July 10, 2011
If I could listen to anyone discuss the classic Factory sleeves it would be Peter Saville and Tony Wilson so lucky for us someone got the two of them together with a tape recorder between them. Here we have two old friends fondly looking back over their work and discussing the myths and truths associated with it, running through their beginnings together with an early poster for one of the Factory nights through Joy Division and New Order sleeves and on.
This conversation originally appears as an extra on the 24 Hour Party People DVD. Thanks to Nick Dart.
March 18, 2011
February 28, 2011
Soody Sisco, Martha Fiskin and Linda Pitt made up the core of Dog Eat Dog, an early 80s punk funk band out of NYC who were sassy, smart and fun. Think along the lines of Liquid Liquid or ESG and you are on the right lines. Claremont 56 have been lucky enough to get their hands on unreleased recordings from the band consisting of live tracks and studio sessions which will be released mid-March in a lovely Keith Haring sleeve. As massive fans of that era in New York we asked the band if we could interview them and talk about those times and they kindly said yes…
So who met who first? Where were you living? Were you at college when you met? What were you studying?
Soody: Linda and I went to High School together in Piscataway, New Jersey. We met working on a school publication. I went to college with Martha. A friend introduced me to David Wald and then David brought in Kevin.
Linda: Soody and I met up during High School. We met up again in our last year of college, there we met Martha. I studied art.
Martha: I met Soody and Linda at college in New Jersey. I studied art: studio and history.
What initially made you think ‘ok. lets form a band?’ Were you inspired by other people out there. Who was that?
Soody: We lived in the East Village, NYC in 1980. All of our friends were in bands.
Linda: After college Soody and I were briefly roommates in Brooklyn. I remember watching the Miss America pageant on TV. There was a sax in the apartment, I picked it up, I made sound… If Talking Heads (art students), The Ramones and our friends Liquid Idiot could all form bands, so could we.
Martha: It was an exciting time. You could pick up an instrument and start a band.
What clubs were you initially going into?
Soody: Tier 3, Max’s Kansas City (where Linda worked), Mudd Club and CBGB.
Linda: I worked at Max’s Kansas City pre-band. CBGB’s was around the corner from home.
Martha: Club 57, CBGB, Tier 3, Max’s, Mudd Club, Hurrah’s and The Roxy. We walked to all these places. New York did seem smaller in those days.
Were you part of that whole Mudd Club scene, hanging out there or just playing gigs?
Soody: A bit of both.
Linda: We went to the Mudd Club a lot but never felt part of the scene.
Martha: I was in a group art show there.
I guess you were quite involved in that art scene that ran alongside the music scene at that time? If so how? Did you see those two scenes as linked?
Soody: Yes, Linda and I were hanging posters that we collaborated on.
Linda: Definitely linked. Take Club 57, a small venue on St Marks Place in the EV, art, performance, music, movies, a showcase for everyone. Al Diaz our percussionist did the SAMO graffiti with Basquiat. Soody and I made art flyers that we wheat pasted around the neighborhood (see above). By chance the guy with the guitar is Richard Hell. We all did our own personnel art as well.
Martha: We all made stuff; various media.
Seems a lot of people involved in the music scene came from an art background and then did the music thing as an outlet for their creative sides. Was this the way it was for you?
What were your favourite places to play at that time?
Linda: CB’s had the best sound and the infamous dressing room. We once played at 4am in a basement on Chrystie Street that turned out to be a Chinese gambling parlor.
So you played at CBGB’s. Was that another hang out?
Soody: Yes, it was in our neighborhood.
Linda: Went there a lot. I loved the matinees.
Martha: Sure. What a sound system!
So the music – it seems to have a very funky edge. The congas and the percussion have that Latin thing going on. What were you influenced by? Or was it just a New York thing to have that Latin sound as you grew up surrounded by it?
Soody: It was a popular sound at the time and our early percussionist, Al Diaz, is Hispanic.
Linda: Don’t be fooled by the cow bell.
Martha: Love love love drums. Latin, African, dub…
How do you fit in with the other No Wave bands? Were you having out with ESG, Liquid Liquid etc or did you feel aside from them?
Soody: We were friends with Liquid Liquid.
Linda: Liquid Liquid are our friends. I only met ESG once but they seem incredibly nice. We were part of the noise NY and Naive Rhythm scene so I always felt we were all in the same boat.
Martha: Totally in with Liquid Liquid and Konk.
Who were you favourite bands to go and see back then and why?
Soody: Hmmm, there were a lot. Of the local bands we would go see our friends a lot. I loved DNA.
Linda: The Ramones were always fun, and any band that was recommended that I knew nothing about. There were a lot of new bands and most music at the time was fun.
Martha: Fela, DNA, some big soul shows, all our friends.
I like the review I saw from the Soho News that says ‘the melodies are carried by a very amateurish saxophone player’. Surely that was the whole point – to play like you couldn’t? You know deconstructing your abilities and almost looking at it in a different way… Was that something you were about?
Soody: We couldn’t play!
Linda: I believe the words are self taught. We played out shortly after we started playing our instruments.
Martha: We were inspired neophytes.
The music really benefits from having that raw, captured live thing. Well some of it was obviously recorded live, but when in the studio was it a live run through or did you try and record separately.
Soody: Everything is recorded live, either in studio or performance.
Linda: I remember late nights hardly able to stay awake.
Martha: Down and dirty, low-budget and raw. In a good way.
How come you never got signed to Sire, Ze or one of the other labels picking up bands at that time? I presume that scene was picked over pretty heavily…
Soody: We just didn’t get an offer in the short period we were around.
Linda: We almost got signed to 99 records.
Martha: It would have been 99 if anyone signed us. Maybe Rough Trade or ROIR.
Boring question but how did you hook up with Keith Haring for the Dog Eat Dog piece he did. Were you mates with him?
Soody: Keith Haring was a downtown artist and easy enough to run into. We just asked him if he would do a poster because the dog was one of his favorite motifs. He was very sweet and said he would do it and made an extra for us to add future dates to.
Linda: He was part of the Club 57 scene. I think he went to school with Julie who was working with Martha at the time.
Martha: Keith was a friend from the neighborhood. His work was everywhere.
Going back to the clubs – where else were you hanging out? Were DJs important to you as people or did you more enjoy the art/punk/live scene. What about Paradise Garage, Funhouse etc…
Soody: I don’t think DJs were the entity they are today back then.
Linda: I like music live and went to places we could get in for free which was most. Peppermint Lounge, Danceteria (where I caught Madonna’s first show), loved the dancing boys, Irving Plaza, Tramps, jazz clubs names long forgotten. There was The Empire of Soul Club, Warren and the Empress spun B sides of soul 45’s at various venues.
Martha: The Empire State Soul Club was great!
Were you into hip-hop? Before it went head long down that drum machine beat route it seems the scene you were in (Fab 5 Freddy, Futura etc) was very hip-hop. I think your music is pretty B-boy…
Soody: We loved the rap scene and frequented the Roxy Roller Rink in Chelsea for rap/breakdance shows.
Linda: B-boy, I like it. Loved the early scene. Roxy was our place to go.
Martha: Checking out rap and hip hop at Roxy. Thanks for the comparison.
At the time did you look at the success of some bands around you and think about making your music slightly more commercial or were you not interested in that?
Soody: We would have loved some success.
Linda: Commercial, never wanted that as an option.
Martha: We enjoyed our artistic freedom then, but a wider audience is always great.
What happened with the band in the end? Do you still play together? Is it more of a historical thing or do you have plans to go play in the studio again?
Soody: Oy Vey, play again? We discussed the possibility, but would need to REALLY dust ourselves off!
Linda: Historical, well you never know…
Martha: No plans, but you never know…
What do you all do now?
Soody: I am a museum curator and textile designer.
Linda: Photo retoucher to the stars! That means publishing.
Martha: I work in the film business.
What music do you listen to these days?
Soody: A lot of 70s glitter and 80s punk, always The Ramones, actually too much to list!
Linda: Lots of radio, WFMU and WWOZ, still can’t get enough of Neil Young.
Martha: The Clash, LCD Soundsystem, Spiritualized, Greg Dulli’s various bands and more.
Thanks for the interview!
Dog Eat Dog is out mid-March on Claremont 56. You can order it here.
February 18, 2011
I love the postman. Not literally, just when he delivers something you are not expecting. I was lucky enough to just get sent some back issues of the rather nice Finger magazine out of Zurich, Switzerland.
There is a fair chance you haven’t seen it but basically it’s the dream magazine for a lot of us. It’s a magazine of lists, that has additional slightly longer interviews. Not massive longer, just slightly. I’ve always loved charts as they are such an honest keeper of history. You can’t mess about with charts. If you chart a bad record it stays in there and in ten years time folk can still see it. The honesty level is great. You can’t re-write a chart.
Also, finding out what music people you like and love are into is always one of the best ways to find out about new stuff. When you have someone with great taste recommending you their favourite records you instantly want to get on YouTube (weird how that has become the jukebox of choice – maybe cause you know it’ll probably be there) and check them out. So fairplay to Adrian and the chaps and chapesses at Finger for creating a magazine full of information that also has fine design.
They interview lots of people. And a good broad genre-crossing range across those people. It must take some putting together. For instance in the last issue (amongst others) they had Peter Kruder, Captain Sensible, Bjorn Torske, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, Saint Etienne, Moonboots, Matthew Herbert, Frank Black, Kevin Saunderson, David Rodigan, Midlake, ESG, Ray Mang and Wally Badarou. Here’s an idea of the kind of interviews they do. This one with Wally Badarou…
First record you remember?
My first memories were through the radio, not the turntable. Edith Piaf’s «La Foule», Marcel Amont’s «Bleu Blanc Blond», Guy Béart’s «L’eau Vive». First records I remember seeing and hearing, but not actually «listening to» were my father’s: mainly film soundtracks like «Orpheo Negro», George Cukor’s «Let’s Make Love», and lots of classical music.
A song that reminds you of school?
A song from pre-Zaïre Congo, which I never knew the title of.
A record you fell in love to?
I fell in love with music and songs, not records. From Beethoven’s «Violin Concerto in D Major», to James Brown’s «Give It Up Or Turn It A Loose», from Simon & Garfunkel’s «Bridge Over Troubled Water» to Jimi Hendrix’ «All Along The Watchtower». I fell in love with music, way before I knew I would make a living out of it.
Your ultimate heartbreak song?
Stevie Wonder – You And I. Very lo-res video of his solo performance can be found on YouTube. Pure genius.
A record that evokes the greatest summer of your life?
Mayaula Mayoni – Cherie Bondowe. Greatest summers were in the tropics.
First record you bought?
James Brown – Escape-ism on 7“. Brown overdubbed his vocals against slow-down backing tracks, yielding the funkiest slow groove ever. I wish I still had a copy.
Your boozed-up anthem?
Either Count Basie’s «The Kid From Red Bank», Lalo Shiffrin’s «Theme From Mannix», or Weather Report’s «Birdland». Pure energy from absolute masters in orchestration.
A song you use as a ring tone?
I keep my mobile silent at all times, as a courtesy to my neighbours and yet, never miss an important call.
A song you wish you wrote yourself?
Each and every Stevie Wonder ballad, period.
A song guaranteed to make you feel depressed?
Any song of the past, good or bad, when it happens to remind me of a close friend no longer with us.
A song that reminds your friends of you?
How could I know? Ask them.
A record that will make everybody dance?
A song that did make absolutely everybody dance, back in the 60’s in Africa: James Brown’s «There Was A Time» followed by «I Feel All Right», recorded live at the Apollo.
Best concert you ever attended?
Miriam Makeba at the Olympia, Paris, early 70’s.
A record you were looking for the longest?
Talking about Makeba, her first album ever (from 1960 on RCA), which I bought a copy on eBay for 70 euro.
Your Sunday morning song?
Thank god, Sunday is like any other day for us musicians. No darker, no brighter, just regular.
Best Beatles song?
The perfect anthem for London?
Talking about the Beatles, «All You Need Is Love».
The song to be played at your funeral?
I’ll let it up to my survivors. Music won’t be my concern anymore. They’ll be the ones to worry about. I don’t feel like imposing anything to them.
That give’s you an idea of what it’s all about. Fascinating in a short incisive way. I think you’ll probably be able to tell we are magazine fans here at Test Pressing and this format works totally. You can subscribe (pretty cheaply if you ask me) here with Finger being released bi-annually in limited runs of 6,000. Go check.
January 16, 2011
Right, here’s the next of our pretty irregular Test Pressing interviews – this time with Trevor Jackson of Underdog/Output fame. Trevor has long been known for his music but is also a hugely respected graphic designer so we decided to use the sleeves discussed to illustrate the interview. It’s good to interview someone whose not scared of being forthright and having strong opinions.
I was first made aware of Trevor through his work as the Underdog – firstly with The Brotherhood and then in turn with mixes for Massive Attack amongst others. From there it was a short step (through tough times by the sound of it) to starting East-London based Output recordings with releases from LCD Soundsystem and Kieran Hebden’s Four Tet.
Right let’s kick off with the basics. Where are you from originally?
I’m from Edgeware, North West London.
What was it like? What was the first scene you got into?
When I was 12, or 13, Edgware was mainly a Jewish area, there was a whole scene almost like the Jewish version of casuals called Becks, all these kids that would wear Fiorucci and Kickers and hang out at Edgware station. It was a big thing at the time, hanging out there or at Golders Green, or Hampstead, a place called the Coffee Cup. It’s still there. There’d be 200 kids on the street, standing around posing. That was kind of what most of the kids did but I wasn’t really interested in that. These were people whose older brothers were all estate agents and jewellers, typical Jewish suburbia things. I fortunately managed to meet more alternative, interesting people and was able to broaden my social scene. One of my favourites place was Patsy’s Parlour and I used to hang out there all the time. It was a small video arcade and ice-cream parlour full of all different sorts of people.
Growing up my older brother used to listen to Stevie Wonder and jazz-funk, his mate used to manage Light Of The World, my sister was into Joy Division and Ultravox. I was obsessed with taping any music program on TV. Top of The Pops, The Tube, I’d sit there every day recording and force my mother to tape things when I was out. I’ve still got hundreds of VHS tapes somewhere. I’d also listen religiously to Westwood on LWR and also Mastermind on Invicta. I also started to read The Face, Blitz and i-D and become more interested in club and music sub-cultures.
I was fortunate to meet a guy slightly older than me called Simon Cass whom I became really friendly with. He was really into New Order, Hi-NRG and industrial music and from the age of about 13or 14 I started going to gigs and the Camden Palace all the time. I used to go nearly every night. The first proper club I remember going to was The Embassy though.
Was that early hip-hop and electro at that time?
Well it sounds like a cliché but my first single that I bought was Giorgio Moroder ‘The Chase’ on 7”. I was really into science fiction at the time so I suppose the logical thing at the time was to listen to electronic music as it shared a similar aesthetic.
Yeah it was kind of the future. I’ve talked about it many times but the first gig I went to was the Human League for the Dare tour and it a huge effect on me. Adrian Wright was doing the visuals and they had Doctor Who, Captain Scarlet, Fellini movies on multiple screens and it blew my mind, so from a very early age I had a strong interest in visuals. The Dare album had such a strong cover and the band were really into 2000 AD and Judge Dredd which I also loved, so I was kind of linking all this audio visual stuff together. I was stuck in this suburban place dreaming of other more exciting places, New York to me was my mecca. I’d listen to Colin Favor on Kiss playing NYC Kiss FM mastermixes by Red Alert and the Latin Rascals, I’d hear about all these amazing clubs and I started to hear a relationship between the European electronic music I was into and a new American version that was even more exciting.
Where were you going out back then?
I’m trying to think back to where we were going. My older friends all used to go to White Trash and places like that, but I used to go to the Camden Palace, Batcave, Xenon, and Busbys on a Sunday which was more of a north London Jewish social thing where they played disco and jazz funk… London club culture was very small then. I used to go out every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday that I could.
Was that where the early interest in graphics came from?
I was really into this magazine called Escape. There was a group called The Battle Of The Eyes. It was Savage Pencil, Chris Long, and Ian Wright and Andy (Dog) Johnson – all anarchic British comic book artists, Ian Wright and Chris Long used to draw for the NME. Andy Johnson did covers for his brother Matt Johnson’s band The The. Chris Long’s stuff was really incredible, very graphic and unique. All his characters were club kids, the sort of people I’d meet when I was out. I was really into that. It was more kind of comic book but it was well designed. I started to become very interested in the visual representation of music and the relationship between the two, covers, videos, every aspect. It’s funny. I was in my storage last week and I found this bag and I’d found I’d cut out hundreds of music ads from magazines. I can really see where some of my influences had come from. I mean there were obvious things like all the ZTT adverts, which really were amazing, but also loads of stuff random I just cut out. So there was Escape, this small little comic book, and probably Neville Brody’s amazing work on The Face that got me into wanting to either be a comic book artist or a graphic designer.
What else were you up to at that time?
I was also working in a record shop at that time from the age of 13 or 14 for five or six years. I ended up being manager on a Sunday. Richard Russell (now Managing Director of XL Recordings) used to work for me and I used to take great pleasure in telling him to go and put the grills up on the windows at the end of the day.
What was it called?
Loppylugs. It was pretty famous for the area – in Edgware – two minutes from my house.
Did you study graphic design at college?
Yeah I eventually knew I wanted to work in music and design record sleeves, so I studied at Barnet College and I ended up there for four years. I got a diploma in general art and design, then a higher diploma in graphic design. And through it all I was still going out all the time.
Where did you first agency Bite It! come from?
I left college and started working for a company called the Kunst Art Company based in Clerkenwell. They used to do a bit of music work as well as film posters and it was really exciting. this was all pre-computers, working with photo-mechanical transfer machines, photocopiers, Tipex and rotring pens. I started to meet loads of interesting and influential people going out in the evenings. I was confident and slightly precocious, living at home with my parents so I didn’t need any money and could afford to do commissions for little or no money. Whilst I was working for Martin Huxford, doing posters for things like Belly Of An Architect by Peter Greenaway and some other cool things, I started to get my own work in. I’d hear on the grapevine that people were putting records out and when I heard Mark Moore (S’Express) was putting out a record I simply spoke to him at the WAG where I used to go regularly and said ‘I hear you’re doing a record. I want to do the cover’. He told me to bring my portfolio in the next night to show him, I went along with my portfolio, sat down in the corner and showed him my college work and he was like ‘yeah great’ and that was one of the first commissioned jobs I did.
So where does Champion come into it?
After I did S’Express, I was also doing stuff I wasn’t so into; Steve Walsh the Gypsy Kings and some really dodgy things, as I started getting more of my own work in. Martin from Kunst was like ‘Trevor you might as well get on with doing your own stuff’ so I ended up sharing the studio with him paying rent, mainly doing my own work but also helping him out when he needed it. I think it was through working at the record shop that I notice Champion were putting out all these great records. They were connected to these importers in the premises next door, called Record Importers or something, they could cherry-pick the best records as soon as they entered the country and license them. I noticed none of the record had picture sleeves, they were all in that Champion green house bag, so I went to see Mel Medalie, who was a proper character, a crazy South African guy, and I said ‘I’ll do sleeves for you for free and if you like them give me more work’ and one of the first things I did was a cover version of ‘Set It Off’ by the Bunker Crew and he liked it. So he was putting out four or five records a week and I was doing the sleeves cheap but he was giving me shit loads of work so that kept me going for ages. I was doing ‘Break 4 Love’, Todd Terry, Frankie Bones, Pal Joey records… brilliant records.
All those Todd Terry sleeves are quite distinctive with that ‘bit’ design…
You know at the time, for record sleeve designers, there were only a few big people. You had Peter Saville, Vaughn Oliver , Neville Brody and Malcom Garrett at Assorted Images whom I all really respected but you also had Stylo Rouge and all these boring mainstream companies, and for a record sleeves, alot of the time they’d just take a photo, lay some type on it and get paid a fortune. I was like ‘fuck that, that’s just lazy’ and wanted to do something different. Also, computers had just started being integrated into bigger studios, so you had Paintbox and these programs that cost thousands of pounds, and I couldn’t afford that so those early sleeves were a reaction to those big companies. I used to love playing video games on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 and to me it suited the music. It was like 8-bit music. You know, Todd Terry is making these records on pretty low-res samplers so it seemed an obvious thing to do. That was like late ’80s early ’90s. I still had that comic book mentality. The sleeves had a mini-story to them, almost like a two panel comic strip related to things that were going on at the time in rave culture.
What do you think when you see those sleeves now?
They’re innocent. There’s a naivety and I’m proud, you know…
So house was really kicking off in the late 80s, were you still into hip-hop then?
Sure, there was still lots of great hip hop around as well as mutations of it like hip house, the scenes were still connected and as hip hop got faster the two scenes became connected. Clubs like Delirium started to play house as a reaction against the more violent side of hip hop but I still loved both genres. I related to it work-wise as I started working for Gee Street Records. I was going to fashion clubs and parties that still mainly played funk, hip hop and electro stuff as well as all the amazing early London warehouse parties, but I also started going to acid house clubs, Clink Street etc. There were certain points when they crossed over. My favourite london club was a place called Astral Flight at The Embassy. A guy called DJ Wolf played there and he was mind-blowing. Him, Colin Favor and Eddie Richards were the DJs doing it for me then. People talk about Paradise Garage and that was my Paradise Garage. Hearing New Order’s Your Silent Face over that soundsystem… They had this huge rectangular lighting rig that would descend over the dancefloor and this big inflatable couple swinging from the roof fucking. I’d listen to Colin Favor and Eddie Richards on Kiss, then I’d hear them play at the club, and the next day go to the Record And Tape Exchange in Camden and find all the records I’d heard. In the NME they used to do a little chart and I’d be able to discover all the records I didn’t know.
Who was DJ Wolf and why was he so good?
The club from what I remember, was a posh Mayfair venue full of a weird mix of rich socialites, cute girls and art students but he used to look like a goth, with high spiky blonde hair playing from a booth high up overlooking the floor. He used to go from like Bauhaus to Kraftwerk, then to ACR. He was the first British DJ I heard doing that really well. He was really really on point – and he’d play funk as well. It’d be interesting to see a playlist from him. I was too young to go the Blitz and stuff like that so that for me was a really seminal club. It was a really fucking good time.
Did you do the Jungle Brothers sleeve for Gee Street?
I did Royal House ‘Can You Party’ and then I did Jungle Brothers ‘I’ll House You’, basically the same record with a rap on it. I did the sleeve for that and ‘Black Is Black’. I was lucky you know. I was doing that and also working for Network Records. All those bio rhythm sleeves. Neil Macey was working for Network and I remember when that classic Virgin Ten Techno compilation came out and I seem to remember meeting Neil Rushton (the head of Network) at a London launch party or something.
So when was Bite It! as a label born? That was your first venture into music right?
Yeah. I was doing Bite It! as a design thing only. There was a Street Sounds remix competition and I hadn’t really made any music before but I’d bought a four-track and had a little sampling device for the Commodore 64 computer where you could sample for a few seconds with a very basic sequencer, and I made a remix on that. I was making beat-based music only. ‘Beatbox’ by Art Of Noise had a huge influence on me. I was obsessed by Arthur Baker, Trevor Horn and Adrian Sherwood. On-U Sound was a big inspiration. The first On-U dub stuff I wasn’t so into, but when Adrian Sherwood started working with Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald and Keith Le Blanc (the ex-Sugarhill Gang Band) as well as DJ Cheese I became hooked, hearing that Fats Comet track “DJ’s Dream’’. It was fucking crazy. You know I most probably heard it at Astral Flight with DJ Wolf playing it. So, my initial records were not melodic at all just rhythm and noise.
Then I met this rap crew who lived round the corner from me called the brotherhood and I started working with them. I started Bite It! purely to put out this track ‘Descendants Of The Holocaust’ which was a reaction against stereotypical Jewish suburban life as well as needing to voice a subject we felt that was important to be heard. We’d experienced our own forms of racism and were just as angry as we were excited by the platform of hip hop.
Was that when you first went into the studio properly?
Yes, we went to this small studio called Monroe Studios in Barnet. I used to work with this guy called Roger Benou, he ended up engineering most of my Underdog mixes. We did the first Brotherhood stuff there on an Akai 950 sampler and an Atari ST. It was interesting because that studio became a real haven for loads of underground British music when it moved to Holloway Road. A lot of important Drum ‘n’ Bass producers started out there. Lucky Spin records was next door. DJ Crystal who was the original Brotherhood DJ, Ed Rush, Adam F, DJ Trace all those guys, I used to hear Amen being cut up in a million different ways 24/7 through the walls, everyone at the time worked there. It was a really important creative hub. When I was working as Underdog I was doing all my remixes down there.
The sleeves for The Brotherhood seemed to kick against what was going on in UK hip-hop at that time…
What had happened was, I had this parallel life. With the design I’d gone from Gee Street, Network and Champion then I started working for Pulse-8 doing terrible Euro pop music sleeves. I was making a lot of money but I was hating it. It was soul-destroying especially after designing records that had such integrity. At that point I made a conscious decision to stop designing and start my own label. That’s why I started Bite It! and it had a very strong visual aesthetic.
The reason I wanted to do something graphically strong was that you had Music Of Life and Cold Sweat (UK hip-hop labels) but they appeared second-rate compared to American product. I wanted to make records that sounded as good as American records and looked as good. If not better. Hip-hop visually had already started to be a cliché with the girls, guns and cars and stuff so I wanted to go against that. I was also really conscious to sample from very different kind of records. Not only did they have to sound and look right, the sources had to be different. European jazz-rock, Soft Machine, ECM, it was all about different sample sounds to what was going on at the time. That was part of the ethos of the label.
I remember buying a 12” with a sample saying ‘I might smoke a spliff but I won’t sniff’ that I’d heard on the radio. What are you proud of from that time?
A record called ‘100% Proof’ I sampled this tune by Julian Priester called “Love Love’ on ECM that was originally in 3/4…and I flipped it into 4/4 and I did this tripped-out bonus beat with flutes and tripped out shit, they sold it in Honest Jon’s where James Lavelle had started working before he set up Mo Wax. And he was like ‘What is this???’. He loved it and we started a good friendship.
Did you know the Bristol lot as well?
I was good friends with Mushroom (Massive Attack). When the Brotherhood EP came out it started to get played a lot and Richard Russell who was working at XL, asked me to do an underdog remix for House Of Pain’s ‘Top Of The Morning To Ya’. It went Top Ten on the back of my mix and my remix career as Underdog started to take off along with having the label. Mark Picken, who was managing Massive Attack liked the mixes and eventually started looking after me. I went on a European tour with Massive Attack and DJed at after parties along with Mushroom and G.
Massive Attack kind of changed when Mushroom dropped out…
For sure. I have a hell of a lot of respect for 3D and G but it’s now a very different band. ‘Blue Lines’ in still one of my favourite records of all time. I mean Mushroom wasn’t an easy character, He was always the younger one during the Wild Bunch days, so I suppose he always got treated like a kid in the band but he was hugely talented, made all the best beats as far as I’m concerned and contributed loads of great ideas. I went to Mushroom’s studio and he was like a proper audio freak had amazing gear. I don’t know what’s happened to him, I liked him a lot. I’ve been trying to get in touch with him again for years.
So where else did your influences come from?
Mainly clubs. The whole warehouse thing was massively influential on me. Shake N Fingerpop, Family Funktion, those parties. Norman Jay, Judge Jules. You know he actually used to be a good DJ. Then you had Soul II Soul and all those guys and the Mutoid Waste parties as well. It was an amazing time. That whole period of club culture hasn’t really been documented enough but it was hugely influential to a lot of people. I also used to throw parties with Tony Nwatchuku (from Attica Blues) in Oxford at a place called the Caribbean club back in ’87 ’88. We’d play hip hop, Smith & Mighty, early Todd Terry things, that really was the start of everything for me career wise.
So you had all that going on and then the Soho set with The Wag and stuff…
Yeah you had all that and then Dodo’s, Dial 9, Delirium, there was so much going on, The RAW club in the basement of the YMCA in Tottenham Court Rd was perhaps the best club in London for me after the Embassy, Saturday night with Dave Dorrel and CJ Mackintosh was incredible. But I really remember going to some amazing parties along the Thames. I remember vividly the first time I heard house music at a Shake N Fingerpop/Family Funktion party, one of the DJs was cutting up, a mix I stole for years afterwards, ‘Peter Piper’ Run DMC with Fun Boy Three ‘Faith And Hope And Charity’. I went upstairs and there was a Mike Tyson fight being shown on a big video screen and they were playing Farley Jackmaster Funk ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ and I was like ‘what the fuck is this record?’ There were things like Cultural Vibe ‘Ma Foom Bey’ always being played but that was a proper house record I think I heard.
What made it a proper house record?
It sounded different. I was used to uptempo HI-NRG but that record… It was probably about Darryl Pandy’s vocal, I didn’t go down so well. The floor was empty but I was enchanted, the atmosphere was great. To this day I’m most comfortable in a dark, dirty basement. I’m not into Funktion One soundsytem clarity and air con. I like reggae sound systems smoke and sweat.
Going back to the label – who signed The Brotherhood at Virgin?
We got signed by Simon Gavin and Steve Brown, who went on to form Science, and then we spent a long time making The Brotherhood album. There was no-one in British hip-hop at the time making quality cross-over music with a strong concept, we had one. The band was mixed-race. It was a black guy, a Jewish guy and a mixed-race guy and musically I was sampling 90% English and European jazz rock and we got the English artist Dave McKean who’d done artwork for BATMAN at DC Comics to design the sleeve. I was really happy with the thing as a whole. It joined the dots in many ways. The cover looked very different from anything else at the time, the whole project ended up being very well received.
How do you get from Bite It! to starting Output?
There was quite a gap between the two. I was being managed by Marts Andrups he also looked after Roger Sanchez and Kenny Dope. Marts tragically suddenly passed away, he was a very close friend as well as work collegue and that had a very big effect on me. I was young. I was in my late 20’s and it totally threw me. Up to that point I felt indestructible and I’d never had anything like that happen to me.
Marts was a real character. I’d met him in Honest Jons with James Lavelle and when I met him I thought he was a stuck-up wanker. He was opinionated, totally full of himself and never agreed with me about anything but he had the coolest shit, everything you wanted, sneakers, art, records, he was completely on-point, and when I got to meet him properly we got on like a house on fire, we became great friends and he started to manage me. But then he passed away. I ended up falling out with The Brotherhood and things went sour. They pushed me out of the band and off of the label, after what had happened to Marts I just thought ‘fuck this, I don’t want to do this anymore’ and I got out of it. I don’t really know what I did for a year. I needed to find some new inspiration and I started going back to my records and I realised I was deeply into just weird weird records. I used to go to Soul Jazz and Mr Bongo and buy strange European jazz records, travel the world buying crazy things to sample and play. And It made me realise I wanted to get well away from hip hop and the way it was becoming so narrow-minded, and release music I over regardless of genre and most importantly who else would like it.
Was Mo Wax influential in the move from Bite It! to Output? You look at it as a label and they are releasing tracks by Carl Craig, Richie Hawtin, stuff like that…
James (Lavelle) is a genius, but a victim of his own success. He was on it. People don’t give him enough respect. I grew up with eclecticism, and he took that aesthetic which was missing at the time and brought it to a new label and an amazing mix of stuff. Then they had the club at The Blue Note, Dusted, and I remember DJing with me, Weatherall, Carl Craig, going to see the craziest mix of people, it was a brilliant time. He did a lot of stuff. Maybe the downfall of the label and with regards to Output, I saw that James ended up becoming bigger than most the artists. He was the label and I think that possibly created resentment and it put to much of the spotlight on him, the minute I started Output I didn’t want it to be mainly about me. I was happy for people to know it was my label but I wanted the focus on the artists. They were the most important things. The label was just a conduit for the artists.
What were the first releases on Output?
They were just some bits that I had kicking about. Remixes that got rejected and stuff. The early stuff was very beat-based. I don’t really remember what the first release was but I released three ten inches which were beat excursions…
Now I remember what I did in my time in between Bite It! and Output. I ended up hooking up with this band the Emperors New Clothes who were on Acid Jazz records. They were fucking great. They were like Sun Ra meets ESG meets King Tubby. They were amazing. I got deeply into them and hung out with them all the time and got friendly with Luke Hannam the bass player, then Acid Jazz asked me to produce their album after doing some remixes for the band. We spent perhaps a year making the record, I’d gone from working with only samples to learning how to record live instruments and working with real musicians, it was a crazy time of experimentation and pushing boundaries, it was about as un-acid jazz as it could possibly be, totally out there music, perhaps one of the best things I’d ever done. but we finished the record Eddie Pillar (Acid Jazz owner) refused to pay me. Eddie was notoriously hardcore as was his partner at the time Dave Robinson who used to run Stiff rRcords, I may have been a dick about it but I refused to be fucked over. I told him to go fuck himself and unfortunately I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done. So I ended up putting out an Emperor’s New Clothes record on Output, maybe third or fourth release, and then the band broke up and Luke started to form Gramme with Leo (Taylor) the drummer.
I didn’t realize Luke and Leo were in Emperors New Clothes…
I remember the turning point. We were doing this track that was like the precursor to Playgroup’s ‘Make It Happen’ Leo was playing the drums in a free jazz style, Luke was rolling with a brilliant uptempo wobble style baseline. and it just didn’t sound right, I was trying to explain to leo to play simpler in a more primal almost moronic style and he didn’t understand, I pulled out Metal Box and said ‘listen to this. He totally got it and I think that was the moment Gramme was initially formed. This new direction caused a split in the band and they eventually broke up Gramme formed perhaps a year later? I kept in contact with Luke, he played on many of my later Underdog remixes and also introduced me to Kieran Hebden whom he met at Rough Trade one day. I’d never have signed Four Tet had it not been for Luke.
Was it Fridge (early group featuring Kieran Hebden) at that point?
Yeah Fridge. Fridge was him, Sam and Adem. They recorded in their bedroom. And I listened to their records and went to see them play together at home and they sounded like Can or Faust or something. They sounded amazing.
Was that when the label found it’s identity?
I was really fortunate as I’d signed a P&D deal with RTM Distribution. And I could spend some money on packaging. I could do what I wanted. I was sick of doing all these crap sleeves. All my influences started to make sense. All the experimental music I loved, the fusion of things, genreless sounds, I finally had my outlet I’d always wanted. And there weren’t any labels in the UK doing what I was dong. I felt like all my artists were rejects. We were outcasts and I enjoyed that. I’d always felt like an outcast myself.
Was the label in East London at that point? There wasn’t much going on in Shoreditch at that time…
All you had was The Blue Note. And that was it. For me it felt like a second home as I’d worked in Clerkenwell for so long. I was lucky. To dispel any myth, I don’t have rich parents, I was earning money as a teenager when I first started working living with my mum, so I was saving money, and I could fortunately afford to buy a flat when I was quite young. This was the only place I could buy a nice space in East London. Best financial decision I made and I was fucking lucky and the area blew up.
I suppose there was you and Nuphonic over here…
There was also Tummy Touch. It was them, Nuphonic and myself. Tummy Touch were here before me.
What records were you buying at the time?
I was really into post rock, Tortoise and things like that. I used to have a great relationship with Darryl at the Rough Trade shop in Covent Garden and I’d buy fantastic records from him. I loved that place, and also Atlas Records with Pete Herbert and Mark Kirby behind the counter, They got me into Basic Channel and stuff like that. You know I’d done the early techno with Network but when those Basic Channel records came out they made sense to me. Hip-hop had got a bit boring and I was playing more experimental music – Kompact, Thomas Brinkmann, stuff like that was coming out, restored my faith in club music, that I thought had become incredibly boring.
So back to the label, you had a pretty good track record for discovering bands…
It was more being involved with things. I didn’t discover them. Perhaps I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time.
Do you wish you’d locked down some of the deals with the likes of Four Tet and LCD Soundsystem?
I have never been a good businessman. I’ve never done things for money. Money doesn’t interest me. I never ran the label as a business, I just loved this music and I wanted it to be heard. Also, at the same time I was conscious of my limited capabilities as a label so I felt i didn’t have the right to sign a band to the label and lock then down to anything, it would have been dishonest to do that. Also, I heard stories about how Daniel Miller had never actually signed Depeche Mode so I was like ‘fuck it, why should I sign anyone’ and I also worked with the bands as friends which perhaps was very naive but that’s how I did it. Thing was, it also protected me in a way because the bands expectations of me couldn’t be unreasonable. I didn’t have anything in the contract I had to achieve. All I promised the bands were that I would get there records in the shops, radio and club play and press, the rest who knows? You know I had been running the label by myself, apart from a false start at with a deal with Virgin through Source Records that didn’t work out, and Rob (Sandercombe, label manager at Output) had come in and he was a life saver. He was magic. Just what I needed. Well organised and knew how to work with people so he came along at the right time.
So what happened then?
You know, when people started to really like the records was when it fucked up. No-one taught me how to run a record label and I can hand on my heart say I never drew a wage as I was doing other things, DJing, remixing and designing. I never ran the label as a business and in turn many of the bands didn’t make money, though i’d like to think most of them did well out of it in other ways. I don’t regret it at all. Unfortunately by the time a well organised structure of the label needed to be in place it was too late and we couldn’t go back. It was started in a totally relaxed casual way but the success totally took me by surprise and i was too busy trying to run the day to day business to be able to stop things and make anytime to set it up properly, that messed up everything.
It sounds like most of the bands just turned up?
It wasn’t really that, i listened to many hundreds of demos but most of the artists I released had been ignored or rejected, people just weren’t interested in them, and for me I have a strong attraction to things that other people don’t like, as well as naivety in recording. I love early demos – the initial essence of an artist.
When did Playgroup come into the picture?
Playgroup came along in about 1999. 99% of the things I do are reactionary I create things because I get fucked off with what I see or hear around me, or I think somethings missing and someone needs to do something about it. Playgroup started because I was bored of what I was hearing in dance music. I was listening to all these records through working with Gramme and I was realising that no one was making live dance music anymore that wasn’t dumb or super commercial. All the production on records at that time were super complicated; Aphex, Squarepusher, Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins… I wanted to make a simple record. I’d been doing loads of dark complex stuff and I wanted to make a credible, fun and sexy record.
My main drive was, I was 30 years old, I was sick and tired of the ’80s not getting the respect it deserved. People always used to take the piss out of it, which has obviously changed now, and I strongly felt there was massive influence in the music I was hearing around me, but it seemed people were in denial and and that whole period of time needed to be showcased in the right way. Edwyn Collins, Dennis Bovell, Paul Haig, Shinehead, Scritti Politti, I wanted to get all my influences in there and mix it up with new people. I wanted to make an album that sounded like your best friend’s house party not a commercial super club. At the end of the day, I just wanted that ’80s era to be respected. I was fortunate to work with some really great people on that record.
The ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ – it’s a good one. How did that come about?
At the end of the night I always used to play ‘Mama Used To Say’ or ‘Billie Jean’ by Shinehead as well as Paul Simon’s original, I remember I was DJing at the Massive Attack end of tour party in Paris in the tiny backroom of this club and I played the original of ’50 Ways…’ as the last record and the guys from Air came up to ask what it was. I was shocked they didn’t know it, that moment stuck in my head, it all kind of linked together and it made sense to cover that record.
Is there a new Playgroup album coming at some point?
I’ve probably made about four albums since that one came out but I’ve never felt like releasing them. The longer it takes the more cautious I am about putting stuff out. The reason I want to release music is questionable now. If I’m frank about it there are so many people making great music now. I only want to make records with a purpose and records that don’t sound like other people. I’ve always made music inspired by other people and I don’t want to do that anymore. I can’t make a space disco record better than Lindstrom so why bother. There’s no point. I still have that hip-hop competitiveness at the end of the day.
So closing off that whole Output era – what would you have done differently?
I would have had a good accountant that didn’t rip me off, I wouldn’t have employed a ‘so-called’ business advisor who would end up making things even worse and I probably would have had a business partner or someone that had some experience from day one. But I don’t know if anyone would have seen the potential in it anyway, my initial plan was quite reactionary and destructive, not having a business objective apart from breaking even. Who really would have known that Four Tet would be as popular as he is now? I initially didn’t expect any of the artists I worked with to sell more than 1,000 records, to be honest I would have been quite happy with 200. I’m suppose a snob. A subversive snob. I like the idea of keeping things limited, unique, selective and special.
You’ve always designed record sleeves – what do you make of sleeve design at the moment?
I think it’s interesting now that the whole digital thing has almost gone back on itself. People are slowly reacting against it, Look at Stones Throw, they are releasing limited beautiful screen-printed records using Hennessey in the ink for Madlib, Will bankheads cassette label, people are doing really interesting stuff. So I’m still inspired by things I see around me, whatever format they might be.
Would you buy a record just for it’s sleeve?
I have done, and made many mistakes doing so, especially on crate digging excursions without a soundburger or record deck to hand! But my life has changed over the last two years. I’ve cut down on consuming and purchasing things I don’t need as I had too much of everything. I don’t want to be cynical but having lived through so many things it is rare to see or hear new things that truly excite me anymore, and right now I only want to experience powerful new things I haven’t felt before, or live with essential things that are timeless.
So looking at your design – if you had to pick a favourite sleeve what would it be?
I find it really hard musically and visually to have an opinion on my own work. Maybe the Soulwax sleeve and some of the Bite It! sleeves. I still like them.
You seem to DJ a lot in Berlin – what’s so good about it?
In Berlin you can play in most clubs the people will look really normal, but you play the weird records and they go off. You play them in London and they leave the dancefloor. And there is something about that essence of Berlin that is still super exciting to me, people seem open minded and free in many ways. Maybe that’s what is missing in London at the moment. I made a real conscious decision to stop playing big gigs at the moment. I’ve seen many of my contemporaries play bad music simply for money. There are to many people that will compromise their beliefs to earn a living and I don’t want that. If I’m honest I don’t like being in the limelight, never have, I don’t want to play anthems and do things that people want me or expect me to do. The Playgroup thing mucked up so many aspects of my life as it put me in the spotlight, made me feel uncomfortable, messed up relationships and even my health. When you put out a record and start playing the promotional game you get pushed into a world that changes everything. I don’t want that attention nor care about what anyone thinks about who I am or what I do, as long as I’m proud of what I do I’m content. Now I’m much happier playing for 2-300 people where I know I am going to have a good time than a big gig which might pay me well but I leave the booth feeling like I should of stayed at home and question why I bothered in the first place. big gigs can be great with the right promoter, line up and crowd but it’s almost impossible to play records that have any detail, sensitivity or depth, which is what I appreciate most. Berlin to me is good but it’s not necessarily the epicenter. One of my favourite gigs has been this small town Asturias in northern Spain, I played a little club for 200 crazy people for 7 hours. Fucking amazing.
So rounding up – you’ve been quoted as saying you share ‘an equal love of low brow and high brow culture’. How does that manifest itself?
It manifests itself as I am often full of contradictions, but I like what I like, not what people tell me I should, And I am opinionated in the process. People seem scared of strong opinions these days. I respect people that are passionate and have genuine reasons behind why they do things even if I don’t agree with them. For instance with movies I love Enter The Void and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Cannes winner 2010) as much as I appreciate Hollywood blockbusters like Armageddon and Bad Boys 2. I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what I should and shouldn’t like and how I need to fit in in anyway. I’ve never wanted to be part of anything.
I respect individuality and innovation in all forms and refuse to be pressurised to think or conform in anyway that I don’t feel totally comfortable. People have been too lackadaisical recently, this country has been putting up with so much shit recently, we’ve been continually lied to and deceived, people say nothing and accept that’s the way things are or simply ignore what’s happening. I think now what’s going on with the student riots is really exciting. I got hairs on the back of my neck when I saw students revolting. That’s what this country needs. That can only be a good thing for culture as a whole
Finally, if you could go back to any club in time where would you go?
I would go to the Funhouse as shown in that New Order video. That’s the weirdest thing for me. Arthur Baker is a friend now but I considered that guy a god at one point. Everything he was involved in. Him, John Robie, Latin Rascals, you know… he was amazing. What I would do to go back to the Funhouse where JellyBean Benitez puts on that Reel to Reel tape of ‘Confusion’ and the lights go, and the B-Boys and girls start dancing, that’s where I’d want to be. I know the Paradise Garage was the one for a lot of people, but for me it’s definitely the Funhouse.
December 7, 2010
Our friends in Australia, The Blackmail, got in touch to see if we wanted to run an interview that they had just done with Harvey for their site. We of course said yes. To be honest I don’t quite understand the cult that is developing around the man but you have to say he’s got it right – the parties, the space in Hawaii and living the happy life. On top of that he seems totally genuine and speaks total sense. So over to Mr Michael Kucyk of The Blackmail and on with the program…
Text: Michael Kucyk Images: Harvey Bassett
Spanning many scenes and sounds, Harvey Bassett has been unconsciously carving his global cult notoriety for almost 25 years. As a DJ, Harvey is like no other. His infectiously positive personality seeps into his eclectic sets that aren’t limited to meaningless genrefication and often journey for six hours. Harvey will play whatever he feels, how he feels, and will never spin a lyric out of context. Inspired by his encounters with Larry Levan, he started the lewd label Black Cock with fellow Englishman Gerry Rooney and released legendary reel-to-reel edits which became heavily sought after and widely bootlegged. With a long list of credits as remixer, producer and session player, he has been involved in recording outfits Map Of Africa and Food of the Gods, as well as his recent solo project Locussolus. After overstaying his Visa, Harvey has spent the last 10 years bouncing between Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York. A newly acquired green card finally allows him to visit Australia for the first time.
Michael Kucyk: Are you enjoying the freedom of having a green card?
Harvey Bassett: Yes I am, this year I took a tour of Japan and Europe, which was fun. It was nice to get out and about. I don’t want to spend the next 20 years on the road. It’s nice to be in one place for a couple of months so I’ve been enjoying Venice since I got back.
MK: With such a large gap between visits to Europe, the UK and Japan, have you noticed a dramatic change in any club cultures?
HB: Not dramatically, no. I mean there might be a whole new generation of kids that have come through in that ten years but there was definitely a percentage of the old school represented too. It was good.
MK: Are there any new countries that you’ve toured recently with scenes that have excited you?
HB: Nothing so far. It seems like the scene is small. The venues are maybe only up to 1000 people but globally it seems to be pretty healthy with all the digi-communication and all the rest. People tend to know what’s happening.
MK: You’re involved in thirtyninehotel, a club in Honolulu. How’s that going? Does it have a community following?
HB: Pretty good, chugging along out there. I actually haven’t been out there for ages because I’ve been touring. There are definitely people there but I don’t know if they’re thirtyninehotel people. We’re open five nights a week and stuff goes on there. It could be anything from a seminar of lawyers or earth mothers to a wedding or a jazz band, reggae band, rave party. On the weekend it tends to be R’n’B based music on Fridays and dance music on Saturdays. There are regulars that come out for those nights.
MK: Has this international travel encouraged you to start digging again?
HB: When I was away in Europe I got into it but I think that was more to do with the guys I was hanging with. They’d be like “Harvey there’s a warehouse two miles from here with five million records,” and I’d be like “Let’s go then!”. I don’t purposely go out searching for them anymore but if stuff comes by way or if someone has a bright idea then I’ll go off and dig for some tunes.
MK: Did you have much luck at the warehouse?
HB: That particular spot was in Switzerland. Usually at a place with that many records it takes a whole day just to understand what’s going on in the room. It’s like “OK I’m getting a vibration from this area.” I found one or two records but I actually gave them to the guys I was digging with. Knowledge swapping.
MK: Can you recall your strangest digging experience?
HB: I remember once being in a warehouse somewhere in New York and we had a packed lunch and got locked in for a couple days with mountains high. We uncovered a full working record player so we got to listen to the tracks right there. I’ve had various rooms ankle deep in water with rats and the records are covered in dog shit from the guard dogs at the storage units. Some awful, stinking, brutal stuff. There’s also AIDS hospices where you get gay guys who have been disinherited by their families and all their loved ones have died so all their possessions end up in a warehouse. You go down there and pick up some disco records. That’s maybe morbid instead of strange but at least they go to a good home.
MK: Have there been opportunities for you to tour Australia in the past?
HB: Loads of people have said it but nobody ever made the call or took the kangaroo by the horns. I’ve always been down. I’ve even got some distant relatives and a few good old buddies out there. But this is the first time it’s actually come together and its perfect timing in many ways. It’s a good time of year and it seems like the scene is healthy.
MK: I hear that you’re an avid surfer. Are you looking forward to hitting some waves out here?
HB: Yeah man! As long as it’s not too strenuous! I might drag out a long board. I just bought a new wetsuit and I’m considering bringing it along so I don’t have to borrow someone else’s stinky beaten up wetsuit.
MK: You should watch some cult Australian surf movies like Crystal Voyager or Morning of the Earth. Both have classic psychedelic soundtracks.
HB: I’ve seen both of those. I’m big up on the surf movies.
MK: Earlier in the year I saw you play at Cielo in New York’s Meatpacking District and you opened with a medley of Justin Vandervolgen’s edits. Is he one of a few producer-DJ-edit makers that inspire you?
HB: Yeah I think he’s really good, he’s a friend. Actually I think that was the first three songs off his Golf Channel mix. I was like “that’s fucking great, I’m going to play it!”. So that fantastic mixing wasn’t me. It was Justin making it super smooth although I was adjusting it as it was playing. There’s a thing called Hot Q on the CD player which you can edit on the fly so that’s handy.
Loads of people inspire me. So many European cats making new records and edits and obviously Rub N Tug with Eric Duncan and his C.O.M.B.i stuff. On my European tour I played alongside 20 of the most happening DJs on my scene and everyone gave me a CD with 30 edits on it. And I was like “Whoa!”. Just mind-boggling amounts of rare cosmology. There’s some sublime and some ridiculous, you just have to check them all out.
MK: You’re bringing DJ Garth with you on this forthcoming Australian tour. Do the two of you share a similar spiritual vision?
HB: Spiritual vision (laughs)! There’s not a spiritual bone in my body mate. Me and Garth go back a long way. We’ve been friends for 20 years. He’s a gentleman and a scholar and a real good time DJ. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be on the road with for a few weeks. He’s definitely part of and a purveyor of the style of DJing, if there is one, that came out of our scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’s a great DJ and has a great bedside manner as I would say.
MK: How did you two meet?
HB: I don’t really remember. Probably at the Zap club or a TONKA party in Brighton many years ago.
MK: What about Gerry Rooney? How was Black Cock a collaborative effort?
HB: He would often come up with the tracks that we would edit. He’s been a collector, dealer and DJ for many years and has access to unbelievably incredibly great music. We would have some fun cutting up and editing those tracks and putting them out. Although we haven’t done anything together; although we did do a remix kinda but even that wasn’t really together. It was sort of a Black Cock record but he remixed; it was kinda official but he was in London and I was in LA and we basically did a mix each. Gerry was definitely instrumental in the Black Cock thing, for sure.
MK: He seems pretty illusive. What does he do now?
HB: He’s still DJing and dealing records. I’m not sure if he has a website that you can buy records from him or if it’s by secret phone appointment only. I know he DJs out on the scene in London and gets around the world.
MK: The names Black Cock and Map of Africa are pretty potent with a sense of perverse attraction. Were you channeling some raw sexual energy when creating the music?
HB: To a certain extent. Obviously it’s all about sex – the potency of the Black Cock, the double entendre and the tongue in cheek font. And the same with Map of Africa. Just to have fun with word play, and also secret meanings that aren’t that secret. It’s a joke but it’s kinda cool at the same time. To me so much of music is sort of a version of fourplay, especially on the dancefloor. You’re sizing each other up and it’s a version of sexual play in many ways – the way you move and express yourself, shake out or dance with someone. I like names. I often like inventing names and concepts. Obviously Black Cock and Map of Africa are prime examples of the sort of fun we like to have.
MK: Food of the Gods doesn’t feel as erotic.
HB: That’s because I didn’t make it up (laughs)!
MK: Are these just recording projects?
HB: We’ve never performed live as such. It would be nice to be able to put a live unit together and play out but me and Thomas [Bullock] basically never have the time. He’s in New York and I’m in LA, and when I’m in New York, he’s in Europe. To get a tight act together it really takes a couple of months of living together and working together every day for a few months. A couple of years later we’re deep into other projects and our solo projects so I don’t know if Map of Africa will ever play live.
MK: What can you tell me about the Rwandan Ice Cream Project?
HB: Basically these drummer girls came over to New York from Rwanda. They were holocaust survivors and had come over to learn to make ice cream so that they could take the knowledge back to Rwanda and get some parlors going to make a living. It turned out that they were members of this all woman drumming ensemble so we put them in the studio and recorded a couple of hours of songs and chants. It will be released and all the profits will go towards a Rwandan good cause.
MK: Have these girls since returned home?
HB: Yes. Hopefully they’re ice cream millionaires by now.
MK: What does a regular day for Harvey consist of?
HB: Wake up, have a cup of tea, let the fog of the night before clear, decide if I have anything to do, go to the studio, jump in the ocean. You could say I’m awfully romantic and that I get on my motorcycle, drive up to the surf and have a macrobiotic sandwich on the way. It swings between that and peeling the kebab that I slept on the night before off the side of my face. Finishing off the can of hot special brew that I left on the windowsill. Straggling down a very oily 50/50 spliff before staggering out into blinding daylight. In the last couple of months I’ve been pretty healthy and productive. I’m all about good food. A friend of mine catches a lot of fish in the ocean right in front of the house and brings back lobsters and flounders. I would imagine Australian’s are quite used to that behaviour but it’s pretty exotic for an Englishman to actually be able to cook local fish caught a hundred yards away.
MK: Are you eating some quality tacos?
HB: Yes. Without question, the best Mexican food in the world outside of Mexico is in Los Angeles. There are some phenomenal tacos of every variety. I like to eat the ones from the traditional Hispanic taco trucks that feed the workers. You can get three carnitas tacos, a seafood tostada and a Mexican coco cola for five bucks and you’re stuffed and ready to go back to cleaning toilets. Happy and full.
MK: What do you think you’d be doing if you didn’t get into DJing and producing?
HB: Absolutely any kind of mundane brainless job like greeting people at the supermarket. A job that wouldn’t take up any of my brain so that my brain could be left to meditate. I once worked in a factory where the speed of the machines was such that you couldn’t day dream, or you’d loose a finger or two in the blades. I actually learnt to slow the entire productivity of the factory down by turning a particular knob. It was just slow enough so that everybody in the factory could daydream and everyone was happy and could get the job done. But this is where the party’s at and I don’t want other people spoiling party time.
As we said at the top this article first appeared on the ace The Blackmail site. Follow them for more. Thank you kindly to Michael Kucyk.
October 3, 2010
Andy Blake of Dissident/Cave Paintings recently interviewed Chris Carter around the re-release of his ‘The Spaces Between’ album on the Optimo Label. They got talking about drum machines, life in Throbbing Gristle and syths, synths and more synths. Over to Andy…
Recently, I had the chance to run a few questions past Chris Carter, a genuine musical and cultural innovator. His detailed and informative answers on the various topics make a great read and if I can persuade him to go for another couple of rounds there may well be a longer, more involved piece at some point. For now though, here is the raw Q&A.
Can you tell me a bit about the composing and recording process for the music included on the original version and this new release of the album ‘The Spaces Between’? Did you have much of a plan for the various tracks before starting work on them or was it more of a case of turning the machines on and seeing what they had to say for themselves?
My workflow for solo pieces hasn’t really changed that much but in those days, in the early 70s, it was usually a case of turning on all the gear and just experimenting for hours on end. I would usually begin with something rhythmic, a sequence, a bass line or a drum machine pattern to improvise over. But I’d always have a cassette deck and a reel-to-reel tape machine plugged into the output of my mixer so I could just hit record at a moments notice. As I accumulated recordings of these experiments I’d often replay them and reintegrate them back into new recording sessions, building up arrangements of live electronics, sequenced patterns, rhythms and earlier experiments.
I mostly recorded onto cassette but that was purely a financial constraint because although I had a day job – actually we all had day jobs then, all the way through Throbbing Gristle – reel-to-reel tape compared to cassette tape was relatively expensive, well it was on my wages. Which is ironic because I had some decent reel-to-reel tape recorders, a Tandberg, an Akai and later a Tascam but I couldn’t afford to keep buying fresh tapes for them and eventually ended up using the Tandberg and Akai primarily for tape experiments and looping or as tape-echo machines. Although I did also use them to supplement my income by editing (on tape) quite a few issues of Revealer cassettes.
What was the studio environment like and how much did it change over the period these tracks were made? Was there a fairly stable set up much of the time or were you experimenting with wiring things up in different ways and rebuilding in new configurations after each gig or other reason that meant you had moved the kit around?
I’ve never been one to stick to a rigid set-up for the gear I record and perform with. I’ve owned hundreds of different instruments: synths, keyboards, sound modules, drum machines, effects units, mixers and recorders. Although having said that I do keep the recording side of things unchanged for extended periods. Such as recording onto cassette, which I probably did for five or six years. Even with synth and effects gear I built myself, which was a lot, I’d refine or reconfigure things and re-build stuff again and again, or sell gear to fund bigger and better pieces of gear. Which I still do.
I moved around North London a lot in the seventies, from various bedsits, apartments and shared houses and my gear was set-up on a very ad hoc basis. The equipment I’d built myself could be very temperamental and once I’d got things working together and playing with each other nicely I’d tend to leave them in place for as long as I could, or until I had a performance to do or a jam to play across town. Of course getting a new piece of gear – which was fairly often – always skewed the arrangement somewhat and figuring out different ways to integrate it was fun, and is something I still enjoy.
What I did through most of the seventies would be to configure a set-up of some synths, a few sequencers, a drum machine or two, lots of effects, all going into a mixer and then a recorder of some kind, cassette mostly. I’d also often make a schematic of how things were patched together, not really because I wanted to get the same sounds again or because the set-ups were overly complex but because I like to sit down and visualise on paper how things are connected. It’s something I still do now. It all goes into some logical compartment of my brain that I access when trying out new set-ups. It’s the same with well written instruction manuals, I just love them. I read instruction manuals like people read novels, for pleasure. The downside of this of course is that people who know me know this and are constantly getting in touch asking for advice on this or that. I have a great t-shirt that just says RTFM. Which is an acronym for Read The Fucking Manual.
How aware were you at the time of what the rest of the world was up to musically and culturally? Did you pay much attention to what other people were doing or were you and the other Throbbing Gristle members very much living in your own world then?
I guess we were living in our “own world”, most bands are but then but we were all voracious record collectors too. And although we did share some tastes in music there was an extraordinarily wide range in what we individually enjoyed listening to. I know it may sound like a cliché now but we really did listen to everything from Stockhausen to Abba via Zappa and the Beach Boys. Actually we’re all still like that, only we don’t buy physical product now, just downloads.
I guess I’m trying to get some sense of your awareness and the relative influence – or lack thereof – on your music of things as disparate as; music from the top ten to prog rock and the all the way thru to the avant garde, the Daily Express, the 3 day week, those casual and very dangerous forms of racism, sexism and homophobia that the English seemed to perfect around this time, the heavy and seemingly never-ending hangover from the hippie 60s, punk as it was emerging, the beginning of the end of the job for life etc.
Well I know this phrase has become another cliché and I’ve probably used it too often about the 70s’ but (to Quote Dickens) “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
On a purely personal level it was the best of times because I just couldn’t get enough of it. I was fresh out of school and like a sponge – soaking up everything: knowledge, music, film, books, relationships, sex, concerts, DIY electronics, I was in different bands, I was performing – all good and the list is endless. It was the worst of times because I’d gone through some truly life changing and traumatic relationships and I was still trying to find myself, I’d had lots of poorly paid day-jobs, I got arrested, I got sick, I got burgled, I was constantly in debt, I was misunderstood, I had a car crash, I got beat up, I moved around a lot – another endless list of twenty-something angsts. The arrogance of youth and articulate self-confidence had completely bypassed me.
Of course, as you mention, we also had all those other 70s issues to cope with – sexism, racism, National Front, the hysterical press, awful TV, power cuts and also with us being ‘outsiders’ constantly getting harassed by the S.P.G., getting chased by Nazi skinheads one day, black gangs the next and punks at the weekends. Nobody seemed to like us then, well except the all welcoming All Nations club opposite our studio, that had the best sound system and played the best dub and ska in East London.
When the original cassette release of The Space Between happened in 1980 what was the main motivation behind bringing the music together into a collection? Did you listen to the tracks much over the preceding few years or did you rediscover them as a group at some point and feel that their time had come?
For years I’d made cassette compilations of my tracks, like mix tapes, but of my own music. I’d give them to friends, to Throbbing Gristle and later to people like Daniel Miller, Geoff Travis and writers such as Sandy Robertson and Jon Savage and journalists on Sounds, NME and Melody Maker that I’d got to know. I’m talking about a handful of copies, not hundreds. Anyway in 1978 shortly after we’d started Industrial Records and were looking for artists to bolster the label Cosey and Sleazy suggested I release some of my tracks as an album on IR.
Was there much that you left out of that release that could have fitted in with it stylistically and/or thematically? Are there plans for more releases and re-releases from the vaults or do you feel that you have covered the 70s and 80s period of your work enough now?
Oh yes there was a tremendous amount I left out, in fact for a long time it was intended to be in two volumes. But in the end I decided to edit it all down to a single 90 cassette. The original IR release also came with a small booklet of my collages and some texts and photos. What I’d like to do at some point would be to re-release the original IR version as a super limited double CD package with the booklet and maybe a couple of tracks from that period which were not included first time around. It’s just making the time to find all the parts and compile it together. But it’ll happen one day I’m sure.
Even by the time i began to spend time in studios in the late 80s the sounds of machines like the 808, 606, 303, 727 etc had already become part of the classic canon of electronic music building blocks and these days they seem as ubiquitous and easily identifiable to almost anyone into electronic music as, say, the piano, or the surf guitar sound or the grungy distortion of the heavy metal guitar. Can you remember what it was like to take those machines out of their boxes and use and hear them for the first time?
The first brand new ‘off the self’ synths I ever bought were an EMS VCS3 (above) and a MiniKorg 700 in 1973 and 1974. Actually you couldn’t get two more disparate synths. One was the pinnacle of keyboard-less experimentation the other was probably the most basic and simple to use home keyboard synth on the market. But buying, unpacking and plugging in both of those synths was like nothing I’d ever encountered before and even though I only owned each of those for a fairly short period (please don’t ask why) they were two of my favourites – each for entirely different reasons – and I’ll never forget that experience. Whereas going though exactly the same process with many of the other pieces of gear I’ve owned over the years has just faded from my memory.
But it’s an area that’s fascinated me for years. I don’t even know what you’d call it: “the psychology of buying new ‘things’ ” possibly? You know? – that new car, new synth, new TV, new fridge, new phone feeling. It’s a process almost everyone goes through at some point, although of course in different ways and usually with different outcomes, but it’s essentially the same for us all. That unboxing, plugging-in and using moment is going to be a different subjective experience for everyone. What may sound fantastic and inspiring to me may sound dull and uninteresting to someone else.
For about 10 years I wrote a lot of in-depth equipment reviews for Sound On Sound. But because I’d been sent so much new gear to review I got very blasé about getting hold of new equipment, particularly if I’d been reviewing a run of things I wasn’t especially impressed with. It’s a shame because that definitely affected my enthusiasm for seeking out new gear for new inspirations and the whole unboxing ritual. Although I think that’s pretty much worn off now.
Was there any sense of the impending paradigm shift due to the sounds themselves and/or the new ways of programming or were they each just one among many new boxes to experiment with?
In 1971, or 1972, the magazine Practical Electronics (above) published some articles on electronic music and synthesis theory complete with diagrams, and photos of experimental musicians: people like Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire and the EMS studios. After reading those pieces I went from hearing electronic, or electronically produced music in the abstract to seeing the absolute logic and sense of it all in those printed schematics and flow charts. It completely entranced and fascinated me and I instantly “got it” and started building my own electronic instruments. Those articles probably set me on this path I’ve been following ever since.
But in terms of equipment and gear I suppose for me the first paradigm shift was buying my VCS3 synth. Although it didn’t really have ‘a sound’ as such, unlike say a Moog synth, I think part of its appeal to some people was that it could sound completely different every time you turned it on. But for me it was as much an aesthetic thing too, presenting all these sonic possibilities in such a complete self-contained package. The next significant shift was when I bought a small Roland sequencer (a 104), a Roland drum machine (a CR78) and a Roland synth (an SH-3A) which could all be interconnected a synchronised to play together, in tune. That was such a major step for me because although I’d already built a basic step sequencer and synth all they could produce were relatively unrepeatable experimental sounds, and I wanted to take my compositions a step further.
And what about modifying things?
In the early days, mostly the Throbbing Gristle period, alongside building much of my own gear I did modify some of our equipment. In that period we weren’t exactly spoilt for choice and the range of things available was either very limited or out of our price range, which was pretty low anyway. And I’m talking about a time before programability, when a lot of things either had a basic set of sounds or a handful of presets built in. So by modifying equipment and instruments beyond their normal comfort zone we could make them sound different to how everyone else was using them. Basically we felt our sonic palate was limited with what we had, so I adapted them. Then by the early 1980s’ there was a boom in new audio manufacturers and gear started to get more sophisticated and prevalent and also more programmable. It was around then that I really got into programming complex sounds, and for a while continued modifying the hardware too. But by the time samplers took off in 1985-86’ish my hardware modifying phase had ceased altogether.
Were you excited when you first hooked a couple of boxes together with sync24 and they locked together? I can vividly remember nearly crapping myself with glee when I hooked an 808 and a DMX together and ran them in sync for the first time even though this was a fair while after it had become possible. It must have been thrilling to do this kind of stuff when this was the vanguard of technology.
I first got into syncing and triggering in the mid 1970’s, I had built a couple of step sequencers, a whole bunch of CV synth modules and a basic trigger-able analogue drum machine. These were all interconnected and being triggered, or triggering each other in sync. For a DIY system it was quite a complex set up at the time, but also quite temperamental, actually you can hear the fruits of me using some of that gear on ‘The Space Between’ album.
I started using Din Sync24 when I got my Roland TR-808 in 1980, shortly before Throbbing Gristle split-up the first time around. Which I should add, was one of the very first units in the UK. I went to pick mine up at Rod Argent’s store and their very first consignment had literally just come off the van and into the stock room, an hour later I had mine hooked up to a Roland CSQ sequencer (above) and some synths and I was recording tracks. Within weeks I’d bought a Roland MC8 sequencer (from Richard Burgess) and I had a technician at Roland who I knew retrofit a Din Sync24 socket to it. At last I could sync up all of my modular system, my keyboards to some decent drum sounds with rock solid timing… and sync it all to a reel-to-reel multitrack tape. Those were really exciting times and the floodgates had opened so to speak.
Looking back we can see now that this was a (short lived) precursor to MIDI, not as versatile but it was a standard way of synchronising rhythm instruments. And I’m not alone in the opinion that Sync24 still has the tightest, most solid sync, much tighter than MIDI. But even at the time I don’t think people outside contemporary music had the slightest idea what a major step the introduction of Sync24 was having on music production, and not just in electronic music. If you look back at the music charts the very early eighties there was an explosion of electronic based contemporary dance music. You’d had the introduction of Din Sync24, the 808, the 909, the Linn Drum, the Oberheim DMX, the Roland Bassline. It really was a golden age.
For you, how revolutionary was the idea of having multiple percussive sounds simultaneously programmable with the now fairly standard 16 step system for the first time? Was this new territory for you or had you been fortunate enough to have access of multiples of sequencers like the Korg SQ-10 and the Arp sequencer and your own similar creations and been able to do something similar before this?
It’s no secret I was a fan of German electronic music, and not just the Berlin School. I suppose it’s fair to say Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream probably had some influence on my sound with their multiple threads of sequences and percussion but the introduction of a standard for syncing everything certainly made life easier for us ‘sequencer heads’.
As I said earlier I was doing the whole ‘sequencers and drums thing’ back in the early 1970s so I guess there wasn’t really a “first time” for me, It kind of crept up on me slowly. The Holy Grail for me, for many years, was being able to synchronise all my different sequencers and drum machines and synths. That was another reason I got into modifying gear. Adding clock and trigger inputs or outputs to things, building weird little interfaces to keep things locked together. I couldn’t afford to buy an Arp or a Moog system, not even a Mini Moog but I had the wherewithal to make an attempt at something that could sound as good as those, well in my own ‘Heath Robinson’ way.
When I could finally afford to buy some ‘real’ gear, shortly after I bought the VCS3, one of the first things I bought was a Roland 104 Step Sequencer to act as a kind of ‘master-clock’ to control my home made modular sequencers, then I got a Roland CR78 drum machine and although all these different modules and units only had trigger ins and outs I could sync them together to each other – after a fashion. Even when playing in Throbbing Gristle, for some studio sessions, I would send Sleazy a constant trigger pulse from my set-up so we could sync up a step-sequencer I’d built him for triggering tape loops and drum sounds. Although the accuracy could be very hit and miss, which sounded fine – it was Throbbing Gristle after all. In retrospect it’s obvious that these methods were an early form of multi-tracking, but without the tape – and without Sync24 or MIDI.
There’s a great quote from Cosey in the Red Bull session where she talks about hearing some other people’s music a few years down the line and wondering if you had been influenced by them before realising that due to the chronology it was actually you that had influenced them.
I know, isn’t that the weirdest thing? We don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music, never have. It’s that old chestnut: the last thing you want to do when you’ve been in the studio for hours and hours is to start listening to someone else’s music when at last you’ve got some free time. We’d rather read a book, watch a movie or listen to Classic FM.
But recently we’d been watching some 80s music documentaries and every now and again we would hear something and say “hang on… that sounds like one of our tracks, which came first”. Thank goodness for Google – because we realised again and again that we’d written ours first, sometimes with a decade between our track and what sounded like it was influenced by our track. Which I suppose is nice, in a “sincerest form of flattery” kind of way.
In the 70s and 80s did you ever have a sense that you had become part of the continuum of influences and incidents that defines the progress of electronic music? Do you find it liberating or limiting in any way or is it just something that you find vaguely interesting and amusing?
It wasn’t until the mid 1990s’ that we really started noticing in interviews that people were referencing me and C&C as being influential or inspirational with our music. Or my use of electronics in both my collaborative work with Cosey and Throbbing Gristle and my solo projects. Of course we’ve been aware of our part in that continuum of influence for years with our work as Throbbing Gristle, although more often than not it was for different reasons and probably less about the electronic aspect of Throbbing Gristle’s music. But by the early 2000s I was resigned to the fact that I’d become part of this nebulous ‘electronic music’ historical timeline, increasingly being referred to in academic crusty tomes and such. It seems as each year passes I’m becoming more a part of it, not that it bothers me – in fact I do find it quite amusing – I guess it’s part of who I am and what I do now isn’t it?
The new release of ‘The Spaces Between’ containing a previously unreleased track is available on Optimo Music.