Meet MKULTRA: Berklee Popular Music Institute Student and Gov Ball Artist

BY NATALIE GUILLEN

Among the many performers on this year’s Governors Ball lineup was Berklee College of Music student, MKULTRA. As part of an immersive, educational music program called Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI), six up and coming artists were chosen to embark on a journey across some of the country’s biggest festival stages. MKULTRA was one of these artists.

PHOTO: Maria Korina /  Instagram

PHOTO: Maria Korina / Instagram

You can call him MKULTRA, Meat Man, or Milk Man. Either of the three would refer to the cinematic universe that his music creates. Composed of various musical personas, MKLUTRA’s art combines elements of hip-hop, punk, and pop to create an entirely new entity.

Due to inclement weather and extensive schedule changes, MKULTRA’s Governors Ball set was cut. However, Blended got the chance to chat with him and discuss his festival experience so far and his ventures into the world of experimental hip hop.

Can you tell us more about what the MKULTRA cinematic universe is comprised of?

Basically it’s kind of really inspired by an artist like David Bowie, where every couple of records he has a new persona, a new character, something to change and shift the focus. Right now I have two characters, but I’m trying to move past that pretty soon. I have one character called Meat Man, which is kind of a side project where it’s very influenced by metal and punk music. It’s also kind of horror-influenced. Then my main guy right now is Milk Man, who is sort of like, AI, like an artificial intelligence, but instead of with technology it’s almost purely made up of information. Then I’m thinking of maybe changing Milk Man into something else. Or have him evolve into something different pretty soon. Kind of like a death and rebirth type of situation.

What sparks that change for you?

I like to come at every record kind of different. Either a different sound or a different aesthetic. I like artists that are always trying to surprise their audience. One of my favorite bands is Death Grips, where it’s just like every album is something different. It’s the same kind of core and it’s the same heart and the same soul but maybe some records are more experimental than others, maybe some have some defining characteristic, maybe some are more guitar-influenced. I like the idea of giving an audience something that’s still fun, still based on pop songs and pop structuring, but also gives them something that challenges them, their expectations, and what they thought they were going to get.

When was the first time you heard about Governors Ball music festival? What about it specifically excited you the most as a performer?

The first time I heard of it was when, I did this thing through Berklee BPMI. I just knew that if they picked you, you would go to a festival. I actually did not know about Governors Ball until they told me I was playing here. Just the fact that it’s a pretty big ass stage. It’s a lot of people, it’s good energy.

How is the festival experience different from a standard concert for you?

It’s very different. But it’s cool though. It’s just cool to see a bunch of different artists kind of all in the same bill. You know it’s cool to check out a bunch of different people.

As a performer that is local to NYC, do you think that Gov Ball still fits into encompassing your idea of New York?

I’m originally from New Jersey so I have family that live in New York. So I’ve been to the city plenty and I think it’s just a different side of New York, that I haven’t seen yet. New York is just so big that it’s very diverse in where you can go. I haven’t personally seen this side, because like I said, I didn’t know about Governors Ball. I also never went to something like this before.

Does your new single “Pop Punk” still fall under this world of experimental hip-hop?

Honestly, I grew up on punk, but I see my music falling more into hip hop than punk. I don’t think my music is really like punk rap really. I think it’s there because that’s what I grew up on and that’s the kind of energy I like and sometimes in some songs it comes out more. Even in “Pop Punk,” I’m rapping all the time, I’m even doing like triplet flows. I think a lot of times I take an abstract approach to kind of a traditional thing of hip hop, of sampling, of taking one source and giving it new meaning, and continuing the story of what that original piece was. I like doing that…I obviously like some pop punk but again just putting a twist on it. Even that song is kind of pop-punk, it has like pop-punk, Blink-182, Green Day melodies. But the lyrics are almost darkly absurd in a way.

What song is your favorite to perform live?

I have a remix of “Hollaback Girl.” That’s always just fun because everyone knows the song. So it’s something that people just love the energy. They have the energy of the original song and their love for it in a nostalgic type of way, but also combined with the fact that I’m screaming my fucking brains out. So I think they like shit like that.

What do you hope listeners are taking away from your music?

I would hope that everyone would take away something different. I don’t think I make music in such a way that you could really take one meaning out of it. I would like listeners to come at my music and maybe see like a piece of themselves in it. Maybe even if they listen to it over time, I know I have a lot of young fans, if they kind of keep going, and keep listening to it over time, have it mean something different over time. I don’t want to make music that’s sort of static. I want it to always be changing, changing shape.

Lead Image Credit: Maria Korina / Instagram