When Tangerine Dream signed to
Virgin in 1974 and released Phaedra,
their first album on an International label, the world of “Cosmic Music”
expanded exponentially. The ripple effect of that continues to this day, as a
whole sub genre now exists on the commercial fringes, composed of people
inspired by the electronic sound pioneered by TD way back when.
As a long time writer and promoter
of that genre (which alternately at times feels like both a blessing and a
curse) I’ve heard a lions share of what’s been produced by artists far and wide
that contains elements of that original spirit. Upon consideration I’d have to
say there are perhaps less than 10 Neo EM “groups” worldwide who truly nail the
classic sound, and create something akin to the spirit of the golden age.
In the UK, two musicians can be
considered the pioneers of electronica - Adrian Wagner and David Voorhaus.
Their original albums Distances Between and White Noise – An Electric
Storm were groundbreaking classics of the genre.
Mark Shreeve is one of the earliest
UK synthesists to delve into the “Teutonic Electronic” realm, beginning with a
series of cassettes he did in the early 1980’s for the UK Mirage and Norwegian Agitasjon fanzines.
These led to his first LP Thoughts Of War,
released in Norway on the indie label
Uniton. The scene was much different back then, mostly word of mouth, and
Eurock was one of the few outlets worldwide promoting/selling this sort
Throughout his career he’s done work
for several labels, and had big selling titles, but never let his love for the
glory days of analog electronics die as the albums of his latest group Red
Shift demonstrate very well. Their three albums are rated by many as the best
neo-Berlin School releases of the last decade.
Another of the top current UK bands
making some of the best neo-Euro EM today is Radio Massacre International. They
seem to have channeled the spirit of the golden age into a slightly more modern
hybrid of sound. If listener response were used as any measure, they would have
to be ranked up near the top of the current Euro EM scene.
They made a big splash on the scene
in 1995 with the release of their debut double disc Frozen North on
the Centaur label. Since then they have become perhaps the hottest selling
indie electronic band from Europe. Their new album Planets in The Wires,
released by the group themselves, may well have surpassed their debut in terms
of musical creativity.
This following interviews, done in
the last month, shed some light on the who, what and why of Mark and Redshift,
as well as the RMI trio. More on the UK Electronica scene will be forthcoming
Let’s begin at the
beginning with some history. How did you first get into EM way back when?
My first real experience of EM came
when, as a child, I heard the theme music to “Dr. Who” (a cheap, but surreal
show in the UK that started in the 60s).
The sounds fascinated me (as well as
the great theme). It was also the “atonal” qualities of some of the sounds that
appealed to me too, the “other-worldliness” of their atmosphere.
As I became a teenager in the 70’s I
started listening to bands like ELP, Floyd, Zeppelin etc, the usual suspects.
But I never quite got away from the weird stuff…obviously Pink Floyd at that
time were a good supply of strangeness.
A friends older sister played me
Tonto’s Zero Time…this was a major discovery for me…an all-electronic
A year or two after that, I was
laying back in bed (after a spectacularly unsuccessful girl-hunting trip at a
local rock disco), listening to John Peel on BBC radio… hoping for some Floyd….
and he played “Mysterious Semblance..” from Phaedra. By chance, I had
found heaven. To me, it was quite simply the most emotional and rather
unsettling piece of music I had heard to date. From then on, I became hooked on
German electronic music.
Eventually, it became clear to me
that I needed to express myself as a musician rather than just as a listener.
When I could afford it (not for the first time, I was bailed out financially by
my girlfriend), I bought a Yamaha synth…in 78 I think. I have been searching
for the lost chord ever since.
Did you ever really
feel an affinity for the so-called sound and philosophy of “cosmic music”, or
were you more oriented towards the more earthly plain (i/e scoring w/ the girls
and making money, smile)?
money”… I’ve never been able to make that connection unfortunately. In fact,
there seems to be no other form of music LESS likely to acquire those admirable
goals than EM.
I continue to do it because I feel a
real “drive” to. I don’t know why exactly, but the urge to create this music
remains as strong as ever. On the other hand, I don’t believe I have any deep
philosophical agenda to pursue either. For me, music is about emotion, pure and
simple. Most of the time I find creating music a very depressing experience,
the only thing that keeps me doing it is, as I said, this strange
self-destroying desire to hunt down that “perfect” piece… I know I shall never
What were the names
of your early cassette only releases and what kind of equipment did you use
back then? Did you tend to improvise like early TD, or work within more
structured compositional structures?
The first 2 cassettes released,
simultaneously, by Martin Reed’s Mirage label were Ursa Major
and Embryo. Followed quickly by Phantom…they were
all put out in 1980 I think (although recorded a year before).
The equipment for all 3 was basic… a
Yamaha CS30 synth, Hohner K4 String Machine, phaser, flanger, all recorded onto
a low speed Revox A77 which doubled up as tape delay machine.
Improvising was all I could do at
that stage…everything was new to me then, the technology, music, composition,
even the playing (I had only ever played guitar originally).
I would record a sequence line
first, moving it, changing it constantly. Then I had to try and remember those
changes while I added chords and/or top lines. The whole process was
wonderfully organic, if a little primitive. When I listen to those pieces now
they sound very raw, but they have heart…and the energy of youth.
In retrospect I do
think that Thoughts Of War stands up as a fine example of early, second generation EM. How did it come
about that you got it released on a Norwegian label, as opposed to some UK
Actually, Martin did release it as a
cassette originally, but very soon after that Jarli Lastad, the mad Viking who
ran Agitasjon in Norway contacted me saying there was a guy in Oslo who
wanted to release T. O. W on vinyl and was prepared to pay for the
pressings etc… so naturally I said yes. This was Tormod Opedal of Uniton
Do you have any idea
how many copies it sold (I may be straining your old memory banks here)?
honestly have no idea…I would guess about 600 or so…based entirely on the
number I’ve sold since of the CD re-release, but I may be wrong.
The Uniton deal was for only that
album, what happened after that one had come and gone? I think I lost track of
you for a bit back then…
Actually, Uniton released Assassin
in ‘83 until Jive Electro signed me up in ‘84 and re-packaged it.
My first “full” album for J/E was Legion,
released in ‘85.
Then in ‘87 I put out Crash Head,
also on J/E.
this period I also got involved in writing songs for other artists, occasional
soundtracks and some library music.
‘95 I released Nocturne on the Sonic Images label…this was the
last album I recorded as a solo artist (to date anyway).
Since that time
you’ve done a variety of releases for a couple different labels, major and
indie. How would you compare the two types in terms of recording freedom, sales
potential, business ethics and amount of money you have made for the various
deals (that answer could well result in a doctoral thesis on the industry I
realize, but maybe you can give it a go)?
Hmmm. I think I’d rather talk about
Jive was actually considered a
“major independent” at that time in the 1980’s.
I’ve always found that I could
record whatever I wanted really. The only constraint being studio time and
equipment hire costs. The experience (a first for me) of working with other
people, engineers, producers etc was a huge learning thing experience. Not the
least of which I had to come to terms with the fact that other people can have
equally good musical ideas as me. It was a shock I can tell you. Musician’s
egos are fragile at the best of times.
Once I had got round this (after, I
am ashamed to confess, some legendary tantrums) I really began to learn more
about music…both technically and artistically. I loved that period…the
proverbial “kid-in-a-sweetshop” scenario. I never felt any corporate pressure
to change my music in any way.
these kinds of record companies exist to make money…so by ‘89 when they decided
that J/E wasn’t doing this it was folded. So basically, TD, Michel Huygen and
myself were label-less.
I never really felt bitter about it.
They tried…and failed… simple as that…EM never became the big seller they
I guess they never recouped the
advances and studio costs that went into our albums… a common story. Legion
alone amounted to about £65,000 in studio costs, and I believe the maximum
sales figures worldwide were about 20,000. Now I’m no mathematical prodigy, but
even I can work out that those figures don’t add up once you add promotion,
advertising, packaging etc.
Since then I have effectively
“worked for myself”.... releasing albums as and when I feel like it. Clearly I
can’t put anything like the funding behind it as a major can… but as I said
before, If I was motivated by money, I would have chosen a different form of
My own experiences with record
companies have generally been good… lucky for me I guess.
Of all your previous
releases, which ones still remain in print today?
T. O. W.,
Embryo, Ether and Down Time…all are
What is the situation
in terms of the rights to all these old albums?
All the old cassettes are mine, as
is T. O. W. The rights to Assassin, Legion
and Crash Head were bought up (at least the licenses were) by C +
D Services. Nocturne is owned still by Sonic Images. Collide
is mine as are all 3 Redshift albums.
A couple years back
you formed the group Redshift. The overall response to them has been quite
good. Was the intent with that band to “go back to your analog roots”?
Not specifically. I think one of the
many reasons was as a reaction to the tedium I felt with all the “normal” E. M
that had started to show up around the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
There were bands and artists
(particularly in the UK and Europe) who were creating shockingly bland
music…you know… cheesy little ditties over badly programmed drum machines using
horrid thin digital preset sounds. People were releasing 5th rate
soundtracks, to 4th rate films, that already had 3rd rate
soundtracks written for them.
In short… The Sci-Fi Anorak had
hijacked European E. M.
“frontiers” style of E. M had been suffocated by all this
“easy-listening-for-midi-nerds-elevator-music”. I was yearning to hear some
darker, more unstable synthesizer music again, but no one seemed to be doing
Around that time I purchased a few
old analogue synths (some I had already owned years before) and started to
really fly. It was as if I had totally forgotten how inspirational these
instruments really were. I started to record some of these sessions (initially
it was a solo thing).
By chance I came into contact with
Ed Buller who played me some earlier Node sessions on DAT. I was absolutely
knocked out by what I heard…at last, someone was producing this huge, organic,
threatening and above all, EMOTIONAL electronic music.
Ed (and also Martin Newcomb of the
Museum of Synthesizer Technology) managed to track down a Moog 3C modular for
me. Now obviously, I had heard many recordings that had used this instrument
over the years… but nothing prepares you for what it sounds like in the same
room. It is quite simply a stunning sound… so rich, so powerful, and yet
capable of so much delicacy too.
I’ve been playing synths since the
late 70s. I must have owned or hired dozens and dozens of different machines…
and I’m telling you now… none of them even gets CLOSE to the beauty of a Moog
Modular. It demands that you create music on it, there are no presets…keeping
the same sound for any length of time is impossible… this for me is a virtue.
these computer plug-ins that are released now, you know…the ones that claim to
be replicas of old synths… they make me laugh… they are truly terrible… these
companies should be sued for making those claims… they aren’t even close to
sounding like the real thing. I can only assume that it is hoped that the
musicians who do use them have never heard a real analogue synth… or if they
have, that they are tone deaf.
I played a gig at KLEM ‘95 in
Holland (under my own name to promote the Nocturne album)… and
because I needed 2 other guys to help out we thought it would be interesting if
we dropped in a more free-flowing sequencer based piece half way through. The
crowd reaction told us all we needed to know... they went crazy for it.
Moreover, it was more satisfying for us as musicians to play. When we got home
the other 2 said, “why don’t we keep up with that style as a band?” (James and
Julian by the way)… so effectively Redshift was born there and then. I had
already finished most of the first Redshift album so the timing seemed right.
You’ve done some live
solo gigs over the years, as well as more recently shows with Redshift, how
does the audience compare from one decade to the next in terms of size, gender
types and occupation (OK, this is another higher education-type question, but
for me these are very interesting things to ponder...)?
I have a feeling it’s the same
audience basically. Therein lies the problem with E. I feel that the easy
listening mafia has really put off any new blood being attracted as listeners.
When I first got into E. M in my early teens it sounded good to me because it
was weird, dark, and yes…”cosmic” if you like. If I had been subjected to Turn
of the Tides or whatever as an introduction to E. M. you would probably
now be interviewing a Country and Western banjo player instead.
The hardcore E. M audience are all
getting older, some seem to have become rather jaded at a lot of the mindless
pap being released and have left the scene (who can blame them?). Another
strange anomaly is that the vast majority of E. M. fans are male. I have never
really understood this. Good E. M. is surely amongst the most emotional music
ever written. Maybe the lack of lyrics is the problem. It causes so much
disappointment backstage after gigs too.
ended up starting your own label. Often musicians find it problematic to handle
both the making of, and selling of their own music. What was your reason for
Money. I had to be realistic about
this. There was no way I could match the sales of Legion and Crash
Head without a major company like Jive behind me. Some people
did offer to release the Redshift albums, but the figures were ever so slightly
in the rip-off area. It basically worked out that the label making the offer
would rake in over 7 times the amount per CD than the artist would. It seemed
totally unfair, and maybe another clue as to why E. M is slowly dying. It
simply can’t afford those levels of individual greed.
In terms of CD sales,
how many copies did the Redshift releases sell?
Not spectacular…the first Redshift
has had a couple of re-presses, so it’s around 2,000 in total, say 50 of
those as complimentary copies. Ether has done about 1,500, and Down
Time about 1,200. (Well I did say we weren’t in it for the
How large of an
actual audience do you think there is for this current “neo-electronic space
Well, call me Mr. Overoptimistic if
you like, but…I have always believed that if this music got more airplay, sales
would definitely increase. As a rule people don’t buy music they have never
heard… so without airplay E. M relies on “word-of-mouth” alone. This doesn’t
work. Tangerine Dream was regularly in the British album charts during the
70’s. They were also on radio a fair amount. During the 80’s, as their music
became soulless and bland, the radio stations lost interest in them and their
sales plummeted. Can you spot the connection?
I live in hope that an enterprising
D. J. will hear Redshift by chance… get totally chilled by us and start a new
craze. You never know… after all, that’s how it happens for most forms of
I’ve heard rumor now
of a new Redshift release for ages. What’s happening with that?
There is a live album ready to go
and a studio album half way finished. All that is stopping us is… Yeah, you
guessed…legal crap with an old publishing company. It’s taking forever to sort
out, but it will get sorted… eventually.
As one of the “old
masters” of EM, do you now have a grand plan to explore the outer reaches of
the cosmic, and conquer the pop charts in mind for that one (tongue firmly in
cheek here), or perhaps some more humble plan for the future?
A little less of the “old” please…
In fact, just call me “master”. In many ways I feel as if I have all I want
from life, I’m with my partner of choice, and I do exactly what I want when I
want. The quest for extreme riches has abated considerably, that sort of thing
doesn’t seem so important any more.
Musically I feel drawn to creating
these strange concoctions even though the process is quite painful. The end
result usually is a desire to start the next piece and make it better… a
never-ending circle with an unattainable goal. And like so many musicians, I
keep at it even though I don’t understand why.
As I recall, back when I was a
teenager, I only wanted to be a musician in the hope that I would meet the
blonde girl from Abba. There can be no finer reason for a life-quest such as
Let’s begin with some
history. What was the intent behind the name, and how did you come up with it?
SD: The name came about several
years before the band in its current form. Duncan and I would occasionally sit
around with an electronic device each rammed into the mic sockets of my
cassette deck and would basically attempt to take signal overload to its
logical conclusion, for the duration of a C-90! One day the name just came to
me as a good enough description of these tapes. There is therefore no intent or
literal meaning but rather three words that just sounded good together and
arrived from god knows where.
Who exactly comprises
the band RMI, and where did you all come from musically in terms of previous
The band is in Alphabetical Order:
MR. STEVE DINSDALE – Keyboards,
MR. DUNCAN GODDARD – Keyboards, Bass
MR. GARY HOUGHTON
– Guitar, Synth
SD: We have known each other since
we were 16 years old; therefore many of our previous musical experiences were
collective. Even before we started in 6th Form College (6th
Grade), Duncan and I had already managed to get talking to a guy called Mark
Spybey a second year student whose job it was at the recruitment day to extol
the virtues of the History course. He saw the band names painted on my
haversack (the usual suspects) and said that the college had a synthesizer
(Roland SH 1000), which we proceeded to borrow for about three years! We
started a band with him, and through Mark met Gary shortly after.
Away from the band Duncan, Gary and
I began to record in Duncan’s room, which rapidly became our first studio. We
called the group DAS, and made a cassette album DAS 1/Earthdeath in 1980. We
continued on this path and between 1980-7 DAS completed 12 albums none of which
were ever released! (Mark Spybey eventually went on to join Sofornkontakt with
the dearly departed Michael Karoli, and we had quite a reunion after 20 years
at the Can Solo shows a couple of years ago!)
There then followed the inevitable
life changes, day jobs and so on. I played Drums in a couple of `scene’ bands
after moving to London in 1988. Gary continued to play guitar, and Duncan
continued to amass synthesizers at an alarming rate. He recorded lots of solo
pieces during this time, and at this point we renamed the project Radio
Massacre International. I eventually got disillusioned with the stupidity of
the music business, as it became clear that the deeper you look into the abyss
the less attractive and more like a job it becomes.
Duncan and I had remained close
friends in London throughout and it was inevitable that when he found a space
big enough for us to work in that we’d get going again. `Startide’ was
recorded at one of the first sessions in 1993. It’s an hour long and we
couldn’t have cared less if it had been two! It was a great feeling of freedom,
and with enough equipment to record everything straight to tape with no need
for overdubs. Gary came back on board shortly after in early 1994, he arrived
with his guitar and in that day we made `Drown’ (from Frozen North),
`Diabolica’ and `Upstairs Downstairs’ (From Diabolica)
in the time it would take my previous band to get a guitar sound they were
Had you recorded
anything previous to RMI? Outside of music what do you all do in the real
SD: See above for answer to if we
had recorded anything previous to RMI. Those DAS albums were quite different to
what we do now, but there is a definite path that can be traced. We’re looking
at ways of making this stuff available, but at an attractive price, as we
believe it should be out there in some form. I also appeared on EP’s by The
Honey Smugglers and TV Eye as drummer.
In the real world I work as a Studio
Manager for a Sports Media Group (TEAMtalk.com), Duncan is at MTV Europe as a
Technical Manager, and Gary is in the big bad world of Corporate Finance.
The main influence on
your sound would seem obvious - Tangerine Dream. But when you first
brainstormed forming RMI, was the central idea behind it to be `the new TD’ or
SD: To be honest we never sat and
discussed our aims, even the very first time we recorded. It was always Duncan
saying, “I’ve got some gear, let’s record”. We just do it and see what happens.
The idea behind RMI was purely as a creative outlet, to make music that we felt
was missing from our collections. It wasn’t even until a couple of years later
that we actually found a deal and started putting it out. Obviously the TD
thing comes up all the time, but in all honesty our influences are more
universal than that. Electronic Music only makes up a very small percentage of
our CD collections, and as far as our own music goes we simply see it as
working with an established form the way you would if Jazz or Folk was your
thing. As long as you come across with a strong personality of your own there’s
no more to be said. I think RMI are readily identifiable and distinguishable
from everyone else.
DG: Not the
main influence on the music, just the technology. The music we do has many
influences besides other musicians.
GH: We’re not
the new anything! Our influences are from all sorts of areas as Dunc says not
just musical. The only reason people continually refer to TD is because we use
sequencers and Mellotron. It’s a bit ridiculous really; it’s like saying that
all bands with bass Drums and Guitars are copying Elvis.
When it comes to EM,
personally I am an `old timer’ from way back in the days when new albums were
listened to by candlelight, with incense burning, and visions of sacred spaces
were conjured up. You are younger, and I wonder do you have any affinity for
the concept of `cosmic music’, or does that seem outdated?
SD: “Visions of sacred spaces” I
like that! We tend to make large spaces with our music, and add detail,
foreground, background etc. It’s a very good analogy. I’m not offended by the
term `Cosmic Music’, although I would say not as close as to Brian Eno’s `On
Land’ approach in that a majority of our more descriptive efforts tend
to refer to earthbound spaces like the Frozen North or Gulf.
Albums like Startide and the album we made live at Jodrell Bank
Radio telescope could obviously be described as 'cosmic’ which is fine, but
it’s not all we do. I would define Cosmic Music as `that which describes the
wonder of space’, and yes we certainly have.
GH: What you’re describing is not
unlike the experiences I used to have when I first started listening to some of
the more spacey music. To be honest we just turn on plug in and play. What you
hear on the CDs is the end result. Some of it is pretty cosmic though – like Zabriskie
Point or ‘Blakey Ridge’ (from Borrowed Atoms).
seems much more equipment oriented and digitized. What equipment do you guys
use, and do you prefer the old analogue sound, or?
DG: Whatever we feel like using.
People will point at the mellotron and say, “why don’t you use samples
instead?” they don’t sound the same, but that doesn’t exclude them from the
armory. Recent material has used the mellotron less, but the analogue synths
more. A few years ago, we weren’t using analogue synth sounds at all for
sequencing. As far as the recording process goes, we’ve always used a mixture
of analogue and digital techniques and equipment. The basic philosophy with
instruments and recording gear is to use whatever best meets the needs of the
circumstances. We have the luxury of having a choice. Instruments or other
studio gear that don’t pull their weight or do their job to a satisfactory
standard are quickly discarded.
We really just tend to mix and match
and certainly don’t stick to any one set up. We tend to prefer a small mobile
and intelligent approach rather than looking like a synth museum. We use the
Doepfer MAQ16 to drive two Moog Prodigy’s for sequences on the fly, and we also
have the superb Lactonic Notron which is a little less immediate to use but can
provide some superb sequencer functions like triplets and allows for a huge
frequency range. One person could physically carry both units under each arm
and that’s the way we like it.
GH: Strat, Marshall, Fender Twin,
MXR Distortion, Jam Man, Line 6 Delay, Cry Baby Wah Wah, and sometimes a bit of
flange can be nice ….oooooh matron! * (*English Humor SD)
Much of your material
is recorded live, is there a reason for this?
SD: Not sure if you mean live `In
Concert’ or live in the studio, but either way there is an immediacy that is
captured when music is happening live in the here and now. Musicians behave
differently when they are on the spot and improvising rather than playing
through a rehearsed piece. This is exaggerated when there is an audience there
too. We have become used to recording straight to two-track tape/DAT, and hence
the mixing process happens as part of the improvising process. It may not
always be perfect, but it eliminates the possibility of tinkering with the mix
endlessly after the event! There’s far too much time wasted in studios
generally, (Again from previous personal experience!) and I would always point
to the fact that `Kind Of Blue’ and `Astral Weeks’ were each
recorded in two 4-hour sessions! They are both in many people’s all-time Top
Tens and still sound incredible technically. Making records is a lot easier
than many people would have us believe, just get in there and do it!
DG Yes- it’s
quicker and easier. We have a limited amount of time to capture this stuff,
both because of our circumstances and because we’re adept enough at
improvisation to have escaped forever from the repetitious rigors of
arrange/rehearse/record that, in other bands, detract from the creative flow.
Do you compose pieces
in advance, or perhaps follow the more improvised tradition?
DG: Both. After a while, we realized
that live performances would be more satisfying if a) we had a “warm-up” period
working through something we all knew the basic framework of, but that still
allowed some improvisation and b) the audience would appreciate hearing live
versions of familiar material. Not, surprisingly, such a great technical or
musical challenge to reproduce improvised pieces on stage, but sometimes it
takes a while to dismantle an older piece into its components for a live
Most studio work is purely
improvised, safe in the knowledge that we can edit out howling mistakes or bits
that didn’t work. The editing then becomes an element in the shaping of the
finished piece. Live, we have tried every approach from 100% improv. to 50/50.
Pure improv. tends to work best within a set also containing pre-written
frameworks. Quite often it isn’t particularly useful to hear one complete
improvisation after another and this approach is rarely successful. If we are
doing one concert a year then that hour on stage has to be good, and not an
aimless wander in an electronic wasteland of our own making.
GH: Even our composed stuff is very
loose. Generally we will have an idea for the feel of a piece and the key.
That’s all we really need.
How many live
concerts have you done, and what kind of attendances do you achieve?
SD: We tend to manage at least one
concert a year, although we’ve clocked up about twelve to fifteen in about six
years. The largest audience was 1,000 in Nijmegen at the Klemdag, and we played
in Huizen at the Alfa Centauri Festival 2000 in front of about 300. Jodrell
Bank planetarium is much more intimate (150), but we have played some good
music there over the years, having done concerts there in 1996,1997 and 2000.
We had a series of pub/club gigs in London between about 1995-7 too, which were
largely `Never Again’ experiences, but sort of fun in a masochistic way. It
meant that we were sharing the bill with indie bands and were at least
something of a curiosity.
Of course our largest audience would
have been our MTV Europe live appearance in 1996, technically speaking!
How large of an
audience do you think there is for this neo-electronic space music’ sound?
DG: Even if no one bought the stuff
we’d still be doing it!
We couldn’t really care less how
large the audience is, but there’s no denying that it isn’t exactly expanding
exponentially! The potential audience is a lot bigger, but people are just
simply not aware that we’re out there. They’re too busy being spoon-fed by the
Marketing Depts. of the major labels. We would be kidding ourselves if we
pretended we were ever going to be suitable for mass consumption though.
In terms of CD sales
do you have any idea what was the most popular of the albums put out by the
Centaur label? How many copies did it sell?
SD: Our two top sellers have been Frozen
North and Borrowed Atoms, the latter of which has
been the most critically acclaimed. I guess we’re talking about maybe
1,200-1,500 sales of Frozen North which doesn’t seem much, but then imagining
them all in a room together it does… especially if they each offered to buy us
a drink! Frozen North might be enough RMI for some people, after
all in old terms its 140-minute playing time is equivalent to 7 old sides of
vinyl! Similarly Borrowed Atoms is also a double CD, and the one,
which perhaps comes closest to refining the `classic’ analogue sound.
We aim to make each release as good
as the last and more importantly, to have an identity of its own. There’s no
telling what people will like, in fact signs are that Zabriskie Point
is proving to be very popular, which pleases us as it’s truly on its own
musically without even a sequencer in sight.
Your sound has seemed
to change a bit on recent releases, do you listen to much music outside the
band and perhaps this has broadened your sonic palate?
SD: The music has evolved and
changed completely naturally, we tend to view the making of music and the
consumption of it separately, so there’s no way one could influence the other.
We just look for new approaches and new gear configurations, plus as
improvisers we are always subject to the circumstances in the studio on that
particular day. It’s only when we look back that we realize that the sound has
changed over time, and it’s hard to pinpoint.
You also just started
your own label. Often musicians find it problematic to handle both the making
of and selling of their own music. What was the reason for this?
SD: Complete control over
everything! We felt that maybe we were an established enough name to take a
small risk and make our own product. We feel that we have made the most effort
to promote and publicize the band ourselves, so we should reap the rewards. We
have controlled all other aspects of production from day one. The only likely
problem again might be the fact that we don’t have a huge database of
customers, however the internet has been an enormous help in allowing bands to
sell their own music and long may it thrive. We also have a good relationship
with a few outlets that can guarantee a certain level of sales, and have had
invaluable help in those parts of the manufacturing process we are as yet
It seems there is a
ceiling on the genre that limits the level of success that a group can achieve.
The only way to break through is with a product placement in a film or major
media event. Do you have a future marketing ‘master plan’ or will you let the
SD: We’ll leave it in the lap of the
gods! As Gary says “It’s not like we’ve just turned down Sony or something!”
The people that buy our music are discerning and they have to actively seek out
the CDs and discover the music for themselves…they buy the music they want to
hear rather than being sold it. Many artists who I regard as being geniuses
never broke through to the mainstream and they’re not meant to. Most music is
consumed on a very superficial level, which sounds snobbish but it happens to
be true. We’ve been on Radio 1 (Major BBC national Music Station), the BBC
World Service, BBC2 TV (Music featured in a documentary about Jodrell Bank) and
MTV Europe and it has made very little difference to our sales. To really sell
records you need a £300,000 promotional campaign, where you are shoved down
people’s throats on a continual and uncomfortable basis, or like you say to be
prominently featured in a big movie. The whole thing is such a multimedia mass
marketing exercise designed to maximize sales for conglomerates that probably
own the film and the music on the soundtrack. Our music could work well as film
soundtrack, but these days it’s all about squeezing in all these has-been bands
whose publishers are trying to rehabilitate their careers (he said, cynically)
The great thing about the seventies
was that there was a genuine underground feeling and mystery to discovering
your own band. We’d like to feel that a little of that spirit survives in what
we do. Of course we’d like to sell lots, but we understand why that’s not going
to happen! It’s important not to be financially reliant on the income we make
from the music and therefore artistic freedom is maintained. We’ll just keep on
doing what we do!
- Archie Patterson