Who The Hell Interview

“[It’s] frustrating and validating in equal measure … a process of recalibrating my own expectations. It’s a weird fucking time to be releasing music.”

I was interviewed by whothehell.net about Provenance and apparently I decided that it was cool to swear heaps. That said, this is a generous overview of my work to date and the genesis / early days of Provenance. It also reaffirms once again that I have a masterful knack of making a rod for my own back.

Read the full interview at whothehell.net

Image: from Who The Hell Facebook, not of an actual Provenance party. We’d be far less happy.

New Weird Australia Interview in The Brag

A full page feature on New Weird Australia in The Brag magazine, previewing the Sydney gig featuring Paint Your Golden Face (pictured), Alps, Caught Ship and Karoshi.  If nothing else, the article proves once and for all that swearing is cool.  ‘Fart’, however, is borderline.

Full article:

Stu Buchanan’s name is unfamiliar to most, but he could be one of Australia’s most important champions of innovative music. After a three year stint as the general manager of FBi Radio he moved on to a new role, but his heart stayed in the same place – wrapped tight around the eclectic sounds of a subculture that hides in our country’s far-spread nooks and crannies. In May of 2008, Stu launched a free digital compilation series called New Weird Australia – a thoughtfully curated exploration of original ideas, challenging sounds, sublime atmospherics and experimental pop. Volume Five of N.W.A has just been released, with a showcase of new music planned for Saturday night. I called him up to talk about what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and where it’s all going.

“New Weird Australia is a not-for-profit initiative that’s designed to support experimental Australian music,” Stu explains. “Anybody pushing their genre or cross-genre to somewhere new, experimental and interesting; so ‘weird’ as in, unusual and unexpected and innovative.” Kind of sounds like he’s talking about a straight hour of unlistenable nu-wave art-noise but thankfully, the compilations are surprisingly engaging. “If you call something experimental, people immediately assume it’s going to be too difficult or inaccessible for them to be able to just sit down and enjoy. But when people get exposed to it, invariably the opposite is true.”

By trawling through the vast array of new “weird” music popping up in basements, bedrooms, warehouses and websites, Stu and the project’s co-curator, Danny Jumpertz of innovative artist-run label Feral Media, have filtered out some of the best in interesting Australian sounds – Kyu, Karoshi, No Art and Ghoul amongst others. By offering them up on a free digital album, the aim is simple: “It’s not to say, ‘hey people, we should all be making experimental music’ – that stuff has always existed. The aim is to try and put it all into a different context that’s slightly more accessible.”New Weird Australia, and the FBi Radio show of the same name, is also a way of bridging the geographic divide that separates different artists who seem to be working towards the same goal.

Power in numbers, people – Australia is a difficult country for local bands to crack. Whether it’s a cultural cringe, tall poppy syndrome or a simple long-ingrained reverence for anything that comes from overseas, we just aren’t paying as much attention to what’s going on around us. Stu agrees: “It’s like this tidal wave from Europe and America that just overcomes anything that’s happening here, and I just don’t understand it… You know, for every fucking Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear, there’s a band here that’s better.” Arriving here only seven years ago from the UK, Stu has a cross-cultural comparison to throw in. “There’s this weird thing in Australia where anything international is rarified in some way; it’s put on a pedastal that just doesn’t exist in the UK. The UK celebrates its own at least as much as it celebrates stuff from overseas – but here the equilibrium seems kind of strange.”

Buchanan thinks it could have something to do with the Australian music industry itself. It’s true that for the most part, the past string of ARIA winners haven’t done much to advance our standing as a global player in innovative, exciting music – and Lisa Mitchell’s recent win of the $30,000 AMP award has been decried by many as a triumph of mediocrity. “If we look at any band that we consider to be truly influential in a really kind of creative and interesting way in Australian music, they’ve never been celebrated,” Stu says. “Severed Heads, for example. Probably one of the most innovative bands to influence electronic music in the world… But here in Australia, they’re relatively invisible and to me that’s criminal. Those guys in particular should be in a hall of fame.”

Perhaps it also comes down to our isolation. In order to push something overseas from Australia, you have to invest a lot – and to be comfortable investing, you have to be sure it will work, right? “You’re right, and I think that model has been true for a while – but it’s changing!” He explains that the network of people he’s focused on aren’t actually working within the traditional operating systems, distribution networks or the mainstream press. “We exist outside of it, and because we exist outside of it we’ll always survive. People say, ‘if you want to play SxSW you have to go through this guy, and go here, and do that’ and it’s like – fuck that. We’ll find another way. All those old paradigms are no longer dominant.”

Stu takes a refreshingly hopeful view of the present and the future – in particular, of the pressures artists are under; economic downfall, filesharing technology and reactionary copyright laws to name a few. “The minute you put a barricade up against somebody, it’s an invitation for them to try and route around it. The more barriers you put up, the more creative people become… so I think in some ways you’ve gotto be grateful for the idiot stance of the record companies in the late 90s – they’ve given us a great gift!”

New Weird Australia has recently joined the ranks of the international Free Music Archive – an interactive library of legal downloads begun by WFMU, and curated by left-field tastemakers worldwide. I ask what’s planned for the future. “The next compilation is going to be very genre specific, which will help us take a bit of a refresh. And, unsurprisingly to anyone who’s been watching what we’re doing, one of the next steps will be to set up our own label. We want to kick that off this year for sure…”

Meantime, the message is clear. “Yeah, there are all those overseas bands, and yeah they’re hip, and every time they fart they’ll get an interview about it. Of course those guys are good at what they do – but just around the corner, at a warehouse three blocks away from you, there’s something going on that’s better.”

Speakeasy Zine

Speakeasy Zine Interview

Sydney writer and broadcaster Lee Tran Lam recently interviewed me for the tenth issue of her beautiful Speak-easy zine. Without wishing to descend into a mutual ‘love-in’, Lee Tran commitment and dedication to the local music and culture scene is astonishing, and it’s clear that she does this quite sincerely ‘for the love of it’. Aside from her growing zine back cataglogue, she also presents the all-Australian music show ‘Local Fidelity‘ on Sunday nights on FBi, runs a food blog ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry‘ and has just compiled a new CD as a fundraising exercise for FBi. Introduce yourself at either of her blogs to hunt down a copy of the zine, which also features interviews with Eliza Sarlos, Daniel Boud, Even Books, Jonathon Valenzuela and many more, alongside a stunning selection of images from in and around the city.

Q&A WITH STUART BUCHANAN

Speak-Easy #10, May 2009

Stuart Buchanan will forever be blazed in my memory as the first DJ I know to play ‘Young Folks’ by Peter, Bjorn & John (I remember the exact moment I heard it in my Ashfield flat and I had to stop everything I was doing). This was about a billion years before it was on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and blitzing people’s mobile ringtones. This is really just one facet of Stu – he is super-ahead of everything without being one of those braggy sorts who has to go on about trumping the zeitgeist all the time. In fact, he’s ultra-modest even though he ends up achieving things like ‘The Guardian’ newspaper crowning his (then) music blog as one of the best in the world.

Stuart currently hosts ‘Disorient’ on FBI 94.5FM, runs the ‘Discontent’ music blog and is Executive Producer of Creative Sydney – a festival that seems genuinely exciting and energising, all about firing up local ideas and artists (rather than flogging author merchandise, as certain staid festivals seem to pivot on). He’s one of the smartest eggs I know, I’m glad he is in the EP chair for this.

Can you tell me your first memory of Sydney?

Either the first weekend, or shortly thereafter, I went to a gig at Space3 on Cleveland Street and saw very early appearances from Spod (accompanied by a dancing Toecutter) and The Emergency. It was rough and crammed and fantastic. It proved straight away that there was great worth to be found beneath the veneer.

Can you tell me what first attracted you to Sydney – was it the “weather and beaches” chestnut?

I met my girlfriend (laterly fiancee, laterly wife) in London. We had both spent around six years in the city and, despite it being an amazing place to live, we both knew it was time to move on. She was a Sydneysider, born in Surry Hills, and she wanted to move back home. I’d never been to Australia, but Love forced my hand and I made the move.

The main thing I didn’t bargain on was the effect that tourism had on the city. Having lived in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, I fully understood just what an influx of tourists can do to a city (especially during Edinburgh Festival season where the population literally doubles), but I was shocked at the amount of what felt like ‘no-go zones’ for residents. Each of those other cities very much had a sense of self, that tourists were secondary to the equation, and that the cities didn’t have to compromise. Here, it felt like countless concessions had been made to tourism – whole spaces at the heart of the city like Darling Harbour or The Rocks were almost entirely devoid of Sydneysiders, and that felt completely backwards. The people of Sydney were made to feel like they didn’t own the city – the net result being, when tourists visited those places, they got a completely false impression of what the city was actually all about. They’re marshalled off to their walled garden, their exclusion zones, where they can get a great a picture of the Bridge or the House, but they’re not experiencing a real sense of what the people of Sydney have to offer.

How hard / easy do you think it is to be creative in Sydney? What are the most interesting creative projects you’ve come across?

It’s hard to say to put that in context, as I’ve been here just over six years. I hear people talk about very lean years for music and culture in the late 90s and early part of this decade, when pubs kicked out live music and the city lost some of its soul. I never lived through that, but it feels like it might be easier now than it was then. Support networks such as 2SER, FBi, alternative press and, more recently, online avenues such as blog culture and Facebook, have done a great deal to creat and maintain connections between artists and audiences. But they’ve also done a great deal to inspire people who otherwise would never of thought of themselves as creative, or who thought that Sydney was not the place to pursue a creative career.

As for as “interestingness” goes, the group I come back to time and time again is Feral Media label & the Sopp Collective design group – a beautiful blend of local music and Scandanavian design, from Newtown and Chippendale. They constantly surprise me with something new and something beautiful. Whilst it would be easy to fall back and exploit the signature sound and look they’ve developed, I love their dedication to pushing themselves forward.

I dj occasionally for the Uber Lingua collective and I’m always inspired by the size and diversity of the community that they always seem to attract. Club nights by their very nature attract a very singular type of person, people who gather together around a certain code. Uber Lingua is one of the few club experiences where there is no code. Many different styles of music and culture are represented, hence you’re always guaranteed a new and unexpected experience. That’s something that can’t always be said for most of the city’s club nights, where you’re going there to get another taste of what you already know.

What’s your favourite depiction of Sydney in a song/movie/novel/artwork/blog/any-bit-of-pop-culture?

The Naked City crew on FBi often play Tommy Leonetti’s “My City Of Sydney”, and it always make me chuckle – a Sinatra-like croooner warbling on about “that little church steeple in Woolloomoolloo”. I find myself singing that line when I’m doing the dishes or driving in the car, and I have absolutely no idea why.

How much has your idea of Sydney been remapped since having kids?

I obviously go places and do things I wouldn’t otherwise have found, and thus you see a completely different side to the city. It means that I rarely spend any weekend time in the city centre, that instead we hunt down larger, often more interesting, outdoor spaces further out. And because children get bored very, very quickly – I’m always having to find somewhere new.

If you had to create your soundtrack to Sydney, it would sound like ….

The life of a radio presenter is a blessing and a curse – I’m blessed to be drenched in so much fine music, but cursed to rarely ever return to albums after one or two listens. There’s always a pile of new music to listen to. So my soundtrack for Sydney is constantly changing and rearranging, and never the same twice. And as a relatively recent arrival, I don’t have a lifetime of city experiences that are bound up in local music. This month I’ve been listening to Sydney bands such as Ghoul, Underlapper, No Art, Seekae and Telafonica, but ask me again next week and it’ll all be different.

Interview: Coldcut – The Joy Of Dex

This article originally appeared in London street press title ’24:7′ shortly before its premature demise in the early days of 1998. Although edited, designed and ready to print, this particular issue never made it to press. On hearing the title was folding due to lack of funding, the staff feared that their wages were under threat and left the office one morning carrying any piece of valuable technical equipment that wasn’t nailed down. My fondest memory was seeing the Fashion Editor carrying a fax machine off in a suitcase, with the plug hanging out the back.

It’s clear that Coldcut’s chapter in the history of modern music remains a work-in-progress, particularly given the ongoing success of Ninja Tune and Big Dada. The same cannot be said for the humble CD-ROM – re-reading the article below, it’s remarkable how quickly the references to formats became outdated. Back then, multimedia CDs were envisioned as being the saviour of the music industry, today they are all but extinct.

THE JOY OF DEX
Bringing you a lesson in Ninja style, a celebrated fusion of art and science, 24:7 deconstructs the myth and musical majesty that is COLDCUT.

WHAT’S THAT NOISE?
You can approach this particular noise from so many different angles. Coldcut could well be grandfathers of modern dance-music, creating the UK’s first purely sample-driven record eleven years ago and defining the art of the remix. Or they could be two grumpy old men, aggrieved at having produced four mighty top twenty hits only to be royally shafted by the men in suits. Or maybe they are the Ninja tribe of Southwark, the supremos behind the Ninja Tune and N-Tone labels, responsible for discovering, nurturing and promoting the work of The Herbalizer, DJ Vadim, DJ Food, Funki Procini and other big boys with big toys. They could be four-deck DJs, promoters, digital artists, hard-wiring software engineers, web-meisters or simply the scourge of the BPI. “I do feel slightly over exposed,” claims Matt. Whatever and whenever they are, they are undoubtedly ahead of their time.

FUNKJAZZTICAL TRICKNOLOGY
There is a sense of spiritual connection belying the fact that the Ninja HQ sits opposite London’s first prison, The Clink. It was undoubtedly a home for scoundrels and scallywags, the outsiders who refused to play ball, a mandatory hang-out for blasphemers, anarchists and cultural hooligans. The Coldcut office is littered with fragments and products of their career – a poster advertising the first album What’s That Noise?, racks of back catalogue vinyl from the Ninja stable and, playing on the tape deck, a selection of tunes from the forthcoming Ninja anthology, impossibly titled FunKungFusion. Meeting Coldcut, you know there is a wizard degree of cloak and dagger at work. From the way they look and the way they talk, Matt – confusingly – looks like a “Jonathan” and vice versa. Matt Black was recently celebrated in the Daily Telegraph, of all places, as “the pop star with geek cred”. Jonathan More, it seems, is the one that most people like to refer to as “the one with the hat”.

WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW
Coldcut released their fourth album, Let Us Play, in September 1997 and watched it enter the CIN dance charts at Number One, beautifully confirming the belief that you can never keep a good ninja down. It’s now February 1998 and Coldcut are, once again, showing a flagrant disregard for tradition by releasing a single, Timber, that contains just as many video tracks as audio. It’s an aesthetic of more for less, and it’s the same belief that saw them give away a free CD-ROM with the album, crammed to excess with bonus software, virtual mixing kits and an abundance of videos (“a funky and weird mix which make it more interesting than some corporate smooth trip” claims Jonathan). In the weeks preceding the release of Timber, the BPI announced that to be eligible for chart status, a CD single can only be sold with one video, irrespective of its running time. Thus, despite its sales, Timber will not now be registered in the singles chart and Coldcut find themselves, once more, out on their own and leaving the industry far, far behind. Sorry, but this just isn’t music.

RECIPE FOR DISASTER
What is so ironic about the withdrawal of Timber from the charts is that it was served the dual purpose of being an awareness raising exercise for the work of Greenpeace. Read the facts – 80% of the world’s ancient forest have been attacked, destroyed and plundered in the last thirty years. “Over the last few years we’ve slowly realised that we do believe in direct action to change things,” ponders Matt, “I think that it’s been more successful.” Timber is a unique exercise in direct action, but they also believe that changing your immediate environment can make a difference. The Ninja home is populated with second-hand furniture and is a shrine to the duo’s DIY belief system. “It would be quite easy for us to go out buy loads and loads of really expensive swanky office furniture,” declares Jonathan, “all made out of MDF and all that. But in fact, this is stuff that we’ve found and put together from skips, done out of neccesity when we first started, but it’s good to do that rather than keep buying new shit.”

FUCK DANCE, LET’S ART
For Timber, Stuart Warren-Hill of Hex Media (aka Hexstatic) and the Coldcut boys have boldly gone where no one has dared to dream of going before. Timber is neither an audio single nor a video single, but both. Each individual sound element has a corresponding visual element. The remix therefore exists on two formats and on two levels of entertainment. The video remix is a concept that may well have been invented by Massachusetts boys Emergency Broadcast Network (EBN) which they worked to great effect on the VHS single for U2’s Numb. Warren-Hill has taken the concept into forward drive and recently picked up the Best Video Editing award from France’s home-grown MTV-style channel, MCM. “People aren’t used to buying music in this way,” offers Matt, ruminating over Coldcut’s value-led philosophy. “They might be used to buying a Mr Bean video, they might be used to buying a seven inch single, but they have a problem putting the two things together. A VHS single tape isn’t a very attractive product whereas a CD is. That’s the advantage of the CD format, you can give people what they want, plus you can also fit extra stuff on it.” The double-whammy bonus is that it may also encourage the luddite music fan to invest in a computer capable of running of CD-ROMs. Once you start to talk around such changes in attitude, Jonathan begins to twitch with excitement. “A good example of that was a guy who came up to me at The 333 Club. The guy was quite concerned because his son was eight and hadn’t shown any interest in computers at school whatsoever and he was worried that he was going to miss out. He then saw him playing with Playtime on our CD-ROM and that was it basically, the kid was on it. He’s been on it every night since and now wants to get a computer of his own. That’s brilliant and we’re really into that happening.”

EVERYTHINGZ FUCT
It would actually be unthinkable for a major label to physically manoeuvre themselves in the same way. Such is the beauty of stealth – “the ante has been upped” as Matt rightly says. The duo are possibly too proud to laugh openly at the way the roles have been reversed. After years in the wild, they have come back to the table with an all-new, non-negotiable way of beating the multi-nationals at their own game. “We got ripped off pretty early,” admits Matt, referring to the post-Lisa Stansfield era of the Coldcut story, “but we managed to escape with our lives. Therefore I’d say we’ve always been business minded. We could make a lot more money if we wanted, just by cutting the amount of money we pay to our artists and charging them for all sorts of things, but there’s very little point in doing it.” “We just need to make money for survival,” he says, “we want to keep it fun and don’t want it to be a mega concern. Just keep it at a nice, reasonable size and make sure the music coming out is really good.”

I KNOW YOU’RE GONNA DIG THIS
Jonathan sums up his philosophy in one exquisite sentence: “You can pay somebody to do something and when they fuck up superbly they lie and say what you wanted to do is not possible so you end up doing it yourself anyway.” “It’s better to be cynical,” suggests Matt, “you might as well be. Finding out that Jeffery Archer owns all the merchandising rights to the Teletubbies – that’s a real dagger to the heart, but just so expected really. It’s kind of hilarious because it’s so outrageous.” Don’t for one minute think that the Ninja style is directed by pessimism – the opposite is most certainly the case. It might be about regaining control of one’s life, taking the ropes of one’s own destiny. It might be about having a laugh and not giving a toss about what any else thinks. Or it might just be about providing the source, inspiration and radical thinking that will continue to inspire generations of musicians and listeners for decades to come. Now that’s zentertainment.

Stuart Buchanan

Interview: T-Power / Chocolate Weasel – Further Self Evident Truths

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.”

Stuart Buchanan

Interview: GusGus – Chilled To The Bone

When working for 24:7 in London, I was lucky enough to spend an hour or so in a pub with Baldur Stefansson from Icelandic collective Gus Gus.  Every band has their own story to tell about their rise to fame, however the transformation of GusGus from an accidental art collective to an American Billboard chart conquering electronic band (‘Ladyshave’ 1999) is a curious one.  Given their haphazard genesis, and the general lack of desire ‘to be a band’, it’s no real surprise that the momentum of GusGus could not be sustained.  Although they still release records today, they’ve shed six members (from nine to three) and their output is sadly not quite as thrilling as it once was.  That said, when you count Hafdus Huld, Daniel Agust and Emilliani Torrini amongst your founding members, it’s hard to sustain that level of quality after they depart.  The following article is an extended ‘Directors Cut’ version of the original piece, developed from the source transcript.

CHILLED TO THE BONE: AN INTERVIEW WITH GUSGUS

Originally published in 24:7 London, 1998

Imagine a politically active, blue-eyed lover of neck warmers with the voice of Benny from Top Cat. Disengaging himself from his lorry driver parents, he becomes the owner of Iceland’s largest collection of vinyl, only to wind up being ceremonially massacred in a Viking B-Movie. Let your florid imagination chew over that one and you might be half way towards understanding Gus Gus.

Hailing from the world’s Northern-most island republic, Gus Gus have no frontman, no pop stars, no picture postcard icons. They are instead the living embodiment of the working, democratic collective – a group of friends and comrades, making an ice-cool blend of trip-hop and techno, smarting with good old-fashioned pop sensibilities. And there’s a growing suspicion that they might just conquer the world.

Baldur Stefansson is today’s ambassador for the band, operating not only as manager but also as one-ninth of the decision making process. Downing the Jaegermeisters in a Wandsworth hostelry, Baldur prattles with an exuberance untainted by their recent romp across America. “We’ve sold four times as many albums in America as we have here,” he pronounces, “and the difference is that there is no pre-set electronic scene in America. There are no indicators so they respond right away to what you bring to them. Here you have to go through so many different stages of awareness because there is so much competition around.”

With such a flock of disorientatingly disparate personalities, it’s unsurprising to learn that the genesis of Gus Gus was a characteristically curious affair. “We all came together in 1995 when we were supposed to making a film,” rambles Baldur, effortlessly tripping through a mind bulging with detailed anecdotes. “The directors, Sigg and Stefan, had been working in Iceland for five years, so they used their contacts to bring people in as actors, and suddenly we had all the biggest rock and pop stars in Iceland in one place. We had to postpone the shooting for financial reasons and so everybody we had a little gap. We knew that we had an ambitious musical team, so we thought ‘why don’t we go and make an album?'”

All of the songs for what would become the Polyesterday album were originally written on guitar and piano, and in their early demo form, sounded “like traditional melodic rock and pop songs”. It was only after the electronic components were introduced did things start to get interesting. “It all changed shape. It became very diverse, because different members had different ambitions for different songs, and everybody was throwing different things into the mix. Nobody moulded it together into a certain pattern, but at the same time, of course, we were all driven by quality.”

So convinced was Baldur that Gus Gus were such a delicious prospect that he sold his car to pay for a spell of recording in one of Iceland’s most exquisite studios. “I honestly believed when I heard the album that it had some kind of potential, but the reason I didn’t push it too hard originally was because I had no idea that the members of the band wanted to go all the way – or if there was any big ambition to go down this route.”

When all was said and done and tidied away, they cautiously self-released the album in Iceland and sent out a batch of promos to friends and family. Five weeks later, a call came through from London’s 4AD – the label famed for such musical maestros as The Cocteau Twins and the Pixies. “I came into London and met the guys from 4AD and sat down and listened to what they said. We just liked the philosophy and working relationship that 4AD was talking about – and the fact that they wanted to sign the whole nine-piece collective and not try to slimline it down to simply just the musicians. After a couple of days of friendly chat (I wouldn’t say negotiation) they handed me a piece of paper with an offer. There we were, sitting with a good firm offer from a really enthusiastic record label and we didn’t even know what we were – were we a band or a collective or whatever? Did we want to do this? We spent a week sipping tea and coffee, chatting away and formalising the relationship between ourselves and with 4AD and the rest of the world, working out how we wanted to do this. It’s been two years of interesting and maturing experiences.”

There is a general truism that most bands work well with a benevolent dictator – one person (usually the singer) who makes, and then forces, the creative decisions on everyone else. Most great bands have worked with a variation of this model – not so with Gus Gus. “The beauty is that there is a space for everybody. Every time there is a project, for example someone wants us to do a song for their film or to direct a video commercial or whatever, we bring it to a brainstorm meeting. And, if nobody is interested or it doesn’t make sense to do it, we don’t do it – but if someone is interested then that person takes it on as a project manager. They become responsible for making it happen.They make a production plan and keep it all together, they work on it and then bring it back when it’s ready. There is a certain veto in that if someone really doesn’t like it, we work it out, but it’s not like anyone is anal about those sort of things. That is basically the quality control that takes place within the band.”

A good example of this is the way in which they selected songs for their next album. “We decided that we would have a D-Day for demos. We had 18 demos and Daniel become the project manager for collecting those together, making demo CDs and throwing a little listening party. Six of the members turned in songs. Daniel invited us over to his place, we had a dress code, everybody brought a bottle of red wine. We sat down and put the demo CD on and listened to all 18 songs with the lyrics in front of us. He made tapes for every member, we took them away and met a month later to choose which songs to use. We complied the points and saw that there were ten obvious winners. Now we are going into the process of recording the songs, working on loops, samples, layers, finding the groove, finding the heart and soul of the idea.”

Back on British soil for a London date, Gus Gus are releasing a remix package from their delicious debut, Polyesterday. Mixes come not only from luminaries such as Carl Craig and DJ Vadim, but also from the legendary Sasha, tweaked out of self-imposed exile to remake the album’s parting shot, Purple. “Sasha called us and said that he hadn’t been doing remixes for over a year,” says Baldur, clearly delighted at being in such singular company, “but he was really taken by the song and wanted to do something with it. Since he was so enthusiastic about doing it and he is so inspirational, we decided to go for it.”

Baldur seems misty-eyed about the future of the project, knowing full well that the band’s working methods will keep them safe from harm. “Being nine people, working together should be complex,” he asserts. ” but because we are so aware of it, we have been trying to come up with ideas of how to really make it work. It’s an effective system and we’re well organised in terms of deadlines and budgeting, so this has become a combination of artistic creation and the most fun job you could ever ask for. At the end of the day, if we hadn’t recorded that first album, we would all be doing something else right now. I might have been down in Brazil being a driving instructor, as was my plan. When the dream is over in ten years, maybe I’ll be there.”

Interview: Bruce Gilbert, Wire – Come Back In Two Halves

I met with Bruce Gilbert back in 1995 when my brother-in-arms Roddy Hunter was performing at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow. Roddy had used one of Bruce’s tracks (from the P’o album ‘Whilst Climbing Thieves Vie For Attention’) in his performance / installation titled ‘Blind Tim’ and we took the opportunity post-performance to softly grill Bruce about his time in Wire, Dome, Duet Emmo and P’o. I had little idea that we would in fact be led into a enthralling tale which detailed the exploits of electronic luminaries Richard James and Alex Paterson – as they, with Bruce, attempted to subvert the course of modern music during a potentially violent night out in downtown Moscow.

Bruce closed the interview by discussing, somewhat reluctantly, the future of Wire. He chose his words carefully, announcing that Wire were “asleep”, and of course the band reformed five years later for a series of releases, arguably as angular, taut and unnerving as their early releases of the 1970s. The interview was first published in Thee Data Base #5, 1995.

COME BACK IN TWO HALVES

One of the most dangerous things about the current music scene is the resurgence of the dodgy middle-aged male fraternity. You know the kind, the ex-punks – or even worse, the ex-prog-rockers – who think they have something new to say. Alas, the likes of Killing Joke, Tangerine Dream and Steve Hillage have very little to say – but give them their credit, they know a good bandwagon when they see one.

It would be easy, and more than a little insulting, to disregard the whole generation out of hand. There are some who have marched swiftly to the forefront of new electronica such as Andy Weatherall and Alex Paterson and there are some who have been making absurdist and avant-garde music quietly in the background.

One such luminary is Bruce Gilbert. His music career started fresh out of college in 1976 when he joined as guitarist / writer for Wire. They seemed to be a little too clever for the heady maelstrom of punk, but that only made their survival more inevitable. They managed to succeed outside of the usual rigours of the standard album-tour format and their imagination even carried them through a five year hiatus from 1980-1985. During that time, Wire never performed or recorded as a group, instead the members drifted from one solo / duo project to another. Bruce Gilbert notched up an impressive back-catalogue of work, mainly with Wire vocalist Graham Lewis, in Dome, Duet Emmo and P’o. It was P’o that brought Thee Data Base in touch with Bruce Gilbert in November last year. The track “Blind Tim” from the only P’o album, “Whilst Climbing Thieves Vie For Attention”, was used a continous loop in an eight hour installation / performance from Glasgow “Live Art” collective, Cylinder. Their idea of Cylinder’s “Blind Tim” performance inspired Gilbert to visit Glasgow, framed as it was in the context of the National Review Of Live Art. Though he would never call himself a performance artist, Gilbert & Lewis’ ‘Dome’ collaboration sparked off a series of live art performances at venues such as Manchester’s Hacienda, the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford and the Rotterdam Arts Festival.

“We never called it ‘performance’ as such” explained Bruce Gilbert, in an impromptu interview in the midst of Cylinder’s set. “There was a need to make the music three dimensional. We wanted a physical equivalent of our approaches in the studio, which had a strong absurdity angle. Our work had to be done in 3D. When you create something out of context, if you have no history of intellectual context, it becomes anecdotal at best or just absurd – cliche ridden quite often. The object was to put our approach to things in the context of normal music. When we were invited to “arts” events we were very uncomfortable. We didn’t want a career as performance artists. I dabbled as a performer.”

Why then did ‘Dome’ perform at such events if Gilbert did not see himself as a performance artist? “Being a rock group, we had to perform at both levels or no levels. Wire as a group were always committed towards using multi-media. When you use record company money to make absurd things, when the record company had no idea what the money was to be used for, then you had to have a strategy. It was a good background, coming from a musical entity, but people just expected us to play Wire songs. They expected us to play punk rock songs and they didn’t get it. We were progressing very quickly. We used to confront audiences with something they would never dream of seeing at any other time, but eventually people did see the link. We saw the link, so it needed to be done. We had the opportunity, so we had to use it.”

Wire returned to recording in 1985 with ‘Snakedrill’ released through Mute records. As the most prolific and certainly most respected ‘independent’ label in the UK, Mute saw Wire sit side-by-side with the likes of Neubauten, Nick Cave and Diamanda Galas. The credibility of Mute’s recent attatchments with the likes of Ritchie Hawtin and Moby have enevitability done Gilbert’s profile no harm.

He was invited to DJ at the now-legendary Brittronica Festival in Moscow with the Aphex Twin and Alex Paterson amongst others. “When I sent over my requirements, I said that I wanted to be DJing in a shed. I got there and there was no shed. It wasn’t as if there were any large pieces of wood lying around that I could make one out of – you learn to do these things in those situations. I said to the organisers “Where’s the shed?” They just looked at me and laughed and said, “We just thought you were joking.” It soon became obvious to me that all the resident DJs were just little Moscow rich kids with baseball caps playing Madonna records. The club was basically full of members of the Russian Mafia and their girlfriends. The “kids” that we wanted to play to couldn’t afford the tickets. We were not playing to “real people”.

“I tried to duck out of my DJ spot, but the rest of them said to me, “You’re only playing fucking records…”. I started off with what I normally play – “drones” by people like Phil Niblock. I thought it would set the scene, a scene on top of which you can do anything. The audience were becoming restless, they wanted to dance to the Top Ten western dancey-dancey tracks. “I decided to put on “Frankie Teardrop”, I thought “well, it’s got a kind of beat”, but it’s basically just acapella screaming and it goes beautifully with the drones. All of sudden I was surrounded by people on stage with shiny shirts saying “Why are you not playing music for the people?”. They started to look through my record bag and I was saying “Madonna isn’t in there…” After that, I put this other tape on and a man in an even shinier shirt came up and said “People want to dance!”, so by this point I had had enough and I just said, “Oh, fuck off.” Then he started saying, “No, you fuck off!” and it went on from there “Fuck Off!”, “No You Fuck Off!”, “No You Fuck Off!”…

“While this was going on, I turned to Richard James and I said “I’ve done my bit! It’s your turn!”. He put on this dancey thing and these uniformed goons arrive. They were basically Russian SAS moonlighting as security guards. The Aphex Twin had played about thirty seconds of this beautifully groovy music when he was physically removed from the stage. We both went upstairs and Alex Paterson was just like, “What the fuck’s going on? I’m going down to do my set…” He come back thirty seconds later shouting “Bastards! Wouldn’t even let me audition…”

“Ultramarine were due on next, but they said they weren’t playing if the DJs weren’t allowed to play. The coach was called and the roadies from Ultramarine were the last people out. We were all on the coach and it was just revving up to go, when they came running out of the building towards the bus – they just went in there and pulled out all the plugs for the resident DJs… The frustration was in that we never got to play in front of real people. We never met the “underground” of Russia. If you’d had that line up in this country, people would be queuing in the streets – it would have been a great idea. What’s a bunch of show-off Russian DJs compared to the likes of Alex Paterson?”

Not to be disheartened from such an event, Gilbert has taken up a monthly DJ residency, appearing as ‘The Beekeper’ at the Disboey Club in London. “It’s a club with an eclectic mix of acts with everything from standard free jazz to situationist ranters like Stewart Home. As a DJ at Disobey there are certain rules I have to follow. Records are allowed to be old and temporarily unavailable, but they must have been commercially available at some point. Having no record player at home also makes life interesting.”

The last recorded output from Wire was under the name Wir, following the departure of drummer of Robert Gotobed. The album, ‘The First Letter’, surfaced in 1991, and since then all has been unnervingly quiet in the Wire camp. “When you don’t sell a large quantity of records, you are in a very vulnerable position. We were put in the position of having to sell our arses to the Americans. We were on tour in the US and I was being given a few $ a day in payment and I thought to myself, “I don’t need to be put through this kind of pressure.” Mute wanted to sell us to America – it was just like being on the record business hamster wheel. We never had a contract with Mute though. If Daniel Miller dies, we’re all up shit creek.

“‘Wire’ is asleep. Colin [Newman] is a record company now, doing trance LPs. He loves the complications of the business – he’s the only real muso out of all of us. Graham has left the Mute family. He’s living in Sweden and it would cost £400 for one airfare. The bottom line is that to finance people you have to promise tours and get into deeper shit with record companies. We’re perfectly capable of getting into a room and making a noise, but at the moment that’s not on the table.”

Following Gilbert’s Glasgow visit, he returned to London to instigate a one-off ‘Dome’ performance at Disobey with Graham Lewis. Quite what that says for his future plans, remains to be seen. He says he’s taking things easy, making plans and waiting for invitations. So and slow it grows.

Interview: Siouxsie Sioux / The Creatures

This is quite a blast from the past, dredging the archives for one of my first interviews to find its way into print (Pat Kane, from 80s pop duo ‘Hue & Cry‘ actually takes that high honour). I resurrected this piece to commemorate Siouxsie’s latest album, ‘Manta Ray’, her first solo release in three decades of recording. More importantly, it’s the first album without the emotional crutch and creative involvement of ex-husband Budgie – a partnership that outlasted the Banshees and, via The Creatures, arguably contains some of Siouxsie’s most innovative and complex work.

As a teenager, I was a keen devotee of Siouxie Sioux – and, to this day, I still own a near-complete collection of Banshees singles and album releases on vinyl. She never fails to impress and her allure is still remarkably potent.

Back in 1990, my pre-interview nerves were somewhere off the Richter Scale, being particularly mindful of the old cliche – “never interview your idols”. The reality was wonderfully different – Siouxsie and Budgie were not only relaxed and charming, but hugely welcoming and disarmingly open. Of course, it only made me love them more. The interview was first published in the Glasgow University Guardian in 1990.

THE CREATURES

After so many years as figurehead for the Banshees, no one can blame Siouxsie Sioux for being tired. The band are in a position where everything seems familiar – the approach to their continual projects resembles a well-trodden path, and if you’re not careful, stagnation and boredom can set in.

This may be part of the reason why six years after their debut album ‘Feast’, The Creatures have returned, creating one of their finest pieces to date – ‘Boomerang’. One of the most surprising aspects of the project was their decision to tour – even more startling was the fact that they chose to perform as a duo without the aid of any session musicians.

“We’ve taken it on, we have to see it through,” says Budgie, with more than a hint of apprehension in his voice. Tonight at the Queen Margaret Union, their backing tapes – controlled by Budgie’s drum pedal – refused to stay in line, causing a chaotic mess during a few intros. “It’s the first time on stage without Steve [Severin] and it’s as scary as shit.”

“I’m starting to enjoy it,” admits Siouxsie, “because it’s a completely different way of doing it. It’s getting the adrenalin going again. With smaller venues you start getting a sense of the audience again. It feels very different – which is the whole reason for doing this really.”

After eleven Banshees albums and numerous tours, you can imagine that the pair must hit the wall of disillusion on many occasions. Have they never thought that the end of the road must arrive one day?

“When we started this, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do another Banshees project,” explains Siouxsie, “I said ‘That’s it! I’ll leave it open, but I’m not promising anything.’ The last Banshees album ‘Peepshow’ as a whole album was probably the best we’ve done for a long time. ‘Hyaena’ and ‘Tinderbox’ fell – but they weren’t all bad. Half of ‘Hyaena’ I thought was really good, and ‘Cities In Dust’ I was really proud of, but as ‘whole albums’ they just didn’t work.”

Budgie: “‘Through The Looking Glass’ [the Banshees’ album of cover versions] just taught us how to work really quickly again. The songs were already written – all we were doing was figuring out how to play them, and we did that in a couple of weeks.”

Siouxsie: “We just wanted to stop hanging around the studio waiting for the guitarist to turn up. We got really bogged down with trying to find a guitarist to replace John McGeoch – we got let down by Robert Smith at the last minute – and then we started a new tour with John Carruthers… It was bit unfair to push it that way.”

It would seem then that to plough through another Banshees project directly after ‘Peepshow’ would have resulted in a terminal disaster. Fortunately for The Creatures, working as a duo is creatively far less inhibiting. Is it the case that tracks on ‘Boomerang’ may have never existed if they been put through the familair ‘five-piece’ channels?

Budgie: “Well, take the Banshees track ‘Peek-A-Boo’ for instance. To keep that the way it was, and the way it ended up, was quite a fight on Siouxsie’s part.”

Siouxsie: “It wasn’t done in the regular way. It was just an idea that I had and I didn’t want it to become ‘band-ised’, with guitars running all the way through it. I wanted to keep it bare with all the original ideas intact.”

Budgie: “I think that’s the way we approach The Creatures. It’s less precious in a way – because there’s just the two of us, you can play any instrument and there’s no guitarist in the corner thinking ‘Well, what am I going to play?’. You’re not being precious about what the band is supposed to be.”

Siouxsie: “And it’s not the case where everyone has to have a say in what you do. Trying to convince someone that the best thing they can do is ‘nothing’ is quite hard to do without sounding harsh. It’s good to strip yourself down and let yourself breathe.”

So are The Creatures prolonging the life of the Banshees?

“Something like The Banshees that’s got such a history can be inhibiting,” replies Siouxise, “you can step to the side and see what it’s doing – rather than being a part of it all the time – it keeps you interested in what you’re doing. I think nervousness and fear are really vital emotions.”

Listening toThe Creatures’ output, with the tribal chants of Hawaiian singers on ‘Feast’ and the crazed horn section on ‘Right Now’, the idea of transforming such orchestration to a small stage seems near to the realms of impossibility. However, judging by their appearance on the ‘Big World’ tv show, their attempt at re-constructing ‘Standing There’ or ‘You!’ seemed cluttered by the addition of a large band.

Budgie: “I didn’t like the sound of it, but it wasn’t the musicians’ fault. Basically, we discovered that you can’t mike up a marimba – it just doesn’t cut it live. You can put a hundred microphones on every slat and you still wouldn’t hear them with the feedback. The only alternative is to use a synthesised mallet and programmed backing which we’re using on this tour.”

To record ‘Feast’, The Creatures flew to Hawaii, and for ‘Boomerang’ they took their mobile studio to the cultural heart of the Spanish mainland. It’s the kind of scheme that the Banshees would never have undertaken.

Siouxsie: “It wasn’t a studio enviroment – we couldn’t have taken the band with guitars and amps to a situation like that. It would have horrified everyone around.”

Budgie: “When you’re with the band you’re very much ‘back in the gang’. You kind of walk all over whatever the situation you’re in because of the strength of the unit.”

Siouxsie: “No matter what you’re intentions are, people around you sort of stay back, because they see you as…”

Budgie: “They see you as confrontational, or just cheeky. When we took The Creatures to Spain it was different – we just slipped in. We were in a village, on a farm, and there was a community there -and we just went into the barn and made a lot of noise.”

Siouxsie: “We all ate together at this big table. It was great because there was very little language, due to the Andalucian accent. I can speak some Spanish, but with the Anadalucians … well, it’s like someone coming to Glasgow who has just learned English…”

How do The Creatures deal with the concept of ‘world music’, baring in the mind the diversity of ‘ethnic’ influence in their work?

Siouxsie: “I don’t like the way ‘world music’ has being a very hip thing. Ever since ‘JuJu’ we’ve been really into using different types of percussion and suchlike, but we’re not really delved that much. I just don’t like labels. It’s like when people say ‘you’re a punk band’. I say ‘well, we’re not a rock band, we’re not a punk band, we’re not a soul band … we’re not anything’. I really like the idea of things not being snobby like that. There are people who are like ‘we’re a Heavy Metal band and we’re not having bloody bells in our songs!’. That’s really stupid. I think it’s just whatever you hear and you like it, you’re curious about it, you don’t know what it is, so you pursue it.”

It seems then that the future of The Banshees is assured?

“I hope that the good things about The Creatures will carry through into the next Banshees project,” affirms Siouxsie, “I think the next Banshees thing that we do will be a really positive thing.”

Interview: Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz) – Sex, Tanks & Kangaroos

One of my earliest interviews, with comic book artists Jamie Hewlett and Philip Bond, published during my year as Editor of Glasgow University Magazine.  Hewlett had scored major success around this time as co-creator of ‘Tank Girl’, however he would go on to far greater international acclaim as the visual mastermind and co-creator of the Gorillaz project with Damon Albarn. Bond continues to work in comics, working with the likes of Grant Morrison and Pete Milligan and on titles such as ‘Hellblazer’ and Harvey Pekar’s ‘American Splendour’.

It would seem that I was somewhat obsessed in this interview with proving the point that comics were ‘hip’ – a point that’s almost an impirical fact in 2008, but back in 1989 it was a hard case to argue for.  I tried to prove the point in two ways: (1) by using frequent references to Morrissey and The Smiths, and (2) by frequently discussing the sexual activity of Tank Girl.  The latter is probably the saddest of the two – I’m sure if I was ever to meet someone quite like Tank Girl, she’d chew me up and spit me out in a heartbeat.

SEX, TANKS & KANGAROOS

One thing that surprised a lot of sceptics over the summer was the final emergence of the Batman film.  Based largely on Frank Miller’s recent revitalisation of the character, the greatest shock came when they discovered that “it wasn’t for kids”.  Stuart Buchanan talks to Philip Bond and Jamie Hewlett from Deadline Magazine about the sudden rise in interest of ‘Adult Comics’.

The phrase ‘Adult Comics’ to some is nothing more than an intrinsic paradox.  Their mind immediately shifts to a father in his armchair by the fire, his kids playing with Lego on the floor, while he leafs through a copy of ‘The Incredible Hulk’.  Fortunately, this awkward preconception is as far removed from the truth as is possible.

The comics subculture is expanding every month with new artists and new titles coming to the fore.  Last month, for instance, witnessed the publication of ‘The Bogie Man’, a strip located entirely in Glasgow and the first venture of the Glasgow-based Fatman Press.

However, the most original comic (or do I say ‘magazine’?) available at the present time is without doubt the London-based Deadline.  One thing that separates Deadline from its unworthy cousins, such as 2000AD and Crisis, is its largely humourous content – not, perhaps, in the same lines as Viz, but more subtle than slapstick.  Underpinning the often black humour are numerous references to our contemporary culture – in the form of both blatant morals and subtextual nods to the cream of indie bands.

“Basically, Jamie and I have been really influenced by everything that is happening,” explains Philip Bond, author and artist of Deadline’s ‘Wired World’ and ‘Hot Triggers’, along with ‘Angels Amongst Us’ from Crisis.  “We just want to write about the sort of people that we are, except push it a bit further, and so the references have got to come across.  But we really didn’t think about who we were writing for.  We just wrote for ourselves, but from the way that the [public] signings have gone, it seems that people who come along are very much people like ourselves, which is exactly how it should be.  So I guess that it’s been very successful.”

One aspect that comics have eternally been criticised for is that they are predominantly created for men, and their content is distinctly chauvinistic. In Philip’s ‘Wired World’ strip however, the characters are female, highly disillusioned with the world around them.

“I suppose deep down I’m a feminist, maybe that’s why I write strips about women.  I think, from my own experiences, that women very often turn out to be much smarter than men.  Men are just dupes and they provide the slapstick behind the strips.”

Jamie Hewlett’s strip, ‘Tank Girl’, however has all too often been wrongly labelled as sexist. “If it is,” he claims, “it’s not meant to be.  I’m not sexist and I’m not racist, not at all.  So I try to stab at things that I don’t like – like McDonalds and shit music and lot of bollocks that you get on TV at the moment.  But you’ve really got to have all this shit around, because if everything was good, you’d be lost.  You’ve got nothing to be annoyed about.”

The appeal of ‘Tank Girl’, thankfully, stems far and wide, and Jamie is interested in teasing reads about her sexuality for some time to come.  “There are a lot of lesbians that are really into ‘Tank Girl’ apparently.  Everyone thinks that she is a lesbian at the moment, which she isn’t; her sexuality hasn’t been decided yet.”

“The initial idea for Tank Girl came from a girl I used to know in Worthing who looked like her.  When I first met her, she had this crewcut and she was headbutting this bouncer in the face.  She was really hard, but she was a really attractive girl.”

The comics culture it seems it filtering out into other contemporary mediums.  TV and Radio are dragging their feet, although cinema interest has been aroused in both Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ and 2000AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’.  However, the world of popular music is riddled with tributes and references to the fictional heroes of the 80s (Transvision Vamp, Pop Will Eat Itself and Anthrax have all been guilty in recent times). Both Jamie and Philip are quick to draw analogies between the two cultures.

Says Jamie, “Poeple like Brett Ewins [Deadline editor with Steve Dillon] are responsible for making comics quite ‘hip’ like they are now.  They are responsible for making comic artists into pop stars.”

Philip takes this a stage further: “If you buy a Kylie Minogue record, it’s her singing a Stock, Aitken and Waterman record and it’s just completely empty.  Whereas if you go out and buy a Morrissey record, it’s recognisable as a Morrissey record.  It’s got his character in it and everything.  I think comics are going that way.”

Jamie brings in the idea of using television as a good way to symbolise the intrinsic differences in the comics culture itself.  “If there was a Deadline TV show, we’d put on a really good one, because what we consider as the good bands and good comedians probably like what we do, as much as we like what they do.  Whereas if you had an Alan Moore TV show, it might be Alan sitting on a sofa, flicking his hair back and talking about really boring shit for three hours”.

Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ has long been thought of as the comic that finally broke the superhero mould and in that respect has been held in high regard.  Jamie, however, is more skeptical.  “Alan Moore bores me really.  I’m not into him.  ‘Watchmen’ was a really well written comic, but I don’t think he’s full of ideas.  It was alright, but it didn’t get me excited.  I didn’t get the same pleasure like I was listening to a Smiths album or something like that.  It’s like Brendan McCarthy’s ‘Strange Days’ – you do get a feeling like you’re listening to a Smiths album.  You’re really pleased with it and you want to keep it.  You want to have it around you all the time.”

The reaction that Deadline has received has been, at the very least, astounding.  It is due to this, that offers from other comics are numerous.  Both Jamie and Philip are contributing to ‘A1’ magazine, an independent forum for comic creators, and are also expanding their range to include work on both 2000AD and Crisis respectively.  However, both are far removed from their contemporary rivals.

Philip: “We are starting to be recognised as creators instead of just the illustrators.  That’s definitely part of the appeal of Deadline; because it’s got the artists who are also the creators – writing their own stuff and drawing it as well – it’s a more personal creation.  I think the readers recognise that and they can get into the personality behind the artist as well as just liking the drawing.”

Deadline is sure to be an eternal success, provided that it continues to provide an ever-hungry public with the meat that it so desperately craves.  There only seems to be one question remaining: will Tank Girl ever sleep with anybody?

“Well, I think if you fancy someone and you never see them being sexy or sleeping with anybody, that’s okay.  But if you see them being lewd all the time and shagging left, right and centre, then it takes it all away.  She probably will sleep with men when she gets round to it, but I don’t think she’s really interested in that.  If I was a woman, I wouldn’t sleep with a man, that’s for sure!”

First published in Glasgow University Magazine,  December 1989

Interview: Michael Gira, Swans

This interview from 1989 marked my first published piece outside of the cotton-wool confines of University Of Glasgow publications.  Such entities were only too happy to accept any writer who could work a pen and had read an album review or two in their time.  Stepping outside of that, into the world of paid commissions, was quite another thing entirely.  As fate would have it, I never pursued my intended career in journalism; nonetheless this piece marks the earliest successful attempt to have someone pay for my work, appearing in Scotland’s cultural listing magazine, The List.

Michael Gira was the test subject, founder and primary artistic force behind Swans, a band that emerged from New York’s No Wave scene and lived through their early years as post-punk / noise manufacturers, famed for the ear-bleeding volume of their live shows.  In 1988, they flirted with an alternative – recording their only major label album, ‘The Burning World’ with renowned producer Bill Laswell (a move that Gira later acknowleged as a “mismatch”).  That said, the album did introduce more acoustic instrumentation and semi-pop sensibilities, both of which informed later work.

Gira was a reluctant interview subject, and I always suspect that he was playing the role of the bored moggy, lazily pawing at me as if I were his mouse toy, gaining only a modicum of pleasure from the experience.  By the end, boredom has turned to sarcasm and it was clearly time to hang up the phone.

SWANS

In the seven years that Swans have existed, they have constantly deluded and delighted their swelling mass of admirers.  A change in style and change in line-up would inevitably mirror a shift in allegiance to a particular label.  In June of 1988, however, their most disturbing transformation took place with their interpretation of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (“Basically, a beautiful song”).  Swans had ripened into a crown of elegance.  Some called it beautiful, others a sell-out from their brutal noise afflictions of earlier years.  A mellowing of their sound?

“I wouldn’t say it was a mellowing as such”, muses creator and vocalist Michael Gira.  “We have merely jettisoned, killed and eliminated what has gone before. It’s a response to the need to live.  You need to get rid of something before you can progress”.

Faced with such a deliberate diversion in style, the music press has been flaunting the word ‘accessible’ in front of its readers.  In all such instances, this marked deviation can incite nothing short of a major fracas with the quota of Swans’ devotees.  “There was a small faction of fans who had limited perception.  They would bang their heads and shout for us to play louder.  There is, however, a larger group that has been responsive to changes within the band over the last few years.  We are, hopefully, going to appeal to a larger number of people and, at the same time, getting rid of the ones that we hate.”

An obvious ploy to weed out the dissidents from the disciples is Gira’s rendition of ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’, penned in 1969 by one Steve Winwood, on their latest album ‘Burning World’, their first for major label MCA.  He maintains however that’s “it’s not for the merits of the artist that I choose to cover a song.  It’s not because it’s a Steve Winwood song, rather it’s a good blueprint to build an atmosphere around.”

Audiences can an anticipate a more placid performance from Swans when they parade their plumage at Edinburgh’s Calton Studios this week. “Our shows are now full of pastoral ballads and uplifting crescendos.  It’s an end to the bludgeoning of our previous performances.  I am actually expecting the audience to levitate.”  And the United Kingdom?  Will it succumb to the forthcoming swan-song?  “Britain’s fine with me,” says Gira.  Fine?  With all Gira’s flourishing of feathers, we would expect more than a monosyllabic answer.  “Well, it’s the Emerald Isle,” he claims, rather reluctantly.  “What more can I say?

pic: Anne Helmond

First published in The List, July 1989

Interview: Plastique De Reve (Germany)

Originally published on Fat Planet.

Spare a thought for poor Gen-Xers like me – the generation Wikipedia describes as “apathetic, cynical, disaffected, streetwise loners and slackers”. A disgraceful slur – I’m sure most X-ers would agree, and one that would fail to find resonance amongst almost all hip hop heads, sample culture freaks, the rave generation, the grand electronica alumni, the soldiers at the forefront of the industrial (music) revolution and many more cultures and subcultures besides. For every stoner and Winona, there’s an equal and opposite reaction – one of DIY, heads-down, hands aloft, creativity.

If there’s one X-er who can claim to have been more than a bystander over the last two or three decades, it’s Chrisophe Dasen, aka Daze, aka Plastique De Reve. Over the last twenty years, Daze has been bringing life to electronic music across a vast range of genres, building a wild and unruly menagerie of sounds along the way. From early experiments in experimental and industrial forms, through EBM, acid house and so-called IDM, Daze arrived in the late 90s with enough live performances under his belt to put most rock bands to shame. In 1997, he finally stood behind a set of decks and thus began the transition that would launch ‘Plastique De Reve’ on an unsuspecting world. Since then, he’s produced original music and remixes for the likes of Tiga’s Turbo Recordings, International Deejay Gigolos, WMF, Inzest and many more. In 1998, he co-founded Switzerland;’s first internet radio station, basic.ch, and presented an international electronic music show for over seven years.

Born in Australia, and subsequently travelling with his family through Canada, Ivory Coast, Algeria and Kenya, Daze currently resides in Berlin, with a fresh pot of tracks for local label Kitty-Yo bubbling right off the boil. “I’ve been really lucky”, he says, via email from Berlin, “Travelling with my parents during all my childhood was fantastic. It has opened my mind in ways that are hard to describe in few words. I remember dancing to disco 7 inches with the kids in my Kenyan village, or to the royal drums in Masaï mudhouses with the lions roaring outside in the night, dancing to ‘soukouss’ in Ivory Coast, going up on stage with Myriam Makeba at age seven, fishing sharks, fighting giant spiders, decrypting hieroglyphs… something like The Swiss Family Robinson meets Indiana Jones and Margaret Mead…”

After playing his first live gig in front of schoolmates in Nairobi at the age of nine, Daze began to ingest the sounds eminating from his parents stereo – “They were listening to electronic ‘hippie’ music (Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Klaus Shulze, Tangerine Dream etc), but also a lot of psychedelic rock, all kinds of ‘jazz’, ethnic music, classical music… This early electronic stuff I loved so much, it infused in me some kind of never-ending quest for electronic, synthetic sounds.”

Whilst any mention of ‘sample-culture’ implies vinyl lifts for hip hop breaks, Daze came to this particular technique via a less obvious route. Having drifted into harder electronic sounds in the early 80s from the likes of DAF and Depeche Mode, there was an inevitable lurch towards industrial music, Front 242, Neubauten and Skinny Puppy. “I bought my first sampler in 1986 after seeing a Young Gods concert, and spent several years experimenting with sound / noise in different projects. There was a raw energy in EBM that was like electronic and punk mixed together.”

Given industrial music’s dramatic merger of metal, noise and symphonic crescendos, Daze’s drift into soundtracks, theatre, installation and performance art was a natural progression. Following a period with a Genevan ‘living theatre’ group, Daze formed an experimental music and performance collective titled MXP, “something like ‘the electronic Merry Pranksters meet Einstürzende Neubauten and Antonin Artaud’. Interventionist, situationist work followed, in tandem with “conventional” sound installations, all the while Daze’s marriage of art and music became ever more complex: “Musically it all relates to what I do now in the sense that every track, dj set or live show has to suggest something new or different, try to be an ‘intervention’ on its own.”

In 1998, Daze was establishing himself as a DJ, and shortly thereafter, as a broadcaster. He earned himself a small but important place in broadcasting history by co-founding the first internet radio station in Switerland, basic.ch. “It came along naturally with the development of technologies and cultural media, and access to that. It was natural for our little electronic music community in Geneva to embrace the internet as a new communication tool and a platform for mixes and productions of local deejays and artists. Of course internet radio is essential to the development of electronic music – like what I-F’s CBS.nu radio is doing, truly fantastic – but also all the online shops, the forums, blogs, profiles etc.”

By 2001, Daze was releasing music on a variety of labels, with some of his earliest material appearing on Hell’s International Deejay Gigolos label. Fuelled by a now-legendary series of Berlin club nights, and a frenetic release schedule, Gigolo found itself as the poster label for the Electroclash movement – and in the spirit of all great fashion movements, it was maligned almost as soon as it was established. Despite being swept along with the Electroclash tide, Daze survived the fallout.

“The term ‘electroclash’ was the media’s renaming of what for me was just ‘electro’. [Subgenres] help to define the music in words, but they can hinder when subject to narrow definitions in the media and the people’s minds. In my view there are no SUB genres, just general musical orientations, and inside that, plenty of new genres everyday – one for every track.

“At the time I didn’t care too much about the hype, we had lots of fun and there was good music. Later that electroclash ‘etiquette’ is a little difficult to shake off, if you think you have more to offer than a pre-established ‘genre’. I think there was a fallout for electro in general, and for Gigolo too, but no more than for other labels. I am grateful to Gigolo to have done a good job for interesting, risk-taking, non-mainstream, electronic music, and I’ll drink a Jaegermeister to that!”

For Daze’s recent Kitty-Yo release, he described his current sound as “multispeed varistyle”, a phrase coined by Oliver Mental Groove: “it just means ‘freestyle’, eclectic, not setting yourself any style boundaries. That’s also why I called this EP ‘Jeux Sans Frontières’. Every track is different, there are some obvious references to various ‘styles’, but I tried crossing boundaries, making my own mashup of ingredients.”

The influences on the EP are certainly broad, but one still can’t help but be surprised when the opening salvo, ‘Favela Norte’, spins Daze’s sound into baile funk territory. Alongside Man Recordings’ ‘Funk Mundial’ imprint, it stands as one of the few examples of Euro-Brasilian baile-fusion. “When I first heard it a few years ago, I thought it was the freshest thing I’d heard in a long time, it was like reviving miami bass and old-school electro hip hop, like some kind of ‘tribal ghetto tech’ with kids rapping on top. I like the way the samples are used in rhythm patterns, the rawness of edits, the anger, the pride, the fun it provides. I thought I’d give it a try with my own take on it. I’m making more tracks in that direction, with chicago house samples, touches of acid, and well… other secret components.”

Given his history to date, the nature of such ‘secret components’ remains impossible to guess. As long as Daze keeps making sounds ‘sans frontieres’, we’ll all still be tuning in.

Interview: E-Stonji (Germany)

Originally published on Fat Planet.

For as long as there has been scientific study and for as long as there has been art, the two disciplines have made for curious bedfellows. Over the centuries, they have been both repelled and attracted to one another – often at the same time – and in each instance, the results are inevitably fascinating. The legacy of crossovers between music and science is just as complex, particularly over the last few decades as electronic music has pushed its way to the cutting edge of sound. Much to the distaste of many die-hard analogue heads, music has evolved well beyond the simple use of one’s own brain and fingers, and has quickly adapted to include the use of the processor, of deep algorithms and of vast landscapes of programming code. Arguably, the appliance of science – whether we’re conscious of it or not – has become the defacto standard for music composition in the 21st century.

Enter Jens Doering – software engineer, audiobook director, sound designer and, yes, a musician of some renown; from his solo work as e.stonji, to collaborations with Hans Platzgumer (as hp.stonji and e.gum); and other work such as convertible, reejk lynur, jerry lusion and new productions with vocalist Berna Celik. On the eve of his latest full album release, ‘Particles’ (released on Kitty-Yo), Jens’ engineering and audio design background grants him a uniquely intense perspective on the synthesis between art and science.

“For me there is a deep beauty in structures that you can make visible through geometry, or that you can calculate in maths” he says, via email from his home in Elchingen, Germany. “I think that technology and the arts are more closely related now than in any other previous decade. There are already some specific programming languages that can help to find the bridge between art and maths, and if you want to go beyond what any application can do, you just need to program your own application. That’s where you need to be an engineer in order to be an artist.”

However, his life as an engineer germinated from an artistic seed, and a pure idea of music that only Jens could envisage. “When I started writing, I was just looking for a possibility to make music without having to look for band members who had exactly the same ideas as I did. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who would have liked to produce this kind of music that I had in mind. So I knew that a traditional way of making music (i.e. guitar, bass, drums, vocals) wouldn’t work for me. It was at that point that I started to experiment with a synthesizer, including a sequencer that could save up to ten songs. The disadvantage of this synth was to not being able to export your song. When I had finished ten songs, I had to delete one of them in order to start another one… Later however, the Atari and other synths came along and so on. and so on.. and so on… and so on….”

Traditionalists are quick to denounce an over-reliance on mathematics in music, often claiming that the net result of jettisoning ‘organic’ instrumentation leads to a lack of soul or warmth within the sound. Of course, as time marches on, this view is becoming increasingly marginalised, but it remains a bone of contention within music communities all around the world. You would be right in thinking that Jens has a great deal to say on this subject.

“I think it’s not difficult to retain soul in any way, as there are always human beings who operate the artificial environment. I think there are different ways to use technology for creating music. You can use technology to express yourself in an emotional way, and the result can be very soulful, but you can also use a more experimental – or let’s say scientific way – to explore things. For example, Mozart was one of the first composers who brought maths into composition (algorithmic composition). He wrote a piece, where you had to throw the dice to know how to play the piece. This was the beginning of computer music, in a way.

“I don’t think that electronic music has no soul. I think there is a lot of electronic music out there which isn’t very soulful, but it’s the same with music on organic instruments. You need to learn using the computer as a musical instrument in the same way as you need to learn playing a guitar…

“For me, soul is the most important thing to happen in music. I hope you can feel that while listening to ‘Particles’. It’s more about a reflection on emotions, and some of the tracks should work on a dancefloor. The name ‘Particles’ has been taken from the scientific context, because it’s so fascinating to zoom in to the smallest possible things and to get to limits – like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – or to zoom out into extremely large scales. So everything, myself included, consists of a large amount of particles. In the digital world, you find particles in form of bits, bytes, dots, milliseconds, 128th in the music measure (beats) and so on. Hence, the album name particles is a very suggestive title, open to all kinds of interpretations, and I just wanted it that way.”

As if to prove the point, Jens has often drafted the most challenging instrument of all – the voice – into a number of projects. Standouts include the tight electro-funk of last year’s e:gum project (on Klein) and new work with vocalist Berna Celik. “The voice is a beautiful instrument. In most of the cases, the voice is a stronger stylistically than the synthesizer. But the voice is not necessarily needed to bring about a sense of soul into electronic music – this can also be done with digital instruments. I work with Berna as she has a very strong and soulful voice. She is a good friend as well, and her lyrics and melodies are always a great inspiration for me.”

With so many parallel projects seeming on the go at the same time, it’s easy to get lost inside the e.stonji universe: the grunge pop of Jerry Lusion (“guitar and grunge music”), his work with Platzgumer across hp.stonji and e:gum (“a very rare and special friendship and collaboration”) and his work as an Audiobook producer. He knows that this schizophrenic genre hopping confuses most people, but he retains the important belief that we need to expose many dimensions of our own personalities at any one time. It’s the latter work, in the Audiobook realm, that undoubtedly leads Jens into a multiplicity of creative alleys.

“It’s a very interesting field. It’s like doing a remix, but you don’t have any song to remix – you just have speech, and there is much space for interpretation. This provides a lot of freedom, and is a good way to experiment. You can also put in real sounds like footsteps in a staircase, bees, water etc. which opens your mind in such a way that makes you see pictures, just by listening. This is a beautiful process. Most audiobooks you get in the shops are just readings – somebody with a deep strong voice reads the whole book. I don’t know what this means, but I don’t like that at all. So for me, an audiobook is much more fascinating when it has music and, even more though, if it is a melting pot of speech, music, field recordings and sound effects.”

After the release of ‘Particles’, we can expect a follow-up to e:gum’s 2006 debut and continuing work with Platzgumer on additional projects. “There are a lot of totally different aspects I would love to explore in music”, he says, “It’s just a matter of time”. And you can almost hear his brain building the blueprint for the e.stonji time machine right about now.

more: estonji.com

Interview: Modeselektor (Germany)

Originally published on Fat Planet.

with a guest list that includes ttc, maximo park, paul st hillaire and mr thom yorke, expectations were going to be sky-high for modeselektor‘s new album ‘happy birthday’. for the last two weeks, it’s been on high rotation on the fat planet stereo and i’m relieved to say that, much like m.i.a.‘s killer ‘kala’, the hype is more than justified. this sophomore release retains all of the punch, kick and bass we’ve come to love from the berlin duo, but with a remarkable upswing of confidence and energy that headbutts us from the first beat of ‘godspeed’ right through to the album’s conclusion. and thus, in the space of just two albums, modeselektor have rewarded our faith and pole-vaulted a legion of wannabes to join the major leagues of electronic music.

this week, the response to fat planet’s email interview with modeselektor’s sebastian szary landed in our in-box. contrary to any notion that building such a heavy guest roster was all pre-ordained in a blue electro sky, szary points out that the net result was simply another instance when the gods of chance dealt a damn good hand. “we didn’t really have a direction when we started”, he says, “but we had a feeling for what we wanted to do. we just listened to our guts, and then ‘happy birthday’ somehow became the continuation of ‘hello mum!’. only two songs existed as live tracks, the others evolved in the studio. many ideas had been ripe for a long time, whereas some emerged spontaneously.”.

‘happy birthday’ hits stores next month and yet the sleeve ink is barely dry on their previous release, the recent ‘boogy bytes vol.3’ mix cd. featuring an impressive roster of heavyweights such as spank rock, skream, burial, mr.oizo, james holden and ttc, the compilation was the perfect precursor to the ‘selektor heading back into the studio. “we really needed this mix cd”, reckons szary, “at the end of the last year, we were pretty tired from all the touring and needed some weeks off! during that time we decided to make the mix cd. it’s very comforting to listen to music other than ones own, we almost lost the ability to listen to music. if you’re playing 120 gigs a year, you don’t have the opportunity to sit at home and put on a record so often. and we don’t like ipods so much.”

the mix closed with the now seminal radiohead track ‘idioteque’, a sly tip of the hat to thom yorke’s guest appearance on ‘happy birthday’. yorke has repeatedly worn his modeselektor fan hat in public, the recent ‘eraser’ b-side ‘iluvya’ playing out as something of a tribute to the berlin duo. and it’s quite a trip for szary. “looking at our new cover now and reading his name on the track list feels quite unreal.” and as for thom in person? “he’s a congenial musician and the singer of a pretty congenial band…” and that’s as far as he’ll go for now.

the album was recorded in berlin and released through ellen allien‘s b-pitch control label, home to the likes of paul kalkbrenner, sacscha funke, feadz and many exquisite electronic releases from allien herself. “ellen’s very spontaneous, ambitious, headstrong and sometimes inconsiderate! that’s what we love about her! she never gave us any instructions and always gave us free hands… but actually, quite often she didn’t have much of a choice.”

but with so much being written about berlin, and so many absurd claims being made about its status as the home of european electronic music, we’re led to wonder what like must be like for modeselektor, living inside the giant hype bubble? “light and shade lie very close together” according to szary, “but to name a single city as a center for electronic music is quite dubious. berlin is like a collecting pond for artists from all over the world. it has the charm of an classy old lady who’s had one drink too many! we can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

the naming of ‘happy birthday’ is designed to celebrate the fact that both szary and his comrade, gernot bronsert, are about to become fathers for the first time (“i’m looking forward to welcoming the little new modeselektors!”). but if we imagine that modeselektor are going to mellow out and settle down, we can slap that thought down straight away – 2008 will see modeslektor back on tour and (for local readers) returning once again to australian shores: “we’re looking forward to this – we love australia! i think next year we’ll come over there for some rooburgers!”.

more: modeselektor.com

Meeting The Neighbours – Fat Planet Interview at The Tofu Hut

Huge thanks to New Jersey’s Tofu Hut for tracking me down for an interview for their blog. Check it out at tofuhut.blogspot.com and reposted below:


Fat Planet is another in the Radio Babylon school of linking to “artists’ sites, labels or other legitimate sources” but F.P. is a bit more aspirant: offering itself as a de facto aggregator/taste filter of all manner of international music and then indexing the tracks by country. Recent offerings include songs from !!!Ulrich SchnaussAir, and Mouse on Mars.

Who got the whole world in their hands? 
Fat Planet started as a way of logging playlists from Stuart Buchanan’s ‘new international music’ radio show in Sydney, Australia and has quickly grown into a mp3 blog in its own right. The blog, like the show, is designed to promote new, alternative from around the world – providing an alternative global music perspective that doesn’t fall into the traditional ‘world music’ category. For example, psych-rock from Japan, breakcore from Egypt, electronica from Argentina, drum’n’bass from India etc. Our first post was in January 2004.
I work at a radio station full-time (FBi 94.5FM), which is the same station from which I present my show. In my spare time (not that there’s much), I also work my wife on our own web design business. In recent years, we developed the site for Goldfrapp (which won the 2003 MTV Europe Web Award), for Groenland Records (nominated for 2004 Online Music Awards) and we’ve recently completed some work for Depeche Mode for their new remix collection. Which is all gut-bustingly exciting.

Where did the name of your blog originate from?
Derived from Leftfield’s ‘Phat Planet’, but preferred the chubby version.

What are the criteria you judge a song by to decide if it’s post-worthy?
Original, innovative, unlike anything we’ve heard before. Derivative rock bands need not apply.

What do you do for kicks when you’re not posting?
Time is a cherished commodity… I’m usually preparing for the FAT PLANET radio show and I’ve recently taken on a 2nd radio show project for Australia’s community radio satellite network – see theprototype.net

Five Desert Island Discs?
1. The Velvet Underground and Nico – “The Velvet Underground and Nico”
2. Nina Simone – “Verve Jazz Masters”
3. Bjork – Homogenic
4. Boards of Canada – “Music Has the Right to Children”
5. Bill Hicks – “Arizona Bay”

Do you consider yourself a “music journalist”?
No, if I don’t like something I won’t post it – so, therefore, I’m only promoting music I like, rather than criticising music I don’t.  ed. note: This is spot on and hardly ever noted in discussion of the field.

What was the last track you heard that really changed your life?
Not sure about the life change, but CloudDead and the Mush crew inspired me to start writing music again, so that was an influential period.

Is there any genre of music that you dismiss out of hand?
I’ve yet to get excited about metal, which I think is entirely to do with the testosterone levels. In saying that, I really got off on the new Metallica documentary, so maybe there’s a sleeping metalhead inside of me somewhere.

Which critical darling do you find most overrated? Who’s the most overlooked genius in the music industry?
Jet, allegedly Australia’s No.1 rock band. I read an interview where they went about how much they despised electronics, that ‘techno’ was the work of the devil etc. I just can’t deal with narrow-mindedness, especially when it comes to music and especially not at that scale – i.e. dismissing entire genres. It just so lazy and misguided – and sadly representative a large group of supposed ‘fans’ of music. i.e. those people who have never dared to pick up an electronic album for fear their heads might implode. Overlooked? Einsturzende Neubauten should be in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Recommend three other music blog sites.
1.  Swen’s Weblog: The one that started my interest and still continues to deliver. Ostensibly a guide to artists that feature in The Wire magazine, but it’s expanded to be much more comprehensive. As well as alternative and experimental music, it now includes alternative video, glitch art, and a whole heap more.
2.  Music For Robots: Consistently excellent. More electronica and dance as well as the odd post from somewhere very random in the world.
3.  dozerblog: I ought to give props to a new kid on the block, whose tastes are almost 100% spot on.

Do you really think that posting music effectively promotes sales of the album?
Absolutely, it can’t fail to. If only more artists and record companies would catch on to this fact. There are so many ways to read about artists, not so many to actually hear them. I’m not going to buy an album from an artist I haven’t heard, that’s too much of a risk. And having streaming real audio or windows media player files is way too time consuming and tedious – plus you can only listen to those when you’re sitting in front of your PC. Alternatively, if I can grab an mp3, then I can throw it on the iPod, burn it to CD as part of a compilation and listen to it a few times. Once it’s lodged in my brain and I’ve become a fan of the track, an album purchase surely follows.

Can you list a few bands that you enjoy listening to that might surprise your readers?
I used to really dig Madonna and still have a soft spot for her. Especially the “Like A Virgin” album. Oh, and Gary Numan.

Are you a proud member of the iPod Nation?
100% and very proud of it. iPod changed the way I listen to music and, by the genius invention of the ‘shuffle’ feature, I’ve found parts of my music collection that I never knew existed.

What’s the best live show you’ve ever seen?
So hard to decide between them all, but the most dramatic was probably at last year’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs gig in Sydney. After about 6 or 7 songs, Karen O took a tumble off the stage, fell head first into the mosh pit. Even though she was seriously injured, she opted to sits on the stage and sang an incredible version of Maps. At the end of the track, the paramedics grabbed her and whisked her off to the hospital. That song will remain burned in my head for a long time to come.

Do you have a message for youngsters who’d like to start their own music blog?
Be true to your own tastes and your sense of what’s good and bad and don’t worry if anyone disagrees.

The head of Sony/BMG is sitting across the table from you, asking how to improve the music industry for both the consumer and the company. What do you say?
There used to be an argument that the record companies’ % profit from an artist’s CD would go to fostering and developing new talent. Now that % seems to go to developing Pop Idol / American Idol rejects. Recently, a very famous and a very good Australian rock band was bumped from their record label – and at the same time, the label signed a whole crew of Idol wannabes. When the industry favours chancers signing cover versions (or insipid ballads) over original, exciting talent – then truly there is no hope.

Who’s your favorite producer?
I really dig Mark Bell’s work – formerly LFO (and not the American boy band, the Sheffield seminal techno duo). He recently produced Exciter for Depeche Mode and also does great work with Bjork.

Drop on by betterPropaganda and pick out a track to hype.

Boom Bip and the Boards of Canada – “Last Walk Around Mirror Lake” (Remix)

There’s so much good shit on there – recent posts like Milosh, Diplo, and Subtle all comes from superb albums. However, my money goes to “Last Walk”. As electronic music goes, this track has so much warmth and soul, it’s a beautiful collaboration. Boards Of Canada are one of the best things that have happened to electronic music in the last few years and Boom Bip too is taking the genre into interesting territory. I saw him live in Sydney recently and I’m now happy to say that I’m a convert. So it goes.