Blood, No Sell Out
Jonathan S. is the man behind New Mind, the latest signing to Germany's Machinery label. In my opinion New Mind are the most traditionally sounding industrial/cyber band on the label, given the rather unfortunate obsession with Depeche Mode soft-core sound alikes which proliferate that particular country's roster of acts. It'll be of little surprise to learn that Jonathan S. is based in the United Kingdom. New Mind is very much a singular standout voice in that part of the country.
JS: All the programming, arranging and sampling is done at New Mind HQ. I don't do demos as such. Recording, mixing and mastering are done at Omega Studio by myself and Alex Warnes. Cumbria is pretty backwards in the high-tech recording area. In fact, Cumbria is pretty backwards in the musical area. All together there is no scene as such and hardly any venues. Believe me, heavy metal is alive, well and living in Cumbria!
Sounds pretty nasty up there doesn't it? Such a backwater does have its advantages though...
JS: Being cut-off from a scene means I'm not influenced by a 'scene'. With no exposure to a scene it means I have to find my own style, find what I want to do for myself without the pressure of having to fit in.
Industrial music seems to alienate us at times from the majority of music consumers, and hence socially...
JS: I suppose we are a breed apart from other music consumers. Most people I know seem really shocked at the idea of buying an LP/CD that you've never even heard before! On the off chance it might be interesting. You have to take a risk or how else would you discover new music? It's dangerous ground we're heading into here, over-intellectualizing music, the: my music has more intrinsic worth than your music, therefore my music is better than your music routine. It's a pointless argument. If somebody gets something from listening to, say 2Unlimited, then fine, why not. Some people are willing to invest effort in searching for new music, new sounds. It seems like most people won't. They would rather stick with what they know. It's their loss, but if they are happy in their complacency...
In a recent article claiming to be 'shocking exposure: Inside Cyberpunk' the American magazine OMNI claimed that "Cyberculture is relegated to the cult underground." 'Pop' cyber-music is and integral part of this culture, (OMNI mentioning Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Front 242.) Perhaps this is one reason why this music, (Industrial, Cyberpunk/Hardbeat), is viewed as it is. Because of its outlook on life. Its attitude?
JS: Cyberculture is relegated to a 'cult underground' because of its very nature. It covers so many different forms of the media: literature, comic books, art, film, music... It is very cerebral, particularly the music, it has to be listened to. I mean how much easier is it to be into, say 'grunge'... the image is in the High Street... You can look right and listen to the effort. Cyberculture IS a culture, not just a form of music. Its audience is not the mainstream public. The mainstream music audience don't want to be challenged musically or intellectually. They want to be entertained, they want the 'right' t-shirt. To use an appropriate quote from Videodrome: 'It has something that you don't have... it has a philosophy.'
Let's get down to the labeling that all artists seem to loathe. Is Jonathan S. a Cyberpunk? Is New Mind a Cyber-band?
JS: Well, I don't go around in black leather and mirror shades, so I definitely don't look the part. I don't really like being labeled as anything, but, I suppose it's a convenient way to at least give someone who hasn't heard New Mind an idea of what kind of music to expect. It's obvious from your question that you see Cyberpunk as a definable form of music what a set/style of bands belong to. So on those terms, then yes, New Mind is a Cyber-band.
Three bands immediately strike me as being Cyber-bands. Namely Front 242, Clock DVA and Front Line Assembly. 242 in the OMNI designer-led style, DVA in the psuedo-academic, research sphere and FLA who are perhaps the more obvious electronic punks, New Mind came closest to FLA...
JS: Why does everyone mention FLA? On one hand it's really flattering to be compared to a band that I like and have a lot of respect for but there are so many obvious differences. I would agree that some of the earlier New Mind releases like the "Body Politic" 12" are similar to FLA circa "Gashed Senses...", but I have found my own style now. When you hear the New Mind CD as a whole, you're going to hear that the FLA comparisons are defunct. FLA have a very ordered song structure, I don't. The production style is completely different. I use a whole heap of distortion on everything, from drums to vocals. You would not hear tracks like 'Blow Torch' or 'Rain' on an FLA album. New Mind is much more extreme.
So there you have it, New Mind DO NOT sound like FLA, and I shall say no more on the subject. Have a listen to the track 'Oilgod' in this package and see what Jonathan S. means. he won't however explain his thinking behind the track.
JS: I don't think that my explanation is necessary. It's just something that's expected in the music business, that anyone who writes a song has to explain it. I mean why? You don't go to art exhibitions and expect the artist to explain what they have produced. Neither am I into blatant sloganeering. I try to keep my personal politics fairly well submerged. All I am willing to say is that they weren't very submerged in this track! It was chosen as the track for "Ghafran" because it's a track I really wanted to release but it didn't fit with the other tracks on the CD. It was intended to be on the second New Mind 12" for Sadisque, which never happened. The two other tracks recorded at the time came out on the "Dossiers" CD and 'Oilgod' was left in limbo... This seemed the ideal place to have it released.
OMNI's description of cyberpunk music is inevitably reserved: 'A seriously aggressive brand of razor-edged rock that jolts you with anti-George Jetson views of the future.' New Mind's tracks 'Hatespill', 'Blowtorch' and 'Oilgod' seem to reflect this rather black outlook.
JS: Well, I'd go along with the 'seriously aggressive brand of razor-edged rock' part of the description but not the 'views of the future'. I'm not really interested in using futuristic/sci-fi imagery, I'm not going to start dropping computer/techno speak into New Mind tracks. I'm more interested in now, in reality rather than fantasy. Reality is harsh and expressing. If I share the 'depressing and wary' viewpoint with the Cyberpunk ethic then it's coincidental. I suppose the 'rust-equation' is subconsciously referring to decaying machinery, but that wasn't the primary intention. I'm heavily influenced and interested in film and it seems that the films with the most influence on New Mind's music share similar colours: rusted reds/browns and cold, washed out gray. If you've ever taken notice of the colouring in Fassbinder and Cronenberg films you'll know what I mean. I just wanted the music to reflect the way I see these films. We live in a very throw-away society, it is played up in Cyberpunk imagery, particularly in "Hardware" and "Bladerunner" but you can see elements in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and that was a product of the twenties.
To be fair, the versions of the future as seen through film makers and writers is not shared by the so-called Cyberpunk music makers. The imagery we associate with the music is often a direct result of films viewed, of books read. Perhaps I would deduce that the music really isn't all that original after all? The borrowed ideas and cyber-imagery employed are cliched already?
JS: Yes, I think the cyber-imagery is a bit tired these days. I have the greatest respect for people like Clock DVA and FLA but I wouldn't want to get involved in cyber/sci-fi imagery myself. As a literary movement, the Cyberpunk 'thing' has run it's course. I think even William Gibson would agree on that.
Where next for Cyberpunk/Industrial?
JS: I have been told that Industrial music has gone as far as it can. The UK press seem to think it peaked and died in '88 or 89'. I have been told it needs to move more into the techno area... It seems to me that this is just because techno is currently selling bucket-loads and labels want to sell more product. I don't agree. I will continue to do precisely what I want with New Mind and that is make harsh/extreme music irrespective of trends. The only trend that disturbs me is the Ministry factor. They seem to have gone heavy metal with a vengeance and now there are an increasing number of metal bands claiming to be Industrial because they have a sampler. I think you know what I mean... 'Oh, yeah, we're really into Industrial, into Ministry and Pigface.' 'So, what do you think of Skinny Puppy and FLA?' 'Who?' Does that make my point?
It certainly does and reflects my own viewpoint accurately. The only question that stirs in the back of my mind is why on earth would any metal band want to be seen as Industrial? I mean, there's not much of a chance of breaking through if they're labeled under the infamous 'I' word is there!? There's always been that stigma attached to Industrial music that's prevented such a crossover.
JS: Well, as we're using religious metaphors, I'd say it was a blessing rather than a stigma that Industrial music isn't so popular. I am just pleased that the chances of New Mind becoming the next Nirvana are slim at best. I'd hate to have to whine like Kurt Cobain that I'd sold a lot of records. Selling music is not my concern. I make music, the fact that a record company believes they can sell the music is secondary. I don't make music to sell it. I make music because I need to make music. I wouldn't like to be in a position where I was expected to make music that would sell, that I had to do a certain thing a certain way. Industrial music becoming more popular would change this... Let's stay underground where we are appreciated.
There's always a chance, however remote, that a band like New Mind might find itself popular. New Mind has, in my opinion, very evident techno overtones and, as a result, a hybrid sound.
JS: Yes, Techno and Industrial do mix. It's down to the technology behind the music. The only difference is in the construction of the music. Techno isn't any less 'heavy' in its approach, it's just aimed at making you move. Industrial music is more for listening than moving. If New Mind is hybrid it's because I use a lot of the sounds from the Techno area, but the programming style is different from Techno. When you hear a drum/bass sequence it is instantly identifiable as being Techno. Industrial is more fluid, less regimented in style. Techno is techno. The key to crossing over is remixing. As far as I'm concerned I'd really like New Mind singles to contain drastic remixes by people from the Techno end of the spectrum.
Jonathan S. signing to Machinery means we should expect to hear from New Mind et al frequently in the near future.
JS: The first release through Machinery will be a full-length New Mind CD. It's working title is 'Fractured' and it contains thirteen tracks. The contract is for five albums/CD's, though as I work on several other projects: Freezone and Gunhed to name a couple... it's likely that these will emerge through Machinery as well. Freezone is purely instrumental music. It's an attempt to move towards soundtrack style music but still covers a range of influences from Industrial to Ambient/World music. The latest development is Gunhed, which is rooted firmly in the techno area of music. I've been listening to a lot of techno/hardbeat but I didn't want that to come out through New Mind so it seemed sensible to do it as a side project. It seems like most of the 'big names' in Industrial/Cyber circles put out lots of different releases under different names. So, if they can do it, why can't I?
This is all very well, as long as Machinery supports Jonathan S.'s ideas. Most Industrial labels appear quite happy to give the artist the final say which is how it should be and probably another reason why Industrial music will never be commercially popular.
JS: Machinery are content to let me have total control over New Mind's music: How it's put together, recorded and packaged. They tell me New Mind is so left-field in comparison to other bands on the label that New Mind is never going to be hugely commercial, so it's best they just let me get on with it.
Note: this interview originally appeared in MFTEQ's Ghafran book/cd package. It was released in 1993 and the information presented herein has changed DRASTICALLY. Go to the FAI section for more info about label changes and 'ambient disco music' references...