimaira – Spineless
Revocation – Dismantle The Dictator
Dethklok – The Hammer
At The Gates – Suicide Nation
Lamb of God – 11th Hour
Mayhem – Whore
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First concert you ever went to?
giving away my age here, but i can’t help it because i love to read shit like this about artists and musicians who i like. plus i love to write about music. it’s probably more important to me than any other art form because it gives me a direct, immediate elation and energy unlike anything else i’m into. it is a pure rush of adrenaline and makes me feel badass, even though i’m actually a quiet shy anxious fellow really. i call these songs nerve burners because songs like this that utilize so much electricity and distortion, and are so heavy and fast, that they change the chemistry of our bodies and elevate our nervous systems. sonic anti-depressants aka SSRIs.
embarrassingly, though, the very first concert was the fucking osmond brothers! my mom took me and a friend to a stadium concert somewhere around ann arbor michigan when i was about seven in second grade, i think. or maybe it was a couple years later. wish I could say it was the jackson five, but i wasn’t that cool. just another white nerd from the suburbs in middle america. it was totally disappointing because at the time mom was just a broke law school student and got seats literally in the very last row. ya know, row zz, seat #99, or something like that. i literally felt vertigo, like if i leaned too far forward i was going to fall and roll all the way down to the ground floor. the band looked like ants; we didn’t know any better to bring binoculars. i remember how much our ears were ringing as we walked out which made me feel cool tho. we were actually pretty psyched about it no matter what and got to tell all the kids at school about it. my mom was and is the best. she doesn’t completely understand a lot of the stuff i’m into but she always accepts and supports me. i mean how cool was it that she got those tickets in order to take us even though she had no interest in the music.
she even let me and a friend go alone on a school night to what i consider to be my real first concert a few years after we moved to manhattan. it was deep purple with nazareth opening at radio city music hall in 1976 (i looked it up). i was 12 and in the second half of eighth grade. we didn’t bring any weed or beer, cuz we were worried we’d get in trouble. then were so pissed because everyone was smoking and drinking like crazy which made us really jealous. the show was great, even though i don’t think it was the original line up. deep purple played all my favorite songs. even nazareth was fun so i bought their album, but then wasn’t that crazy about it and barely listened to it again. the lead singer used some peter-framptony kind of voice tube, which i thought was cool at the time. funniest thing i remember though was that someone threw up on one of the red velvet walls downstairs near the bathroom. it had dripped all the way down from about head height to the floor and completely grossed me out. guess they couldn’t quite make it to the bathroom. we were dead the next day at school but felt really grown up about being allowed to go out by ourselves and getting to bang our heads until after our usual bedtimes.
Last concert/show you went to?
fake hooker gig at 64 grove street in brooklyn last month. a grimey basement with barely headroom, but the audience of about forty or fifty went nuts! they always kill it; punk the way it should be. they also played at the pandemic gallery reopening. people were hanging from the rafters, got noise complaints and the cops came, which made me proud to be involved. i don’t go to shows much anymore because i’m always broke, hate big shows, especially stadiums, and won’t take risks on just seeing whatever. in the nineties i was obsessed with videotaping shows and went to irving plaza, coney island high, cbgbs, knitting factory, etc at least once or twice a week. but that’s when i had a regular job and never made time for making art, except for being obsessed with computer design, multimedia, and websites, which i never really got that good at anyway. eventually, that business wore on me and i had to change my focus and get back on a path of pure aesthetic exploration. i like to consider myself the equivalent of a pure research scientist at this point. life is much more austere right now in terms of cash, but always what i wanted it to be in terms of friends, daily life, and aesthetic activities.
First LP/Tape/CD you bought?
when i was somewhere between six and nine years old, i remember going to the local mall on my bike in ann arbor and buying a couple of forty-fives because they were out of what i was looking for, which was a partridge family album. more embarrassing bubblegum pop for kids. i was also collecting archie and harvey comics at the time. but i ended up with creedence clearwater revival’s fortunate sun and a beatles song of some sort. those purchases that day were probably influenced by my eighteen-year-old aunt suzie who was staying with us at the time and totally changed the direction of what i was into. for instance, she got me the beatles white album for xmas one year, and i remember being disappointed at first that it wasn’t the monkees or the partridge family. up until her arrival, i was mainly listening to stuff i saw on tv, got off the back of cereal boxes (the archie’s sugar sugar), and listening to my dad’s neil diamond albums. i would fuckin rock out to crackling rosie. in the long run, i ended up not really being too into that beatles album that much but loved the song helter skelter. i think after she moved out, she left behind black sabbath’s paranoid, led zeppelin’s first two albums, and deep purple’s made in japan. i still love these albums to this day, and even still have them because they have some tags and pieces on them that i did back then. i was a toy and had no balls so i never got up. the stuff from those albums and my sketchbooks look like everything else you’d see on the streets and the trains. walking into those subways back then was like walking into a looney toons cartoon, and i was watching that channel closely, even though i was scared of everything and everyone when we first moved here. i found out later in life that i have clinically low testosterone so maybe that had something to do with it too.
Did any one record make a huge impression on you?
black flag’s damaged is the album that changed my life more than any other music i’ve ever listened to; although black sabbath’s paranoid, megadeth’s killing is my business, godflesh’s streetcleaner, and john zorn’s naked city album called torture garden all come in a close second. i also bought the millions of dead cops first album and dead kennedy’s in god we trust during the same trip to the record store, but it was black flag that impressed and moved me the most.
i also had heard some compilations at my friend’s house, which they called something like the “elm street punks” house. they couldn’t play instruments but eventually started a band, and became one of the funniest local punk bands around. like most punk, personality was more important than skill. they would have their annual final show at their crib death commune farm, serve corn-on-the-cob boiling in garbage cans, invite ten other local bands and play for two days on a ramshackle stage in a field. they also djed the college radio punk show and had every album you could want between them all in that house. heard the bad brain’s pay to cum there too, x-ray spex, laX, fear’s first album, and eventually megadeth and metallica. they let me make cassette copies of all those. wish i still had those for sure.
in general, punk resonated with me not only because it was basically heavy metal speeded up, which i was definitely down with, but also for the politics, social issues, and emotional topics they were singing about. i actually had the sex pistols first album and one of the ramones albums a couple years earlier and had seen the plasmatics and patti smith on tom snyder and snl respectively, but at the time i didn’t really get it because they just seemed like slightly heavy, slightly faster pop bands with a violent clothing style. i realize that for most people and the history books, the ramones, and bowie and iggy pop before them, changed the direction of rock, but when black flag came out they seemed much more revolutionary and raw than the rest of them. the music was so fucking heavy and fast; i’d never heard anything like it before. no one was going to ever play them on regular radio or tv, like X on american bandstand or fear on snl. greg ginn’s guitar leads were so discordant and hardcore that they seemed much more unique and challenging than anything before it. his leads were like chuck berry mixed with ornette coleman. it came to be known as hardcore and relegated to a subgenre of punk but i still think black flag was way more sonically unique and groundbreaking than the sex pistols. i’m not saying that they didn’t need the pistols or the ramones to come before them, but it’s equivalent to the pistols and ramones needing iggy and bowie before them, and so on.
also, every album was so different from the last. they were always challenging themselves to change and progress, and their audience to keep up with them. even their second full album, my war, which slowed songs down to long dirges, influenced the melvins to go in a whole new direction which eventually turned into the radio/mtv friendly grunge movement. rather than trying to be more and more monetarily successful black flag almost seemed to enjoy burying any chances of a “career” in the music business. they seemed pure and genuine. diy at its best. get in the van as henry rollin’s black flag journal is called was what they were all about. make your own thing happen and fuck the mainstream.
[side rant and brain dump: this is how i also feel about graffiti and street art. if you don’t like the art machine and they don’t give a fuck about you because they are busy chasing the current hot thing, and you don’t get enough attention to sell the amount of product they need to make their rent, then take it to the streets, get in the van, and go make your own media, broadcast on this alternative illegal channel (which makes a more powerful statement than a gallery sending out a press release anyway), and connect with your like-minded brethren directly and personally through their minds and hearts. your work on the streets and you by proxy become a phantom outlaw energy that resonates through the eyes and touches those who are on the same wavelength. so broadcast on our channel, transmit signals that mainstream media wouldn’t, live frugally, take risks (but don’t get yourself in debt to the fucking credit card banker loan sharks. think of them as criminals that stand on the corner and have thugs to break your legs if you don’t pay. they already steal from you because you work for them and all the other institutions that use their services), stay off the grid, and “don’t obey,” put succinctly by Droid907. the alternative system of graffiti works and the galleries know it and love it because we do their work for them. at this point, most galleries don’t have the drive or vision to make an artist. they want you when you’ve already proven yourself and laid the groundwork. when they hear about you and see that you’ve already built a following then they’ll support you. so start your own gallery, do pop-ups, start your own channels for payment, go back to the floundering postal system if you hate the credit card companies. or barter. fuck the one percent and their cronies. and when i figure out how to live this way exactly i’ll write about it more succinctly too lol. so far i have a big cartel site, still use credit cards and a bank account, and so on. but even as i write this i come up with ideas and hope to keep a conversation going and spark others to come up with the next idea we need to progress. like only using the postal system for payments (but then of course that entails checks or money orders which come from banks) and realizing that eventually, we won’t have any physical money anymore so someone is going to have to start a business (maybe we need to totally change our vocabulary as well) that will accept payments somehow that totally skirt the banking system. and so on and so on. if you use the system, you are the system. we are all tired, distracted, broke, and have the american dream of easy money and champagne embedded in us, so it’s a hard road and many habits to break. i’m a total procrastinator as well so when I actually do get down to work i’m already pressed for time and just do what’s easiest in terms of the “boring” grunt stuff like finances and marketing. so maybe for now it’s just about compromise and small steps until we can redirect or overthrow what’s going on in this country now. fast food companies don’t want to pay people $15 an hour so they can support their families? then they claim those jobs are only for kids, stepping stones to other jobs? what other jobs??!?!? those are real jobs that deserve real payment and respect. their jobs are actually harder because they are boring and get no returns. fuck you and your vacations and islands and lewie vuitton bags. how condescending, selfish, cruel, and blind not to value and acknowledge their employees’ hard work. don’t talk to us about profits. you are making profits off us, so if you aren’t sharing them with us then you are putting it in your pockets. something is seriously wrong with all this. so at least have in mind to let your art and the money transmitted to you pass through a pure channel to start. like rami shamir and his book train to pokipse, or angelica’s kitchen on 12th street and second avenue in manhattan which doesn’t take credit cards and buys from local farmers, or Droid907 and all the writers out there doing rollers from a van. graffiti and street art are powerful in this sense because they are about action in the real world and outside the money matrix. it touches people because it’s pure. so hit the streets, get in the van, make a difference. end of side rant and brain dump]
after a few years, they even grew their hair really long, greg began playing noodley long solos, and henry was saying they wished they could open for the grateful dead. no matter what you think of the later music, they definitely were never complacent. johnny rotten did the same thing too by starting public image, but i just never really got into them the way i did with black flag because i thought greg ginn was such a musical genius and the music was so much darker and heavier. maybe it’s because i didn’t live in london at the time and didn’t experience the sex pistols first hand (speaking of london, i feel the same way about banksy, but that’s another article).
black flag was also the first “punk” concert i went to, which cemented my obsession with black flag and punk. like listening to damaged, the whole event just blew my mind… and body because i got pushed around in a mosh pit for the first time, and yet everyone was really cool about it. henry had his head shaved and was so menacing with his charles manson eyes. none of them had any fashion sense like the sex pistols, just dirty plaid shirts, greasy unstyled hair, ripped jeans and fucked up sneakers. they obviously just piled out of the van, set up their equipment, and played. one moment that was extremely memorable was during the song crawl (?). henry rollins dove into the audience and wormed around on the slimy beer and cigarette covered floor for what seemed like forever. when he got over near us, my friend suddenly shrieked because henry bit him on the ankle. didn’t break the skin, but still freaked him out, and me too. never seen iggy stage dive, so this kind of thing was new to me.
i think maybe st vitus and definitely, the minutemen opened. i’m guessing it was st vitus because i now know that they were on the SST label. it was slow long-hair metal, which is now known as doom metal. i just wasn’t into it at the time because it seemed so retro and therefore not interesting to me. i mean, they had bellbottom jeans on! some guys came out from backstage in long hair wigs, got down in the audience upfront (which wasn’t hard because it was empty), and seemed to be making fun of them. i thought it was a way of defining the kind of music punk/hardcore was against, and didn’t take it seriously. as i learned more over the years, i realize this may be a total misinterpretation of that band and the wigs. i still listened to all kinds of things, even some progressive jazz, like mahavishnu orchestra and miles davis electric stuff, but punk became my obsession at that time. Hip hop started to creep in too, but never as much as metal and punk, and the more extreme it gets over the years, the more i like it.
Check out EKG’s playlist below on Spotify. Be sure to like Background Noise on Facebook for updates on future episodes. You can browse ALL the Background Noise episodes right here.