Monday, August 26, 2019

Terror Danjah - interview + liner note

concerned by the alarming news that grime legend Terror Danjah is in a coma - wishing him a swift and complete recovery

below  is the liner note tribute I wrote for the Terror compilation Gremlinz that Planet Mu did in 2008, plus a Q and A that appeared on Gremlinz in shorter form, but here takes the expanded form published by FACT magazine and timed for the comp's release

but here is his new album


By Simon Reynolds

Ninety-five percent of grime beats are strictly functional: they're designed as launching pads for an MC's skills rather than as showcases for the producer's virtuosity.  These tracks don't tend to go through a lot of shifts and changes but instead loop a drum pattern and a refrain (typically evoking an atmosphere that mingles menace and majesty, with melody and "orchestration" pitched somewhere between a straight-to-video movie score and a ring-tone).  And that's fine, you know: it's a perfectly valid and valuable craft making this kind of basic MC tool.  It's okay if the tune doesn't go anywhere, because the pirate deejay's only likely to drop a minute-and-a-half before cutting to the next track.  It's alright if it's  thinly textured, a bit 2-D and cheapo-sounding, because  it's going to be largely drowned out by MCs jostling for their turn to spit sixteen bars.  But it stands to reason that few of these tracks are going to be things you'd want to buy and listen to at home.   They're just not built for that purpose.

Out of the handful of grime producers who've made some beats that work as stand-alone aesthetic objects--Wiley, Target, Wonder, Rapid from Ruff Sqwad--the undoubted ruler is Terror Danjah.  But this 29 year old from East London is not just grime's most accomplished and inventive producer.  He's one of the great electronic musicians to emerge in the first decade of the 21st Century, a figure as crucial and influential as Ricardo Villalobos or Digital Mystikz. Someone who's kept on flying the flag for futurism at a time when recombinant pastiche and retro-eclecticism have taken over post-rave music just like what happened with alternative rock a couple of decades before.

Like earlier artcore heroes such as 4 Hero and Foul Play (in jungle) or Dem 2 and Groove Chronicles (in 2step garage), Terror Danjah knows how to walk that perfect diagonal between function and form, how to maintain a tightrope balance between rocking the crowd and pushing the envelope.  He has made plenty of MC tools, tracks like his "Creepy Crawler" remix of "Frontline" or "Cock Back" that have become standard beats of the season on the grime scene, enabling MCs he's never met, on pirate shows he's never heard, to show off and sharpen their skills. Terror has also crafted beats tailor-made to a specific MC's talents, like "Haunted" (the instrumental for Trim's classic "Boogeyman") or "Reloadz", whose speeding-up and slowing-down-again rhythm is a perfect vehicle for Durrty Goodz's quick-time style.  (That track is also a kind of living history lesson, cutting back forth between grime's stomping swagger and jungle's breakneck breakbeat sprint, between 2008 and 1994.)

But on this all-instrumental anthology, with the pungent charisma of MCs like Bruza or D Double E removed from the picture, you can really hear all the work that Terror Danjah puts into his tunes.  On tracks like "Code Morse" and "Radar," the intricate syncopations and hyper-spatialised production, the feel for textural contrast and attention to detail, are comparable to German minimal techno producers like Isolee.  But all this sound-sculpting finesse is marshaled in service of a gloweringly intense mood--foreboding and feral-- that is pure grime.   This is artcore: a stunning blend of intellect and intimidation, subtlety and savagery.  Street modernism, in full effect.

Gremlinz is named after Terror Danjah's trademark:  the grotesquely distorted, gloating laughter that makes an appearance in all his tracks, a poisonous  giggle that makes you think of a golem, some horrid little homunculus that  Terror's hatched to do his bidding.  The gremlin audio-logo crystallizes the essence of Terror Danjah's work and of the London hardcore continuum of which he's such an illustrious scion. It's at once technical (the product of skilful sonic processing) and visceral,  funny and creepy.  Like the catchphrases and vocal-noise gimmicks that MCs drop into their sets or tracks (think D Double E's famous "it's mwee mwee" signal), the cackling gremlin announces that this here is a TERROR DANJAH  production you're listening to.  When a pirate deejay drops one of his tunes, when a crowd in a club hollers for a reload, that slimy little goblin is Terror marking his sonic territory like the top dog, the alpha producer, he is.

Q/A with Terror Danjah

You started out in the late Nineties with Reckless Crew, an East London jungle/drum'n'bass collective of deejays and MCs. How did that come about?
I formed Reckless in 1998. The other members were D Double E, Bruza, Hyper, Funsta, Triple Threat, DJ Interlude and Mayhem. We came to fame from being on Rinse Fm and playing at local clubs and raves including One Nation, Telepathy, World Dance, Garage Nation, and Slammin' Vinyl.

What did you learn, as a producer, from those drum and bass days? Who did you rate at that time and would consider an influence?
I wasn't much of a producer back in them days. I was absorbing the musical sounds from Roni Size, Dillinja, Shy FX, Krust, DJ Die, Bad Company, Andy C and DJ SS. I learned a lot from listening to their music. Jungle was the first British music we could say was ours. I'd grown upon on reggae, R&B, soul. And also house music, on account of having an older brother. I was deejaying on the pirates and I got into producing drum and bass, because I wasn't getting a lot of tunes from producers. They'd be giving me one or two dubplates, but they had the big DJs like Brockie to service first. So I started making my own  "specials" and did loads of tracks. But I didn't put them out, just played them on the radio. My own personal sound.  But DJ Zinc and a few others cut my tunes as dubplates.

When did you make the transition to UK garage and that MC-fronted 2step sound that was the prototype for grime?

 I did two garage tunes and they blew up so I decided to stick with that. In 2002 I did "Firecracker" b/w "Highly Inflammable" on Solid City, Teebone's label.  For a while I was part of N.A.S.T.Y. Crew,  because I'd been at St. Bonaventures [a  Roman Catholic comprehensive school in Forest Gate, London E7] with a couple of members of N.A.S.T.Y.  But all the time I was doing my own thing and eventually just branched off. 

Then in 2003 I formed Aftershock with this guy called Flash, who I'd met at Music House where everyone goes to cut dubplates.  The first two Aftershock releases were Crazy Titch's "I Can C  U, U Can C Me" and N.A.S.T.Y.'s  "Cock Back".  That got the label off to a flying start--everyone was buzzing after those two releases.  Then it was Big E.D.'s "Frontline" and then in 2004 I put out the Industry Standard EP. That’s the one where people thought "this label is serious".

Industry Standard is where you can really hear your three-dimensional "headphone grime" sound coming through, on tunes like "Juggling" and "Sneak Attack".  With those tracks and all through your  music, the placement of the beats, the way sounds move around each other in the mix--it's very spatial.

Some of that comes from listening to a lot of Roni Size and Andy C and producers like that. Lots of abstracty sounds rushing about, coming out of nowhere.  There's a sense of more life in the music.  That’s what I do in my tunes. Drum and bass gave me ideas about layering sounds and placing sounds. But it also comes from studying music engineering at college, doing a sound recording course.  I learned about mic'ing a drum kit and panning.  You've got the pan positions in the middle of your mixing desk, and the crash should be left or right, the snares should be slightly panned off centre, the kick should be in the center. So you've got a panoramic view of your drum structure.

Obviously I went beyond that, started experimenting more.  The bass stays central but the sounds always drift. So each time you listen you’re not just bobbing your head, you’re thinking  "I heard something new in Terror Danjah’s tune". So it always lasts longer.

Industry Standard was the breakthrough release, in terms of people realizing that here was a producer to reckon with. What came next?

Payback was the biggest.  That EP of remixes was one of Aftershock's top sellers. It was getting caned the most, especially my "Creepy Crawler" remix of "Frontline".   That cemented it for us.

Basically you took Big E.D.'s "Frontline" and merged it with your own "Creep Crawler" from Industry Standard.  It's got a really unusual synth sound, harmonically rich, with this sour, edge-of-dissonance tonality. It makes you  feel like you're on the verge of a stress-induced migraine. A sound like veins in your temple throbbing.

It's a normal synth, but where many people would just use it straight out of the module without any processing or texture,  I’ve learned some techniques to give it more.  I add that to it. I can’t tell you how, though. Certain producers might go "ah!"

Those sort of wincing tonalities are a Terror Danjah hallmark.  Another are the bombastic mid-frequency riffs you use that sound a bit like horn fanfares, and that sort of pummel the listener in the gut. They've got  this distorted, smeared quality that makes them sound muffled and suppressed, like their full force is held back. But that just makes them more menacing, a shadowy presence lurking in the mix.  Like a pitbull on a leash, growling and snarling.

That's like an orchestral riff.  Again, it's all about the effects I put on it. If you heard it dry you’d think "Is that it?"  It’s the same techniques I use for the giggle.

Ah, your famous hallmark:  the jeering death-goblin laughter.  How did you come up with the Gremlin?

I had a lot of drum and bass sample CDs back in the day and I had that sound from time.  I used it a couple of time in tracks, just to see how it sounds.  Then I stopped using it and everyone was like, "Where is it?!?". I was like, "I don’t want to use it no more".  But everyone was going like "That’s nang! Use it!".  So I switched it up, pitched it down, did all sorts of madness with it.

But Terror Danjah music is not all dread and darkness. You do exquisite, heart-tugging things like "So Sure," your R&G (rhythm-and-grime) classic. Or "Crowbar 2," a really poignant, yearning production draped in what sound like dulcimer chimes,  a lattice of teardrops. That one reminds me of ambient jungle artists like Omni Trio and LTJ Bukem.

I used to listen to Omni Trio and all that, when I was 14 or 15. That R&G style is more me.   Everything you hear is different sides to me, but that sound, I can do that in my sleep.  One day I can be pissed off and make a tune for deejays to do reloads with. And another day I'll do one where you can sit down and listen and relax, or listen with your girl and smooch her.

Do you see anyone else in grime operating at the same level of sophistication, in terms of producers?

I don’t think none of them really. [Aftershock producer] D.O.K. is the closest in terms of subtle changes, and DaVinChe. You've also got  P-Jam.   But I don't really look at anyone and think they’re amazing. Wiley at one point was the guy whose level was what I wanted to get to.  But I don’t think there’s anyone now who’s doing anything different. They’re being sheep.

After the very active 2003/2004/2005 phase, Aftershock went pretty quiet. There were just a few more vinyl releases and then a couple of full-length things.   What happened?  And what have you been up to in recent years?

The label went quiet due to the change of the climate--the introduction of CDs in the underground market place. Because we were so successful with the vinyl format, but it was time to move with the times.  So I released a CD called Hardrive Vol 1, which had ten vocals and ten instrumentals and featured artists like Chipmunk, Griminal, Wiley,  Mz Bratt, Wretch 32, D Double E, Scorcher, Shola Ama.  I also put out an instrumental CD called Zip Files Vol. 1. And I've been working on Mz Bratt's album.

I'm told this compilation was selected out of some 80 instrumentals. Which means 62 weren't used! Does this mean you are sitting on a vast personal archive of unreleased Terror Danjah material?
Definitely. I got billions of tunes stacked on a few Terra Bytes hard drive.

You have Industry Standard Vol 4 on Planet Mu soon, and you recently returned to deejaying with the Night Slugs appearance -- does this mean you are back in the game full force? Do you feel like grime is still an area you want to work within or are you being drawn to other areas, like funky, or the more experimental end of dubstep?
I've always made music what I like, and most of the tracks on 'Gremlinz' were made before there was a genre called  'Grime' or 'Dubstep'.  I started off in Jungle, so I'm not afraid of change! 

Talking of the wacked-out end of dubstep, I can see a lot of your influence with the nu skool producers like Joker, Rustie, Guido, and so forth. Can you hear it yourself and what do you think of this sound people are calling things like "purple" and "wonky"?
 It doesn't bother me, but I personally think a producer/artist should just make the music and let the record/marketing company name it whatever!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Wooden Wand / Comus

Wooden Wand / Comus
published under the headline "Free Shtick"
Village Voice, October 25th 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Call it the “what it’s all about” factor. See, I’m digging this free-folk stuff as pure sound, but the movement’s unwritten manifesto is harder to grasp, and for me that’s always an impediment to buying into a scene wholeheartedly. Perhaps that’s why I literally don’t buy it (the f-folk scraps I have were all acquired by, erm, other means, shall we say). Just as well, maybe: Mapping this genre properly would entail a financial bloodbath, given its norm of incontinent productivity. Just check the intimidating discographic delta—cassettes, lathe-cut 7-inch singles, 3-inch CDs, side projects, and collaborations galore (see—that’s issued from a single group, New York–turned-Knoxville-based Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice, during their two years of existence. This season alone sees Wooden Wand’s solo debut and two re-releases of small-run vinyl-only albums (Xiao and Buck Dharma), while an all-new Vanishing Voice full length, The Flood, is due this month.

“Pure sound” assessment first: “Free folk” verges on a misnomer. As genre expert Jon Dale points out, it’s a highly recombinant style whose warp’n’weft includes threads of not just traditional music but West Coast acid rock, prog, free jazz, Dead C–style noise, musique concréte, and “outsider” minstrels such as Jandek. Xiao‘s best tracks, “Caribou Christ in the Great Void” and “Return of the Nose,” resemble nothing so much as the raga-rock trance and narcotic wah-wah torpor of “We Will Fall” by the Stooges, while Dharma‘s “Satya Sai Baba Scuppety Plays ‘Reverse Jam Band’ ” is a strange shimmer-slither of a keyboard étude, like Morton Subotnik turning into the Blob. If Vanishing Voice have a standard mode at all, it’s long pieces like Xiao‘s “Weird Wisteria Tangles Carrion Christ But Intends No Harm” (and yes, the track titles are another stumbling block to full-on fandom) or The Flood‘s 14-minute “Satya Sai Sweetback Plays ‘Oxblood Boots.’ ” Cantering cavalcades of barely integrated instrumentation (rustling bells, tunelessly parping woodwinds, Cale-like drones, listless percussion, thrumming steel-cable bass drones, and so forth), these tracks either dissipate into oxbow lakes of abstraction or gradually accumulate disparate jetsam into tripnotic juggernauts. Still, we’re not exactly talking “Scarborough Fair,” and the only truly folky aspect is a slight bias toward sounds of acoustic provenance.

But what’s it all about, Alfie? I fear that Wand (real name, James Toth) hits the nail on the head with his self-description as “spiritual dilettante.” The f-folk genre gestures at the shamanic and visionary, but in this easygoing way that feels not so much syncretic as plain eclectic. Isn’t the spiritual path actually hard work, though, a discipline? When Vanishing Voice overtly invoke the transcendental, with the group’s intermittent female vocalist Satya Sai Baba Scuppety ululating lines like “I sought the truth so long” in her piercingly pure-toned voice, the mystical-me vibe verges on schlock. In Dharma‘s “Wicked World,” Toth mutters like a bum/seer whose desolation-row jeremiad gets ignored by passersby. His solo album exhibits a similar penchant for parable and prophecy (Toth’s a Scripture fan) but the accompaniment is pared-back minstrelsy elevated by an exquisite attentiveness to the creak-glistened textures of semi-acoustic guitar. “Spiritual Inmate” distills an f-folk tendency that can be traced back to its ancestor, the Beat movement: condescension toward the benighted square, who’s “passing so much beauty/passing on so much beauty” because he’s, like, imprisoned by being “obsessed with protection.”

It’s shtick, really, this idea of seeing clearly because you’re outside society, but then so are other “performative enactments of the authentic” like grime, so nothing wrong with that. The same element of theater can be seen in a group regarded by many f-folks as an illustrious ancestor, Comus, whose 1971 album First Utterance has just been reissued in a double CD that scoops up everything else the U.K. outfit recorded in its brief existence. That Bowie was a Comus supporter seems especially revealing. This isn’t traditional British music in the Martin Carthy sense (unadorned and faithful) but closer to Jethro Tull: ripe, rustic-flavored rock with frenetic hand-percussion à la Tyrannosaurus Rex and orchestrated elements redolent of Italo-horror soundtrack proggers Goblin. Frolicking woodwinds and Roger Wooton’s vibrato-rattling cackle conjure an indeterminately pre-industrial Albion, all gibbets and gargoyles, merlins and maypoles and maidenheads. A tale of deflowering and murder, “Drip Drip” is all the more creepy for the grotesque tenderness with which Wooton delivers lines like “your lovely body soon caked with mud/as I carry you to your grave/my arms, your hearse” (the last line borrowed by black-metal outfit Opeth for an album title). In “Song to Comus” itself, his hideously capering voice impersonates a Pan-like satyr whose piping music lures “an enchanted damsel” to his forest lair of depravity. First Utterance courts absurdity, but like a great horror movie (The Wickerman would be the apposite reference) it draws you in completely. Wooton brings a conviction to his roles as warlock/sprite/all-purpose bucolic bogeyman that takes it beyond playacting. Whereas with Wooden Wand there’s still a faint aura of make-believe, even put-on, such that, as absorbing as the sonix often are, I still don’t . . . quite . . . buy it.

A follow up post on Blissblog

Everything is glam rock performative enactment of the authentic free folk Wooden Wand

kid shirt weighs in with some interesting thoughts in semi-response to my wooden wand piece, some cool compare-and-contrast vis-a-viz grime... his idea of free folk being about wanting to disappear is intriguing (theory triggered unconsciously by "vanishing voice" maybe?), yes yes, makes sense: a bourgeois-bohemian impulse to get lost, to unmake the most of yourself, (which makes the Animal Collective's "You Don't Have to Go To College" the closest point at which the scene gets to writing that unwritten manifesto) .... tune in, turn on, drop out... dissipate and radiate.... And some of his comments about WW&VV made me think the closest parallel/precursor to them is the Butthole Surfers (think about the pastoral weirdness on Hairway to Steven, the cover of "Hurdy Gurdy Man"; the Living Theater-esque stageshow; also the thread of classic rock pastiche running through the buttholes c.f. WW's comments re. deep purple, jefferson airplane, etc etc), and the Buttholes would have been something I'd have analysed in those terms, a middle class youth stepping off the career track (gibby trained as an accountant), laying waste to their own potential as a sort of proto-political act of refusal

i was talking to jon dale (who may be on the verge of staging a reappearance act) about this, he having his own dissensions with the piece, and i realised the stumbling block for me is actually not the unwritten manifesto aspect at all, cos when all that stuff says implicit and latent you can groove along with the trippy untethered soundswirl; no the stumbling block specifically with WW&VV is when they do write the manifesto, or at least get into spelling out the "what's it all about" too literally -- either in the lyrics (Toth intoning about how "the mystical power of the beautiful flower has turned sour”, or Satya Sai Baba Scuppety ululating about how "I sought the truth so long… all things must pass away… there is one path to choose” or visioning “a land of wondrous beauty that far exceeds my wildest dreams/where the air is pure and clean”) or just the mode of address: invocational, i-be-the-prophet. Cos, for me as not-ready-to-sign-up-for-membership-in-the-movement bystander-onlooker, it's like you're suddenly put on the spot: you either have to say "yes, i totally buy it, this guy is a visionary" or you hold back. and for a whole bunch of reasons possibly more to do with me than the guy's performance, I hold back from that suspension of disbelief. Woebot described the Wand solo album as "more Bonnie Prince Billie" than the group's stuff, and that's it exactly, cos Will Oldham' another one where I don't quite buy the persona, there's a "you're kidding me, right?" element.

With "performative enactment of the authentic", I guess what I’m suggesting or playing with is simply the idea that nothing is “real” once it takes place before a microphone or on a stage (how could it be?). Everything is glam rock, it's all artifice, the make-believe dependent on suspension of disbelief (bothon the performer's part and the audience's). So Humble Pie, despite being very much the kind of shabby blues-bore drivel that prompted glam rock into being, were no less contrived, absurd, or even grotesque, than Roxy Music. Everything is glam-rock too because it all works through glamour, of which there are many more kinds than "glam" or Hollywood (the glamour of anti-heroism or "ordinary joe" is still the stuff of fantasy, from Springsteen to Mike Skinner). Glamour in its original sense--witchy enchantment--might be a big part of free-folk's allure; the mise-en-scene that is conjured by the music works through exoticisim and mystique--you imagine a raggle-taggle commune on the periphery of society, banging instruments in some Finnish wildland or Vermont grove (or with the ancestor-influences: Incredible String Band and extended family in the woods, Vashti in her caravan, etc).

All the things that Kid Shirt lists, seemingly to refute the idea that there is a manifesto or needs to be a manifesto to the f-folk scene, do actually amount to a charter of principles, albeit quite diffuse and low-key. Not a manifesto in the sense of bulleted declarations and exhortations to be shouted in bold and capitals from a soapbox, but certainly a cluster of tendencies-verging-on-tenets:

-- looseness and spontaneity, a be-here-now approach to the jam
-- flux and mutability
-- shifting line-ups, collaborations, nucleus-groups orbited by solar dust-rings of freefloating occasional participants
-- trance states, creative automatism, music-as-ritual rather than "show"
-- tribalistic/family/commune-like image (and often structure)
-- "I am the music. There is no separation"--Heather Leigh Murray
-- “it’s all music, man” as overtly stated principle of all-gates-open fusion
-- yet at the same time countered by very definite zones of non-influence and attractions to other areas; bias to the organic, the acoustic, the hand-played

then when you factor that in with the hand-made, cottage industry aspect: the lathe-cut vinyl, the small-run pressings and odd formats (painted and decorated cassettes etc), the attempt to de-commoditise the commodity while also re-enchanting it, making it more precious and treasurable; you see an impulse to escape and transcend commerce that echoes the original folk movement's (in both US and UK) drive to reject the commercialism of popular culture music.

yes it does amount to a taggable worldview/philosophy, one that's in the continuum of the hippies, the beats (Woebot nailed it all a while back with his Are You a Beatnik or an Avant-Yob thesis, plus afterthoughts). and a subculture too, there's strong elements of homology between sound, clothing, discourse, economics

it reminds me a tiny bit of psy-trance: the syncretic spirituality (psy-trance's postmodern tribal package of Tao, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Hatha Yoga, Mayan cosmology, wicca, and alien abduction theories), the trancey-trippy music, the internationalism and dispersed rhizomatic scene structure, the cult of the great outdoors, the freak image

the musical coordinates for psy-folk are a lot cooler than psy-trance, of course, but i reckon that both scenes are expressions of a recurring and perennial syndrome, something that is
almost a structural fixture (if not quite requirement) of Western society... the children of affluence who become see through their parents values and the spiritual void of a life based around ambition/acquisition, become disenchanted with its lack of enchantment and try to build another path that will re-enchant the world ... you could probably even trace the impulse back through the centuries... here's a chunk from the Sex Revolts on those Medieval gnostic heretics and millenarian cultists the Free Spirits:

"The 12th Century initiated a period of unprecedented prosperity, just as in the post-World War Two West. But this materialism prompted a counter-reaction, in the shape of a new class of voluntary poor who renounced riches in search of spiritual values. These downwardly mobile bohemians formed 'a mobile, restless intelligentsia' who went 'on the road', following the trade
routes and preaching a contempt for wordly things. Like the beats, the Free Spirit brethren divided the world into square and hip, a 'crude in spirit' majority and a 'subtle in spirit' elite who could access the Divine Oneness in this life rather than having to wait until the afterlife. "

In the end though, I have to give the f-folkers a cautious "big up ya collective chest", if only for being one of the few things in the last five years (and i know the scene's got longer-back roots than that, but then so's grime: as fruitions, both are really Noughties phenoms when it comes down to it,) that actually amounts to a thang--a movement/scene, with something approaching a manifesto (however buried and vague, which is in itself in keeping with the manifesto, after all), plus accompanying canon it's pulled together for itself (interesting to me that they leave out the straighter Britfolk-Steeleye, Carthy, Tabor, Ashley Hutchings--in favour of the kooky stuff; again, makes me think it's Vashti's biography--and precisely her commercial failure--that inspires as much as her music per se). The whole package is something I can feel the pull of, to an extent, but well, I doubt I could fully get on board.

Sunday, August 18, 2019


"down with the scene"
Ipecac Recordings
Village Voice,2000

by Simon Reynolds

If anything deserves a  punk-style kick in the ass, it's IDM, short for "intelligent dance music. " Not so much a genre as a mode of appreciation, IDM was (in)famously defined by ambient guru Mixmaster Morris as "the opposite of stupid hardcore"--a snobby distinction between mindfood and rave fodder that most IDM-ers still adhere to. Right now, a lot of smart money is on kid606--real name Michael Depredo--as IDM's very own punk rock. This San Diego teenager understands that IDM, over-civilized and effete like the Roman Empire, needs to revitalize itself with barbarian blood. So he brings the noise from, where else, Stupid Dance Music--hardcore styles like gabba, jungle (in its pre-gentrification, ragga-sampling form circa 1994), Miami bass, dancehall.  On his latest album "Down With the Scene" (his first for Ipecac, the label co-founded by Faith No More's Mike Patton and former Alternative Tentacles boss Greg Werkman), Depredo even signposts his revolutionary intent with titles like "Punkshit", "Hardcore", and "Luke Vibert Can Kiss My Indie-Punk Whiteboy Ass."
The last of these is a half-flippant, half-earnest gauntlet thrown down to the first-wave IDM luminary whose 1995 EPs as Plug pioneered what subsequently came to be called "drill 'n' bass"--a mini-genre based around the appropriation and intensification-through-caricature of jungle's breakbeat-splicing techniques. Drill'n'bass is roughly one-third of what kid606 is about, so the jibe at Vibert represents both anxiety-of-influence and upstart cockiness. It's also very punk, its "move over, grandad, there's a new kid in town" disrespect redolent of The Clash's famous line about "no more Beatles Stones etc". On tracks like "Buffalo 606--the morning after"  606 does to Vibert what Vibert did to jungle --exaggerate drill'n'bass's already absurdly convoluted and convulsive polyrhythms. Bringing new meaning to the jungle superlative "tearing", Depredo shreds the fabric of beat itself, honing   splinters of what was once human, hand's on funk into precision-tooled flechettes whose micro-syncopations and hyper-flams snag your limbs and pull you everywhichway.  His savage EQ-ing and treatment of drum sounds conjures a timbral fantasia-- ride-cymbals that weep, miaow,  or hiss like sulphuric in your face;  snares that bleat or silversplash like knitting needles in a pool of mercury. "Kidrush" is like a tumbleweed of barbed wire, or a classic jungle tune played at 78 rpm through the world's shittiest stylus.
The other two-thirds of the kid606 sound-spectrum are even noisier: the distorto-blare riffs and stampeding kick drums of gabba, and the hums, crackles, 'n' tics of "glitch" (electronic dronescapes built from the sounds of malfunctioning equipment, vandalized CDs etc).  As hybrids go, it sounds horrible on paper, but kid606's saving grace is what I can only describe as (not very punk, this) "musicality"--a feel for the sensuousness of different kinds of distortion, an oddly refined approach to the excruciation of sound. It's a subtle frenzy---recent developments in audio software allow producers to tweak the parameters of every separate beat in every single bar (a level of micro-processing that results either in music of inexhaustible listenability or a self-sabotaging fiddliness---it's in the ear of the beholder, natch). Subscribing too often to the puerile equation of speed with intensity, kid606 is actually most absorbing when he slows down. "GQ on the EQ" is like an Eighties electro "drum solo" composed from the sounds of a  wasp in a jam jar, sizzling bacon, a wah-wahed bedspring, and so forth. "Secrets 4 Sale" is glitch-funk, a Prince-meets-Oval mosaic of twitches and hiccups. "Dame Nature" is house built from gastric rumblings and stomach sonar.
Attitude-wise, kid606 makes me think of  Digital Hardcore with a broader sonic canvas, or  Huggy Bear if they'd been ravers rather than Pastels fans--the same  petulancy and obstreperousness,  the split impulses between expressive urgency and hermetic encryption, the exaltation of youth  (Depredo being the real thing, whereas Huggy sloganeered about Kid's Lib Guerrilas but turned out to be the oldest teenagers in London town).  There's also an ethos of autonomous cultural production that is very Riot Grrl, very Huggy Nation. Kid606 is just one node in an international network of home-studio do-it-yourselfers and laptop improvisers---hyperproductive, multi-aliased artists like V/VM, Speedranch Jansky, Fennesz, Matmos, labels like Irritant, Mego, FatCat, Skam--who release split singles (like the EP Depredo shared with Christoph De Babalon on FatCat earlier this year), collaborate on one-off projects, jam together on tour, and trade remixes.  (The recent kid606 and friends Vol.1 collates remixes of and by Depredo, and is highly recommended).  With many records released in editions of 500 or less, it could be that this scene (IDM's New Wave) has more producers than consumers--which either fulfils punk's Situationist utopia of a culture where the gap between engaged artist or passive spectator is abolished, or just makes this whole zone a cultural backwater. (What's the point of having a revolution if nobody  notices?)
Punk was a spasm within the same cultural formation that included progressive rock, it was younger brothers revolting their older brother's wisdom. Johnny Rotten owned a Pink Floyd T-shirt before he scrawled "I Hate" on it, and lots of punks had Gentle Giant record secreted in back of their collections. (Bizarrely kid606  has remixed Gentle Giant, or so his website discography claims).  Inevitably, kid606 and his fellow insurgents share some familial traits with IDM.  Such as IDM's founding and fallacious dichotomy between listening and dancing (bollox, of course--dancers listen very closely, with every sinew and muscle and nerve in their bodies). Another IDM notion that Depredo appears to share is the idea of scenes as creative shackles on the artist (that's how I read the ambiguous title  "Down With The Scene", anyway). Again, bollox--nine times out of ten in the history of dance music, it's the populist hardcore scenes that come up with the really big, really new ideas, which the fringe experimentalists merely tweak or addle with nuances.
Drill'n'bass is the obvious recent example of this parasitism, so it's worth contrasting a track by Squarepusher, the genre's most famous exponent, with a superficially similar one by kid606. The 'Pusher man's "Come On  My Selector" is a sneering parody of jungle, its facetious title tweaking and enfeebling a jump-up catchphrase that has huge historical weight behind it, and that in its context of actual usage represents the power of the crowd over the DJ (becoming part of the crowd being IDM's mortal terror).

Turning jungle into a joke is probably the only way an IDM artist like Squarepusher can deal with the humiliation of his debts to SDM. "Catstep/My Kitten/Catnap Vatstep Dsp Remix" (a Hrvatski remix of Depredo track that's on both Down With the Scene and Kid 606 and Friends) is no less daft than "Come On My Selector", and it shares the hallmark of IDM forays into hardcore terrain (a sort of danger-less mayhem,  stemming from the lack of real "social energy" invested in the music). But there's something palpably loving about its pastiche of jungalistic cliches (a Sleng-Teng Casio bassline, tumbling Amen breakbeats, a vocoder-ragga voice chanting buzzphrases like "mash it up", "dubplate pressure", and "ruffneck soldier" like a cross between Stephen Hawking and Beenie Man), and an explosive topsy-turvy energy that recalls jungle at its most rinsed out circa '93-94.
Left-field artists often expect applause for combining several Really Big, Really New ideas that originated elsewhere. And the harshest thing you could say about kid606 is that he's really just offering an entertainingly executed composite of  established extremisms. I'd rather give him the benefit of the doubt, and hear his music as the omnivorous, insatiable frenzy of a restless musical spirit. If he hasn't yet reached the absolute novelty he aspires to, you can catch the scent of its imminence.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Caretaker + Baron Mordant

Baron Mordant
Mark of the Mould

The Caretaker
Everywhere at the end of time
Everywhere, an empty bliss

The Wire, June 2019

by Simon Reynolds

It’s twenty years now since the first stirrings of what came to be called hauntology: Boards of Canada’s Music Has A Right to Children, Position Normal’s Stop Your Nonsense, early releases by Mount Vernon Arts Lab and Broadcast… and The Caretaker’s Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom. After eleven releases under that name, James Kirby is retiring his best-known alias. And with another leading figure in the genre-not-genre - Baron Mordant, a/k/a Ian Hicks, the man behind Mordant Music the group and the label - also calling time on his public self, it’s tempting to see these career-closing releases as tombstones for the sound-sensibility. Is this the moment to give up the ghosts? Or will hauntology enjoy some kind of after-afterlife?

In hindsight, “memoradelia” – an alternative name proposed by Patrick McNally – might have been a better way to go, avoiding the Derridean cargo carried by the term hauntology. Decay, the attrition of aging, memory’s uncanny persistence and terrifying frailty are at the maggoty core of Mark of the Mould and Everywhere at the end of time.  A memory is a kind of ghost,  sharing its queasy quality of ontological instability: a present absence, neither here nor there, now nor then.  One psychoanalytical explanation – or explaining away – of  the ghost (at least ghosts familiar to us, ghosts we recognize) is that they are symptoms of incomplete mourning:  memories we’re unable to let go.

Continuing the exploration of memory disorders in Theoretically pure anterograde amnesia  and other earlier Caretaker releases, Everywhere at the end of time – a gargantuan project launched in 2016 and now closing with its the sixth installment, plus the free side-album Everywhere, an empty bliss - is Kirby’s attempt to mirror in sound the stages of Alzheimer’s. Identity, memory and a sense of temporality are interdependent. As the first two props of the self crumble, perception of time also erodes away. What ensues is – as far as we can tell - - a prolapse of consciousness, an undignified slide into a hellish limbo of non-time. That threshold is reached on the latest batch of Everywhere: where earlier tracks lasted three or four minutes each, the new pieces dilate monstrously, ranging from 21 to 23 minutes. Listening to these entropic epics models the ego-death of advanced senility: it’s virtually impossible not to drift off into inattentive vacancy.

The first Caretaker record took its concept (and artist name) from the ballroom scene in The Shining: Jack Nicholson’s writer turned hotel caretaker turned revenant psychopath hallucinating the sound of the 1930s light-jazz ballads that the Overlook’s guests had decades earlier slow-danced to (specifically the songs of Al Bowlly, a British entertainer popular between the wars but now almost completely forgotten).  Listening to the drawn-out death rattles of these final Caretaker pieces, you might think of another iconic Kubrick scene: the uncomprehending horror of  HAL the rogue computer in 2001, A Space Odyssey,  as his brain is dismantled bit by bit, the blanks in his consciousness getting bigger until all that is left is the steadily decelerating ditty “A Bicycle  Made for Two”.

The Caretaker could have renamed himself The Caregiver, for on this project he resembles a sonic nurse in a hospice for the terminally ill. Kirby is a custodian in another sense. For over two decades, he’s collected thousands of dirt-cheap shellac 78 rpm discs of Bowlly-type music, from which he’s lovingly sampled, looped, and filtered to create these tracks. The result is an alchemized archive of popular song:  music whose original “people” are either dead or on the downward slope. For to be capable of remembering this music as a real-time, living culture, you’d have to be in your nineties now.  What Kirby presents here could be heard as the faint, faded memory-fragments of once-beloved tunes as they waver on in atrophying minds.

It’s a style of music that, as Kirby has noted, always already ached with nostalgia, oozing a woozy maudlin warmth as comforting as a mug of Ovaltine. His treatments layer an extra sepia-tint patina of Pathé pathos. Suffused with a kindly “golden hour” glow, the earlier instalments of the project loop sonorous horns, harp twinkles and piano ripples into cul de sacs of consciousness: the melodic equivalent of those mental glitches that Americans call “senior moments”  (a self-deprecating, uneasily humorous term that shows you are still in command because you are able to identify them as aberrations). Now and then, there’s a resemblance to the Gas albums, but replacing Alpine grandeur with fireside intimacy. The titles are heartbreaking (“I Still Feel As Though I Am Me”) and often describe the music more effectively than the reviewer ever could (“Long term dusk glimpses,” Internal unravel”).

Across Everywhere’s nearly seven hours duration, everything seems to wilt and yellow as the album progresses, or rather, regresses. Sound starts to reach our ears as though through a swaddling ball of fluff that’s wrapped itself around the needle. Where before the rhythm of the pieces was a gently bobbing sway like the rise and fall of a merry-go-round horse, now it’s an agonizingly protracted pestle-and-mortar grind, slowly pulverizing thought into sparkly dust. By the end – the 20-minute long pieces - there’s no discernible motion, just a sandstorm standstill, eternity-as-abyss.

The Caretaker faces decay and death with serenely fatalistic acceptance, aestheticizing the inevitable extinction of personality. On Mark of the Mould Baron Mordant’s subject is middle age and the response is different: he’s not going down without a fight. There’s a feeling of writhing struggle to this album, a man at war with the spores he’s inhaled. Comprising fifteen tracks plus the bonus inclusion of their instrumental versions, Mould is the grand bouffe finale to a career, Hicks sicking up a feast of all his favorite riddim tics and danktronica textures. 

Much of Mould resembles the vastly more compelling music that dubstep could have been. True, few things could be more boring in 2019 than manifesting a dub influence, but Mordant’s idea of it descends more from Cabaret Voltaire than Lee Perry: it’s a dead-aired, dessicated, deep-underground-silo version of dub, built around cold delays rather than misty-mystic reverb. Imagine Shackleton unshackled. Call it Middle-Aged Echo. Other portions of Mould supply a banging ‘n’ clanking update of early Nineties techno - “(It’s A) MariMba (You Knob)” could be a great lost track from the sessions for DHS’s “House of God” – that exploits the capacity for detail and dimension afforded by current software.

Elsewhere Mould overlaps with eMMplekz, Hicks’s glorious collaboration with Ekoplekz’s Nick Edwards, except that in this case the Baron is handling not just the verbals and lyrics but the backing tracks too. Being a genius word-wrangler means that the Baron is better equipped to describe what he’s doing than me. Trying to tag his unique delivery and idiom - a Tourettic monologue riddled with floridly fetid imagery and gruesomely tortured puns - I toyed with formulations like “mental effluent,” only to be outmatched by a passing reference to “spoken turd” on one track here.  Likewise, hoping to pin down the particular tone of sour derision in Hicks voice,  I realized eventually that le mot juste was in fact “mordant”.

Peter Cook, or certain characters that the comedian played, could be a reference point for the vocal tone – gruffly classless, indeterminately Southern English, withering, withered, the sardonic sneer undercut by its own impotence – but doesn’t capture the uniquely macabre brand of Anglo-surreal humour on offer. That voice and the encrypted private slanguage are maintained not just on record, but in press communiques, email correspondence and interviews, making you wonder if Hicks uses it in everyday life too, when shopping or making up bedtime stories for his kids.

As for what Hicks rants about, one ripe terrain is the sort of modern-day U.K. ugliness that inspires online forums like Shit London and Boring Dystopia. A Robert Macfarlane of built-up Britain, Hicks is an accomplished “visual noticer” with a keen eye for the unsightly and characterless.  But he’s equally observant when it comes to the unreal life of the Internet – the not-so-great indoors - especially the fatuities of today’s music scene. Many lines here read like snippets from blog reviews or Boomkat blurbs. “The Internet Did It” points the finger obliquely at, well, all of us, probably: the crime is left undefined but could refer to the economic nonviability of the leftfield musician’s life in the age of streaming, or to a creeping paralysis and hemorrhaging of meaning and momentum. Choice phrases fly by almost too fast to register: some near-abstract (“lichen 2-step”, “are you being serf?”, “Disneyhole”) and others nearly too on-the-nose as parody or invective (“make an avant sound-design tune that drops into a chamber of grimy vox”, “listen to these cunts waffle on about branding themselves”).

But – and here’s where midlife-crisis comes in – much of the time the target of the tongue lashing is Hicks himself.  “Anything With a Pulse” self-berates with cries of “you’re nothing nearly / there’s just nothing coming through” that suggest a battle with creative block, and it’s followed by “Somebody Wake Up Hicks”  whose title makes it clear that the “you” in the previous song was really “me”. Defying his own sense of abject futility - “there’s thousands of LPs out there like this” goes one line –this album froths over with a last-stand surge and splurge of creativity. And, a vague affinity with Sleaford Mods aside, there’s really nothing else out there in modern music that resembles the Baron’s particular blend of sound and spiel.

Themes of deterioration, self-doubt, and declining powers pervade, even as the sounds and beats rattle and ping ferociously. “Blong” features a child-voice jeering “Dad is a dick”.  “Insane Note” has a line about being “persona non grata” and a grim, sinking-feeling chant “you know that / I know that,” while its title could be read as one step further along from the “sick note” that gets you off school or work. “Percussive SuMMer” is a piss-stream of consciousness spraying into a latrine of sound: the lyric reads like a real-time vignette of Hicks musing to himself in a local tavern, supping a pint, roaming through random memories and rejoicing that a deferred jury summons will allow him a few days to make some tunes.  “KFC’s Toilets” might be an answer record to Burial’s “In McDonalds.” The little kid’s voice – presumably Hicks Jnr - reappears on “Aldi Bin Bag” chanting something indecipherable (“Arseland, oh yeah”?).

All the verbal bile and brackish sound roil towards a clammy climax on “Only For Fun Game,” the penultimate track. Framed with voice-shivers that lurch upwards in pitch, it’s a lament for a life wasted onscreen. “There’s a day out there I really should get to,” goes the chorus. “A life under sky that’s vented and Lenten….  These are the days you can’t get back/ the melted clocks on Dali’s back.” After a flurry of lyric-shards ranging from abstract to uproarious -  “turned on by budget sportwear”, “senile stepovers”, “reduce the risk of a fall while bathing,” “no notifications are good notifications,” “everyone’s over-compensating for a Tavares deficiency” – Hicks signs off with “this is a gentle piss-take”. It’s the last decipherable utterance on the album – the closing track “Back in the US(S)B” fades out with mumbled vocal sounds – and perhaps the last words of a career.

On “MeMbrane” from 2016’s “criminally overlooked” (a Mordant Music joke, that, but true) eMMplekz album Rook to TN34, Hicks described himself as “mildly embittered since the turn of the century”, a reference to the very earliest Mordant emissions.  Two decades on, hauntology remains a surprisingly bustling field, with records, books, events, conferences, still occurring regularly. Only last month, there was the unexpected appearance of a BBC Ideas Film titled ‘What Is Hauntology? Why Is It All AroundUs?’.  But as a “news item”, it felt tardy not topical. For there is a definite sense of this region having  being mapped out long ago, the footpaths worn bare by visitors.  

Elsewhere on Rook to TN34, Hicks crooned mordantly: “Well, I should be moving on / Singing the same old song.”  Perhaps it is time to open the windows and clear away the soupy staleness with a ventilating blast of otherness and newness.  A gust of youthful energy to chase away the ghosts for good.

Monday, July 29, 2019

gang gang dance

Gang Gang Dance
Revival of the Shittest
(The Social Registry)
The Wire, 2004

by Simon Reynolds

Probably the most peculiar band to emerge from the ferment of out-rock activity in New York these past few years, Gang Gang Dance are a disconcerting live experience. Of the two shows I’ve caught, the first was fairly excruciating and the second was sublimely odd. Half the enjoyment, at least for over-acculturated hipster types, is trying to get a handle on where the band are coming from. You might momentarily flash on Can’s “Peking O”, The Sugarcubes’ “Birthday”, Attic Tapes-era Cabaret Voltaire,  The Raincoats’ Odyshape, or forgotten downtown New York outfits from the Eighties like Saqqara Dogs and Hugo Largo, only to have the reference point confounded within 30 seconds as the group move back into untaggable territory. Gang Gang Dance’s music is like a myriad-faceted polyhedron. As it gyrates before your ears, different aspects flash into focus: No Wave, prog rock, drill’n’bass, psychedelia, glitch, assorted world musics, and more. But there’s always a feeling that the music is an entity, animated by some kind of primal intent, as opposed to being the byproduct of eclecticism and aesthetic flip-floppery.

Coming only a few months after their self-titled album on Fusetron, Revival of the Shittest is a vinyl rerelease of the group’s sort-of-debut, which originally came out in the autumn of 2003 in an edition of one hundred CDRs. Pulled together from live tapes, studio out-takes and rehearsals recorded on a boom-box, the six untitled tracks capture moments in the protean early life of  the band. The first thing that grabs, or gouges, your ears is singer Liz Bougatsos. It’s hard (at least for someone with my limited grasp of  technical terminology) to pinpoint precisely what she’s doing with her pipes--singing microtonal scales inspired by Middle Eastern music, perhaps?  On Track 6, she emits what can only be described as a muezzin miaouw, while elsewhere there’s often a kind of 4th World/Ethnological Forgery aspect to both her vocals and the group’s music that suggests a sort of defective Dead Can Dance. Sometimes she seems to be simply singing every note as sharp as possible. Whatever the technique involved, the end result ain’t exactly pleasant--indeed, her ululations have a set-your-teeth-on-edge quality, like vinegar for the ears. But there is something queerly captivating about the way Bougatsos weaves around the strange, sidling groove created by her bandmates Brian DeGraw, Josh Diamon and Tim Dewitt. 

Seemingly a blend of drum sticks on electronic pads, hand-percussion, and digital programming, Gang Gang Dance’s beats have clearly assimilated the bent rhythmic logic of  electronic music in the post-jungle era. Heavily effected (often using reverb and delay), the drums generate a florid textural undergrowth redolent  at various points of  4 Hero, Arthur Russell, and Ryuichi Sakomoto’s B-2 Unit. Needling guitars and glittering keyboards, often processed so that it’s hard to tell which is which, exacerbate the chromatic density. Writhing with garish detail, Track 5 feels like you’re plunging headfirst into a Mandelbrot whose patterns aren’t curvaceous but geometric-- endlessly involuting cogs and spindles, the acid trip of a clock-maker surreptitiously dosed at work. On tracks like this, Gang Gang Dance music has a quality of deranged ornamentalism (think pagodas, mosques, but also coral reefs and jellyfish flotilla) pitched somewhere between exquisite and grotesque.  A beautiful horror unfurls--folds and fronds, filigree and arabesque-that reminds me of Henri Michaux’s maniacally exact accounts of his mescalin experiences in Miserable Miracle.

At 31 minutes, Revival of the Shittest is just long enough--anymore and you’d be worn out by its poly-tendrilled density. At the same time, it’s this very quality of TOO MUCH-ness that makes Gang Gang Dance so compelling.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Mokum Madness

The Wire, 1996

by Simon Reynolds

Now that jungle is totally assimilated, and even happy hardcore and handbag house have their apologists,  Dutch gabberhouse is the only post-rave style left to be gentrified. Gabba is the most extreme version of the ultra-fast hardcore techno that's still popular in Northern Europe and Scotland. If hardcore is derided by Detroit buffs as 'the new heavy metal', then gabba is the rave equivalent of thrash: even faster (180 to 250 b..p.m), even more macho, mindless and monotonous.

The English connotations of 'gab'---"to talk in a rapid, thoughtless manner'---are stunningly appropriate, but in Dutch, 'gabber' means 'mate, lad, yobbo'. This Rotterdam-based 'hooligan-house' originally emerged in antagonism to the more decorous Amsterdam rave scene. Originally a negative, exclusionary term wielded by Amsterdam hipsters, 'gabba'  was seized upon as a banner of underclass pride by hordes of  Dutch proles. Label names like Ruffneck and Terror Traxx, track titles like Sperminator's "No Woman Allowed" and Wedlock's "I'm The Fuck You Man!", eloquently convey gabba's  rowdy male-bonding and adrenalized aggression.

"It's just not music" is a rhetorical strategem used by those who simply aren't prepared to subject themselves to the specific regime of sensations that a particular form of musical extremism enforces. Both early UK 'ardkore  and thrash/speed/death-metal were both diss(miss)ed  in these terms (despite the fact that thrash is intensely, baroquely muso in its construction).  So is gabba music? Of course. Do you want to listen to it? Probably not. Like thrash, the sensation gabba offers (Virilio's  "becoming speed") is too one-dimensional to appeal to most.

Pure gabber is totally percussive/concussive. Every musical element--stomping kick-drum, hissing hi-hat, one note bass-thud, stun-gun oscillator-synth-- functions rhythmically, yet the rhythm is incredibly simplistic. We're talking multiple tiers of four-to-the-floor, as opposed to polyrhythmic interplay. On this Mokum compilation, Haaardcore's "Toxic" is typical, offering the same kinaesthetic rush as Richie Hawtin and Jeff Mills but about 40 beats per minute faster. The effect is as astringent and soul-rigidifying as snorting sulphate cut with Ajax. Recently, however, gabba's rhythm-science has gotten less stiff, as producers like Robert Meijer and Francois Prijt (who dominate "Battlegrounds") have begun to incorporate breakbeats, albeit whipped up way beyond jungle's 150 bpm to a convulsive, trebley skitter

Another weird but fascinating development is the strange spiritual affinity between rap and gabba, whereby Dutch oiks have appropriated the rage and ressentiment of the African-American underclass (hence band names like Gabbers With Attitude or Fear of A Ruffneck Planet). "Battlegrounds" features lots of vocal samples from Public Enemy and other early Def Jam artists. Chosen Few's "Ravedome" samples LL Cool J's "think I'm gonna BOMB" from 'Mama Said Knock You Out", while Annihilator's "I'll Show You My Gun" abstracts a Chuck D combat-rap imperative (from "Mi Uzi Weighs A Ton"), transforming it into a blare of context-less belligerence. A similar mood of empty insurrectionism characterises High Energy's "Revolution", which turns around a soundbite from a Latin American demagogue.
The Public Enemy connection makes sense, since PE is the fastest of rap groups, and producer Hank Shocklee accentuated the high-frequencies in order to match the aural attack of punk. Gabba shares PE's aura of panic, imminent apocalypse, mass rally. But the music with which gabba has greatest affinities is metal. Just clock the  militaristic band names: Annihilator, Strontium 9000,  Search and Destroy. Musically, gabba's ur-texts are Joey Beltram's "Mentasm" and "Energy Flash", whose death-swarm synth-stabs evolved into the 'Belgian Hoover' sound of T99 and Human Resource (still active in gabba). Consider the fact that Beltram is a big Sabbath and Led Zep fan and the connections between HM's ear-bleeding decibellage and hardcore's 'nosebleed'-inducing
bass-frequencies start to make ghastly sense.

Thankfully, gabba also has something of metal's self-parodic sense of humour. The logo of gabba-label K.N.O.R.  is a horned demon in diapers, while the Babyboom label's mascot is a nappyclad infant giving you the finger: both images nicely blend rave's regression with metal's puerility. And the most enjoyable tracks here are the silliest. Despite its Sabbath-echoing title, Search & Destroy's "Iron Man" is a wonderfully daft collage of rave styles, cutting from sped-up ragga chants to a  snatch of the Buggles' soppy "Elstree" to a burst of Goldie/Rufige Cru's '92 classic "Darkrider" to 303 aciiied uproar to a brief interlude where the 200 b.p.m. frenzy drops to a languid 90 b.p.m. skank.  Also exemplifying the new hybrid of happy-gabba or fun-core (gabber infused with happy hardcore's cheesy ravey-ness) is Technohead's "I Wanna Be A Hippy", whose nursery-rhyme tantrum ("I want to get high/but I never knew why") is bellowed by an apoplectic Poly Styrene soundalike.
At its best, gabba is a blast.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Roy Harper

Roy Harper
Flat Baroque and Berserk
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page
director's cut, Blender, 2008

by Simon Reynolds

Although he rivals Richard Thompson as a supremely inventive folk-rock guitarist and easily surpasses him as a charismatic vocalist and an original songwriter,  Roy Harper is barely known this side of the Atlantic.  In Britain, though, this Manchester-born minstrel  enjoys the adoration of a cult following and the admiration of superstar pals like Led Zeppelin (check their homage  "Hats Off to  [Roy] Harper") and Pink Floyd (he sang on  "Have A Cigar").  

It took Harper a while to find his voice: on his fourth album, 1970's Flat Baroque and Berserk,  pre-electric Dylan's imprint is audible still in the nasal tone and acoustic jingle-jangle of "Don't You Grieve,"  while "I Hate the White Man" hark even further back to the populist sloganeering of folk-revivalists like Woody Guthrie.

But the four long songs of 1971's Stormcock saw Harper arriving at his style:  obliquely scathing protest poetry sung with a unique mix of searing intensity and soaring majesty, framed with delicate-yet-muscular guitar and subtly spacious production. Lyrically, the tone remains scathing , but there's a new subtlety and wit to Harper's diatribes against injustice and the pompousness of authority ("Hors d'Oeuvres" swipes judges and critics), sometimes veering so far from the old plain-spoken speaking-out as to become flowery and oblique.    

The textures are folk and mostly acoustic, but this music rocks and electrifies, "One Man Rock and Roll Band" swings heavy and ominous  like Zozo Unplugged,  while  Jimmy Page himself  guests on  "The Same Old Rock,"  a 12 minute epic whose twisting and plunging song structure climaxes with a dizzy-making chasm of multitracked Harper vocals criss-crossing like close-formation jets at an air show.  That trick worked so magically the singer couldn't resist  recycling it repeatedly across his career, including on "Nineteen Forty-Eightish"  from 1985's Jugula,  a fine full-blown collaboration with Page.                                                                                                                                                                       

Saturday, July 6, 2019

1979, in 2005: Green interviewed about the early days of Scritti, and some later days too

This is the full transcript of an interview with Green from 2005, originally done for an Uncut feature pegged around the release of Early, the CD reissue of the three long unavailable DIY-era EPs. For a while this transcript was up on the Rip It Up website, until the guy who created it and maintained decided to disappear, taking the construction with him. A shorter and tidied-up version of the Q/A is in Totally Wired, but here is the rambling and ragged entirety of our chat.

The conversation  took place just in time for me to squeeze a few last minute quotes into the book before it finally went to press. Originally, I had not attempted to interview Green for Rip It Up because A/ I felt certain he would not wish to talk about a period of musical activity he had so loudly disowned and derided, and B/ there is so much Green interview material available on the web and in old music papers (he’s always been very good at talking, and copious in his talk) that it seemed simply unnecessary. 

During the phone call (me in NY, he in Dalston) I was surprised by A/ how happy he now seemed to discuss that period and by how fond he seemed of that time, despite still professing at regular intervals during the conversation to find the pre-pop era Scrit sound acutely embarrassing. And B/ how thorough  his recollections were of the period, despite his insistence at regular intervals that he had a terrible memory and had trained himself to forget stuff. Finally, I was also struck by how charming he was.  An earlier encounter circa 1988’s Provision had not been as enjoyable, but the only echo of his supercilious manner on that day in our second encounter was his occasional tic of saying “dyaknowwhatimean?” with just a tinge of donnish snappishness to it. 

Another nice thing about the interview was the discovery that nothing I’d written on Scritti in Rip It Up turned out to be wildly off-base, either factually or interpretatively.

I am told Green is currently working on a memoir for Faber & Faber. Look forward to that, although given that it's now 13 years since his last album White Bread Black Beer - which is a longer gap than even the yawning chasm of time between Provision (1988) and Anomie and Bonhomie (1999) I'm not counting on its arrival any time soon. 


First Scritsong I ever heard, courtesy of Peel.

S: I was struck by the coinage in the sleevenote you did for Early, talking about how listening to those early EPs for the first time in ages, they struck you as a bit “winceworthy”!

G. I assumed it was already in the dictionary. Maybe not!

S. “Cringeworthy”, maybe--I’m not sure about “winceworthy”! Is that really still how you feel? And is it the sound of the records that make you cringe or knowing what your mindset was when you made them?

G:  Well, all the music I’ve ever made makes me feel uncomfortable to listen to, and I would go to some lengths to avoid having to hear it if I could. Fortunately, nowadays I don’t have to go to terribly tortuous lengths to avoid hearing it. I hadn’t listened to the early Scritti music since it was made. It sounded awkward, a bit gauche. But then, like I say, I think that about everything I’ve ever done.

S. So the obvious next question: why then agree to let it be reissued if it still embarrasses you?

G: I guess the same answer would hold:  I would be uncomfortable about any of my records being released, but it’s part of the business of making them. The final act of the process is them being consumed. I would guess it was a consequence of just a persistent interest from Geoff Travis at Rough Trade in reissuing that stuff. He’s been looking after me for a few years and… it would have been rude to say ‘no’!

S. I loved those records at the time, and they still sound good to me. But I can see why they might feel like a little pocket of time that feels really strange and is hard to recover or get back inside the mindset of. At the same time, I always heard a kind of pop sensibility thing in them, so when you went pop I…

G: You knew it was on the cards?

S. Well, actually--I wasn’t going to admit this--but in the summer of 1980 I think it must have been, I was all set to write you a letter, advising you that you should just go for it, do all-out pop music.

G: [archly] Well, what an insightful young man you were!

S: Well, I never wrote the letter, but it was songs like “Confidence” that made me hear that pop potential, I think. Also I’d probably picked up on people in the music papers talking about “pop” and the notion of infiltrating the mainstream. In hindsight, though, it’s really clear there’s this poppy melodic element even in the most fractured Scritti stuff--a Beatlesy/Bolan-y thread, as well as the obvious Robert Wyatt influence

G: There weren’t many people then who picked up on that, but it was certainly there, a history of listening to things other than the obvious. What were you doing at the time?

S: I was living at home in a small town in Hertfordshire. I think I first heard “Bibbly-O-Tek”, it would have been on John Peel, and was immediately struck by it. Winding back though to your own hometown and early youth, I’ve read that you attempted to form a branch of the Young Communist League at your school. Today, that sounds like a fabulously hardcore thing to do, but presumably A/ in South Wales, where there’s miners’ unions and such, and B/ in the early Seventies, when some union leaders were Leninists, was it the case that being a communist was still on the spectrum of legitimate political opinion?

G: It wasn’t actually. No, the concise answer, and I can say this with some confidence, despite how appalling my memory is generally, is that to begin with there was just me and Niall Jinks the bass player. We formed a branch of the Young Communists and after our inaugural meeting, Niall was beaten up quite badly, somewhere near the school. That was the beginning of years of violence. I haven’t done interviews for a long time but I did one the other day, went out for a meal with these guys and they said ‘reminisce about the time’ and what came up was that there was an awful lot of violence. No, there weren’t communists around, and it was a peculiar thing to do.

S: But, you know, didn’t Arthur Scargill have a bust of Lenin in his office? And surely there were loads of Trotskyites and Maoists and the like on university campuses?

G: That was different, when I got to Leeds. There’d be Marxist summer schools at London universities, and you’d go and meet other young communists. That was an exciting time and you met some very interesting people. But that was once I got out of Wales really.

S: What kind of political background did you grow up in, in terms of your family’s views and values?

G: Right-wing Tory, really. Working class Tory.

S: So you being a Communist, this was a strident statement then?

G: It was. It got into the local newspaper, and Niall and I were named, and it didn’t go down at all well with the extended family. It heralded a beginning of a decline in my relationship with my parents.  I didn’t see them for years and years and years. Then I think they read in the NME that I’d got ill [in 1980] and through my sister, they proffered some help. But yeah, we fell out big time.

S: So what was the musical analogue of being a young Communist? I read this intriguing piece several years ago, about Scritti and the Desperate Bicycles, and this guy Richard Mason claimed he could detect a discernible influence from Martin Carthy in your guitar playing on “Skank Bloc Bologna”. He pinpointed it precisely to Carthy’s playing in Steeleye Span actually!. So after that I went out and found a load of Steeleye albums, and sure enough, on Please To See The King, tracks like “The Blackbird”, you can hear the connection from Carthy’s guitar playing to your playing on “Skank.”  But I wondered, was there a correlation between being a Communist and loving traditional music? Folk as the people’s music, that sort of idea.

G:  Yes, there was. Definitely. At that point, at school, the twin things I was into it were Martin Carthy--his solo albums are really astonishing, if you ever get the chance to get hold of his early or middle period stuff, it’s quite fantastic. So there was an interest in traditional music. And then the other thing was Henry Cow.  I first heard Carthy and Henry Cow on John Peel. It was that predictable thing of being attracted by more challenging music. In Wales, for a while, we lived in a fairly remote bungalow, and I would tape record the Peel shows on a Saturday, and for want of anything else to do, I would listen to that tape every night or day until the following weekend. And the thing that stayed with you, I found, was the challenging stuff. The music you found most difficult on the Sunday, by the next weekend had become your favorite.  Does that make sense?

S: Totally. I think people forget now the state of cultural-and-sensory deprivation involved in growing up in a small town in the UK back in the early seventies. No internet, no video stores, no video games. There were only two or three TV channels and they were off during the afternoon and closed by about 11-30 at night. There was only one radio station that played pop music, and during the day time it was pretty much a wasteland, Radio One. So, if you lived in a small town, there was virtually nothing to do! Just books and records and the music papers.

G: Yes. Most extraordinary, growing up in South Wales at the time. Nowadays if I go back there to see friends, there are bands everywhere, at every bus stop and every garage, it’s like everybody’s in one. But there weren’t any when I was growing up there. I think we had Man and Budgie--those were the only two I could think of that had come out of Wales.  I didn’t really care for either. Also growing up in the new town that I most associate with being there-- although I lived all over different bits of South Wales-- this brand new town, Cwmbran.  We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, and beyond that there were the hills--or ‘mountains’, as we called them, and the other way there was just acres of estates leading to a town centre where nothing much happened. It was pretty peculiar. One of the consequences of being a new town, though, was that there was a fairly broad mix of people at school. New towns were places people used to relocate to. That’s what Niall, the bass player in Scritti, had done. He came from Kent, so he was the most exotic thing I could imagine, just ‘cos he came from Kent!

S: So you became fast friends at school. What was Niall like? Very political?

G: Yeah, his parents were CP people. Or at least his dad was.

S: See, it’s things like that that have given me this idea that being a Communist wasn’t that unusual in those days. For instance,  Richard Kirk’s parents were communists, he told me he had a young communist badge! But because growing up in Sheffield, hard-line socialist politics was normal, everyday, a bit mundane--he described going to the Young Communist League events as almost like going to Sunday school--he reacted against it and got into Dada.

G:  Well, I didn’t ever have that because it wasn’t my personal home experience. Also, there’s was nothing about the sense of [Communism] that I got from Niall that wasn’t wholly comfortable about it sitting alongside surrealism and whatever.

S: And of course, the Surrealists, they were all communists, weren’t they? Most of them.

G: I didn’t feel at any point at that point that there was any impediment to the imagination involved in undertaking the business of learning about Marxism. I was already primed, and possibly not surprisingly, by the experience of growing up in South Wales, which was pretty harsh. So it wouldn’t be stretching a point too far to say that a sense of inequality was formed pretty early on, and supported by all the evidence around, both domestically and in the broader community around me.

S:  Henry Cow, they were a bit Marxist, right? And part of a whole Euro-rock movement, Rock In Opposition, kind of dissident left-wing prog-rock bands?

G:  I didn’t know much about that. I think I came to Henry Cow through… when I was at school, I was quite precociously interested in pop music, and I’d gone to the Reading Festival when I was [really young]. The top of the bill would have been The Faces, who I was pretty keen to see, but further down the bill was Robert Wyatt and Matching Mole. Have you ever heard them? Fantastic! 

It was really through that kind of thing that I got into Henry Cow. The Wyatt route.


S: Did you like Hatfield and The North?

G: I did like Hatfield. I got to know the people in Henry Cow a bit, because when I left home and went to college, I started promoting gigs for things like the Young Communists, and being a fan of Henry Cow I would ask them to do these gigs. And
Chris Cutler, the drummer, his father was Party. So Henry Cow were lefties basically. When I was at Leeds, they would kip on the floor of our place and play gigs. I can remember when we did the first Scritti single and had stamped all the labels by hand on the kitchen table of the squat in Camden, and we put the squat’s address on them. And almost by return of post, it seemed, the very day after sending it out, Chris Cutler send his copy back to us in disgust. He told us we should leave making music to--

S: Real musicians?!

G: Basically! Which I thought quite staggering.

S: Cutler didn’t really get that whole do-it-yourself, emancipatory amateurism side to punk, did he?

G: No.  I can remember arguing about it when punk started--we were at Leeds then-- and Henry Cow came up to Leeds, and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, this is just the fucking bomb,’ and Cutler was like, ‘this is  appalling rubbish!’. So that was the end of that really! I did see Fred Frith quite a few times, though. He was living in New York during the late seventies and beginning of the early eighties. We went to places like the Mudd Club and saw Bambaataa gigs and so forth.  Frith’s father was the headmaster of a school in York and Henry Cow used to rehearse there. Not during school time, but when it was the summer holidays. And we were invited along to their rehearsals, which was an incredible privilege. I was very excited. They were fantastic, I thought, Henry Cow. I don’t think many people remember them now.

S: They were very….

G: Scary!

S: Yeah, and there was a sense of rigour about what they did, of thinking hard not just about the music but about political issues. In the rather slack context of the mid-Seventies, that must have been quite bracing. 

G: Yeah, it was. Bracing’s a good word. It was astringent. Frightening at times, and difficult. That was what attracted me at the time, in the beginning--the difficulty.

S:  Was there a similar attraction about going to Leeds Polytechnic to study art? The Poly was quite radical, right? A lot of conceptual art, critically-driven and theoretically informed art, video and performance stuff?

G: I’d got interested in conceptual art when I was at school, just reading those stupid Thames & Hudson books about contemporary art. When I went to look at art colleges, Leeds was the most-- for want of a better word -radical. Of course, it wasn’t really remotely radical, but at the age I was then it was quite appealing to wander round the art college, where people were doing things like shooting budgerigars with air rifles for their degree show. I went up there when that year’s degree show was on. There was one room where a chap was making himself vomit, and the next room someone was shooting budgerigars. It was fantastic!

S:  So was the Poly’s Fine Art department more radical than Leeds University’s art faculty?

G: It was. Leeds University’s art department was where the Gang of Four and the Mekons were. When I started my work at college--or my lack of work, depending on how you look at it--I stopped painting and started writing. So they were going to throw me out, this was broached fairly frequently. But somebody at the Poly had the good idea of letting the University people read what I was writing. So Tim Clark was roped in to adjudicate as to whether I was writing just complete gibberish and bullshit to get away with it, or whether I had anything sensible to say. Anyway, he helped me stay there. But by that point, I’d started a sort of counter-curriculum.  I had got in with some members of the Art & Language group, and I’d organized visiting lectures. So I’d get people to come to Leeds Poly and lecture. It got very, very popular.  People like Patrick Nuttgens [the first Director of Leeds Polytechnic], who was the head of the whole thing, ended up at the last few events we did. It got very politicized and interesting. I was encouraging all these lecturers and artists from Art and Language to come and basically say what was going on in our faculty was a crock of shit and that everybody was wasting their time!

S: So you were a troublemaker!

G: It was good fun. We did an awful lot of reading. Drinking and listening to music and arguing, all the stuff I continued to enjoy for the early Scritti thing.

S:  When you switched from painting to writing, was this based in the belief that ‘before I create anything as an artist, it’s imperative that first I have to work out what is actually valid’? Have a really good hard think, before actually picking up a paintbrush?

G:  I think that’s fair. It sounds completely ludicrous now! Or does it? It was a conclusion that was fairly easy to come to, though. I mean, you know what British art colleges were like, right? I’m sure they’re even worse now. All the clichés are true--you’ve got the randy old lecturer who’s got scant knowledge about art really…

S:  I didn’t go to art college but one of my friends did, and at her place, there was a randy old bohemian lecturer with one of those scarves round his neck, and all he did was nudes, and he was a lecherous old sod, always going out with the models, or with female students.

G: I don’t think such niceties were needed, you didn’t have to feign an interest in the life study to start pawing and groping young girls! There is a whole other bunch of interesting things I could tell you about the experiences of art colleges generally, and drugs officers, and policemen, and art lecturers, and weird goings on. But going back to your question, I did think… well you get there and all these kids are basically left to their own devices to get on with this god-awful stuff that they haven’t spent any time really thinking about. They haven’t considered why it is that they’re painting in the manner of x, y or z. And if you tried to have an informed discussion with any of them, you were on a hiding to nothing. I just thought ‘this is fucking nuts! Somebody has to be asking some questions about what it means to be doing this, what it means to be in this kind of institution, in this country, at this time! I was like, ‘Hello? Hello?! Is anybody here thinking about this stuff at al?!?!. So that’s why I stopped painting and started writing.

S:  You met Tom Morley at this time?

G: Yes, he was at college too.

S: Did he always have the dreadlocks?

G: He didn’t have the dreadlocks until we squatted in Camden. His hair was that kind of hair. He had a white ‘fro, when I first met him.

S:  Marc Almond and Frank Tovey--Fad Gadget--were both at Leeds Poly, doing art, right? Did you know them?

G: Yes,  Marc and Frank, they were both at Leeds. But I was a bit sniffy…

S: Cos they were into performance art?

G:  Oh I don’t know, I’d had my moments of performance! I did a…oh blimey! I did some COMPLETELY pretentious piece when I first got there. It was called something like ‘Fox Logic’, and it was about the deaths of Wittengenstein and Kimber. William Kimber was a Morris dancer who died in Oxford the same day that Wittgenstein died. [William Kimber aka ‘Merry’ Kimber, 1872–1961, was the concertina-player of the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers and the prime instigator of the Morris Dance revival. His meeting with Cecil Sharp in 1899 was a trigger for Sharp’s embarking on collecting traditional songs, leading to the formation in 1911 of the English Folk Dance Society].  So it was just all this stuff about the First World War, English traditional things, men, villagers dying, patterns, abstraction, language… It was a massive wank, really! That was my brief bit of performance. And I enjoyed it for a while. But I guess I was more snooty and sniffy about people’s musical interests than I was anything else really.

Said to be Marc Almond's degree show work at Leeds Poly, or something like that. Via Jon Dale. 

S: You’ve spoken before about the revelatory, transformative moment of going to your first punk gig and going into the venue as one person and coming out again afterwards completely changed, a different person. Was that the Anarchy Tour hitting Leeds, the Pistols, the Heartbreakers?

G: It was the first punk tour--The Clash, The Pistols, The Damned, and The Heartbreakers. Was that Anarchy? Or White Riot? No, it was the Anarchy tour, and maybe the third date on that. They’d been prohibited from playing in Nottingham the night before.  You think back, and occasionally you’re reminded that you’ve made these claims about these Damascene moments in your life. But I wouldn’t mind still describing that gig like that, in those very strong, revelatory, life-changing, clichéd terms. It was like that. I was fucking astonished.

S: Previous to seeing the punk bands, had you been on a more musically proficient Henry Cow trip, learning your chops and all that? Had you even played music at all?

G: What I’d really learned to play by then was some traditional folk songs. Niall could play the fiddle and he knew a bunch of Morris tunes. I could play a couple of jigs and reels fairly badly! We were listening to the Henry Cows, and things like Miles Davis by that point too. Whatever else we could get our hands on that was upsetting! We weren’t really playing seriously.

S:  After the Anarchy show, did you decide to form a band immediately?

G: I think so, I can’t really remember exactly. I’ve got a terrible memory because I’ve trained my memory to be ruthlessly  poor--cos I’m best served that way! All memories are bad, really. Memories of good things are bad, because they’ve gone, and memories of bad things are bad because they were bad things. I don’t like remembering anything, and I’ve become really good at that. Also, I don’t really have any sense of time--I don’t feel the difference between things that happened last week, or three months ago, which gets me in all sorts of trouble. What were we talking about?

S: The initial forming of Scritti.

G: I don’t remember that, but I remember I was the one who persuaded Tom and Niall to blow the last of their grant on a drum kit and a bass guitar, and start learning to play them. That’s what we did. We played one gig in Leeds as The Against. We supported this one other punk band in Leeds at the time, SOS.

S: Did you apply the same sort of thing you’d done with your art work--thinking very hard about it--to the initial conceptualization of Scritti, before actually making the music? Or was it more instinctive and spontaneous?

G: There wasn’t a simple agenda, but there would have been lots of thinking about it. Because that was a lot of the pleasure. It’s just a pleasurable thing to do--to sit around talking and thinking about things. We were possibly much better at that than we were at making music. There were lots of different forces at play, all these seamlessly contiguous areas of interest: music’s relationship with language, which was a bit like art’s relationship with language, and there was the whole political dimension of the linguistic turn in philosophy--that point when language became a subject of philosophy. The political dimensions of the turn towards language interested me a lot. Then there would have been music and its role in identity formation. That was something all three of us had personal experience of--how important music had been growing up, to who we were. Music’s power, latent and transforming. Then there was a lot of that Gramscian talk at that time too, talking about culture and ideology in a more straightforward Marxist-y way. And then there was the whole punk thing about control of production and distribution, getting up and doing-it-yourself. So these were all separate but seamlessly contiguous areas.

S: So you’d be exploring all these different issues, grappling with all these overlapping theories, simultaneous with the more practical stuff, like learning how to use an amplifier, or how to string your guitar?

G: I paid no attention to how set up an amp! Partly because we were anti-rock in a way. Rock was too solid, too strong, and too sure a sound. All its mannerism and gestures and conventions were strong, solid, and sure, and we wanted a music that’s wasn’t strong, solid, and sure, because we weren’t strong, solid or sure. And I wouldn’t have known how to make a music that was strong solid or sure. It wasn’t until I started supporting the Gang of Four,  and Andy Gill would tell us, ‘this is how you get distortion on an amplifier, this is how loud they can go’…  So it was a blend of the via negativa and being a bit gormless about it, to be honest!

S: So when did Scritti move down from London to the Camden squat? Would that have been early ’78?

G:  I would think it would have been around then. We did those first tracks [the ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’ three-track single] at Spaceward Studio in Cambridge, and whether we went to Cambridge from Leeds or from London, I can’t remember, but I’d think it would have been from London. So maybe we were in the squat by ‘78.

S: Had you chucked in your art degree?

G: I completed it. I got a 2.1.

S: So they decided text was valid then, as artistic practice!

G: That’s all my degree show was--an awful lot of writing. But it got the thumbs-up from various people. People that my lecturers thought possibly knew what they were talking about! And I was told I didn’t get a first because I’d never attended any of their lectures, which is absolutely true. I did finish the art course and was thoroughly fed up with the whole business. As I remain to this day--perfectly appalled by Brit Art and everything that’s come in its wake.

S:  Did you ever do any painting as such?

G: Yeah, I could paint. Occasionally I draw. Get the crayons out. It’s a very pleasurable thing to do.

S: What was Camden like in those days? A bit grotty?

G: It was pretty grotty. The squat was in a little terrace. Some girls from art college had gone down and squatted the year before and tipped us off about this place. When the old lady moved out… Well, we went and knocked on her door, and said, ‘Are you going to be moving soon? We’re going to squat your place after you’ve gone.’ So she was complicit with us squatting this place, and they tried to get us out but they couldn’t. But the Carol Street squat didn’t have a bathroom. It was pretty rudimentary. The band Skrewdriver lived a few doors down, in our street. We were young communists and punks and there was an awful lot of violence. There was violence on an almost weekly basis. Like, every time you went to see a gig… We’d travel in fairly large groups, of five or six… and we’d walk, say, all the way to Stoke Newington to the Pegasus to see some band, and then walking back at whatever time of the night you’d be attacked. You’d be attacked on the London Underground, or you’d be attacked if you were out selling Challenge, the young communist paper. I was doing some part time work at the Communist Party headquarters in King Street in Covent Garden, and there were letter bombs while I was there. There had been a lot of violence in Leeds before, a lot of people I knew had been attacked. And some of my friends in Camden [were attacked], like Matthew Kay, who worked with Scritti [as organizer/manager], and people who ended up working at Rough Trade--all of this was through a Communist thing. So I remember violence, a great deal of violence. But also a lot of fantastic fun, which came from that business of putting your home address on your record sleeves, which meant that you did get the disaffected public schoolboys and French hippies and Italian Eurocommunists turning up. They would bang on your door. It was open house, and we’d be going out to gigs most nights, and you’d come back and you never knew who would be there, and you’d stay up all hours, talking, about whatever books were of interest or someone had maybe bought a new pre-release dub thing. It was just pretty good. Good times!”

                     film actually made by Scritti Politti for the BBC program Grapevine,  broadcast 1980 explaining how to make your own record - with lots of view of Carol Street and the squat, as well as Scritti in the studio, Scritti at the record pressing plant, etc

S: There’s a load of commune-style bands in rock history--Jefferson Airplane, Faust, Amon Duul--bands that lived together in squats or big houses. But Scritti is unique, I think, is being a collective that involved a large number of non-musicians who were on an equal basis with the musicians. How large did Scritti actually get?

G: We used to have meetings at the house--I don’t know if we called ourselves a collective, we called ourselves something--and these meetings were attended by people who were going to be in their own groups, or they were fans, or just friends. And maybe of an evening, 20 people or so would attend. Some of whom went on to make their own records.

S: Like this guy Simon Emmerson, who went on to be Simon Booth of Weekend and Working Week, right?

G: Simon was one of them. And there were people like the Janet and Johns, and Methodishca Tune. Most of these people just made one or two singles. One of the key figures at the time was a guy called Bob Scotland, who was one of our closest friends, and who ended up driving a van for Rough Trade and having his own band. He was a working class Glaswegian communist, and an incredibly bright guy. He’s now some fantastic Oxbridge don specializing in spores, molds and fungus! For a lot of people [early Scritti] was an exciting and fascinating phase, for two or three years.

S: These people who actually didn’t write Scritti’s songs or play instruments, did they still actively contribute, in terms of ideas and thinking out what the band was about?

G: Oh yeah. Around the time of changing [from Mark 1 Scritti to the pop Scritti], there was a fairly big aesthetic shift that went on. I think it was partly precipitated by my ill health, on a Gang of Four tour and various other things. I went back to Wales, and I would have never thought of just announcing that I now wanted to make a different kind of music. So I sat down for months and months and months and wrote screeds of justification. And I started listening to black music that I’d heard before but never listened to before. But yes [with the writing of the screeds of notes],  there was that sense of having to have it understood and approved and thought-through. I have to stress that that was also a very pleasurable thing to do.

S: Well, flashing back to the early days again, tell me about ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’. Was that inspired by what was going on in Italy in 1977?

G:   I’d read a book, Red Bologna, about the time I wrote that song. I guess if I had to draw the essence of the song out of thin air really quickly-- at the time I’m sure I would have spoken with more eloquence or at least more length--I can remember there was this idea of the “bloc”, the “historical bloc”, coming from Gramsci‘s idea of hegemony. And Bologna at that time was a city in communist control, and I was interested in certain ideas of Eurocommunism. As for the skanking bit, that was what just filled our house twenty four hours a day--nonstop dub and lover’s rock, really. It was just beautiful.

S: In Bologna, though, the Communist mayor was the one who actually tried to suppress the more radical Il Movimento people, who in 1977 were rioting in this really carnivalesque fashion, taking over the city center.   Was ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’ inspired by those people, the radicals who were even more left-wing than the establishment Communist Party? Or were you just struck by the fact that it was possible to have a whole city in Northern Italy that was Communist controlled?

G: To be honest, I can’t really remember… I would have been inspired by the book Red Bologna, which wasn’t uncritical of what was going on. And at that time we were going to meetings where various young European communists were talking, and there were people in Italy who were setting up radio stations--they were nominally communists but they were pretty wild, dyaknowwhatImean?

S: Oh, you mean Radio Alice, il Movimento’s pirate radio station.

G: Yes, Radio Alice--things like that. I’d forgotten about that.

S: So that’s what you’re talking about when you’re singing in “Skank” about how the Magnificent Six--the Scritti collective--are busy working on developing some reasons for political hope--“a Euro vision and a skanking scope”?

G: Yes, yes, yes. Please don’t remind me of any more lyrics! It might lead to me dying of embarrassment.

S: Are you really embarrassed by them? See, what I like about those lyrics is… and this may not be what you were trying to do at all, but there was a lot of debates going on at that time but how to do the politics-in-pop thing effectively. So you had Tom Robinson with his straightforward messages, which people soon decided was pointless, just preaching to the converted. And then the step beyond TRB was Gang of Four, doing their songs that were very schematic and diagrammatic, almost case studies in false consciousness, diagrams of relationships of conditioning and exploitation. And then your songwriting in the early Scritti is the next step beyond that: it’s more like a  kaleidoscope that switches back and forth, almost on a line by line basis, from very mundane details of every day life to that sort of deep, abstract structure, delineating the contours of the absolute bedrock conditions of political reality, what shapes your deepest beliefs about how reality has to be. So one line you’re singing about people doing shitty jobs in supermarkets, or prosaic stuff to do with bailiffs and rents, and the next line it’s more like something out of Gramsci, the constraints on your consciousness.  Was that what you were trying to do?

G: Absolutely. That’s pretty spot on I would think. And it continues to be. The songs I’m working on at the moment --God, songs I’ve been working on “at the moment”, more like songs that I’ve  been working for the last God knows how many years--that continues to be how I write.

S: So it’s not the approach then, it’s the specific lyrics you wrote that make you wince!

G: Yes, it’s any specific instance of any of it! But you’re right in your analysis.

S: With the Desperate Bicycles, did you actually like their music or was it more the do-it-yourself credo that inspired you?

G: I loved their music. I really did, and we got to know them, and they were amongst the people who would come round to the house and we would talk about things. They were very similarly-minded. There was a sense of community amongst some bands at the time, and around Rough Trade, with bands like the Raincoats, and lots of others. A sense of community, and a shared feeling that….  the unexamined pop life wasn’t worth living. Let’s put it that way!

S: So Rough Trade was a really cool milieu then.

G: I don’t think we thought of ourselves as ‘cool’. I thought Geoff  was cool.

S: Well I didn’t mean ‘cool’ in that sense but more like, a fertile place to be.

G: Oh definitely. For me it was the spot. And at time I was also promoting Young Communist gigs--we did one of the first Fall gigs in London, with John Cooper Clarke.  I even put on Sham 69. Sham 69 and Aswad on a bill together at Highbury! And these things were always done with Rough Trade’s active support. Unofficially. But Rough Trade would give us all the stuff to make the show more appealing. If you needed to borrow any record decks, or if you wanted to sell badges or singles at the gig and make a bit of money on that, Geoff would help out with that. I’m not sure one had any gauge of how remarkable that was at the time, because working with Rough Trade was our only experience of what a record label was like. It wasn’t until later that I discovered how anomalous that was.

Despite the title given this YouTube clip by some German Stiff Little Fingers fan most likely, this is actually the South Bank Show dedicated to Rough Trade and postpunk DIY culture, from 1979.

S: It does seem more and more remarkable, as time goes by. The spirit surrounding Rough Trade and a few other likeminded labels. Also, the degree of hopefulness involved, and the confidence that it all made a difference, doing these things, and doing them in this particular ethically-minded way. Rough Trade was really ambitious about wanting to create a whole alternative culture, with independent distribution, independent retail, independent media even. I think they were  planning to start a magazine at one point, although when that finally came to be some years later it was more like a trade paper, serving the Cartel, the independent label scene. The Catalogue, it was called. But originally it was an alternative culture type magazine they envisaged.

G:  There was certainly a great deal of hope. Yes.

S:  In the Rough Trade milieu, did you have much interaction with Mayo Thompson?

G: Yeah Mayo… he was doubly interesting because he’d been in Art & Language and The Red Crayola. And I didn’t hear the Red Crayola until I met him and he played me the old stuff and it knocked me out, I thought they were fantastic.

Scritti toured Europe with the Crayola and I used to go and spend time with Mayo and his wife in their cottage. He went to live in Germany. Yeah, he was a cool cat. Did you meet him?

S: I interviewed him on the phone because of the postpunk book. He’s involved in an art gallery now, and still does music.  

G: He was an assistant to Rauschenberg, wasn’t he?

S: I didn’t know that.  He’s got an interesting style of talk--it was hard to do the interview because he spoke very very fast and quite quietly, he’s very soft spoken and rapid in his speech. Transcription was a nightmare, but even hearing him while doing the interview was tough. But from what I could pick up, he’s got this interesting manner of talk--quite tough-minded. I think he came from a military background, so there’s a kind of soldier-like discipline combined with bone-dry humour, and of course the Art & Language hallmark, this penetrating rigour of thought.

G: There was an interesting crossover between the Art & Language mob and other groups on the Left, whose language became so exquisitely wrought, dense, tortured. A lot of the later writings by Art & Language, it’s absolutely impenetrable, but it’s a fascinating style. I recommend their old publications to anyone who wants to see an interesting mixture of the splenetic and the rigorous.  

S: So the official live debut of Scritti, at Acklam Hall, late 1978, you only had four songs written at that stage, and had to repeat the entire set, to please the punters?

G: Maybe it was three, it might have been four. We just played them twice. No problem.

S: Because it was rapturously received?

G: Yeah, they liked it a lot! Which was good, I should commend that to people more often. Because by the second time you play something, it’s a little familiar already. Hahahaha! It went down very well. It was terrifying. And that was already the beginning of the end, because of the nerves and panic attack stuff that later afflicted me.  I used to get terribly, terribly, terribly nervous. I mean, I was very nervous about doing this interview.

S: You don’t sound it! You sound totally assured.

G: It got too bad. It was a great shame really. But I just couldn’t fucking do the live performing.

Live bootleg tape of Scritti, with tantalising references to unrecorded songs, and a pirate radio interview with the band. You can hear the Electric Ballroom February 1980 concert part of this tape  here at the Bibbly-O-Tek fansite archive

S: But didn’t you do things like make songs up on the spot, at Scritti gigs?  Wouldn’t that have been even more nerve-wracking?

G: We did a lot of making stuff up on the spot. In some ways that was less nerve wracking. The idea came from a mixture of things.  I was never convinced that there was any simple correspondence between the formal aspects and the political (in its fuller sense) dimensions. But I did get less interested in chords and structures for a while. But making stuff up, again, was pleasurable. In all that we’ve talked about, the theory and the practice,  there’s a central hedonistic streak in it all. It was pleasurable to struggle to make these things up on stage, not always successfully. But it was all nerve-wracking, generally.

S: In the sequence of the recordings, did you do the Peel Sessions EP before 4 A Sides?

G:  I’ve no idea what the chronology of any of that was I‘m afraid.

S: Because you were talking about the nervous strain, and that Peel Sessions EP, sounds particularly affected by that. I read somewhere, an interview you did a few years later, during the pop phase, maybe 1982, and you say something like “I listen back to the Peel EP and I can’t understand that record, it feels like a really ill record.” And that’s what the EP sounds like--almost like the music is shaking itself apart. You get the sense of a group of people living on their edge of their nerves. There’s a vein of paranoia in the lyrics of songs like “Scritlocks Door”, or elsewhere, there’s this strong current of despair, like with “Hegemony”, where you can’t see any way out of hegemony’s mindlock on your consciousness.

G: Yes, that’s all true. I was not well physically. There was that whole thing of making a music that was trying to be expressive of the stresses of being--this’ll sound wanky--the stresses of being spoken by the language that we were being spoken by, dyaknowwhatimean? But at the time, we were trying to be analytical of it, look inside it. And those were hard things to pull together. I guess you’re right--there was a bit of despair and paranoia. But there might even have been some pleasure in the despair.
That’s a dangerous thing to say, and a whole other--

S:  No, I know exactly what you mean--how there’s a certain buzz to contemplating this totally bleak, apocalyptic, ‘no way out’, scenario, a reveling in it…

G: Except it can tip over into making you properly depressed and completely inert and deeply unwell and unhappy. But I didn’t have too much of that. And at that time there was funk and R&B to help me. And then later hip hop. But at that point, the tail end of disco, I was getting fed up with the whole indie thing anyway. There was a concurrence between getting a bit fed up when indie became aware of itself and became something definable and something with its own set of [conventions] and becoming pretty disinterested it. Then, at this period at the tail end of disco and the beginning of hip hop, I woke up to funk and R&B. Which I’d not grown up with.  I’d grown up in South Wales with a strictly whitebread kind of  diet. It might have been left of center and hugely influenced by black music, but I didn’t know that, I didn’t know where the black music was in Henry Cow.  I didn’t know where the black music was in anything.  I hadn’t found the funk. So that was a whole adventure, discovering how all these questions of music and identity and the body and power were reinscribed in the whole black popular music and dance culture. That was a whole other way of thinking and feeling about these things.

S: You can sense this stuff coming through towards the end of the do-it-yourself era Scritti, you can hear it in 4 A Sides, there’s a kind of funk element to tracks like “P.A.s” and “Bibbly-O-Tek”.

G: I suppose so, although it’s a completely calamitously inept dabbling in that area. That was interesting from a musical perspective, the way that you can actually learn to listen, you can learn to understand the funk--which was a very, very pleasurable thing to do. In those days, I recognized some of the surface features of it without grasping much of what was going on inside it, dyaknowwhatimean?
S:  ‘OPEC-Immac’ is one of my favorite songs on Peel Sessions, it’s got a really odd structure to it, it’s Scritti music reaching this point of near-disintegration, but still retains a lot of the melodic beauty, this sort of melodic eerieness that’s really haunting. The lyrics are very fractured too. Can you recall what that song was trying to ‘say’?

G: I can remember playing it live at the YMCA and Ian Penman playing saxophone on it, when we were supporting The Fall. What can I remember about it as a song? Well given that  I can only faintly recall a bit of it…

S: There’s this spoken word part, it’s only semi-audible, but you sound very fraught and insistent, like maybe you’re having a near-tearful argument with someone, desperately trying to get your point across, make yourself understood.

G: I think Niall was saying some of that, and so was I. Again, it was expressive of that whole thing about language and identity. But Scritti was also a group that was… we partied very hard. As they say nowadays! We were always pretty poorly. We were kind of cheese sandwich vegetarians for years. What does that account for? It’s a kind of scratching, collapsing, irritated, dissatisfied music.  I was listening to some music the other night, on 6 FM or whatever it’s called, BBC 6, their alternative rock station, and I was struck by all the new bands: there was no trepidation. I had no sense that these people were playing with anything that they were slightly frightened of--either in themselves, or in the music. No sense that they going anywhere where they weren’t sure where they would end up.

S: With so much of the music of that period, but especially Scritti, there is precisely what you’re talking about: a feeling of precariousness. There’s a real sense of anxiety, people grappling with these deep doubts and exorbitant hopes:  where do we go next after punk? How can we make our good intentions actually have any purchase on the world? That’s what I find so inspiring about that whole period. Possibly it was delusory, that shared feeling that music could have that degree of power. But it seemed like that for a lot of those bands, believing that it might have that power meant that it therefore became very important to work out exactly the best way of directing one’s energy. To locate the correct path, the righteous way forward, became a very urgent thing. 

G: I think you’ve put that very succinctly. Because of what was happening politically at the time. And also because of what had seeped out to us from academia--even those who hadn’t gone directly into higher education--there was a lot of intellectual stuff in the air.
And music became an interesting case in point for a lot of these ideas. We didn’t understand fully what was going on with Deleuze & Guattari or Lacan or Kristeva, but there was that stuff around. But there was also a whole running fight with the BNP.
And beyond those things there was just something we’d grown up with--the power of pop music. We all knew about that latent utopian possibility in the music, a transformative power, what would later be called ‘counter-hegemonic’. So there was a real sense of that potential in music and a real interest in talking about it. But most of all there was a lot of music, a lot of making music. Dyouknowwhatimean?

S: Well that comes through clearly--I mean, it’s obvious that underneath all the cerebration and deep thought, there is this pure musicality. If there was no musicality involved, no pleasure or beauty, it wouldn’t really be worth much at all. And there’s mystery too--the mystery of melodic beauty.  

G: Yes. And it was also a massively romantic project, I would have to say.

S: You mentioned Kristeva and all that stuff, and although I went to university, that kind of thing--Barthes, Foucault, et al--that was stuff I read in my spare time, for fun. My actual course was History. It’s really people like you, and some of the journalists on NME who quoted Barthes, who turned me onto this stuff. You have no idea… well probably you do actually, because people must have contacted you guys all the time at the squat, cos of the Scritti records--but that ‘Scritto’s Republic’ thing, the pages from the imaginary book, on the sleeve of Peel Sessions, that was like a window opening out onto a whole world for me. The whole idea discussed in those two pages-- language as a cage, the prison-house of consciousness, grammar structuring the reality you lived within… Language as a problem, rather than something transparent, a tool that you could use in a simple empowering way…  Well, being introduced to that idea was so interesting. You wrote that text, right? It’s a really eloquent piece of writing. Was that influenced by reading Althusser?

G: No, Althusser was some years before. I don’t know what I was reading at that point. Whatever cropped up. Whatever turned up at the squat when someone would say ‘have you heard of this person?’  A useful thing was Compendium, the bookstore in Camden. Compendium was a really important spot. Did you know it?

S:  I used to go there all the time, when I lived in London, I was really sad when it got closed down. It was full of pamphlets and fanzines, wasn’t it?

G: Yeah, mad stuff. You could go downstairs and root about, and spend hours in there.

S: Was Compendium the first place in the UK to have the early translations of the French post-structuralist theory?

G:  One of them. I’d started on that stuff in the university bookshops in Leeds, there were some good ones up there. Compendium was an important place for a lot of people, its name comes up often, talking to people since. To this day people would say how important it was. It was to us, anyway.

S: So in the ‘Scritto’s Republic’ text, it ends with this little Warwickshire folk rhyme, a “counting out rhyme”. “Vizzery, vazzery, vozery vem/Tizzery, tazzery, tozery tem/Hiram, Jiram, cockrem, spirem/Poplar, rollin, gem”. The sense-shredding power of folk-speech or something!.  Of course at the time it would never have occurred to me in a million years that you’d have been into traditional music! Did you do actually do research in English folk music?

G: I did. I actually did a lot of research into Welsh traditional things, at the national archives in Cardiff. This is many years before.  I was looking into a Welsh tradition called the Mari Lwyd, or the White Mare, which is when the skeleton of a horse is exhumed and taken round the houses at a certain time of year. Basically you had to join in with the people that came around. It was mixture of…. they were menacing, it was anarchic, and you entered into almost an MC battle. The people outside had to come up with a rhyme and you inside had to come up with a rhyme to match it. There was a sort of contest-cum-orgy. It sounded good to me!

Scritti, "P.A.s", 1979, said to be out-takes from the filming for the Grapevine DIY program Scritti did for BBC

S: On 4 A Sides, there’s one particularly beautiful piece of music, “P.A.s”. I love the sinuous melody, the sheer groove of the song. But lyrically that’s partly about fascism, right? The myth that it could never happen here, in the UK, land of moderation, whereas you’re saying, well, no, it could happen, all that’s needed is for the right circumstances of economic collapse and mass unemployment, and for “the language” to “shut down” like it did in Germany in 1933, and Italy in 1920?

G: That’s one that’s hard to remember. There’s the bit that I quoted in the Early CD sleevenotes, ‘til doledrums roll us into battle”. That song operates  exactly  as you  mentioned earlier--it takes  a line through what you would otherwise think of in sedimented terms, in spatial metaphors…  it cuts across from the basic structure [of political reality] to unconscious day-to-day political stuff. It’s a trawl, really…

S: So it goes from the bailiffs and the debts to resurgent fascism to--

G: Yeah, all that stuff. I think around about that time was when Geoff came in and bailed me out, as he has done on more than one occasion, and started giving me a wage. Or us a wage. It’s funny, cos there were no contracts in those days, it was all just…

S:  Trust.

G:  Trust, yes. It was like, ‘if you need some money to live, here’s some money to live’, and ‘when the record comes out, this is your half, this is our half’ I don’t know however it worked, but it worked. It was good.

SCRIT 3 -  a DIY booklet produced by Scritti Politti explaining how to make a record


S: You’ve talked a lot in the past about the Brighton gig in early 1980, supporting Gang of Four, and the nervous collapse. Was that the first time you suffered a crippling panic attack?

G: That was the first.

S: You thought you were dying.

G: Yeah. It was the whole ambulance with the sirens going to the hospital deal.

S: This was after the gig, right?

G: I think maybe I’d made it  through the gig on that occasion. We weren’t living too healthily… I think maybe if I’d known what was going on, I’d have gone for some help with the whole panic attack thing. Everything from the drinking to the speed to… It’s like, yipes, the very thought of it now makes me feel… weak!

S: Was there a sense  too in which you were also thinking too much, worrying too much? That all that--worrying about the right path to follow--made you ill? And you must have been reading tons and tons of books, constantly.

G: There’s something that certainly happens, and it happens to me--where the querying of the significance relatively of various things seems to contaminate your whole life, to a point where you might describe it as mental illness. I don’t think I’ve ever had it that bad, but there’s definitely a continuum. It’s nasty, when you do, on a few occasions, reach that point of finding minutiae overburdened with potential significance. D’you-know-what-I-mean?. I know what that’s like.

S: So  your family  rescued you.

G: They did a bit. They got me a place in Wales, to recuperate. I was never kind of deliriously bonkers, though.

S: Hahahahahahaha.

G: I possibly was actually! No, I certainly wasn’t, but I did go back to Wales and got it back together in the country, maaaan. Which is something I’ve had recourse to do at various other points.

S: Like in the Nineties?

G: Yeah, more of the same

S: So, you mentioned this earlier, but this postpunk legend turns out to be true---the story of Green going back to Wales to get well and writing a whole book in order to convince his band mates that it was ideologically correct for Scritti to go in a more poppy direction?

G: It wasn’t quite a book, but there was a lot of it.

S: I think the idea’s quite glorious. Heroic, even!

G: Somewhere I’ve probably got all those writings still. I’ve just moved boxes and boxes of writings from a place I had in Wales up to London.  I like to leave the boxes closed. But I took the risk of opening one of them and I pulled out a notebook, literally the topmost thing, and what I found was a four or five page account of my meeting Miles Davis. Going to his apartment. I’d forgotten completely I’d done this, but afterwards I’d gone back to wherever I was staying in New York at the time and I wrote the whole encounter down in great detail--what he was wearing, what we said, what we did, what we listened to. Absolutely fascinating.

S: Well, you should publish it somewhere

G: Nah. It’s possibly of interest to anyone interested in Miles, but it’s just a detailed diary entry about a day spent with Miles. But I don’t know what those other writings are like. I certainly wrote a lot in those years.

It has been argued by some that this song is not actually an anthem in celebration of DIY, but a critique of it - the line "we know what we're doing" is not saying 'we fracture our songs like this on purpose' but talking about how scratchy-collapsy had become codified, a new set of conventions: a contrived amateurism, a theatricalised naivete. In other words, Green was feeling trapped by the aestheticization of mess, bored by its predictability, and looking for a way out. 

S: In terms of the notes you wrote to convert the band, and where your thinking was changing at this time, was one of the ideas this post-structuralist, Derridean idea that problematized the very notion of the margin? And you realizing that postpunk in general, and Scritti in particular, was based around this obsolete opposition of margin versus center, with the marginal being celebrated as a zone of  authenticity and purity beyond the conventional forms of the mainstream?

G: Well, I didn’t believe in authenticity or purity, and part of the whole thing was to militate against uncritical ideas of expressivity, authenticity, identity, the ‘real’ you, the ‘real’ voice.  I didn’t buy into any of that and part of the project was to draw attention to that. Part of  going to New York and working with Arif Mardin, that was again uppermost in my mind, was of being true to an idea of inauthenticity. So when you’re talking about Derrida, do you mean ‘the frame’?

S: No--and here I’m going by my memories of your interviews in the music press at the time--I got the impression that you felt independent label music had become obsessively marginal, in the sense of willfully difficult and contrivedly unconventional. So the shift between the first three EPs and ‘The ‘Sweetest Girl’/  Songs to Remember was a shift from self-conscious marginality to a deconstructionist pop music. And whether Scritti ever subscribed to ideas of authenticity or marginality or purity, certainly a lot of the groups you’d have been associated with originally--your postpunk fellow-travellers like PiL and Pop Group--they were totally bound-up with those notions.

G: But you know, the metaphor of the margin implies a centre and the centre is conservatively defined, and so by extension the margins are conservative margins. There are these edges, but they are very conservatively determined. So I didn’t really like marginality with a big M, it’s something I got more mistrustful of.

S: Was there a point at which you actually handed in your Communist Party card?

G: Right from the beginning, I was active in the Young Communists at the same time as I was having trouble with the whole idea of the scientific status of the science of history that Marxism purported to be. But that didn’t seem to mean that I had to leave the party. I presumed that those conversations would be had within the Party and the ground would shift. I was working in the same building at the Marxism Today people, all that crew, some of who were very bright and very interesting. But that didn’t happen. We’re talking only about a relatively short period of time but there just wasn’t a possibility that any serious discussions about Marxism were going to go on inside the Young Communist League or the Communist Party. So I just stopped going.


For C81, NME printed a 2-page (or possibly 4-page?) pull-out, a mosaic of little items on each contributing band and its song. Sometimes written by the group itself, other times written by a journalist. The idea was to fold the pull-out up and stuff in with the cassette (when it arrived) although this proved quite challenging. Above is the Scritti's deliciously cryptic text to go with "The 'Sweetest Girl', which opened side one of C81. I discovered some years later that the first paragraph is from Roland Barthes's The Lover's Discourse - a clear sign of Green's "linguistic turn", away from the hand-wringing guilt towards jouissance. (The concept after which he would name his song- publishing company). (See end of blogpost for C81 cover, full pull-out etc)

S: The last song on Early is the B-Side of “The ‘Sweetest Girl’, ‘Lions After Slumber’, which was always one of my favorite songs of yours. Where does the title come from?

G: ‘Lions after slumber/unvanquishable number’--that’s Blake, isn’t it?  I think it’s the slumbering proletariat--that’s basically what he was writing about, in his way. 

[Actually it’s Shelley - the same poem 'The Masque of Anarchy", inspired by the Peterloo Massacre, that produced "for the many, not the few" - the Corbyn-era Labour Party's slogan - via the final verse: Rise, like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number!/Shake your chains to earth like dew / Which in sleep had fallen on you: Ye are many—they are few! ]


S: The lyrics, though, are more like Whitman’s idea of “I myself contain multitudes”. The idea of the self as a population of  heterogenous desires, impulses, states of mind, bodily attitudes, langours, fleeting perceptions…  And the connection between Whitman and Blake would be there’s that kind of slippage between this internal population and a kind of political populism, a rude democracy.  Whitman, if I recall correctly, kind of maps his own body onto the bustling, heterogenous masses of America.

G: “Lions” is the listy one, right. What is it to do with, if I had to say something about it, it’s just a little relativistic hymn. It’s anti-singularity. It would mean that I am made up of a million… not points, but intersections. Something… something completely fucking stupid like that! You have to bear in mind I don’t remember what on earth I was going on about. I can’t recall the lyrics. Thankfully!

S: How did Tom and Niall and Matthew and the rest of the crew respond to the New Direction for Scritti’s music? When they read your theoretical jottings, were they instantly swayed or were they guarded about it for some while?

G: They came to Wales and stayed in the cottage for I don’t know how long--long enough for everyone to read and digest it. A bit of time. The only thing I do remember from that time in the cottage is that we were attacked by a group of bikers who kicked the front door of the cottage in. Even in Wales, you see, we could never get away from people who didn’t like the look of you and wanted to kick your head in.  I really didn’t know which way it was going to go, or what people would make of my writings. And although the big shift was accepted in theory, I think the lived practice of it didn’t sit well with Niall particularly. We were just under the general pressures of doing what we were doing, and doing other things extra-curricularly that had their own pressures… I don’t remember precisely when it was, but the radical gesture of the move to pop was not as wholeheartedly embraced by Niall in particular. And there came a point where we were playing with two bass players--one who could do the funk stuff, and Niall who couldn’t. And I guess from then on it became a kind of untenable position. But that
possibly had a lot to do with how badly I handled things.

S: So do you reproach yourself then, for what happened with the original Scritti members?

G: Oh, I’d reproach myself for the whole fucking  enterprise. I should have stayed in bed, or gone to Birmingham, or done something else. I think I was probably… well, we were young. I don’t know what to say, other than that Niall was one of the fantastic influences on my life, and continues to be. But you drift apart. Things fall apart!

S:  You’re not in contact then.

G: No.  I’m not in contact with anybody from the past, at all, ever, in any way.

S: There was this process where it was gradually revealed that, even in the earliest days of the collective, you were always the main musical figure in terms of writing the songs. And so, effectively, the leader.

G: I genuinely didn’t think of myself as the leader of anything. It just felt like something we were doing. People around me, like Dennis, this guy who was another art student from Leeds, he was an incredibly bright person who’d come and say he’d just read this in something, and ‘you should read it’. Or ‘here’s some writing by Eagleton, and what do you think of it?’ And Niall was obviously very bright. There was just a lot of bright, funny, dynamic, interesting people around.

S: So all that fed into what you were doing lyrically, and in terms of conceptualizing the project. But in practical terms, musically, it was you, right? The songwriter.

G: Yeah.   But there were various reasons why that didn’t seem in itself feel particularly privileged.  I don’t think we would have let it be. I wasn’t quietly going to bed at nights thinking ‘I’m the one that’s writing all the songs’. That really would never have crossed my mind, to think that that was a privileged thing. I knew that I wasn’t any cleverer or anything else than any of the people around me.

S: It is an amazing thing, this idea of this musical collective where there were four or five times as many non-musical members as the core band, and where the non-musicians actually contributed.

G: It wasn’t like everybody would come in the rehearsal room when you were figuring stuff out, but everybody expressed their opinion, I think. It didn’t seem strange to me. And before punk, the only band I’d actually been close to, within sniffable distance, where you could see what the musicians might be like as real human beings, that was Henry Cow. And of course they were always reading and talking. And they walked it like they talked it. It was a whole life.  It wasn’t about a career in music. It was about a whole life.

S:  With the third single of the new pop Scritti, ‘Asylums In Jerusalem”, the B-Side is “Jacques Derrida’, which I’m still very fond of. The lyric is a bit cute, that central idea of ‘I’m in love with Jacques Derrida’. But musically I’ve never quite been able to place it, that rhythm. Is it country, or Cajun?

G: I don’t really know where that song’s coming from either, but it’s my own mutant take on The Kinks. When I went to Wales and listened to Aretha Franklin for the first time, I was also actually listening to the first Kinks records for the first time. A lot of their stuff I never knew. So a big influence on that song would have been The Kinks, and there was a country influence on the Kinks.

S: Given your massive love of hip hop now, and teaming up with MCs on Anomie and Bonhomie, what do you reckon on your own rather jejeune attempt at rapping on ‘Jacques Derrida’?

G: [explodes with laughter] Oh my God, I’d forgotten. Oh my GOD.  [slowly pulling himself together].  Well, I guess I’m laughing, so as long as I don’t have to actually hear it, the idea of it is… funny.

S:  In the rap section, you go on about “desire is so contagious/I want to eat your nation state”. I like those lines. ‘Desire’ was a big buzzword at the time, sort of drifting over from journals like Semiotexte, into the hipper end of pop culture, wasn’t it?

G: Yeah, desire was all over the place! Desire was…  everybody was writing about it, thinking about it:  what was it, where was it, what should we do about it. Hahahahaha!.

S: Another cute line is the nod to Wittgenstein in “Getting’ Havin’ Holdin’”, where you say ‘it’s as true as the Tractatus’.

G: To me, a lot of it is funny. ‘True like the Tractatus’--it’s funny, I think. We just used to laugh. It has its levels

Okay, I was wrong in the book about there was little chance Green's lyrics would ever appear in Smash Hits. 

S:  I loved Songs To Remember at the time, and probably this wasn’t your intention and from your point of view would  have been considered a shortfall, but it was a big student fave that Michaelmas term, all the through the autumn and into the winter, you’d hear it in a lot  of student rooms. But I imagine you had your heart set more on people who buy their records at Woolworths. The difference between Songs To Remember and the third-stage of Scritti, with Cupid & Psyche, is that by that point you seem to perfect this style of lyric writing where the words can pass for a love song but has these aporias cleverly woven in there So they work as love songs, but they have little mind-bombs inside.  Songs to Remember, though, it’s difficult to know what your average pop consumer would have made of a song like “Asylums in Jerusalem”. From the title on down, it’s not really yer typical pop ditty. It’s something to do with Nietzche, right?

G:   Asylums in Jerusalem was Nietzche’s thing about the preponderance of desert prophets, of seers and sages. They were Jesus’s competitors, and they went into the desert and sat atop forty foot poles and had visions. There were so many they had to build asylums in Jerusalem to house them.

S: So  Monty Python’s Life of Brian is based on reality! That you could virtually trip over messiahs in Israel back in those days.

G: That was Nietzche’s point. Yes you’re quite right, I did go from doing that kind of thing to writing songs that weren’t called things like ‘Asylums in Jerusalem’. But I am again now! Hahahaha. Oh  my God, it’s funny listening to my lyrics of today….  I don’t know what anyone would make of ‘em.



S:  I didn’t notice this until only a few days ago, but I dug out Anomie and Bonhomie, and noticed that it continues the Scritti running theme of consumer disposables - the cheap classiness of the Dunhill, Dior, Courvoisier packaging copied on "Sweetest", "Faithless, "Asylums". So you have a bottlecap, echoing back to the discarded beer bottle cap photocopied and all grainy and grubby-looking on Peel Sessions , but on Anomie, it’s this ultra-glossy, hyper-realist painting of a bottle cap. So it’s sort of fusing the grubby realism of the do-it-yourself era Scritti cover design with the glossy glamour of ‘Sweetest’/’Faithless’/Cupid & Psyche.

G: I guess the tools to hand back in the early days were the photocopier, and you would gather what there was and make use of the photocopier. So it would be whatever was on the kitchen table as the record labels were being hand stamped and the covers being folded by hand--stuff like bottle caps and match boxes. Nowadays anyone can sit around with a computer and fiddle round and take an ordinary bottle top and stick your name on it so it looks like a found object--but it’s still an extension of that original design approach, in some dimension.

 S: Songs To Remember was successful, but it didn’t turn you into a pop star, as desired. There was never the Top 40 hit you were looking for. So you hooked up with Bob Last as your manager. He’s a very smart guy, grounded in left politics and critical theory, so was he a kindred spirit?

G: Yeah. Fast Product was always very interesting. I’d always liked what was going on with them. Geoff was very tight with Bob and had a lot of respect for him. And then he had the Human League and ABC.

S:  I hadn’t quite realized until doing the book that Last had this amazing trinity of New Pop pioneers under his management wing: ABC, Human League, Scritti. Oh, and Heaven 17 too.

G: I think he thought the same way about things as people like Martin Fry. I never spoke to Martin about it, but I know from people like Ian Craig Marsh from Heaven 17, who I still see--he’s one of the few people from my past I still occasionally see--that we would have shared a lot of common ground. And I know that intellectually and politically Bob was coming from the same area.

A transitional Scritti rehearsal jam out of which emerges a prototype for "Wood Beez" - date unknown 

S: How did the connection with David Gamson and Fred Maher come about?

G:  With Gamson, I went into Rough Trade one day and played Geoff some of what I’d started to write and it had obviously got a black American New York influence and as far as I can recall, he had just visited ZE records. He’d just got back from New York, and he had overheard Gamson having the meeting ahead of him [with ZE boss Michael Zilkha]. Gamson was still a schoolboy, he was at school, or maybe it was Sarah Lawrence college, the equivalent of  sixth form, but he’d made a track at a local studio and taken it to  Zilkha to see if ZE would put it out. Zilkha passed, but Geoff heard it through the door of the office and said he liked it and he put it out on Rough Trade. And he came back and when he heard my new stuff he said  ‘you should hear this thing this kid in New York has done.’  And then they sent David by mistake--in typical Rough Trade fashion--a test pressing not of his song but of “The ‘Sweetest Girl’”, So he got to hear that, and his twin passions were--he was Anglophile, so he liked the whole Robert Wyatt thing, but he also  knew Parliament-Funkadelic, he’d grown up with black radio stations in New York.
So Geoff said, ‘I think you should meet him’ and he flew Gamson over.”

S: So with the Wyatt and black music passions in common, you had a lot of musical affinity. But was he different from you, and the original Scrits, in that he was not so much of a theory head?

G: He wasn’t really … It’s wrong to say that in one way, because he’s an incredibly bright guy. But he was that much younger, he was still at Sarah Lawrence, still living with his folks. His mother was a dancer, and his father was an opera guy, an assistant to Bernstein, so it was a very different world. Although they were liberal and intellectual up to a point, it was worlds apart. Which wasn’t to say that he wasn’t….. I mean,
if you go to his house in LA now, you’ll find really pretty interesting bookshelves. He’s a smart guy.

S: But for you too, wasn’t there a sense in which for a while the technicality of making these ultra-modern, super-precise records kind of took over for a while, eclipsing the theory side of things?  Because making Cupid & Psyche, that was incredibly intricate work, wasn’t it?

G: Yeah, it took a long, long time, and an awful lot of money. That record was interested in exploiting all the new technology at the time, and it was also about expressing those really black pop influences, the world of sixteenth notes and syncopation. A whole new language of talking about music for me. I had never spoken of bars and beats or anything before in my life. So there was a certain exhilaration in discovering that and being surrounded by musicians who could do that.

But at the same time as big an influence-- although it was never expressed--was hip hop, which was what we were doing by day as it were, or by night. And I didn’t stop reading and writing when I moved to New York. I was as avidly reading whatever I could--philosophy, and making notes about it and its relationship with dance music or whatever.

Got the idea somewhere that the text on the front of "The Word Girl" is taken from Lacan's Ecrits. I'm sure I read that somewhere...

S: Cupid & Psyche, some of the ‘love songs’ on it, I’m thinking especially of “A Little Knowledge”, there’s quite a bleak vision of love there. “Now I know to love you/Is not to know you”. Is that related to Lacan and the idea that there’s no such thing as the sexual relationship, that you can’t actually relate to anyone, really?

G: Yeah, that sounds about right.

S: Which is a terribly gloomy view of human love and relationships.

G: I’m very much in love now.


S: Oh are you--great!

G: Yeah. I am. And very happy too. I’m not a stranger to … I must admit I’m beginning to flag a little here. Just a bit knackered. I’ve been singing all morning and stuff. But please feel free to ring me again tomorrow if there’s anything else. Have you and I never met?

S: Around Provision, for Melody Maker.

G: Wow. That was a low point, I think. Where was I?

S:  In London. One thing that surprised me--although it makes sense now given your love of folk music--is I asked what you liked of current music and you said ‘I like the Proclaimers’ and that really threw me for a loop! I remember you seemed a bit worn out that day. You’d been on the treadmill of interviews around that record.

G: I didn’t enjoy that record at all, and I enjoyed promoting it even less.

S:  That was going to be my final question, actually. What went wrong with Provision? Was the process of recording just too protracted?

G:  I don’t know. I didn’t take the necessary time out to figure out what I was doing. After Cupid and Psyche, we did a very big world promotional tour, because we wouldn’t play live. So they said ‘go round all around the world and do every little TV and radio station that there is. And then go back in the studio’. Which we were keen to do.

S: So have you really never played live since that Brighton gig supporting Gang of Four?

G: No. Which is quite extraordinary. I did the Mojo Awards and I went along with Carl from the Libertines to present an award to Geoff Travis, last year, and I was most shocked to be approached by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And they said ‘we just wanted to say what enormous fans we are of your early music’. They knew all that ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’ stuff. They were playing it on their tour bus. They were so polite and so knowledgeable about it.

S:  I knew they were big fans of Gang of Four but I didn’t know they liked Scritti too!

G: They knew it all. It was amazing. I think they were surprised that A/ I was there and B/ that I was alive and C/ basically that I’d made a living out of music for 20 odd years and had only made four albums and didn’t play live.

S: Did Cupid’s success make you quite well off then?

G: I think it must have. I don’t know how, but it’s kept me afloat for years and years.

S: The Miles Davis cover version of “Perfect Way” must have helped. But you were saying about Provision

G:  I think with Provision,  I was possibly holed up in White Plains living in a hotel, for a very long time--going probably quite barmy and losing a little bit of critical distance. HAHAHAHA!!! So I made sure I had plenty of that in the following years.

further writing (by me)

me on politics and pop from Sex Pistols to Spiral Tribe, via TRB, Crass, Go4, Scrits, Dexys and Red Wedge

me on "Lions After Slumber" in this thing on 5 key postpunk tracks

my sleevenotes for the Absolute compilation 2011

me on bands who went from postpunk to new pop (including Scritti) 

me on Scritti circa White Bread and Hot Chip and the Brit projection towards black American music, for Slate, 2006 

my interview for The Guardian with Green circa White Bread Black Beer

my interview with Green in 1988 around Provision for Melody Maker

footnotes to the Messthetics chapter in Rip It Up with further me-thoughts + quotes from 
Green and bystanders

footnotes to the Play to Win chapter in Rip It Up with further me-thoughts + New Pop era quotes from Green and bystanders

footnotes to the New Gold Dreams chapter in Rip It Up with further me-thoughts + Cupid-era quotes from Green and bystanders

my postpunk London cartography (with section on Camden) for Time Out

further writing (by others)

another one of those life-changing pieces by Barney Hoskyns - interviewing Green as he unveils the new pop Scritti   in NME

Ian, penning(man) a communiqe for his communards 

John Williams (author of Faithless, a neo-noir novel loosely based on Scritti) delves deep into his memories of hanging out at 1 Carol St and nearby pubs with the Collective, as well as doing the After Hours fanzine (issue w/ Scritti interview readable in full here). Via Indie Through the Looking Glass website

Green Gartside talking about his love of Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention at Drowned In Sound

Treasury of Scrit talk and Scrit write

further listening

a couple of interviews with Green from back in the day, posted by Bobcast

'Morrocci Klung!' independent tapezine. Previously unreleased, full unedited conversation for the unpublished Dec 1981 edition (nearly 2 hours).

Greenwich Sound Radio 'Creatures What You Never Knew About' 1983 Green Gartside talks and plays records from his collection (54 mins), in two parts. 


What Tom Morley did next

Green does the singles in Melody Maker summer 1982



a life changing piece - Barney Hoskyns in dialogue with Green in the NME. Must have read this a dozen a times,