This is the third and final part of the Ninja Tune trilogy (1,2) – an interview commissioned by Ninja Tune for their own magazine, The Pipe. On the couch were Chocolate Weasel – Mark Royal (aka T-Power) and Cris Stevens – who released Spaghettification through Ninja Tune in 1998. The interview took place in Mark’s London flat and was aided by a rather fine batch of puff. If the text veers off into both inner and outer space on more than one occassion (I can but apologise for the inclusion of the paragraph on “star matter” and carbon synthesis), I hope you’ll forgive the poor little addled brain that was gamefully trying to hold things together.
FURTHER SELF EVIDENT TRUTHS
Being alive is more than just a game of two halves. Ninja Tune’s drum’n’bass duo CHOCOLATE WEASEL blow the whistle and take a pot shot at the goal of enlightenment.
Look around your space, outside and inside, and calculate the amount of information that you are being bombarded with right at this moment. You may be conscious of the brightly hued distractions such as television, magazines or advertising, but consider the thought that the majority of your environment pushes information in a way that penetrates your mind subconsciously.
We experience a glut of information and misinformation at almost every waking moment of our lives. Technology such as the internet, cable and satellite may serve not to actually enhance our learning or to expand our field of awareness, but rather to simply add more useless junk to the already polluted highways and byways of the brain.
Information exists in a state of chaos which simply affords unscrupulous politicians, journalists and activists the opportunity to do away with balanced perspectives and effectively promote their own agenda. Hence we create a culture where propaganda thrives unchecked, where campaigns of biased misinformation ensure that we are as far away from the truth as possible, where the Rupert Murdoch-owned “X-Files” serves only to turn people away from the reality that multinational corporations already control our daily lives through power of capitalism.
How this links with the Ninja Tune project “Chocolate Weasel” is fairly simple. Mark Royal (alias drumnbass bod T-Power) and compadre Cris Stevens know they have to play the media game to promote their album, in order to sell units, in order to make money, in order to eat, in order to survive, in order to stay on the ride. They are also intelligent enough to realise that they can hijack such blatant sales promotion in order to offer thoughts and ideas that might help us to bring a sense of order to the information chaos, that helps us to make connections – the kind of script that rarely fills column inches in the world-wide entertainment media. It may appear to be some form of cyclical perfection, but the promotional process still remains embedded in the machinery of consumerism.
“I have a problem with the idea of selling music, because I believe that everyone should make music,” says Mark, sitting on his bed in his Walthamstow home cum studio. “Making music is a fundamental part of being human, but we’ve turned it into this thing where we take people’s skills as an individual and we’ve created a divide. You have specialists in societies and music has just become another specialist product to sell to people. It’s a big fucking problem knowing that you’ve got to sell units to do something that you enjoy.
“If you’re going to try and pinpoint a problem, the problem is money and mankind’s desire to horde more and more of it. Society’s becoming increasingly geared towards making money and fuck who you step on to get to where you’re going. Money is the root of the problem and if you really want to separate good and evil, then money is the root of all evil. It really does corrupt anything good about mankind.”
Such a philosophy ensures that Mark and Cris will never venture near the territory of the “sell-out” – a land populated by artists who are driven by money rather than messages. “There are points when you think fuck it,” admits Mark, “let’s do a stupid tune, get some daft blonde model in there, sing some song about a Barbie doll or something equally as stupid and just go and cane it. But we may see it as caning it, but how do people actually receive that it in the pop world? What effect is that having on the psyche of people and can you actually deal with the implications of what effect you’re having on some six year old girl sitting in her bedroom? They say it’s all harmless fun, they’re just kids… but you’re feeding information into these people and parents don’t have the time to actually school their children. They’re just like ‘there’s the television, sit in front of it’. TV has become their God and that’s where they are learning their reality from.”
Of course capitalism and consumerism are easily identifiable targets, but the root of the world’s problems lies deeper still.
“I don’t think a lot of people actually understand the problem,” claims Cris, “it’s become confused. You can’t apportion blame to any one bit of society – there are so many things that are corrupt like science, politics and religion – it’s not just one thing. But I don’t think a solution will be found. It’s just the on-going struggle that is life.”
“Solutions create more problems,” believes Mark, “there’s never an ultimate fix. It all boils down to the second law of thermodynamics and we’re trying to stop the rising entropy. But it’s a fundamental law of existence that we cannot stop it. We’re not in control. As much as we think that we are moulding our own destiny we’re not. We’re just there for the ride.”
The late comedian and modern-day soothsayer, Bill Hicks, similarly likened our voyage through life as one long ride with all the ups, downs, twists and turns that are inherent in any speeding rollercoaster. At the close of a performance, he would offer what he termed his “vision”, a vision that is – undoubtedly – the closest we are ever likely to get to a “solution”. He claimed that we could easily take the trillions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons and defence every year and use it to feed and clothe every single human being on the planet (which it would pay for many times over), subsequently allowing us “as one race, to explore outer space together, in peace, forever.”
Mark approves of the idea, but is equally aware of the improbability of it becoming a reality. “It is so fucking simple, but we just won’t do it. There’s an inbred fear in society and we don’t seem to be confident about the species. Someone’s obviously realised that a long time ago and that’s why consumerism took off. When people are unhappy, they’re scared and they’re going to buy like buggery. They just pander to that and they feed us what we want to see.”
Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of people worldwide that are motivated enough to stage their own form of vociferous protest against consumerism and the slow death of the planet. However, due to the dubious self-interest of those that own the mass means of communication, the promotion of any unpopular ideology has had to become more subtle. High profile activism such as demonstrations, marches or physical entrenchment may raise awareness, but there is rarely any result shift in public sympathy. The blame for this seems to lie squarely at the feet of the media.
“There is definitely a lot of positive action going on, but the way it’s all portrayed in the media is a problem in itself. Take the Newbury bypass – they were all made out to be a bunch of fringe nutcases, but there were middle aged people and old ladies involved in the protest – completely sane, normal people, which – of course – all of the protesters are, but because their clothes are scruffy, the media say they’re mad.”
The media have also been almost singularly responsible for an ill-conceived drugs education campaign that seemingly whips parents and authority figures into something akin to a rabid frenzy. Positive drugs messages are hard to find, yet individuals such as Keith Richards and Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler manage to fuse a dual lifestyle of being acceptable corporate salesmen whilst consistently imbibing near-lethal doses of illegal drugs. The worldwide drugs message may be hypocritical – but would we expect it to be any other way? If sensible drug use can open hitherto unused regions of the brain and promote learning, love and tolerance, what would that do for a global economy based on subjugation, fear and racial bigotry?
“Drugs go along way to accelerate the learning process,” claims Mark, one of the many who found an escape route from the pill-popping insanity of the acid house years. “My problem isn’t the use of drugs to expand the mind, my problem is drug use for hedonism – because that becomes a product and it’s not something that we use wisely. You have these cases where people suddenly wake up and suddenly have these great realisations whereas some people never get beyond the stage of seeing pink elephants.
“Doing hallucinogens put me on the edge of my existence and that just kicked me right out of where I was. I had a major wake up call. I did realise that I had been a total wanker to all my friends. I still find myself to this day apologising to my parents for my teenage years – ‘I’m sorry I was such an arsehole.'”
The use of drugs on earlier T-Power projects is well documented, but it’s a practice that ceased during the recording of the Chocolate Weasel album, “Spaghettification”, with interesting results. “It wasn’t just for the music purpose,” explains Cris, with a degree of guarded satisfaction, “we were just trying to get a bit of our lives back. We were just smoking insane amounts of skunk and it was developing into a bad habitual hang-up. Suddenly we were doing tracks in days instead of a week which was just amazing. It was like ‘I’m not stoned, I can actually do something.’ It’s an easy myth to buy into that you just need to get caned to do something really creative.”
However, acid guru and psychologist, Timothy Leary, claimed that cannabis artificially triggers the “fifth circuit” of the brain, the “gear” reserved for our dealings in multi-dimensionality, loss of gravity and space flight (the phrase “getting high” therefore seems to make more sense). Leary argued that drugs such as cannabis can assist rather than hinder us in our evolutionary process. His theory continued up the “gears” to the final, eighth circuit where the human race learns the craft of atomic engineering and the ability to build “self-replicating nanocomputers”.
Mark also agrees that the human race has a long way to go before it reaches its ultimate purpose. “I’ve been reading about how stars work, how they synthesise heavier elements, but they stop burning at silicon. They go supernova at that point – they can’t create silicon without going critical. We’re actually based on a carbon 12 chain and a carbon based lifeform cannot exist in the first generation of a star, so therefore our sun is second generation. Maybe we are the next chain, because we’re basically star matter, and maybe we have to now learn how to synthesise silicon – we become the next synthesis [the third generation]. Maybe we create universes and get into quantum information storage and maybe we actually start to define the laws of our own universe.”
In our late twentieth century arrogance, we assume that we are highly evolved and that we are close to the “top end” of the evolutionary scale. Mark’s theory might suggest that we are still effectively grunts, scraping our knuckles on the primordial turf, and that the creative fusion of our organic selves with our self-conceived technology is simply a future that we have to accept.
The profound interest that Mark and Cris actually have in the game of being alive is, contrary to what you might think, perfectly represented in their music. “Spaghettification” is undoubtedly brighter and more celebratory than their previous work, bringing a much-needed sense of humour to traditionally dark environs of drum’n’bass.
“The first album was like ‘wey-hey! this is pukka, I’ve just found philosophy, everyone should love one another’, then the second album was ‘oh fuck, no one does’ and then coming into the Ninja Tune album it was ‘bollocks, so what?’.”
Optimism in the face of overwhelming global problems is perhaps the ultimate lesson that we have on offer. Throughout their lives, Mark and Cris have simply made the decision to listen and learn and to intelligently decipher the information chaos. They are making connections within the maelstrom that we would do well to heed, but – by learning from their example – we have to get out there and discover things for ourselves. And – of course – we should really be having a good time in the process.
“I am quite thankful I’m living,” concludes Mark, “no matter how difficult it is. It’s a brilliant experience. You can only die at the end of it, so what’s the fucking problem? Let’s just get on with it and enjoy it.”