Autresdirections Webzine Interview

cathode interview reproduced with kind permission from
Also available on the AD website: autres article 16

Could you please introduce yourself?
Well, I'm Steve and I work under the name Cathode, based in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Cathode has been operational for about three years, during which time I've been lucky enough to work with labels like Static Caravan, 555 and Awkward Silence. More recently I've taken to playing live, mostly in Newcastle so far, and have also been working on an album which is due to be released in the summer of 2003 on Expanding Records.

How did you learn how to play the piano or the organ?
"Learn" is perhaps a generous phrase; I had a go when I was about 11 but was a bit perturbed by the piano teacher who didn't do much except shout at me to stop slouching. So what I have learned is pretty much self-taught, but in any case Cathode is much more about sound than technique. I'm a bit suspicious of virtuoso complexity in electronica - I'd rather listen to a sound that makes the hairs on your neck stand upright than sit there admiring the cleverness of the playing or the programming.

When did you start playing in Cody? When did you start composing solo as Cathode and why?
Cody got together in about 1995, basically trying to do "pop electronics" a few years ahead of the time that idea really took off (and certainly before anyone had the idea of calling it "indietronica" - yeeuch!). We had a brief spell of being courted by major labels in the aftermath of our first single "Simple", who scurried away when they realised how unmarketable we were, leaving us instead to in the capable hands of Shinkansen Records, where we've stayed ever since. One of the strengths of Cody is that we all have quite different tastes, so what results is something quite distinctive and more than the sum of its parts. There were a couple of motivations for recording separately as Cathode: firstly, it allowed me a bit of control freakery that is impossible in a band if you're going to stay mates; and secondly it allowed me to play about a bit more with space, minimalism and structure. Cody songs are quite "full" band efforts and I was at that stage becoming more and more interested in minimal electronics like Panasonic and the Basic Channel crowd, so it inspired me to try something new by myself.

Is there an influence of your work as Cathode in Cody's music? And vice-versa?
To some extent. My input in Cody is largely in respect of sound and production rather than songwriting, so I aim for the same crispness that hopefully distinguishes Cathode. As for Cody influencing Cathode - the main way in which that happens is in limiting my self-indulgence when writing for Cathode - if I'm getting too carried away on that 18 minute glitch masterpiece I imagine the horrified reaction of the other members of Cody, and hopefully trim it down to a more palatable level.

For Cathode, are you just composing with a laptop?
Yes, with a guitar as well, and various spangly effects pedals.

Is really Cathode a most personal work than Cody?
I guess that's inevitable, because Cathode doesn't have the compromise and reciprocal influence that is present when you're working with other people.

When do you think you'll release your first album as Cathode?
The album will be out in the summer, if all goes according to plan. It's called "Special Measures" (which refers to what happens to a school in the uk, if the government decides that it is "failing" its pupils), and will be released on the damn fine Expanding Records label, of London. Expanding have been putting out a lot of fine stuff lately by people such as Benge, Vessel and Vs_Price as well as a series of beautiful colour coordinated 7" singles (compiled on v/a Expanding records / The Condition of Muzak). I'm really excited to be working with them because they are such enthusiasts about the music and have a keen eye for presentation.

Is it as important in Cathode's music than in Cody's to have melodies? Why?
Melodies are crucial to both. Cody is more deliberately a pop band, I think. In Cathode, the idea is very much to explore what happens when you throw together the difficult or the extreme, and the conservative or the accessible. I love the idea of pop music that is falling apart at the seams, or almost overwhelmed by noise or counterintuitive rhythms, which is just about held together by something like a really beautiful melody. Electronic music is, lets face it, incredibly easy to produce these days, and a lot of it is in my view self-indulgent nonsense produced in the name of experimentation. By far the more interesting challenge, I think, is to set yourself some formal limits and then experiment as much as you can within them : so the challenge becomes, how can I integrate, say, extreme minimalist sine-tones and glitches with this beautiful three-minute pop song that I've written?

Which artists do you feel close to with Cathode ?
Predictably perhaps, I think the likes of the City Centre Offices and Morr Music labels are operating in the same field as Cathode. I've also got a lot of time for formal minimalist electronics by the likes of Carsten Nicolai and Pan Sonic : I think Cathode is substantially different, but incorporates some of the austerity of that kind of harsh minimalism with perhaps a more reflective and melodic aesthetic.

There's a rather deep melancholy reigning in some of your pieces melodies... Does it have a particular importance in your artistic process? Do you try to put your listener in a particular emotional state or does it force itself upon you ?
I think the whole idea of what is "signified" by instrumental electronic music is a really interesting one. People do say Cathode is melancholic or even dark. This is deliberate to the extent that there is supposed to be some space in the work to consider one's emotional reaction to it, but the reaction certainly isn't prescribed by me. Individuals' emotional experiences are incredibly personal and differentiated, and the worst thing you can do is assume or even worse prescribe what kind of feelings someone has or should have in a given situation. So I do try to create things which sound reflective, I suppose, in an attempt to draw listeners in, emotionally, to the sound. But on the other hand, I think it's easy to overestimate the importance of what we do, which is basically entertainment: people can do what the hell they want with it and any response is equally valid.

What about your musical tastes? What do you listen to when you're not creating new pieces for Cathode?
Bit of everything really, at the moment I'm listening to some poppy electronica (the Fort Dax album, Telefon Tel Aviv), some minimal stuff (Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryoji Ikeda), some tubthumping dancehall (The Rapture and all that DFA stuff is very nice, it all sounds like the Gang of Four to me) and, being a lapsed indie boy, some very unexperimental guitar bands (The Delgados last album is pretty fine, and I very much approve of Interpol for sounding so 1983).

How did you live this particular experience that must have been the C-90 in Newcastle ? Did you work from visual pictures and did it globally modify something in your approach to the music ?
Traditionally Newcastle hasn't had much "underground" culture to speak of so those of us trying something experimental have had to stick together! C90 was a collaboration between Cathode, Posset (ace sampler-abusing noise merchants) and Spoonbender (the 8-bit revival as interpreted by a mild mannered man in a samurai outfit), and some visual artists and filmmakers. We came together to make a 90 minute piece where the visuals were as important as the music, a place to throw ideas together working from very different aesthetic templates and see what the hell happened. Cathode collaborated with Rob Kennedy, a visual artist from Glasgow; he made a video for a previous Cathode release, "Sundowning", which will appear as a CD ROM section on the forthcoming CD album. Rob's work is really interesting and beautiful; some works from a kind of glitch aesthetic, where the audio signal is fed straight into a video projector to give a kind of intricate coordinated static effect, and some works from found colour video footage, heavily cropped and slowed in a kind of echo of the buried melodies in the sound. Like a VCR gracefully losing its grip on life. I'm really interested in the whole dilemma of how to present live electronica; let's face it, watching men with laptops is too boring for words, but so much of the ambient-landscape visuals that are attempted with them are clichéd already. I don't have the answer, but think there's plenty of mileage in trying something different. We hope in the longer term to tour C90 to anyone who'll have us around the UK. There's a website at which will soon have some audio/visual documentation of what happened.

interview by sébastien & stéphane help : ronan - thanks ! by email 2003, march)