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Home BLOGS Music Interview: Mark Gergis aka Porest

Interview: Mark Gergis aka Porest
Written by Chris Rolls   
Tuesday, 18 November 2008 06:44
Audio revisionist Mark Gergis aka Porest discusses Sublime Frequencies, Tourrorists! and other sonic morsels from a comfortable cruising altitude.

Stationed in a West Oakland bunker one-man audio revisionist Mark Gergis aka Porest (their Myspace) slices and dices sonic morsels into anthropological bitch slaps, and terror ready disco. His albums are a flag on the field for reptilian neo-cons, R.D. Lang disciples, religious fanatics, Straussians, Friedmanites, and anyone else foolish enough to believe that a free market global reality works. For those who ride their white horse of American luxury living into an apocalyptic sunset as remote viewers stab a depleted uranium sword into Islam’s gut, Gergis says, in the immortal words of known schizophrenic game theorist John Nash "Fuck you buddy!" But do not think that Gergis just tosses audio bombs from a comfortable distance, oh no, our man has traveled beyond the Muslim veil into Syria, and on several occasions brought back sounds that have been assembled, and released on Sublime Frequencies – the only label that bends over Real World ethno-rapists, and exposes them as the colonialist they are.

Fecal Face caught up with Gergis as he boarded a flight for Syria. This interview was completed in-flight, and sent from the heart of Fertile Crescent.

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You have contributed many albums to Sublime Frequencies; please explain your relationship with the label.

In 2002 Alan Bishop and I began discussing ideas about international music we and others we knew had been collecting over the years. Thus far, we'd all mainly kept it to ourselves or shared it with the pals who were interested. Eventually he brought up the notion of starting a label with his partners that would release these documents representing the hybrid folk/pop from the Middle East and Southeast Asia we had both been focusing on. It didn't seem like anyone else was releasing anything similar and so in late 2003, Sublime Frequencies was born. The field recordings, film documentation and regional radio collage recordings all fall in line with what has become the shape-shifting aesthetic of the label and I'm glad to be a heavy contributor. We all continue to travel to the areas in the world that interest us when we can and are constantly meeting more incredible musicians and music lovers in these places. Each trip fuels the inspiration and drive to dig deeper in. We're in so deep now, we're coming out the other side. We are all up inside that which is not World Music as it has been known.

You traveled to Syria specifically to acquire music from Omar Souleyman, an album that has received universal praise even from the overtly ironic Vice magazine. How did you track down Omar and convince him to release his music through Sublime Frequencies?

My first trip outside the Americas or Europe was a solo trip to Syria in late 1997. On that trip, I kept hearing this incredibly fast and gritty dabke music blaring from the street stalls in every city. Every time I'd inquire, I was shown an Omar Souleyman tape. I bought as many as I could on that first trip and loaded up again in 2000 on my second trip, after having a few years to process the genius of it all. Years later, Alan Bishop and I discussed trying to track Omar down for a possible SF release and I gave it a shot in 2006 when I returned to Syria with Oakland musician Liz Allbee with the hope of finding the man. And we did! After a couple weeks of asking around I finally found a guy at a Kurdish cassette shop in Aleppo who had a phone number of someone who would have a phone number. Omar was told that two Americans would like to meet with him. He agreed to meet us in Hassake and told us to wait there for him. Traveling as tourists to Hassake in 2006 was a real experience. It's definitely off the beaten tourist path and very close to the Iraqi border, where a full-scale war was/is raging. As a result, we were trailed by Syrian secret police every step of the way in a rather obvious fashion. They basically shadowed us and watched everything we did without direct communication. At that point, we decided it would be best to declare our intentions to a municipal office. While at that office, we showed cassette tapes of Omar and said we were waiting to meet him. They found this amusing and confusing, but found us a translator who told us he could help negotiate with Omar. He also informed us we were being watched "for our protection". Fair enough, but it was also for Syria's protection. Who the hell were we and what were we doing there? It looked strange, I'm certain. It's a sensitive region. A few days later, Omar showed up with a driver and met us in our hotel room. There he was, as regal and brooding a presence as we knew from the photos on every cassette cover. I was honored. I stated my case through the translator and when we had gone through the formalities, Omar decided we should take it to the next level and discuss business at a local restaurant. As we exited the hotel and stepped into his private vehicle, all the locals who had really been wondering why Liz and I were in town, stopped, gawked and whispered "Omar Souleyman...Omar Souleyman...” at the sight of him. Omar expressed that he couldn't walk as a normal person in that region anymore. At the restaurant, I explained the ethos of Sublime Frequencies to Omar and explained how great it would be to get a release out in the West so people could hear the modern folk-pop sounds of Syria.

He really seemed to understand and agreed to sign a contract with us. It was his first ever contract signing. It was my first time presenting a contract, too. He appreciated that. He said he had a general distrust of most producers and people who had approached him for contracts in the past. The man has a lot of integrity. I gave him a demo disc I'd assembled of his music that featured truncated versions of hour-long songs and asked him to authorize it. He did. Days later, he was putting us up at his Damascus apartment and we were able to see him perform and film him. I can say that he is a friend and a very kind man and I'm looking forward to seeing him again this week as I write this.

The Sublime Frequencies CD did indeed make him a cult legend in the West and the results have been great so far. There are people who now think of Syria a bit differently than they may have before. Even hipsters. Even ironic Vice folk. And that's fine!!! Let Omar be the gateway to your next level.

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Your album "I Remember Syria" was an aural document of your travels. Currently you are traveling in Syria. Are you collecting music for another album?

Yes! We're going to discuss future plans with Omar Souleyman, collect more music, see more music, conduct more research, film more footage, record more radio and generally have a great time. Each trip yields multiple projects!

What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions Americans harbor about Syria, and the Middle East in general?

That it's dangerous and that it's uncivilized. That Israel is a democracy and a power that should be supported without question. A lot of Americans (and Europeans) are completely ignorant about the region. This contributes to the fact that most people here don't really know how to separate people from government when it comes down to it. That's something that (surprisingly) most Arabs I meet on the street have going for them. They generally use their intellect and intuition and assume it's not the American people they should have a problem with, but the government. But really, it's becoming increasingly hard to prove that there's any difference between America's government and its people, so I go out into the field and try to help Middle Easterners understand that they also need to worry more about a lot of American people, because more and more Americans are as guilty as their government of ignorance and barbarism. I'm a great ambassador. People get scared for me when I travel to Syria, and one thing I always try to emphasize about Syria is that it is a relatively safe, extremely hospitable and civil place. The only thing I'm careful about over there is crossing the street. I have a good way of communicating with people wherever I am and I use my intuition and try to leave my ego at the border. As long as I don't get caught in the crossfire somehow along the way, I'll be fine. When people try pointing out Syria's faults, I challenge them to come up with one criticism that can't be paralleled in the U.S. It isn't possible, actually. Over here, it's easy to view the Middle East as a place where religious zealots and fundamentalists run wild. Again, it's similar to the volume of "fanatics" you'd find in the U.S.

The last Porest album, Tourorists! could be perceived as anti-Christian; do the perspectives aired on that record directly reflect your personal feelings towards Christianity?

Yeah, I think there were a few good stabs on that album. Blasphemous morsels. But I don't really have the time or passion to be anti-Christian or anti-religious. I spent some of my youth doing that as I broke out of a weird religious upbringing. But it takes a lot of effort to sustain that and it's not really going to change anything in the end. World travel has helped me realize that I don't need to push my opinions on people or tell them I think that their god or their belief system might be deluded, or whatever. I wouldn't want them to do that to me, so why should I do that to them? I start having big problems when people proselytize and think I should adhere to their belief system. A lot of people who operate under Christianity feel that's their exact duty. They suck. But I've seen what power religion holds for people worldwide. In some cultures, it's just the way it is. It's not really a question. Everyone loves their god and life continues under that premise, regardless of sectarian beliefs. When I look at some of the people in America who embrace radical forms of religion, I see how ravaged by life they are and how thirsty they are for concrete answers about life and mortality. Those life questions tend to really eat into human brains at rates most people aren't equipped to deal with. I know a lot of deeply religious people and it seems to be what keeps them going and it's what makes them feel content and accounted for. But everyone does that with something to some degree. We all have passions and ways of looking at the "big picture", with or without gods.

We believe in whatever we believe in and dose on something at the end of the day to help diversify the cycle. The fundamentalist faction of Christianity in this country is a very powerful and belligerent force that actually makes things happen and stops other things from happening.

I tend to think it should evaporate. But aren't fundamentalist atheists just as scary, self-righteous and as hopelessly dogmatic? We were talking about the music..... I had a fake Christian band in the 90s. It was called Lord Chord. It was an experimental lo-fi "indie" Christian group that was supposed to be marketed to real Christians. Our publicist, a Christian Zionist, made a run to Lubbock with the money and it never happened.

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Tourrorists! provides a chilling interpretation of post 9/11 America. Do you personally believe that the attack on the World Trade Center was either in part orchestrated by the US government, or potentially completely designed from within the neo-conservative faction of the current administration?

I think the Neocon Straussians wrote every note of that song and made sure they had the right musicians in the band. Really, if I admit what I believe in an online interview that can be accessed forever, then I'll just be a Google search away from instant dismissal...or something much worse. So let it go on record that I personally believe that this was a very un-American question of you to ask!

It all comes down to what people want to believe or disbelieve at this point. There are entities out there that are pleased we've come this far without serious questions being asked by large numbers of people. The fact that the official story, which was sold to us within hours of the event, has always been taken verbatim is surreal, isn't it? Wars have relied on this story.

The only certain thing we should believe about 9/11 at this point is that it happened and that its repercussions were extremely beneficial for certain parties. But who needs to think about that? If word got out that it was Sammy Davis Jr. himself who flew both airliners into the towers, it might make good dinner conversation for a night and that'd be the end. People don't really care who did it or what happened, as long as Seinfeld is on or they've got a date for the night.

America is populated with scores of adult children who want no accountability for their actions but are pretty certain they know what's going on. You can read most folks like a high school psychology book – and it's not even not even interesting or deviant psychology! It's more like typical textbook Freudian bullshit. Just as scary as anyone else in middle-America to me are all the so-called liberals who think they're part of some whimsical emerging global consciousness. All jive! We all just smell bad. We're like selfish balls of flesh and fluid that don't even want to begin to unravel ourselves, much less those who are controlling our lives. The Tourrorists! Album has fun with all of that and takes the whole world out for some birthday cake at a pizza parlor on a Friday night after a movie. I tried not to make it a pedantic or exclusively political record. That's usually a big turn off to me and only speaks to a few people, really. The album is all over the place, meaning it tries to mop every corner of the floor.

What is your take on the current financial crisis in America?

It's about time!! No really, as long as Best Buy still exists, I can cash my reward cards in and I'm good....otherwise, let the dream disintegrate!

One result I am truly frightened of is dealing with an American middle class under a martial law that they embrace due to circumstance that has absolutely no idea what to do with their lives in a post-material world. Most people whose lives rotate around weekends, sports and shopping malls will need serious reprogramming and a lot of sedatives when the shit hits the fan. They'd probably rather be tranquilized than ever ask themselves how it all happened. Don't get me wrong, tranquilizers are nice, but...

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Describe being of Iraqi descent in contemporary America - specifically in regard to your artistic work.

Well, growing up half Arab in America is different than not growing up half Arab. I'll never really know what it would be like to peacefully eat bologna sandwiches in grade school without being called Khomeini-face or Gaddafi or something. I vowed artistic revenge on my classmates at an early age, knowing full well that I'd make an album like "Tourrorists!" that they'd never hear.

Growing up around a lot of Middle Eastern hospitality, food, music and values has definitely made me see things differently than a non-Arab American. The U.S. has waged war on my Dad's country for over half my life, so I have always had a unique perspective on that as well. Especially when people in the trash suburb I grew up in would come into our market with "Fuck Iraq" T-shirts on and ask us "Where you from"?

It's hard to say what my work or my life would be like without that heritage. But seeing Arabs scapegoated, demonized, tortured and interrogated for being Arabs shouldn't just affect Arabs...

Last but certainly not least, what does the future hold for Porest? Are you working on a new album, and if so what is the thematic drive for the project?

There are a few Porest projects on the works. I try to keep it an open- ended project where anything can happen, which means it's allowed to be whatever it wants. The current projects are more musical than ever and they're all over the place. Nothing's tending to be exclusively theme-related aside from the children's record I'm always working on. There will be a Porest DVD released at some point and I'm hoping to get a Porest live-group assembled by next year as well. Concurrently, many cool Sublime Frequencies projects are also in the works, focusing more on South East Asia and the Middle East, so there's a lot going on!

Porest - "Hoyda" - From the CD "Tourrorists" - Abduction Records 2006

Interview by Fecal Face's music editor Chris Rolls - chris(at)fecalface.com

Photographs: Dave Franklin {moscomment}

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+SF

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FULL CALENDARS: BAY AREA | NYC | LA

 


 

 

 

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While walking our way across San Francisco on Saturday we swung through the opening receptions for Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in the Mission.


Jeremy Fish Solo Show in Los Angeles

Jeremy Fish opens Hunting Trophies tonight, Saturday April 5th, at the Los Angeles based Mark Moore Gallery. The show features new work from Fish inside the "hunting lodge" where viewers climb inside the head of the hunter and explore the history of all the animals he's killed.


The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


The Marsh Barge - Traveling the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to quit my job, move out of my house, leave everything and travel again. So on August 21, 2013 I pushed a canoe packed full of gear into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, along with four of my best friends. Exactly 100 days later, I arrived at a marina near the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat.


Flavio Samelo's Downtown Sao Paulo Murals

Our buddy Flavio Samelo down there in Brazil does all kinds of great work including this recent mural project in downtown Sao Paulo in front of one of the most important modern buildings of Oscar Niemeyer from the 60's, THE COPAN.


John Trippe, FFDG and Fecalface.com Founder, Stepping Down From Daily Operations

John Trippe, founder, owner and curator of FecalFace.com and the Mission District art gallery FFDG, announced today that he will stepping down from daily operations of the two ventures to seek new career opportunities.


High 5s - Get Your Feet Wet

I purchased one of the first digital cameras when Fecal Face went online in 2000. It was a massive Kodak with 2 mega pixels


"Touching Base" by Schuyler Beecroft

San Francisco based Schuyler Beecroft emailed over the great new series of paintings he's completed entitled "Touching Base", 16x20in on mounted wood panel. Like them.


Flume - Space Cadet (ft. Ghostface Killah & Autre Ne Veut)

Buddies Jay Howell & Jim Dirschberger did this great video produced by Forest City Rockers.


Fire Shelter for Papay Gyro Nights 2014

Last year we posted photos from another one of Simon Hjermind Jensen's Fire Shelters he's made in Copenhagen. This time around the Copenhagen based artist/ designer created one for the Papay Gyro Nights 2014 way up in on the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland.


"Portrait of a Slugger 19" by Hiro Kurata

Beautiful painting by NYC based Hiro Kurata now on display at SF's FFDG through April 19th as part of the group show "Salt the Skies".


"Veins of Octulen" by Curiot at FFDG

"Salt the Skies" opened on the 21st at FFDG and features this great piece by Mexico City based Curiot (Favio Martinez) whose sold out 2013 show Age of Omuktlans ran at FFDG. His forthcoming solo show is slated for March 2015.


Rome's Alice Pasquini ~Mural+

Rome based multimedia artist Alice Pasquini emailed over a recent mural completed in the historic working class neighborhood of Rome called Tufello.


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