Moby | Encyclopedia.com (2024)

Musician, performer, producer

Moby is perhaps the most well-known name in the subculture of music and style known as techno. This fast-paced electronic dance music is mainly heard at nightclubs, parties, and especially at "raves," generally described as giant, marathon dance parties. While raves are notorious for rampant drug use, Moby is substance-free and a Christian, although he has admitted a weakness for chasing members of the opposite sex. He steers clear of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, and is also a vegan, a person who does not consume any meat or animal products, including dairy or eggs. Despite the contradictions between his lifestyle and those of hedonistic ravers, Moby is arguably the leader of the techno genre, although he did take a detour in 1997 with the heavy metal album Animal Rights. In 1999 he returned to his roots with Play, an eclectic melange that reached beyond sheer dance music while once again showcasing techno.

Moby was born Richard Melville Hall on September 11, 1965, in New York City, and raised in the suburb of Darien, Connecticut. His nickname, which he has had since he was a baby, is based on the novel Moby Dick, written by his great-great-great uncle, Herman Melville. Moby's father, a chemistry professor named James Melville, died in a car accident after driving drunk when his son was two. His mother, Elizabeth, who became a doctor's aide, then worked as a secretary by day and played keyboards in a band at night. Moby lived during the week at the spacious home of his well-to-do grandparents, but spent weekends with his unconventional mother. His grandparents taught Sunday school, but Moby's childhood was not particularly religious. He told Chris Norris in New York magazine that he was raised "sort of Presbyterian."

Discovering both music and drugs at a young age, Moby played the guitar in elementary school and was smoking pot and listening to Led Zeppelin by around age ten. His tastes switched to the Clash and Sex Pistols by age 14, and at that stage he quit using drugs and alcohol and began a "straight-edged" hardcore punk band, so called because the members were devoted to staying straight, or sober. The Vatican Commandos, as they were called, performed at high-profile Manhattan punk clubs like CBGBs and Great Gildersleeves. However, when he went off to the University of Connecticut, he began drinking again, attending parties and playing in bands in addition to studying religion and philosophy.

Became Born-again Christian

In college Moby began spinning records at the campus radio station. He then dropped out of school after just eight months, and began hanging out in clubs in New York City, where he learned to love dance music. "I just realized how powerful and celebratory dance music was," he recalled to Norris. "I love that real anthemic quality. Just big piano breaks, screaming diva vocals, and real high energy." He began working as a DJ for a club in Port Chester, New York, and then moved to venues in New York City, including the club Mars. By 1987, under a variety of stage names like Voodoo Child, Barracuda, and Mindstorm, Moby was spinning for big names like Cher, Run-D.M.C., and Big Daddy Kane, and started recording his own club mixes on the Instinct label in 1989.

At just about the time he left college, Moby became a born-again Christian. Although he does not belong to any specific church, and has been known to sharply criticize religious conservatives, he has been open about the fact that he tries to live according to Christian principles. "I try to live up to [Jesus'] teachings but fail all the time," he told Lorraine Ali in Rolling Stone. In addition, he is a vegan, and he does not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or bleach his clothes (citing that bleach harms the water supply).

When Moby remixed the theme song from the popular David Lynch television series Twin Peaks with a thumping beat to create the track "Go," he became a major name not only among the ranks of deejays but also on the charts. The song reached the top ten in Britain in 1991, and Moby continued to churn out club singles for Instinct, such as the hits "Next Is the E" and "Thousand." He also compiled a number of singles on Moby (1992), and experimented with a minimalist sound on Ambient in 1993. In 1993 Moby signed a five-record deal with Elektra and released the EP Move, which appealed to many fans who had not previously been fond of dance music.

Philosophy Inspired Album

Right after the release of Move, Moby toured with the Lollapalooza festival concert, headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This exposure helped reveal Moby to a much more mainstream audience and made him virtually the only techno deejay at the time who was known to a widespread audience. Neil Strauss wrote in Rolling Stone, "A year ago, the name Moby and the word techno were practically synonymous." However, Strauss added that some techno fans had begun to think of Moby as a "traitor" due to his lifestyle, not to mention the fact that he had worked on a remix for pop star Michael Jackson.

In 1995 Moby released his debut album, Everything Is Wrong, deriving the title from his philosophy of the world. "I think 500 years from now, people are going to wonder what was going on now," Moby told Strauss. "They'll see this race of people that smoked cigarettes and drove cars and fought wars and persecuted people for their beliefs and sexual orientation, and none of it accomplished anything. … Everything is absolutely 100 percent wrong, and how do we change it is the question." For the album's liner notes, Moby listed 67 statistics concerning topics such as the plight of the rain forests and the destruction of trees.

Everything Is Wrong cut across several musical genres, from jazz to classical piano to hard rock to disco grooves, but as Ali noted, "Amazingly, these transitions aren't jerky or abrupt; rather, the music evolves naturally from one style to the next." The album soon became a critical favorite, although some techno purists rejected it as a "sellout."

Moby's discontent with dance music came to a head with Animal Rights (1997), in which he gave up his synth sound in favor of a hard rock style. Much of the content revealed his early punk influences and featured his screaming voice and wailing guitar riffs. This effort was not warmly received, but did not slow down his career. In the meantime, Moby was busy working on other artists' projects, remixing "1979" for Smashing Pumpkins, "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)" for Aerosmith, "Until It Sleeps" for Metallica, and "Dusty" for Soundgarden. He also produced "Walk on Water" for Ozzy Osbourne.

For the Record …

Born Richard Melville Hall on September 11, 1965, in New York, NY. Education: Attended University of Connecticut.

Club deejay, c. late 1980s-early 1990s; began releasing singles on Instinct, 1989; signed with Elektra Records and released EP Move, 1993; released debut album, Everything Is Wrong, 1995; creator of music for film soundtracks; produced remixes for artists such as Aerosmith, Brian Eno, Michael Jackson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others; has produced for Ozzy Osbourne; toured with Lollapalooza festival, 1993; signed with Mute Records, released the EP Move, 1994; released Everything Is Wrong-Mixed and Remixed and Animal Rights, 1996; issued I Like to Score, 1997, Play, 1999, and 18, 2002; founded Area: One Festival, 2001, followed by Area2, 2002; released Hotel, 2005, and Last Night, 2008.

Addresses: Office—Mute Records, 43 Brook Green, London, W6 7EF. Web site—Moby Official Web site http://www.moby.com/.

Subsequently, Moby began getting calls to mix music for film soundtracks. In 1997 he came out with the album I Like to Score, a collection of 12 pieces that he originally created for movies and television (thus the title, a pun on the word "score," which refers to writing music for such media). It included an energetic re-mix of the "James Bond Theme," as well as his early hit "Go," in addition to "First Cool Hive" from the horror flick Scream and a cover of Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades" from the film Heat. After this, he began to indicate that he was regaining his enthusiasm for techno. "Overall, the scene feels healthier to me, and I certainly like the music more than I did two or three years ago," Moby told Michael Mehle of the Denver, Colorado, Rocky Mountain News.

New Album Revisited Earlier Terrain

In the summer of 1999, Moby issued Play, an effort that harkened back to his techno roots while displaying an even more fervent eclecticism that intrigued and delighted many critics. In addition to the drum machines and hip-hop beats, much of the structure was developed from old blues and gospel music. Moby sampled, or excerpted, a 1943 version of the gospel classic "Run On for a Long Time," featuring slide guitar and a haunting piano. He also used samples from Alan Lomax's field recordings of African-American folk music from the early twentieth century, and included the Bessie Jones blues tune "Honey."

Play seemed to indicate a shift from Moby's earlier works, in that it did not contain any overt references to his thoughts on subjects like the environment, politics, and the like. He commented to David Proffitt in Arizona Republic, "With Play, I wanted to make a record that was very personal but also that people could bring into their lives and fall in love with." He also remarked to Vickie Gilmer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "The songs I used are … beautiful songs, and the lyrics are interesting. But it's me singing, too." He noted that it was a pet peeve of his that people think his electronic music consists solely of samples.

In 2001 Moby founded Area: One, a traveling festival partly inspired by Lollapalooza and featuring the OutKast, New Order, and Nellie Furtado. He also organized Area2 the following year with David Bowie and the Blue Man Group. Moby followed Play in 2002 with 18, and toured heavily to support the album. Although many critics gave the album a lukewarm reception, 18 rose to number four on the Billboard 200, and three songs reached the Top 20 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. Moby incited a controversy in 2001 after calling rapper Eminem's music racist and hom*ophobic, and the two singers confronted one another during the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.

Moby continued to collaborate with a number of artists, co-writing "Is It Any Wonder" with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and collaborating with Public Enemy on "Make Love, F—War." The latter song was released before the 2004 election, and Moby publicly supported Democrat John Kerry during the U.S. presidential election. In 2005 Moby issued Hotel, which spawned two number one European hits with "Lift Me Up" and "Slipping Away." In 2006 Moby accepted an acting role in Pittsburgh, a film starring Jeff Goldblum, and also worked on soundtracks for Richard Kelly's Southland Tales in 2007.

Released in 2008, Last Night was an eclectic album that found Moby exploring earlier musical terrain. Andy Kellman wrote in All Music Guide, "A good number of Moby fans who began to follow the producer's moves well before Play will be inclined to think of Last Night as the best Moby album since Everything Is Wrong." Ian Roullier, writing in OMH, concurred: "If you're one of those people that rued the day Moby stopped producing storming, hook-heavy dance music, then you'll welcome Last Night with open arms." Moby also continued to combine his love of music with his interest in film, performing with two turntables and a mixing board at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival in June of 2008. The producer-DJ surprised audiences by delivering a remix of Guns 'n' Roses' "Paradise City" for an encore.

Moby, who is five-foot, eight inches tall and sports a shaved head, lives in Manhattan's East Village, where he keeps a stash of equipment including keyboards, mixers, samplers, recording equipment, and more. In keeping with his conviction about not harming living creatures, Moby has refused to kill co*ckroaches or even mosquitoes, living with a bevy of bugs in his studio.

Selected discography

"Mobility," Instinct, 1990.

"Go," Instinct, 1991.

"Voodoo Child," Instinct, 1991.

(Contributor) Instinct Dance: A Collection of Dance Music from Instinct Records, 1991.

Moby, Instinct, 1992.

The Story So Far, 1993.

Ambient, Instinct, 1993.

Early Underground, Instinct, 1993.

Move (EP), Elektra, 1994.

Everything Is Wrong, Elektra, 1994.

Rare: The Collected B-Sides 1989-1993, Instinct, 1996.

Animal Rights, Elektra, 1997.

I Like to Score, Elektra, 1997.

Play, Elektra, 1999.

18, V2, 2002.

Hotel, V2, 2005.

Go: The Very Best of Moby, Mute, 2006.

Last Night, Mute, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Arizona Republic, August 12, 1999, p. 32.

Entertainment Weekly, February 21, 1997, p. 125.

Interview, March 1996, p. 92.

Newsday, May 25, 1995, p. B9.

Newsweek, June 14, 1999, p. 69.

New York, March 27, 1995, p. 48; March 17, 1997, p. 48.

New York Times, July 31, 1999, p. B17.

People, November 1, 1993, p. 82; March 10, 1997, p. 24; August 23, 1999, p. 45.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), November 23, 1997, p. 18D.

Rolling Stone, November 17, 1994, p. 102; March 23, 1995, p. 125; May 4, 1995, p. 58; October 30, 1997, p. 68; June 24, 1999, p. 64.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 6, 1999, p. E2.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), June 4, 1995, p. 3F; August 20, 1999, p. 3E.

Time, August 17, 1992, p. 60.

Online

"Moby," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 15, 2008).

Moby Web Page, Elektra Records, http://www.elektra.com/ambientclub/moby (October 19, 1999).

"Moby," Rolling Stone,http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (October 24, 1999).

"Moby," Music OMH,http://www.musicomh.com (June 15, 2008).

—Geri Speace and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

Moby | Encyclopedia.com (2024)
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