Moby, the iconic electronic DJ, likes his architecture to be grimy and unpredictable.
So Los Angeles has proved to be the unlikely muse of his architecture photography, and the focus of his running blog on buildings in the sprawling California city.
Moby discussed the aesthetics of L.A. Friday night at the Belly Up with Tim Brown, president of the design firm IDEO, as part of the Aspen Institute’s ongoing Aspen Ideas Festival. Moby later performed at the club, with an additional show on Saturday night.
“I try and see beyond conventional beauty and try to not just see the beauty in ugliness,” he explained, “but to see beauty that might be surprising and might only reveal itself after a little examination.”
He moved to L.A. two years ago, after 20-plus years in Manhattan. While New York is filled with conventionally beautiful buildings like the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building, he said Los Angeles is more interesting to photograph and ponder because of its peculiarities.
“L.A. is a big suburban megalopolis,” he laughed, but said its poorly-planned sprawl and lack of cohesion is its strength: “From one inch to the next, nothing about L.A. is predictable.”
He said he’s fascinated by the countless blocks of the city where an art deco home might sit beside a grim public housing project, beside a dilapidated mansion modeled after a Norman castle.
He credited his obsession with living spaces to growing up poor in the rich kid’s town of Darien, Conn.
“We lived in a garage apartment and my friends lived in palatial estates,” he said.
The un-scrubbed oddness of Los Angeles has kept Moby engaged for two years of photographing and writing, he said. He’s also found it to be welcoming of the creativity of writers and musicians, while they’ve been largely priced out of places like New York.
“Even though it can be off-putting, it represents an urban environment that can be welcoming to artists,” he said.
While Moby’s hour-long talk focused mostly on architecture, his photography and his blog, he also touched on his life as a musician — telling a story about playing “Heroes” with David Bowie in his living room, collaborating with oddball filmmaker David Lynch, and growing up wanting to work on the Starship Enterprise. Some highlights:
On his life’s expectations: “I thought that my life would be spent working in a bookstore, teaching community college and making music in my spare time that no one would be willing to listen to.”
On Institute for Music and Neurologic Function research that indicates music can heal brain trauma: “They’ve found people that had lost the ability to speak can still sing and people who had lost the ability to walk can still dance. ... The brain responds comprehensively to music.”
On illegal downloading and the music industry: “It has been baffling to watch the ham-fisted, clueless ways in which the major labels have tried to get people to pay for music. For the RIAA to sue housewives for listening to music is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Punishing your audience is not a good way to get people to love you.”
On drugs and the enormous popularity of electronic dance music today: “Even though I’m sober, I have to say honestly a huge part of it is the drugs. If you take ecstacy and stand in the middle of 80,000 people listening to phenomenally produced dance music with the best light show you’ve ever seen, you’re gonna have a really nice time.”
His interview was followed by a performance at Belly Up, half of which was acoustic and half of which was a conventional rave. He warned the Ideas Fest crowd at the outset to consume their drugs accordingly.
“If you’ve brought ecstasy, you might want to wait and take it in the second half,” he half-joked.