A Quietus Review: The Word As Power by Lustmord (July 16, 2013)

Dark ambient has rarely impressed me as a genre, with each release tagged under the style merely seeming to be engaged in a tiresome battle to outdo other releases in the massive bleakness stakes, but without the dynamism and aggression of other “dark” genres such as doom metal or noise. But, if anyone has put forward dark ambient as a relevant and significant genre, it’s Brian Williams, aka Lustmord. Over the years, he has racked up an impressive tally of critically-praised albums, with 1995’s joint album with Robert Rich, Stalker, a notable high point.

The Word As Power is one of the boldest steps forward in Lustmord’s entire canon, focusing as it does on the human voice over the usual dark ambient tropes such as synthesizers and guitars. Each track on the album seems like a capsule of time and atmosphere that lingers outside of actual time and space, existing in its own universe where the boundaries of language are surreptitiously blurred and the songs that ensue and imbued with a beautiful sense of mystery.

It helps that Williams has brought together a stellar cast of vocalists, including Tool’s Maynard James Keenan and Jarboe, formerly of Swans. In the capable hands of these singers, the songs, be they wordless mantras or incantatory half-chants, are given a potency bordering on the sacred, although this is a religious fervour steeped in oblique, shady paganism. I can imagine Julian Cope or Genesis P-Orridge digging The Word As Power. With the vocals given centre stage, the music of Lustmord is elevated beyond mere “darkness” and is offered as something transcendental or deeply meaningful, the clear, crystalline simplicity of the compositions belying the length of time – five years – it took Williams to create this work.

In this context, it takes a while for the musical force behind The Word As Power to sink in, as it is easy to get absorbed into the layered voices and hear nothing else. But Williams works well within the parameters set by focusing on vocals, allowing them to billow, even soar, by sketching out a musical background as emphatic as it is unobtrusive. The first two tracks, ‘Babel’ and ‘Goetia’ centre on the voices, both sounding like more sinister takes on The Bulgarian Voices and Tuvan throat singing, evoking the timeless melancholy of Angelite and Huun Huur-Tu’s Fly, Fly My Sadness, only recorded in an underground cave.The abstract vocalisations reverberate and double up on themselves, surrounded by murky sub-bass and almost imperceptible electronics. On the lengthy ‘Chorazin’, however, Williams makes his presence more palpable, with grim, slow-moving electronic textures and subdued rumbles cushioning the mournful vocals in layers of malignant drone. You could imagine any of these seven tracks serving as the soundtrack to an atmospheric horror film, one where the anchors of modern life are ripped away from the protagonists, leaving them untethered in a world as alien as it is terrifying.

Lustmord’s music takes its time, but it’s hard not to get absorbed into its shadowy netherworld, even if all meaning and sense in there stay resolutely out of focus.

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A Liminal Review: Licht, by Shampoo Boy (June 13th, 2013)

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Blackest Ever Black has gained a reputation for exploring the nocturnal underbelly of dancefloor-oriented music. Acts like Raime, Regis, Tropic of Cancer and the current incarnation of Dominick Fernow’s Prurient have taken the archetypal elements of dubstep, techno, ambient dub and even pop and layered them with murky drones, shadowy synth sub-melodies and piercing industrial noises, deconstructing our expectations of how these genres operate. Witnessing people shaking their butts and bobbing their heads to Raime’s ghostly post-dubstep, and then bouncing up and down to shattering noise techno being spat out by Regis is a live experience I won’t forget anytime soon. Cabaret Voltaire were right: you can dance to this stuff, albeit in odd ways.

Shampoo Boy marks something of a new direction for the label if one were, perhaps mistakenly, to only focus on the above context. But BEB has always been more about vibe than sonics, so while Licht may not share much of the musical genetics of a Regis or a Young Hunting, its grim atmosphere is right up there with the darkest of BEB releases. It may even be the most oppressive, bleak (a word that may crop up again in this review) release on the label so far, which is saying something.

Shampoo Boy is made up of Editions Mego head, Fenn O’Berg and Pita member Peter Rehberg on electronics, guitarist Robert Schachinger (of schlager band Der Scheitel!) and experimentalist Christina Nemec on bass, and there is consequently a feel of ‘rock’ or  ‘metal’ , albeit at their most atonal, deconstructed and experimental (rest assured, this is not rock music by any stretch). ‘Loch’ bubbles ominously from the get-go, with juddering bass drones skittering about over sliding guitar lines and a snarling tapestry of caustic electronic wall noise, while echoing voices intone threateningly in the background. The track has the subterranean feel of recent drone metal at its most self-consciously ritualistic, evoking the likes of Sachiko and Rinji Fukuoka’s άTOMO∑ and Emme Ya’s Chthonic Transmission. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been a surprise overall if Licht had come out on a label such as Cold Spring, at least on the evidence of ‘Loch’.

There is, however, more to Shampoo Boy than doom and gloom, as evidenced by the playful name the trio have chosen for themselves, and the moments of pristine clarity regularly break through the shadows and gloom. ‘Loch’ and its follow-up ‘Fall’ represent the height of the album’s bleakness (there you go!), the latter reaching into similar territory as Rehberg’s duo with Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))), KTL. Schachinger unleashes great waves of saturated sub-riffs from his guitar as Rehberg suffuses the atmosphere with omnipresent industrial gristle, every tone as downcast as the track’s title might suggest. When Nemec intervenes, its to whack out the kind of earth-shuddering noise you might find on, well, a Sunn O))) record, with each note drawn-out as much as possible. But even here, there are warmer textures, with Rehberg dropping in warm, shimmering chords to blur the lines of the track’s momentum, shifting it from pure terror to something more nuanced. Meanwhile, on ‘Gift’, Shampoo Boy touch vaguely on a form of morose psychedelia, with Schachinger’s guitar sounding like a lost, lonely horn call emerging from a dark well of distortion and noise, buttressed by plaintive, almost wistful, piano notes. The trio descend as deep as, say, KTL or To Blacken the Pages, but they seem to cast eyes towards the light, making Licht a lot less easy to lazily label ‘dark’ music. Closer ‘Still’, while hardly cheerful, relaxes the claustrophobic drone into near-silence, allowing Nemec’s low bass underbelly and Schachinger’s drifting guitar arpeggios to generate an oblique form of sonic warmth.

A Quietus Interview – Intricate Shadows: An Interview With Raime (November 5th, 2012)

Raime are a London-based electronic duo who have painstakingly built up a reputation for distilling uniquely bleak and oppressive post-dub music that seems to perfectly reflect the gritty atmospheres of urban life, as well as the despondent and cynical political climate of our times. Live, their repetitive, mesmerising beats are allied to gloomy, haunted synth lines and unexpected textures, often to a backdrop of uneasy, abstract vocals. It’s dark music, sure, but you can dance to it (albeit very slowly), making Raime the most interesting and successful fusion of industrial ethos and club culture since Burial first appeared on the dubstep scene.

After three EPs/12″s on the Blackest Ever Black label, this month sees the release of their first full-length album, Quarter Turns Over A Living Line, which has already received emphatic reviews. It’s a slower-burning and more spacious listen than their earlier EPs, and finds them incorporating a greater amount of live instrumentation into their working process than ever before.

In the wake of Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead’s appearance at Ether on London’s Southbank, and before they jetted off to Krakow for Unsound, the Quietus caught up with them at Andrews’ flat to discuss the album, performing live and how they create their singular music.

I was surprised you didn’t actually perform at the Blackest Ever Black showcase [at Corsica Studios, 13th of October]. How come? Did you stay to the end, though?

Joe Andrews: No. We had a show at the Southbank, and had a really long day. I think I kept on until 4am. [to Tom] How about you?

Tom Halstead: About 5, I think. I lasted until just before Source Direct [laughs].

I don’t actually remember Source Direct! It seems like quite a tight-knit circle of bands around Blackest Ever Black…

JA: It’s interesting because it’s become a tight-knit circle, mainly because of Blackest, obviously – there’s a focal point which is Blackest, but actually, since our beginnings, we’ve never had a way for people to contact us. The Facebook that’s up is not ours, someone did it for us. So every contact there’s ever been, apart from live stuff, has always been through Kiran [Sande, head of BEB]. To begin with, it was just us, and Kiran putting out our record, and in the communications, others would be cc’ed, like Karl [O’Connor, aka Regis]. Blackest has just become the hub, and over time we just met all these amazing artists, man.

TH: And doing live shows…

JA: It’s amazing to think that two years ago no-one could have expected this.

I’ve seen you perform three or four times, so was disappointed not to see you on Saturday. Do you enjoy performing live?

JA: Yeah, it’s bloody great, but there are times when you don’t enjoy it so much. It’s the other level, I think, but hopefully the records work on both levels.

Do you find it hard to adapt your music to a live setting?

TH: Recently we’ve recorded a lot more live instrumentation, and that’s really helped in terms of how it works when we play if live. Our early stuff was a lot more sample-based and now we’ve moved towards live instrumentation.

JA: Live, it’s always been a sort of mix of live editing and live structuring, loops, etc. You’re not making a drum pattern live, you’re playing a loop. We love it, and for the last show we did we had friends make a video especially for us to use. They got in touch with quite a famous modern dancer, who’s got a quite extraordinary body, and went to a disused warehouse in Portugal to film for three days and night. They created this fucking bonkers visual element, and now it really feels like the two are working together. We’re really aesthetically led anyway, and now it feels like a real show, rather than just a couple of dudes behind laptops.

How did you come to start making music together and to found Raime?

TH: We’ve known each other for a long time, since we were teens, and had been making music independently. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that we realised we had kind of shared visions and that actually we wanted to get closer to a voice and to express ourselves through music. And it was five years ago that we started to join the dots from UK industrial stuff and contemporary things…

JA: We’d shared records with each other ever since we first met, and I think that exchange always gives you a level of trust, man. You obviously have your own things that you’re into, and sometimes you part, for a year or whatever but we always come back to one another. There’s always been a sort of mutual respect for one another, musically, so you join a few dots, as he said, and you start to get a great deal of inspiration. Also, there’s a level of desire about what you want to hear and see happen in music. We’re obsessive record collectors, and so there’s a huge amount of time when you’re a fan, where people are creating and you’re consuming. And a lot of that time you’re waiting for someone to make the next thing, and I think there came a point when were like, “Fuck man, I’m not quite hearing what I want to hear”, or “That’s incredible – maybe that vibe or acoustic idea has been lost. Why don’t we feel confident enough to join some dots?” Which is such a terrific feeling.

Your album was preceded by, I think, three 12″s and several mixes and mix tapes. How do you feel you’ve evolved from the first release up until now?

JA: I think we’ve evolved quite a lot, but stylistically I don’t necessarily think we have. We’ve just refined it… Obviously, the first EP was kind of a stab at doing something and then as you go through you’re trying to hone it, and I think that’s what we’ve done.

TH: You’re trying to get your idea across more clearly.

JA: Yes, just communicate better! You have got something to communicate, so you’re literally trying to say it as succinctly as possible. With us, we’ve got quite a few reference points that are dear to us, but at the same time we have this intention not to just ape something. It’s almost like a Rubik’s cube attitude where we piece it all together. In terms of understanding what you want out of something, we have had times where that Rubik’s cube has lasted for months and months! [laughs] The record was more fluid because, hopefully, we were a bit more in control.

That ties into my next question – do you see Quarter Turns Over A Living Line as a culmination of all those previous records, and that you’ve been building up to this point?

TH: I think it gave us a bit more freedom to open up a bit more. The previous record, Hennail, was a lot more percussion-driven, a lot more clenched. We felt with this, there’s less percussion, more space and more tracks to get different sentiments across. When you’re putting out two tracks, you’re trying to say a lot in those two pieces of work.

JA: We tried to squeeze everything in there! You feel like you’ve got something to say, and you haven’t said it all. With an album, we could plot it, and it was such a great freedom. We thought it’d be the opposite, actually, we always thought we’d do 12″s; I don’t know why it took us so long to work it out [laughs]. We realised we could develop a coherent piece of work. It was never meant to be a collection of tracks, it was always meant to be a piece of work, you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s achieved that, but having that idea in it made the creative process a lot more interesting.

As you say, Hennail and other previous releases were very beat-driven, but the album features more atmospheric and experimental tracks. Was there a conscious effort to push the boundaries of your sound?

JA: Absolutely. We grew up with Detroit techno, jungle, all the sort of dance-based musics, so that’s really part of us, and we’ll always have rhythm in there somewhere, but actually, in the last five to ten years, we’ve been opening out into drone, doom metal, noise, early industrial, more experimental stuff, and that’s become just as integral, and we wanted to include those influences. The way that we learn about music is by listening to that. And we wanted to have a go at that, to see if we could do it.

TH: We didn’t want to be restricted. Hennail was difficult, in that sense. And we didn’t want to get caught in that snare.

JA: Percussion in the way we use it is sort of in a dance music format, and because we’ve grown up with that music, you’re pre-programmed to understand those structures in a 4/4 structure. When you’ve got a beat going, your brain is already waiting for that snare or hi-hat to come in, and you know when that’s going to happen. One of the points for us was to try and change the listeners’ knowledge of when that’s going to happen, so they feel a little lost in it, but without losing the security that that structure gives you.

TH: That’s the hardest part, finding the balance between being contrary to how you expect rhythmic things to work, and actually making a coherent work.

JA: Yeah, and that balance and trade off is one of the things that interests us. Security and non-security.

Your music has often been lumped in with ambient dub or dubstep, but that seems a tad reductive. Would you agree?

JA: I don’t ever want to say to any journalist, or anyone, that they can’t call it what they like, because I’ve been doing the very same thing, as a fan and a record collector, and that’s the condition in which you work. Those genres are certainly part of our musical heritage, but I’d hope they weren’t the only parts. I’m glad you feel that they aren’t the whole picture.

Well, I think that when you guys first emerged, dubstep was pretty much on everyone’s lips, so it was an easy connection to make, but to my mind you always seemed closer to industrial music and jungle, as you’ve mentioned.

JA: It’s difficult, because dubstep has now become a little bit passe as a term and if you go back to the beginnings, to those iconic labels like DMZ, the music was absolutely incredible. We’d never say that it wasn’t an important part of electronic music, it’s just that at this moment in time, it feels almost like a negative thing.

TH: It’s become so branched out that it’s become a blanket term, so it’s not really pinning anything down.

JA: Our first influence was probably Mo’Wax, you know, DJ Shadow and trip-hop. When I was 15, I bought my first Mo’Wax record and was absolutely sold on it, man. It was just the coolest fucking thing I’d ever heard. And then we’ve just gone through everything: Detroit techno, jungle, house music… And then there’s the flip side, which is all the sort of avant-garde, industrial and doom stuff.

TH: Those things kind of came a bit later for us.

JA: I think we’re just hungry, and we get obsessed. Record collecting is still a massive part of our lives.

How did you go about creating and recording the tracks on Quarter Turns Over A Living Line?

TH: We did a lot of recordings, by ourselves and with other musicians. We did recordings with cellists, drummers, some guitar stuff. There’s quite a lot guitar on the album, actually, but then you go through it with a fine-toothed comb to pick out those interesting inflections or textures and start constructing them. We get a big archive of things that excite us and start putting things together to see if there’s synergy between the sounds or interesting juxtapositions. Track by track, we begin with the material we each have and work on sketches before bringing them to the table and looking at whether we can work them up. It’s been a healthy way of working.

JA: For example, Tom will put a guitar through some effects, make half an hour’s worth of sound and then we go through it and pick out bits. A nice sound can be patched to a drum patterns and what’s exciting is you get certain points or textures that match. There’s an element of chance in that match, and as soon as we’ve got it, we’ll throttle the hell out of it!

It sounds very intricate…

JA: It takes hours [laughs]. It’s an amazing process to do with someone else. You’ve always got someone to discuss it with. The other person kind of limits you.

TH: It’s really important to have that discourse, because it’s really hard to have it with yourself.

JA: There’s a core of what we’re doing that we both know we’re trying to reach. There’s an absolute specific idea. And you’ve got the reassurance that the other person shares that idea.

Going back to Blackest Ever Black, the label is noted for its somewhat bleak aesthetic, which runs through their artwork and the music of most of their acts. Do you have a particularly gloomy outlook on life? Could you say Quarter Turns Over A Living Line is a reflection of these somewhat depressing socio-political times?

JA: Um, I’d never describe myself as chirpy [laughs]. I definitely can take things quite seriously…

TH: This is a difficult question…

JA: A loaded gun! We are definitely pretty serious when it comes to music and the sentiments within that music. But everybody has a laugh sometimes, it’s not like we go around in a continual state of depression. But we’re pretty serious. I think there’s a natural instinct to hone in on the darkest elements of life when you’re being creative.

You can read this interview, and listen to a Soundcloud playlist of the album, here

A Quietus Interview – Approximating A Cyber World: An Interview with Black Rain (March 7th, 2012)

London-based label Blackest Ever Black dipped into the past for their most recent release, a compilation of brooding, dark electronic soundtracks recorded in 1994 and 1995 by New York duo Black Rain.

Black Rain was made up of Stuart Argabright, formerly of much-lauded New York post-punk/proto-techno outfit Ike Yard, and Japanese musician Shinichi Shimokawa. The pair had already collaborated as part of hip-hop collective Death Comet Crew, and when Argabright was asked to provide musical backing for an audio book of sci-fi author William Gibson’s Neuromancer, as well as a soundtrack for a film of Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, he teamed up with Shimokawa to channel the dark cyber visions of those works into musical format. In the end Black Rain’s soundtrack was hardly used during Johnny Mnemonic – perhaps just as well, given that it ended up as something of a flop – and although released on a CD some time later, swiftly disappeared from public knowledge.

Blackest Ever Black, whose music over the last eighteen months has drawn heavily from post-punk and early industrial, found in these lost soundtracks perfect predecessors to many of today’s darker, harsher electronic sounds. The rattling, near-tribal rhythms of ‘Biotechno 1 & 2’ are a precursor to the polyrhythmic dance and noise music of Cut Hands, Shackleton and Blackest Ever Black signee Vatican Shadow. And the worn down, sci-fi psychedelia of the ‘Lo Tek Bridge’ tracks – originally slated for Johnny Mnemonic – sits neatly alongside current music from the likes of Raime and Sandwell District. The seven tracks that make up Now I’m Just A Number: Soundtracks 1994-95 are all traversed by gloomy synths, heavy percussive patterns and a bleak atmosphere of post industrial ennui, and proved to be precocious in their approach to rhythm, texture and mood: despite their age, they sound unnervingly fresh within a modern day context.

The Quietus caught up with Argabright to discuss the music of Now I’m Just a Number, the genesis of the Black Rain project, and his insights into the New York scene that the band emerged from.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Were you interested in music from an early stage?

Stuart Argabright: I was hearing and being exposed to music at a pretty young age. I was lucky enough to have an older sister who was well into The Stones and so forth, so I would catch those early black and white headlines. I would see The Rolling Stones getting off an airplane, coming to America. I remember bringing Jimi Hendrix records to my elementary school to play. But at that time, I wasn’t at all thinking that I would ever do music. I moved to New York in the Spring of 1978, from Washington D.C. My father worked at the Pentagon, working on the early Internet, called the Mo-Net – military Internet. We lived in one of those suburbs of D.C. that was all ex-CIA, NSA, Pentagon, Military people.

Must have been intense.

SA: Yeah, it was quite intense. Pulling back the focus, it’s a thing that a lot of people and kids in America are exposed to. Those services are so huge that a lot of people are involved in [them], including the kids that are growing up around that. To some extent, I think it gives a bit of room for a reaction against that stuff. By the time I was in high school, it seemed like I was suddenly, in one day, going from Mick Ronson doing a guitar solo on ‘Moondage Daydream’ on TV to Here Comes The Sex Pistols! It was kind of fertile territory, being in a suburb and being able to have a punk reaction to seeing everything I was seeing.

We made a first group in D.C. called The Rudiments, which was kind of an early punk group. We got banned from the main club in D.C. and created a kind of schism in the early punk-rock days in D.C. But The Rudiments got re-released by Dischord, so we kind of ended up hitting a certain kind of vein that was sort of interesting.

So, what made you move to New York? What was it like in New York in those days?

SA: I moved up in the Spring of ’78. The year before was the blackout, the year before that was Son of Sam, so conditions were pretty dark when I got here. I remember getting out of Penn Station, and it was kind of like walking out to a black and white movie. It was so gritty, so dirty – nothing looked new.

I was able to get a job within a couple of weeks of moving to New York, so then was able to start sussing out what was going on around town. It was kind of the end of the no-wave period, so clubs like Max’s Kansas City were still open. It was pretty much an every night thing, because I could work during the day, doing landscaping, then go to the clubs. Those early years, there was a bit of a changeover from the New York Dolls [to] us. By “us”, I mean, when I was going to the next big club, which was the Mudd Club, my mates were the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nick Taylor, and we kind of took over the whole thing.

Madonna was one of the people who came up a couple of years later and was in that group also, and it resulted in a huge explosion of cultures. And that takes you up to Ike Yard time. By 1980, you could buy a synthesizer and a drum machine, and you could hear those drum machines on everything from the first Ultravox! album to even Bowie’s Low album.

How would you define Ike Yard’s sound?

SA: I would say always future-forward. We kind of moved from being a band with drums, bass, guitar and synthesizer to being an electronic unit that had a central controller module that all of our four synthesizers would run through. That was between our EP on Les Disques du Crepuscule and the album on Factory. Kraftwerk did that to some extent, but I think we integrated it even deeper and a bit harder in our own way because were we not hanging out in the industrial belt in Germany, but we were in the industrial states of the US and New York City, and it was pretty rusty and decrepit.

At the same time, we had this new technology and so looking back we were really forging our own version of techno, but we never wanted to use those straight beats. It became our hallmark, our rhythms, it’s been said, were always off-kilter. We were just doing our own beats, and we were never going to do anything like what we’d heard – for example disco music, which I had a big emotional reaction to. I could enjoy disco music as party music, but as culture, either moving forwards into the future or even in the present, I couldn’t really get with it. So we were very careful to try to just do our own thing.

We were [also] well exposed to Kraftwerk on this side of the pond. By 1982, all you had to do was walk down the street and you had boom boxes pumping out ‘Trans Europe Express’, soon morphed into ‘Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa.

I think we were always a bit after no-wave, but I think artistic- and social-wise, there was a connection, because we lived in the same neighbourhoods. Michael Diekmann from Ike Yard used to live in a building on 12th street that had Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Russell and Richard Hell living there. So whenever we would have a group meeting in the building, we’d invariably meet Arthur Russell in the foyer with these oversized headphones on, who might be followed by Allen Ginsberg. You were around it at all times. Something in the air, and something in the people.

You’ve mentioned performing with [Australian industrial/noise group] SPK and having them stay with you. Did they have much impact on the New York scene?

SA: They were touring Leichenschrei and a friend mentioned to me that they needed a place to stay. I happened to be living in a building that had been abandoned by the landlord, and so the tenants had to fend for themselves. I had a pretty big one-bedroom apartment, and could stay with my girlfriend. They stayed at my place two weeks and I think they actually split up at the end of that tour!

I’ll tell you a story. When SPK played at CBGB’s, Graeme Revell, a pretty big guy, would wear a sleeveless meat butcher’s apron-type thing and a leather S&M mask on his head. He pushed a pig’s head on one of the tables in front of the audience and pulled out a giant meat cleaver bayonet. At that point, I started moving towards the back of the crowd, because I had an idea of what was gonna happen next! I looked around the crowd and saw all the regular Downtowners, and also Mike Gira, who was in what was going to be Swans. And yep – the meat did fly! It was an onslaught: the sound was very loud, very crushing, it was a whole other level of mayhem. New York had already seen Boyd Rice and NON, but this was pretty hard to take, pretty hard to stay very close too. And I’d just say that all those adjectives I just used, you could pretty much apply them to Swans too.

How did Ike Yard evolve into Black Rain? Wasn’t Black Rain a sort of metal outfit to start out with?

SA: Yes. But to pull back the lens completely for a moment, what I’ve tried to do – from The Rudiments, to The Futons, to Ike Yard, to Dominatrix, to Death Comet Crew to The Voodooists and then to Black Rain – was two things. I had in mind to make more successful club songs, but I also really wanted to keep doing edgy, street-y music, whether that involves guitars or involves synthesizers. So, I’ve kind of kept that thread, and in a way Black Rain was just another turning of that wheel.

By ’86, the Cyber thing is what prefaced The Voodooists and then Black Rain. A friend of mine from the clubs and I embarked on a whole series of what I call our Cyber projects, the first one being The Voodooists – started after reading Count Zero by William Gibson, where he has these kind of voodoo spirits inhabiting cyberspace. At the same time, I was starting Black Rain, because I wanted to do another hard-edged, post-punk, industrial-type group. So when we first got together, my concept was Misfits meets Einsturzende Neubauten. I wanted to have song forms, like three-and-a-half or four-minute song forms, with recognisable verses and choruses, but I also was banging metal and oil drums, and wanted to see if we could make a hybridized version of music from that moment.

That four-piece ran its gamut, playing at squats and edgy clubs with hardcore bands, opening for G.G Allin at his last gig. He came on after us, took his earnings and shot them up and was gone the next day. The scene was totally hardcore kids, squatty kids, and anarchist types. We were into that on a street level, but once the group ended as a four-piece, within probably a couple of weeks we got a phone call to soundtrack an audiobook of Gibson’s Neuromancer. To sum it up, there were a few threads that had been running and in 1993, ’94, ’95, things changed very quickly. Suddenly we were doing those soundtracks for Gibson. I had called him up way back in ’84, and said that I’d read Neuromancer and that I should do the music for his book!

How did you come to work with Shinichi Shimokawa?

SA: My main man Shin! I was in Berlin in ’83 for a few months, working with people there, and when I came back people were presenting me with demos and things to do with me, and one was a group that he was in. The group was ok, the tracks came out fine, but I thought that he was very talented and so tapped him into joining Death Comet Crew.

How did you guys work together? Was it just electronics?

SA: The four-piece group was doing stuff that was a bit ‘1-2-3-4!’, and that ended in 1993, after that show with GG Allin. Me and Shin got together to do the soundtracks, and he had been a guitar player and a bass player, so knew music pretty well. I was coming from being a drummer and then a drum machine programmer, as well as a lyric-writer, conceptualist, vocalist and sometimes playing a little bass. So, between the two of us, we could pretty much do whatever was needed. We’d already been working on the soundtrack for Johnny Mnemonic as a four-piece, so when I got the call from Gibson to do Neuromancer, I had to look around and see who could work with me on that. Shin was the logical fit. By 1994, it was already ten years that we’d been working together. We’d done videos together – we’d already tried to make a movie.

When I first heard Now I’m Just A Number, it felt that Black Rain was one of the few nineties groups to successfully perpetuate the legacy of early Cabaret Voltaire, SPK and Throbbing Gristle. Do you look at Black Rain as being part of the Industrial music canon?

SA: In America, there was an issue of Research magazine about ‘industrial culture’. I think, at the time, over here, the whole North-East of America – all the way to the Midwest – had been going through this ‘Rust Belt’ phenomenon, and that was the very definition of industrial. You’re talking about rusted-out big cities, sagging infrastructures, so as people we were looking at industrial that way as well.

When I was in Ike Yard I never thought of us as being industrial, I always thought of us as being next generation something. We were too busy doing it, even when we ended up on Factory Records and were touring with New Order. I think we felt some connection to SPK, with their industrial beats, but I don’t think we ever felt any connection to the whole wave that came from England, including Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. And in America, industrial took another turn with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Spin Magazine had this issue about him that said ‘The Father of Industrial’ and I was, like, “The father of Industrial?” That had me wondering who the hell was the grandfather of industrial.

That was enough for me to want to tag Black Rain as a post-industrial unit, and by the time we started doing the soundtracks, we had tracks like ‘Biotechno’. I was already so far into getting behind the scenes of what the military was doing with stealth, radar and sound weaponry. In the same way that we were knee-deep in industrial and rusty cities one wave before, by 1994 and Neuromancer, we were thinking about something else, quite post-Industrial.

Industrial was another tag that you saw from a distance, that you saw in your face, saw in the rear view mirror, and then saw it come back again.

Do you think the Gibson influence is what lends the compilation its dark atmosphere, or was that as much a reflection on your state of mind at the time?

SA: I would say that, in terms of our state of mind, it wasn’t hard for us to get here. But as a sound and music director, I was totally going on Gibson’s cues, and Gibson’s writing.

What drew you to his writing, initially?

SA: As a kid growing up, you’re looking for signposts. William Burroughs and JG Ballard had already been huge signposts and to me, Burroughs plus Ballard equals Gibson, to some extent. Gibson wouldn’t put it that way himself, maybe, but there’s not a far leap at all from Ballard to Gibson. That alienation, that whole style of sci-fi feeling. The Three-Mile Island accident had happened in 1980, so there started to be a future dread feeling at that time. And then Blade Runner came out and blew everyone’s minds, and I think Gibson took all of that and turned it into Neuromancer. It was a signpost of the time.

What was it like revisiting the music for the reissue?

SA: I look back on it now and I’m really damn glad that we did it! What you hear on the album is completely unedited from what we did and I’m chuffed that me and Shin made some decisions at the time that still stand up. It stands the test of time. ‘Now I’m Just a Number’ for me was a distillation of Plastikman’s type of techno: really stripped-down, minimal, with just a pulse of the kick-drum. Me and Shin were well into club music, so after we’d done the soundtrack work, we were entirely happy doing stuff like that. I’m always happy doing techno, so long as no-one calls it house or disco [laughs].

What are your plans for the future? Would you consider touring in support of the reissue?

SA: I would say that is very likely. I’m sure that Blackest Ever Black will have a show in support of Black Rain. I was already planning to come over in September or October, so hopefully around then. Many things are going on. I’m reforming Death Comet Crew and we’re planning a world tour and a new album and EP. Ike Yard reformed after we were re-released in 2006, and did a handful of shows. Our new album Nord came out in 2010 and we’re now mid-way through another record, which I must say is probably our best.

Then it comes to Black Rain. We never had an idea that we would ever play together again, and Shin has been in Tokyo since 1998, doing music over there. But he still has the same drum machine, so we still have the beats from Now I’m Just a Number, so now I’m trying to coordinate between the shows I was going to do myself in the [autumn] and what we can do as Black Rain.

As I said before, I didn’t really relate to those industrial bands you mentioned earlier when doing Now I’m Just a Number, but I did relate to, as I mentioned, the very minimal Plastikman. And one thing I was chuffed about was listening to Regis. You could play ‘Now I’m Just a Number’ right in the middle of one of his sets! Is it synchronicity, like minds doing great things? I think it’s a combination of all those things: it’s a combination of zeitgeist, of people using the same sounds, but also something that all my groups have always done – and that I’ve always done – which is keep my head to the ground, feel what’s there, feel the rhythms. People used to talk about rock & roll of the seventies being an attempt by groups to approximate the roar of a jet engine. Well, what about approximating a cyber world, where you’ve got the Lo Tek on the street, and all these other threads going together? That’s the zeitgeist.

Liminal Live Review: Nightmare beats: Cut Hands, Regis, Raime and Surgeon at The Basing House (October 28th, 2011)

The deliberately underground approach of Blackest Ever Black to releasing and promoting the darker fringes of alternative culture have brought the likes of Raime, Tropic of Cancer and Regis to the fore, whilst their website and mixtapes plunder the funereal and the sinister with the kind of single-mindedness that hasn’t really been seen since the heyday of 80s Goth. At the Basing House, Blackest Ever Black assembled a lineup which showcased the best of bleak electronic music.

On this occasion, Blackest Ever Black had assembled some of the most exciting and forward-thinking electronic acts currently haunting the shadows of the UK scene. Raime are Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead and their unique approach to dubstep has been garnering huge praise in The Wire and on the Resident Advisor website. At the Basing House, they had the rather unenviable task of following the rather excellent and bold Blackest Ever Black DJs, but immediately seduced thanks to some wall-shaking dub beats allied to creepy sound effects apparently lifted from a wealth of horror movie soundtracks and then processed into dense clusters of synthetic melodic lines. The dubstep label is someone misleading, given their minimal take on bass music, with their distillation of uneasy ambience and grating harmonics owing as much to the organic industrial music of Coil as it does to, say, Burial. Call it dubstep for ruined cathedrals, haunted cemeteries and abandoned factories.

However, they were somewhat let down by the acoustics and layout of the Basing House. It would appear that the venue doubles as a club, so many punters seemed rather uninterested in what was happening onstage, preferring to talk loudly whilst Raime were playing. Such is the design of the Basing House, with its stage located in front of a narrow dancefloor just off the main bar area, that even the deepest of Raime’s bass lines couldn’t drown out the hubbub. Meanwhile, between sets you had to queue to be able to get into the tiny smoking area, with a bouncer (!) on hand to observe a one-out, one-in policy. All rather disorganised.

Karl O’Connor, aka Regis, was on next, and was equally dark, although in a more abrasive, almost punk style. Nicely contrarian, O’Connor blazed up a cigarette on stage, and his chattering beats, overloaded synth patterns and angry bass felt like a chaotic collision of modern techno and the noisy, primitive electronica of Suicide or the UK’s Power Electronics scene. Which was fitting, given that William Bennett was on next. Industrial techno at its finest and most melodic, Regis’ music would almost fit in nicely at Fabric, although it would be amusing to see what the Farringdon venue’s regular punters would make of O’Connor’s brutalist approach.

If Raime and Regis were good, what came next took things to a whole other level. Is there anything more left to be said about William Bennett’s Cut Hands project? It’s possibly, probably, better than Whitehouse. Cut Hands vol.1 is the most radical album of the year. The percussion. The harsh electronics. The way Bennett juxtaposes them. The use of African imagery in thought-provoking -even provocative- ways. It was all on show at The Basing House.

Bennett completely drowned out the noise from the bar from the very first track, as his furious polyrhythms and angry electronic patterns clattered around the room, harsh and beautiful at once. The dancefloor became a heaving mass of shuddering dances and bouncing heads, whilst Bennett himself jittered and convulsed, mouth agape, seeming as enraptured by his sounds as the audience. The tracks from Cut Hands vol.1 were extended and enhanced, the beats becoming an avalanche of harsh percussive noise whilst the melodies contorted and sailed across the mix.

I have often wondered, when it comes to electronic music played live, how artists choose -or not- to enhance the “live” aspect of the performance. Most, apparently, don’t, preferring to sit or stand and work on their sounds in the same way they would in the studio. Now, I’ve seen enough noise, drone, experimental and electro acts to not be bothered by this, and certainly am not expecting Springsteen-esque pyrotechnics when attending an event like the Blackest Ever Black showcase. Indeed, you often have more time to concentrate on the music in such circumstances, which was a definite plus in the case of noiseniks Werewolf Jerusalem and Voltigeurs, for example. But, nonetheless, it must be a challenge for a lot of electronic acts, most of whom, such as Raime and Regis on this occasion, compensate with much head-bobbing as they fiddle with mixing desks and sequencers. Not William Bennett, although he also had his trusty headphones and mixers close to hand. His intermittent, jerky, aggressive dancing was very much part of the spectacle and appeal, adding to the dichotomous tribal and white boy punk aspects of his music. Allied to the unsettling film footage of African rituals and colonial exploitation that was projected on the walls, this mesmeric non-dancing elevated Cut Hands as a live entity above both the usual electronic show and the high camp of Whitehouse and other Power Electronics acts. A triumph, no less, and I was quick to tell him so.

Blackest Ever Black weren’t finished there, and next up was special secret guest Surgeon, quite a “star” on the alternative techno/electro scene. After the brittle sounds of Regis and Cut Hands, Surgeon’s driving yet smooth pulsations brought the night to a pleasingly groovy close, and had the audience dancing with relish. I detected hints of popular electro acts like Martyn, Vex’d and even the Chemical Brothers in Anthony Child’s hypnotic beats and elegant melodies, which is not to suggest he was lightweight in comparison to his forbears. Indeed, he and Regis united at the end to resurrect their British Murder Boys duo, which as its name suggests, was a darkly humourous play on both techno and Power Electronics. Even in this context, Surgeon’s slinky aesthetic dominated over Regis’ abrasion, for an utterly thrilling climax to a wonderful showcase of all that is exciting and forward-thinking in modern electronic music.

I return to my high praise for Blackest Ever Black. Despite the venue’s limitations, they put on a high-quality, and varied, show, and lasting as it did from 10pm to 4am, you got your money’s worth. Vomited back into East London’s darkened streets, surrounded by railway bridges, darkened bars and quiet office blocks, I drank in the cold air, and felt the thunder of Cut Hands’ vicious beats rumble away in my head, aware that I had witnessed the kind of show that no major label would ever had the guts or ambition to put on. For which, maybe, we should be grateful, because the music at the Basing House was as coldly arresting as that East London night air, and something to be savoured in the dark.

Photos by Jimmy Mould

You can also read this article here: http://www.theliminal.co.uk/2011/10/nightmare-beats-cut-hands-regis-raime-and-surgeon-at-the-basing-house/