That's what up-and coming electro musicians Chakk claim to produce. But would Lonnie Donegan like it?
Chakk have set out to humanise electronics. Andy Darlington gives a progress report.
Vibrasound Studio: 16-tracks of quality you can hear at a mere £10 p.h. in a location of picturesque shabbiness.
Mark Brydon's behind the glass, his hair disarrayed around his deep-furrowed centre parting, hands limpet-clamping the headphones close, drinking the play-back in intense concentration. His bass guitar hangs quivering loose. Studio technician Snake is behind the desk timing bass drop-in points — "shall we try that section again without the bass?" Pale blue digitals tick off the count-in, pin-sharp graphic equalisers rise green, peaking into red.
"I wanna know what Sim thinks". The speakers explode shockwaves of sonic violence, a protracted guerilla war of plaster-cracking rhythms. "It sounds fine" concedes Sim cautiously.
And rules? Chakk make 'em up as they go on. And go on they do!
"We're just working up from the basics of it" explains Alan (Cross). "From now, from this stage on, it gets more and more interesting. Once you get to the saxophones/vocals stage, that's where you get all the soul coming through; because they are essentially human."
Alan plays keyboards. He also plays the studio — this one and others. He's spent time working at Jacobs in Surrey under the wing of Ken Thomas. He was present at recording sessions for Test Department's Beating The Retreat box-set, a Marilyn single, A Day With Haircut 100 and more. He also gets a liner-notes credit on fellow-Sheffield band Hula's Murmer album. His central concern, though, is that 'feel you get off a knob'. His ideal is immediate fingertip response, cutting the pre-thought factor back to the nerve.
"The problem with a lot of it is that the technology is so FRUSTRATING. To get one decent crotchet programmed into that Yamaha CX5 thing you have to press 30 buttons. It seems really wrong to me. You should be able to have an idea — bang it in, try it out, if it doesn't work, try another. But at the moment it's longer than that. That's because a lot of electronics is based on programming which involves a lot of pre-thought."
Chakk see themselves as Electronic Skiffle. They see their role to be to the late '80's what Skiffle was to the '50's, Mersey Beat was to the '60's, and Punk to the '70's. They're out to get 'blood on the tracks'. "If you get enough blood on the tracks you get sparks up your spine off the music — which is what music is. What it should be". They're out to humanise electronics, to get that same human immediacy with keyboards that you get with the sax. That's the ideal.
Chakk is ten-handed. Apart from those belonging to Mark and Alan there's the aforementioned Sim (Lister) who provides sax, Dee Boyle (drums/percussion), and Jake Harries (voice and lyric-scriptor). If you haven't heard their critically acclaimed 12" Out Of The Flesh you probably caught their John Peel sessions.
If you heard neither — you're still in time to catch up. There's a substitute — or 'core' — of highly dance-able Funk bass and/or percussion (organic and generated) with connecting peripherals in a constant state of flux; tracks of distortion, twisted wires, tape feeds and hybrid circuit-loops with built-in indeterminacy. There is no finished complete state. On the 12" there are three mixes of Out of the Flesh — none of them is definitive. Chakk exist somewhere out beyond the territory mapped by Cabaret Voltaire; in the closed environs of Sheffield the references are probably inescapable, but shouldn't be overstated.
For Chakk the studio is as important as the instrumentation. "We've always demo'd on a 1-track" Jake points out. "And that way we save a lot of money. We don't need a lot of expensive gear to get very good sounds".
"It costs money" Sim, "but then the 4-track isn't the end of the world. A lot of people spend money on guitars and amps. But if you twist it around a bit and think in terms of recording... with a lot of bands you study and you get your songs together, but when it comes to recording it's a completely different world, and you have to learn a lot of new stuff. And at the same time — if you're not used to it, you're paying money to learn. Whereas with us it's always been in the group".
The studio is important — but only as a starting point of the creative process, not its culmination. Vis Out of the Flesh — Alan took the two hours of tape produced at Western Works home to his flat for final splicing and editing. "We're used to working in a spontaneous sort of way. Recording ideas as they happen rather than having really worked-out arrangements" explains Sim. "And that's where the editing comes in. We get some ideas on tape — and then we chop it up, we put it back together in a different way and spend time listening to that".
Accepted wisdom of editing is mere cutting excess tape down to a commercially accepted 3-4 minutes radio-programmable product. For Alan — for Chakk — it's a complete creative discipline in itself. "That's what a lot of our motivation comes from. Just trying to prove to people that recording doesn't need to be boring. It doesn't need to be dull. It doesn't need to be technologically wondrous. It's interesting now because technology is just about getting going. We can start using it".
"At the start of it, it was people like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk who all latched onto the idea of electronic music — and they were good. But because it was new they used it as a novelty. It was "this band use only computers, and it's amazing!" They were utilising what was available but their selling point was to have music that wasn't human. They sold it by making it completely mechanical. But now I think people have thought "well, OK, we've done that mechanical thing, why don't we try to use the synthesiser in the same way that you use a viola or a cello?" It should be all seen in the same light. But the technology or the design hasn't quite caught up with that ideal".
He leans back against the Vibrosound studio-glass between punishing takes, and grins in slow motion. "I can't wait till they bring out an electric keyboard that is really designed to play... like you play piano...
Interview by Andy Darlington
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