Replicating the style of Cassette Boy’s cut-up was the objective here. Check out Chris Malbon’s beautiful design. For full effect you need to compare Side A with Side B (pages 1 and 2)
Category Archives: Blowback magazine
I saw Ron English’s art before I saw his billboard work, but in the end it was this double identity that interested me.
A documentary about him was looking to do a UK festival tour and I contacted him through the site. A full two years before the Guardian Guide picked up on him
The double lives of Ron English
It’s 10.30 in the morning, New York time. Ron English got up, had his breakfast with the family, said goodbye to his wife, dropped the kids off at school then came to his studio.
Most days he paints, creating modern day mash up pictures, Marilyn Monroe with Mickey Mouse breasts or fat McDonalds clowns – perverting modern icons so they carry a new message. Today we’ve got half an hour to chat before his crew come by and they do billboards. By doing billboards I mean, reacting to the subliminal buy messages and subverting them and exposing a new ‘truth.’ He’s not the only person doing this,
America has a whole billboard liberation network, Ron explains,
‘Actually the Billboard Liberation Front are in San Francisco. It’s kind of like I’m New York they’re San Francisco and the Californian Department of corrections is LA. We work together, I was in San Francisco the month before last to do a billboard with those guys. We think them up together over some beers and then do one over.’
Since moving from Texas, English changes his own crew on a weekly basis,
‘I have a waiting list of people who want to go out with me. So I try and use different people every time now. A lot of people just want to do it one time you know? It’s a lot better to have a hardcore crew because some of the stuff is really dangerous….There’s two I’m doing today and half the scaffolding has already fallen through. Usually in
New York city, the scaffolding is all metal. Broadly speaking, if you have a fifteen foot ladder you can get to any billboard in America – except the ones that are on top of buildings. Even 10 years ago people didn’t lock the buildings, you could go up the stairwell and climb up almost anywhere in New York. Now you have to make some kind of contact that will buzz you in.’
I fantasize momentarily about Fight Club style military operations, involving a three changes of clothes and various swipe card jamming operations. English brings me back down to earth.
‘I just wear T-shirts and jeans that’s what real billboard guys wear. They’re blue collar workers, you know?’
I imagine it must be a bit less dangerous to do it in New York as people are (generally) more liberal.
‘I found that the great thing about New York is that the media is here and if you’re doing the billboard to get a message out to people, they’ll amplify your message…I left Texas because I had a second degree felony out of there. I’d go to prison for a long time if I ever did anything else. That’s the attitude, when you doing someone’s billboard – that’s private property. They’re very into private property down there.’
I balk at this with a adolescent rant about how billboards invade my intellectual privacy and that New York must have billboard liberation because the shit you’re fed at any corner.
‘Yeah,’ agrees Ron ‘Also the billboards are always in impoverished neighbourhoods. You’ll never go to Belle Air and see a billboard, they’re protected from them. Since poor people don’t own their own buildings, someone will come and stick a big liquor add for their kids to look at every day.’
Ron has been quoted as ‘tickling corporate culture’s funny bone’ but it seems to me that there is a lot of anger present.
‘I would say it’s driven by a sense of civic duty, and the humour is necessary because you can actually transmit ideas through humour. It buffers the idea giving people a lot of time to absorb the idea instead of resisting it. People don’t like dogma and people don’t like being told what to do. Humour allows you to think about the other side for a second without feeling threatened and adopt the defensive posture.’
I wonder what Groening thinks about Homer Simpson being transformed into an intense abstract painter.
‘I’m actually friends with Matt Groening you know him? Some people are like “what does he think about people stealing his stuff,” he thinks it’s great, but he’s still an artist. The thing is an artist creates something, then it’s taken away from them by the corporations and the guy who’s not an artist isn’t going to understand where this stuff has come from. They’re not going to understand the creative process they’re just going to exploit it. Artists understand it’s like the old blues guys, everybody learns from everybody and everybody takes a little from everything. It’s an ongoing community.’
I burst into another rant about how, if The Simpsons was a plain sitcom it wouldn’t get broadcast but the cartoon element buffers the message.
‘Also if you realise The Simpsons is the most progressive show we have and it’s on Fox the most right wing station. Those guys don’t have news, just pure propaganda then they have The Simpsons because it makes so much money.’
How would you feel if corporations offered you money to do something?
‘I have no problem with that!’ laughs English ‘Obviously I don’t get many offers because people are really nervous of me. I had an incident with Camel around the time I was doing the Cancer Kids stuff. One day I get a call from their ad company in Chicago, they were saying they were launching a new campaign. I didn’t ask them why they were calling me, I just thought they wanted me to quit fucking with them, and they were paying me off. But they wanted me to work for them. I think it was because I was also known as a painter in
New York and they were looking for these down town celebrity painters. I don’t think they understood about this other side of me which was the billboard liberator.’
‘I didn’t know what to do then my wife just said “good let them pay for your bill boards!” What I did was, their new angle was to go for the trip hop crowd. There is this trick I used to do in my younger photography days, where if you take a skull and elongated it so you can’t tell what it is any more, if you stand sideways to it you can see the skull. I did all these streaky skulls, when you looked at it straight, it was a camel on top of a psychedelic pattern but if you went under the billboard and looked up you could see a skull bone looking at you. They were putting these billboards up all over the country until someone finally looked up and went “oh fuck!”’
English laughs and I laugh too. The crew swing by and English, dons his T-shirts and jeans and steps through the door – Mr Benn style – into another life.
Still going with the strong thematic links. Issue 8 in June 04 of Blowback was an extreme sports edition. Not bad, considering not a single one of us was very active in anything other than magazine production. With the article I hoped to reflect the way the film worked by dropping the main Gator bomb halfway through the piece.
Helen Stickler is wrapping up Gator’s story for everyone
On one level the story of Stoked is the story of Mark Gator Rogowski. On another it is the story of skateboarding.
‘Beyond the horrible tragedy of it, it was something that people still had strong feelings about,’ agrees director Helen Stickler. ‘Gator’s experience echoed their feelings with the transition from vert to street skating and the whole economic decline of the late 80s. All the fads and trends changed at once – music went from big haired bands to grunge. There was a real radical shift for people who were Gator’s contemporaries, by bringing us his story they were able to bring some closure to that.’
Gator was a real 80s product. When he started out he was earning a few dollars for pulling off moves in abandoned swimming pools, at his peak he was earning millions. Gator oozed star quality and he was bottled up and pushed out, he was the face of Vision, his own skate decks were best sellers and his appearance at vert skate shows, induced hysteria. But when that started to fade he couldn’t deal with his emotions.
‘In sports that are male dominated you tend not to have forums for guys to talk openly about their feelings!’ agrees Stickler ‘Which was definitely Gator’s problem, because in the 80s it was taboo to go into therapy or have all of the kind of medication, this was like, pre-Prozac.’
‘Anyone from a particular generation can remember the 80s so vividly and Gator’s story seemed to epitomize more than just himself. It was more about the collective experience of a lot of people but his was definitely a lot more extreme.’
The beginning of the film encourages the collective experience of those early days. The way it is edited with star wipes and overlays and the Dead Kennedy / Minor Threat soundtrack is reminiscent of those early skating videos.
‘I used the video program, Toaster and other technology from back then. To begin with, it was going to be a bit more extreme. At the end of the day, I’m quite happy with what we did. I didn’t want it to be too campy because it is a documentary and a tragic story. Keeping that in mind, I wanted the first third of the film to allow the audience to experience the fun of skateboarding and for them to get excited about it the way that Gator and all the others were excited about it when their careers are started.’
‘Although the crime is for-shadowed at the beginning of the film as you hear him [Gator] from prison, there’s actually 40 minutes where I don’t bring his voice in. I wanted people to forget about the fact that he’s gone and live in it real time.’
The story keeps rolling by in chronological order. Then the cracks begin to show, in one scene Gator is trying desperately to learn new street moves with two other pros on camera,
‘It was shot for Vision and I think what happened is Vision went “Why don’t you do street skating? It’s what the kids are doing now.” Most Vert guys didn’t want to street skate, it’s a radically different discipline for them, it’s not interesting, it didn’t feel good. You can see all these human factors there, he’s embarrassed and angry with himself, he’s being filmed, so he’s under pressure, and it builds and builds, and the two other pros are moving further and further away!’
Not one thing is blamed for what happened to Mark. It’s never as simple as ‘Vision pushed him too far’ or ‘porn made him do it’ it clearly points out that it is a culmination of events.
‘One thing I felt strongly about the film is there is no easy answer, it’s a combination of all these different elements. If you took anyone apart from the others it probably wouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t one thing or another, it’s a lifetime, which is why I wanted to pack 10 years into the film. So it wasn’t just the crime, nothing just happens in one night.
The rumours continue though,
‘These are the rumours I was trying to squash but they live on because people don’t realize – if it’s not in the film, it probably isn’t true. It is such an urban legend. The other thing about skateboarding is people want to be in the know because it is such a gossipy small world. There is still a lot of stuff flying around, it’s no big deal.’
Helen explains her version of events,
‘It’s described as cognitive dissonance. He was trying very much to lead this Christ like path, becoming a born again Christian. He’d been on this path for several months, however he was still Gator and the things about his previous lifestyle would come back again and get to him. The night he committed the crime he drank heavily and he’d not been drinking for a quite a while. He hadn’t been hanging out with flirtatious women, which Jessica was, and he’d hung out with her for the entire day. He told me he took out a lot of hatred of himself on Jessica.. He was going through this severe identity crisis and couldn’t deal with who he was – things he’d done and things he wanted to do. He had anger about his girlfriend leaving him and his career, his friends, frustration of what’s next – it all boiled up at once…poor girl.’
At the end of the film all that remains is everyone else, attempting to come to terms with seismic reverberations that Gator left both in California and the world wide skateboarding community,
‘I didn’t want to be the person who came along and picked at the scab. But, to use the cheesy analogy, it obviously was a scab that hadn’t healed. All the raw emotion that I encountered was discouraging in a way but encouraging in another, because I felt there really is something here that could strike a nerve with people and resonate.’
The interview with Peter Saville was something that I’ll always treasure. It took about 6 weeks of persistant pestering. Finally one Saturday morning he allowed me to call him and we spoke for over 2 hours. Even the version I put in Blowback (with my voice completely removed) didn’t do him justice.
Now follows the version I would have liked to have published which clocks up a 2600 word count. Enjoy!
Skipping The Groove
Peter Saville finds a place in history
I’ve been thinking what the essence of my work is, ever since I’ve started to find somewhere to work other than the music industry. The feeling that ‘is there life after this?’ was an issue as early as the late 80s. I became friends with Robert Longer through New Order and he began to encourage me along the lines that maybe I could operate somewhere in the sphere of art if I wanted. He said to me one day ‘Hey man, you’re an artist’ and I laughed because I hadn’t really thought about it.
We didn’t know much about contemporary art when I grew up in
England. It’s ubiquitous now, it’s a recognised part of popular culture, and yet there was no such relationship back in the 70s. I was 20 in 1975, then to me contemporary modern art was another planet. You knew about it and you knew that some people somewhere doing it, probably in
New York. However, if you went off to art college, all the groovy aware kids were in the applied arts: fashion, or textile design or graphics or photography.
I did find this free zone for myself in doing music and it appealed to me when I was 20 because it was groovy. But it also suited me, I don’t think I understood then quite how quintessentially it suited me. I was young, I had trained properly in Graphic Design, I just presumed as I got older I would naturally orientate towards the normal world. Because the music industry, as we know, isn’t the real world, it’s a post adolescent playground.
So in 1988 aged 33, I was making these tentative steps towards adult hood. I’d started working for the White Chapel gallery, for Nick Serota. He was encouraging me, like an amazing tutor who is demanding on you but doesn’t have a narrow preconception in which you must perform. I soon started working for Mark Asterly, a stylist in
Paris and then for Yohji Yamamoto. Yohji is a similarly open minded person. He wanted a spark of inspiration which wasn’t the conventional. The entry level was encouraging – but they didn’t make any money!
I’d seen my music work influence the high street, then I began to see my gallery work and fashion work begin to influence the high street. And this was a very nice feeling but I had a studio of about 8 people. We were in a way the R and D department, exploring the new territory. More often than not getting it right, and seeing more commercially positioned organisations selling it to the high st. They were making money and I was just losing money.
The reason for its conceptual success, I think was certain principles that I’d carried throughout my life. I always wanted to improve and enhance, I always wanted to make things better and to go a bit further. This got me fired up in the first place, from my Graphics studies I saw how amazing it could be. I was looking out from
Manchester to the rest of the world and I saw a Roxy Music cover or a Kraftwerk cover or Italian Vogue, and I saw a quality that you could aspire to. Then I’d look at everyday life and see it shabbily done – so limited in its scope. I knew it could be better. We’d look in our history books and see the works of Bauhaus and classical designers and thought ‘it can be breathtaking.’ There was a sense of a crusade to do more and go further.
The idea of doing a record cover with a musician on the front was just banal, we didn’t need that anymore. You know what this person looks like and you will see them in the press. If it is a musician whose entire ouevre is about their personality like Frank Sinatra, then fine. If you’re dealing with a person whose work is abstract, can’t we go somewhere with the connotations?
I entered this phase in the early 90s trying to find a comfort zone for me in the real world but still with the mission to improve and enhance. And it didn’t work. To a certain extent I’d been spoilt for too long, by having a whole decade through Factory I’d had an almost fine art way of expressing myself. The hard service orientated discipline of high end graphic design was really difficult for me. In fact I didn’t really want to do it. It was hard work in a passive and highly reactive way.
It’s not about taking things somewhere – it’s about service from the clients point of view, the purpose of which is profitability and from your studio’s point of view the purpose of that is also profitability, and if you don’t do that then it doesn’t work. I realised, what drove my studio was something between Ultraism and vanity – and I was bankrupted in 1990. It worked culturally and it worked for my ego and sense of freedom, but it was broke.
So I was forced to face this in 1990 and I spent all of the 90s coming to terms with it. It started this process of, ‘what am I about?’ and during this period I built up an enormous amount of unpublished work, because I had no free zone in which to express myself. Factory had finished, New Order had deconstructed for a while. The thinking of my 30s wasn’t appropriate for a record covers anyway, there was this transition from surface to content.
There’s a piece I did for Yohji called Game Over and that’s the beginning of me thinking about content, but in a service industry they don’t have any use for it. Increasingly in the 90s my feelings about the commidification of culture began to be quite negative, so my own produce content was increasingly at odds with what the commercial sector would want. I was increasingly thinking we don’t need this so I don’t have any feelings for promoting it. Even when I started working with Dior and Nick Knight, it was exciting, but once I’d met the people who ran Dior I loathed and despised them. I thought I don’t want to improve and enhance a façade for very ugly people to hide behind. So I couldn’t focus on it.
Now Yohji was a kindred spirit to that extent. The first real campaign I did for him was in the early 90s and by then he’d got sick of it all. By the end of the 80’s he was tired of this gratuitous consumption and he started to make some collections that were, like Andy Goldworthy’s art, things you couldn’t buy. About this time he saw my album work and he called me and asked me if I would do something like that – without models or clothes.
So the first project was Game Over, he’d done a men’s collection that was like negative pop. The next collection was for a women’s and for that he just went bonkers! You couldn’t wear the clothes. His idea was, you can’t sell this, nobody will buy it. That’s the beginning of me thinking about content but in a service industry they don’t have any use for it. It’s not what a client wants, you have to sit down and think about what is right for this client occasionally it brushes with something you care about then that’s good. Increasingly in the nineties my feelings about the commodification of culture began to be quite negative, so my own produce content was increasingly at odds with what the commercial sector would want. I increasingly thinking we don’t need this so I don’t have any feelings for promoting it. Even when I started working with Dior and Nick Knight it was exciting, but once I started to meet the people who ran Dior I loathed and despised them. I thought I don’t want to improve and enhance a façade for very ugly people to hide behind. So I couldn’t focus on it.
The magazines hated the Y campaign. In
America the people who stocked his clothes, refused to pay for his advertising. It’s funny because if you look at a Condor Garcon shirt ad now, it’s fine. Back in 1991 if it didn’t have clothes in it they wouldn’t let you do it, What happened in between was, design became the new advertising.
By 2000 I was able to stop worrying about it…what happened was my history caught up with me. In the late 90s I was rehabilitated as a legend, they came and searched me out. In fact I’d carried on doing a few groovy things like Suede and Pulp. I hadn’t sold out, I hadn’t started doing Findus Fish Finger packaging. In fact I was still great. I’d retained my value and most importantly I hadn’t sold out.
So the retrospective pedestal started to be built for me which concluded with the book from Frieze and the show. I’ve seen myself since then become my own brand. I’ve almost transcended the service because people talk about Peter Saville as a thing. It doesn’t matter what I do, the fact that I’ve done it is a quality. The last few years have been what do I do with my own brand?
Now over my lifetime, the everyday person in the
UK began increasingly sharing in a thing that we now call lifestyle. The last piece in my show is a print saying ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ If you look now at what became of all this on one side it is better, on another it wasn’t supposed to be a tax on the people. It wasn’t supposed to make them addicts.
What I don’t like is the corporate abuse of counter culture. It’s over the counter culture the multinational large companies have figured out how to commoditise spirit. I wrote in my note book the other day ‘Smells like teen spirit? Sells like teen spirit’ Because it used to mean something and you used to be able to rely on it so if I walked down the road to a shop or café and it had a design sensibility that suggested to me positive things about the shop they were turned on and it was the best place to go. When I walk down the street now and see a designed shop it’s like a warning sign! It’s like you’re going to get fucked in here and you don’t need it.
Last summer I made a note in my note book, pop culture in the 60s was like LSD: a bit dangerous but exciting and definitely mind expanding. Everyone who’s taken LSD goes ‘wow I’d seen things I’d never seen before.’ Pop culture now is like Crack. There are no redeeming features to Crack, it will numb you out for a while, it’s totally addictive and will kill you
A case has been put for saying that my True Faith record cover was supposed to epitomise the E generation. Strictly speaking it isn’t. But the principal behind my cover designs is they’re open to interpretation. A place where I like to put my work is in between things, somewhere between the fact of a thing and the feeling of the recipient, I interject in the zone between the two.
Here are the facts: New Order write a song called True Faith that does have something to do with drugs and something to do with Bernard having a child, – that’s a fact – the audience has their own opinions and in between the two I put something. I intersect that zone with an image that is open to interpretation. This is why I didn’t like putting titles on things because it was so concrete and obvious. I quite like this imagery being an indefinite thing, it’s like a palinthset it’s open to interpretation.
For something like a record cover that suits me because it all means different things to different people. So when I am confronted someone’s luscious chocolate bar, there’s nowhere to dream. There’s a big difference between a bunch of musicians and a song which in a way is quite genuine, and a carefully cynically considered new television set which isn’t even the best they can do it’s the one they’re going to do this season, there’s nothing very honourable there. This is a lie. Can I make people dream about that? I don’t really want to.
The professional work for hire is more defined and categorised, even doing a Pulp or Suede cover is Jarvis or Brett’s cover and it’s John Galliano’s Dior campaign. I’m the facilitator that helps them realise their vision. It’s very mercenary but for nice countries. If they’re for countries I don’t believe in and they just want me to kill people, then I don’t agree.
Alongside that it’s this tentative attempt at dipping my toe in water, how can I make my own things? The Taxi project with Julian Mori was for
London records building, there were 12 sound graphs. They asked me to make pieces to go in the building so it was commissioned, but it wasn’t selling anything.
Another piece is the 3D rendering of Unknown Pleasures. I thought, every other fucker on earth has done something on Unknown Pleasures why don’t I? It’s a thing now – wherever I go in the world I see a fucking t-shirt. So I’m exploring Unknown Pleasures as a myth. Bill Holding at morph works in 3D render programs and he started it. I was able to see how it was interesting. It’s kind of virtual still but it’s a thing.
I don’t have a fixed opinion about art yet. But there’s something quite northern and pragmatic about me. If you see what I do in an art gallery it’s quite revealing. I’ll go through the rooms in about 5 minutes, unless something really strikes a chord with me and I look at it for ages. I then go to the shop and I’ll spend hours in there. I’m particularly fascinated about the point where art and life meet. For me art that lives in isolation is not interesting as an end in itself. What I’m interested in is art evolving and enhancing life. That’s why I like the shop because I can see how it’s effecting the ephemera of life and how it can intersects with how we live. That for me is the important bit, unless the wonderous is filtered into the everyday what’s the point?
When I did a record cover, it went into homes, it affects people, it changes things. One pet theory about this designer era was we brokered art into the mainstream. By using pop medium as a platform for change and cultural awareness, we got them young, in something they loved anyway. The music took it to their hearts and it delivered a message to their heads. Without the music it would not have been delivered. What was delivered was something that was relevant post adolescence. Kids in the 60s probably had loads of Grateful Dead ephemera but when they came back from college it wasn’t going to be part of life, so they shed it like a skin and moved on. People who grew up on Factory haven’t shed that skin, in fact I meet them now and they want business cards like their New Order record covers. So the music delivered it to impressionable souls at an impressionable time.
I find this quite an interesting thing that Design UK was delivered through music. The culmination of it that is on Wednesday of this week I was appointed Creative Director of the City of
Manchester. I’m not sure what the job involves yet but this is surely a new phase.
As I explain in the intro we were really big fans of Hexstatic.
To represent or ‘blowback’ this feeling of prostration, this is one of the first articles I wrote where I admitted my ill prepared short comings. It’s also a time when I let the artists speak freely (whereas in the past I was used to wrapping up my articles in explanatory dialogue)as it portrayed more of their working relationship and banter.
I Feel So Hexstatic!
Too much can be a bad thing
The prospect of Hexstatic playing Zoetrope, underneath Blowback towers, has got me a little over hexcited. I turn up at the sound (and vision) check to meet the boys, only to find that I can’t take them upstairs as I’ve left my swipe card in the office. No-one can let me in as, everyone else is at home getting ready to come out later. We shuffle into The Kitchen, (the venue not, actually a kitchen.) with me rooting through my bag only to realise I’ve left my Dictaphone…and the questions upstairs too. Things are not working out.
More kerfuffling ensues as we’re told that the bottle of wine Stuart’s been carrying round, can’t be drunk here. The waitress eventually sees the look of dire need in my eyes and relents. I take a glass.
I break the ice by telling Robin and Stuart about when we started the Blowback – all those months ago – we had a wish list of people we wanted to interview. Hexstatic was on it. Their heavy mash up mixture of breaks, beats, Cliff Richard and whatever generally got a party going, expertly combined with a visual eye fest that has reduced MTV flickers to tears of joy; was one of Blowback’s earliest baptism moments. They are, in short, directly responsible for influencing the gorgeous beast. I’m met with awkward flattered silence. Okay, it wasn’t really a question, as such, what does it feel like to be heroes?
R: Oh I don’t know, we play the 333 quite a lot and people tend to lump us in with them. But we take it quite modestly I suppose.
S: It’s funny because we were always doing our own thing. And now it really does seem like the future. We’ve never really been over involved with Avit’s site or huge technical improvements or anything. We’re always pushing it though. I mean I’ve got a new Mac and y’know it’s a brand new laptop and I already feel like I might be stretching it.
R: Now it’s something to be a VJ though. There’s been a real development in software and equipment. V-Jammin’ and better programmes for editing and looping.
S: I’ve got this DVD mixer, which is amazing! We’ve got the new Ninja DVD on it so we’re going to mess with that. But we are throwing things in all the time – the set is evolving as we play.
R: We like, build off the set, we’re throwing out the things that don’t work and he’ll either bring something new to it, or I will. It does get difficult, you get into set routines after about 30 or 40 shows. But tonight, well we haven’t played for a while so we’re just going to mess with it.
R: We don’t really have rehearsals. I didn’t like the idea from the start.
Tomorrow Hexstatic play the Lille Capital Of Culture festivities. Over on the continent they look at visuals in a different way, more prestige is given to the visual artiste.
R: Well we’ve played The Guggenheim Musuem (laughs) that was surreal.
S: We don’t do this for chin strokers
There has been a slightly more, goatee growing political angle to some of Hexstatic’s work. Back in ‘98 working with Coldcut as Hex, they did a Greenpeace record called Timber, which featured sampled up rainforest carnage. Recently pictures of George Bush and chimps have appeared in the live show.
S: [Conceding] Well it’s kind of there. The Timber track was more for Coldcut really, but mostly we’re in it for the laugh.
R: We’ve kind of found that a lot of people who do visuals are quite political. Y’know The Light Surgeons etc…
S: Infact when we were over in Chicago, some people from the audience actually thanked us because we weren’t political. It was like ‘Thank God there’s only so much 9/11 stuff we can take.’
R: We enjoy it. We’re about having fun. If we weren’t having fun we wouldn’t do it.
I launch into a rubbish speech about how you can’t produce art if you’re unhappy. Complete balls. Robin bails me out by saying,
R: We want people to have a good time.
S: I’ve never done a gig sober I don’t think… Well the name Hexstatic is a homage to that life style I suppose.
R: Yeah I did a bootleg with Flawless and Eminem’s Purple Pills, that was supposed to be the ultimate pilled up anthem.
S: I’ve never thought what it would be like to experience it sober.
Funnily enough neither have I! Stuart takes another glass of wine, Robin unfortunately, has to drive tonight. The pizzas arrive and we’re told we most certainly cannot eat that in The Kitchen. Others Blowbackers arrive and say equally as dumb things to the boys as the night properly begins. We get smashed.
I remember Bush’s leering face, Nancy Sinatra doing Drum n Bass, Julie Andrews doing something unmentionable and Cliff being totally wired. I remember laughing my arse off, dancing and everyone looking, talking bollocks to a French guy… fragments to piece together in the morning.
I’ve included this article in my “best of” as I believe it shows diversity and most importantly love. Passion was a massive element of the Blowback model and this special valentine’s edition really lived up to our wishes.
The article as itself suffers slightly from deadline furore and PR deferrals. Originally we wanted to talk to Ian Dewhirst about his acquisition and to present the history and maybe even get him to write a personal journey with Salsoul. We ended up chatting to Danny Krivit about his involvement with the label. The interview was held by Carl (Carlos) Platt. I also felt it important to measure the historical impact of the label throughout the years.. Big up must also be given for the design of this article (by Tim Jones) which took the Salsoul rainbow and changed it into rippling hearts.
Love Sensation For Salsoul there really weren’t no mountain high enough
Salsoul records was founded by three brothers in1974. Having made a modest fortune in distributing Latino music their ambition was to combine the rhythms of Salsa with burgeoning New York Soul music to expand beyond their community. 30 years later it is difficult to imagine how the dance community would have turned out without them. Salsoul records brought together a whole slew of talents and inspired a whole load more. Salsoul spread love.
Regardless of their early dreams, by 1975 Disco was taking hold of New York, working his first residence at Trude Heller’s was Danny Krivit.
‘My first awareness of Salsoul was being sent their first promo 12” in the mail that year. I remember it as one of the first 12” anywhere – Floyd Smith: I Just Can’t Give You Up. It was the next year with Double Exposure “Ten Percent” and the first Salsoul Orchestra album that the label took over as a sound. It really felt like a new age of disco. Where Philly had been the standard, this was the new level, essentially disco Philly hustle music. People were dancing the hustle everywhere and you saw it on Soul Train and American Bandstand – right then, it was much more about the hustle than straight free style. “Ten Percent” blew the doors open for Salsoul. It was an instantaneous success and every release after that was usually a hit.’
It was the Cayre brothers decision to make Ten Percent commercially available 12”. This meant that 12”s were no longer just the privilege of the DJ and made life a hell of a lot easier for the bedroom DJ. For Danny Krivit it also meant that 12”s were taken more seriously as a useful format.
‘They had 7 min 7inches, so to begin with, on the 12” it was the same version. An example is That’s Where The Happy People Go by The Tramps and it had the same version on the 7” that they eventually put on 12”. I would rather play it off the album than the 12”. You can imagine if it had been intended as a 12” it would have played better, because you have more room for fidelity.’
By 1976 Salsoul was in its Golden era, their distinctive rainbow motive appearing on a phenomenal amount of releases. Utilising the skill and expertise of people such as Vince Montanna Jr and his Salsoul Orchestra introduced vocalists Jocelyn Brown and Loleatta Holloway. These and other label releases were controlled by such luminary producers such as Walter Gibbons, Frankie Knuckles and Shep Petitbone. Krivit was doing support slots for Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage and times couldn’t get any Gooder.
‘When I first went to the Garage I just felt like this was what it was supposed to be. We were at the next natural succession. All the way, right from the beginning, at the construction parties and it just kept getting better and better’
Watching Walter Gibbons and Frankie Knuckles mix their own edits inspired Danny.
‘I noticed that DJs that I admired, had their own edits. It was beyond my comprehension how they did it, I thought it was like magic and I envied them!’ He laughs
Taking the lead from studio mentor Jonathon Fearing, Krivit began doing his own dub plates. This included blending MFSB’s Love Is The Message with Salsoul Orchestra’s Love Break, the version was so good it got a full pressing and was added to the public pile. Krivit became a man synonymous with the edit, but even now he keeps the sensation going.
‘You know they were labours of love. I had a lot of respect for the music as it was, it wasn’t “well this needs this” you know? Like kill it, I really treated them with kid gloves.’
When Salsoul finally folded in 1985, it by no means ended the story. The new house scene was picking up the baton and gold mining the past. Pushed originally by Petitbone samples were lifted for tracks such as Blackbox ‘Ride On Time’ and Kim Sims ‘Too Blind To See It’. Meanwhile MAW went to work on new version of Ten Percent.
After several haphazard major label re-issues the first record to be done with loving care was the Mastercuts series in 1991. In the sleeve notes Ian Dewhirst called them ‘a label that has undoubtedly been the most influential and inspirational example to today’s new producers and remixers.’ Perhaps even in response to this, Masters At Work later hooked up with the same (now) ageing Salsoul faces for the Nuyorican Soul Project.
The sampling continued into the nineties and noughties, from the Jaxx’s Red Alert to Spiller’s Groovejet. Krivit agrees with Dewhirst’s sentiment.
‘If you look at the whole scene there’s an enormous amount of technology doing the work of inspiration. I feel that fortunately for disco and other genres it’s something to reach back to and say well I’m not inspired now but I’ll borrow this thing and make a decent record because I recognise that this record is inspired.’
Now Suss’d guided by Dewhirst and his Simply Vinyl partner Chris Barnett have brought the whole Salsoul back catalogue and are re-releasing it on 12” over the next year. There are also mixes from people who have been inspired by Salsoul. This month Danny Krivit steps up to the plate with his favourites tunes, and his own edits.
So this interview with Douglas Coupland was my first article for Blowback magazine. With the writing guides, I’d set the ambition bar of the articles quite high and now utilised my newly re-discovered artistic licence to reconstruct the three parts of the ‘Doug experience.’
The first part was a phone interview that took place in the daytime, which was fabulously un-tethered and forms most of the speech section here. The second was the book reading which took place in the evening and seemed to be inspired by my ‘You must get bored of typical questions’ line. The third part was an after show drink that I had together with Georgina Wilson-Powell, who came along too.
I guess I tried to make the matchstick game represent this reconstruction even though we really played it as nothing more than an ice-breaker. I play it out like an anxiety dream. And looking back, there’s a few metaphorical meanings at work here.
He also helped with ideas for editorial and gave us both encouragement that night. Including the contact for Rex Ray which is also included on this site. I asked him on e-mail and he didn’t respond, which could just mean he is hugely busy, or it could mean he hated it. I know he dislikes interviews (and has done only a select few since) but hope I did something unconventional and revelatory with this.
‘I’ve been working on this new game whilst I’ve been travelling do you want to play it?’Sculptor and writer Doug Coupland empties a box of matches with ‘Strike it rich’ written on the side, onto the glass table on the ultra swanky but highly vacuous Malmaison bar.
George: ‘What’s it called?’
‘I don’t know I haven’t been working on a name for it…it’s called the er Doug Game.’ Doug starts to meticulously split the matches into equal piles and Blowback gets a little worried that it’s turning a bit into the scene with toothpicks in Rainman.‘Right now there’s two separate piles. Now I make a random structure.’
George: ‘How long have you been playing this?’
‘I invented it in the train yesterday. You’re the second group of people to play the Doug game. Now what you have to do is try and replicate the structure.’
We’ve already downed a couple of nervous Chardonnays but despite this, Doug is alert and ready for the challenge and no signs of jet-lag at all. There is a story attached.
‘Yes! Drugs to the rescue!’ he fanfares ‘There’s an amazing new drug they have that the politicians take which is why they look so bouncy, not like amphetamined up, but fresh when they come off airplanes. I went to my doctor and demanded he let me in on the secret. And it really works!’ Doug thinks then adds, ‘Having said that today is the first day when I actually feel like I’m here, which is a nice feeling.’
‘So before today you’ve been in an anxious state of arrival?’ I ask.‘Not anxiety. Before I came here there was a lot of anxiety about being marooned because of September 11th then the power failure back east. I decided I would only go to cities where I would want to get stuck which means Birmingham. What is the daily paper here?’ he asksDan: ‘The Evening Mail.’
Doug looks down at George’s pile, ‘Very good!’ he extols. From my half soaked angle it looks alright – but the matches were only really heaped into the approximate shape that Doug wants us to replicate.
‘Now you try,’ attention shifts to me suddenly. I start trying to find matches that will correlate to the ones in Doug’s structure. I lay them out like tent poles. Suddenly on this close inspection, the matches seem imperfect – and dirty.
‘A friend of mine – actually my first editor – is 60 something, he’s got oesophagus cancer, which is invariably fatal. I just found out 3 days ago and he’s from Birmingham. So I’m putting together a chemotherapy fun pack which is a copy of today’s “Evening Mail” a bunch of Mars bars which I bought at 10.51 this morning which I was reading in The Times is the closest we’ll be to Mars for the next 60,000 years – so ‘conceptual art.’ And he loves Lulu so I put inspirational pictures of her to help him through.’ Doug lets out a sigh, ‘He’s got a very dark sense of humour it’s the only way you can really show concern is through all of this crazy shit.’ Conversation turns to the anticipation of the British Beagle probe which is due to land, as I start to arrange the matches a layer at a time.‘Do you remember that probe from the seventies… called the Mariner or something which took the landscape shot of the Martian landscape? I always wanted to have a wall of my house which was of the Martian landscape. I’ve tried to figure a way of doing it which isn’t low resolution. Put the word out Doug is looking for a enormous file size image of the Martian landscape. 10 by about 15’ Looking up from my matches, I pipe up with, ‘I’d imagine you’d have to reconstruct it in some way.’ ‘No that would be cheating!’ Doug bangs his hand down on the table causing my pile to collapse slightly ‘I’d imagine there would be transparencies out there. That was in the seventies when one meg files were huge. So maybe the whole thing is a one meg file. And of course they airbrushed everything out of it originally anyway you know, the litter. Because there’s litter on mars too!’‘Mars bars wrappers probably!’
(laughter) I consciously put the Doug game to one side. I am faced with the reality of the interview rather than a casual conversation with someone I like. The sobering thought is that I’m here to do a job.
‘So shall we get the book thing out of the way now,’ I suggest. Doug: (incredulous, mocking) ‘Get this “book thing” out of the way?!’
Slightly flustered, I babble an explanation, ‘Because I read somewhere that you were amazed at Hollywood actors for there capacity to say the same thing over and over?’ ‘I remain equally. I have no idea how they do it, none. If you find the answers on the internet. Just use it and I’ll attach my name to it or something.’Several internet rumours have abounded about Doug over the years. One is that Doug is Scottish and the other is that he collects meteorites. Both are completely untrue.
‘I read Hey Nostradamus! really quickly. It wasn’t until the next day when I saw the sculptures you did, that I emotionally linked to the book. It was then that it hit me The full enormity and the symbolic weight of the event…’
‘Those foam pieces are very strange because if you put them facing out they’re praying but if you put them toward the wall they look like they’re being executed. So placement is everything with them. They have this airport-pictogram-sprung-to-life essence.’
‘They appear on the book cover,’ I add, ‘I guess it’s a theme in the book the knelling and being humbled. From the prayers of the first chapter to Reg’s kneeling and confessing in the last. The moment is assessed and re-lived from many different angles. This one incident has reverberations across generations in an entire community.’
‘It’s kind of like the chemotherapy fun pack, some situations are just so grim you have to have some lateral tactic with dealing with them. If you deal with them head on, nothing happens. I can’t say “Mac how’s the cancer,” it’s the Mars bars and the Evening Mail.’
Doug pauses for a moment then adds, ‘When something happens in high school in America everyone lives it. In the book I kept the description quite generic because whatever I wrote, people are going to set it in their own high school anyway. It’s like when you’re describing characters everyone has in there head of a universal hero and a universal heroine and you can’t fight it.’
We keep drinking. I attempt to erect my pile, it doesn’t really look like Doug’s original. Doug and George take it in turns to take the piss.
‘Of course for this to be a pub game there has to be some element of betting so you have to get a bar steward to judge it.’
Then Doug strikes again, ‘I know, they have to say which one they think is the original!’
Though music is a personal strong point Blowback played to many passions. The following was an interview with the comedian Bill Bailey. Most of all I am pleased with the way we chose the location to suit Bailey’s character. A very Blowback trait.
I get to the travel tavern a bit late, it’s four in the afternoon. Bailey is already sitting in the canteen area with a pot of tea and a selection of individually wrapped bourbons in front of him. I sit down, he’s got me a cup and I pour one out. Earl Grey, excellent facilities.
There’s no-one else about, it’s self service (naturally) and all the other guests are out of the hotel getting on with their lives. We are in limbo – neither arriving nor departing and the furnishings reflect this. White crockery, cream table cloth and hideously garish floor.
‘It’s like you’re taking time off from your life, it takes a back seat while the tour happens. It’s such an unnatural state, you’re out of sync with the natural world. Time is different, you eat, drink, sleep, work’ he becomes quite animated ‘all at different times. It becomes a daily struggle/battle/challenge to get all the things done that you have to get done. All the stuff that you can normally do in office hours, you can’t do. You’re doing other things, you’re sleeping or traveling or trying to get decent grub. It’s impossible, it becomes a holy grail to get a decent meal!’
Bill’s tour manager pokes his head round the door to make sure I found him alright. I make some lame joke about looking everywhere in this room and something like his beard blending in with the paisley floor… the TM leaves.
‘You need someone who’s a bit on the case…Yeah you get to a point on the tour when you want as little hassle as possible. You turn up at a hotel, they give you an envelope with a key on it, you don’t even have to sign anything or answer any thing like’ [Bailey adopts petulant child’s voice and does the universal face pull for Spacca] ‘”Do you want this?” or “do you like this?” You literally just want to walk in, they hold up the envelope, you snatch it from their hands and you walk straight to your room – without a word…’
We start chatting about his fans, people with no agenda coming up to him and talking to him. He says he always makes an effort, it must be difficult to do though when you’re in mid tour daze: A wizard in a trance.
‘Well the only time you’re sort of out and about is at service stations! Because you’re in the car to the gig, at the gig or going back to the hotel. Also it’s quite a weird situation, it’s three in the morning. There’s this ghostly pallor to everyone, they see me and they go “Is that…erm” and they figure it’s a hallucination. They go “I’m sure I saw Bill Bailey buying a…panini!.. at four am… or maybe I dreamt it.”’
Off stage Bill may come across as part zombie but on stage he is part troll. A modern one man band playing a multitude of instruments.
‘There’s kind of a balancing act, because it’s just me on stage there’s only so much I can physically play. I was looking at the video, at one point there’s a keyboard, a drum machine, synthesizer, a sampler, a theramin and a bazuki being used by me at the same time. Maybe I should get a band or maybe just chill out a bit, just…” [Bailey becomes psycho-American] ‘“let it go Bill” There comes a point when the technology becomes a hindrance, I always wanted the technology to serve the comedy and hopefully that’s what it achieves.’
A moment when this happens, perfectly on the DVD – Part Troll is his performance of Portishead doing the alternative English anthem: Ziper Dee Do Dah. It’s worryingly convincing.
‘There’s a few things about that, firstly every tribute I do is always an affectionate tribute and the other is that their style is so distinctive, that people will recognize the sound. So we’re acknowledging that the band has a very original and unique sound, merely mentioning the band conjures up a sound. And in order for the gag to work, well the music has to be absolutely bang on, it has to be right, so I make that a feature. It’s an aim of mine with every tribute I do, to make it sound exactly like it might sound if they were to do it. It’s like a painting, you have to keep stepping back until you get it absolutely right.’
Where as audiences seem to get instantly bored when they hear the same material again, this is not as true with music. I wonder whether Bill has any plans to tour just the music with a band.
‘I had a plan to do it this year but I couldn’t fit it in with the tour. It’s something I really want to do, because there’s quite a lot of it now built up over the years. I’ve just written another one now, so it seems to be a particularly creative patch.’
A crumpled traveling salesman ambles into our eating area, nods a brief acknowledgement and turns on the TV hanging from the bracket in the corner. He sits watching BBC News 24 whilst Bush’s electioneering rhetoric blarts out. There’s an anti-Bush song in the new material and jokes about the Axis of Evil
I ask him if he is becoming more political.
‘Well it is inevitable, it’s such an all consuming thing and it just creeps into your comedy. I used to do it when I was in a double act and we always used to do songs that were topical in some way. When I started doing my own standup, I decided to explore more the musical side, stories and surreal comedy. Now I’m going back to it, I’m revisiting the side of what I used to do. If there’s rich pickings there, then it’s valid source material. You have to move on, you have to challenge yourself, find the thing that you find hardest to do and then do that.’
We have a break and crack open the Bourbons. Bill has had the last few months off, uncharacteristically he hasn’t used that time to travel, but in a way he has. He’s had a son which he named after a Star Trek Simbiont character, Dax. I wonder if having his son has affected his attitude to the big wide world.
‘Not at the moment, I don’ think so, not consciously’ [Bailey adds mysteriously] ‘I think that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the personal development within yourself. You speak as a parent, suddenly you’re responsible and grown up – you have dependents. I think that maybe introduces a subtle change because you start to examine yourself and look back at this wreckless, aimless, bumbling life you’ve led up to now.‘
On his website, Bill’s most recent entry into his Blog is apologising for his absence. He said that he suddenly realises ‘hours have flown by and you’ve been grinning inanely.’ I ask him how it’s changed him and when something so wonderful happens he may lose his inspiration in the banal.
‘I think you have to be clearer about the other parts of your life then, you have to organise yourself a bit more and focus in on professional life and a private life. Professionally it gives you more focus because – yes it’s fantastic! I think really things don’t bother you that much any more but perversely other things do, you become more irritable and less tolerant. And more prone to go off on a rant about something. For example, I’m trying to get him out of the car and someone honks a horn, previously I would have ignored them, but now I just go mental! Bag of shopping, you know, small child, honnnnkk…I’ve nearly got into a few fights over it…So I suppose I’ve become less tolerant of errr intolerance.’
His eyes flick up to the side with his trademark bewildered look then he smiles. We crack open the bourbons and finish our tea. Time to move on.
We never wanted Blowback to just be about interviewing the latest band or fad. It was about experience. The travel section was introduced to encourage people to tell a good story. There were some truly excellent contributions by Ian Nightingale and Andrew Newsham. This, for quite a while was my most gross out party anecdote. The published article included some typical holiday snaps. And a stunt arse.
For me the message behind Alex Garland’s bestseller The Beach ™ and subsequent film is clear. If you find utopia, you still have to deal with the human aspect within the society which you form. Most importantly you need to consider the effects your indulgence affects outside forces: local customs and the damage you inevitably you do to the environment. Basically, put a load of westerners in a tropical paradise and selfishness will turn it into a toilet.
Koh Phi-Phi (pronounced ‘Pee Pee’) home of The Beach™ is the epitome. Consisting of two islands, smack bang in the centre of the ‘national reserve’ there’s certainly no place which is ‘reserved’. The smaller island, Lai (pronounced ‘lay’) is swarming with Longtail boats which do over-regular reef-destroying visits. This is so tourists can snorkel round the bay, gaping at suffocating, desperate fish whilst avoiding the propellers of other Longtails. When you’ve gawped, you can wash up on the same pure shores that Leo and co went doolally on. You can even walk round and see the stumps of palm trees which had to be cut down to fit in the catering wagon and superstar trailers.
Don is Phi-Phi Lai’s bigger brother. This is the place where everyone goes ‘really wild’ at night – it’s Magaluv with considerably less lavs. Though strictly speaking still national reserve, due to the film star attraction of its sibling, it’s been knocked up quickly and, inevitably shoddily. The smell of open sewers and rotting fish is not uncommon.
Me, my girlfriend and two good friends (Becca and Ollie) arrived there. It was the first island off the mainland in Thailand and… okay, yes we all wanted to see The Beach™. We hadn’t actually realised that The Beach™ wasn’t past a load of Viet Kong ganja guards and over a waterfall but actually on another island. So we booked a boat tour (with snorkelling chucked in) and went to explore Don for the night. After a couple of jars and an amusing Thai ‘lady boy’ Jagger tribute act at the Rolling Stoned bar, we were ready for food.
Before too long we’d been drawn into a restaurant, enticed by today’s catch. My girlfriend and Becca had very sensibly gone through the whole trip as vegetarians, mostly they ordered Pineapple Rice which consisted of a hollowed out pineapple – with rice in. Ollie and I had been bolstered by watching a Swede eat a fried cockroach in Bangkok and I’d become quite partial to squid on a stick. That night I had a flash fried prawn in chilli oil.
At 4am my stomach started churning. At 6am my arse exploded. I was pretty much on the toilet, straining, until 8am. After a terse conversation with my girlfriend, we decided that I should take some Imodium and not cancel the boat tour.
We walked down to the harbour. As soon as I got there I had to peg it to a bar toilet (well bar hole in the ground) which required shorts pulled out at full elasticated stretch and a fair amount of slop. I emerged to my now, sympathetic girlfriend saying she’d bought me something to eat on the boat, if I felt up for it.
Soon enough it was time to board the boat and set off. The sun was shining, the waters were calm but this was soon upstaged by a storm in my stomach. The engine and the sun shining through the windows below deck further increased the temperature but it was nothing compared to the adjacent sweltering cupboard in which I found the toilet. Though I did breath a sigh of relief when I spotted it was a sit down seat.
No time to rejoice, however, as the stomach cramps twinged once more. The relief came seconds later as I emptied my bowels into the bowl. Just as I’d finished we went over a wave.
In one bump, the water had been sucked back and blown back out, right up my arse.
I had to wipe my entire arse area! It was like the toilet bowl had stencilled me with shit. No sooner had I finished, when I had to jump back onto the toilet… then jump off again when I felt a wave. This process was repeated about ten times, all the time sweating profusely from the ridiculous heat and stressful situation.
I emerged from the cubby hole traumatised by the events, only to discover the reason why the blowback was so dramatic. The sea had changed. I staggered up the steps and stumbled into my seat.
My concerned girlfriend gave me some more pills, some water and then offered me my breakfast.
It was Pain Au Chocolate.
I took one look at breakfast and chucked up over the side.
Far too fucking soon it was time to crawl back to the toilet below. The exact same thing (with puking thrown in for variety) happened twice more before we pulled into calmer waters, a cove off Phi Phi Lai. I decided to snorkel, not because I really felt up for it but because I thought I might be able to get clean.
I entered the water and swam away from the group. It was here that I discovered that it’s physiologically impossible to shit and swim.
I then tried to swim back to the rest of the group but I’d swum too far out and couldn’t fight the current. I nearly drowned swimming back, which at least gave me something to chuck up when the boat started moving again.
Much to the relief of the rest of the boat, a lunchtime longtail was able to give me and my girlfriend a lift back to Don. After a day of sleep, we left Phi-Phi for Koh Lanta. The previous day’s storm had deterred most wanting to leave. This meant that we were the only guests on our beach. A resort that had huts which seemed to have a post-colonial air and a hotel proprietor who got us what we wanted, in moderation. We could live out our idyllic dream. No more competition, no excess, no stress.