Ann Arbor musician and artist Jib Kidder conquered AADL's 2022 Summer Game
When the Ann Arbor District Library's 2022 Summer Game came to a close on August 28, one name was top of the leaderboard among the record-breaking 10,114 participants:
That name might be unfamiliar to you if you're not into underground electronic music—or missed the 2013 episode of So You Think You Can Dance that featured a guy getting down to "Windowdipper," Kidder's booty-bass track built from samples culled from the Windows operating system.
But for the past 15 years, the man born Sean Schuster-Craig has explored the more esoteric and experimental side of electronic music with relentless vigor while never losing track of the beat. When listening to his music, I kept thinking of the out-there sounds of Aphex Twin and Autechre if they kept their love of hip-hop in the foreground, but Jib Kidder cuts a singular figure as a creative individual.
Whether as a musician, visual artist, video creator, or in the case of our email conversation below, a writer, Kidder approaches his creative endeavors with a slice-and-dice intellectualism that mixes collage, social theory, and humor. (A recent post on his sometimes inscrutable Instagram account features an image with the words "philosophy is just electronic music but words," which seems an indicator of his approach to the arts.)
Kidder cites Weird Al as an early influence, but I have to think avant-garde art and political movements like the anti-capitalist Dadaists and Situationists are right up there, too, alongside his professed love of 1990s Southern hip-hop and, as he told me in one email, "Lindsey Buckingham and Roy Orbison - huge influences." (Kidder is also a classically trained guitarist in addition to being a sampling savant.)
A Georgia native who has bounced around the U.S., from Kentucky to California, Kidder is in his second stint of living in Ann Arbor. The first came when he was a University of Michigan (U-M) student and WCBN-FM DJ, which is where he met friends and fellow future recording artists Julia Holter, Laurel Halo, Benoît Pioulard, and others. He returned to town because his wife is a scientist who runs a lab at U-M that studies fruit flies.
Kidder's 367,232 points are an impressive showing for the Summer Game, and he topped the leaderboard by a wide margin: his closest competitor was at 294,334. It takes an amazing amount of dedication—and many, many accumulated hours—to achieve that many points.
I've wanted to talk with Kidder for a while about his music—which you can hear him perform live at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on Saturday, September 24—but I was also curious about his Summer Game methods, so I took the opportunity to send him an email with some questions.
Kidder got back to me quickly, and his responses are full of humor, protest, allusions, and discursions that are sometimes hard to follow the first time you read them. But his written answers are also rich with the sort of anxious intellectual energy that interviewers wish was the norm rather than the exception when talking to people. (Peace to everyone I've ever spoken to for an article!)
For me, Kidder is exactly what I want in an artist: visionary and uncompromising with a philosophical bent.
While some of this interview was edited for clarity on both our parts, I generally just let Kidder go, with an editorial aside if needed. He also named five tunes to introduce you to his sound and video art, which you will find at the end of this post.
So, dig into this chat, give it time to marinate, and listen to Jib's jams as you dream about next year's Summer Game.
Q: I'm going to start our chat with a convoluted theory I came up with on how the way you approached the Summer Game is similar to the way you approach music, so imagine me as a reporter in a black turtleneck who makes the following statement, thrusts a mic forward, and says, "Thoughts?":
I read an interview with you on Dazed where you said, "I like to work in blocks, I like to work with ideas I don't fully understand. It's a kind of hunting, to try and force a world together and then find the most alive thing in it and capture it." In the same interview, you said, "I have this restlessness, I always want to be doing something with my hands," and on the Low Profile podcast you said, "I was born to hunt." All of these quotes are in reference to the creative process, primarily music, which in your case features sampling disparate sounds and making them fit together. But I was thinking you took a similar approach to the Summer Game. You were determined to figure out this deep-tentacled game, relentlessly hunt down all the bits and pieces, and collate every solved clue into a winning whole.
A: There is a sort of schlocky self-help book you can check out at AADL, ADHD: A Hunter in a Farmer's World, I think this catalog item contains the code!
[Editor's note: Kidder discussed this book briefly on the Low Profile podcast. I'm taking "code" to mean the "key" to unlocking this question. A section of the book's synopsis on AADL states, "Often highly creative and single-minded in pursuit of a self-chosen goal, those with ADHD symptoms possess a unique mental skill set that would have allowed them to thrive in a hunter-gatherer society. As hunters, they would have been constantly scanning their environment, looking for food or threats (distractibility); they'd have to act without hesitation (impulsivity); and they'd have to love the high-stimulation and risk-filled environment of the hunting field. With our structured public schools, office workplaces, and factories those who inherit a surplus of 'hunter skills' are often left frustrated in a world that doesn't understand or support them."]
Q: I don't know why this stuck with me, but when I was told you topped the Summer Game leaderboard, I remembered you posting something on Instagram that you were going "full competitive." What prompted your decision to go so hard? Just a fun thing to do with your kids?
A: While the enthusiasm of my son was certainly fuel, I mostly played the game alone. We live in upside-down times. In the "Age of Surveillance Capitalism," it's a goon's world. My thought is the New Fascism needs a New Dada. I took on this quest because it's absurd. I try to do whatever doesn't make financial sense, because at this point, anything that does is probably morally bankrupt. At this stage of capitalism, the only thing that is lucrative is scams. But in the absence of religion, everyone worships money, so there's widespread veneration for scammers. I'm a neo-Luddite, I've never owned a smartphone. It's both contradictory and noncontradictory that I would competitively pursue reverse-skeuomorph yard-sign Pokémon GO. But I also just completely love our socialist library! I've gotten free NARCAN, covid tests, children's surgical masks, disco balls, octave pedals, and Lucretia Martel DVDs from there! It's a community center in a world intent on destroying community.
Q: Did you have any particular daily routine for finding codes?
A: Yes, at the start of the day, immediately open 10 downloads, then open three tabs of Points-o-Matic Newsprinter, toggle between them so as to not have to wait on the slow reloads, and immediately ignore and refresh any hard-to-see images. I predicted the competition would overlook this seemingly low-point activity, which also, unlike most other areas, has no ceiling. Pacing is crucial for slow and steady points, so no way for the competition to make up for lost time.
Q: What were the hardest codes to find or puzzles to solve and why?
A: Any badge that I felt was particularly hard I simply ignored, and badges that required a smartphone were off-limits to me, too. Reviewing was a high-point activity that was also high-difficulty because it's depressing. We live in the most educated community in the country, and yet, in entering the zone of reviews, and just living here during the pandemic in general, you brush up against the sad fact that nevertheless, collectively, we are not very smart. I think I raked in the most points via late summer neighborhood cruising, listening to CPE Bach, and writing down the codes. The yard sign "IFIFITSISITS" was a pretty visually clever code that took me some time to wrap my head around.
Q: Pivoting to your music, the phrase "ADHD psychedelia" is such a terrific descriptor for your sound. I hear the Aphex Twin-, Autechre-, and μ-Ziq/Planet Mu-type influences in your music, and I've read articles that mention Beck and 1990s Southern hip-hop, but to my old-man ears, your songs bring me back to the pre-lawsuit era of sample-based music from the 1980s, when you could get away with pretty much anything: the plunderphonics of John Oswald and Negativland plus the restless sampledelia of Public Enemy, Coldcut, Paul's Boutique-era Beastie Boys, etc.
A: I believe you can get away with just as much these days, but artists are cowards and the earners in music are boring professionals. We live in cowardly, hyper-professionalized times. You can look at the Manson Family to get an accurate sense of the culture, the neuroses and the fantasies of the '60s. NXIVM is the Manson Family of our times. People no longer fantasize about being a lauded musician, they fantasize about being a TED Talk blowhard or a Minecraft YouTuber, or just, like, having the inner strength to resist snacks. People no longer want to take acid and see God; they want to take dark-web fentanyl, die immediately.
Q: You've self-released a lot of your music even after some established labels have put out your records. Does that have to do with you not worrying about sample clearances for the self-released music? And the labels mostly get the songs you've created "from scratch" or have so altered the samples that there won't be legal issues?
A: No, I've worked with almost everyone who's ever offered me a release. Either because I no longer live on the coasts, or because I've already been "discovered," no one offers anymore. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find another artist who's been on network TV, worked with a major indie [Asthmatic Kitty, Weird World], influenced or amused the famous, and is listened to and appreciated as little as me. It's because I work outside of genre. Genre is the money trick of ad goons but now everyone is their own goon. I work in collage and psychedelia, but all writers do—some collage is very disguised, some music has very weak mind effects. Music can transport you an inch or a lightyear, it can pretend to be made from scratch. I use cookbooks but always change recipes. I play in every genre. I am, however, penalized for it by goons and goon algorithms. Music is sacred and comes from elsewhere, the entire concept of intellectual property is a joke. The music industry is a bunch of jokers.
Q: I'm curious how the pandemic influenced your creative output, especially since you work alone most of the time. Some people found way more time to create and cranked stuff out; others, especially those of us with younger kids, not so much. It doesn't look like you released much or any music between 2018 and 2020 but came back strong in 2021.
A: It's true that AAPS tragically and cowardly failed our community during the pandemic, offering nothing of value even to children with economic, intellectual, or behavioral challenges, revealing the sickening inequality and self-centeredness of both our community and greater society, an act I will never forgive. However, my creative lull was more a result of quitting cannabis. I was trained to use marijuana for music-making as a young teen by adult men who have since either gone mad or suicided. Quitting cannabis is an exceptionally difficult task about which everything you've heard is lies or delusions. Long ago, I quit alcohol and cigarettes and both were easier journeys. Marijuana is a beautiful visual and aural psychedelic, but it is not a panacea. Its gifts come at a cost. Anyway, now that weed is legal it is completely uncool! It's just become one more place for hedge-fund managers to hoover up money or for industrial innovation to uncover ways to make it less healthy, more addictive.
Q: You're playing at Ziggy's in Ypsi on September 24. In one interview, I remember you talking about how you like to make each of your shows unique, which sometimes leads to great performances, and sometimes they can be trainwrecks. What sort of show do you have planned for Ziggy's? Guitar and singing? All electronic? Visuals?
A: I have no plan at all; I can't wait to come up with one! I'm delighted that the great local artists Frank Pahl and Kendall Martin Babl will join me! In my most recent show in Brooklyn, I sang and played guitar with no effects and no visuals, traveling without any luggage whatsoever. There is an interesting tension there because I in no way consider myself a singer or songwriter. An audience member compared my performance to Nathan Fielder, a comment I am still trying to unpack.
Jib Kidder's Guide to Jib Kidder
Five tracks to introduce you to Sean Schuster-Craig's world of sound collage, with commentary from the artist.
"Windowdipper" from All on Yall (2008)
"This collage is the closest I've ever come to a hit. Its appearance on the competitive reality show So You Think You Can Dance led to some very strange real-world scenarios."
"Say Goodbye" from Jig's Up EP (2020)
"This is unadorned, sample-free music I made during lockdown."
"My Baby" single (2012)
"A decade later, I'm still proud of my collaboration with Julia Holter, which is a kind of remix of my song 'Ringtone Cowboy' from Steal Guitars. Since becoming a parent, I haven't had a lot of room for video editing, but I think this one marks a point where I was starting to get good at it."
"Wrinkle in Time" from Sums (2019)
"This one touches on various points of our conversation. To quote Leos Carax quoting Musil, 'The artist that opposes his times will be ignored by his times.'"
"After a Lifetime" from Beloved Forever Calling (2010)
"One last topical offering ..."
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.