Band Logo

Interview with Nigel of Nocturnal Emissions conducted via E-mail during December 1995



Jester: What are the significance behind the songs titles LD-50 and MK Ultra? I've seen other bands use them for song titles and band titles and I'm not sure I know where the reference is from.

Nigel: That might be an interesting subject for a compilation album, all bands & songs with the same names! I wasn't aware that they'd been used when I used them back in 1980 - but it's something I might have predicted for the future.

LD-50 means "lethal dose fifty percent" basically its a test for the toxicity of a substance. Please do not try this at home!!! You get a number of animals, say 100 guinea pigs and feed them increasing doses of the substance you want them to test, say toothpaste. There's a point where, however safe the substance is, if you feed enough of it to the animals, they're going to die. So the dosage that kills half the animals tested is the "LD-50 number". Pharmacists use this number in their drug guides and for many years it was (maybe still is?) required by law whenever a new product is licensed. So if you want to bring out a new product, you have to sacrifice a lot of animals. This smacks of voodoo to me.

MK-ULTRA was a notorious mind control project "through covert use of chemical and biological materials", carried out by the CIA between 1953 and 1964, when the name was changed to MK-SEARCH. So in that period there was a mass of effort put towards psychological research into brainwashing. During that time it seems that the CIA was the main supplier of LSD in the USA and they spiked thousands of people without their knowledge. Acid wasn't the most powerful drug they tried out. Hypnosis, electronic brain implants, microwave transmissions, and parapsychology, they tried anything and everything. This much is on official public record. So all the brainwashing techniques attributed to religious cults - and more - were all tried out by the intelligence agencies.

In San Francisco there were CIA brothels where the johns were unknowingly spiked with drugs and had their doings observed by parties of spooks. And there's also much talk that they also worked on producing a "Manchurian Candidate" type assassin for JFK, RFK, MLK and John Lennon, among others - but that's more conjecture, and to me not so interesting as the effect they had on the population in general. It seems very likely that the intelligence community as major drug suppliers used them to diffuse the influence of anti-establishment groups in the US during the Cold War and onwards.

The interest I have is based on how an elitist group has managed to manipulate how the rest of us structure "reality". I'm interested in exposing how this works, rather than forging myself a career there. So I've always tried to tackle this in a music of resistance.

As well as this I run a zine called "Network News" which is all to do with a boycott on consensus reality. (There's going to be an on-line version, so email me to subscribe)

Jester: Could you elaborate a little on the "Network News" Publication?

Nigel: It's something we publish 4 times a year. It started out as being a primary source for information about a number of post-industrial bands and some hard information on the occult and military etc use of sound - but as time has gone on the function has changed, as I found that idea boring and done to death by the Re/search crew so that really its more contextualizing what we do in Nocturnal Emissions, networking information of interesting -( not like-minded - I hate that term! ) sources. It's an attack on straight society and all it holds dear - is how I'd describe it if I was a hippie - which I'm not. You could say it's the ideas behind the music, but it isn't. But it's something that takes the ideas in the music further. you see what we really want to do is turn the world upside down and give it a good shaking. shaking. Another thing which it is NOT, is an advertising ploy...we have no interest in selling people more records. At least not through Network News. You have to read it. Alongside the paper version, we also run Magnetizdat, which is a regular monthly cassette "broadcast" which has contained some music, a lot of spoken word from strange sources and some unusual sound source material. It's a weird underground magazine on a tape. We did it for a year, then rested it, now we're running it monthly in 96. You can subscribe, and it comes in a fancy plastic rave-type box with color insert. The main reason for running both these is to bypass the censorship that record labels have. Exchange of information that you don't need a big computer account for! Write to: Earthly Delights PO Box 2, Lostwithiel, Cornwall PL22, OYY, UK

Jester: Have you ever collaborated or wanted to work with other bands from the Newcastle, Uk area such as The Halfer Trio or Zoviet France?

Nigel: I wouldn't mind working with PJ and Duncan, Jimmy Nail, Lindisfarne or Venom, or the Animals, especially Eric Burdon who did some great stuff after he left for the US - as sampled by De La Soul. I think Chas Chandler must have been good, I think Jimi Hendrix did his best work while Chas was breathing down his neck in the studio, telling him to hurry it up in there. But I'm not keen on Sting.

I'm not so sure about those other two you mentioned either... I lived in the Newcastle area for a couple of years and did a few US gigs around the time ZF and Andrew McKenzie did. But McKenzie was based in Amsterdam at that time. I have done some work with them though.

Nocturnal Emissions was formed and based in South London from the late 70s to late 80s. In 1983 I put together a benefit album in support of a BIG coal miners strike which lasted about a year and was a very positive cultural event. Hafler Trio were one of the "groups" who contributed a track for that, but I have only met Andrew McKenzie a couple or three times over 15 years. He's lived for most of that time in Amsterdam, the last I heard he'd moved to Iceland. I quite like doing collaborations, it might be interesting to do one with him, but somehow I feel it's pretty irrelevant. There's a tendency in the "post-industrial" field for everyone to be everyone else's bands and I think that's somewhat weedy and pathetic. It's better to work with people from outside that incestuous scene, that way you can explore more. Andrew for instance I've seen work with William Bennett and Steve Stapleton, and another band "Mother Tongue" he was in with Z'ev. I thought both those shows were really lame. Not just a bit lame. I think they all worked better separately. I saw a Z'ev solo show years ago at the Lyceum, he was hurling these huge hunks of metal around the stage on the ends of chains without backing tapes, without a safety net, and still keeping his roll-up going in the corner of his mouth, and it was awesome.

But what McKenzie did with Annie Sprinkle, which was the soundtrack to her performance art show, was far more interesting than the collaborations he does within the post-industrial scene, and I think the CDs OK too. But then he does seem to have made the same CD over and over again.

I once did an improvised session with Zoviet France in Vienna, Austria in 1991, which was unplanned and only stayed interesting for me for all of five minutes. I've worked with ZF in organizing gigs, but I found that they have a different agenda to my own, one that I found elitist and really there was a central problem of them pretending to be something they are not. They aren't a soviet and they aren't from France., Also I don't like their music, I've tried to, but it just doesn't work on me. Their trouble is they're just into one another and not involved with their audience. So what's the point of that? You might as well go and see a monk meditating. You know the buddhists in the East run vast colorful, noisy celebrations - they don't just sit around watching some old farts staring at their navels. It's all too bourgeois for me.

What I like to do is work with people who are really good in another field, rather than in an enclosed clique. That's why I mentioned popular performers from Newcastle. I like pop music. I like that it's so disposable and unimportant, yet it's also so fascinating.

Jester: Do you also feel that by working with such a flippant medium as pop music that you get more from the development of the music than from the collaboration with another artist of the same genre? Are you in fact trying to pass any message along to the listener in any of your music, collaboration or otherwise?

Nigel: When there is an intended message it's an anti-authoritarian one. Music is non-serious, at least when I do it, and it's important to be non-serious and spend your short years doing something you enjoy and not what you "should" do. We encourage people to slack off! Life is too short to waste it doing a "proper" job. While I don't intellectually think that introducing novelty is necessarily subverting the usual message of pop music, I have a intuitive feeling that it somehow does. This does however sound a hopelessly romantic idea. But it isn't.

Recently I've been working on a collaboration with the Japanese Noise band C.C.C.C. What I like about them is they're really moving into a new dimension, they aren't simply rehashing the cliches that you find in "The Industrial Culture Handook", they have the intelligence to take the aesthetics that some of those old bands tried out, and to strip it from its "rockist" element, so that the noise - not music - they produce has a physical effect, but one where you wonder where the hell are these people going.

I find it interesting what they and some others in Japan are doing, especially with them living in a terrifically conformist country, and really operating with different values. We've met a couple of times, but we are working by exchanging DATs through the post.

There's a DJ remixer working on some of my stuff, and there's one or two other projects in the air. I'm doing some soundtracks for animated films of Charlotte Bill's. (Screening in Bremen, 15th December)

Jester: Have you done any other soundtrack work? Do you feel constrained by composing for a video medium which has already been completed prior to you getting a chance to score a film?

Nigel: I've done small commissioned pieces for extremely obscure low- and no- budget films. No, I don't find it a constraint - it gives me a time-based framework. I like the way sound can completely transform the perception of visual images, convey psychological mood in subtle ways. I'm a big fan of Ennio Morricone. And I like working on Charlotte Bill's films a lot. I've done work for big scale and very confrontational dance performances which have toured Europe & played in New York at a Theatre venue.

Jester: People are actually remixing some of your work to be played on a dancefloor? I find that rather odd.

Nigel: I don't think it's odd because a lot of my inspiration has come from dancefloor music - the major early influence was dub. In the years before I did Nocturnal Emissions a good night out might mean taking in half a dozen punk bands, or a handbag disco, or a Northern soul joint, or a gay disco, or a reggae - anywhere cheap that stayed open late and tolerated scruffy arty types, I'd be in there getting wrecked. Like any normal person! And I think a lot of the NE sound has come from that disorientation of being out late, having your ears ringing as you leave the place, and having frazzled paranoid ideas the day after wondering what happened to your brain cells. That state of mind was seminal! So one and off I've done tracks using repetitive beat music, I steered well away from this for a few years, but sometimes I return to that line of investigation. The most blatantly dancefloor-aimed thing was years ago when the idea of "radical" dance was taking off with Sherwood and co, when 400 Blows did a remix of "No Separation" for a Funky Alternatives album with Tackhead and New Order and The Shamen on it. Tony Thorpe out of 400 Blows later did the breakbeats for the KLF, and now he's the Moody Boyz, I like what he does - though the fucker never sent us any royalties! I didn't even get a comp copy! This is the problem with these buggers that are going all out for commerce..... Jesus though that was back in the Stone Age! Nocturnal Emissions samples have been recycled plenty of times, just like all that old stuff ends up in club mixes. Anyone who^s up for remixing our stuff - get in touch. Music is a thing that is never finished - it's there to be played with.

Jester: Why have you stayed a solo project for such a long period of time?

Nigel: Whatever I've done has been ahead of prevailing trends, I'm a pioneer. I can collaborate with people but this doesn't mean I have to marry them. But being a pioneer means that you're often dealing in ideas that other musicians haven't got the concept of yet - and that tends to isolate you. A lot of musicians just don't grasp what's going on, they're still acclimatizing to being in a post-modern information age, and they're just cottoning on to the idea that nowadays you aren't just making music, you're also manipulating symbols. And what's happened in the rap, noise, rave, techno, ambient, junglist explosion has taken them by storm and they want to be a part of that. I already anticipated those events and I'm working on what happens next.

I've chosen to isolate myself to take my own personal obsessions further. But I am open to good ideas for collaborations. I'd like to work with the Beatles.

Jester: I couldn't garner from my research if you'd ever played live performances before, but if you have I assume you have other people helping you. If so, who are they and how much influence do they have on the sound of the live performance.

Nigel: I've done a fair load of live performances in Europe and USA, not as a regular thing - but I've had bursts of activity. I've had a lot of people help and hinder, there were seven or eight people involved at one stage in the musical end of things. And I performed with with a company of 16 dancers, stage crew etc. I think all people in an organization put in their influence, so rather than waste my energy listing names, and doing long "thanks to.." lists, I tend to credit no-one. Sometimes I play at extreme high volumes, sometimes very very quietly.

Jester: I originally got the impression that you didn't feel it was necessary to reissue much of your musical back catalogue but recently you've gone and released such albums as 'Duty Experiment'. Why is that?

Nigel: I like to concentrate on new projects ...but if people offer me money for old recordings, I might as well take it, it's just whoring really.

Jester: Do you have a problem with whoring your music for money?

Nigel: None at all. It's a lot better than any other job I've done. "Duty Experiment" was a bit different, because it was material that for some reason or other hadn't been released. Either it had never been "finished" or it had been lost down the back of a drawer somewhere, or it was an idea that wasn't going anywhere, or it was something filed away for future reference. So it was a new release really, even though a lot of the work had been done years ago. I like that CD, everyone should go out and buy it.

Jester: Does Earthy Delights still pay for all your bills?

Nigel: It pays me at a level that is just above what I would get being unemployed. So I have certain advantages as far as personal freedom is concerned that I wouldn't have if I was doing a "real job", in that my time is my own. But there is the element that often I just don't have any money at all. To be honest the companies I work with don't do a great deal towards promoting my stuff, and their distribution is abysmal, so that is something I'm having to deal with at present. (Perhaps if I say something publicly, they may may pull their fingers out?). So I am quite happy most of the time, until I get hungry, when I can get very pissed off. I live in Cornwall, an area of high unemployment and very low wages, but it's a very beautiful place - so most people stay here because other qualities of life are better here.

Jester: Where do many of your influences lie? Having only had a brief listen to some of your music it seems as if you pulls ideas from a extensive roster of influences.

Nigel: What I do has been described as "underground", which is a term I kind of like, because it implies a subversive kind of resistance to what goes on "above ground". One essential thing to me is cutting through the separations that exist in everyday life. So I keep my eyes and ears open. I think most of my interests, noise, rhythm, micro-tonality, melody, repetition and re-cycling are all manifestations of folk traditions that go back to Africa. Most pop music is based on African rhythm, and those melodic musics like Irish folk can be traced back there, so you could mark down Africa as a big influence.

Jester: Do you ever seen any of your music or music of this genre ever breaking free from the underground and into mainstream airplay?

Nigel: Yeah, why not? There's nothing particularly smart about only selling a few thousand records. Mainstream is suspect, but not necessarily BAD. I think mainstream airplay is breaking up, it's not what it used to be, people get bored and want something different. In the UK, at least, novelty records sometimes get through, I'm thinking of Lauri Anderson's "O Superman", err.. Aphex Twin got a bit of airplay. But what makes the "mainstream" changes. National radio here for example, Radio One has gone far more indi-pop and dancefloor than it used to be. I think the commercial stations play more old records. I don't know so much about genre - what do you call something like Portishead? They sold in the millions. The trick is to divert the mainstream. Revolutionary activity is the order of the day!

Jester: Any plans for touring abroad or locally again in the future?

Nigel: Something may happen, I want to do some more dates in USA, but a few logistics need sorting first. Promoters get in touch!

Contact for further information:
Earthly Delights
PO Box 2 Lostwithiel
Cornwall PL22 0YY
United Kingdom
E-mail: earthly@planet13.co.uk



[Interviews] [Sonic Boom]
Last Modified: Monday, 24-Sep-2012 16:44:20 MST