In this in-depth interview taken from the new Summer issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, MC and iconoclast Tricky speaks to EB Editor-in-Chief Max Dax about the music industry, Prince and why Barack Obama is worse than George W. Bush.
Tricky’s never been one to mince words. Since releasing his genre-defining trip-hop masterpiece Maxinquaye in 1995, the Bristol-born bad boy is notorious for blowing the smoke from his ever-present spliff in the direction of celebrities deemed worthy of being knocked down a notch. And now, he’s made an entire album about it: False Idols takes swipes at everything from the vacantness of celebrity culture to the perceived neoconservative, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing politics of Barack Obama. Some might call him a hater; others will salute his truth with a hallelujah. Either way, a conversation with Tricky is never less than entertaining, as Max Dax found out recently in Berlin. Main photo by Luci Lux, taken in Berlin.
Tricky, when we last spoke you mentioned you were convinced we’d meet again to celebrate when your album went number one in Germany. That’s a bold statement, not something you usually hear from artists, but rather from promoters.
Well, I have a new label and my deal is actually with Horst Weidenmüller from !K7, which is a special thing—something you might call a love affair rather than just business. In contrast, I spoke to Laurence Bell from my other label Domino after a show not too long ago, and I realized they’re really all about radio. Look, everybody wants radio play, and that’s cool. I mentioned something to him about Franz Ferdinand. I said I liked some of their stuff, because they write some good songs sometimes. I asked him how one of their albums was going and he was like, “It’s all finished, we just have to work out the singles.” And I was trying to figure out what he meant. Was the album finished or not? How would he know when an artist is ready? He owns a label. He doesn’t sit in the studio and know how to make music . . . It’s like, with this new album people keep telling me, “You’re back! You’re back!” But I haven’t been away. I’ve simply chosen not to do certain things because I haven’t been in a love affair. So, I guess you could say I’m back because I’m happy. You can’t make your best music when you’re not.
There’s another kind of artistic love affair I hear on your new album, False Idols, with the voice of Chet Baker. I also remember you once did a remix of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”. You also performed it live . . .
I grew up with her voice. My grandma used to play Billie Holiday’s music day and night.
The new album also has some excellent sampling of Baker’s voice from his classic “My Funny Valentine”. By talking about jazz legends and using their voices, you’re probably confronting younger audiences with them for the first time. Are you looking to educate your listeners? Why do you love these older voices so much?
Because when I was going out with Björk, that’s what we listened to. It reminds me of her. And Chet Baker was such a real artist; he had so much pain. We’re missing that in music now. The last true voice I could relate to was Kurt Cobain. Now it’s all just such a celebrity culture, and it’s weakening music. By sampling Chet Baker it’s me offering him to people because you’re not going to get him in real life. And I think I respect older music more than I do new music.
Have you ever listened to “Little” Jimmy Scott?
You should. A few years ago he also did a great version of “Strange Fruit”. His voice is like this transcendental sonic gate to the past, but still extremely relevant.
I’ll check it out. When I did my remix of “Strange Fruit”, it was odd working with her voice, too. Very spooky. Definitely not earthly.
That means you were able to work with the voice on a single track?
Yeah. I listened to it over and over and over again in a little apartment in New Orleans. It was a very eerie vibe listening to the original without the instrumental backing. The same goes for Chet Baker.
Do you consider artists like Chet Baker and Billie Holiday to be your teachers?
Actually, I think about them as peers. There aren’t that many people I respect in the music industry. Most of them are dead. It’s almost like me giving respect and, as you mentioned, introducing them to a younger generation.
Would you say your music is a kind of channeling medium?
Well, yeah. Like with “Black Steel”, my Public Enemy cover. I did it because I wanted to take it to a different audience. Some people are so good that their message should be taken to a bigger environment. I knew Public Enemy was, first of all, an urban thing, and I wanted to show it to kids who aren’t from there.
You could think of Public Enemy’s name as a nod to the old James Cagney film. Your album Angels with Dirty Faces is also a Cagney reference. Do you ever think you would have liked to have lived back in the twenties or thirties or at some other time in the past?
When all the blues and jazz guys went to Paris—that was a special thing. It was pure music, without an industry.
You could have been Miles Davis’ rival for Juliette Gréco in the late forties and fifties. When I met her she said that she once invited him to meet her in Manhattan at the Waldorf Astoria where she stayed and he told her he didn’t want to come. But she couldn’t figure out why, so she finally persuaded him. She told me she had been shocked when she realized how badly he was mistreated by all the white staff. It was embarrassing.
Fucking hell, it’s strange. You don’t usually associate that kind of racism with Miles Davis. You think the guy’s untouchable, a legend, so they should treat him like a legend. Those were different times.
I’ve done a few interviews with Miles Davis sideman and Weather Report keyboarder Joe Zawinul, and he recalled often being offered to sleep in “white” hotels, while the black band members of the groups he was in had to sleep elsewhere. Suffice to say he refused and preferred to stay with the musicians.
We always tend to forget that segregation wasn’t even that long ago. It’s truly difficult to understand all that in light of the insane amount of great music that was played and released back in the day.
People sometimes seem to forget that music used to be about so much more than just business. Bob Dylan recently said that he gets nervous listening to new music.
Did he really use the word nervous? Now, that’s interesting.
I think what he meant is that there was a certain honesty in the sadness of people’s voices in the past. And now, amidst the neoliberal “creative” environment of today’s music industry, people only consider whether or not they can sell something.
I got you. Take “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead and try bringing something like that to Radio 1 in England these days and they’ll laugh you right out the door. Nowadays, you’ve got all these artists who’ve become ATM cards for big businessmen, so the music industry is kind of fucked, you know? As it’s got worse, I’ve gotten worse. I’ve become more militant. I’m not so easy going anymore. I’ve become kind of obsessive. For instance, I had this thing happen to me: 3D from Massive Attack came over to my house last year . . .
Robert Del Naja—how’s he doing?
He’s doing good, or he seems like he’s doing good. Anyhow we agreed to do some songs and within an hour we were arguing, and not over music. It’s because he walked into my house with this Massive Attack bullshit. And I had to say to him: “The younger generation don’t give a fuck about me. They don’t give a fuck about you or Massive Attack. I’ve got a daughter who’s eighteen and she don’t care about my music. She doesn’t know who you are, by name or otherwise. So get over yourself.”
My guess would be that he’s not so used to be being spoken to like that—or maybe I’m wrong? I’d be very curious to know how he took it.
Look, back in the day when me and him used to write together—tracks like “Karmacoma” or “Blue Lines”—I didn’t notice certain things. 3D’s a good man and he’s got a good heart. He’s not a malicious person, but he loves his Massive Attack thing too much. I’d like to think that if this all ended for me tomorrow, I’ve still got friends. I’ve got family who don’t give a fuck if I was famous or not. I’m going to be the same person. I don’t need this to say who I am. I like to see myself like DJ Milo—he walked away from a huge record deal, went to New York, got a job and started doing music in his bedroom. Milo without the music is still Milo. He was just in Bristol with some of my family. But 3D’s different. He needs Massive Attack. Without Massive Attack, he’s nobody. And he knows that. I’m not being disrespectful; it’s just the truth.
Maybe he should go to therapy.
I think he should love himself more and forget the Massive Attack thing. I think maybe he should have kids. When you have a child you forget about yourself. You begin to see the world with their eyes. After recording with him for a few days he’s texting me, I’m getting messages from him. He wants a buddy. He doesn’t want just someone to work with. He wants a buddy to go out together and DJ and drink together—you know, he’s 3D and I’m Tricky, and we party together. But I realized that I didn’t want to hang out with him. Should I tell him that? What should I do? Should I just not answer him? So I asked my cousin for advice and she was telling me: “Just keep it business.”
That’s a tough way of seeing it.
I told you before: as things have continued, I’ve gotten more militant. I ain’t got time for certain people no more. If you were a famous artist and you walk in here like a pop star with your pop star attitude, in the past I might have politely said, “Hey, how are you doing?” But now my mouth just won’t open. My hand won’t even extend to you. Because the lack of honesty you know has just . . . well, here’s another story: I was in New York one time in a club with a friend who doesn’t make any music. My friend’s not interested in any of that stuff, he had a job at the airport. The only thing he was interested in was women. He loves chasing women. Anyhow, we were smoking a spliff and this promoter guy I know comes over and is like, “Lenny wants to meet you.” And all I can think is, “Who’s Lenny?” I said to the guy I know, “I don’t know no Lenny!” And the promoter’s like, “Lenny Kravitz.” He’s sitting over there and wants me to get up and go over there, even though he wants to meet me.
It sounds like he isn’t used to casually running into people.
Well, he ended up coming over and said, “Oh, I love your music.” And then there was an uncomfortable silence, because I think I was supposed to say it back to him. But it’s not true, so at some point he’s like, “I’ve got a studio in Miami, you should come down and record.” We’re in New York and at the time I lived in New Jersey. I had a studio twenty minutes away, so I was like, “Why would I come to Miami?” He was like, “So we can record together.” And I was like, “Why?” And he couldn’t answer. That annoys me. Just because you’re so famous and have so much success you think I want a part of that. Artists need to be brought down to earth a little bit.
So what’s the difference between working with Lenny Kravitz and someone like Grace Jones, who you did collaborate with? I mean, she’s famous too.
I love Grace. She’s mad. And she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s just a crazy woman with talent. And she’s extremely funny, got an amazing sense of humor. Kravitz has got no sense of humor about himself at all.
I met her at the Marco Polo restaurant in London once and I only had a fifteen-minute slot scheduled. I was on my way there, already annoyed, but next thing I knew, we’d had two bottles of Chardonnay and talked for almost two hours. It was great. And we were talking a lot about you!
She’s great. You know that Grace Jones doesn’t need the music thing to be her make-up. I respect artists who can do all this and then put it down. People shouldn’t take it for granted. And if I like you, you shouldn’t take it for granted when you meet me. I’ve seen Prince on the dance floor in a club in L.A. and had a drink in my hand walking back to my table and security told me to walk around the dance floor. When I asked why, they just replied, “Prince is dancing.”
You think he’s living in the past?
It’s so old-fashioned. That stuff is over anyway. I used to listen to Prince. I had a lot of his stuff. But now he’s just a has-been.
Then again, I caught a Kode9 DJ set in Turin, and he started it all out with “Sign O’ the Times” and put this great bass line underneath. He didn’t extend the three minutes, but it sounded like an entirely new journey. You say Prince is a has-been, but he really was a proper somebody when he still was releasing hits, wasn’t he?
He was an incredible talent! But his mind is that of a has-been’s. Undoubtedly he’s one of the most talented artists of that generation, but he still thinks that if he walks into a room, he’ll get the coat taken off his shoulders. Those days are over. The Prince “persona” is from a long time ago. You can’t survive like that, especially with someone like me. Because if Prince walks into the room right now, unless he came to talk to me, I wouldn’t go talk to him. Because I don’t give a fuck about him and I don’t respect the man.
Have you seen any of his recent shows?
No, after that thing in L.A. I haven’t wanted to. Someone actually had tickets for me for a show in Paris when I was there. But I was like, “Nah.” I just sat at a café and smoked weed, chilled out. Once someone acts like that, it’s over for me.
I know you’ve spent quite a bit of time in Paris. Who have you been meeting in Paris that you wanted to work with?
There’s a guy called Seyfu, who’s a very, very good rapper. He’s very real, very anti-popstar. I lived around Chapelle, which is kind of ghetto. I’ve got another friend, who’s an amateur boxer and he introduced me to a bunch of people. But I often meet people just by walking around. See, I’m very accessible. I’ve got no entourage. I walk by myself. You might see me in a supermarket or at a health food store. I’m working with a camera guy at the moment that I bumped into randomly once. He said if I ever needed anything, I should call. So I called and ended up doing two videos recently with him.
So the album title False Idols is a reference to people like Lenny Kravitz and Prince?
Yeah, all that stupid shit. And new artists too, like, say, Rihanna. Look at the power that girl has got. And she’s doing nothing with it! It seems she has more problems keeping her clothes on than . . . It’s like all she sells is sex, right? No disrespect to her at all, but when you have that much power going on, help somebody. Do something. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in her own country. Comment on it! Say something about it! Say Obama is a big fucking liar.
I think she’s originally from Barbados.
Well, fine. But she lives in the U.S. If you’re just going to be famous and it’s a mantle for your ego, then it’s a waste of time.
What’s your daughter listening to?
Well, she’s finally starting to listen to my music now. She told me the other day that she really liked Blowback. She thought it was very “advanced”. Now she’s going through them all and analyzing them. She only knew Maxinquaye before, but now she’s getting in Nearly God and . . .
What about Angels with Dirty Faces?
She’s not gotten to that one yet.
That album’s spirit reminds me so much of Miles Davis’ Cellar Door Sessions and The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. Also your live shows from around Angels with Dirty Faces were amazing. Do you have any plans to release live material?
I didn’t record any of them. If anybody did, that would be nice to release, but I don’t look back. I move on. I don’t really live in the past. I’ve got another album, Hixx, that’s about to be mixed and False Idols isn’t even out yet. I don’t think I’ll be able to bring Hixx out this year, but most likely in January 2014. And then I’m going to do a rap album with DJ Milo. I’ll do some of the production, but then have him do some of it too. I just keep things moving.
You mentioned Obama’s deceitfulness before. You were living in Los Angeles for a while. Was this when you started seeing him critically?
When he was first elected I was going out with a black girl, and she kept saying how great it is to have the first black president. In America, still to this day, it’s difficult for blacks and Hispanics. Obama was a false hope, another false idol. But because I’m English, my experience as a black person has been different. I saw through him from the beginning. But when you’re desperate, you grasp for desperate measures.
He’s a brilliant rhetorician.
I have to admit that I had tears in my eyes when he gave his inauguration speech . . .
But if you look at all the people behind him, you realize he’s Bush with a black face, right? When Bobby Kennedy was killed, that was the end of democracy. Before that, when J.F.K. was killed, that was the rise of the Bush’s and all the ex-slave owners and those in the opium trade. Obama is just coming from that.
He’s related to Dick Cheney—that’s his eighth cousin! If you go back far enough you’ll see it. He’s worse than Bush, because Bush is easy to see for what he is. Obama is dangerous because he seems so good. He’s got a black wife and black children but he doesn’t give a fuck about anybody or any thing.
He regularly invites musicians to play at the White House. What would you do if he invited you?
The only reason I would go would be for the moment when he goes to shake my hand, which is when I would say: “I can’t shake your hand—there’s too much blood on it.” I would like to sit down with him and tell him, “You’re a dog. I have no respect for you. If there is a hell, you’re going there.” ~
Wojtek Rusin is one of those cosmopolitan artists who pursues his dreams as an émigrée, reaping artistic inspiration from the transient nature of such an existence. Originally from Poland, he currently resides in Bristol, UK after stints in Barcelona and Germany. Under his moniker Katapulto, Wojtek has produced a diverse array of music ranging from conceptual pieces to camp, experimental endeavors reminiscent of Felix Kubin, only to arrive at catchy synth-based songs. After a brilliant conceptual tape for Sangoplasmo where he used recordings in several languages about animals, Rusin returns with his latest album Bad Tourist—named so because “it could be a title of a theatre play”—out now on AMDISCS. We caught up with him to talk about subversion, angry markets and the power of high-definition.
Bad Tourist brings to mind some of those good, hit-loaded synthpop albums from the eighties in the vein of Depeche Mode, etc.
I was definitely looking for something like this. Sometimes you have these albums where three four songs are really good and with the rest couldn’t work on their own and are just there to fill up the product. I didn’t want that. I love the early Depeche Mode albums, where every song is a song in its own right. My record somehow refers to the eighties because of the synth sounds, but I guess the production has a modern twist. I didn’t want to go for lo-fi aesthetics. There are also these two songs—“Stories from Beyond the Sun”—where the computer talks about melodramatic stories taken from the tabloids. I also used some nineties loops found on some obscure blogs about obsolete music technology. It’s sometimes inspiring to work with found lyrics and sound.
How did the album come about?
The whole album is a selection of songs that I recorded over the last two years. I had been living in Barcelona, Poland and Bristol during that time. It’s a bit like a diary; impressions of different places and situations. I was definitely going for diversity rather than consistency throughout the whole thing. Every track posed a different challenge.
Have the geographical differences left a mark on the songs?
For example I went to this exhibition about television at the MACBA in Barcelona, and there was this BBC TV series from the seventies called Ways of Seeing. I included some things from it into my lyrics. Right now I’m doing a course on teaching children music and had to go through these online tests. I ended up making a song inspired by this called “Children Protection”. The album is more free form and not as concept-heavy as the Animalia cassette, that had this pseudo-educational vibe and was sonically more about the sound design and creating some kind of fake folk music. On the other hand, on the new record every song has this single, independent character. It tells a story by itself.
Do you approach your music from a conceptual standpoint?
In those two tracks mentioned before I really enjoyed the tension between the found lyrics and muzak-like elevator sounds. The rest are songs with hopefully nice melodies and well-programmed drums. Animalia was a conceptual album, and so is the music I make for theater. The last play involved me amplifying various domestic objects with contact mics and improvising around the lines of the actors. I did quite strange music years ago, the first albums are perhaps unlistenable but I think they’re quite interesting. It’s a way of finding a balance between an intriguing, original sound and putting it in a frame of a pop song. I think the record is quite contemporary with songs, conceptual pieces… It’s a bit eighties and nineties feeling but not in a retro-nostalgic way. It’s natural to quote and refer to the past. What is the contemporary sound anyway? There is this very contemporary sounding artist called Shackleton who is so futuristic that it somehow escapes the past, it’s truly music from another planet. I saw him at a festival recently and was amazed. James Ferraro on the other hand refers to muzak, ringtones, midi kitsch, sound design. Everything is happening at the same time, the references are all there because of the internet—it’s hard to escape. Hype Williams are an interesting example of filtering the last 20 years of electronic, hedonistic rave music through their lo-fi aesthetic.
The aesthetic criteria have changed too…
The lo-fi post punk aesthetic doesn’t work for me anymore. The methods that were relevant in the past with the lo-fi, rough sound have been worn out. Some musicians are going for cleaner, more futuristic sounds in order to make subversive music. It’s also a more natural method for me since I’ve always used computers rather than synths but there are still labels out there which are fascinated and a bit nostalgic about dirty synthesizers and drum machines. I can imagine that by using this stuff you can have a very consistent sound throughout the whole record which is sometimes quite tempting but it’s actually more fascinating and challenging to use the new technologies. Then you are using the same weapons as the mainstream. I’m fascinated by HD, After Effects and sound design. I did a song with a 22-year-old and she thinks the dirty punk thing is very retro. The subversive language has changed and we have to attack with HD rather than some sort of nostalgic noise and feedback.
You work with digital technologies?
Almost everything is computer VSTs. Recently I had a chance to play with a fantastic modular synth that my friend built and it was great, magical, but I didn’t have a clue what do to with it! Somehow I managed to slip into self-referential retro. But some people can use these machines in a very creative way.
What constitutes futurism in music for you nowadays?
We are getting into a phase where the differences are very subtle and the old methods of analysis have changed. You listen to something and have to spend more time to detect some radical novelty. When I was younger and listened to a new record, it was a totally new world, you didn’t recognize the references. In a gig environment I like it when I get lost and don’t know the references, it feels like being 18 again and listening to a tape by Squarepusher and wondering what the hell that is. Thing is, you can’t expect such massive shift in sound like fifteen years ago. I guess everyone is referring somehow to the musical past, it’s about filtering, an art of intelligent quoting, or maybe I’m totally wrong and we’ll be blown away in a few years with some sort of a totally new thing that doesn’t sound like anything else. Is this still possible?
Talking about subversion, you did a video for your song Angry Markets, deconstructing sterile stock images. You worked at a design agency so you have personal experience with the world of commercial imagery, right?
This is an aesthetic used in a corporate world. You have groups of photographs arranged under keywords like happy people, where everyone is very young with blue stripy shirts, happy and smiling. This represents a certain economic and political direction, and it’s quite interesting to use this aesthetic in a music video. The lyrics “Angry markets, profit warnings” came from the BBC’s financial news and I found this ultra-capitalist language of the angry markets rather scary. In a way it is a political song. It’s also about truth. When you look at these photographs, are these happy people? Do we believe their smiles? I don’t know who believes in this anymore. They are monsters fabricated by ideology.
But you are also influenced by other media outside of music?
I’m a big fan of Ryan Trecartin who makes these flamboyant films with pitch-shifted voices and stories about internet characters. It’s very futuristic and the sound design is brilliant because he mixes everything in such a nonchalant way. I’m very inspired by visual art. I also love the art of Joe Evans who made a large sculpture for the cover of the album. I want to make more videos, to add different dimensions to my music.
You have lived both in the east and the west of Europe. What is your view of the east/west divide, especially in terms of music?
I moved to Britain in 2004 but I was brought up in Poland and lived in Germany for a bit. With the UK, I certainly moved into a country of a very diverse culture and very advanced capitalism. I’m a bit trapped in a channel of Anglo-American music here. It’s a natural process but you have to be aware of it. When I was living in Poland I was listening to a lot of German music because Germany is Poland’s neighbor with a very strong tradition of electronic music. When I came to England, I realized they haven’t heard about certain things which were well known to me, like the Scape label, Pole, etc. I did a mixtape for a US blog recently, and I looked at my itunes and realized that most of the tracks are featured on every cool blog and how could I surprise anybody with that. I had to dig deeper into my library and find, for instance, German new wave hero Holger Hiller. I’m certainly aware that there are interesting things happening in Central and Eastern Europe and hopefully they will become louder.
Stream Katapulto’s album Bad Tourist in full:
Sorry, the streaming ended. Head here to buy the gold: http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/collapsed
When I look back to music in 2011, one thing that immediately comes to my mind is Emptyset‘s Demiurge album. A slightly punishing workout from the dark side of techno, topped with the kind of manipulated basslines which changed my life. Some weeks ago, when we shared thoughts with the Chemnitz-based Raster-Noton label, we learned that the fabulous Bristol duo is set to release a 12″ on Carsten Nicoloai‘s label – although it’s only been six months since James Ginzburg (of Ginz, 30Hz, P Dutty) and Paul Purgas delivered their last album Medium for Subtext. And here we are; today’s EB Listening is pleased to unveil their next drop, the Collapsed EP.
Mark Stewart is a formidable thinker. He talks quickly but his brain is almost definitely moving even faster. To engage him in conversation is to become entangled in a dense web of references, names and concepts, the conversational topics ricocheting from one to the other at an intimidating velocity. That’s OK though, we’ve come to expect that of the man that helped bring us Bristol post punk politicos The Pop Group. With their agitprop approach and DIY sensibilities they helped vocalise the anger and apathy that defined 80s Britain hobbled by a Thatcher government. While few would have predicted that they would ever reform, this year saw the band working on an album of new material.
There’s more to Mark Stewart than The Pop Group, however. A fervent online activist and solo artist, his recent album The Politics of Envy (released via Future Noise) affirmed his influence as he drew upon his friends and peers for collaborations – Kenneth Anger, Primal Scream, Richard Hell and Lee “Scratch” Perry all signed up. Still, for all his old guard status, he still resonates with a whole new generation and today sees the release of his collaboration with Nik Void of austere industrialists Factory Floor for new single ‘Stereotype’.
A good a time as any, then, for Electronic Beats editor-in-chief Max Dax to pick the his brains. Hold tight.
Max Dax: I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the role of protest in music, going back to the 1960s when it was a very real entity. I assume that you don’t consider what you are doing as protest music, but there is this very conscious aspect to the music you make – how would you relate to that term?
Mark Stewart: Personally I don’t separate politics from reality. I think every move you make is political – when you pick up the cup and the cup is made from tin from a death belt in Africa, or your trainers are made with slave labour in China. Everything is political. People say my music is political, so is everyone else in the world blind when they look at the obscene inequalities in the way the corporations are raping the world’s resources?
You are referring to this Joseph Beuys idea, that everything you do, everything you say, has a political component?
Yeah, they have a saying in Bali: “We have no art, we do everything well”. The Greek root of the word politics is just “gathering” or “people”. How come that since the Medieval times a small amount of people have convinced the rest that they are not in control of their actions, that it’s up to kings or queens or politicians. That’s rubbish. Why should pensioners in Greece or Spain be blamed for a banking scandal in America when millionaire bankers ripped off each other? It’s all a big confidence trick. I see capitalism as a mirror that is beginning to crack. I mean, Guy Debord, one of the founders of the Situationist International, wrote this book called “Society of the Spectacle” and I think we’ve been under the spell of the spectacle, we’ve been zombie workers for too long. Even in Tunisia with Tunileaks, in different parts of Africa people are realising that what they’ve been told is complete bullshit. The media is owned by the slavemasters.
Do you consider your music and your role as an artist as an opportunity to spread ideas, concepts and doubts?
Doubt is a very important word for me. The concepts of doubt and the fire of nihilism has been driving me since the beginning of punk days. With my last record “The Politics of Envy” I was collaborating with people like The Raincoats, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Keith Levene from Public Image Limited, Killing Joke and the Slits and it really reminded me of the D.I.Y. messthetics – as Simon Reynolds called it – from back in the day with Rough Trade. When we tried to control our means of production and we were just constantly doing protests rallies. I think at the moment all you can share is a sense of community across the world. Friends of mine are fighting on the front line of Burma, and yet other friends are fighting against loggers in South America. Music is like an umbrella which can give you a little solace and make you feel like you’re not the only lunatic or the only outsider in the world. We thought from punk that everybody was equal, the people on the stage were no more important than the people in the audience. I see my role only as important as someone making a carpet or fixing an engine or putting a shoe on a horse, it’s part of the continuous process.
You just mentioned the importance of friendship, of exchanging and formulating thoughts. One of the irritating facets of the 21st century is how the term friends seems like it’s owned by Facebook. How do you see this shift in how we talk about issues like friends and gatherings?
I feel that across the world people are beginning to see through the lies. There’s a generation of people who’ve been fed by music and radical ideas, from the Occupy movement to Tibet to people on the streets in Thailand. Everywhere I travel people are really beginning to question what we’re being told. Whether they use Twitter to organise a demonstration, whether they organise Occupy protests or hacktivist symposiums, I think the speed of the hypermedia helps. My community now lives online. Back in the day you could say I’m a punk, I’m a goth, I’m into reggae and you’d gather at certain concerts but now there are people like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups and there’s a space where people with shared interests can gather – online. It seems that there are punk secret agents from our generation throughout different levels of our society like The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, to the head of a big Japanese media conglomerate. I’ve got a lyric on the new album: “bankrupt ideologies litter the dealing room floors” – I think we’ve really got to keep open minds and keep our antennaes open and not moan and not judge things by the past and use the new tools to build something new. It’s a time of hyperchange and we can’t keep judging it by morals and ideals from the 1950s.
Another ideal, not from the 50s but the 80s, a result of punk, was the foundation of Rough Trade Records. They considered themselves independent from the market and from the media. Then Rough Trade went bankrupt and now when you talk about indie rock, it seems to have become a genre of music but it’s not filled with political context any more. How do you feel about this word Independency being stolen?
It would be a ten page conversation about so-called independent record stores or record labels. My only feeling is when we were kids we built up the tendrils that stretched across the world from Japan, to Survival Research Laboratories in the States, to Rough Trade America to cool protest groups in South America, bands in Japan. What I’ve found in the last couple of years with my friends, my comrades, they’re Chinese artists, people behind Tunileaks, they’re aboriginal people, it’s a much wider thing than just music. I call these people sympatico, maybe we argue over the specifics and maybe somebody’s got the wrong concept of economics … But music is one small corner of this group. There’s a global underground and I’m finding that people on the electronic frontiers have the most imagination at the moment. The discussions we’re having is reminiscent of the old salons in Vienna where mystics, alchemists, scientists and politicians did gather. People at the bleeding edge of new technologies, new political concepts and experiments in art and music are all gathering together. That’s how I found Kreuzberg in Berlin, with people like Bruce La Bruce. It’s possible for bright minded people to meet like they did in the Cabaret de Voltaire and create new things. My father was a great scientist – so I grew up with mad people coming to the house anyway!
Do you see your new record as a manifesto for this?
A personal manifesto. All I’m doing is that I’m going through notes of what I’m interested in, notes of what I think is wrong and what I think is right, interesting things I see in the world, be they political, mystical, artistic, sexual or politics. And often it’s just questions. For me my new album is like a personal letter from my front line. If I have to be a poet in this situation I should be allowed to deal with any subject in the world. Why should we be censored in music to just sing about cars and girls?
You say it’s a personal letter, but normally you write a letter to a certain person you have in mind – and not an anonymous mass of people.
It’s a jumble of my mind. I remember talking to Allen Ginsberg once about how he wrote, and it’s just the way my mind thinks and it’s the way my mind’s been thinking since I was 14. I’m not saying anything is right or wrong but these are the things I find interesting. Other people obviously find it interesting to sing about bottoms or breasts or Ferraris. But I don’t, sorry.
How have you felt about The Pop Group’s comeback so far?
The strangest thing happened when Matt Groening curated ATP and he asked Iggy to reform the Stooges and me to reform The Pop Group. I thought it was a stupid idea. I thought it would be like necrophilia. Then, suddenly, with my art projects I’ve been flown to Vancouver and been told to collaborate with a fat Korean artist who works with lard and some shadow puppet maker from Thailand. I keep trying to decondition and question why I’m making certain judgements: One side of my brain said why are you negating this thing, why can’t you just treat the reformation as a new commission. So I thought OK I’d walk into this with new eyes and I just said to the other members “let’s see if we can make something new”. Immediately when me and Gareth Sager started working something really bizarre happened. There’s these alchemical beasts called golem, and golem appeared in the room. It’s nothing like anything from The Pop Group, it’s nothing like anything me or the other guys have ever made, they’re like these huge French chansons with string arrangements and these things are running off with a life of their own. I’m shocked. We’ve just control of our back catalogue so next year there’s going to be a classic box set and we’re going to produce a brand new Pop Group album called The Alternate. The thing’s got a life of its own. It’s interesting for me, I can stand back and watch, it’s like a firework. I don’t understand how these things work but from hanging around with Kenneth Anger last year in Portugal I learned that if magic happens you just have to stand back and watch. You don’t try and control it.
But somehow you control it by having different outlets, you have the Pop Group, you have The Maffia [his band which releases material on On-U Records] your internet activity, how do you know what’s going to come next?
I don’t. It’s random procedures that we learnt from oblique strategies and from the beatniks: You can do these strategies of refusal where you deny your past and break a habit. A lot of it is chance procedures, but those chance procedures create sparks. Over the years when I’ve taken a chance and clashed different genres people have said that I invented industrial or trip hop or whatever but that’s because I deliberately negated a normal procedure and something strange happened and I let it happen and I was man enough to stand back and not say no that’s wrong. Some of the best things in science are when people think in a lateral way and in juxtapositions. I think Kenneth Anger’s juxtaposition in Scorpio Rising, of that homoerotic biker footage and that religious imagery he got through his letter box by chance. I would go that far to say that these random juxtapositions are the most important things of our generation. Then there is a chance for something new without our conditioning. Basically we’re all the constructs of our condition.
How far does it go back? You said it was the beatniks were the first to use this random, anti-cyclic process of putting things together – also called cut-up.
I didn’t say they were the first, I’ve got some old Arabic grimoires and I think it goes back to the beginning of time. As a human being you’ve got to realise, Tricky had this project called Product of the Environment. Basically we’ve got to realise that since we’re born, it’s like the Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, if we were raised in the forest we’d have different ideas to those we have. Part of my thing is to always keep on questioning why I’m doing something. ~
Tight close-ups of lichen-covered tree trunks and sunlight filtered through hazel leaves? Today’s EB Video Exclusive is undoubtedly a pastoral affair. Indeed, the critical consensus that Minotaur Shock‘s David Edwards has finally come around to the whole folktronica tag is leant further credence with this, the Torchy Design directed video for first single ‘Saundersfoot’. Still, there’s no arguing that the clip is the perfect visual extension of the track’s late summer mood captured within its drifting chimes, buoyant synths and live drums. An excellent entry point into his fifth LP Orchard.