Interview: Martin Bowes (Attrition)
Martin Bowes is a prominent producer and musician for the legendary British band Attrition. For more than 30 years, Martin has generated music and produced albums for cult groups such as: Psychic TV, Godflesh, Coil, Merzbow, etc … especially for the mythical Cold Spring label. Martin has had a very important approach towards the Latin experimental and gothic music scene. We delve into Bowes’ mind to find out what he thinks about different things. We left a nice interview that I had with Martin.
By Manu Knwell
Martin got a great tour, and have not only made music with Attrition, but you are also a producer, master, and soon will have a label itself. Tell us, how the idea of making their own label, when it starts and which arises expectations you have with him?
Well… even in the very early days…the early 80’s, I came from a background of releasing my own fanzine and i would self release our very first tapes… and out first 12 inch vinyl, “Monkey in a Bin” in 1984 was a joint self release… so i always had that behind me… we signed to labels after that… so through the late 80’s and nineties and up until recently i gave my music to other labels to release…i did appreciate the help with the promotion and distribution and the financing…. but in the end i was doing more and more myself… and i formed Two Gods as a label in 2006…. but first just as a name and i would still license releases to other labels…. but now is the time to take over…. and 2016 will see Two Gods properly born….
And what are your expectations or goals you have with Two Gods, and why did you put that name? Have you any special reason?
Two Gods is from the song of the same name from my 2004 album, “Dante’s Kitchen”…. a song very personal and dear to me… it is looking at relationships…. the Two Gods or partners in any successful relationship… parent/child… lovers… and in this case label and artist…. it works for me…. It will at first be an outlet for all my activities…ATTRITION… my side projects such as ENGRAM, and production work for other bands…and i am already talking to bands about working with them on Two Gods…. i have to be careful to let it grow naturally…to take its time and run its course… i expect nothing…. i think we will be surprised.
I was reading an interview with Blood Axis and they deny the duality that you speak to me, they say it is something imposed by the Judeo-Christian culture, but when you look at cultures as the Inca and visit Machupichu, can realize that everything is a duality what do you think of this?
You told me, in the beginning, I said a few months ago in the city that lived the sound of industries and all it was an everyday thing and , so they began to imitate the sounds and thus was born the industry, were they as their beginnings in the music as a child and teenager and as a way to get to Attrition?
Yes i think thats right Manu…. music expresses our inner self and that is equally affected by our environment…. i started living in small villages but from 5 years old i lived in an industrial city…Coventry…. and of course i took that on board… subconsciously at first…. its just a natural thing…. but i do see industrial music… and punk before it very much as true “folk music”…. a reflection of the everyday…. of the here and the now….
And what was your relationship with the other English bands like Throbbing Gristle of industrial? And which bands reminiscent of the ‘70 or ‘80 that have been lost in time and you want to quote them in this interview, and to some extent were an example for you and your music?
We were not the first wave…. but closely afterwards…. i was personally totally immersed in Punk…. it was the Punk of then not now…it was angry and exciting and could be anything at all it wanted to be…. I wouldn’t have made music if It wasn’t for bands like The Sex Pistols… slightly later as we went through post punk and the original punk was dying i discovered the new pots punk of bands like Joy Division, PIL ,Cabaret Voltaire, early Human League… and that inspired the form of ATTRITION…the early days… i didn’t know the bands… but i did my fanzine so i knew some bands… it helped me reach out even at the start…. later more experimental bands such as SPK and PTV and Chris n Cosey and then the whole “Wild Planet” scene in the UK in the early 80’s that we became a part of… exciting times…. not easy times as this music was “difficult music”…but important music…
Did you take more than 30 years immersed in music, what do you think has been the biggest change that has taken the music industry since the ‘80 until now?
It has changed in many ways and in other ways always stays the same…. musically we’ve seen changes and progressions of sort…certainly stylistically with technology, in a short period its has opened the doors to new music and more people being able to afford to make music without major funding… but the advent of the digital revolution has had its casualties… big changes to the way music is listened to… and a lot of people have not kept up with the changes…. a lot of people complain about the “death of music”… but despite the internet and the way we can consume and the way we can talk to the world, I don’t see much changing since i started…it still comes down to hard work and marketing and… at the end of the day…. making a difference…. and a big part of that means being yourself
We are lining up ATTRITION shows for 2016… festivals in Poland in January and Belgium in March…. and plan a 5 week full tour of the USA in February/March …It’s been a while and i am looking forward to getting out of the producers seat in the studio and taking to the road for a while…it is good for the soul
ahh ok, sorry
We had some amazing times in Mexico (2006) and Brazil (2011)… for both shows we also stayed over a week there so we could explore… i loved the central/south american culture… we played a bigger festival in Brazil with bands like Scarlet Leaves (in fact their singer Claudia sang with ATTRITION)… i’ve known other bands through my studio production/mastering work too… there seems to be a growing scene and i love discovering that…. here may be european influences but there are south american influences in there too….
Yes… carefully listening to the Horse Rotorvator Coil, It has many influences in the music of Latin America, like the first two albums of Kraftwerk who used Zampoña. I have heard that in your latest album has collaborated a member of Kraftwerk, how I came to realize that and can you tell us about your new album?
The latest, “Millions of The Mouthless Dead” is an album inspired by the horrors of the first world war, particularly as my grandfather was involved in the war, and was wounded in 1917… I teamed up with Anni Hogan for this album (you may know her for her work with Marc Almond, Nick Cave and so many others)… and as we had guest speakers reading War poetry, Anni asked her friend Wolfgang Flur if he would like to contribute… he loved the music and so added a spoken word piece to the album… i was honoured.
If one reviews the evolution of his music has gone through several styles without losing its aesthetic that characterizes it, do you have a favorite time of Attrition or a disk that you think is too marked to be one of their best work?
Yes over the years i have experimented with different forms or styles….i need that diversity…but through it all there is a soul gluing it all together….and I can’t choose a favorite attrition album at all… i have some favorite songs perhaps… and of course these change…. “Fate is Smiling” from 1985’s “Smiling, at The Hypogonder Club”… “Two Gods” from 2004’s “Dante’s Kitchen… i would say “A girl called Harmony” as it is probably our most popular song…but very atypical and I don’t always have time for it…. (my divorce song actually… every cloud has a silver lining as someone once said..)
“Soul” gluing it all together it should say!!!
You’ve worked with some labels mastering are of worship in underground and seeing Discogs page has more than 500 works made, and has had the honor to work Coil, what can you tell us about his tireless work as a sound and for you who have been his greatest milestones in his career as a sound engineer and producer?
We always had our own studio even back in the early 80’s…a lot of the early releases were made on our primitive 4 track studio set up…. after that we signed to labels and went to bigger and bigger studios to record…. and i kept learning about it all,.. so by the early 90’s i thought it was time to take control and start up my own studio… The Cage as it became known (from a song on the Hidden Agenda album of that time…) As soon as i had my own studio i could work without labels paying for me and i became very prolific…and other bands asked me to remix them (Die Form was the first band, in 1993)… this went on gradually… i was also teaching music technology at the College here in Coventry for years…. eventually i left the college to take on studio work full time…and in the past 5 years i have done so much mastering and production work for others….its been a good time… a very good time… and to work with some of the bands i started out with like Coil (who played their first show with ATTRITION in 1983 in London)..and Psychic TV and Steven Severin and…so many great acts…. and so many new undiscovered acts too…. the future in effect…. i am so pleased with how this has all turned out…
I could tell, how in in the early ‘80 could you define his sound with synthesizer Korg MS 20?, Why used the Korg and not another?
Well we used a few different synths and drum machines… Korg MS20… which i still have now… EDP Wasp and Gnat, Roland MC202, Yamaha CS30 (which we borrowed from our friend) Transcendent DPX (again borrowed… we used to share out studio space)… and i bought some drum machines like the Dr Rhythmn, and later the Roland TR808 and TR909…. but we also used traditional instruments like bass guitar and persuasion… and effects such as tape loops and delays…. anything we could get our hands on that made sound…. but i guess you are right in that synths like the MS20 were always a strong part of the ATTRITION sound…. we always loved the flexible semi-modular nature of the beast…. it can do wonderful things
What do you think of the role you have now achieved the DJ displacing many times the musicians and what is your opinion on the tribute bands?
DJ’s did become the new pop stars after the massive success of the dance music scenes since the 80’s… although i think that has settled a bit now… and the lines have even blurred a little between DJ and performer… there is room for everything…. except that is… for bloody tribute bands…. what an awful thing they are…. the sad thing is that the public loves them… and they often tour and play for far more money than original artists…. they do contribute to the death of music far more than a lot of modern phenomena…. yes of course a cover or two in your set shows influence and appreciation..if you can interpret it in your own way that can be wonderful… but pretending to be another band…. what the hell is that? plagiarism i believe
I did once think it would be a funny thing to start my own ATTRITION tribute band… i would call it “The Jeopardy Maids” …. we could perhaps make more money than ATTRITION that way .
What is your opinion on the labels of underground music? the vast majority only bet on what is already known and are reissuing old albums and do not want to edit new bands, however talented they are, what is your opinion of this? You not think it’s just a business as do multinational labels.
Of course its never just a business… it is art… of course you have to be careful and work within a business orientation… and i have no problem with reissues and “safer” releases helping to fund a label… in the same way big names might sell a festival or a magazine to people… but it is important…. and exciting…. to present new acts…. always.
You made soundtrack of films tell us how has that experience? When I departed his relationship with the film? Name me and his five favorite movies of all time and recommend three movies that are not famous for the public who reads this will see more interest in art and independent film.
I have always made soundtrack or ambient music as well as the songs… and some of it has been used in TV and film…i also did score a short film….but when we had the opportunity to score a full length movie in 2011 it was something i’d always wanted to do…. it was a completely different way of working…. i learned a lot from that… we released the score on CD in 2012 as “Invocation”…and actually performed it live in Dresden, Germany the following year.
Five favorite movies… well….
As a massive David Lynch fan.. for the imagery as well as the music…. I will start with Eraserhead and Blue Velvet….
A Clockwork orange…again for the iconography…and the amazing music
I have to be trivial and throw in a Zombie film…. i have a weak spot for surreal horror…. so many… but lets say “Dawn of The Dead” (original AND remake)
so that leaves one more…. hmmm
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning… or one of the British kitchen sik dramas of the early 60’s… i love them for the bleak dramatisation…. the portrayal on British life…at a time i was just born…. so they have personal memories for me as a child growing up here.
Recently paid tribute bands to help Nepal, some time ago many experimental and electronic bands are doing a fusion of ethnic elements, do not you think that we are returning to the roots of our ancestors and the future of music will that along with composing with computers or cell phones, but as a more ritualistic and not as flat as it was virtuoso music in the 70s.
I always have felt that anything that is capable of making a sound is an instrument… a drum, a guitar, a violin, a computer, a machine, the sound of nature…the sound of people…. anything at all… i have no real connection to ancestors…. i live in the now… but at the same time… we learn from the past…always.
He told us he had his own zine in the 80s, how about the phenomenon of Web zine? and do you see articulated experimental and industrial underground scene with radio and magazine to support it as it was in the 90s, or are already things are not like at that time?
Yes its been an interesting change for fanzines… the first webzines did quite well i think before social media took over…. and there are some around now but i see them falling apart… and printed magazines too of course…. but there is still a need for them…. things aren’t same as in the 80’s etc… but they are just different… its great getting a post with some news you used to have to wait weeks for…its just we often miss them…i think the new way is ok…but it needs to get better.
What things would you improve overall scene of this belong to?
the problem i see is that you can find out what is happening in say Los Angeles… just as easy as you can find out whats going on in your home town…. there needs to be more preferences to set to make everything more relevant or targeted… It doesn’t work very well at the moment.
Well what happens in my country is that the groups that are known or that play most popular music do not give room for other styles and also the media, whether magazines or radio stations you a space, so I think now online radios or web zine, allow independence and are not subject to the rules that follow the masses.
Yes thats true… online zines…and radio too has become very important… printed magazines are losing sales so are becoming more conservative… although it was always like that to some extent… it was never easy for us to get in the national music press in say the 80’s… but occasionally we did…
I have the impression that the 90 was the best decade for underground music, Attrition discs edited by the label Project and all the bands that existed at that time had a space, label, radios, magazines and fans who supported them, why Cold I get meat industry so far, but from the output of the CD recorder and mp3 decayed much all this, what is your view on this? How can you survive in today underground?
the 90’s were a boom period for many independent bands and labels… certainly for us it went well with our biggest ever CD sales at the end of that decade…. since then and the advent of mp3 and download and now streaming real sales have steadily declined… although the positive side was that music was spread all over the world without the barriers and borders we saw previously… Nowadays with the resurgence of vinyl and limited collectors editions we are very much in a period that reminds me of how i started in my early 80’s independent career…. and i actually like that…. i like producing limited art pieces…. something special… and with sites like Bandcamp they are really helping musicians survive… direct to fans… its never easy… but if you put the time in you will get something back…and in that way nothing has changed…
What do you think of the qualities that are currently doing ?, vinyl as there are many who believe that the quality of existing vinyl is not the same as 80 or 90.
I think that vinyl always varied in quality… 7 inch singles were pretty bad compared to 12 inch albums… and there was recycled vinyl, regular or high quality vinyl (many from japan)… so I don’t think there is a difference… not that i’ve heard…but maybe some parts of the world they are pressing cheaper quality? i’m not sure…
And the format of the highest quality according to the meanest regarding sound quality between these: vinyl, CDs, tapes, MP3, FLAC, audio blu ray, what would be your order?
Well i would actually say wave ort aif (no se que quier s decir aquí) files as these can be of very high quality and are used as the standard when mastering for all these formats…. but FLAC is actually a lossless compression for wave or aif (no se que quier s decir aquí) files so in order…
FLAC audio blu ray or CD Vinyl…. high quality virgin vinyl can be the same or even sound better or “warmer” than CD… but as it ages will deteriorate MP3 Cassette!
whoops… should be… audio blu ray CD.
I saw that you’re always up photos of your concerts 80 and was in a talk was of files to generate a work of contemporary dance or art, how do you get those pictures of 80, youYou cared to have a photographer to take your concerts or record everything has been taken by the same public that going to your concerts?
IO collected everything i could from my career… photos, flyers, press reviews, interviews…i have many scrapbooks going back to 1980…. one day for a book i think… it was hard to get photos in the 80’s…so the ones i do have are very precious
Yes…. i would like to say thank you so much for taking the time to interview me for Novutrefall zine…. if any one wants to hear more of my music do please check out our bandcamp site… We are always looking to play in more places and we really hope we come to play in Chile for the first time soon. all the best. Martin Bowes. Coventry. England. 2016.
Luis Felipe Morandé H.
T. (+569) 4217 7885