Techno composer Moby is a hypocrite, but he's the first to admit it. "Everything I do is contradiction, and it's laden with hypocrisy," says the vegan and environmentalist. Moby, a.k.a. Richard Melville Hall, speaks out against a number of issues, including toxic waste and cattle ranching. Pretty much everything about modern civilization pisses him off, but automobiles, plastics and animal testing are a few things he finds particularly abhorrent. Despite his convictions, Moby and his computer-driven music rely on technological marvels produced by the very industries whose commercialism and pollution ravage the Earth. This fact distresses Hall.
"Oh, it's a huge contradiction and it's very hypocritical and I get called on it all the time and I don't have a good answer except to agree," he says. "You know, if you were to say, 'Moby, you're a hypocrite for doing this,' I'd say, 'Yeah, I know. I apologize.'"
Hall alleviates some of his guilt by rationalizing his machinery as part of a "trade-off" that allows him to undermine the establishment by using its own weapons against it. "Availing myself of all this nasty technology," he says, "enables me to communicate with people and, hopefully, get people to reevaluate their lives."
Moby's missionary work takes the form of his music, a sonic mlange ranging from elegiac new age to anthemic techno and hard-core. Though Hall has 20 years of classical and jazz experience and admits to once playing in "a bad rock 'n' roll cover band," recently, he's been drawn to the complexity of techno. Not everyone, though, appreciates the demands of this musical form. "People tend to be dismissive of dance acts," Hall says. "`Oh, he's some dumb deejay, anyone can do that.' But an electronic musician has to know the systems of 50 pieces of equipment where the operating manual for each is the size of a phone book."
Regardless of the material he's played, Hall has always discovered an "alchemical" magic in music. "I always loved this nothingness, this air moving between a speaker and my ears that could somehow induce profound emotional responses. It's like creating something from nothing--literally, nothing from nothing. When you play a piece of music, you're just moving the air; you're slightly restructuring nothingness. How can you resist not being involved in that?"
Despite Hall's political convictions, his music isn't brimming with a radical agenda. "The music itself," he explains, "isn't specifically issue-oriented. What I'd like to do is make it more issue-oriented, but I haven't figured that out yet." So for now, Moby spreads his doctrine of eco-vegetarianism through essays and remarks, as well as literature distributed at concerts.
Moby's latest release, Everything Is Wrong, only hints at the songwriter's activist concerns. While the liner notes cram a remarkable number of facts about environmental deterioration (fresh air, for instance, is so rare in Mexico City that sidewalk vendors sell it out of tanks for $1.15 a minute), the music avoids in-your-face proselytizing. The pessimistic overtones of the album's title are mitigated by several danceable tracks. Although a few selections are "depressing," they tend to be instrumentals without an obvious ax to grind. The origin of these darker songs comes from Hall's disappointment in the human species and its failure to live up to what he sees as rather modest expectations of decency and reason.
"The pessimism that I have is borne of the potential I sense in human beings," he says. "Things could be so good, but our priorities are so screwed up and we're so dishonest and the things we spend our energies on are such a waste of time."
And he says a lot of that energy is spent chasing after money so that the individual can afford the array of (toxic) products flooding the market. As we all know, he adds, modern capitalism sucks the soul out of people, leaving them stranded in a meaningless world with nothing but microwaves and Mitsubishis to fill the spiritual void.
He admits his theories may sound like "New Age crap theology," but Moby believes that solving the world's problems requires that people figure out what they valued before McDonald's and Disney came along. "The reason all these institutions exist," says Hall, "is to meet people's supposed needs. And until people can honestly recognize what their real needs are, we're gonna keep trying to meet them through false things, through consumerism."
One step toward progressive social change, he claims, involves a change in diet. Vegetarianism can lead not only to better health, but to a more compassionate world. Moby eschews meat for reasons that include outright animal cruelty, but also because he believes ranching wreaks devastation. To bolster his argument, the musician spews statistics: 85 percent of the topsoil loss in the U.S. is the result of livestock production; the U.S. cattle industry produces 158 million tons of waste per year; and 80 percent of USDA chicken inspectors no longer eat chicken.
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"Some people ask me, 'Why are you a vegetarian?' It's like, where can I start? An easier question is why would someone want to eat meat? It's bad for their health, it's bad for the environment, it's just bad all the way around."
Moby says humans are wrong to assume that technology gives them dominion over "inferior" species. Still, big-hearted Moby realizes that it's dog-eat-dog out there. "Sure, ants are gonna get stepped on and human beings are gonna die, and that's just part of the process," says the self-styled techno philosopher. "Death doesn't trouble me. What troubles me is willfully, knowingly causing suffering and cruelty. Given the choice to eat a carrot or a cow, the compassionate thing to do should be apparent."
What's considerably less apparent is Moby's relation to author Herman Melville, who the musician claims is his "great-great-great something or another uncle." But ol' Mobe is more impressed with living artists, and is quick to point out his work with legendary conceptual musician/producer Brian Eno. Moby says he was "the first person to ever do a remix for Brian Eno," and Eno's the guy everyone else calls in to mix their albums.
Moby says he will make music as long as it inspires people to ponder important issues. And that's a whale of a commitment. "There's so many records out there," he says with a sigh. "I don't want to just contribute to the mess. And if it seems at some point that that's all I'm doing, then I have to stop, because there's enough plastic out there. The world doesn't need a few more hundred thousand Moby pieces of plastic.