Nebula and Pluxus

Been raiding the racks at Soundclash and found:

Nebula – Charged (Sweet Nothing SNCD008)

As soon as the first track, ‘Do It Now’, kicked in, I knew I’d buy this CD. What can I say, I’m a hopeless sucker for Zepptastic rock rifferama. Nebula skirt round stoner rock and, strangely, end up somewhere a lot poppier and definitely more concise. But actually looking at the track times, they’re all 3 or 4 minutes, they just seem shorter cos they’re so riff-packed.

‘Beyond’ has twiddly mysticism coupled with an entirely ridiculous (and therefore great) wah lead line over some prime rock-boogie. ‘Giant’ kicks in with an offbeat riff that’s a hi-fi cousin of Sludgefeast’s ‘Rock’n’Roll.’ In fact, I’d rather compare Nebula to the Sludgies than most retro-rockers cos they have the same heavy passion for riffs.

‘Travelin’ Man’s Blues’ has the same swagger plus a rocking acoustic and some silly slide lead. The strange thing is that some of these songs remind me of Johnny Thunders in spirit but not actually musically, they haven’t got that 50s punkabilly rumble. But there’s something in the growly, croaky, snarly vocals that’s just as nasty in the same way.

‘This One’ opens with a riff that’s half-Zep, half-Kid Rock. And yes, it’s begging to be nicked. Again, it’s a solid poppy song. In fact, all of the 10 tracks on this CD grab you and keep you. ‘All The Way’, the closer, is a sprawling nine-and-a-half minutes of phasing space riffs and kazoo lead. A kind of Californian cousin to some of Spacemen 3’s more heavy stuff. And of course, it speeds up to a spuming excess of solos and riffage. Yeah! Plus there’s a tiny spooky coda…

So nothing innovative here musically, no stupid time signatures or pointless audio tinkering but what you do get is an *excellent* heavy metal album that kicks the shit out of most current nu-metal offerings. Whereas most of the new rockers have that superclean, digital sound, Nebula have made a filthy (maybe grungey?), unapologetically guitar-worshipping album. Not only that but it’s one hell of a catchy album.So many riffs…

Buy this album if you want to forget being cool and just jump up and down on your bed again like you used to to Rainbow. Don’t buy it if you like idm or jazz.

I also bought….

Pluxus – Och Resan Fortsatter Har (Rocketgirl RGIRL28)

This CD came out in July of this year and it’s a current top-selecter on my Jukebox. Pluxus are Swedish funsters and you can find out more about them than I know at their site:

But I’d warn you that it’s entirely Flash-driven and you have to wait bloody ages for everything. The discography’s 260k, for god’s sake!

Net gripes aside, Pluxus’ album is a beautiful, pootling, tinkling album of synth poppery. All 9 tracks are instrumentals apart from the last, ‘Forstatt ni, sa gar jag hem’ which has some whispery vocodering on it.

The tracks take turns in being dark and moody in a 1978 analogue-synth style or just loony-tuney, Moody-and-Peg-y, Ploney silliness. At first listening, the silly tracks like ‘Djurens Kavalkad’ did my nut in, with its stupid fast-marching bippiness. But they do grow on you more with every listen.

‘Magnetisken Falt’ is perhaps the catchiest but as we’re talking consistently extremely poppy melodies here, that’s arguable. The moodier tracks, like ‘Sniff,’ sometimes remind me of proto-house workouts. Apart from lacking the bass-end whump, they share a lot of the cheapcore elements of early house and electro.

Melodically, the whole album has quite a dense interweaving of countermelodies. I didn’t notice the complexity on first listening because the openness of the production fooled me into thinking it was simple synth-pop. It’s not. Even though the songs are short (20 minutes for 9 tracks), they’re better structured than most electropop which tries to work in this area.

Buy this album if you love electronic music, bleepy sounds and classic Vince Clarke-y melodies. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for angsty singer-songwriter dirges

love and kisses,

Real Music?

(This is a reply I did to a post on an online webforum that was criticising modern electronic dance music as being based on presets and lacking any real musical skill or worth. Well, I had to wade in, didn’t I?)

This thread is a philosophical minefield!

But first… the Ariston ad was either a license or a copy of ‘Da Da Da’ by German funsters Trio. The rhythm was a preset (Rock1) off the Casio VL-Tone VL1, as also used extensively (for its lead sounds) on Kraftwerk’s ‘Computerworld.’ It’s also the lead sound (Fantasy was the preset) on the Human League’s ‘Get Carter’ off ‘Dare.’ And I also used it on ‘Your Woman’ for the middle break. I’ve had a VL1 since they came out, after seeing one on Tomorrow’s World. They’re great little keyboards and you can program your own wacky noises in by entering a number in the calculator memory. I used to use the phone number of a girl I really fancied in the fifth year.


Now, on to dance music. I’m afraid I’m going to disagree with most of what’s been said even though I actually hate most of the house and trance I hear (I don’t mind garage so much). I’m with Marcel Duchamp on this one. The process of being an artist can also be about selection and re-contextualisation. But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I, since I had a hit from a sample I nicked from a pop classic recorded on November 29th, 1932? For me, there’s no difference between being Toploader and some dodgy preset-bashing trance act. Both of them produce soulless, machined tracks, merely regurgitating other people’s ideas. Just cos Toploader have learned to sound just like Reef doesn’t make them more original. What makes the music rubbish is not the technical process of its creation but the creativity of the
artist behind guitar/computer.

Otherwise all that counts is how technically adept you are on an instrument. And that means we should only listen to opera singers, jazz and Dire Straits. I *like* singers who don’t sing perfectly in tune, players who are sometimes a bit ham-fisted but who have *energy* and *passion* (this covers most great punk). I like people who have a great musical idea and get that across, by whatever means necessary. Nobody could accuse Bowie of being a virtuoso guitarist or singer but he had great ideas and hooky melodies.

Also, as I’ve said elsewhere, if it is that easy to have a pre-programmed, preset hit – go on, do it! I suspect what people are moaning about is a kind of guild jealousy. It’s like we’re all hand wood-lathers, spent all our lives learning how to make beautiful spindles. But now some bugger turns up with an electric lathe and churns out 50 in an hour. Of course, *we* know the difference, his are all the same. We’ve slaved for years over ours, crafted them lovingly. Now no-one wants the bastards! Waah!

But the truth is that most of the people who say ‘it’s easy, you just push a few buttons’ never go on to have instant number ones. Why? Because they don’t know the genre. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the artists being moaned about are DJs. Yeah, they can’t play a note but they know, far better than the average bedroom-bound musician, how to rock a crowd. They know how to structure a record to make people *dance*.

In other words, the average musician hasn’t got enough *musical knowledge* to get a hit record out of the *same presets* that the people in the charts use successfully. Just cos you’ve got a guitar, it doesn’t make you Hendrix. And just cos you’ve got a K5000, doesn’t make you Sash. You have to put in *years* of DJing to get this knowledge. For every hour a band spends in a garage thrashing out ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ or ‘Teen Spirit’, a successful DJ spends that in front of a live audience, learning what works and how to whip them into a frenzy. For me, that’s an apprenticeship that’s of equal value to us with our hand-lathes.

The other insidious subtext is that people are buying stupid meaningless records by idiots who can’t play —> therefore pop fans must be morons. I’m sorry, but we’ve had this chestnut since the 1920s.

Every new pop music movement was hailed as a descent into stupidity. Whether it’s jazz or rock’n’roll, they were attacked as being ‘simple’, ‘repetitive’ and ‘meaningless.’ Hey – that’s POP! I find it ironic that people in this thread are saying ‘let’s get back to real music’ when that same music was criticised when it was new for all the reasons now used against dance music (‘those aren’t songs’, ‘they can’t even play their instruments’, ‘it’s just a fad’).

I love pop music.

Some of it is ephemeral candyfloss, some of it is heartfelt sloganeering. Some of it is torn, note-by-note out of the artist’s heart. Some of it is written in the back of a cab on the way to the studio. I love it all. The reason I don’t like most trance and house is that the *song* leaves me cold, not cos of how it’s made. It only takes one Spiller or Modjo to make me go out and eat my words, though.

So, all I care about is how a piece of music sounds, what the lyrics (if there are any) say and can I pogo to it?

What else matters?
love and kisses,

Xploding Plastix – Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents

(Beatservice BSCD038)
From: Jyoti Mishra Newsgroups:
Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 17:04:14 +0100

I won’t do a potted biog as you can find that done excellently here and this is the official site.

This is the first XP record I’ve heard and I’d most compare it to some of the Pork Records stuff but perhaps just a touch jazzier. My fave overall is ‘Treat Me Mean, I Need The Reputation’ which is sort of tango (mambo?) drum’n’bass. Honestly. It works like you think it won’t. I predict this track being very popular with whoever picks BBC2’s link music.

I do like the fact that the album isn’t just the one groove, there’s a range of moods which reminds me of the breadth of Fila Brazillia’s ‘Power Clown.’ There’s some classic be-bop type grooves on here but laid over completely unjazz synthiness. Probably the best example of this is ‘Tintinnamputation’ which does sometimes sound like two different bands rehearsing next to each other. But in a good way.

The strange thing is that I hate both jazz and drum’n’bass but I like this CD and it uses elements of both. How does that work, eh? I guess part of this album’s charm is that it’s pushing itself beyond a lot of other contemporary instrumental electronic stuff. There’s a lot more going on here, in terms of melody and and structure.

So, prime jazzy instrumental electronic noodling. Buy it if you need music to comb your goatee to. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for happy clappy pop.

Blueline Medic – The Apology Wars

(Fueled By Ramen FBR043)

From: Jyoti Mishra

Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 17:04:14 +0100

Hmmm… what label do I hang on this CD? BM are Aussies, this, their debut album, is released on Fueled By Ramen and you can find out more about them here

Reading the bio there, this album was produced by,

“J. Robbins, who recorded their forthcoming debut album “The Apology Wars” at Inner Ear Studios in Washington D.C. “

Didn’t he do Promise Ring? Inner Ear? Ahhh… I could probably get away with calling BM emo. After all, they’ve just done a tour with Jimmy Eat World..

But labels always lie. This album does emorock, yuup, but it also jangles in parts and, truthfully, it’d be more accurate to call BM an indie band. Some of the songs make me feel that there’s an 80s-indie guitar dynamic behind the modern sheen. I don’t exactly know why but BM also remind me of New Day Rising-period Husker Du. Perhaps it’s the singer’s voice, which has a Mouldy hoarseness at times.

But it’s also a very poppy, accessible record. Probably the most singalong track is ‘Making The Nouveau Riche’ which gets you going before, unforgivably, fading out too quickly. Fadeouts – bah!

Then you have a track like ‘Up Against The Fault’ which, if it was less heavy, could almost be a Lloyd Cole song. It’s *very* catchy in that kind of riff-driven way, completed with a neat false ending into big chorus. There’s a lot of Chills-like dyanmics in these songs.

This is a rock album. *Not* a nu-metal album – it’s too complex for that. And too honest: no big swearalong choruses to annoy your parents with here. But you do get a lot of emotion. It doesn’t go down that Vedder-esque whingeing route Staind are taking because the mourning is balanced by anger.

Buy this album if you still secretly treasure Smiths-y melancholy and jangly guitars. Don’t buy this album if you’re looking for heavy, heavy guitar bashing and shouting.

Capdown – Pound For The Sound

(Household Name Records HAUS043)
From: Jyoti Mishra

Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 17:04:14 +0100

Now, I’m not really big into ska-punk cos I’m far too old and fat to dance to it. That being said, I gave this a quick listen and I had to buy it cos of its energy. As soon as the chorus of ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ kicks in, I feel my aged flesh vainly trying to launch itself moshwards. And you’d better watch the fuck out when I crowdsurf…

Click here to find out more stuff about Capdown:

CAPitalist DOWNfall, eh? Well, it’d be nice.

Meanwhile, there isn’t a duff track on here. Capdown switch gears effortlessly between fleet, bouncy ska and then, a bar later, heavy bastard rock. All the songs are concise and catchy, in and out without ever giving you a chance to get bored. Tracks like ‘Judgement Days’ remind me of the Dead Kennedys. There’s that Jello kind of mad drama and sheer, um, loonery.

Then there’s ‘An A-Political Stand Of Reasons’ which I *have to* like cos it reminds me so much of Madness. Although it sounds *nothing like* Madness. Especially when the monster rock bit kicks in. Listen to them kick drums stutter! I defy anyone who likes rock music to not like this track – it’s so fucking mental.

‘Pound For The Sound’ (the song) barrels along like God-fucking-zilla. Never since X Ray Spex has a sax intro sounded so cool and catchy. This is just a brilliant, awesome pop song. It segues seamlessly into ‘Dub2’ which almost crosses the border into that terrifying new genre ProgSkaPunk but I still love it.

‘Dealer Fever’ doesn’t cut any slack. Huge, trainer-vibrating riffs, cool wah-wah and, I think, Rototoms, chug along, daring you not to dance. Absolutely awesome singing, too. Ahh… if I was only twenty years younger… or twenty stone lighter…

Of the three CDs (Blueline Medic and Xploding Plastix being the other two), Capdown’s is definitely the best. Which isn’t to say the others are bad, it’s just I’m a sucker for great pop music and, like I said, Capdown’s CD is overflowing with riffs, grunts and melodies that get my head nodding.

*PLUS* the songs are actually saying *something.* I’m so fucked-off with the reams of oh-so-trendy, tasteful, turntablism-lite instrumental bollocks clogging up the airwaves that it’s a positive fucking relief to hear sermons and polemics like Capdown’s. It’s easy to make me happy: give me great melody, give me compelling rhythm and then sing/rap about something you care about. Capdown do all that

Buy this album if you ever, ever liked the Specials, Crass or Nuclear Assault.

Don’t buy this album if you like the Avalanches.

AOpen AW744 Pro

My favourite ever PC soundcard was the Yamaha SW60 XG. I bought one in 1995 and was immediately seduced by the hardware XG synth built into the slim darling. I loved the crispness of the XG sounds. Back then, they were the cleanest synth sounds I had access to. I even did a whole track on my second album purely using the soundcard (the American Sitcom instrumental).
Then, I moved into the Macintosh music world, leaving behind the vagaries of IRQs, DMAs and bizarrely non-repeating fatal errors.
Last year I dipped a toe back into PC waters. I bought a system, thinking that PC tech must have improved so much that the soundcards I could buy would be brilliant. But I was wrong.
The major thing that contemporary PC soundcards are based around is providing multi-channel cinema sound. The MIDI synth capabilities seem to be left far behind in the race for immersive game sound environments. I was appalled that most soundcards used bloody wavetable softsynths for their MIDI sound generation.
I’ve always hated these implementations. I don’t know why because they should, ostensibly, sound as good or better as hardware synths since they’re sample based. But every non-hardware PC soundcard synth I’ve heard sounds terrible. They have this kind of hazy, slow sound to them. The transients on drumkits are dull and muffled. The pianos don’t breathe at all, every sound is glassy and unconvincing.
That’s why I was so pleased to discover this soundcard, reviewed in a PC Pro article. I had been about to bite the bullet and fork out for a Yamaha SW1000XG, purely for it’s XG facilities. But I’d been hesitating because all I wanted to do with the soundcard was listen to crappy XG midi files off the net and do the occasional, non-professional tinkling. And over £400 is a lot to pay just for that.
Then the AW744 Pro appeared and saved my bacon. It costs £19, has a beautiful little hardware synth on board and, amazingly, even has an optical SP/DIF output on it. Now that’s progress! It’s even better than the old SW60XG because, if I remember correctly, you couldn’t route the SW60’s XG sounds to its coaxial digi out, only wave audio. With the AOpen card, you’ve got choices about what goes where. Amazing!
So, if you enjoy listening to terrible XG MIDI files as much as I do, may I humbly recommend the AOpen AW744 Pro. It makes even the worst of versions into pootling little masterpieces.

The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic

(Mint Records MRD 043)

Newsgroups: Date: Sun, 04 Mar 2001 18:51:31 +0000 Organization: Bzangy Groink

Again, this was a total impulse buy based on a quick listen in Soundclash. The first track, ‘Mass Romantic’, hooked me right away. A fast, shuffly beat coupled with clipped rhythm guitar and then Neko Case‘s wonderful warbling comes in. It’s *so* absolutely poppy and catchy and the chorus makes me yell along, way out of tune. It’s unashamedly power pop and I guess it sounds so strange to me cos it’s nothing like current British schmindie.

But then, why should a bunch of Canadians (and the Yankee Case) sound like all the dreary, whiney bands that clog up Lamaq? There’s so much sparkle and ambition on this album.

The next track, ‘The Fake Headlines’, starts off all acousticy and then kicks in with a swagger that reminds me a bit of Phasehifter-era Red Kross. Again, it’s a commanding, eclectic slice of pop. It just has this *sound* I can’t quite describe that’s so un-English. I think it might be a guitar band actually having *fun.* Do you remember fun?

‘The Slow Descent Into Alchoholism’ is like some distant cousin of the Wonderstuff‘s ‘Size Of A Cow’ crossed with prime Posies. And I’m also guessing that these peeps are Todd Rundgren fans. Yay!

This CD sounds strange to me cos it’s so unlike most Brit guitar music around. I honestly can’t think of one UK band that approaches the New Pornographers flair, crazed inventiveness and sheer we-just-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-the-indie-rules twatting about.

Perhaps the closest I can get is some of the older Australian and New Zealand indie bands, the kind of people you’d find doing excellent pop on Flying Nun comps. And yes, on songs like ‘Jackie’ you can hear echoes of The Chills or Sneaky Feelings.

Bear in mind that although they have some defiantly retro elements, this isn’t a retro record. When you hear Neko belting out ‘Letter From An Occupant’, you know *when* you are, it’s just *where* you are that remains fuzzy. And what a great, leaping voice she’s got. You need a big, energetic voice like that to sit on top of the often frantic backing.

The start of ‘The Body Says No’ could be a Divine Comedy song but then it vaults off in a far more Big Star direction. Great slabs of powerpop guitar slam in for the chorus and, once again, I find myself doing very questionable ’70s falsetto harmonies. Which is a *good thing.*

Contemporaries? Well, like I said, I don’t think there are any UK bands. ‘Execution Day’ could be a Komeda song, with it’s freaky harmonies and instrumentation, but overall it’s far more glam than Komeda’s post-punk pop.

I do have the feeling that if they’d grown up in Scotland, they’d now be mates with TFC, even if their powerpop influences have obviously taken them to different destinations.

I like this album. It’s not my top current guitar album cos Sludgefeast have still got that sewn up.


It’s *different.* There’s so much grey, washed-out, drab whingey music about that putting this CD on is like a little ray of poppy sunshine. It’s like a CD from an alternate universe where making happy guitar music hasn’t been outlawed. It rocks!

Buy this CD if you’ve ever, ever sung along to Queen, The Cars, Badfinger, Neil Young or the theme from Game On.

Don’t buy it if you’re feeling a bit miserable and mopey and want to stay that way…

love and kisses, Jyoti

Dead Prez – Let’s Get Free

Well, I’ve had this album for about a month so I think I’ve lived with it enough to post a full review.

I bought it after seeing stuff about them in The Source. I was a wee bit wary cos there’s plenty of crews who pretend to conscious rap but very few who deliver.

Dead Prez do.

I’m gonna pepper this review with quotes because DP have come out with some of my favourite hip hop lyrics *ever*. I’ll do a track by track rundown:

1. Wolves
Just over two minutes long. Starts with some spooky howling and then a speech about nasty stuff with knives and wolves. It most reminds me of Brand Nubian, round about ‘In God We Trust’. A good atmospheric opener.

2. I’m A African
What can I say? Nearly every bloody lyric is pure poetry and power – there’s no fat to trim here at all. This track made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up exactly the same as when I first heard ‘Fuck Tha Police’ or ‘Fight The Power.’ Lyrics like:
“Bounce to this socialist movement – my environment made me the nigger I am”
And rightly, they say they’re:
“Somewhere between NWA and PE”
The track expounds Afrocentric politics with a conciseness and anger I haven’t heard in years. They even drop in a Stetsasonic reference for those who’ll remember.

3. ‘They’ Schools
“I went to school with some redneck crackers, right about the time Third Bass dropped the ‘Cactus’ (album).” Again, it’s straight in-your-face analysis. Pointing out just how the education system is loaded against black kids *but* also that self-education is therefore the key. That’s the difference – a lot of rappers might dismiss schooling but DP seem indignant at being denied an equal opportunity.

4. Hip-Hop
This is the single that you may have heard. A wobbly, jiggly bassline over a sparse rhythm and cutting lyrics concerning the biz. I quote:
“Nigger, don’t think these record deals gonna feed your seeds and pay your bills.”
This track most reminds me of TCQ’s ‘Showbusiness’ in that it’s trying to separate the industry from the culture.

5. Police State
A very down and dirgey backing supports more theorising, this time about the nature of modern nation states. The opening sample could have been lifted directly from Lenin’s ‘State & Revolution’ and when DP start rapping, it’s no less blistering:

“We sick of working for crumbs and filling up the prisons,
dying over money and relying on religion,
for help,
we do for self, like ants in a colony,
organise the wealth into a socialist economy
a way of life based on the common need”

I haven’t heard such focus in hip hop in a *long* time, even more so because, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t all seem to be NOI-oriented. Or any religion.

6. Behind Enemy Lines
A song for those locked up, either directly as political prisoners (Black Panthers and family) or as a result of a fundamentally fucked-up economic system.

7. Assasination
A short track dedicated to something that’s definitely gonna annoy the FBI

8. Mind Sex
Mmmmm… this is the sauciest DP get and it’s a slow and slinky vibe. It’s sort of like the first Digable Planets album or perhaps Tribe’s ‘Electric Relaxation.’ It is cool to hear a hip hop song which is trying to do something different about sex but personally I think I prefer Big Pun’s blunter approach 🙂

9. We Want Freedom
A flutey sample leads into a harp arpeggio. DP ask, what are you willing to do to earn your freedom?
“What you gonna do to get free,
we need more than MCs,
we need Hueys, revolutionaries”
It’s probably one of the bleakest songs on the album because it envisions the breakup of society necessary to effect change.

10. Be Healthy
Based around a classical guitar riff, this is definitely another favourite of mine. DP get Masterchef on our asses and this song is their menu. Ahem,

“I don’t eat no meat, no dairy no sweets,
only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and wholewheat”

It’s a great song precisely because it’s ground not that often covered. And it’s still ultimately a political song, about self-education and health education. One to play people if they moan that hip hop is just about guns and bitches.

11. Discipline
Another short (1.37) one basically about… discipline and organising your life. Reminds me a bit of a Sesame Street song which is a compliment.

12. Psychology
This is probably one of my least favourite tracks but on this album, which means it would be the standout track on most hip hop albums. It’s trying to link too many things (mental states, organisation, liberation) and I don’t think it quite comes off. But again, this is only compared with how good the rest of the album is. There’s a crazy chugging rock guitar that comes in near the end.

13. Happiness
Sort of DP’s version of Cube’s ‘Good Day.’ All the shit that makes for a good day, all the shit that’s worth having and real, unlike the distractions we’re pushed towards by society. Very chilled and hard to imagine being made by the same people who wrote ‘I’m A African.’

14. Animal In Man
If Angela Davies had written ‘Animal Farm’ this is how it would have come out. A great, almost military backing coupled with a warning about Stalinism. Again, not that common in contemporary hip hop.

15. You’ll Find A Way
A lovely instrumental. A muted trumpet (or trombone?) wails over minimal piano and drums. Wouldn’t be out of place on an Air album.

16. It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop
Partially a reprise of track 4 but also more. Faster, more cynical and meaner. More acoustic than wibbly basssynth.

17. Bonus Track 1
“You can’t fool all the people all the time but if you fool the right ones, the rest will fall in line.” I’d guess this track is called ‘Telling Lies.’ Covers a whole lot of ground from multinational corporations to the opiate of religion. Distrust everything you know.

18. Bonus Track 2
This is the only tracking with a Wu-ish backing, making good use of the Les Dawson riff. It’s more claustrophobic and probably the most beat-down track.

Well, if you’ve made it to here, you can see that I like this album 🙂 If you like PE, NWA, The Roots, BDP, KRS1, Black Eyed Peas, Ice Cube, Channel Live, Gang Starr, Brand Nubian or the Last Poets, buy this album. You’re gonna love it. Don’t buy it if you don’t like revolutionary polemics or dancing round your front room like a mad bastard.

Daniel Miller Interview

Mute Records

Daniel Miller has been a personal hero of mine since 1981, when I first bought ‘Speak & Spell.’ Mute Records was the first independent record label I loved, before I even understood the difference between majors and indies. When I look through my record collection it’s filled with bands either on Mute or one of the sub-labels, bands like Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., Labradford, Jon Spencer, Christian Vogel, Goldfrapp, Add N To X… well, you get my point.

I got to meet Daniel after I asked him to remix a track of mine in the brief time I was on EMI. At the end of 2000, I twisted his arm to let me interview him. This interview also appeared in the May 2001 issue of synthpop magazine Lexicon.

Jyoti : Hiya Daniel, are you ready for your in-depth interview?
Daniel : Go on, fire away!
Jyoti : Why did you first form Mute, how and when?
Daniel : I wouldn’t even use the word form cos it always sounds too grandiose to say that I ‘formed’ Mute but the first release came out in early 1978. And that was TVOD/Warm Leatherette.
Jyoti : And that was you!
Daniel : That was me.
Jyoti : Whatever happened to the Normal?
Daniel : Retired, hurt. Nothing since ’78 but I did some touring with Robert Rental who sadly passed away recently. There was a recording issued of that collaboration by Rough Trade which is difficult to track down but we’re [Mute] thinking of re-issuing it.
Jyoti : How were you involved with the Silicon Teens?
Daniel : I did it – that was me. That album was recently re-issued on Mute. I’m a huge Chuck Berry fan and I wanted to see what it would sound like doing him on synthesizers.
Jyoti : But did you move to being the Mute supremo because you were too shy to do the band stuff, as has been previously suggested?
Daniel : Not really, no. I was a frustrated musician all my life. I learnt guitar, saxophone and other stuff but I really couldn’t play at all. I was in bands at school but always the worst, I gravitated to the bottom of the league! Part of the whole thing about electronic music was that I had these ideas which I could now get down without necessarily being a conventional musician or songwriter.
Jyoti : But you totally wrote Warm Leatherette and TVOD?
Daniel : Yep – it’s not a Grace Jones cover version!
Jyoti : So you’re saying you don’t class yourself as a songwriter and yet Warm Leatherette has now been covered by quite a few people. Not bad going for someone who doesn’t consider himself a songwriter.
Daniel : But I’m not a songwriter! I think if you’re going to be creative in that area, you have to have the need to be involved. It’s like writing a book, it’s very hard to do if you haven’t got a real passion for it. And I don’t have that feeling. I don’t want to be a songwriter – I liked doing it and I was trying to make a certain point. In 1978, I was trying to make a point that there were cheap synthesizers out there, you could become involved, trying to link that in with punk. In fact, you don’t even have to learn the punk three chords, you don’t have to be a musician, all you need are the ideas and you can come up with something interesting.
Jyoti : So would you call the early Mute a punk or post-punk label?
Daniel : Ah, well it was both, in a sense. It was literally, chronologically post-punk but punk was one of the inspirations behind it. It wasn’t the only inspiration,
there were other factors that came together that made me do it. But the punk ethic was there, the do-it-yourself, fuck-the-establishment attitude. I had that attitude since I can remember but punk focussed it from just being angry. Another factor was my love of electronic music and the last one would be that electronic instruments became affordable to people like me, rather than only wealthy rock stars. Musically, I felt that punk ran out of steam very quickly. The energy was there but a lot of it was speeded-up pub rock, which I hated. But as a spirit, as a sense of adventure it carried on, inspiring people who weren’t making punk, from Joy Division to The Human League to whoever. My primary thing was this new aesthetic, which I couldn’t imagine approaching a conventional record company with. I also liked the idea of just sticking out a single on my own. It was a heady mix of the aesthetic, the economic and the political. There was a hippy element as well but then most punks are hippies.
Jyoti : In the first five years of Mute, what are personal milestones for you?
Daniel : Well, the first single, of course, cos it got the label going. It took me a year to decide to release another record. I was living in London, at my Mum’s and I’d got to know the people at the Rough Trade shop. I was playing live a lot, helping out at Rough Trade. Then I met Fad Gadget and loved his music and wanted to stick it out. Between 79 and 80 there was Fad Gadget, the Silicon Teens, DAF, Non, Robert Rental.
Jyoti : A lot of those releases are now considered the birth of industrial music. You seem to have very broad tastes?
Daniel : It’s my generation, maybe. I’m old enough to remember rock’n’roll (just) and to remember the British beat boom as a young teen, the Kinks, Beatles and Stones. I was just old enough to be appreciative of the underground stuff in the late 60s, leaping onto things like Can and Amon Duul. So I grew up with a lot of great pop bands and experimental music as well. There was a point that music seemed to stand still and I wanted to hear strange things that you’d never heard before. So, I’ve always been a big pop fan.
Jyoti : Don’t you think it’s strange that there’s only the one Mute?
Daniel : How do you mean?
Jyoti : Well, you’re an independent label and you have artists like Labradford, who I love but can’t imagine in the charts. At the same time, you have great pop bands like Erasure and Depeche Mode.
Daniel : Well, I can’t explain it! It’s just my musical taste – it’s the result of all my varied influences. If I have the opportunity to work in all those
areas, I will. I’m excited by having hit records but not for just the sake of having them. If I can get a band I believe in into the charts, have a track actually become popular then that’s brilliant. But I find it equally exciting to release a record that may not chart but that is innovative or experimental that may only sell a few thousand.
Jyoti : I remember seeing you at the Add N To X gig before you signed them and you were excited about them like a kid
Daniel : Yeah, you have to feel that way. And I feel that Add N To X are a band that should be on Mute and that we, as a label, can do more for than anyone
Jyoti : What are the various Mute labels.
Daniel : Well, Mute, obviously. There’s the Grey Area which is specifically a re-issue imprint. If we can get hold of old stuff we like and can work with, like the Industrial Records catalog, we’ll put it out. When they ceased trading, they offered the catalog to us and we were really happy to take it on. There’s also Can, which was unbelievable for me as huge fan, an incredible opportunity. Other stuff on there includes early Cabaret Voltaire, Soviet France, SPK and some other things we’re after. Then there’s Blast First which is run by a guy called Paul Smith. I met Paul in the mid-80s. I’d been locked in the studio for a year, helping to make Black Celebration and I came home, switched on John Peel and I heard these two amazing tracks. One was by Head Of David and the other by Big Stick. So I phoned up Rough Trade and asked about them and it turned it they were both on Paul’s label, Blast First. He heard that I was interested and got in touch. We had a chat and he was saying how he wanted to keep his label going but was low on money, but he’d got this exciting new band called Sonic Youth. So I went to see them and they were amazing, of course. (I’m not anti-guitar, I’m just anti the way most people play them!) But Sonic Youth were fantastic so I formed a partnership with Paul. And then, because Sonic Youth were well-respected amongst their musical peers, before we knew it, we had Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, Butthole Surfers and others who were the predecessors of grunge, I guess. All these modern, experimental guitar bands were suddenly on Blast First and it was a fantastic period for the label.
Jyoti : So basically, in 1989, you had most of the best techno and guitar music in the world working with Mute.
Also in that period we were working with Rhythm King who had a lot of the early house acts, like S-Express and Bomb The Bass. So, all round, it was a pretty exciting time.
Jyoti : But you haven’t changed that much because nowadays you have the guitar side of Mute covered with bands like Jon Spencer.
Daniel : Yeah, that’s right. And again, he’s one of the few guitar acts that I think is fantastic, I’m very happy to be working with him. Anyway, after we parted ways with Rhythm King, we decided to concentrate more on the dance side so we formed NovaMute, out of in-house personnel who were into this area. It ended up being up an artist-based label with people like Richie Hawtin, Luke Slater, Speedy J, Christian Vogel, 2nd Gen. What happened with Blast First is that America woke up to its own music and bigger labels offered those bands big advances. People like Geffen who either wanted the bands in worldwide, exclusive deals or not at all. Paul got a bit deflated by this and it took a bit of time to get going again but when he heard Pansonic, he loved that and that, along with bands like Labradford, was the start of a new wave of Blast First releases. Jyoti : Here’s an opportunity for a free plug: of current Mute releases, what are you most excited by?
Daniel : Well, it’s a bland answer but a truthful one – I’m excited by it all or else I wouldn’t release it. But of the newer acts we’ve started to work with over the last couple of years, I think Goldfrapp is fantastic. Alison Goldfrapp is an incredibly talented singer and Will is an outstanding arranger. Add N To X we’ve talked about… Echoboy is just one of these guys who’s got music pouring out of every orifice. He comes from a very trad background, having been a Britpop band called the Hybirds, which I’d never heard of. They were dropped by their label soon after the release of their debut album. Richard Warren [Echoboy] split the group up, used his publishing advance to buy musical gear for his home and started experimenting in a more Krautrocky area. He’s progressing all the time and he’s a very accomplished musician in trad terms, which is unusual in the current are he’s working in.
Jyoti : How does it feel having been such a huge influence on whole swathes of Black electro and hip hop? All those people inevitably have copies of Kraftwerk and Gary Numan but also Depeche Mode and Yazoo.
Daniel : Well, I want music to push forward and not be retro. If Mute’s ever inspired people to do that, to progress, well that’s the whole point of what I’m trying to do. That’s what was so exciting about working with Depeche, they were great pop songwriters but they were also into experimenting with new sounds. I sit at home with my synthesizers making great noises but when you can put those experiments into the pop form, that’s thrilling. I listened to Black Celebration all the way through, for the first time in ages, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think we achieved a lot with that album. We were into people like Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Dept., so those influences came through. That album seems to be the favourite of a lot of hardcore Depeche fans.
Jyoti : Don’t you think that if Martin Gore was in a more trad guitar band, he’d have gained a lot more respect as a songwriter?
Daniel : Well, that may be true to a certain extent in Britain. But in the US and Germany, I think he gets that respect. Also, he did win an Ivor Novello a couple of years ago. He’s a very modest guy but he was pleased by that and it was a moving thing for me to see. Sometimes you can get close to someone and forget how much they’ve achieved but when you see someone’s history played out like that, in three minutes of videos, it’s pretty amazing.
Jyoti : I like the subversion of classic Mute pop, in the charts but with edgy lyrics like Master & Servant.
Daniel : Yeah, there was a moment there in the 80s when you had Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Heaven 17, all chart bands who were producing stuff that wouldn’t be allowed in the charts nowadays. On the other hand, I do think it’s good that kids are listening to pop music again now, that died a little in the 80s, but I’m glad that’s back. You have to have that original thing, that hooks kids when they’re young and then their tastes broaden. If they’re not listening when they’re twelve and thirteen, then they won’t be listening later, you have to have that excitement.
Jyoti : Did you have a Mute 20th Birthday Party?
Daniel : No. I’m not a big celebrator of the past – there was no Mute 20th birthday party because I’d rather look to the future. Also, I’m not a very sociable, party type person.
Jyoti : Why do you think Mute have survived and so many other indie labels have gone down the tubes?
Daniel : I think we had a lot of breaks. We started working with Depeche and that was a band with two great songwriters in it, which then split into two bands. Now that’s a lucky break! You can work as hard as you bloody like but you still have to have the breaks. Then with bands like the Birthday Party/Nick Cave, we gave them a place where they could grow at their own speed. The same with Moby, eight years to get to the point where we’re at now, which probably wouldn’t have happened on another label. But who knows? You can’t ever say what would have happened.
Jyoti : Finally, Daniel, where do you see Mute in twenty years?
Daniel : In 2020? Fuck knows! I look at people who I respect in the business like Seymour Stein and Clive Davis and they still have that genuine enthusiasm, that passion for music. I hope I’ll be like that. I don’t think I’ll get bored, sometimes I get frustrated, like during the mid-90s big Britpop explosion which I didn’t like and couldn’t see how Mute fitted in. I hated Britpop and if you weren’t doing it, the press weren’t interested, it did my head in for a while. So I don’t think I’d stop from boredom but from it being so much hard work, making endless plane trips, forever chasing things. But the next few years are looking very positive, we’re selling records, doing what we want to do, releasing great music.

Copyright 2001 Jyoti Mishra