Techno animal are what can only be described as a hardcore experimental ambient 'supergroup' formed by Kevin Martin (ex-God) and Justin Broadrick (ex-Head of David and Godflesh). In what is quite a departure for both musicians they operate in a mainly instrumental format, melding dub, ambient and even freeform jazz structures into their compositions.
Their new album 'Re-Entry' is in fact their second journey into the darkside and encapsulates the whole genre of 'isolationist' music within it's two discs. Exploring the outer limits of modern music by melding the cold perfection of digital sampling technology with improvisational live mixing and real instruments, Techno Animal follow a new and original path. Using the more archaic and old fashioned format of the telephone SPOIL spoke at length to both Kevin and Justin about a wide variety of topics over a leisurely Wednesday lunchtime...
The opening salvo, began by asking Kevin about the involvement of the legendary avant-garde trumpeter Jon Hassell in the recording of the album."Virtually every musical thing I'm involved in, and this goes for Justin as well, revolves around music basically being an outlet for our subconscious or just for our dreams. It was a major dream of both of us to work with Jon, I'd had contact with David Toop writing for the magazine 'The Wire' and he turned out to be a good friend of Jon's and gave me a contact. I sent him loads of stuff by both of us and I just said do you fancy playing on the next Techno Animal project". Justin added "He loved the Techno Animal that he heard, he just picked up on the sort of tracks he liked and which he thought he could apply himself to."
Jon Hassell has worked with all sorts of famous cutting edge musicians from the Eno brothers to David Sylvian and Holdger Czukay. Wondering how much of an influence these people had been on their music and in particular 'Kraut' rock bands such as Can on tracks like 'Narco Agent vs Medicine Man' brought a surprisingly prickly response from Kevin...
"Definitely when you get down to things like Can... I think most of their career has been pretty influential on a lot of stuff. For us the challenge in Techno Animal is to make it sound singular and personal, to find our own personal voice through music. Yeah, of course we listen to Toop, Sylvian, Eno, blah! blah! blah! I mean it's more taking concepts from them rather than their sound." After trying to steer the question more toward the interpretation of the common link in the way of creatingsound, Justin interjected. "It's like the whole 'Kraut' rock thing was a really big influence on what we do, but I guess we're like modernising the sound but also taking it backward to it's roots and then pushing it forward again into the 90's... making it more current."
As well as their own influences, Justin and Kevin are well known for their involvement with some seminally extreme rock outfits, but did they now feel they had exhausted their enthusiasm for the traditional full-on guitar based format.
Justin stifled a laugh, "Certainly with Godflesh I feel like I've pushed it a lot in the last few years, it's quite a break to not be the aggressor with the guitar, that's the good thing about Techno Animal. There are no limitations with any instrument to some extent, whether it's a guitar or a sampler, we don't have to think about the context of performing with the band, we just think about what the end result is that we want, as opposed to 'how can we apply it live?', so there are less parameters, it's not like rock music, it's a real release."
There is a definite air of experimentation and conceptual originality about the music Techno Animal create, the development of this can be traced back to Head od david's use of samplers and computer technology as early as the mid eighties. Justin agreed, "Exactly... we were one of the first bands to mix samples with rock music, doing it on an abrasive level, confrontational, as opposed to some passive kind of crap..." Kevin puts it into a different context "To me, I don't regard our music as ambient, I never really regarded God as rock, it's taking bits from both. When we used samples in God it was for atmosphere, with Techno Animal it's primal rhythms, a very primitive 4/4 sort of analytic, rocky approach. We feel totally open and it's pretty surprising to us to see how similar our tastes are, we don't have to argue and we both know exactly what we want from the music, it's just a joy to work on really."
After a four year hiatus Techno Animal first resurfaced on the 'Isolationism' compilation last year, on that release Kevin wrote some thought provoking sleeve notes. I wondered how he related his ideas on the singularity of the music as an individualistic, insular concept for both composer and listener rather than a shared experience. Kevin's initial response was muted "Every music is open to interpretation..." Justin defined it further, "These people make music in a very singular way, a lot of the artists involved with so called 'Isolationist' music are just one person, purely existing and making music for themselves. They are isolated, they are isolating themselves to make this sort of shit!"
Kevin continued with the theme, "If you watch a film or listen to music you react differently depending on whether you're with people or on your own. A lot of the music I listen to has a much more intense reaction on my mind when I'm alone than when I'm with a group of friends, with it's distractions. It's fine to get off on a ritualistic vibe, a large crowd getting off on bangin' techno, for example, but it's easy to miss the nuances. It's the micro parts, the subtleties which you can only pick up on if you concentrate, that give an lamost meditational feel to it."
Finally, did they intend to take the Techno Animal experience on the road? This brought a lengthy and considered response from both Kevin and Justin, "We're hoping to play live but it's taking a lot of planning, the way the album works all these mixes you hear on the album are improvised, they're live mixing." Kevin added, "We don't put them to memory, and have the stuff on call, the idea is for us to make it alive, in different sequence, to make it human." Justin carried forward the idea, "A lot of dance music is created by someone just sitting in front of a computer, we use that sort of stuff, but it's not the be all and end all. It's definitely live, we're working off each other in the same way as you would in an improvisational rock context or a jazz context, but on a desk. This is what music is heading for, it's not just pushing numbers, it's working in a physical way."
Kevin went on to expand on their vision for the live show, "Livewise we want a very versatile approach to playing, with maybe three different lineups, one being a full band, including Jon Hassell, percussionists, bass players and perhaps Biswas from Bedouin Ascent. Then we would have another lineup, probably Justin and I, with possibly a bass player, and perhaps the idea of D.J-ing out. we would want to make the D.J. side a creative process instead of just showing off your record collection and work in whatever way we can to adapt the environment to our requirements. With all these lineups we intend to work with visuals very strongly, Buggy G Riphead, who has helped me with some of the album artwork, will be doing the slides, so with everything else we're involved with live, even if we're D.J-ing out, the visuals are going to be there. People will know what's coming to them, we don't want Techno Animal to be passive take it or leave it idea... A lot of people are applauding techno and club culture for being anonymous, but time and time again you find yourself picking up on the people with identities." Justin takes it further, "It'll probably be a select three or four shows around England, we want to make something out of it, to get away from the passive experience. Essentially we want to fuck with people! that's where we come from... whatever the music, whatever we're fucking with, we still want to be headfucking!!!"
Kevin agreed, "The new E.P. is called 'Babylon Seeker" it's pretty much a statement of intent really... with God and Godflesh we took it to the extremities of sound and yet we just wanted to test ourselves..."
Those final statements probably define their ideals better than anything I could of thought of... Music needs people like Kevin and justin, true mavericks who over the last ten years or so have helped stretch the boundries of modern music and have had a far more influential effect than their relative anonymity suggests.
SPOIL would like to thank Luigia and Simon Hopkins from Virgin for their assistance and Kevin and Justin for their time.