"Can you crack the code?" This is the mantra of JJ Brine, the force behind the iconoclastic one-man band CodeCracker. Brine's distinctive style evokes shades of Joy Division and Nico - his primary influences - while amounting to a future-retro brand of electronica all his own.
Brine cites his "frantic" experiences in world travel as a major inspiration for his music; his time in the Middle East has been particularly influential. While living in Beirut, he and his Lebanese boyfriend were kidnapped by Hezbollah following an "incident" in the Dahiye suburb. At gunpoint, with bags over their heads, they were held captive and interrogated for seven hours before being released. Brine admits to being terrified by the experience but also calls it "exhilarating" and adds that he "thrives under intense circumstances."
CodeCracker, the self-titled debut album, explores religious themes and relationships of power, giving the listener a deliciously demented sonic experience. Displaying his affinity for situations of extreme contrasts, CodeCracker presents the reflective, down tempo "Portrait of Ruin" with sparse guitar/drum/bass/synth instrumentation alongside the lush electronic experimental romp "I'll Dig You Up and Fuck You.” With the dark, perhaps even nihilistic tones of his debut, Brine occupies a seat of power among his fans and musical cohorts that is certain to continue and evolve into his next project, titled ESM due out for release in 2011.
How do you describe your music to people, JJ?
I think of my music as the soundtrack to a video game that will be made one hundred years from now, in which players control an army of spirits vying for control of a human body. The human depicted in the game will be tailored to look exactly like the player, so they become accessories to the spiritual subjugation of their own likeness.
Other people think that my music sounds "future-retro" like a darker New Order or Depeche Mode, with elements of The Knife/Fever Ray. I suppose that's fair enough.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
When I was a little kid I used to love commercials that featured "jingles" - you know, the songs accompanying products that were designed to get stuck in your head like mantras, thereby forcing you to recall the brand in question at various points throughout your day. I would take the melodies and sing about unrelated subjects, usually morbid ones.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Aside from making music? When I have the time I like to travel to remote/obscure destinations without doing much research on them beforehand and then learning as much as possible about them on the ground. This has occasionally landed me in a bit of trouble.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
I'm not so great at managing the various social networking profiles that have become so essential to just about any business, the music industry in particular. I find it hard enough to represent myself at times, let alone a dozen virtual representations of myself across constantly evolving, interlocking platforms. It's becoming easier with practice, though.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Either a marine biologist or an actor. When I think about it now, they're essentially different positions in the same industry for all practical purposes.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
I think that being an only child forced me to construct my own realm of entertainment. That's probably had more of an impact than residing in a particular place at a given time. Living in Lebanon during a somewhat tumultuous period contributed to an appreciation for sonic landscapes that evoked the sights and sounds of Beirut, though. And I think that living in New York for the past year or so has made me more willing to pursue some of my more experimental inclinations.
What other artists out there do you love?
Nico (yes, of the Velvet Underground) has been my favorite singer since I was sixteen and is quite secure in that position. Others include Joy Division, Lou Reed, Front 242, Siouxsie and the Banshees... The Knife is also amazing, and I like some of the bands that are being called witch house.
What does your future hold?
Looking into my crystal ball I see an expansion and development of CodeCracker, which will prove to be quite prolific and influential, starting with the 2011 release of our second album - "ESM," which stands for Electronic Spirit Music. This was intended to be left a mystery so that people could speculate, but I'm feeling particularly generous this morning so I wanted to give you guys an exclusive. I also see a collaborative effort on a musical project with my good friend Travis Wayne of Convent, my favorite destination in the city, as a promising project. Presuming that my crystal ball is lying about 2012, of course.