Wearing Down The Beat
We talk to synth punk band Attrition. Will they wear you down?
Martin Moody talks to post-punk synth independents Attrition
Mention the independent music scene to most people these days, and they'll laugh. Between the Postcard Pretenders and the Very Rough Trade there's little room for anything offering a genuine alternative to Wunnderful' Radio One.
There are honourable exceptions of course. Crass, Microdisney and a few others prevent the banner of 'Independant' becoming just a shroud for every disillusioned glue-sniffer, old hippy and new wimp who can hold down a chord.
Another band doing their bit for the cause is Attrition, a combo distinguished by a largely electronic sound in a field where guitars, soft or savage, rule. They have achieved their present line up of Martin Bows (Vocals, percussion), Ashley (Synths) and Chryss (Vocals, Bass, Synth) after four long years of studio experimentation and live performance with acts like The Legendary Pink Dots.
The band (supplemented on stage by Alan Rider's slides and with instrumental assistance from other friends) in fact forms the nucleus of a well-organised production and distribution set up, Adventures In Reality Recordings (a.k.a. The Terminal Kaleidoscope).
Begun originally to propagate the work of Attrition and various other projects the band members became involved in, Adventures has expanded, through its connection with The Cartel independant distribution network, to marketing of tapes, discs and videos, from bands and performance groups around the world. (Their excellent informative catalogue can be had for the price of an S.A.E. from: Adventures in Reality, (Contact Details). Interested bands should contact them at the same address — Ed.) The band's first album, The Attrition of Reason, has recently been released, and a follow up E.P. is planned: both showcase the band's diversity, ranging in style from hard edged disco reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire to almost abstract, 'soundtrack' music, which at its best evokes Carpenter's scores.
Surprisingly, though, the complex weave of much of Attrition's work is achieved on largely 'obsolete' and second hand gear — a consequence of their independent stance, which has denied them the fat record company advances enjoyed by many of their erstwhile compilation-album colleagues.
Impressed both by their sound and the spirit behind it, I paid a visit to their tiny office-cum-home in Walthamstow, and, surrounded by Attrition ephemera and mail order catalogues, got down to it with the voluble Ash, with occasional interjections from Martin. Chryss meanwhile (she of the haunting vocals) occupied herself with the far more important business of organising that day's mail-order work.
I understand that you've been through a few line-up changes since the band formed Ash?
"Yes — though it's a more or less stable arrangement now. I'm going to University soon, so I'll just be a recording member of the band, but me, Chryss and Martin form a nucleus with fluid edges,"
("Sounds horrible!" Martin interjects).
"...for gigs, we get in other people to help us out sometimes."
How could you describe the music you make — Martin?
"Well... it aint Rock 'n' Roll!"
"We cover a lot of ground," Ash adds "Everything from Dance tracks to soundtracks — imaginary ones as yet, coz no-one's asked us to do a real one — but we are going to provide the music for a video some friends of ours are making."
Bands like S.P.K. and Chris and Cosey spring to my mind in connection with your sound — woud you agree?
Ash again: "To an extent — we've been on compilation albums with them both but, although we've all used very similar set-ups, I think there are important differences. Chris and Cosey, for instance, have a very electronic sound, whereas we go for more acoustic effects — either on the synths we use, or by using real acoustic instruments."
Yes, I noticed on the album what seemed to be real cello — Was it?
Ash: "In fact, it was bowed Bass guitar — but it shows you the kind of things you can come up with just by using a little imagination."
Martin: "We always try to avoid the obvious. Like with drum machines. We've got a TR808, which so many people have used just with the 'straight out of the packet' sound. We always alter it, through effects, or by processing it through a Korg MS20."
The band are big fans of this machine, referring to it constantly throughout our conversation, and championing its open-endedness against even the best of the current crop of programmable polys. "They are all good" Martin continues, "at sounding like a certain range of real instruments — strings and so on — but they're too nice... they're the machines the Musician's Union should have been warning us against."
How do you go about writing a track?
Ashley: "The workhorses of the band are the TR808 and an MC202. I tend to write most of the sequences, and Martin most of the drum tracks, but everyone in the band is familiar with all the instruments and recording equipment, so it's not a rigid arrangement.
Then it's a matter of putting down a sync-code on tape — the 234 Syncassette,"
Ashely: "Better quality than the 144 we were using — but we've outgrown 4-track. All our releases are done on hired 8-track, with the 4-track being kept for backing tapes and demoing new material. As soon as we can afford it, we'll get our own 8-track."
"The big advantage of any multitrack for a band like us, though," says Martin, "Is that it lets each member put down ideas of their own, or work on other peoples, whenever they feel like it — we've never got together and 'jammed'."
Why did you go for the mixerless Syncassette, instead of, say, a 244?
Ashley: "We tend to go in for creative mixing. Every time we do a gig, we remix the backing tape, for instance — so it was important for us to have a good mixer from the start. We got a Studiomaster 8 into 4, which has excellent dual parametric Eq — so it was pointless buying a Portastudio, and end up paying for a mixer we wouldn't use."
I understand that over the years, you've accumulated a weird and wonderful collection of instruments. What are your favourites?
Ashley "The MS 20, of course the Korg Mono/poly, its four oscillators make it a very powerful mono, and it does have that poly side, which isn't great, but can be useful..."
Martin adds: "We've just got access to another band's OSCar. We haven't really had a chance to use it yet, but the memories and sequencer look great. We've also just got a Boss DDL — the 'sampling' hold function is brilliant, the poor man's A.M.S. I don't know how we got by without it."
A brief look round their studio (a converted bedroom) revealed a Roland SH09 Organ/String machine, a Yamaha CS3 mono, a 'retired' (broken) Gnat, and a selection of mikes, effects, guitars, percussion and general junk. In one corner, there was even a functioning harmonium. All are likely to be called into service on a track, and monitored through an ageing but reliable Schneider hi-fi.
"Gated and compressed drum sounds — especially cymbals — we love the pumping effect you're not supposed to get. Gated vocals, to get a 'chopped up' effect... double tempo, half speed tracks, to thicken up the sound... good 'ol BBC Sound Effects records!"
Plans for the future? Martin gets the last word: "I dunno — I just hope that it's always something different."
With the attitude — and the gear they've got, I would have thought the chance of Attrition wearing themselves out are pretty slim.
Interview by Martin Moody
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!