Words by Jonathan Stout
‘Take Caution on the Beach’ sounds as if it was beamed to earth from a mysterious location in outer space. The abstract styles of its Chicago-based creators, Mukqs and Sharkula, unexpectedly compliment each other in a way that creates its own distinct surreality. Sharkula recites dizzying verbiage, with abstract narratives ranging from silly to pensive. The life of the party for sure, he sounds like a lubricated cross between Wesley Willis and Kool Keith. Mukqs’ sweeping electronic instrumentals, filled with lush sonic textures, wouldn’t usually be directly associated with hip hop, so when paired with Sharkula the two seem to create a whole new ethereal genre.
Off Shelf: How did the two of you meet and what made you decide to collaborate?
Mukqs: It’s impossible to remember the first time I “met” Sharkula because even before we became real friends I had already bought numerous CDs from him on the street in Chicago over the years. I’ve always been a huge fan of his and have had so much respect for his music and his craft and the way he operates as an artist in Chicago. I started to see him more frequently around Evanston where I worked, at Northwestern, especially around the restaurants in town or just out on the sidewalk. Eventually I properly introduced myself to him and tried to get to know him more and our conversations whenever we ran into each other got longer and more real. I had been making music in bands and alone for a long time at this point, but had never made a proper beat that I thought someone could rap over — but I wanted to do that, really ever since I was a kid obsessed with hip-hop. So whenever I saw Brian I would say, “Hey man, I’m gonna make you some beats. Let’s work together” – that kind of thing. And Brian has collaborated with so many different producers and sourced beats from so many places, so to him it must have seemed like just another random dude offering to make him beats. But every time I saw him, I would keep promising him that I was working on getting stuff together. And I was. And eventually I had a full album’s worth of beats, and that’s what became our first album ‘Prune City’.
OS: Sharkula- your free association lyrical style and delivery are both really unique. What’s your lyric creating process? Was this album fully freestyle or did you write any lyrics beforehand?
Sharkula: I choose to keep it a mystery so people don’t know the details about my process. I don’t want anyone to sound like me, and I want people to come up with their own ideas about how I do things. The album wasn’t freestyle – all these verses came from my written ideas for songs. I wrote to the beats. I did all the vocals as first take because that’s how I do things.
OS: Were there any shared influences between the two of you that helped inspire the creation of this project?
Sharkula: We just came from our own heart. We both are bringing our own backgrounds into it, and coming up with something that fuses the music influences that we love. I will say that we both like a lot of old school 80s and 90s hip-hop. But also all kinds of music.
OS: What was the process for creating this album? Did you create the tracks live or were the beats created first?
Mukqs: Just like ‘Prune City’, I created the beats for ‘Take Caution on the Beach’ on my own, over a long period of time – roughly mid-2019-mid-2020, I think? Most of the music I make as Mukqs is improvised to some degree, and often uses randomizing processes. Like, looping gear exploited to randomly spin and spit out fragments of whatever I feed into it, which could result in a chaotic, arrhythmic spread of sounds. I think it’s obvious from listening to my beats for ‘Take Caution’ that the process for this was totally different. I approached this from the perspective of making narratives with more conventional structures, 16 bar “verses” and “chorus” parts, steadier beats, and more deliberate layering. Stuff like that. In a way it represents the total opposite of my usual style which makes the most of uncertainty and chance operations. One thing that does connect the beats for ‘Take Caution’ with the other music I make as Mukqs is that the final takes were all recorded live from my gear – primarily sampler in this case – with no overdubs and created only using hardware synths and drum machines. This is true for all my music, and is a thorough line that runs through my beatmaking vs. the more abstract stuff.
OS: How have you both navigated the turmoil of the last year? What gives you inspiration to continue creating your art even during difficult times?
Sharkula: God. Thanks to god I’m able to survive, and we’re hanging in there during the pandemic. In the morning, I wake up and breathe, I think about how I’m thankful and grateful I am to be alive, and let the creator take control. After that first step, I just follow whatever I can. It’s different for everybody. Whatever inspires me inspires me. I think the albums speak for themselves.
Mukqs: I am lucky enough to work a bunch of jobs that I can do from home on the computer, from writing and editing jobs, to academic research, to music and label-related stuff. So my experience with the pandemic has been much different than Brian’s, to say the least. I don’t really understand the notion of “continuing creating art” because… what else would I do? What else would an artist do? That’s the most important thing in life to me. There is nothing that could stop me from creating art, ever. So, that’s a no brainer.
OS: How would you describe life in Chicago during the pandemic? Do you think the music scene will fully rebound after the pandemic?
Sharkula: Like anywhere else in the world. A challenge. Being sanitized and wearing my mask. I’m still working my job all around the city, selling music and art, and I have a GoFundMe page. I have no idea about the music scene recovering. I hope it does. I don’t like to think about “what ifs”- I just like to keep doing my thing.
Mukqs: My view of Chicago during the pandemic has basically been the inside of my apartment and the back porch / alleyway area behind my apartment. I don’t have a good view of the outside world. Of course the music scene will rebound. The people that are passionate about it will never stop doing it. To consider whether it will “fully” rebound vs., what, “partially” rebound (?) is kind of gauche, in my opinion. Anything will be better than nothing. And of course over time, if society gets its shit together RE: the pandemic and all the health, socioeconomic, cultural problems that it generates, we’ll see music scenes continue to build steam again.
OS: Do you plan on this ever performing live together as this project (that is, when live shows become more prevalent again)?
Sharkula: Yes, we will perform live again when we can. Hopefully we’ll get to Madison Square Garden, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Pitchfork, and SXSW. We’re gonna do it all! (laughs)
OS: Do you plan on creating more albums together?
Sharkula: Yes, we will make more albums together. Of course. We love collaborating. The music is great. It’s fun, and it’s funny.