Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Month: October 2014

Interview: General Ludd

A new project from Glasgow duo Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, and Richard McMaster of Golden Teacher

General Ludd

The List
21 October 2014

General Ludd fuses the talents of a bunch of Glasgow music acts we already loved. The duo of Tom Marshallsay (aka Dam Mantle), and Richard McMaster (from Golden Teacher, Lovers Rights and Silk Cut) was a shoo-in for good things, and recent DJ mixes and an upcoming EP of twitchy, bouncy house/ techno/ pop confirm suspicions – yup, it’s a match made in electronic heaven.

Where were you when General Ludd first came up in conversation?

At home flicking through the pages of [1960s Marxist text] The Society of the Spectacle.

Did you set out to make music that was going to sound a certain way? Or did it just kind of evolve out of the gear you were using/ the way you were producing it at the time?

I think we have some sort of process that we feel comfortable with now. It’ll inevitably evolve as we go along and is never fixed; the environments that are imagined when we’re constructing tracks are varied. Our sound doesn’t necessarily revolve around specific gear, but we tend to use this old Allen & Heath mixer we acquired, and if we have equipment that performs the same task as the computer we try to use that as you can access more immediate visceral responses from being hands on. There is this space in yourself when making music that almost feels out of your own body – it’s like you are looking at yourself playing or performing a task and you forget what you are actually needing to do. Whenever that happens it’s something that we focus on and that is an essential part of our production.

Can you sum up the General Ludd sound in five words??

Not really.

Why did you call yourselves General Ludd? (ie: the guy we take the word luddite from?)

I don’t think the Luddites were necessarily anti-technology or backwards looking (which is how the word tends to get appropriated), they were just protecting their craft from those who capitalised on running the mills where they made their living as artisans. By using the name of a mythological hero of a leaderless movement we hope to draw attention to the struggles of those who were trampled in order to establish the industrial empire we live and work within today … It’s about having a healthy sceptical attitude, although we don’t align ourselves with a specific ideology, critical thinking is important to us …

You’re well connected – with gigs at Berghain, and doing stuff for Huntley and Palmers, Optimo, Boiler Room – any other collaborations or projects in the pipeline?

We’ve been really lucky to work with people who are mindful, charitable and are into music for the right reasons. A lot of that just is the product of music in Glasgow. We just finished an EP and have quite a few plans in the pipeline.

How do you swap / work on music?

We’ve both been in Glasgow for around 7 years. We work together at a home studio that we’ve slowly constructed over the past few years. Our time does get limited by our various commitments but we’re always trying to be as productive as possible with our time together.

What do you both get from GL that is a bonus / missing thing from your other music projects?

The chance to make distilled productions outside of a ‘live context’ that are mainly focused for DJing. We also get opportunities to DJ as GL and that is a really exciting experience. Even just this last weekend we played in London at a Black Atlantic party at Village Underground with Golden Teacher and Optimo and it was such a great experience. It’s so exciting to play the music that we love to 1000 people and see bodies moving and smiles on new faces. Music can really transfer emotion in such immediate ways and it’s so exciting to be part of that exchange, that’s what we’re doing this all for.

What do you want from a crowd when you play live?

Communitas. Empowerment. Freedom. Party!

soundcloud.com/general-ludd

Read the interview in The List here.

Interview: Michel Faber discusses his new book The Book of Strange New Things

A personal tragedy and his decision to quit fiction have brought Michel Faber to a turning point in his career. Claire Sawers meets a writer who is considering his own literary legacy

Michel Faber

The List
9 October 2014

When Michel Faber began writing his latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, he knew it would be his last. What he didn’t know is that it would end up being not just a farewell to his career as a novelist, but also to his other half, Eva Youren (in their case, the term ‘other half’ is practically literal). Faber’s wife – his unofficial manager / literary editor / mentor / PA / friend, or to give her a more grandiose label, his personal saviour (the reclusive Faber once thanked her for ‘bringing me back to earth’) – was diagnosed with a rare plasma cell cancer, and sadly died in early July.

‘The book was conceived before Eva was diagnosed,’ says Faber who, when we meet in the living room of his Edinburgh flat, is wearing several days’ stubble and a threadbare Rammstein t-shirt. The chameleonic, addictive fiction writer is probably best known for his Victorian sex-work epic The Crimson Petal and the White, and alien sci-fi thriller, Under the Skin which was recently adapted into a film with Scarlett Johansson.

He may be a little subdued today, but Faber hasn’t lost any of his ability to casually drill deep into the conversation, mining it unexpectedly, hitting hard insights while talking about his cats, or a pair of shoes. He’s just back from an American book tour, and pulls out Eva’s red ankle boots from his not-yet-unpacked bag. He beams sheepishly as he explains how he photographed the shoes next to things Eva would have liked.

‘The book was always going to be about grief; grief at how we treat each other and the planet. Loss of precious human beings. But I wasn’t expecting to lose Eva.’ Faber always intended his final novel to be ‘a journey into the darkness’, relying on the reader’s trust as he led them, and himself, into unmapped territory. An ‘obsessive shaper’, his work this time was deliberately much less planned. ‘Always being in control of everything, I felt uneasy. Really good books need a chaos element, something weird or inexplicable.’

With supremely cruel irony, Faber has noticed before that his books sometimes end up being ‘anticipatory, almost prophetic’, and The Book of Strange New Things – about a Christian missionary’s voyage to another planet – was no different. In this part dystopian travelogue, part epistolary love story, Peter and Bea are separated while he goes to preach to the indigenous people of Oasis; a foetus-faced species who speak with otherworldly, asthmatic voices, sounding like ‘a field of rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete’.

As Peter makes progress with the Oasan people, Bea is back on earth, witnessing it short circuit in freak weather disasters and spasms of civil unrest. ‘It’s an enormously sad book, obviously. Heartbreaking things happen in it. I was writing it, line by line, as Eva became incredibly ill, and later when I lived with her in the hospital where she died. But I didn’t think it would be fair to make it the ultimate feel-bad book. I couldn’t do that to people.’

Faber wanted to find some consolation, without straying into cheesy, sentimental territory. ‘So often the “uplifting” thing just ends up being really platitudinous. Pathetic and specious. I really wanted to avoid that.’ And he has. On the surface, The Book of Strange New Things reads like an Orwellian bad dream, if JG Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut found themselves wandering the sterile hallways of a space base filled with piped-in Patsy Cline songs, maggot-based hybrid foods and out-of-date lesbian porn mags. It’s a morose, matter-of-fact allegory on modern life, but one enlightened by Faber’s gentle, resigned wisdom. the-book-of-strange-new-things

‘I’m not normally superstitious,’ says Faber, ‘but I didn’t write any dedication in the front of the advance proofs. All the other books were dedicated to Eva, but for this one I was a bit spooked. I was very much hoping for a remission, that she’d live longer; it felt almost like inviting bad karma.’ The finished copies, to be published three months after her death, will say, ‘For Eva, always’.

‘Eva said she’d like a dedication. This one was very precious to her. She’d worked on it a great deal, as with all the others. It’s obviously valedictory, and about saying goodbye to the flesh.’ As the person who initially jumpstarted Faber’s career and coaxed him out of his crippling shyness, Eva was ‘distraught’ at the prospect of him giving up writing fiction. ‘She was worried about me just shutting myself away as I tend to do. But I’m trying to say yes rather than no, and I want to live the sort of life she’d have liked me to live after her death.’

Although Faber says he’s written his last novel (‘Most books and works of art disappear down the plughole. If one of my books is destined to be remembered by anyone, it’s probably already out there’), he’ll continue writing poetry and non-fiction, with plans for a book on music theory ‘which will probably appeal to 178 people in the whole world’. He also talks of an intriguing plan to possibly ‘collaborate’ with Eva, and add to some of her own unfinished writing. ‘We discussed that. We had some wonderfully precious and intimate times and the relationship definitely deepened towards the end. It’s hard to think that might be extinguished.’

The Book of Strange New Things is published by Canongate, Thu 23 Oct.
Read the interview at The List here

Interview: Peter Zummo

The trombonist and Arthur Russell collaborator reinvents the cult composer’s work with an experimental sextet

peter-zummo-6tet

The List
8 October 2014

’Let’s just say, I can sometimes have an attitude about the cellist who’s going to play Arthur Russell’s music. When we were choosing the right musician, I think it’s fair to say I expressed a few opinions,’ Peter Zummo confesses, laughing quietly down the phone from his home in Staten Island, New York.

As someone who worked and shared a music studio with the cult composer – the one-off, mysterious genius that was avant-garde / proto-disco producer / musician Arthur Russell – Zummo is understandably a bit picky about anyone attempting to recreate the distinct cello sound of his friend. ‘It was never just about sentimentality with Arthur, he played with this raw energy and supreme intelligence, it’s important not to get the wrong interpretation of that.’

But Zummo – himself a noted experimental composer and trombonist – is giving the seal of approval to Oliver Coates, the cellist who’ll join him onstage, alongside Ernie Brooks (guitar) and Bill Ruyle (hammer dulcimer, percussion) with live beats and processing from JD Twitch and Bass Clef. As a half American, half British sextet, they plan to play live over selected tracks from Russell’s vast back catalogue.

‘Keith [McIvor, Glasgow’s JD Twitch] has isolated the rhythm of ‘Is It All Over My Face’, for example. He’s taken an extended sample and remixed it – that will be the foundation that we play live on top of.’ While Zummo is keen ‘to check back in with the original songs’, he also thinks Russell, himself an endless reshaper (there were 40 tapes with mixes of the same song found in his apartment when he died), would want them to push the sound forward. ‘He moved fast, he didn’t believe in repeating himself. If he was alive today, he’d be into totally different stuff, so I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to rework his stuff, rather than spin out the same concept.’

Although Zummo initially wasn’t keen to get involved in the growing Russell revival following his death in 1992 (‘I figured we should let him rest in peace!’), he is pleased he eventually let himself be talked into it. Zummo featured on 2011’s debut album from Arthur’s Landing – a collective of ‘Russell alumni’ – musicians who’d all worked with him at some point, on his more introspective, acoustic work (World Of Echo) or his pioneering disco projects (as Loose Joints and Dinosaur L). Arthur’s Landing visited Scotland that year to play the Tramway alongside Chris and Cosey, curated by Optimo DJ Keith McIvor. McIvor first got in touch with Zummo, asking if he could re-release his Zummo With an X, a gorgeous record of Zummo’s from 1981, featuring him on trombone, Russell on cello and Bill Ruyle on tabla. ‘I took over mastertapes with me, and Keith ended up putting the record out on Optimo. From there I seemed to start building up a lovely bunch of UK contacts.’

And so it is that Zummo finds himself, four years later, returning to Scotland.

‘Some people find it odd to have live instruments playing over a pre-recorded track, but that’s exactly how Arthur used to perform, back in nightclubs in New York in the 70s and 80s. If he wanted to create street level interest, he’d go into a dance club, do a cameo performance, with him singing, or playing cello, or with a guest vocalist over a track that he’d prepared.’

‘It’s the same now, if the rhythm is tight enough, then the trombone can just float on top.’

Summerhall, Edinburgh, Thu 16 Oct.

Interview: Anneke Kampman of Conquering Animal Sound

The List
8 October 2014

Anneke Kampman and Jamie Scott, Conquering Animal Sound

Conquering Animal Sound

Giddy, gorgeous, cacophonic, experimental – the music of duo Conquering Animal Sound is all-over-the-shop-pop, in the best way. The Glasgow two-piece (Anneke Kampman and Jamie Scott, who also perform as solo artists ANAKANAK and MC Almond Milk) return in October with their first new material in a year and a half, the EP, Talking Shapes, recorded at Kinning Park Complex. It’s a blissfully wonky, shapeshifting exploration through four new songs of clicks, claps, primary school recorders, harps, abstracted hip hop beats and Kampman’s distinct stop-starty, cooing then mechanical vocal.

But for all the layers of playfulness and form-bending, there is a growing undercurrent of ideas to ponder – this time musical languages, gender, genetic coding and family, feminism and er, football.

‘There’s a subtle feminist dimension to this track [‘Puskas’]’ explains Kampman. ‘I used football references as a way of liberating myself from instruction. Football is a game; it has rules. Gender is also a game; it also has rules. I’m eager to break out of patterns that people fall into within music, specifically relating to gender. Women almost always have submissive roles in music practice, especially in the pop music industry. They tend to be passive when it comes to taking control of certain aspects of music creation, and it has always been important to Jamie and I that it’s a conversation; an equal process.’

Stereo, Glasgow, Fri 3 Oct; Summerhall, Edinburgh, Sat 4 Oct. Talking Shapes EP is out Mon 6 Oct on Chemikal Underground.

Read the original interview online at The List here

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