[Bring the Noise deleted scene #12]
AR KANE interview
Melody Maker, July 25 1987
by SIMON REYNOLDS
Each week we hurl a batch of New Names at you. Perhaps it’s not surprising that you wilt under this constant attrition, cease to believe we can really mean it. Easier to shelter from this endless barrage of hosannas and extravagant claims, to shrink back into the rut of skepticism, and stick with what You know--the tired and trusted post-punk dinosaurs.
I’m going to tax your credulity again, today, by suggesting that rock--at this late hour--has, unaccountably, entered a New Golden Age. At the forefront of this scattered maverick tendency, right up there with Throwing Muses and Young Gods, is a virtually unknown group called A.R. Kane. And I’m going to ask you, beseech you: do yourself a favour. Shake off this faithless despondency. Move forward. My estimation of this group is not the result of considered assessment. I listenened and was stricken. I fell for them. I believe you will fall too.
The initial impression was of a black Jesus and Mary Chain. It dind’t take me long to realise how lazy, how small, a tag this was. Rock noise is a GREY affair, generally: the sound of concrete, pig iron, swarf, silt. Maybe this is a malingering hangover from the industrial aesthetic, maybe it’s just the ineradicable taint of New Wave. Even the Mary Chain at their best could only produce a kind of mildly trippy smog. Coming from a different place, fired by other, jazzier ambitions, A.R. Kane have a more vivid spectrum--an iridescence that makes me think of Hendrix. A.R. Kane themselves were amazed at being compared with the shambling bands. “We’d never heard of any of these bands until we released our first single, and people started to play us the records. There’s something very trimmed about that sound, we’re not impressed by it.”
“When You’re Sad”, released in January on One Little Indian, streams over the ears, a dazzling cataract: not so much a wall of noise as a hanging garden. “Haunted”, the B-side, was more spell-binding still, shimmering like the sparks beneath half-closed eyelashes on a summer’s day. Now A.R. Kane are on 4AD, and their new Lollita EP spells out their difference even more clearly. “Lollita” is a gorgeous haze that slowly enfolds the body body, turning your nerves to frost.
a lullaby split apart at the seams by a column of noise, a crystal spire veering up into the heavens. "Sadomasochism Is A Must" opens like a sandstorm on Venus, then turns into a jagged, poisoned ballad, each chord lash showering you with shards of amethyst. "Butterfly Collector" is an icy thrash, culminating in total white-out, a saturated overload of splintered signals.
And there’s more. For all the fevered fleshiness of pop today, how many songs are there about falling in love? AR Kane are one of the few groups that convey the vertigo of rapture rather than the solid earthiness of need. The bastardized soul that is the sound of Planet Pop is all breath, exertion, the burden of passion; AR Kane are about the breathlessness, the numb suspension of enchantment. Pop desire is brazen, brassy, a Wide Awake Club; with AR Kane, love is narcotic, a drift into reverie, oblivion. Alex’s voice is gut-less, fey even, roaming listlessly in some indeterminate region between languour and languishing. It’s the voice of someone vanquished, about to give up the ghost, a ghost of a former self. Steve Sutherland reckons he can hear the ghost of Arthur Lee.
A good notion, because, with AR Kane as with Love, sweetness and sickness, fragility and violence, adoration and loathing, are alternate sides of the same coin. The Lollita EP follows the course by which desire undoes itself, pursues the phantasm of possession to the point of madness, Mutually Assured Destruction. “Lollita” is the idyll--“love to go on down and kiss your curl”, “when I touch your skin/something spins within”, “when I kiss your lips/oooh my head/slides and slips”. But already there’s the incongruous appearance of the word “bitch”, a hint of what is to come. By “Sadomasochism Is A Must” , the desire for total absorption of or by the Other has degenerated into perversion. And with “Butterfly Collector”, the dread of losing the loved one (to the outside world, to Time) has blossomed into psychosis: “I’m gonna pin you down/I’m gonna keep you/I’m gonna kill you”.
Alex expains, “We didn’t intend there to be a narrative when we recorded the songs, but afterwards we realized it was about the development of a relationship, from adoration through sadomasochism to complete possession and destruction. All the songs, even “Butterfly Collector” are love songs. I suppose I’m quite cynical about love. I don’t think there’s a pure love anymore. All love is tainted. “Butterfly Collector” is about when you love someone too much. You put her on a pedestal, you don’t want her to go out in case someone else gets interested, you end up tying down and destroying the thing you love. I think there’s an inherent violence in everything, even the sweet things.”
Maybe that violence at the heart of love is the very process of idealization itself, the living flux of being-in-process is frozen into a series of static, consecrated images. When the flawed, fickle, changing reality of the loved one starts to play truant from the image--that’s our first taste of grief, our first intimation of loss, of death.
Rudi: “But it’s not just as male/female thing, it informs people’s relations to objects too. The guy with the motorbike he never rides but just keeps in the garage, cleaning over and over. People who buy paintings and keep them in private vaults, for their eyes only.”
Alex: “The subject’s huge… people are bound to call me misogynist, but the subject’s bigger than that. But if you’re narrowminded you won’t see that.”
WHAT made them pick up guitars for the first time, only a year ago?
Rudi: “No one was making the kind of music we wanted to listen to.”
Alex: “We listen to a lot of jazz, stuff like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way and early Weather Report. We don’t aspire to that, but we wanted to produce something with that kind of feeling--spontaneity, freshness, creativity…”
Rudi: “Something more abstract than the verse/chorus/verse/chorus formula. Our songs emerge out of total chaos, which we then strip back in order to bring out a melody. We want to use melodies to suck people into the chaos.”
Can you pinpoint the feeling in Bitches Brew and Weather Report that you like?
Rudi: “It’s too big, you can’t pinpoint it… which is what’s good about it, that it’s abstract. it gives you the chance to let your imagination loose, whereas with modern indie music all you hear is a conventional structure. You listen to your preconceptions, you don’t really experience the music.”
Is it a kind of psychedelic, dreamlike feeling you’re after?
Alex: “Dreamlike, yeah. It’s when you remember one of your dreams you can never really explain it to anyone else. It’s really vivid, really haunting, but abstract. An ambition for us would be for people to have dreams in which our music was the soundtrack”.
Rudi: “A lot of the time we’re trying to transform dream imagery into sounds, which is hard to do!”
ALEX and Rudi are from the East End and have known each other since primary school. They refuse to tell me anything more about themselves “because we don’t’ want people to come to the music with preconceptions. What we do or what we’re like as people isn’t really relevant.” They also say they don’t want to slag other bands or other kinds of music--“if people like something it’s valid.” But they soon forget this resolution.
Alex: “People don’t really listen to music anymore, they put it on as a reflex, as a background to a lifestyle. The supreme example of that is the Sixties soul and Levin jeans thing.”
But you’re not entirely innocent of this subordination of pop to consumer lifestyle thing, having been the person who dreamt up the idea of using “Song to the Siren” [This Mortal Coil’s cover of the Tim Buckely song] as the soundtrack to the Thompsons’ Freestyle holiday ad (Alex is a copywriter).
“That was the furthest thing from my mind! ‘Song to the Siren’ fitted the mood of the commercial, it wasn’t linked to a particular lifestyle. The Levi thing was much more of a case of a two-pronged commercial campaign, where the song sells the product, and the product sells the song.”
You could still argue that the song has been tied down, that people’s freedom of imagination has been irreparably interfered with. The irony is that 4AD were seriously pissed off by the ad, but now have the person who thought it up on their label.
Alex continues: “I think music’s really potent, but most people making it don’t know what they’re doing with it. It’s like handing out guns to children. Like sampling--people are using technology that’s potentially really mindblowing, but in a really cretinous, gimmicky way. There’s sampled stuff on our first record, but you can’t tell because it’s been done in an AR Kane way. With most people it’s like sticking different kinds of wallpaper together. What’s that group? Something Mu Mu--they’re like retarded toddlers messing about.”
Rudi: “To me, most pop today is like cabaret. All these indie bands doing impersonations of Fifties and Sixties bands.”
So far from everything being “valid if someone likes it”, you do seem to think it’s a moral issue that some people are wasting other people’s time?
“Oh no, we wouldn’t say that. I mean, far more people like Duran Duran than will ever like us, and if they’re being moved, then you can’t knock that, it’s valid.”
But are they being moved, to new places or in new ways? I mean--who do you actively respect?
“Anyone who’s out there on their own. The Cocteau Twins. Azymuth. I think there’s a better atmosphere in Europe, people are more open. You’ve got labels like ECM over there.”
Alex: “I don’t think people listen to music anymore. I like to lie down and concentrate, tune in. We like to have a lot of things going on in the music, so you can lose yourself in it. The thing about pop is that the Star Vocal, the singular melody is foregrounded, and everything else in the music gets subordinated to that.”
Whereas your records are a blur, there’s a kind of democracy between sounds.
“The amount of trouble we’ve had with that idea! Trying to explain to producers that the voice isn’t important, that we want to submerge it into the mix.”
Rudi: “With “Haunted’ on the first record, we wanted to destroy the vocal, echo it out completely. We wanted to put so much reverb on the drums they’d turn into pure pulses. And the producer said, ‘you don’t do it that way’. I mean, exactly! That’s why we want to do it like that! So when we do our LP we’re gong to have to produce it ourselves.
Alex: “I think the way music will progress is the listening as much as the playing. We want people to look at music in a new way, not just as a blasé thing that’s just there. It should be like when you see a tree and suddenly it’s as though you see it for the first time. You’ve lived with trees for 25 years or whatever and it’s got so you don’t see them, and suddenly you think: ‘Amazing!’ Biggest shock of your life, when that kind of thing happens. I think music can help you see things freshly and can make you want to experience everything like that, as though you’d just been born.”
So there is a kind of innocence to A.R. Kane, in the sense of not being worldweary?
“Well, I think it’s pretty important to have a degree of cynicism, because the world is bad, but yeah, you have to have that naivete, where everything around you seems full of significance.”
A kind of strong innocence, perhaps.
A MONTH after the Lollita EP, 4AD release a one-off collaboration between A.R. Kane and Colourbox, under the rubric M.A.R.R.S. The A.R. Kane composition, “Anitina”, is a dub-noise collision, a lurid fog of echo and distortion, like children running riot with paints and crayons. Are they prolific?
Alex: “The stuff is practically coming out of our ears! We’re probably the kind of people who’d go mad if we couldn’t make music. We’ve been doing soundtracks for fashion students’ short films, things like that. We’ve got an enormous amount of material. Really we’d like to release two or three more singles and an LP this year--but Ivo won't let us.
“We couldn’t have gone to a better label than 4AD, at this stage. There aren’t many labels who give their groups that much freedom and have the capability to support what they do with that freedom. They’ve done far out stuff, they’re not pandering, but they can also sell the stuff.”
So are you aiming to establish yourselves at a kind of Cocteaus level--doing exactly what you want , but making a reasonable living out of it?
“No, the aim is to do exactly what we want, and forget the ‘good living’”
Rudi: “Living schmiving!”
“Any money we get we’ll just plough back into the music, working on the idea that the more freedom we have, the better the music will be. We want our own studio ultimately.”
Rud: “We find the recording process as it stands really stupid---all that technology going to waste. You’ve got to push the studio to its limits. We abuse our amplifiers and equipment to the point where the sounds were create are just new. Then the producers come along and put that iinto a box. We want to smash the box as well. Some of our ideas with what to do with the studio, well, I just can’t talk about them--otherwise we’ll never be allowed in one again!”
Alex: “Like if I was a drummer, the last thing I’d do is buy a drum kit, I’d buy a drum machine and sampler and play them live. We tried to get Martyn in Colourbox to play drum machine live, but he wouldn’t have any of it. That’s the trouble--people get to have too much respect for their machines, they start to worship their tools. You have to abuse them, and take them as far as they’ll go.”
Rudi: “It’s the same problem with anyone that’s trained. There’s a lot to be said for the argument that it’s only peole who aren’t formally tutored in music who can break through to new ways of seeing and feeling. We want our music to be a rush of things coming at you through the speakers, so many that the mind doesn’t have time to assimilate them and manage them. It should be like a baby being confronted with a rattle for the first time, seeing it as it is, without preconceptions.
“There’s one song we do live whchi completely takes us over, swamps us. You get sucked in, you lose control and you think you’ll never come out. That kind of thing affects you very physically, brings on a new awareness, something you feel in your guts, a new motivation, a letting loose.”
Alex: “It’s very liberating when you lose yourself, start to operate on a purely subconscious level. And when you’re coming back and you’re losing it, it’s like coming back from a brilliant dream which you know you’re never gonna be able to get back to.
“Our music’s like sculpture--there’s this chaos that we chip away at until there’s this beautiful shape. We love chaos, you can lose yourself in it. That’s why so many people hate chaos and won’t let it in. It’s too vast, you can’t tie it down. Which is why everyone tries to tame it, make a system over it.”
Putting a grid over a flux--we’re back with “Butterfly Collector” again.
“Oh yeah, everything correlates, everything we talk about comes back and joins up. It’s like a vicious circle. A gentle circle.”
There's two impulses in rock today. One is to make systems; the other is to dissolve them. One is to bolster the self and its mastery over the world; the other is to dissipate "I", blur the borders between the self and the
world. On one side, clenched-arse agit-pop didacticism; "punkies" like Age of Chance and Win, with their lippy attitude, their triumph of rhetoric over both form
and content; hip hop's tyrannical amplification of the self. Everybody eager to Tell It Like It Is (and noneof that “gurly cack”*).
On the other side, groups like A.R. Kane, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, R.E.M., suspicious of words, reluctant to spell it out, eager to be spellbound, to succumb to oceanic feelings, to go with the flow.
Two different universes: one logocentric, a world of rigid definitions; the other, a world of ambiguity, nuances, contradictions. Two different politics of sound: one starkly produced (lots of definition) with "in your face" vocals and a premium
on clear diction; the other an illegible blur, with the voice smudged and submerged in the mix.
Maybe it's all crystallised in that line that goes: "oooh my head/slides and slips". Maybe that is the thrill, that moment of teetering on the brink of oblivion is complete immersion in the Other.
* sample from Steven Wells