Parallax – Push For The Love Of Life (Mute Records single, 1993)

According to something I read back in 1993, Mute had not signed any new artists to the label for some time, the last new artist being Moby who joined the label the year before. Parallax, whose first single ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ was released by Mute that summer, were supposed to be Mute’s hot new talent. The project of Jason Young, Parallax were a bratty outfit grappling with the vernacular of hardcore rave, mixing those sounds with harsh industrial noise blasts and the type of rapping favoured by the likes of Pop Will Eat Itself. ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ would prove to be one of just two singles released by the band before promptly disbanding. ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ was written and produced by Jason Young and engineered by Julian Briottet, brother of Renegade Soundwave‘s Danny Briottet.

Though at times it feels barely a fraction above demo quality, ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ remains a personal favourite. The song is characterised by a frantic (if far too quiet) 4/4 drum rhythm and urgent bass line. Over that Young drops in a concise array of droning sounds, rave whistles, sampled snarling metal guitar, sirens and so on, topped off by impassioned and defiant rap. Whilst this brand of agit-rap hasn’t aged terribly well, there is a desperate quality to it, the track ending with a frustrated ‘never let go‘ from the frontman. In addition to the main single-length Savage Mix, the 12” and CD also features two further versions – the Valentine Mix and an instrumental version (credited on the promo 12” as an extended instrumental mix). The Valentine Mix ditches the vocal and adds acid-style synths which would give this mix a dancefloor appeal were it not for the simplicity and lack of club-friendly punch that characterises the track’s beat. Some ‘Join In The Chant’-style insistent howling is a nice touch and there’s still nothing quite so thrilling to me as a 303 sound operating on the edge of being out of control.

The release is rounded off by a demo version of the track ‘No Concept’ which was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall. Someone has said that the track samples Faith No More’s ‘Crack Hitler’ but I wouldn’t be able to verify that. ‘No Concept’ has a nice breakbeat, droning washes of nagging feedback and a distorted rap that feels like it would have suited Nitzer Ebb‘s Douglas McCarthy. There’s a sense of dystopian helplessness on this track, signalling the rise in quality that would characterise Parallax’s second (and final) release, the Bullet-Proof Zero EP.

First published 2012; re-posted 2018.

(c) 2012 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Frank Tovey & The Pyros – Grand Union (Mute Records album, 1991)

1991’s Grand Union should by rights be lauded as a masterpiece of alternative rock, however Frank Tovey’s reclusive persona ensured that this overlooked gem has slipped through the net. Produced with PK (Paul Kendall), the album is both musically and lyrically enveloping. Something of a ‘concept’ album, Grand Union is ostensibly a collection of skiffly, folksy and vaguely country tracks accompanied by Tovey’s East End stories of the old, the new and the salient. There are many themes here, but one gets the impression that Tovey’s vision of a re-developing East End, with Canary Wharf’s landscape-altering construction in full swing, and the docks that made Britain what it once was turned into luxury restaurants and appartments invoked in him some sort of passion to head back in time and preserve the dirty Docklands spleandour of old in song.

At times melancholy (the WW2-recounting tale on ‘Bethnal Green Tube Disaster’), at others joyful in a ramshackle fashion (the opener ‘Bad Day In Bow Creek’), the album is largely subtle and blissfully easy on the ear. Semi-acoustic guitars, banjos and clever percussion evoke all manner of moods, and when they head into indie-rock territory, as on the Morrissey-esque ‘Cities Of The Vain’, The PyrosPaul Rodden (banjos and guitars), John Cutliffe (bass and acoustic guitars, plus strings on the closing track ‘The Great Attractor’) and Charlie Llewellyn (drums, percussion) – more than prove their adaptability around Tovey’s poetic lyrics. Additional contributions come from Steve Smith on various keyboards, Tracey Booth (bodhran on ‘IKB (RIP)’) and Elliot Carnegie, who plays Jew’s harp on the opener, ‘Bad Day In Bow Creek’. Somewhat more unusual, Tozie Lynch is credited with ‘bones’ on the same track. One imagines those bones may be among the detritus dredged up by the great Thames on a daily basis.

It is actually quite fantastic to hear just how well some primitive music forms lend themselves so well to Tovey’s Cockney vocals. His vocal is somewhere between Wreckless Eric and James’ Tim Booth, both folk and punk at the same time. His hero-worship of the great pioneering British engineer Isembard Kingdom Brunel on ‘IKB (RIP)’ is one of this album’s many high points, a time-travelling trip that leaves the grey towerblock-dominated modern London skylines far behind to witness at first hand the master engineer’s many achievements. And while we’re on the subject of masterful achievements, Paul Kendall’s excellent productions deserve a special mention. Best known for his electronic production for many Mute artists, PK brings a depth and precision to these tracks, using occasional effects with considerable restraint, but pushing the rhythm high up in the mix in an echo of his work with Nitzer Ebb.

With Grand Union, I continue to be impressed by the quality of songwriting, playing and production on display here. Intensely captivating and wonderfully unique, it is difficult to hear it without feeling some great sadness over the fact that the erstwhile Fad Gadget is no longer with us. A truly emotive gem, filled with grief, joy and a yearning for simpler times. Ironically, I wrote this while heading glumly toward my own shiny modern City offices on a train wildly rushing through some of the tunnels that Brunel’s colleagues were famed for.

First published 2003; re-posted 2018

(c) 2003 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Pepys Show: An Interview With Benjamin Till

Shortly after midnight, 350 years ago to this very day, in the City of London bakery of Thomas Farriner on Pudding Lane, a fire began. London was no stranger to fires, but this particular one would proceed largely unchecked, destroying an area of the City that far exceeded the damage wrought by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz.

We owe much of our understanding of what took place over the two and a half days of fierce burning that became known as the Great Fire to one man, an upper middle class Cambridge graduate and member of parliament called Samuel Pepys. Pepys is synonymous with the diary that he kept for some nine and a half years, beginning on 1st January 1660 until he ceased writing nearly a decade later after fearing – unfoundedly – that his eyesight was failing him. His writings represented a concise, unadorned form of reportage that gives us powerful insight into a period of massive upheaval in Britain’s capital – the Restoration of the monarchy, the Great Fire, the Great Plague, the Second Dutch War – all of which had a major bearing on the topography and conceptual fabric of London as we know it today.

Pepys’s obsessive documenting of his own affairs (more on that later) and the events unfolding around him in London is paralleled by the work of composer Benjamin Till, whose extreme meticulousness can be heard on his new album, The Pepys Motet. A choral work for twenty singers, Till’s work is an intense, immersive aural soundscape where the listener is literally surrounded by sung passages taken from Pepys’s diaries, executed in collaboration with Paul ‘PK’ Kendall, a producer and engineer for whom soundscaping of this nature is just as fastidious as either Pepys’s writing or Till’s approach to composing.

Till will be familiar to Erasure fans for his Channel 4 work Our Gay Wedding, which featured a stand-out performance from Andy Bell, and which featured Till as one the grooms. His Pepys project began in 2009, when he was asked to conceive a Pepys tribute to commemorate the anniversary of Pepys putting pen to paper by St Olave’s Church in the City, where Pepys and his wife Elizabeth are buried.

“I’d never really thought about Pepys before,” admits Till. “Obviously everyone knows Pepys and the Great Fire and the Plague, but for me that was about all I could think of.” His obsessive approach to pretty much everything he does forced him to invest himself fully in the Diaries, reading short and long versions fervently, in the process consuming around a million of Pepys’s words.

The work he began on 1st January 2010 was inspired by both Pepys and the massive choral work Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis, which Tallis had written as a forty-part motet, a polyphonic choral work typically sung in churches. “I wrote for eight choirs of five individuals, each of whom represented a different aspect of Pepys’s life, and each of them also represented a different choral tradition,” explains Till of his approach to composing The Pepys Motet. “I had a choir of five gospel singers who represented Pepys’s home life; I had a choir of five opera singers to represent his social climbing, five folk singers representing anything he wrote about what was going on in London itself; there was a choir of musical theatre singers who represented his debauchery and his love of theatre. There was a choir of early music singers who represented anything to do with religion or royalty, and then there was a choir of five children to represent the children he never had, a choir of five men from the Royal Navy to represent Pepys’s job as Chief Secretary to the Admiralty. Finally there were five singers from Magdalene College Cambridge, where Pepys studied.”

Till wrote solidly for eight months on the original version of The Pepys Motet. “It was a proper labour of love,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed the process of trying to write forty unique lines with no repetition whatsoever, with no-one doubling anyone. Obviously they don’t all sing at once, but sometimes forty singers sing forty different lines, and that was quite exciting. I made sure it happened once in every movement.”

Till scribed a daily blog from the day he started – the 350th anniversary of when Pepys put pen to paper for the first entry in his Diaries – and which continues to this day. The blog, the modern form of a diary in many ways, captured Till’s fundraising efforts to finance the Motet, progress on the forty-part work, the genesis of other projects, and, for the first two years, a précis of what Pepys had been doing on that very day some three and a half centuries prior.

Three movements from the forty-part motet were performed at St Olave’s at the end of 2010. “It was quite an extraordinary experience,” says Till. “The choir sang in a circle around the audience and moved around a lot.”Till had five of the six movements he had composed recorded at that time, but felt that the scramble to complete the work had left him with recordings that weren’t up to the exacting standards that he’d set himself. He then began a painstaking process of scaling back The Pepys Motet into the form displayed on the new album.

“There was an unfinished business aspect about it all,” sighs Till. “Since the original recordings, I’d set up a choir called The Rebel Chorus, and we recorded another of my compositions called The London Requiem, which was created from gravestone inscriptions from across London, and which PK also produced. There were twenty singers in The Rebel Chorus for that album, which made me realise that it made sense to downscale the Pepys project.”

Taking the piece down from a forty-part work to a twenty-part composition required Till to spend around six months of 2012 hacking it down to size. “I was looking at what didn’t work quite so well with the forty part version, and tried to thin it out,” he explains. “Fortunately, with The Rebel Chorus, a lot of the members of that choir came from that original group used for the forty-part motet, so I kept that sense of there being gospel singers, opera singers, musical theatre singers, folk singers, soul singers and so on. I was writing for the specific individual known voices, for their strengths and their ranges.”

The Rebel Chorus

Recording sessions for the album began in 2013, and Till consciously decided to record the choir in groups of five, with each of the singers in a different booth, something that’s relatively unprecedented in classical music. “I wanted the flexibility of being able to do whatever I wanted to the vocal stems,” he explains, earnestly. “Also, when you’re writing for twenty voices it can be a cacophony of sound if you can’t control or differentiate the individuals. One of the things I love about The Pepys Motet is that suddenly you’ll get this gospel singer or a soul singer or an opera singer will kind of come out of the mix. Recording the singers individually allowed us to separate the sound and then PK could put reverb on one singer if he chose to, or completely take the reverb out, or give an effect of everyone going around in a circle around the ears.”

Till’s approach might sound like overdriven controlfreakery, but the album benefits from that exacting approach to using the voices as a sonic tapestry. Words whirl around the stereo field, whispers have complete clarity and the whole thing has a controlled denseness more akin to a soundscape or musique concrète composition.

“It starts with the first words Pepys wrote in his diary with each singer in turn singing a syllable each –’Ble-ssed be God‘ – and it sort of zooms in on itself, and then the next group start, and it becomes like a spiral,” he continues. “I recorded everything with very close mics, so it meant that we could ask the singers to whisper, or sing really, really quietly. The whole piece was written for a lot of vocal gymnastics, and extended vocal techniques. There are a lot of growls and snarls and harmonics and things like that, which, if you’re close mic’ing somebody singing overtones, you get the whistles and the really interesting things that you’d otherwise lose.”

The approach that Till and PK took of allowing voices to interact, counteract, spin and overlap was inspired by the jump-cut style of Pepys’s writing. “He changes tack so often in his diary,” Till laughs. “He’ll be talking about the Great Plague and then he’ll say that ‘I’m really pleased to say that I’m now worth a thousand pounds!‘ You were literally just talking about death and now you’re talking about this! And then you’re talking about wanting to shag some woman and then you’re talking about how you hate yourself for going to the the theatre! It just keeps moving. It’s because he wasn’t writing for anyone’s consumption, he was just writing his thoughts. It’s very mercurial. Because he was writing his inner thoughts, he writes them in a very direct language. There’s none of the florid stuff that you find in his letters and his official documents. The letters were almost unreadable because he was so florid, as was the style in those days, but the stuff in his Diaries is just unbelievably direct.”

The most direct writing was reserved for writing about his sexual conquests and extra-marital affairs which, to prevent his long-suffering wife Elizabeth from detecting his illicit activities, would tend to be written in Latin, French or Spanish. “My favourite line in the whole thing is ‘And endeed I was with my hand in her cunny.’ Even after 350 years that’s still shocking and quite amazing. And that’s why the fifth movement in The Pepys Motet, about his affair with his maid Deb Willett, is jazzy and sleazy, because that felt like the right style to be writing in.”

Till reflects for a moment, gathering his thoughts and sipping from a mug bearing the legend ‘Big Fella’. “There’s this weird thing where there’s so much freedom” he muses. “When you decide you’re going to go up to the bell and ring it, I think you might as well just go for it. That’s why there’s gospel bits in it, and all sorts of other things. This is what London is today, a collection of all of these different groups of people, and that’s also what London was back then. That’s why it was such a pleasure to feature all those different voices.”

Getting that diversity of voices, and the detailed approach to isolating and mixing each voice individually, as well as part of a broader piece, wasn’t without its challenges. For a start, the process would see Till and PK rack up something like 300 hours of mixing – a critical step that was required to execute Till’s vision for the pieces, but one that was unprecedented and exhausting for the pair.

“We also made a decision to use Melodyne on every single voice,” Till continues. “That way we could have the absolute precision of tuning but we didn’t smooth anything. That took an extraordinary amount of time but I almost wanted to treat the voices like a synthesizer, and I wanted the voices to have that extraordinary precision. If hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t have been able to have the control, and it would have been a less sonically precise experience. I’m really quite anti any sort of tuning software, because I think they can ruin the inherent beauty of a voice. I had massive issues with it to begin with and I started to wonder if it wasn’t real music because of what we were doing to it, but it was only being done so that we could get that precision.”

PK, who has worked on numerous pieces with Till over the last few years, represents the perfect collaborator for someone looking for so much control over the sound. Across his production career, Kendall has consistently looked to fully involve himself in the fabric of sound waves, operating from an immersive position that’s more elemental than compositional.

“Sometimes he would kick me out of the studio,” laughs Till. “He’d turn to me and say ‘Ben, I’m going in, can you go home?’ and he’d put his headphones on and just enter the music. Those were the most amazing times because he’d send me something the next day that he’d done and there’d be these clouds of sound, or he’d have chosen one voice which just cut through the rest. You can trust PK to go away and just do his thing, and if you trust PK you get the best results. I don’t care what he does; whatever he does is going to be better than I could imagine it.”

Investing himself in a project, to the kind of levels that seem almost fanatically purist, is just what Till does. For London Requiem, he would break into Highgate Cemetery at midnight to capture environmental sounds that could then be used within his composition. For Oranges & Lemons, which rounds out the Pepys Motet album, Till once again took a hugely detailed approach to tackling a song familiar to many generations of school children. For this project, Till and a soundman trawled the churches of the City to capture the sound of every single bell referenced in the song, as well as uncovering lost verses that amplified some of the darker sections of the lyrics.

“There’s something exciting about place and an aspect of documentary,” he explains, “but with Oranges & Lemons, there was an almost autistic fanaticism about making sure that every single bell in every single church wasn’t just recorded but was featured in the recording, including little handbells. For the bells of St Helen’s Bishopsgate for example, the church there doesn’t use bells as part of the worship, so those bells are still hanging but without any clapper mechanisms. We climbed up into the belfry and we hit them with a rubber mallet, just to make sure we got them.”

If recording the bells presented logistical challenges – including putting feet through floorboards, getting covered in decades’ worth of black dust and generally getting spooked by weird, spectral noises being picked up on the recordings – it was just as bad trying to process and analyse the recordings. “A bell is so complex in terms of the different harmonics,” Till groans. “What the bell is meant to be ringing is often not what it is actually ringing.”

Ringing the bell at St Catherine Cree, before it was melted down

Stitching together all of the bell recordings in order took five agonising days in total. “For the first day I was thinking it sounded like shit because it was so freakishly out of tune,” Till laughs. “Sometimes you’d have a minor chord where you wanted a major chord, so it would all just sound horrid. And then at a certain point I just went ‘Fuck it – I really like this’. That was the epiphany of Oranges & Lemons, but it nearly killed us. I worked with Julian Simmonds who works at DIN Studios and he used to get these migraines on a daily basis about 4pm because I’d be saying ‘First hemidemisemiquaver, St Helens E. Second hemidemisemiquaver, St Botolph G’, and so we’d be putting them into this file one by one, place by place. I think that almost drove him mad.”

True to his intense reading of Pepys, Till avidly researched the forgotten elements of Oranges & Lemons that throw a much darker hue on the playground song. “We found this extra bit of text, which is the middle section where it goes ‘All ye that in the condemned hole do lie, prepare ye, for tomorrow ye shall die,‘ and it was a poem from the bellman from St Sepulchre, next to Newgate Prison. He would walk around the jail on the night before an execution reading this poem and ringing a bell. They were executed at the strike of nine from the bells, and the bell that you can hear ringing all the way through that sequence is the actual bell that they were listening to. That was literally the last thing they heard, that very bell. And then going into the Tower Of London, which is considered to be the location of the Bells of St John’s. The line ‘Pokers and tongs say the bells of St John’s‘ was about torture in the Tower of London.”

There is a bell whose ringing connects directly back to Pepys’s Diary, which also hangs at the Tower of London. The Curfew Bell would have been rung during the Great Plague to ensure that citizens of the City headed indoors, so as to allow the sick to take to the streets, ghoul-like, in order to get what little fresh air might have availed itself upon them. “It’s got this pulley mechanism which makes a really strange squeak,” recalls Till with what could be a pained wince. “There’s one moment in my Oranges & Lemons where you hear that spiralling right round the ears in that middle section, which is pretty creepy.”

Ringing the Curfew Bell

When combined with The London Requiem, The Pepys Motet and Oranges & Lemons represent Till’s London trilogy. And yet Till isn’t from London at all, despite his deep understanding of place and history suggesting that the capital runs deep through his veins: he was born and raised in Northampton in the Midlands. “It comes from not having a sense of belonging,” he confesses of his deep affection for London. “That comes from being a Midlander. Nobody talks about the Midlands like its a real place.”

“I think what I’ve done all my life is found myself looking to attach myself to some kind of sense of belonging,” he continues. “I studied in Yorkshire, and I feel a great sense of affinity with Yorkshire, but because I’m a Londoner now I feel a great sense of pride in that. My friend Philippa, who was born in London, says I’m the only person she knows who has become a Londoner. I’ve embraced London in quite a fanatical way. I am an obsessive, and I’ve always been obsessive, and everything I’ve ever done I’ve done with huge obsession.”

That obsession that Till returns to has produced one of the most enriched, enthralling and intricately complex albums you will ever hear, an album where Pepys’s voice is brought to life with vivid colour. It is an album whose significance will only grow, like Pepys’s Diaries has, in its capacity to document London life in all its many guises

The Pepys Motet and Oranges & Lemons album is available from Benjamin’s website. The album will be released on 2nd September to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Paul Kendall – From The Penman Press (Cat Werk Imprint album, 2016)

from the penman press: cat werk imprint | box+cd cw010 | 07/2016
angleterror original digital release: cat werk imprint | dl cw002 | 01/11/2011

From The Penman Press by Paul Kendall is nothing short of beautiful. Housed in a minimalist brown cardboard box with simple lettering, this is a work of art – a statement – even before you’ve prised off the lid.

Inside, you’ll find unique hand printed A5 images, all monochrome and appealingly spartan, each representing a painstaking letterpress experiment by Kendall. It’s like looking at what Bridget Riley might have delivered had she focussed on designs for abstract architecture instead of headache-inducing artistic mindfuckery.

What’s all the more appealing about the starkly minimal prints is how at odds they are with Angleterror, the Paul Kendall album included within the box in a newly sparkling remastered form by AGF (Antye Greie / Antye Greie-Fuchs / Antye Greie-Ripatti). Angleterror was originally released in 2011 as a Bandcamp download, and has never been issued in a physical form. It would be somewhat disingenuous to describe Angleterror as a sprawl, but in its dense layers and skipping tendency to veer with jump-cut precision from one idea to the next – inventively, never restlessly – it is the maximalist antithesis of the artwork; the yin to its yang, even.

From The Penman Press was issued in a run of just 100 copies, most of which should have now been sold given how captivating it is. Check here to see if you can still get one.

Promotional videos for ‘Glass Eye’ and ‘Aspirateur’ can be found below. Below those you’ll find my own, newly remastered, review of Angleterror from 2011.

Thanks to Felix.

‘Glass Eye’ Paul Kendall from Cat Werk Imprint on Vimeo.

‘Aspirateur’ Paul Kendall from Cat Werk Imprint on Vimeo.

Angleterror review (Originally published 2011)

Paul Kendall will be a familiar name to any Mute fan thanks to his credit as an engineer, producer and mixer on many releases over a thirteen year period that stretched from 1984 to 1997. PK, as he was known, seemed to work with most artists on the label in one capacity or another across Mute’s electronic and non-electronic roster, and those initials on a release always seemed to mark it out as very special indeed.

Kendall as a musician, rather than studio guy, was something that wasn’t really heard in earnest until he started the Parallel Series label as an off-shoot of Mute, releasing four compelling collaborations with Andrei Samsonov, Simon Fisher Turner, Bruce Gilbert / Robert Hampson and also The Faulty Caress (under the alias Piquet), before splitting the sub-label off for one post-Mute release (a collaboration between Kendall and Olivia Louvel, Capture, as The Digital Intervention in 2003). Kendall then headed off to work with ex-Depeche Mode man Alan Wilder‘s long-running Recoil project.

Angleterror was originally released as a digital download in 2011 on the Cat Werk Imprint run by Olivia Louvel. The seven tracks presented here were mostly recorded between 2002 and 2007 when Kendall was living in Paris and find him exploring some pretty harrowing soundscape and contemporary concrète works that are every bit as un-nerving as the picture of the indeterminate creature on the sleeve.

Central to the album are four pieces – ‘Glass Eye’, ‘Betricht’, ‘Wheel’ and ‘Call Of Wild – that feature David Husser’s guitar. Husser completed the Shotgun mix of Recoil’s ‘Prey’ which was released as a download in 2008, and also recorded a version of Depeche’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ with the band Y Front. For these pieces, Kendall provided Husser with a series of pre-existing soundscapes and drone templates, over which the guitarist improvised; Kendall then treated the contributions as source inputs, re-editing and re-processing the outputs into the forms presented here. What’s interesting about this approach is the fact that Kendall’s final versions exist only because they were responses to Husser’s work, which in turn only arose as a response to Kendall’s original frameworks. It’s presumably the case that the pair could keep referring the responses back to one another indefinitely, creating works that would presumably be a huge distance from the original composed source.

‘Glass Eye’ has an almost Manuel Göttsching sense of melodic repetitiveness; raw electricity bursts pass over bass clusters and almost bluesy chord changes; tense, strangled guitar sounds leap upwards and are sucked back into the noise bed that’s developed. There’s a rough beauty about ‘Glass Eye’ particularly when it coalesces into a kind of mesmerising, beatless motorik rock just after the halfway mark. In complete contrast, ‘Wheel’ starts with pockets of whining sound before veering unexpectedly into a dirty blues with a nagging, simple beat and layers of low-slung axe wrangling punctured by randomised sonic events and abrasive noise interludes. It sounds like nothing else here, and as it fades back into the drone cycles that opened the piece, you can’t help but wonder if that extended blues section wasn’t just a slightly unsettling dream.

A different approach was taken on ‘Starvation’ and ‘Aspirateur’, which Kendall describes as being built from ‘first principles with guitar gestures as their source’. The guitar on ‘Starvation’ was provided by Guy Parker, while the identity of the guitarist on ‘Aspirateur’ isn’t identified, but its scratchy cut and thrust was inspired by sorely missed improv titan Derek Bailey. ‘Starvation’ is a stately waltz-paced piece built up from clattering IDM glitch-beats that develops rapidly into a punishing bass-heavy industrial electronica with lots of distorted bass noises and fast-paced switches between channels. Even though it probably never existed outside a computer there’s a sense of patches being forced into complicity, the segments where mere tracery is left and Guy Parker’s dark, cinematic guitar shines through suggesting the software couldn’t quite cope. The final dark ambient segment is how I expect Trent Reznor might attempt a soundtrack for a new noir version of Blade Runner directed by David Lynch. Sticking with cinematic imagery, ‘Aspirateur’ opens with what feels like a transmission from an abandoned spaceship drifting aimlessly through the galaxy, possibly harbouring some sort of terrifying alien lifeform – certainly the chilling processed breathing sounds and general sense of chaos in the intrusion of various sounds do much to enforce that sonic vision. It’s very dark, in a spine-chilling sense. You know what’s about to happen; it’s more a case of when.

The final track on the album, ‘Route 1 + 2’, was produced using a piece of software called Thonk which appears to have been a program that could process source inputs using complex algorithmic functions, often taking very long periods to deliver its outputs. Kendall believes that the source material for this may also have been a guitar, allowing us to contrast a parameterised software-based improvisor’s response to source material alongside that of David Husser on the four tracks he worked on here, at least in theory – if ‘Route 1+2’ began life with a guitar, there’s little evidence of that apart from a feint hint way off in the distance. The track is a series of scrapes, juddering noises and fractured sounds that skip and squiggle evasively around your ears, a maddening inner-body soundscape laced with a dose of lurking dread.

Kendall has engineered both of Olivia Louvel’s releases on Cat Werk Imprint – 2011’s award-winning Doll Divider and 2012’s o, music for haiku – both of which are highly collectible physical releases. With Angleterror PK proves once again that his inquisitive ear for sonic exploration remains undiminished. An almost-Burroughsian sliced-up video of Kendall talking about the album can be viewed below, complete with sagely spectacles, roll-ups and swanky coffee machines.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – What It Means (Mute Records single, 1998)

Barry Adamson 'What It Means' artwork

mute records | mute219 | 10/08/1998

‘What It Means’ is a perfect Barry Adamson track, and certainly one of the most complete of his tracks to have been released in the single format. It’s quite a thrilling ride, a suite of electronically-enhanced high-speed verses over which Adamson delivers a harsh and harmonious vocal, backed by springy synth noises and a bold, stalking bassline. The vibe is cast in a jazz mould, and on the chorus the track opens out into a horn and organ groove blessed by a great drum section from Andrew Crisp, with some ebulliant, Andy Williams crooning by Barry.

Skylab exploit the jazzy vibe and create a loose arrangement across their two mixes. They break the track apart to create what could pass as a live improv jam, introducing Adamson’s vocal on their second, amusingly-titled ‘Skylab A Smokin’ Japanese We’re Chicken in Moss Side’ mix. Renegade Soundwave survivor Danny Briottet returns to the fold to team up with stalwart Mute producer Paul ‘PK’ Kendall on his ‘Subsonic Legacy Master’ mix. A jazzy two-step variant, Briottet adds some dub echoes and a killer sub-bassline to create a superb electro-dub counterweight to the bebop sounds elsewhere on the disc.

First published 2004; re-edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Paul Kendall – Family Value Pack (Ant-Zen album, 2014)

Paul Kendall 'Family Value Pack' CD artwork

ant-zen | cd/dl act315 | 12/09/2014

Family Value Pack is the follow-up to 2011’s Angleterror (CatWerk Imprint) and finds Paul ‘PK’ Kendall on typically inventive form. Kendall has always been capable of manipulating technology, whether that be as an engineer, on his own recordings or through his countless remixes for the Mute roster and other artists, and Family Value Pack is no different: this is a super-sized audio trip filled with complex twists and turns and strange juxtapositions.

At the heart of this album is a thoroughly plunderphonic vibe, a series of controlled explosions of sound sources set off against one another and the results carefully documented and presented across the seven tracks presented here. Some may argue that the result is a sprawl, a messy stew of grating rhythms, uncomfortable phrases and harsh dissonance, and that isn’t a million miles from what it really sounds like. But what makes Family Value Pack an album worth persevering with is the depth of vision.

Tracks like the buzzing, hyperactive opener ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ take a familiar rhythm notion – on that track the beloved 4/4 beat-grid of techno – and thoroughly twist it into new shapes, creating a sonic gumbo of seemingly incompatible elements, in ‘Scuba Dis Dat’ those being fuzzy guitar riffs, skronking sax solos, dubby happenings and snatches of Kendall reading what sounds like some sort of heavy, expressive poetry. It is restless, certainly, but that’s no bad thing. Elsewhere the vibe is one of muted ambience or beds of glitchy electronica, all tied together by Kendall’s evocative and imaginative word pictures and his accomplished sense of space and texture. Every sound feels like it was created or delicately positioned within a mix so as to maximise its emotional and sonic impact, feeling more like a soundtrack composer’s work in intricate sound design than an electronic music album. ‘Family Value’ is a clautrosphobic piece of electronic musique concrete, all hissing and clanking noises, underpinned by a harrowing sound that sounds like breathing – if that sounds like an Eraserhead-esque exercise in industrial terror, a segue into a small child singing is a careful gesture that heightens the dark mood perfectly.

The amount of detail here requires repeated listens and patience to fully appreciate. ‘It’s OK’ is a lot like watching a time-stretched film of a high rise tower ascending upwards; in the first few minutes it’s all about deep excavations or putting in foundations, all of which is necessary for the building to take its final shape but not as attention-grabbing as the building rising up vertically floor by floor. In the case of ‘It’s OK’ the first half is all about individual sounds and tentative structures, those foundations finally leading to the rhythm and atmosphere that takes the track through to its final ascendant form. Without patience you’d miss the conceit completely, and it’s a trick that Kendall pulls off repeatedly on this album.

Thanks to PK.

Track listing:

1. Scuba Dis Dat
2. Water. It Must Be
3. It’s OK
4. Family Value
5. Ex.Posed
6. There Min Major
7. Uninterrupted Monday

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Olivia Louvel – Bats (If You Cross The Line SFT Remix) (CatWerk single, 2014)


Beauty Sleep is the new album from Olivia Louvel, representing a beguiling set of song-based tracks that showcase the distinctive soundworld she resides in.

One of the most fragile tracks on the album is ‘Bats’ which is here given a very different reading by Simon Fisher Turner. Listen to SFT’s remix at Soundcloud.

‘Beauty asleep’ is available from Olivia’s Bandcamp page and is released in a special DVD-sized case. The album also features ‘In My Shed’ which takes a sample from Recoil’s ‘Stone’ as its source. The album was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.

My review of Beauty Sleep will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Wire – 1985-1990: The A List (Mute Records album, 1993)

Wire 'The A List' LP artwork

mute records | 2xlp/cd stumm116 | 05/1993

1985 – 1990: The A List was released in 1993, by which time Wire as a four-piece band were no more. Robert Gotobed had left the band by the time The First Letter was released in 1991, the band ditching the last letter of their name and becoming Wir for that album. Wir themselves then promptly called it quits, leaving behind two further tracks which were released on Touch as the Vien single in 1997.

This is a compilation album of tracks recorded by Wire between the Snakedrill EP and the Drill album that included new versions and live takes of the amorphous-lengthed track that proved to be Eighties Wire’s mainstay, its relentless dugga-dugga-dugga rhythm providing the foundation for their material for Mute. So, yes, a compilation, but one with a difference: according to the sleeve notes, ‘The A List was drawn up by asking various compilers to name their “top 21” Wire tracks in order of preference. They were then arranged on a “football league” basis. The final choice and running order are based on this chart and the maximum time of a CD. There have been no edits.’

Those contributing to the vote included the band’s Colin Newman and his wife and Githead accomplice Malka Spigel, Bruce Gilbert‘s chum Russell Haswell, Touch co-founder Jon Wozencroft (who also did the typography for the album), Wire biographer Kevin Eden, England’s Dreaming author and punk authority Jon Savage and Mute’s Roland Brown, and for completeness the entire distribution of votes is included within the sleeve notes. The A List was compiled and edited by Brown, Newman and Paul ‘PK’ Kendall.

The result is a showcase of just how strong Wire’s body of work was in the Eighties. While the purist post-punk fans would no doubt bitterly complain that Wire had more or less left their late Seventies intensity and creativity behind, the Wire that reformed and signed to Mute in the mid-Eighties delivered a high quality pop-inflected ethos mixed in with some of the strangest lyrics that have ever been committed to record. So what if the snarling guitars had been left behind – that was yesterday’s news. The new tracks (mostly) had a smart sound, infused with greater use of technology, while the wry artsiness that dominated Wire’s trio of albums for Harvest / EMI was never more than a sneer away.

The only criticism I have of The A List is that ‘The Boiling Boy’ didn’t make the grade. The version of the track that appeared on IBTABA is probably my favourite track from Eighties Wire, a slow-developing, graceful but strangely linear piece (it scraped into number #56 on the league table with just 29 votes). However, this album was the product of a resolute democracy – how typically Wire to create a compilation this way – and thus I shouldn’t question its exclusion too much. It’s certainly a more considered compilation than the equivalent sweep-up of Seventies Wire, On Returning, which Harvest put out in 1989.

For sharp-eyed completists, note that this was given a stumm catalogue number, rather than the mutel mark used by Mute for some artist compilations.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. Ahead
A2. / 2. Kidney Bingos
A3. / 3. A Serious Of Snakes
A4. / 4. Eardrum Buzz
B1. / 5. Drill
B2. / 6. Ambitious
B3. / 7. In Vivo (Remix)
B4. / 8. The Finest Drops
C1. / 9. Madman’s Honey
C2. / 10. Over Theirs
C3. / 11. Silk Skin Paws
C4. / 12. The Queen Of Ur & The King Of Um
D1. / 13. Torch It!
D2. / 14. Advantage In Height
D3. / 15. Point Of Collapse
D4. / 16. Feed Me

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – The Negro Inside Me (Mute Records EP, 1993)

Barry Adamson 'The Negro Inside Me' CD artwork

mute records | lp/cd stumm120 | 19/10/1993

Barry Adamson‘s 1993’s Paul ‘PK’ Kendall-produced 6-track The Negro Inside Me begins with a burst of spiralling horns before rushing headlong into an up-tempo Hammond organ versus James Bond jazz-funk groove; built around a recording of what appears to be Adamson’s publicist or manager trying to run through a list of engagements, interviews and appointments, at around three minutes, the track breaks down into a latin-edged cymbal-intensive percussion rhythm, before rebuilding and gathering greater momentum. ‘The Snowball Effect’ appears to be the most appropriate name for this rolling, energetic track.

‘Dead Heat’, with its varied collection of headcleaner scratched record samples, electronic noises and slow-mo hip-hop breaks wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Massive Attack album. However, the orchestral textures piano motifs give this a totally different atmosphere from anything that Bristol collective could muster.

The outstanding ‘Busted (Michaelangelo Version)’, built around layers of percussive hip-hoppery and organ flourishes, sounds just like a gangster TV show soundtrack with its car-chase saxophone melodies and sparse and funky wah-wah guitar, Starting with some soulful female vocal textures, ‘Cold Black Preach’ gradually develops into a filmic, atmospheric work with an amazing bassline and urgent hip-hop breaks.

Re-setting and re-positioning an old song should not be slapdash; pop music is littered with failed, miserable attempts to do just that. Thankfully, Adamson’s revisioning of the simultaneously cheesy and sexual ‘Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus’ – like his version of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ with Anita Lane – is somehow respectful, taking the core melody and song structure of the original and adding a steady, bass-heavy groove. A duet with Louise Ness (with language training by regular Mute chanteuse Pascale Fuillée / Pascale Fuillée-Kendall), the vocals are somehow more coherent and loaded with barely hidden sexual desire than the Serge Gainsbourg original.

This 30-minute mini-LP closes with ‘A Perfectly Natural Union’, a slow and lounge-y piece of café jazz for piano and vibes, with Adamson’s double bass walking alongside at a steady, lazy pace. Sounding a little like the ‘Gallery’ muzak on Tony Hart’s kids TV shows, ‘A Perfectly Natural Union’ is the perfect chilled-out conclusion to this excellent release.

The title of this release always intrigued me. Unlike his other releases (which bear a sense of lightness and humour), it seems, on first examination, strangely serious. However the music itself is characteristically upbeat, and a glance at Adamson’s face in Polly Borland’s photo on the cover tells you that this isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, so sit back and let the good vibes toll…

Track listing:

A1. / 1. The Snowball Effect
A2. / 2. Dead Heat
A3. / 3. Busted (Michaelangelo Version)
B1. / 4. Cold Black Preach
B2. / 5. Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus
B3. / 6. A Perfectly Natural Union

First published 2003; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence Interviews Gary Asquith

Gary Asquith

During my conversation with Gary Asquith there are moments when I get the distinct impression that he’s actually interviewing me. Within minutes of picking up the phone to him I’m on the back foot, answering questions about just why it is that I run a website focussed on Mute, the label that his Renegade Soundwave band were signed to from the late Eighties up to their break-up in the mid-Nineties. Asquith tells me he finds the whole thing bizarre and challenges the notion that I could like everything the label has put out over the course of its history.

When I admit that he’s right, and that there are Mute artists whose music I have never tried to get my head around, he has me back on the ropes again, and it’s clear that I’m not going to be able to ask him any questions unless I respond to this one about those artists I’ve never really warmed to. So I give him the name of a particular female artist that I’ve struggled to enjoy, which, typically I will find when talking to Asquith, prompts a casual anecdote that’s to be expected from someone who was part of the punk and post-punk scenes in London and, briefly, Berlin. ‘Hmmm,’ he muses. ‘She used to live in my ex-girlfriend’s flat. She trashed it, completely trashed it. Braithwaite House, over Old Street way. Near Bunhill Row. There’s some interesting characters in that cemetery – isn’t William Blake buried there? So who else don’t you like?’ We spend the first five minutes like this, him interviewing me and me staring at the questions I’d prepared wondering how I’m going to gain enough control of the call to ask any of them.

I’m just at the point of throwing the questions away when the opportunity to get stuck into Asquith’s time with Renegade Soundwave presents itself, during a conversation about alighting upon old cassettes. ‘I’ve got tons of cassettes,’ he says. ‘Tons of live recordings. Not so much from the Soundwave days. They’re mostly from Rema-Rema and Mass.’ Rema-Rema was the cult post-punk unit he formed with future Ant Marco Pirroni, Mark Cox, Dorothy Prior and Michael Allen, releasing their seminal Wheel In The Roses EP on the nascent 4AD label in 1980, by which time Pirroni had already left to join Adam Ant and Rema-Rema had already morphed into Mass; drummer Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior had also departed, replaced on the skins in Mass by Asquith’s future Soundwave accomplice, one Danny Briottet. After Mass had also separated, Cox and Allen went on to form The Wolfgang Press while Asquith and Briottet formed Renegade Soundwave with the warped genius Karl Bonnie, first releasing tracks on Rhythm King before getting absorbed into the roster of Rhythm King’s parent, Mute.

‘The religious pearls are coming now Mat,’ laughs Gary, an indication that we’re now getting down to business.

One of the cassettes Asquith has in his personal collection includes an early collaboration with Bonnie. ‘I did a little thing with Karl in New York in the early Eighties,’ he recalls. ‘We were in this really nice space. I don’t know whose space it was, but there was a live kit set up and a bass and amp. I’m not the world’s greatest bass player but I must have had a good day and we just started jamming together, just the two of us, and it was completely fantastic. It was a really nice experience. No vocals, just making up basslines and like, you know, simple stuff, but effective. Very effective. I played that a few years ago and remember I thinking there’s only two of us so that must be me playing the bass. I was quite impressed with myself because I’m not a very good bass player, but I must have been spurred on by the intensity of the moment. It was interesting, very, very interesting and I love Karl Bonnie’s drumming, an unknown quantity in the drumming fraternity. When we originally started we were a live band and that’s how we set about writing tunes, more like a punk rock outfit than a dubbed-out focus group.’

At this point I have no choice but to interrupt his flow of recollections. Whilst Soundclash, the much-lauded debut Renegade Soundwave album, might have been delivered with a punk attitude of sorts, the idea of them being a punk band would never have occurred to me. ‘To me it was definitely more like a punk rock band,’ he says. ‘We used to jam, and so that’s how I’ve always thought of it, before the birth of sampling.’

If that seems impossible to conceive of, you only have to look at Asquith’s involvement in units like Mutabor! with the girls from Malaria! (he was dating Bettina Köster in the early Eighties and Susanne Kuhnke later in the decade), Mass and Rema-Rema to hear a punkish dimension, of the artsy, eclectic and inclusive style that endured after punk’s first flourishes. ‘Mass was quite a dark period, and the recordings were quite dark,’ Asquith recalls, with what sounds like a shudder, ‘but there’s something about it that I still quite like. I guess it’s a place that you go and you realise you’ll probably never revisit, and I quite like my guitar work. The sort of guitar I was playing, you’d look at it and go “How’s he getting anything out of that?” It was difficult to tune and it ripped the arse out of my fingers.’ In spite of playing guitar in Rema-Rema, Mutabor! and Mass, in Soundwave, his axework, in spite of his insistence that the trio’s tracks evolved out of jam sessions, was distinctive by its absence.

Given how Danny Briottet had come into Asquith’s orbit, another element first heard in Mass – Briottet’s drumming – was also missing in Renegade Soundwave. Asquith thinks that was probably a good thing. He rather uncharitably describes it as being a bit ‘meat and potatoes’ and blames that for ruining the solitary Mass album. Briottet’s arrival in Mass followed the departure of Rema-Rema’s drummer, future Psychic TV accomplice Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior, who didn’t gel with Mark Cox. Asquith admits that even though it would have likely altered the course of his own personal history, Max’s ejection still riles him as an unfair event. Danny had been a fan of Rema-Rema and found his way into Mass through a friend of a friend. Later in the interview, Asquith says more about his relationship with Briottet, but suffice to say that it is remarkable that two people who seemed diametrically different could work together so well, with Karl Bonnie, in Renegade Soundwave.

Soundclash, the Renegade trio’s debut album was the point where it all came together perfectly. Asquith attributes some of this to the album’s producer and engineer tag-team of Flood and Paul ‘PK’ Kendall. ‘Those people were probably as important, or even maybe more so in a lot of ways, because they kept the time bombs ticking,’ Asquith says, ‘Especially Flood, because he’s probably on a tight schedule – he’s probably going to go off to do a Nick Cave album or whatever project he’s on after this one, and whatever the date his calendar’s going to be full. So he doesn’t like any meandering, and consequently he nails things down on your behalf.’

Kendall recalls that each track on Soundclash could have ended up sounding very differently, as Soundwave’s three members each had individual visions of how each song should be mixed and presented. In the end it was down to Flood and PK to reign in the competing voices. Asquith recalls one such moment during the realisation of ‘Pocket Porn’, Soundclash’s slightly surreal journey through a seedy world of erotica which was written around an experience with Karl Bonnie, in which dub and tribal sounds reverberate around Asquith’s dirty monologue; Flood and Kendall’s roles on that track became almost like book editors. ‘I was like, “I like that line, but it’s a bit, er, I don’t know if I should be saying stuff like that,” and they said “I think you should drop that, it sounds a bit better without it, and I don’t think you lose the emphasis of the track”. Consequently I did, I edited these two lines out and it sounded alright. That’s the sort of influence good judgment has.’

One of the most prominent contributions Asquith made to the distinctive sound that Renegade Soundwave presented at the tail end of the Eighties was his lyrical flow. ‘Pocket Porn’ dealt with gritty taboos that tapped into a seedy underworld sex industry that had the capacity to shock the conservative British public, with or without the edits that the producers suggested. Elsewhere, both with Soundclash and the earlier Rhythm King singles of ‘Kray Twins’ and ‘Cocaine Sex’, Asquith traded in streetwise nous, not dissimilar to the urban delivery of early New York hip-hop but with a curiously British skew, replete with a distinctly British sense of humour: whereas ‘Kray Twins’ offers an homage to the East End’s most celebrated gangland pair, the wry ‘Probably A Robbery’ has all the madcap humour and sarcasm of an Ealing Comedy. Several months after the interview took place, I came upon an album by the comic Terry Thomas; something about this British funnyman reminded me of Gary Asquith. He wasn’t remotely offended by the comparison. ‘I like Terry Thomas’s quintessential Englishness. Being English and from working class roots is a prerequisite for being in a good band.’

Those lyrics represent a sort of urban poetry, which Asquith explains came from exposure to the dark realities of drug abuse and also his former job. ‘I was a Covent Garden Market porter when I started Renegade Soundwave,’ he explains. ‘My dad was a Covent Garden Market porter, my granddad was a Covent Garden Market porter, and my brother was a Covent Garden Market porter. And I think if you’d have asked my mother she’d would have wanted to be a Covent Garden Market porter too. There was a lot of money to be made at Covent Garden and that’s where I got my street education. I was working the gutters of the old Covent Garden markets from the age of twelve when my father first took me to work beside him. Several of my best friends are from families who’ve worked at Covent Garden Market. These are the people I love and trust and tell it the way it is. My elder brother is a Brussels sprout [Cockney rhyming slang for a tout] who’d always bring a certain eloquent vernacular to conversation, and I grew up with a Cockney father and a mother from aristocratic stock. That made my upbringing well balanced.’

Drugs and drug culture provided another dimension to Asquith’s subject matter, most obviously on ‘Cocaine Sex’ but again on the heavyweight dub cut ‘Blast ‘Em Out’ from Soundclash‘s sequel, Howyoudoin’?. By the time that Renegade Soundwave had formed, Asquith had kicked the drug he describes as ‘the heaviest one’ in favour of the likes of ecstacy around the time of dance music really taking off – and sticking with that topic, let’s not forget that Soundwave’s speaker-shaking ‘Phantom’ / ‘Ozone Breakdown’ 12″ was a hugely significant record in early British club and rave music. ‘I just changed my hand, I guess,’ says Gary, referring to moving on from hard drugs. ‘It feels like a sort of different world to me now to be honest. I was doing all the right things at that time, I was reading William Burroughs and listening to the Velvet Underground, all the things you should be doing while you’re operating in those circles.’ The darker side of drug use is something that Asquith saw at close quarters, through the death of his flatmate John Herlihy (part of European Cowards with former Ant Kevin Mooney) and Clifford Harris from The Models, but also through the paranoid, close-knit, closed community in which addicts co-exist. ‘Death seemed to be lurking in every corner and I didn’t want to become another bad drug statistic. That said, I do believe that drugs play a big part in the inner sanctum of being an interesting writer or musician.’

‘It’s such a heavy thing to get caught with, so everyone’s extra vigilant about who’s about, who they talk to, what they talk about and so on. You’re all in the same boat together. Once you’ve decided to break free of it, you’ve got to break free of the web, and that web represents all of your friendships. By then everyone else has forgotten who you are. It becomes very structured in its own masonic kind of way. When you’re a part of that they’re your supporters, and you have to give them maximum respect. Say for instance you turn up with someone they don’t know, they’d ask “Who is he? Where’s he from? I don’t want him in my house.” You’re trying to introduce somebody else because everybody wants to score, but potentially they’re running a risk by allowing somebody that they don’t know into their confidence.’

Themes and lyrics to one side, the other immediately arresting thing about early Soundwave was the trio’s approach to sampling. Paul Kendall recalled Asquith, Bonnie and Briottet arriving at the studio with bags of vinyl that they wanted to sample from. ‘It was an expensive thing to do,’ Asquith admits. ‘We did clear a lot of those samples – it wasn’t blatant theft. There was some expenditure on quite an extensive list of samples we’d used. I remember having to hand Mute an extensive list of the samples used on Soundclash and being asked what we’d used on specific tracks. Sometimes people ask about certain samples on certain tracks and it’s impossible to know them all. There’s all sorts on ‘Biting My Nails’, for example.’

When I suggest that part of Soundclash’s appeal is that it’s clever compared to other sampler records from around the same time by not being too cluttered, Asquith tells me he sees it differently. ‘I think it was the naivete of it as well as the ideas. I think there’s probably too many ideas on that album actually. Everyone just got their favourite records out and it became a sort of collage of different people’s musical ideas, and some of them were very abstract. The concept of sampling became a bit abstract for me in the end. For example, I’d say “Can’t we just bring in a bass player to recreate the bass in that tune?””‘

In the wake of Soundclash, the trio released a dub counterpart to the album; dub versions had been commonplace in reggae for going on twenty-five years, but no-one was doing it with leftfield electronic albums or sampleadelic collages like Soundclash. When I mention how much I like it, Asquith makes a noise that suggests he isn’t totally enamoured with In Dub. ‘I’ve always thought that following up our song-based albums with dub versions was a really clever and creative idea where you could potentially have fun deconstructing songs and working off the rhythm sections. That was an idea brought to the table by Danny and Karl, but I can’t bring myself to listen to ‘Bacteria’, ‘Recognise And Respond’ or ‘Deadly’ from In Dub. Danny and myself wrote ‘Deadly’, which has some good moments, but ultimately it’s a mess. I’ll hold my hands up to my mistakes as well as to others. ‘Thunder’, ‘Women Respond To Bass’, ‘Pocket Porn’, ‘Black Eyed Boy’, ‘Transworld Siren’ and ‘Transition’ are all fantastic in my opinion.’

In Dub would also be the last Soundwave album with Karl Bonnie. ‘It was a shame actually,’ says Asquith with a mournful sigh. ‘But it all got a bit selfish. The ideals, that is. This is my opinion, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks, because my opinion’s my opinion. We all had different intentions as to what we should be doing and where things should be going, so to speak. There were people just turning up to things, especially with Karl, and I just wasn’t really getting it really. It was getting a bit world music for me. It was the sort of thing people do in their bedrooms.’

Renegade Soundwave

Part of Asquith’s disenchantment stemmed from where his role as vocalist seemed to be going in the wake of the largely instrumental In Dub. ‘I was into songwriting. There’s no use throwing me ethnic chants or samples of people beating up their wives or whatever. I was getting a lot of that thrown at me. It wouldn’t be in my key or it was just some retuned-sounding sample. I’m not Barry White! I mean, nothing like that’s ever going to sound good with a vocal on top of it. When we originally started, the reason those songs were so good was because they were written around real instruments.’

‘It was really hard trying to write songs around samples and trying to be a vocalist around samples,’ he continues. ‘The sampling thing became a detachment from my creative reality in the end. Karl could transform moments with musical prowess, whereas Danny and myself couldn’t. It got to a point where I was thinking maybe I should start playing the guitar again. So it just got a little bit like that, it got very selfish.’

It took a further four years after In Dub‘s release for the Bonnie-less duo to release a proper second album. Mute released Howyoudoin’? in 1994, and despite containing some outstanding, mature moments in the eponymous lead track, the stand-out first single ‘Renegade Soundwave’, ‘Positive ID’ and the claustrophobic closer ‘Blast ‘Em Out’, the album seemed to lack some of the pioneering spirit that made Soundclash so essential. As with In Dub, a dub counterpart to Howyoudoin’? was issued (The Next Chapter Of Dub), and then Renegade Soundwave were no more. ‘In my opinion Howyoudoin’? lacks cohesion,’ offers Asquith. ‘It has sone great moments, but as a complete thing it meanders and could have benefited from the presence of Flood and PK. There were too many clowns working at that circus with no authoritative figure pushing things forward. When people see weakness they exploit it. Thankfully none of those people have ever played a part in my life since that album and they never will. I do, however like ‘Bubbaluba’ very much.

‘In the Crossfire Hurricane documentary, Keith Richards said “somebody’s got to wear the black hat” about his role in The Rolling Stones. In Renegade Soundwave I was the guy who wore the black hat. Danny was very much the guy with the handshakes and goodwill gestures. I never did much of that, and consequently that’s probably the way I am and that’s the way he is I guess. So the fact that Karl Bonnie wasn’t around didn’t help on Howyoudoin’?. He was the Brian Jones of the outfit, he was always throwing in different things, like a sitar. If it was lying around he’d pick it up and play it. That’s the sort of character that he was.’ Bonnie’s slightly leftfield point of view does leave Howyoudoin’? feeling like it’s missing the vital ingredient that would have turned it from an okay album to something worthy of the standard displayed on Soundclash. According to Asquith, Karl is alive and well and living in Manchester, though musically he seems to have become an almost mythical name.

‘I don’t think anything happened, to be honest with you,’ sighs Asquith when I ask him why he and Briottet called it quits. ‘Me and Danny never really got on very well so we weren’t talking, and that was quite obvious. We were very difficult to deal with, I think, unpredictable and hazardous. Danny and myself were living in two parallel universes but coexisting in Soundwave. So, you know, it wasn’t a particular thing that happened.’

Dissatisfaction weighs heavily on Asquith when he looks back on what Soundwave achieved. ‘I think there was a lot of disappointment. I think Daniel Miller was disappointed. There’s just this seam of disappointment running through the whole thing. Musically it wasn’t really going anywhere with Howyoudoin’? We started morphing into something nobody particularly liked, including ourselves. When I look back on the tracks we recorded as Renegade Soundwave, I’m very disappointed. Whatever differences of opinion Danny, Karl and myself had, it can’t be denied that when we were on top of our game we made some groundbreaking tracks. That’s our truth and I’m thankful for being part of those creative partnerships, and it’s possible that when Karl was present our averages were higher with regard to writing top tunes than when he wasn’t. I’m just disappointed that there ultimately isn’t more and ultimately I’m disappointed with myself. I’ll have to take that disappointment to my grave. Hindsight can be enlightening and also painful. We had a cavalier approach to the music industry and external pleasures, and that is reflected in our music.’

‘Having spent nine years of my life on the RSW project I know I prefer to work as quickly as my powers allow me. Writing a song a day isn’t unrealistic providing the circumstances are right. This approach has been working well on the Lavender Pill Mob, Takatsuna Mukai, Renegade Connection and Renegade Soundmachine projects in recent years. It must be the glue I’m using.’ Mikkim is a Prague DJ with whom Asquith has collaborated on two albums – Offbeat Rhapsody and Crossroads. Adding his distinctive vocals to Mikkim’s dark club sound, his work with the DJ has seen him dusting off old Soundwave tunes like ‘Probably A Robbery’ and the unreleased ‘Air Hostess’ and penning a few more. ‘I think he’s got this inane ability to breathe some new life into things,’ says Asquith of working with Mikkim. ‘When he said to me he wanted to do ‘Robbery’ I thought “Really? What a fucking naff thing to do.” It wasn’t that it’s precious or anything like that. I’m not a particular fan of the song to be honest; out of all the things that I’ve done it wouldn’t be the one that I’d personally choose to play ever again.’ I point out that the track, a surprise early chart-bothering single for the early Renegade Soundwave, was probably the most pop track in their canon. Asquith agrees. ‘Yeah, it sort of rang some bells at the time. It was good for what it was and it was a bit cheeky-chirpy-chappie, a bit savvy, and it’s a bit cheesy as well.’

Renegade Soundmachine live

‘Air Hostess’ was recorded around the time of Soundclash but never released. ‘I’d consistently had reflections about that track since it was conceived in the mid-Eighties, which were often ignited when I was travelling through airport terminals or boarding flights or sitting on planes. In the mid- to late Eighties I remember travelling alone and being drunk in the lobby of Munich airport while I was waiting for a flight. I was listening to the RSW version of ‘Air Hostess’ on my cassette Walkman when I got chatting with a group of three fellow travellers and one of the guys asked to listen to my track, and it seemed a perfect place for its public airing, and it went down so well that I’d always thought it a winner from that moment onwards. I didn’t at that time know how long it would take before it was released, and Mikkim was probably still in short trousers at this point. There was another gem on that cassette called ‘How To Be Hard’ that never made it to plastic that I hope will see the light of day sometime in the future.’ With BMG’s purchase of the Mute back catalogue, there’s some talk of them remastering the Soundwave albums with additional tracks that never made it the first time around.


It was around 2011 that I first approached Gary about doing a possible interview with him. He was initially quite frosty, and in his first Facebook message to me he made the point quite emphatically. ‘Don’t think I’m part of any sort of Mute family, because I’m not,’ he wrote. It took a review I wrote of the ‘Byronic’ single as Renegade Soundmachine for him to finally acquiesce. Since then Asquith has made a number of disparaging comments about Mute Records. ‘Let me just say it this way,’ he begins. ‘I was always happy to be a Mute artist and having signed a deal with Mute Records I was deeply troubled to find that Daniel had sold the company to EMI. My reason for signing to Mute was primarily because Daniel Miller was at the helm and it seemed like a perfect marriage for Renegade Soundwave. I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I’d have to go cap in hand to EMI regarding the gross mistreatment of Renegade Soundwave’s catalogue. What did EMI do when I queried certain subjects? They blanked me and never returned my calls for year after year. I’d been scumbagged by the scumbags. I’m pretty sure you’d find a queue of disgruntled Mute artists standing beside me, relating to this particular issue if you’d care to ask around. I don’t speak to many Mute people, but even I could give you the names of three people. I rest my case. “When the bass stops I wanna get paid.”‘

Asquith recounts times where he’d march into Mute’s offices or those of a label that had included a Soundwave track without his permission, waving a copy of an offending compilation and demanding to know how it had been approved and why the members of the group weren’t seeing any comeback for it. ‘Daniel had some articulate staff when he was independent of EMI. John McGrath, who was responsible for the licencing of Mute tracks, would cut me deals on compilation albums that Soundwave appeared on. If it didn’t show on the group’s accounts John would always try to be fair to the group and give RSW some justice and payment and I respected him for that. It wasn’t perfect but it was moving the boulder further down the road towards Renegade Towers. I’d do my research and he’d check it out and recompense the band for any loss of earnings.’

His former label boss however did go to lengths to position Soundwave as a band that should have received greater acclaim in his liner notes to Electricity, a 2012 Mojo covermount CD of tracks personally selected by Miller, which included ‘Probably A Robbery’. ‘I do think he thinks that,’ concedes Asquith. ‘I know that he’s got some disappointments with the history and then what happened to the group, just like I have. I also know that he had our welfare at heart and he acted in what was the best interest for his label, and RSW were just a small piece of cheese that rolled off the side of the dining table. I like Daniel Miller, I really do.’

The Lavender Pill Mob The Lavender Pill Mob 'Lavender Pill Mob'

Since Soundwave ended, Asquith has busied himself with a number of projects focussed around his own label Le Coq Musique. Asquith launched the label with an updated version of the Soundwave track ‘Cocaine Sex’ and collaborated with Dif Juz’s Dave Curtis on a solitary 12″ under the alias Tranquil Trucking Company. His most enduring project for his label is his Lavender Pill Mob collective – echoes of Alec Guinness Ealing Comedy movies and streetsmart narc references once again – loosely centred on himself and long-term friend Kevin Mooney.

‘Working with Kevin is blissful in comparison to working in RSW,’ Gary enthuses. ‘It’s fun and light-humoured and tinged with lunacy. Kevin can sing like a lark. Having someone to work off with vocals is something that I’d really enjoyed doing with Michael Allen in Rema-Rema and having Kevin around has reminded me how important the spoken word is. It’s the last bastion of creative pursuit in my opinion. Thank the lord for King K. If my house was burning down and I could rescue one of the records I’ve made, I’d make sure it was the first Lavender Pill Mob CD. That’s the God’s honest truth.

Lavender Pill Mob feels like a logical follow-up to Renegade Soundwave, in many ways. Here you find Asquith and Mooney, across two albums, offering up a resistant-to-classification suite of diverse sounds, everything from hip-hop to punk to acid-splashed techno, featuring collaborations with Adam Ant, Rammellzee and loads of others. The project takes the anything-goes approach presented on Soundclash and launches it off into a myriad number of possible dimensions. Perhaps a reflection of his disenchantment with the Renegade Soundwave years, Asquith tells me that it’s Lavender Pill Mob and Rema-Rema – his most recent concern and his first, respectively – that he’s most proud of. Elsewhere, he’s collaborated with Takatsuna Mukai on his Sunya album and recorded a bunch of tracks as Renegade Soundmachine, only one of which – ‘Byronic’, a collaboration with Film 2 where Asquith reads Lord Byron’s Lines Written Beneath An Elm In The Churchyard Of Harrow – has thus far seen the light of day. Asquith spent a lot of summer 2013 trawling his Rema-Rema archives for a future release.

April will see the first release for 34 years of a Rema-Rema record. This will be released within a magazine with an interview with Michael Allen, Mark Cox and Gary. ‘It’s a 45 with two demos from 1979 and 1978 respectively,’ Gary explains. ‘Towards May I shall be releasing some remixes of the original Rema-Rema recordings along with a track that was recorded at the time but never released because it was considered blasphemous, which I might add it is. I’ve got several talented people working on the project including John Gosling from Mekon, Fritz Catlin from 23 Skidoo, Taka Mukai and myself. There will also be a first release from Renegade Connection around June. It’s a 45 that I’ve recorded and mixed with Lee Curtis from Lee Curtis Connection and Flavournauts fame. We recently DJ’d and played our track from a dubplate. It’s called ‘I’ll Surrender’ and it was so good that we played it twice. It’s an old school dub vibed track and I love it.’

Rema-Rema 'International Scale / Short Stories' 7" artwork

Independent, distrustful and far from sanguine, Asquith is currently producing some of the best things in a career that spans most of the pivotal music scenes that have emerged since punk’s last gob was spat. In context, Renegade Soundwave feels like a long and complicated intermission bookended by the dizzyingly creative gestures of Rema-Rema and his post-Soundwave collaborations. It may never pay the bills, but Gary Asquith’s streetsmart poetry has rarely sounded better than it does today, definitive proof that he who wears the black hat always produces the best music.

Major thanks to Gary for his enduring patience and honesty.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
All images used with permission of Gary Asquith.