Cathode Biography

Thestory of Cathode begins in a wobbly hired van on the M6 somewhere inthe Lake District in 1999. I was moving from Oxford to Glasgow, whichpresented a few problems for the band I played guitar in, Cody. Wecontinued to willfully thumb our collective nose at geographicalscatter as guitarist John Johnson moved to Italy, by recordingexclusively through the post, but it left me with the chance to thinkabout making music solo. Cody had developed a strain of cautious,melodic electronic pop (somewhere between Stereolab, Spring Heel Jackand My Bloody Valentine) a few years too early, and as we scattered andour own tastes developed, I became more immersed in pure electronica,and after a revelatory Pan(a)sonic gig around the same time, Cathodewas hatched.

Several shaky demos, a thousand glitch samplesand one year later, another move to Newcastle-upon-Tyne (this time totrain to be a clinical psychologist) coincided with the first outsideinterest in Cathode. Static Caravan and Unbearable records both agreedto releases, which resulted in a remix on the Unbearable compilationand the first Cathode vinyl - "Exh Cat" c/w "From and Inspired By" onStatic Caravan. This tickled the ears of John Peel for a few preciousminutes, which was enough reason to keep making music in itself. I'dalso been in touch with the estimable Stewart Anderson of 555 Records(then of Leeds, lately of Flagstaff, Arizona) who came good with thesecond proper Cathode release, an EP named "The World and Back", inApril 2002. This EP featured more of a feedback-laptop-rock angle,including our tribute to Queen Street Station (gateway to thetenements), "Glasgow Suburban Electrification".

Thesereleases went down well enough to consider the possibility of playinglive. The debut Cathode gig took place with Hrvratski on the GoldenJubilee 2002 and was not quite disastrous enough to put me offaltogether. Somehow the next show landed up being a support slot forBola and Gescom at Newcastle's Castle Keep. And a Dark Ages spectacularit was too.
The steady guiding hand (and blind faith in Cathode)of the Static Caravan brothers remains important in our world (wewouldn't be where we are today etc etc...) and around this time, theyhappily agreed to a second 7" single which followed in August 2002."Chad Valley" was an attempt at glitch krautrock, which almost ended upbeing used in a TV ad for the French national railway (I'm not makingthis up, you know). "Sundowning", the b-side, generated a collaborationwith Rob Kennedy, who made a beautiful synaesthetic video for the song,which you can see on YouTube. Soon afterwards Rob and I took parttogether in a night at the Side Cinema called C90, taking ourcollaboration live along with other local AV luminaries.

Oddly,all this local activity seemed to meet with people's approval, andbuoyed up by the continuing support of promoters no-fi (now Tusk) andwriter Ian Fletcher, work started in earnest on the first Cathodealbum. Pausing for breath via a split single with Awkward Silence, thesearch began for a suitable home for the album. Expanding Records,based in London, was begun by Ben Edwards as a home for his beautifullywonky analoguia, recorded under the name Benge, and after hassling themfor a bit, Cathode had a new home with Expanding. The label had begunto blossom with a global collection of electronica-merchants includingVessel, vs_price, Stendec and Holkham, all of whom seemed to share anattention to microscopic detail and evident love of melody, which feltlike home.

The album, "Special Measures", was released inMarch 2004, largely the product of desperate attempts at work avoidancein the latter stages of the clinical psychology course. It came housedin a beautiful sleeve depicting the Thames estuary WW2 sea-fortdefences, photographed by Mus Mehmet. These hulking, pseudo-industrialbeasts, stranded and gently withering in their natural environment,seemed to provide just the right mixture of brutalism, technology andreflective melancholy to suit the tunes inside. 

Thealbum opened the door to other interesting projects and collaborations:dabbling with vocals through collaborations with Caro C and CarolineThorp (the latter resulting in the Distraction Records 7”“Chronophobia”); remixes for Bauri, d_rradio, The Unit Ama and others);and some big and exciting gigs, particularly Sweden's Norberg festival,and Newcastle's own Version festival (aboard the decommissioned trawlerMS Stubnitz).  Cathode also established a collaboration withfilmmaker Richard Fenwick, supplying soundtracks for his RND_NE filmscommissioned for AV Festival 2004, and his megadystopian opus“Artificial Worlds 3.0”, the world premiere of which closed the AVFestival 2006 along with a Cathode live performance.

By2008, the second Cathode album “Sparkle Plenty” was complete andreleased on CD by Expanding Records. “Sparkle Plenty” attempted tocoupling the precision and warmth of “Special Measures” with a richersonic palette – for instance, the skittering improv percussion of“Dream Feeder”, the strings, flutes and piano of “Without Memory OrDesire”, or the battered acoustic guitar and ticking clocks of “NightlyBuilds”.  Clincal psychology had some oblique influences on thealbum; the title “Sparkle Plenty” comes from developmental psychologistand psychoanalytic psychotherapist Daniel Stern’s work on infantdevelopment.  “Sparkle Plenty” is his phrase for children whoseway of coping with caregivers who are unresponsive or depressed is to“sparkle” – with lots of smiles, activity and excitement, that masksthe child’s authentic (possibly much lonelier) emotional state. So it fits the record because Cathode’s music has always beenunashamedly about creating something beautiful, which acts to sweetensomething that’s much more melancholy underneath.  The record ledto a performance at the 2009 Big Chill festival and a slap-up write-upin The Wire from David Stubbs.

Alongside Cathode, I’d beeninvolved in a long term collaboration with sound artist and percussivewhirlwind Andrew Hodson, performing as a member of his band The MatineeOrchestra (a pastoral-acoustic ensemble who released an acclaimed debutalbum on Isan’s Arable record label).  Having spent years on livelaptop collaborations, around 2007 we hit upon a set up includingelectronics, live drums and live guitar which seemed to work, and bothbegan to concentrate our energy on this new band, called WarmDigits.  Cathode began to take a back seat as Warm Digits tookflight (releasing two albums so far on Newcastle’s DistractionRecords), and is now more or less in hibernation, waiting for a timewhen it is once again plausible to play live by sitting behind a laptoplooking serious.  Drawing a line under this first phase ofCathode, the two Cathode albums have received digital reissues viaBandcamp and two free download compilations collecting singles, remixesand unreleased work are available – “Before we SplitFrequencies”. 

Steve Jefferis, April 2014.