Posts Tagged ‘London’
Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
This Spring saw Kirk Originals launch the ArtHertz ‘MIRRORBALL’ exhibition at their flagship store in Covent Garden. The exhibition features selected works by electronic music pioneer John Foxx alongside other “Foxx-inspired” pieces including the ‘Onirico Triptych’ by Angelo Cerantola,†Andrew Back’s computer installation ‘No Numbers’, architect Antonino Cardillo’s ‘Tales of Light’ and ‘Architect 1’ and ‘2’, new work by ArtHertz visual artist Roger Spy. Eye Tunes were there at the launch and found out just what inspired the genius behind works such as ‘Shifting City 1’, ‘Exponential’, ‘Tower Bridge Angel’ and ‘Mirrorball’.
Lets start at the beginning, you were born in an industrial Lancashire town, when did you discover your love for music and fashion and what was the inspiration?
Industrial Lancashire of the 1950s – dark, damp and grey. Everything covered in soot – especially the kids.
We went to the cinema to escape by gazing into those other worlds. Black and white films particularly intrigued and frightened me.
They were like some hyper-real version of that monochrome world. An unstable annexe of some kind, where anything might happen. The man in the grey suit, the woman with lipstick and her own grey suit, and the city, were always the main characters. The city had a life of its own. All the forces at play were mysterious and unpredictable. Total surrealism. You walked back into the daylight completely disoriented.
All this formed my basic dream grammar. I was too young to understand all those adult concerns contained in the plots and was therefore forced to make up my own version of the movie I was watching. Deep terror, love, hilarious mistakes and sadness were all invested with the unmediated ferocity and earnestness of a child. I still wake up from 1958.
Technicolour movies were completely different – all warm and friendly. The buildings, cars, clothes, people, dialogue – even the weather, looked beautiful and full of hope. The music was wide and warm as the Pacific. Those American voices sounded like the Technicolour looked. Had no idea this was fiction – imagined everything I saw was real, but happening somewhere else. I immediately subscribed.
After that I used to try to find clothes like characters in the films wore, and haunted places resembling the locations. I particularly liked Oxford Street in Manchester because it looked like a tiny corner of New York. Went to the beach in Ainsdale because it had white sand dunes and sold Coca-Cola ice-cold. Found books and comics from New York – Marvel comics, College Parodies, Ad men Magazines, Saturday Evening Post and Mad Magazine. Anything that seemed connected. Music and writing too. Discovered Blues, then Bernstein and The Beats.
Then I hitched to Paris and Germany around 1965/6 and everything changed. Found that the French also loved American cinema, but were busy making their own version – Truffaut and the Nouvelle Vague etc.
Saw French and Italian movies – everything from Last Year in Marienbad to Un Chien Andalou, Visconti and Fellini, via Czech animation and experimental film. Heard Piaf and Brel and Barbara and Erik Satie. Chet Baker and Rue De la Huchette. Even enjoyed cheap European jukebox music. The world suddenly became much wider. I realized I’d swapped the US for Europe and there was my future, all laid out.
‘Le Style Anglais’ was the hip thing in Paris at that time – a French version of English classic clothes. But being French, everything was much better cut, materials much finer and it was all stylish as hell. Swapped subscriptions immediately. Still got the shoes I bought near Le Petit Zinc.
Your early music years were spent in Preston and Manchester. Your first band was called Woolly Fish and then Tiger Lily that would eventually evolve into the infamous ‘Ultravox’ can you tell us a bit about your journey?
In the early 60s there were bands on every street around Manchester. Everybody was in at least one. The Wooly Fish one was an art school band formed by a friend Phil Barnes. We were Psychedelic – in a daft art school sort of way.
I couldn’t play an instrument at the time. The frustration of playing other people’s songs made me learn guitar – just enough so I could write songs myself. Felt much better about it all then – came to realise that was what really interested me.
So when I came to London to go to the Royal College of Art, I formed Ultravox. The idea came from a discussion on ‘Design for the Real World’. All about working with the materials you know, rather than some academic version of Fine Art. So the band became my Real World Art project. I was trying to somehow wrestle all that previous stuff into a single form. I’m still wrestling.
This liking for Europe allowed an unrockist attitude to music, so I was ready for German music, Neu! and Synthesizers, when they arrived.
Neu! were also punk way before it hit Britain – around the same time it evolved in New York and Detroit. We were the last in line. By the time it hit here, Germany had moved on to evolve Electronica proper in the early versions of Cluster, Michael Rother, Bauman, Conny Plank, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. I was still much more in tune with Europe than Britain at that moment.
Post Ultravox and early punk your music evolved with more of an electronic synthesized sound do you think that is when the music and visual fusion really came into its own?
Yes. Away from the band format, and all that formalized rockist lifestyle. I was finally free to shape things the way I really wanted. We’d begun to work with electronics in the band, but I urgently wanted to see how far you could actually take all this stuff – drum machines, synthesizers, recording, processing. I became aware of a set of completely absorbing possible futures, all multiplying under my excited gaze.
You are a prolific artist and very collaborative – Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins), Steve Jansen (Japan), Paul Daley (Leftfield) etc.† Do you have a future wish list of collaborators?
Oh yes – Aphex Twin. Mira from Ladytron, who has a unique way with analogue synths and a beautiful unrecognised voice. Billy Currie and Rob Simon who interplay so well together- I think that still has some way to go. I’d like to do some work with Phil Manzanera – one of the all time great guitarists.
Collaboration seems to be entering other areas too – like film and writing.
Kazuo Ishiguro is someone I have some ideas for. A really world class fiction writer is rare in Britain now, and he is that for sure.
Paul Auster and Michael Chabon and Doctorow in New York are all producing wonderful stuff. Adam Curtis, too – he’s made some of the most magnificent documentaries I’ve ever seen. And Katie Mitchell some of the most imaginative theatrical production work – she made the close-up possible in theatre – quite an achievement, that merging of entire forms via technology and intelligence.
I can see the intersection of many of these threads turning into something wondrously fertile. Just want to edge into the conversation a little.
You have participated with art organisation, ArtHertz with the screenings of your short films as part of the Rushes Soho Shorts Festival for the last two years.† You are working on some new films for next year. Can you tell us more?
I met up with Iain Sinclair recently. He wrote London Orbital, that marvelous book of unrecognized omnipresent London. He has lots of film records of his life and times and we’re beginning to work on a project.
Sinclair really initiated the thread of new London writing – via his seminal influence on Hawksmoor, by Peter Ackroyd. An entire genre has since resulted. I think he’s a central writer to this phase of British literature, in a similar way that Ballard was recently been revealed to be.
So, a core of writers with vision, direction and relevance is now becoming visible. Ballard and Sinclair and Ishiguro are the new axis.
About time, too. British writing – especially fiction- had got into an embarrassing dead end. All a bit self important and irrelevant.
I’ve recently become aware of an intriguing company of people working around London now – these include Jonathan Barnbrook – he’s a truly original designer also working in film, and Ian Emes, an engaged and prolific animator and filmmaker. There are several others, and together with the writers I mentioned before, there seems to be some kind of arts renaissance in Britain at the moment – and it’s all slowly becoming interconnected with music and with other countries – Italy, Spain and France, as well as America. Lots of projects are being discussed.†
What comes first, the music or the visuals?
They both evolve together. I think they’re the same process, just different forms of it. Often a photograph will trigger a phrase, which becomes a story – then a song or a piece of music will evolve. Material from some endless movie. It all seems to happen without much intervention from me. I’m happy to be the British Channel.
You have an interesting line up on stage for your upcoming analogue gig at the Roundhouse. We would love to know more about this?
Good – It’s being added to all the time – Iain Sinclair, Gary Numan, Benge, Karborn, and Louis Gordon. Some of the people from Ghostbox, John Wozencroft from Touch and the RCA, Paul Daley, Steve D’Agostino, Mark Fisher from KPunk and the Wire. Some others I can’t mention yet.
We’re projecting lots of films, including versions of the one I’m making with Iain – and there’ll be a discussion involving Iain Sinclair, Mark Fisher, John Wozencroft and some of the people from Ghost Box, together with projections of their films in the cinema. Ghostbox are the next genetic evolution of the Mute and Warp succession- Companies as a vehicle for imagination and new vision. I guess it will all begin with London and Hauntology –Electricity and Ghosts.
Then there will be Gary Numan DJing on the main stage – Mr. Central Electric. Legend. What can you say?
Later, we’ll be playing new electronic songs – some of the Paul Daley ones and Benge’s as well – on analogue synths from Benge’s studio. Big Moog modulars and lots of others – Arp, Minimoog, Prophet, CR78, the lot. We’ll be the wee shadows under the mountain of power circuitry. A Projection and Shapeshifting Sonic Decimation Unit, courtesy of Benge and Karborn…on into the night.
The idea is to present a snapshot of London now – a nod to those marvelous Warhol events in New York – The Exploding Plastic Inevitable – and especially the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace in the 1960’s, where a new sort of London began to manifest. Modest as that.
You have experienced and enjoyed some great fashion genres through your musical career, from Mod to Punk to New Romantics. Do you feel these influenced your music and which was your favorite?
They all did. I think the Mod phase was pretty central – all the others seemed to be recombinations of this.
The forgotten Technohippy vision of the late 1960’s was pretty important too – it couldn’t quite manifest then, but supplied a blueprint for a future when technology could actually perform hallucinogenic acts in public.
Punk did us all a favour by blowtorching all the baroque barnacles off the edifice. But it aged dramatically. Two years in and senility struck. Too much speed. New Romantic was good at first – coincided with discovering Italy- that was as big for me as France America and Germany. When I came back it had all become a bit clumsy, but still fun. Brickies in tights. A sub-Roxy re-run, really.
I think the favourite must be that New York / Paris axis of the early1960s – Beatnik black. Existentialism. Warhol. Art Movies. Miles Davies and Kind of Blue. Birth of Electronica – Carlos and Theremin, then Cage and DuChamp Happenings. Modern Art. Lofts.
I was just a year or two too young, and in the wrong place. Just missed it. Isn’t that always the way.
If you were shipwrecked on a desert Island what 3 items could you not live without?
Some means of starting a fire, a two-way radio, and a surf-emergent Ursula Andress.
The MIRRORBALL Exhibition will be exhibited at the Kirk Originals store until July 2010
John Foxx wears Blake from the Vector Sunglass collection.
Photograph by Dennis Da Silva and Emre Soykan for ArtHertz. Special Thanks to Beach Blanket Babylon, Shoreditch.