“Degenerate” typically has a negative connotation. Google says the word means someone who’s “lost the physical, mental, or moral qualities considered normal and desirable.” For Travis Egedy, better known as the electronic artist Pictureplane, being called a degenerate is a “badge of honor.” Egedy even invoked the word to title his latest album.
“The name was inspired by the fallout from the Ghost Ship fire last year,” he says, “which was really heavy for the entire underground art community across the country.” The Ghost Ship was an artist-run warehouse space in Oakland that burned to the ground following an electrical fire in 2016. “Just a few days after that, the warehouse I’d been living in and helped start in Denver, called Rhinoceropolis, was shut down by the police and fire department, and other places across the country were shut down as well,” Egedy laments.
Even in the wake of tragedy, the internet found ways to be cruel. “There were all these right-wing, 4chan-type trolls who were really happy about these spaces getting shut down,” he recalls. “I was outspoken about it, and I was catching all this heat from people calling my friends and me degenerates.” The moment gave Egedy pause. “I thought it was interesting because they were using it as an insult, but I was thinking, If that’s how you see us, then I’m happy to be that.” The word is, he says, “a statement of who I am as an artist and where I come from, someone outside of society, seen as undesirable or strange. It encapsulated where my head was at when making the record.”
The sentiment continues to resonate for him as 2018 wraps up. “It’s tied deeply into the political landscape of the country right now,” he posits. “There’s still a lot of people out there who don’t understand underground culture or why these places are important or what it means to be a young, creative person.”
He’s used to assuming the role of outsider: Degenerate was released this past September without any label distribution, on Egedy’s own imprint. “My new record was the first released on Alien Body as a record label,” he says, referring to his fashion line of several years, Alien Body. “It’s fun to have the control over releases, but also, there’s no distribution or anything… but that’s OK.” He says of his interest in fashion: “I studied painting in school; I’ve always had an interest in contemporary art. I was designing T-shirts for Pictureplane, and people always liked those.” He steadily began to see fashion trends that excited him. “Around 2013 or so, I was really inspired by brands like Mishka and Actual Pain — they were really supportive of me and my music. I did some well-liked designs for Mishka, and that gave me the confidence to branch out on my own,” he says.
“My inspirations for Alien Body are always changing. I’m drawing from all different kinds of subcultures — black metal, tongue-in-cheek references like scared Christian parents in the ’80s, Satanic Panic kinda stuff,” Egedy muses. The designs have run the gamut, from cyberpunk, with its cluttered technological aesthetic, to more overt metal and goth influence. Bearing phrases such as “Destroy all systems of control” and “Realm of chaos and night,” the clothing is decidedly idiosyncratic. Egedy isn’t afraid to venture into dark territories: “That was my influence for this line, really — scared Christians,” he half-jokes.
Asked about how his previous release, 2015’s Technomancer, ended up on the revered indie hip-hop label Anticon, Egedy launches into full-on fanboy mode. “I was in all these Anticon chatrooms and forums back in the day,” he discloses, laughing. “I’d always been a huge fan of Anticon, going back to high school, when I was really young. All of their early artists — like Doseone and Why? and Sole — they were the original indie rappers to me,” he recalls joyfully. “When I was a teenager, they were hugely inspiring.” The connection, then, was entirely natural. “I needed a label for my last record, so I hit them up and asked if they’d be interested in doing it, and they said sure.” Unfortunately, the partnership couldn’t last. “The future of the label is uncertain for now. One of the founding members, Alias, passed away,” he explains remorsefully. “I think it’s tough times for all indie labels right now.”
Egedy maintains a mysterious profile these days. Not only is he self-releasing, but also he doesn’t follow the rigid touring schedule of many acts seeking widespread exposure. “I try to keep it rare — I do a live show in New York every few months maybe, and I DJ around here and there,” he says of his typical performance timetable. When he is onstage, what’s delivered to the audience is entirely determined by Egedy himself. “I’m playing a synth onstage and also triggering samples, doing live effects with pedals, and doing live vocals on top of that,” he says of a complex process not unlike a one-man-band.
Rare appearances aside, Egedy has fond memories of touring, specifically with Alice Glass. “Glass is a really good friend. I first met Crystal Castles in 2007 or something, booking them in Denver. I toured with them on their last tour ever, with Zola Jesus in 2014, and Alice and I have stayed good friends since. I love all her new music; she’s a really rad person.” He’s also excited about an upcoming charity show. “I’m going to Mexico to do a benefit for earthquake victims. It was set up through Prurient, who’s a really influential artist in my life. We’re also going to be doing a discussion panel at an art gallery there.”
Egedy is grateful for the opportunities his music and art have generated, and traveling to the Magic City for a special Miami Art Week performance at the Little Haiti community-centered space 229 is no different. Local music curation group Vlor is bringing him to the stage alongside acts such as Nick Leon, Andean Shrine, and Orphyte.
“Miami is a gorgeous city. It’s nothing like L.A.; it’s really got its own vibe. I always have a lot of fun — maybe because people go to party, and that’s all I’ve done there. I think Art Basel is pretty special.” Somehow it’s doubtful the Basel crowd this year will change his mind regarding those nonstop-party vibes.
Pictureplane. With Nick Leon, Andean Shrine, and Orphyte. 9 p.m. Saturday, December 8, at 229, 229 NE 65th St., Miami. Tickets cost $12 via eventbrite.com.