The Sonic Cartography of Matt FX: Scooting from Island to Island with the “Broad City” Music Supervisor

Photo by Jerm Cohen

This article originally appeared in the pilot issue of Cypher Magazine. Our interviews with Mick Jenkins and Gabriel Garzón-Montano are also available to read online. Issue 2 coming soon!

Comedy Central’s half-hour sitcom Broad City is easily the freshest new comedy on television, following the hapless misadventures of two young women in New York City. As a kind of subversive antithesis to HBO’s Girls, the script grounds itself in real, relatable experiences and successfully captures the city’s violent atmosphere of whimsy and absurdity. And part of what truly sets Broad City apart is music supervisor Matt FX’s idiosyncratic music sensibility.

He curates a distinctive soundscape that brings the five boroughs to life, using music cues to emphasize the more hilarious moments of the show.

When Matt FX first contributed to the US version of Skins, he distinguished himself as one of the youngest music supervisors ever to work on a major network television program. His method for music placement has changed since then. Between working on television, he has DJed frequently in Brooklyn and Manhattan and hosted numerous parties through his Tribes NY event series.

Over the last two years, in conjunction with his duties on Broad City, Matt has relied heavily on a tight-knit community of artists, musicians, and producers local to New York City in order to conjure the show’s unmistakably unique sound. This sense of community inspired the creative trajectory of Matt FX’s solo endeavor, Scooter Island, opting for large-format collaborative projects and an “Avengers-style foundation” to “move at it horizontally rather than moving up.” His forthcoming album will feature four female vocalists, the ferocious MC Junglepussy, four male rappers, several producers (Obey City, Sweater Beats, and Whiskers Poto name a few), a few visual artists, and one incredible, uncredited guest feature. It’s due out later this year.

I sat with Matt FX in the courtyard of the Westbeth Artists Community, where he was raised and currently lives, to chat about his background in music, his plans for the future, and what it means to be living in New York City in 2015.

On Matt’s musical exposure through adolescence:

The first time I listened to hip-hop seriously was when someone left Reanimation by Linkin Park in my CD player at boarding school. (I’ve never said that before out loud.) There are some really good songs on Reanimation, but I actually didn’t love the Linkin Park stuff. I got into it through Reanimation. I just think it was really well curated to me and really well produced. And even not knowing what it was that I liked about it, I just started liking all of it, because I’d never really heard anything like it. And also the fact that there was a Gundam on the CD.

There’s this game called Jet Set Radio Future, and it’s about this group of teenagers in Neo Tokyo who rebel against the cops by rollerblading and doing graffiti. The soundtrack is fucking awesome. There’s Beastie Boys stuff. There’s Paul Oakenfold. Cibo Matto. That game I played all day long on vacation from boarding school. I was just obsessed with it. A lot of those songs I hated. The song that Cibo Matto had in the game is called “Birthday Cake” and it’s one of their particularly crazy punk jams and it’s got this funk groove. They’re one of my favorite New York artists. Two Japanese girls come to New York in the 80s and decide to start a feminist-punk-rap band. The chorus is like pre-screamo screamo and I hated it. But eventually it just started to stick and really catch on.

I remember when “Maps” came out in eighth grade I remember seeing the music video. I had under ten CDs so this is already two of my ten. Fever To Tell is one of my favorite albums from that time, growing up it meant a lot, but had it not been for that one Cibo Matto song I would not have been able to get through the album, because it’s so noisy and I remember when I first started listening to it I was like, this is so weird. Having gotten into that one song, I could kind of acknowledge it but it took a while to really sink in. And then when I got to LaGuardia Azealia [Banks] was like, What? No. Tribe Called Quest. De La Soul. She’s just like listing off all these things and forcing me to listen to it, which was really cool.

On the origin of Scooter Island:

Scooter island would have never happened if it weren’t for Broad City. It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for all these experiences. Before I went to boarding school when I was 8 years old, my dad got a job conducting in Xiamen, China. My mom was opening up an antique store in the city at the time so she couldn’t come for the first month and a half. I spoke Chinese, I couldn’t read or write, I still speak Mandarin. I was his translator. He was conducting on this island named Gulangyu, a ferry away from Xiamen. In World War II all the European countries had their hospitals and embassies there. They constructed most of the island so it looks like a European island. It’s like French villas and really kind of wild. Last November I was there with my girlfriend for a week and we saw one white family on the last day. Not a landmark destination. But since being inhabitants, they’ve never allowed cars or bikes on the island. It’s a very strange place. I was 8 when I was there and razor scooters had just come out, so I’ve got a dad who’s working all day, my mom’s in New York and I’m basically riding around the island on a loophole like that little American kid who looks Chinese and it was really my first taste of independence as a person. I think being on a scooter I equate with being free.

On the restrictive properties of genre:

It’s 2015, right? If genre is a term for which you’re supposed to know how to compile or organize your music, if genre is the indication of what it’s going to sound like, then I would argue that any particular strain of music, regardless of what’s involved, if those are the parameters those are the parameters. And if the idea of “rooftop music” is sunny, island-inspired, electronic-tinged, pop songwriting with sung vocals and rap vocals then that’s what it is. And I think people will recognize it as that. You don’t need to only have guitars or only have raps anymore. It just comes down to how you’re going to brand something.

First song that comes to mind when you think of New York City:

I’m not going to answer your question, but the song that reminds me most of the New York I knew, of Giuliani, 14th street when it was all vendors selling bullshit when it was still kind of dangerous, and the Meatpacking District still smelled like meat. That New York: The intro riff to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears For Fears. That’s 90s New York, like the leather caps, everything that Dev Hynes is going for, happens before the voice comes in. That groove, that’s what reminds me of New York. I think New York now doesn’t have a unified personality the way it did then, for better or for worse. I think New York means too many things to too many people, and is too many things now. At least musically now, there’s no groove and something about “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”… It could have been sampled by Mariah Carey, it could’ve been rapped over by DMX, it’s just that vibe. Any 90s thing kind of existed in that 90s sound and you don’t have that anymore. And that’s not a bad thing but it is what it is.

Alex Oka