Despite his rave roots, the Berlin-based artist’s new album and the club night he promotes draw further away from techno and deeper into the post-apocalyptic dance fringes of the revered Downwards label it’s released on. Angus Finlayson investigates.
There’s plenty of dark, challenging techno around at the moment, but the output of Samuel Kerridge stands alone. First emerging with an EP on Horizontal Ground last year, Kerridge’s sound is as romantic as it is grim, a bleak death march through some snow-blown apocalyptic landscape. In conversation, the Berlin-based Kerridge—these days he goes simply by his second name—seems hesitant to use the “techno” descriptor at all. Certainly, while his early output often retained a stodgy four-four stomp in amongst the noxious soundscaping, his forthcoming album seems less beholden to the dancefloor than ever. The seven tracks found on A Fallen Empire, appearing through the renowned Downwards imprint, retain a rhythmic backbone, but explore a form of frostbitten drone more indebted to the fringes of the Birmingham label’s revered back catalogue—or, indeed, the broader tradition of industrial music—than to the landscape of contemporary Berlin.
Along with his wife Hayley, Kerridge also runs a Sunday daytime event in the city. Contort has seen the likes of Downwards boss Regis, Bill Kouligas, Cristian Vogel, and more perform unconventional sets at Kreuzberg arts space Mindpirates, under the slogan “NOT just another techno/house party.” But while Kerridge’s creative demeanor is one of militant resistance to all things mediocre, in person he is a remarkably mild fellow, more than willing to hold forth on the failings of Berlin’s nightlife, why Regis ought to be on the public payroll, and the raving inspiration that is his father.
Your club event, Contort, seems to be going from strength to strength lately. How long has it been running for?
We started it after a few months of living in Berlin. The first two parties were just friends and a few curious people, nothing to write home about. But there was this feeling that it was something special. And I think after I released on Horizontal Ground there was a draw to it. And the place is good. It’s an arts space. It affects a lot of people when they go in there—it’s really overpowering. The main thing is—I know we’re not the first night ever to have done it—but we are offering something different in Berlin. I suppose a Sunday daytime event of this sort of caliber is quite different. Like when Karl [O’Connor, aka Regis] played, he’d played Berghain the night before, and he played a jungle set. I think it’s just offering people something that little bit different.
Did it come out of you thinking there was something lacking in Berlin’s nightlife?
Oh yeah, totally. To be honest, we’d never been here before we moved, me and Hayley. We were in Manchester, and thought, “Do you know what, let’s move to Berlin.” Before I came here I thought, “I’m sure at every party there’s going to be this weird, experimental, fucked-up music going on in one room, it’s going to be amazing.” But we moved here and it was just techno, tech-house, or house, and that was it. There were a few good nights, but it wasn’t what I expected or what I was led to believe, like it was in the nineties. So there was a gap in the market I think, and that’s why [Contort] has been so successful so far.
Regis has played a big part in your success—through the Downwards releases, obviously, but as I understand it he helped sort out the Horizontal Ground EP too. Do you guys speak regularly?
Yeah, more via email, it’s an email relationship at the moment. But he’s a little jet-setter isn’t he, he’s all over the world [laughs]. His support has been amazing. He’s definitely the modern day John Peel. I think he should be working for the BBC—although he’d probably hate that. But yeah, to meet someone that’s so enthusiastic and not self-centered—he really just cares about nurturing talent. If he’s really into it, he’ll really push you.
I’ve seen the two of you talk about techno in similar terms. He has always described it as just a vehicle for ideas, and in your Quietus interview you said that techno is, “like any artform, an expression rather than specifically a genre.” So I wondered what kind of ideas or emotions you were trying to express through techno?
When I see people refer to my music as techno—I don’t really see it as that. But if people want to pigeonhole it into that… some of it admittedly is, it’s techno-oriented, it’s got that influence. I don’t now. People listening to my music probably think I’m a dark sadistic fucker, but I’m not [laughs]. I’m actually alright! There’s a lot of emotion and soul that goes into when I’m making music—it’s a really emotional process. But I’m not trying to express any deep emotional scars I’ve got from childhood.
Is it fair to say that the things you’re trying to express through your music take you quite far away from the dancefloor? Does the idea of making functional dance music just not interest you at all?
I’d have to disagree. When I’m creating music I’m envisaging the impact it would have on the dance floor, that is my expression. If anything, the dancefloor is where it is supposed to be. People can be naive and dismiss it because it isn’t conventional club fodder, but home listening doesn’t do it justice. Crowds really lose themselves to my live sets, it’s a very intense affair. In my eyes, my whole output is centred around dancefloors. A lot of it falls down to what your stance on “functional” is.
I wonder if you dislike the disposable aspect of dance music, too. In the Quietus interview you said, “Iʼd like to leave a legacy, not a five-minute Beatport chart.” But I guess leaving a legacy doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from the dancefloor?
Definitely not, there is some great music past and present made for the dance which has and will stand the test of time. I’m not some Croc-wearing anti-dancefloor fascist. My gripe, and I’m not alone, is with the sheer amount of shit music out there. And I don’t blame this on the internet, with it being easier to release music, because years ago there was a huge amount of vinyl out and we still had the same problem. The shameful fact of it all is there is a lot of throwaway music. People are conned by shepherds, and generally the flock follows. But you know when you’re watching a great DJ, when every record stands on its own, their crate is filled with pieces of music, not tools. When you buy a record, you have to think, “Will I still be playing this in two, five, ten years’ time?” Most of the time, it’s a no.
Let’s talk about the LP. Is there a particular concept behind it that sets it apart from the EPs?
It definitely captures a moment in time. All of those tracks were recorded in three or four months over winter. You were saying about expression earlier—I’m sure I was a little bit depressed last year. Last winter in Berlin was really dark, and went on for a long time. By the end of it, it was just horrible. And those tracks were made in that time, so they probably do reflect where I was mentally at the time.
I wanted to talk about your childhood—your parents were involved with the rave scene in ‘88, right?
You’ve said that they got you into a lot of sixties and seventies music as well. So were they a bit older than the average raver in ’88?
Yeah they were. But my dad still likes it now—he’s 63 now I think, he still goes out clubbing and loves it. When we got married in Ibiza a few years ago, he was like a little kid in a sweet shop, it was mental! So I think it’s never been age—it’s where your mental stage is. In ‘88 I was about three or four, so through the nineties I was growing up around this. My mum would go up to Manchester for the weekend, and my Dad would take me and my sister in our VW Camper Van on convoys through the woods to parties. We went on a camping holiday once and a Fantazia [rave] was happening round the corner. And he actually went one night—his mates dug a hole underneath the fence and he got in. The next day my mum was like, “He’s still not back—right, we’re going down there.” She marched us down to Fantazia. All the doormen had guns on them and stuff, I was shitting myself. They took us in, and we found my Dad in this tent, at seven in the morning, going mental. So I was just surrounded by it. I think a lot of kids growing up in the late eighties, early nineties were influenced, because it was all over the charts as well.
Having experienced those exciting, unifying moments of acid house and early rave as a child, is that something you yearn for? Do you miss it in contemporary dance music?
Absolutely, the hedonism has been lost. But attitudes in society have changed along the way too, willingly or unwillingly. It’s something I yearn for yes, and I don’t know if we will ever get that back, but I don’t cry about it. Thatcher was at the helm in England [then], so it wasn’t all shits and giggles! Its all about the here and now. Music is in a good place, there are some great things happening, boundaries being pushed, and I think it’s really exciting to see where the old guard and new are going. ~
Contort #7 takes place at Urban Spree in Berlin on this Sunday, November 3rd. Kerridge’s A Fallen Empire is out on Friday, November 15th via Downwards.
Berlin is a city of DJs, but it’s by no means unique in that regard—it seems like anyone with a laptop (or less) wants in on the game. That’s why I’d like to offer a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years; it might help you put a new “spin” on your sets. I wish I was dead.
The first thing you need to know as a DJ is that nobody’s coming to hear you play music; they can listen to the same damn tracks in their home and not pay 8 bucks for a Jack and Coke while some skid tries to crawl their leg. They want to feel like they’re someplace fashionable so they can justify the rest of their banal existence, as well as their obscene bar tab. So before you sort out your tracks, sort yourself out first. Recommended looks include black clothes.
Next you’re going to want to make sure you have plenty of drugs. Whoa, whoops, I mean, don’t have plenty of drugs. I myself never do drugs and would never recommend them to my readership here. You don’t want those drugs. I don’t want to do any drugs, that’s for sure. I’m not racking up huge lines in the shape of pentagrams and punching the bathroom wall as I listen to Soulja Boy and pray to ancient and dreaming gods. I don’t want drugs. Ignore the jack-off motion I’m making.
Now you’re ready to get to the real meat of DJing: the sex. All DJs have sex, a lot. That’s why so many horrible-looking people are DJs, and why so many of the good looking ones often accept lower fees (ahem) to play in college towns. You could have twin leaking goiters popping out of the corners of your mouth like pool balls but once you hit play you’re gonna get taken down to Pound Town. My advice? Missionary position. It’s a classic for a reason.
At some point you’re going to be required to play music. That means you’re going to need a device to play it with. A lot of modern DJs use computers; I find that to be a bit clunky, and I always worry about people spilling drinks on it while I’m distracted with Facebook. An iPod will suffice just as well; you can get really cute lil’ DJ setups for it that you can fiddle with and look relatively busy, and the whole thing fits nicely on top of those turntables nobody uses. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a non-Apple MP3 player will suffice. You’re going to look like a fool.
Can’t be bothered? No worries, a cool new way to do a DJ set is to just get on the mic and make all the music noises yourself. You have to cup your hand over your mouth and do all the samples too so be careful what you “play” because by the tenth time you’ve shrieked, “RUN THE TRAP, mheemheeMWEHHHHHHHHH,” you’re going to start to feel a bit silly. Try to keep it instrumental unless you have the pipes for it.
Well, that’s it. You’re pretty much a DJ at this point. Make sure to get your drink tickets beforehand.
“Noise is dying. Punk’s been dead. The only rock’n’roll left is in your head.” – Sewn Leather, “No Names”
“Meet the new goths. Same as the old goths.” – The Who, “Won’t Go Goth Again”
Like a rather bedraggled and dusty phoenix, goth has rebirthed itself in a way that echoes its 30+ year history as well as explores new ground. Sometime in the mid-late ’00s, post-punk sounds from groups such as S.C.U.M and Kasms brought a darker edge to indie music that hadn’t been so visible in years. To younger ears with few accessible options for this kind of vibe, it was fascinating; to older ears longing for new takes on beloved ideas, it was a godsend. As the likes of Cold Cave, Light Asylum, and Zola Jesus helped redefine classic goth tropes, minimal wave enthusiasts WIERD and Veronica Vasicka were using their labels, parties, and love of classic sounds to attract new electronic producers with a taste for gloom as well as weekly crowds of cross-genre weirdos and trendsetters alike. Slowly an audience was built, partly from scratch—bringing in those drawn to the style and dark glamor of it all—and partly from those bored with the stale, established goth scene and looking for something familiar yet refreshing.
Around 2010, this New Dark Age went a poppier, reconceptualized route with darkwave-esque witchy sounds (the categorization of which has been articled to death) and parties like New York’s Pendu Disco, FILTH† and S!CK, where you were likely to hear just as much Britney as Salem, and White Ring might open for aarabMUZIK. In many ways, that first season of the witch seemed both a rejection and reclamation of goth: a queer-friendly, ADD blend of underground and trendy aesthetics, where Top 40 could be twisted into something bleak and new, a world with fewer barriers and a lot more fog. An aspect of witch house rarely mentioned is that, unlike the highly sexualized goth scene, it had a more asexual or even desexualized vibe to it as well—something perhaps emphasized by its classification as an “internet subculture”. The visual keys (a blend of high-fashion goth/punk, hip-hop tropes like gold chains and black New Era caps, touches of rave culture) were those of the younger, more technologically-obsessed consumer than the velvet-and-clove crowd—something that also made it feel more more finite and therefore more exciting for those involved (including myself). While a few bright young faces still exist today such as BLVCK CEILING, Crim3s and Bruxa, for the most part the witch scene has burnt itself out amongst a sea of symbols, lazy productions, and forgetting not to take itself seriously.
The wider influence it had (admitted or not) outside its limited sphere is still noticeable. Walk into any youth-catered mainstream store with the slightest veneer of ‘alternative’ on its name and you’re likely to find spike-covered jumpers, creepers, and upside-down cross sweaters sharing rack space with neon hoodies—a trend that peaked in high fashion (as well as the digital world) mid-2011 and continues to be absorbed, diluted and reformatted by mainstream, sub-mainstream and wholly underground brands alike. Both the visual and audio influence has been felt even more in a variety of sub-mainstream musicians, among them Purity Ring, Holy Other, and Grimes.
While bands who wear their goth-rock cards on their sleeves continue to spawn in new ways (I recommend checking out Sweating Tapes for a glimpse at some of the best), within the past few years there has been a shift toward a sort of new-school-via-old-school EBM revival. This is not the blasé cybergoth EBM that you’ll hear in ‘real’ goth clubs; these musicians are influenced more by the vibe of industrial punk, crafting stomping beats that lead as much to the moshpit as the dancefloor. Texas duo //TENSE// were perhaps the most noticeable of this new breed, and through them, a rising wake was left behind—brutal one-man acts like By Any Means Necessary, the rawness of Youth Code, and sleek after-dark soundtrackers like White Car. In terms of classic influence, these groups lie somewhere between the fetish-friendly industrialectro of ’90s-era Die Form, the oddball punk ad-libs of Nervous Gender, and the aggressive adjective of a young Skinny Puppy, and it’s notable that many of them have jettisoned the ideal of overproduced floor-fillers for DIY earkillers. Youth Code’s debut cassette was recorded live in their bedroom a week before their first show, lending it a bleak crunchiness that fits in perfectly with their grimy aesthetic, while By Any Means Necessary makes a point of recording entirely via hardware. Many of the OG witch acts have begun to follow suit as well: White Ring’s newer productions leave behind much of their hip-hop inspirations for more driving terror-beats, Fostercare has upgraded his original sound entirely, and ∆AIMON continue to produce ever-lusher, heavier productions. “I know there are people like us who love goth and industrial, but don’t really want to relate to a relatively stagnant genre,” said ∆AIMON’s Nancy Showers. “I think the aesthetic has always been cool because of its obscure nature, and there have always been people like us lurking in the shadows, waiting for it to re-emerge.”
“I was shocked when I started hearing this stuff again.“ Giallo Disco Records owner and producer Antoni Maiovvi says. “For me, it’s all part of a larger community who make weirdo dance records.” Musician and promoter Mike Textbeak, whose ties with the IRL goth scene are still bound closely, has a somewhat different take on the issue: “Once you have connected to something like Coil or Throbbing Gristle, it’s very hard to fill that space with anything else. Music like that is harsh and raw and true. It’s not fake or glamorous, and it’s not pretty by normal standards. It is beautiful, frightening, and real like life—like a car crash, an insect, a flower, the night sky. The point is that fans of classic industrial (similarly fans of old goth/post-punk) tend to hold this music almost religiously, and therefore it retains its importance in the underground. It seems harshly pristine to our irony-saturated modern culture. People want something new and different and real. They are digging for it and finding it. They are no longer forced to watch the same ten videos on MTV. People can now choose to listen to whatever challenging music they please—which is why so many people are.”
While many in the goth scene scorn techno, it’s oftentimes these sort of producers who achieve the most interesting and bleakest sounds while defying strict categorization. Labels like Blackest Ever Black and Downwards continually push new ideas that echo with the old evils while still evoking new wonders. The crisp, metallic post-punk techno of Silent Servant (aka Juan Mendez, of the sadly-departed Sandwell District) works just as well in a massive, high-end club as in some dank fog-shrouded basement. Dominick Fernow’s incorporation of his myriad influences into both Prurient and Vatican Shadow has been fascinating to watch (and listen to), while Powell’s disjointed techno brilliantly incorporates hacked-up No Wave.
With not one but a series of redefined templates and a growing list of interesting new faces, however you wish to define it, the term goth has lost quite a a lot of its social stigmata—not that most goths would care. While some scene-traditional goths have embraced the new class, most seem to remain unaware, bewildered or outright hateful. This has shifted somewhat in recent years with crossover groups like Bestial Mouths and Light Asylum attracting attention from both sides. Scene figureheads such as Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb has taken part in his wife Hazel’s esoteric Show Cave parties (a continuation of the even more bizarre White Slave Trade) which has brought a variety of new and old musicians and artists together, including Modern Witch, Genesis P-Orridge, and Chelsea Wolfe. Weekly nights like LIL DEATH meld witchy, industrialized sounds with club-friendly bass, while promoters like Pendu continue to combine dark fashion aesthetics with fittingly occult music. ” It’s the beat; that’s why goth finds itself at times in the mainstream,” says Pendu. “It will come to haunt all of our dreams soon. I’m excited to see where it leads us.”
Alongside his duties as an EB writer and editor, Daniel Jones is also the creator of the blog-brand Gucci Goth (now BlackBlackGold).
Photo: Zed Cutsinger
The Week in EB feature is a platter of the finest cuts of EB content, served up in one place, once a week. The idea is that it offers you an opportunity to catch up with what we’ve been getting excited about over the last seven days. Of course, it’s become a truism to remark that we live in an era of information saturation; where every day our attention spans are torn asunder by channels competing for our eyes and ears and keystrokes and mouseclicks. Nevermind all that, though, sometimes quality is where it’s at. Here’s the cream of the crop.
Life Of Grime: An interview with Wen
The Keysound Recordings-signed British producer’s strain of grime and dubstep starts at 130 bpm and stakes bold new claim in now classic territories.
High Anxiety: An interview with Autre Ne Veut
Adam Harper speaks with the pop auteur, signed to Oneohtrix Point Never‘s Software label, making art from the dark side of the human condition.
Downwards is the Only Way Forward: An interview with Regis
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Downwards label. Angus Finlayson speaks to co-founder Regis about the label’s origins, future, and the artists that have shaped both. Before British Murder Boys and after Sandwell District, Downwards remains.
Eastern Haze: February
As Eastern Europe’s sense of political discontent grows, February’s edition of Eastern Haze explores how music is reacting to and reflecting the collective mood.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Downwards label. Angus Finlayson speaks to co-founder Regis about the label’s origins, future, and the artists that have shaped both. Before British Murder Boys and after Sandwell District, Downwards remains.
Downwards, it’s safe to say, can be counted among the most important record labels in techno. Largely that’s due to its role in shaping the sparse, steely strain of industrial techno that came to be known as the Birmingham sound, through releases from Surgeon and label co-founders Peter Sutton, aka Female, and Karl O’Connor, aka Regis. But Downwards was never simply a techno label. For O’Connor, it represented an escape from the mundanity of the suburban Midlands, and an outlet for the realization of his own singular vision. Regis is one of techno’s great individuals, a producer who—from the remorseless Jeff Mills-influenced churn of his early work through to the abrasive theatricality of his British Murder Boys collaboration with Surgeon—has proven that dance music can stand for much more than simply getting bodies moving. His Downwards releases were, and are, darkly stylish, witty, often confrontational, but never dull.
The inspiration for O’Connor’s particular brand of sonic provocation comes from the challenging electronic pop of his mid ’80s youth, and it’s arguably his insistence that music should be more than simply functional—more, even, than simply music—that has maintained the label’s relevance through its two-decade lifespan. From the first ever Downwards release—Antonym’s thorny, discordant Shattering Of An Illusion 7”—through to his recent championing of bands including Tropic of Cancer, DVA DAMAS, and The KVB, O’Connor has consistently embraced the unexpected. This year marks the label’s 20th anniversary and the launch of Downwards America, run by O’Connor’s long-term collaborator and partner in Sandwell District, Silent Servant. Angus Finlayson caught up with O’Connor to discuss the label and some of the artists who have helped shape it.
You founded Downwards in 1993. What made you decide to launch the label? Was there a healthy techno scene in the Midlands then?
Well it wasn’t about techno at all, to be honest. Techno was very secondary to me, because my youth, in the mid ’80s, had nothing to do with techno. But I’m not too sure why anybody starts a label. I think it was purely out of necessity—I simply couldn’t do anything else. I think I came to it with my ideas fully formed; I knew what I wanted. I wanted to make the label in my own image. It was very single-minded, really. That’s probably why I’ve had arguments and fallings out and disagreements with virtually everybody who’s recorded for me at various stages over the 20 years. And I had this unshakeable belief that I could do it. You’ve got that swagger when you’re younger. Though I was very naive, actually, in the early days.
What were you modeling the label on? Did you have any particular labels in mind, or artists?
Again, it was very specific. I remember exactly the type of records, the type of atmosphere I wanted. There were two labels in particular—I’m actually looking at my records now, and I don’t think I bought anything outside of those two labels from 1980-1985. Mute Records and Some Bizzare Records. That covered everything that I needed: great pop music through to what I would class as avant-garde music. Test Dept, Neubauten, Foetus, Fad Gadget, pop like Soft Cell or The The. It was all there. And it was British, that was very important. Plus it was pretty much the birth of independent music—and they got into the charts. Major labels were never an option, they always seemed a dinosaur to me, even back then.
It was the people behind these labels as well. Daniel [Miller] definitely modeled Mute in his own image—I saw him last week and he’s still doing it, he’s still got that youth kick that he always had. And Stevo [Pearce], with Some Bizzare, that was a different thing—just complete and utter chaos. The legendary things he used to do. He’d make A&R men sign record contracts on the lions in Trafalgar Square at midnight, completely humiliate them. When he signed Soft Cell, he wanted a live duck as part of the deal. He used to send his teddy bears to meetings. I loved this stuff as a kid. That was the birth of [Downwards] really. That was my interest and my passion. But there was this whole new generation of people who were into dance music, and a whole, possibly completely different aesthetic to all of that. I just wanted to apply my influences to this new thing.
Over the past two decades has the label adhered closely to that initial vision, or has its identity and direction changed over time?
Oh it has changed, completely. The early stuff is a great snapshot of my life as it was then. A lot of it was quite raw, quite open, very personal. The mistakes were there but they were part of the charm. It wasn’t polished. But as a result it wasn’t really of its time, it was quite separate from it. I think myself and Tony [Child, aka] Surgeon have said we were like a virus that hitched a ride on this thing. I was absolutely certain of what I wanted to do. I think as the years have gone on, I’m less certain. I’m definitely certain of what I don’t want to do, but I’ve become a bit more unsure of what I really want, because so many more things have opened up. But that can be just as creative.
These days there’s still a strong focus on new artists on the label. How do you feel about the health of music at the moment? Do you hear the influence of Downwards in younger artists?
Well, I’m told people are influenced by it. There’s this alleged, uh, influence we do have on people, this alleged mythology. I can certainly see it in these new artists, in the way they approach stuff. If that’s the legacy [of the label], that’s fantastic. On a very small level obviously—we’re talking about a label on the arse-end of a very small scene, let’s be honest. But the influence has been much wider than the output, probably. To go back to your question, I think at the moment it’s a fantastic time for music. I don’t think it’s been better for absolutely years. Certainly in the last three or four years, I think music in general has been brilliant. I’m really excited about it. And I wasn’t so much at the end of the 90s: it was repetitious, it became very easy. It was almost like a lot people had a vested interest in keeping the status quo, keeping it shit. But recently it’s been great; it’s so open now, in general, not just for electronic music. People are very open to other scenes.
This year you’ve launched Downwards America. What was the thinking behind doing that?
I’ve known Juan [Mendez aka Silent Servant] for years. He lives in Los Angeles, and we were very keen to do something where the remit was a bit wider than just dance music. So we started putting out bands like Tropic Of Cancer; West Coast, almost garage or goth bands. When he used to send through the files of this stuff, you could almost hear that crackle of excitement on the music itself. That was something I hadn’t heard in dance music for a while. It was a leap of faith for a lot of our fans, expecting to buy a Surgeon or Regis record and suddenly thinking, “Hang on, what’s this?”. But I think it worked—a lot of people came with us. It could easily not have worked out. A lot of other people have done it, and it’s been questionable. But I think we just went about doing it in a way that anyone with half a brain and passion should do it.
Juan was A&Ring a lot of it. So, we thought it made sense to split that [into a new label]. And we thought, “Let’s have a pompous title, like ‘Downwards America’.” Because it’s completely preposterous and ridiculous—that’s us [laughs]. So, he’s going to be releasing a lot of those bands: DVA DAMAS, White Hex from Australia, The KVB. It’s definitely created this whole scene [on the West Coast]. I went there last year and it was just fantastic. All these kids, they’re all Downwards-savvy, they all know about the techno, the history of it, but they’re making this fantastic music. The connection from what they are doing to the label is undeniable, whether it be techno or not.
What next for Downwards in its 20th year? What are your plans for this year and for the future?
The future’s never a good one: you know what they say, if you want to give the gods a good laugh, plan for the future. If I can plan ahead to the next two releases then I’m doing well. I wasn’t going to mark [the anniversary], because I hate these “20 years of so-and-so label”, they’re awful. The fact of the matter is, half of them were only good for about two or three years—though possibly people are thinking that about Downwards! So, I resisted. But I am going to do a compilation. Not necessarily the techno stuff, but a lot of things we did pre-that and during that; but that wasn’t the main stuff—for instance, not anything that myself or Tony did. So, it’s almost like this golden thread that runs through what we’re doing, that points to where we went and where we came from. Also this year Samuel Kerridge, OAKE, and William Bennett of Cut Hands are doing releases for us. So: old, new, borrowed, blue, the lot—we’ll stick it all in there.
Regis, in his own words, on key Downwards artists and releases:
[above: CUB “C U 1″ – collaboration between Regis and Mick Harris released on CUB; Harris released a split 10” with Regis & Antonym on Downwards in 2009]
[When Tony and I started] we had nothing. I had one synthesizer that I’d had since the ’80s, Tony Surgeon had nothing. That’s partly why the sound [of those early records] is so economical, so stripped back, because that was all we had. But Mick had a small studio setup. He brought us into the studio, showed us how to use it. He was going through a period of change himself at the time, because he’d just left Napalm Death and started Scorn, so it was this very interesting period. He also used to go to America, because he was working with John Zorn and Bill Laswell at the time. So, he’d bring back all these fantastic acid records, all the New York stuff that was happening at the time. And we used to go round his house to listen and think, “This is fantastic.” Before that, I wasn’t necessarily into dance music at all—I thought it was rubbish in the beginning, to be honest. My friends always said, “Oh, it’s just music for secretaries.” [laughs]
But Mick was fantastic with that stuff, because he was so open. We used to get so animated in his house that we’d smash things up—just because of the music. And he helped us so much with the recording of the early stuff, especially Tony. Mick knew Tony before I did, because Mick used to go to [Birmingham techno party] House of God—I never really used to go out. He said, “There’s this really great DJ, he’s going to make record.” Even though Tony on that first record [see below] wore his influences on his sleeve, I could smell it was great and Mick brought it out of him. And I’m eternally thankful to Mick for that. I think he’s working on some new project at the moment, I don’t know what it is. It’s impossible to explain Mick: he’s massively nihilistic, he’s his own worst enemy in loads of situations. But he’s still a great person. He’s trying to reconcile a load of things in his life at the moment—but that’s the way it is.
“Magneze” [Surgeon’s first ever release]
Tony and I, really, were thrown together. We met, we put [this] record out and within weeks it was massive—my life completely changed. It was that overnight success thing. I remember I went with him to some gigs in Munich early on. And it was like, “Christ, we’ve put these records out, people are saying all these things about us, but I don’t think we’ve actually hung out.” We were thrown into the eye of this storm together, as kids, really. But Tony’s a great calming influence. He’s very considered. In many ways he was custom built for it; he was a dream artist to have. If you wanted to start a techno label, Tony Surgeon was the kind of person you’d want on it. But there’s also so much more to Tony: this absolute depth that’s obvious now, but that we probably didn’t know about back then. And he certainly didn’t know about me, about where I wanted to go. It was a leap of faith for both of us. I think we’d both have had careers if we hadn’t started that way, but I don’t think our careers would’ve been as important. I think we’d probably both admit that.
“Consumer Device” [from first ever Downwards release]
Tony [Burnham] is one of the nicest blokes ever. He used to publish Soft Watch magazine, which was more of an encyclopedia. It connected all these people who were running tape labels with each other. And he did great reviews. I used to work in a record shop and he’d come in trying to flog this mad German dub reggae stuff. I wasn’t really into that, but then he said, “Oh, I’ve got my own cassette.” I started playing it and really loved it. It linked me to what I always loved about music: it was massively DIY, its own thing, and bullishly so. It was completely unlovable—or only lovable by me, I think. And I’ve used that against Tony over the years—I keep saying, “I’m the only person who likes your music,” which is sort of true [laughs]. He was a bit older, and he had a link with everything. He’d say, “Oh god, I remember when I saw the Pistols,” or Robert Rental and The Normal, or Throbbing Gristle. He was almost like a really cool older brother. But it was great because I could bully him! Poor Tony, I’ve taken him on this journey; he’s a classic British lunatic, in his garden shed, making sounds, annoying his wife. I love that. And you have to cherish that, because it’s definitely dying. People like that don’t exist as much any more. Well, not that I’m aware of.
Tropic of Cancer
“The Dull Age” [from debut Downwards single]
Tropic of Cancer is Juan [Mendez] and his wife Camella [Lobo]. This was at the very start of our idea to put out bands. When I heard the demo I became very animated, like I always do, and said, “We have to put this out!” And Juan said, “Do you think so?” This is one of the few things I’ve been quite good at, is I just say, “Come on, let’s put it out, it’s done.” [The artist] would be saying, “We need to finish this, do that,” and I’d say “No, it’s fine, it’s fine.” And in this case that was proven right, because when it came out it was an instant success. Camella, again, is a fabulous character in her own way. Everybody I’m involved with on the label is their own fabulous character, I think. The kind of people who I certainly don’t meet on a week-to-week basis when I’m out DJing; who I’ve rarely met within dance music in the last 20 years. Cam’s working now with Taylor, from DVA DAMAS. Purely and simply, I think any man between 16 and 75 who doesn’t see those two on stage and get affected has got problems. They’re brilliant-looking, and they sound great. They’re going to do an album on Blackest Ever Black—I’m going to LA in two weeks to get some ideas together. I want to be involved with that in some way, just helping out.
Waiting For Love [EP on Downwards] preview
I met Sam at a friend’s house and he said, “I’ve got a demo for you,” you know how some people do. And I thought “Oh, ok…”, but had a listen and it reminded me of a lot of things I liked: Sähkö, CoH, [old Berlin label] Zark. It was really noisy, and wonderfully naïve but very well put together. It was all in place and I love that. Couple that with Sam, who’s the most amiable lad going, and it seemed perfectly correct for us to do something. And now he’s off doing his own bits and pieces, I’m kind of glad for that. I actually suggested that Horizontal [Ground] do something with Sam. I do feel proud that those type of things happen quite quickly.
“Erajh Nur Dwfa” [from forthcoming Downwards EP]
I’m really excited about them. It’s a girl and a boy from Berlin. They’re basically just kids, but they came to me and they were totally, wonderfully sure of themselves—they knew what they were doing. The past didn’t matter, this is what’s happening now, and it’s the most important thing ever made. And that’s fantastic. I’m all for that.~