Trax Magazine Interview March 2003

A long time ago I stopped paying to much attention to non dance electronic music because I thought no new ideas were being shown. Your record was surprising. I thing lots of new concepts of using sound are involved.Where's the secret? Are you mixing a lot of different techniques and equipment?
If there's a secret, it's really only that I try to keep completely focussed on the sound and the song itself - to always be trying to make something beautiful, rather than getting too bound up in technique, programming, software, coding or whatever it is. I think there's a place for that kind of academic understanding of electronic sound, but I try to avoid it with Cathode, rather I'm just using whatever seems to work musically and sonically when you throw some ideas together. Often it's simply about trying to combine things which shouldn't really go together - for instance, very pure minimal glitches with a very jangly, accessible melody.


I think each song adds something very different to the album. I've found the best things of ISAN, Ulrich Schnauss, Boards in Canada, Arovane, Opiate or Lowfish in your record, (don't take me wrong, all done in a completely personal and independent way). All these people are somewhere in between pop and electronic music. Do you think your music is in the middle of these two poles too?
Thanks for the compliments, all those people are acts I'd be happy to be keeping company. I don't want to overstate the importance of "pop electronica", but yes, I do think of cathode in that way. I am interested in experimental and avant-garde music, but quite often it just feels like you listen to it for education rather than because you enjoy it. So part of the idea of cathode, I guess, is to use some of the sounds and ideas from more truly experimental music and couple them with something more obviously beautiful and melodic. Hopefully then, it doesn't sound too tired and derivative of stuff that's already in existence, but neither is it so harsh and self-consciously difficult that you can't actually get any pleasure out of listening to it.


What is, in your opinion, the main thing that lacks in the so-called "melancholic / sentimental electronics"? I'm asking because some music of this type sounds so boring and is good to hear new and original stuff like yours... I'm interested in hearing the point of view of an artist about that.
I think you can tell when people aren't trying. Obviously, professional music production tools are now very freely accessible so in lots of ways producing releasable music is easier than ever before. This democratisation is a really good thing for the most part, I think, but computers sometimes tend to make people lazy: it's easy to come up with one idea and let it loop without doing anything much else for five minutes, and there you have a song, but it makes for pretty boring listening. The other problem is that in "sentimental electronics" there are a few sounds that have come to signify instant sentimental nostalgia a bit too readily (I'm thinking of musicians who are perhaps a bit too devoted to the always-marvellous Boards of Canada here). The emotional component of cathode is pretty important to the whole project, but I hope that it's simply suggestive or faintly evocative of emotion rather than too obviously, like, "here's another sad song about lost youth with a wobbly analogue keyboard to prove it".


Which is your musical background? Do you have experience in band-oriented music?
I played guitar in a string of bands as I grew up, which ranged from the completely ramshackle (a garage band featuring a marvellously unhinged and noisy guitarist who later went on to play in Slowdive) to the almost-famous (an early version of Orlando, which released a single on Sarah records before the rest of the band went on to head a doomed new-romantic revival movement and make a marvellously underrated album for warner brothers). The most stable of all these outfits has been Cody, who released two albums of carefully crafted electronic pop music on Shinkansen records before that style of music became fashionable again... Over the time Cody has been developing since the mid-90s, I've become more and more immersed in electronica, and Cathode is the result.


I think is interesting how a person who has worked in a "traditional" way uses the computer in a solo project. Is quite different than when the person has never been involved in a band. I would say that, in the first case, the music has more profundity and detail...do you agree?
I think playing in a band taught me a lot about what works with sound and what doesn't, and also to know when to discipline yourself - it's almost like you internalise the guffawing of the other band members when you do something that sounds ridiculous - and that reins in your more self-indulgent tendencies when you make music alone.


Shoegazing seems to be re-birthing trough a determinate type of electronic music. I think track number 7 in your cd is a good example of that. Have you been "influenced" by bands like Seefeel or My Bloody Valentine?
Top marks - you're right on the money. I grew up in a town near London called Reading which was also home to Slowdive and Chapterhouse so I used to see them live a lot, and pretty much had my life changed by seeing My Bloody Valentine live around the time of "Isn't Anything". Something about that sound - the symphonic beauty, but also the confrontational, twisted, harsh nature of it, ` will always have an effect on me, same as squeals of guitar feedback ("psychocandy"-era jesus and mary chain is another key influence). In recent years it became a bit too bland, I think, a lot of post-shoegazing music is a bit too chill-out and ambient for my tastes, but certainly coupling that sound with a more contemporary, clicks-and-cuts type approach is something I'm interested in and attempting to do.


Distortion is something that was not in electronic music until a few years ago... Is "malfunction" in electronic music the equivalent of distortion in rock?
I wonder, perhaps it is. Maybe it doesn't have the visceral thrill of distortion, though, but something about the purity and the power of minimal electronics can have something like the same effect as distortion, I think. The first time I saw Pan Sonic I remember thinking they were the electronica world's equivalent of My Bloody Valentine simply because they twin something that, in structural terms, is satisfyingly straightforward, with the immense, overpowering physical effect of their sound.


Cinematic is a word that's been very used to describe the non-vocal and non-dance orientated electronic music. Do you think that this can be said about your music? What kind of movie would you like to put music too?
That's tricky. Of course people are entitled to imagine any imagery they want to the music, and that can be fun. But music and film, I think, sometimes have the effect of cancelling each other out - for instance, even the best, most acadcemically challenging structural avant-garde film making can look like visual wallpaper when you put it next to live music, and similarly, interesting visuals sometimes distract from the music. This isn't to say that we shouldn't try, though. Where there's a proper engagement or collaboration between the music and the films it can work a treat. For example, I was recently lucky enough to make the sound for some short films by the film-maker Richard Fenwick, who had worked previously with Expanding Records; he wanted to make a series of his RND# films in the North East of England, which is where I'm based; and the films are about how individuals and communities engage with and are affected by technology. I won't say too much about the concepts involved in the two films, "Economic Growth" and "On Demand" ( you can see them at www.richardfenwick.com ), because it would determine people's responses too much. But the best thing for me about these works is that it enabled me to make music which engages in some way through the films, socially or politically, with the world: electronic music is, to my mind, in danger of becoming very conservative and homogenised by its disengagement from actually saying anything very much about the world (with some honourable exceptions like Ultra Red, for instance).


Which are you favourite / more influential bands, musicians, labels?
Historically, my influences have been people who've done something twisted and beautiful with guitars: My Bloody Valentine, Ultra Vivid Scene, Wire, mid-period 4AD records. Recently I've been heavily influenced by modern electronic minimalists like Pan Sonic, Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto), and Ryoji Ikeda: basically, they allow you to revel in the beautiful presence of very simple sounds through stripping texture right down to the basics.


What current records / bands / musicians / labels are you interested in?
I'm really happy to be working with Expanding - they have a really high quality roster of artists right now, the new Stendec and Holkham albums are a treat. Other than that, I'm enjoying listening to a mixture of stuff - some more "academic" electronica (raster-noton, merzbow, so (markus popp + eriko toyoda)), some more melodic stuff (Randomnumber's album, Robert Lippok's Komeit remix album) and some electronic gonzo silliness - Kevin Blechdom at Transmediale was the best show I've seen in ages. Oh, and the new Blonde Redhead album - slicker than normal, but there's a band who really know how to make emotionally resonant music.


What projects do you have in mind now?
There are several things in the pipeline: an EP for a new label from north-east England, bit_part, for which I'll be experimenting with using guest vocals (cathode has been entirely instrumental so far); a 7" for Zeal records of Belgium, and compilation appearances for Catmobile and Static Caravan. I'm also very keen to do another record with Expanding a little way down the line.