Taped crusader: my cluttered collection of cassettes

I’ve had a pile of cassette tapes gathering dust for maybe 15 years. I figured it was time to go through them. Sorting through some old belongings, I discovered an old walkman that still worked. Bingo! What would be on these dusty old tanglers? I was mostly hoping to find a phone interview I did with Nivek Ogre, or a face-to-face with Fear Factory, neither of which saw the light of day thanks to a mishap in a house move. They must have been in the other pile of tapes, which got damaged. Nope. On this one, I found …


It’s in a Smashing Pumpkins sleeve, but is actually a bootleg of Ministry in 1994. I went through a brief phase of picking up dodgy tapes – cassettes and videos – from the Camden Market. The bloke on the stall claimed to be mates with Killing Joke, and said they let him onto the stage to stand at the side to get the best footage. I never bought one of his Killing Joke tapes, but I did walk away with Skinny Puppy’s 1986 Ain’t It Dead Yet and NIN in Dallas, 1990. I’m guessing this is from that market stall.

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Death In Vegas interview 1997

I did this interview for my fanzine in 1997, though looking at the text it’s probably a co-write between Claire and me – we’d take turns to type them up while splitting a bottle of Jack, each editing the other’s words. 

If you haven’t seen Death In Vegas or haven’t got a copy of their album then you must be deaf, braindead or a Bon Jovi fan and we send you our deepest sympathy. They are without doubt one of the best and freshest dance outfits around.

Masterminded by Richard Fearless and Steve Hellier, Death in Vegas began over four years ago and have their first album, Dead Elvis, out on Conrete. The singles – Twist and Shout (a cover of The Beat’s 80s single) and Rekkit both went down a storm and they now enjoy a nice slice of radio airplay. This year they have toured with The Chemical Brothers as well as performing at Glastonbury and the Brighton Essential Music Festival. We managed to catch up with Steve at the Southend stop of the Chemicals’ tour and ask him a few questions.

We decided to subject Steve to a game of Wiggly Worms, where different coloured tailed worms bob up and down in a big plastic apple and you have to pick them out. The questions, which were colour co-ordinated with the worms’ tails, were hastily thought up over a cup of tea in a beautifully greasy Southend cafe. Right: let’s begin.  Continue reading

Memory Lane: Devin Townsend

1997. I loved the band, but had no idea what Devin Townsend from Strapping Young Lad would later become.

Strapping Young Lad 1997

STRAPPING YOUNG LAD reveal all about passion, pisstakes and suicidal wood pigeons…


“Sorry that the pigeon had to die, but that was fucking hilarious!” giggles animal-loving guitarist Jed from cybermetallers Strapping Young Lad.  It’s been an odd tour for the noiseniks, taking in illnesses, exhaustion and an encounter with a self-destructive pigeon.

“It happened to you guys and we got to see it,” explains Jed.

“We’re driving down the road and it was like BAM! The windscreen shattered.  That was all I saw,” interjects an appalled Matt, guitarist with the band.

Jed continues:  “What we saw was a bird flying straight for your van, which would have been impossible to see.  It hit just the top section of the window, on the right.  As it came off the van, it was spinning like a Chinese firework, have you seen them?  Sorta pretty, well this bird was spiralling and all of a sudden feathers started to expand from it.  It was beautiful, it was like a show.  Couldn’t have been planned better.  Unbelievable.  Stuff like that, what are you going to do?  It was funny.”

Humour is an important element in SYL, the band who brought us Heavy As A Very Heavy Thing and No Sleep Till Bedtime.

“I can’t go into detail about what makes us laugh – everything makes us laugh.  I’m not even going to go into it – under the surface we’re pretty fucking twisted people.  The music will speak for itself.  We have a damn good time playing what we do.”

Do you get frustrated with dour, self-loathing industrial bands?

“Each individual person writes for him or herself and if someone wants to be Morrissey and cry about the fucking world and oh my god the whole time, then fine.  Or if, like us, you want to sing about the Joy of Metal, then it’s up to the individual.”

The press release is entitled “Spinal Young Lad”, linking the extraordinary events of the tour with the comedic spoof “rockumentary” of the ficticious metal band, Spinal Tap.

“Spinal Tap wrote the book on travel,” laughs Jed, “That film is the be all and end all for touring.  We’ve been battling some very strange viruses, and we’ve all been pretty sick lately.  Plus the vindaloo.  This tour’s been pretty wacky.  I say wacky in a loose way, it’s been pretty fucking annoying to a large extent, but you’ve gotta put it into perspective.  Fuck, we’re touring!  Can’t complain!”

Do you ever wish you had a dayjob?

“Yeah, but fuck!  If I had a dayjob, I’d be saying “I wish I was on tour right now”.  This IS the dayjob.”

Strapping Young Lad are one of those “industrial” bands whose “industrialness” is largely based on there being more side-projects than band members.  Do SYL write music for the project, or do they write a song and then decide which band gets which song?

“It’s both, sometimes you write a song and think “Fuck! That would be perfect for X band” but most of the time you’re sitting around jamming and it just fits with whatever you’re doing at the time.  Sometimes when I’m sitting at home writing I’ll think “This’ll be good for this, and this’ll be good for this”  We are the side project kings, we have bands all over the place.”

Do you try to keep the live sound in the studio?

“Yeah, there’s no fancy tricks.  Well, there’s some choreography!  I’ll sometimes put a KISS poster up for inspiration, but that’s about it.  We don’t go in for big effects or anything.  It’s soul-driven rather than FX driven.  We play it like it is.  You don’t need tricks.  Live is what the record tries to represent.  There’ll be no 11 inch high Stonehenges.”

Many of the bands we have spoken to have been actively into animal welfare.  Do SYL pursue an ecologically-aware lifestyle?

“I’ll speak for myself,” says Jed, “I don’t give a fuck about people, but I give a fuck about animals.  I don’t actively participate in any animal welfare programs although I would like to, I just don’t have the time or whatever excuse.  I’m just not doing it.  Animals are the one true thing, they’re innocent, they’re instinctual and they don’t rely on Kleenex softies to get them by.  I’m not a big fan of the human race, but animals fucking rock.  That kinda thing happens, but if you want to sacrifice stuff then go around the prisons and sacrifice some inmates, cut down the population.”

‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘Then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’


At this point, we meet up with vocalist and main-man Devin Townsend, a charismatic, intense man who looks far older on stage than he does up close.  Slightly built and with that same desperate earnestness possessed by Ogre from Skinny Puppy; Devin is vaguely unsettling and has the zeal of the preacher when he delivers his rhetoric on the “truth” of music.  Still, he’s a pleasant enough chap, with an easy laugh and amiable manner, yet the seriousness of his conversation lies at odds with the humour of his music.

When we spoke to Rhys Fulber, he mentioned a side-project he has with you?

“No, I mean, you know the rumours with side projects are out of hand.  I seems to be the in vogue thing to do at the moment.  Rhys is from Vancouver so we just manage to go out every now and then and talk and when we talk, things come up.  If we ever decide to do anything, well every day is a different day and we’ll take it as it comes.”

Rhys describes you as having a voice like a “male Bjork”…

Devin laughs – “That would be a funny looking thing, wouldn’t it?  You mean she’s female?” He explains that his singing voice is merely the result of childhood lessons in the school choir, and the will to succeed.

James, a rivethead I brought with me, asks a question.  He remembers a metal band called Nuclear Assault, and comments on the similarity between them and SYL.  Are SYL an industrial band, or a metal band, like Nuclear Assault?

“It’s not intended to be industrial, or anything.  It’s just an exultation of being alive.  Music is just a by-product of living.  Music is not a by-product of wanting to be a musician, it’s a by-product of wanting to be alive, and if you’re in a particular head-spin and you hear a particular record at a certain point in your life, then that will influence the kind of music you make.  As soon as you start putting things into a genre it gives people a clique they feel they need to belong to. 

The idea behind music for me is that the audience is just as responsible for creating the music as we are.  As soon as you start categorising, it’s like saying you’re a Christian or a Bhuddist or a Catholic, it gives you a group of people you can rationalise your hopes and fears with.  Music isn’t about rationalisation of fears and hopes it’s about exultation of being alive.  That’s all there is to it. 

Any agenda or fashion is like… we’re in a society that believes that compassion is a weakness for so long as opposed to accepting that we’re all part of a community as it is.  We hold our hands out and we’re being fed empty products like the Spice Girls and McDonalds and as artists and as an audience the only responsibility we have is not to ackowledge it because as soon as you say you like it or you don’t like it you start buying into it.  As soon as you acknowledge good then you instantly acknowledge that there is a bad to go along with it.  Don’t acknowledge anything.  You just are.  And music just is.  And whatever I choose to write is whatever I choose to write and whoever I choose to write it with is whoever I choose to write it with.”

So, there is no such thing as “bad music”?

“I think it’s all perception.  There is music that I personally don’t think is very good but that’s just a question of what I’ve been raised to think is good or bad.  If it gets you off then it gets you off, but I think what gets you off should be based on truth rather than lies.  Perhaps the only music that I would consider would be bad is based on a vacuous existence which unfortunately counts for 99% of musicians.  What I’d like to see is absolute purity.  We’re looking for something shocking – we put rings through our noses and wear weird clothing.  My idea is to present something so pure it’s terrifying.  It doesn’t come from shock or trend, it comes from soul.”

What criteria would you use to identify a “good” record?

“If it marks accurately how I felt at that particular point in my life.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria, however cack that record was, it reminds me of being sixteen and getting my first blowjob.  In that light, it’s a great record, which is why I think you can’t discredit a record based on whether it’s this or that.”

Do you like music that makes you feel a certain way?

“Of course!  I heard something today called… Gabba? … It’s CRAP!  It’s what happens when you give undereducated people the privilege of using something that’s supposed to represent glory.  You know, I hear this shit and it’s out of time and it’s crap!  It’s not based on anything except for self-indulgence and perhaps that’s what music is based on but I mean when someone does it purely to be annoying, well, you might as well be a dentist.”

But Strapping Young Lad can’t be all serious.  I mean, for a start – you’re called Strapping Young Lad.

“This kind of music is ridiculous!” says Devin, laughing again at last.  “It’s all parody.  I remember people coming up to me saying “Wow, you gotta hear Cannibal Corpse, they’re really extreme”, and I remember listening to them, going, these people just didn’t get hugged enough when they were kids!  It’s just shit.  But if they like it, then good.  I always thought, you know what?  I’m going to make a record way more extreme, so it’s just a parody.”

Timewaster Letters: Golden Wonder

I decided to collect together some of my more mischievous moments and April Fool’s gags and put them here, since I think they’re more appropriate to this blog than any other.

Back when the internet was a less formal place – my work email signature was “I never drink water – fish f*** in it” – I had this email exchange with a representative from Golden Wonder. To any Americans reading, Golden Wonder are a British manufacturer of tasty savoury treats. We call them crisps, you call them potato chips, and Nik Naks are little knobbly wheaty bites. I dimly recall that Tazos were little collectible plastic shapes. I found these email printouts when doing my house clearout.

Subject: Oi! Where’s me prize?
Date: 17 October 1997 09:42

Dear Golden Wonder

Please could I have a million pounds? You see, I have never had much luck with promotional packets of crisps and a million pounds would really come in handy now the festive season is upon us.

I’ve never even won a Tazo. Or a pop-up dinosaur. Every day, I buy a packet of crisps in the forlorn hope of maybe just a Luke Skywalker plastic chip to cheer me through the day. But, alas, there is none.

So, if it is possible, I would like to win a million pounds. Or maybe just a tenner. Hell, a fiver. A Tazo?

Luke Skywalker?

A Nik Nak?

Anyway, thanks.



From: kissme@golden-wonder.co.uk
To: (Princess)
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 1997 11:14
Subject: Oi! Where’s me prize?

(Princess), thanks for your e-mail, I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to reply. We’re really disappointed that you haven’t won a prize yet.

I can’t send the million to you, but if you send me your address, I’ll give you a voucher to buy lots more Nik Naks. More Nik Naks, more chances to win the million.




I wrote back with my address and she sent me a £1 voucher, with which I bought a multipack of Nik Naks. Still didn’t bloody win it, though. 😀

Memory Lane: Martin Atkins

Note: these interviews were conducted when I was 17-19 years old and running a music fanzine, so if they seem rather amateurish, it’s because they were. The italics are notes added 10-15 years after the event.

So I actually found the legendarily terrible interview with Martin Atkins from ’96. You know what? It wasn’t so bad. OK, so on an embarrassment scale of one to nine million, it’s up there, but it explains why he didn’t seem to recall it when we met again a year or two later.

Skip to the 3:50 mark – Never Trust A John

An electro-punk band with a taste in political incorrectness, and a colour-blind living legend with a clothes peg in his hair. Freaked out? We certainly were.

Evil Mothers are a great band in the same way that bands like In Aura and Soul Coughing are great bands. Interviews with great bands are simple: put them and a sizeable quantity of alcohol in a room, ask a load of ridiculous questions and roll the tape. With a bit of luck, you’ll manage to catch the tube the next morning.

Then there are legends.

Martin Atkins fits nicely in that category, having spent the best part of two decades making nearly every record in my collection. Remember PiL’s classic This Is Not A Love Song? Atkins co-wrote that when he was in the band. Ever seen Nine Inch Nails’ Head Like A Hole video? He’s the other drummer. Listened to Ruby’s Salt Peter in the past 48 hours? Martin co-wrote Carondolet, one of the best tracks on the album. Apart from that, he’s been working with Ministry, Killing Joke, Chris Connelly, Skinny Puppy, and the band we’re here to see – Evil Mothers. On top of that, Atkins started Invisible Records and Pigface.

So it is perhaps understandable that we were more than a little nervous. Therefore, in addition to the usual trip to the pub on the way to the gig, we went to the off-licence on the way to the pub. Which was rather an unfortunate choice of action under the circumstances.

(Offering Martin a six-pack): Would you like a beer?

MA: I haven’t had a drink in three years.


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Best Concerts Ever: Smashing Pumpkins and Filter

This is right next to the Foetus one in the same issue – it has to be said, 1996 was one of the best years ever for live shows. If I was effusively enthusiastic about the Foetus one, this was the type of concert to completely take you out of your skull. Rarely, I was stone cold sober, but the performance itself made us quite forget our lack of beer …


14 May 1996, Wembley Arena


Filter playing live somewhere


I have dreams of concerts like this. The line-up was hardly to be sniffed at, but to be honest, we were only really there to see Filter. Yeah, I like the Pumpkins, but they’re just a better-than-average Alternative Rock Band, right …?

“Felcher?” asks Filter’s Richard Patrick, gazing bemused at the slideshow backdrop that has been craftily switched by the mischievous lighting crew. The red banner is hastily swapped back to “Filter”. Richard laughs, and introduces the next song. Filter’s Richard and Brian are undaunted by the size of Wembley Arena – this is probably due to their spell as members of Nine Inch Nails – and look right at home in the rapidly-filling venue. Blasting through the killer tracks off their spellbinding debut LP (Short Bus), they blind us with It’s Over, Dose, Under, and all the usual suspects, plus the ever-present Hey Man, Nice Shot (sorry guys – it’s most definitely your Creep).

Richard prowls the stage with his characteristic feline charisma, and whilst his singing voice shows the telling signs of end-of-tour strain, he can scream with the best of them. Continue reading

Best Concerts Ever: Foetus

I found my review of Foetus from 1996. Yes, it’s horrifyingly pretentious – but I was an overexcited teenager and all that. Of course, I was completely unaware of any connection between Foetus and either Nick Cave or Cop Shoot Cop, if the references seem a little off. Alas, before you ask, I wasn’t in the front row …


24 Sep 1996, London Astoria 2


From the live MALE DVD; the lyrics are allegorical.



Talk about one hell of an impressive bill. Actually, I think I will.

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Pop Psychology: Part 3

<< Part Two: The Classic Band (Cardiacs)

In addition to my note in part 1 about Jerry being upset that day, I should add a further comment: I mention him a fair bit in this blog, but that’s because I owe him a great deal. We’ve never agreed much on music, but he taught me well: don’t lie. Don’t ever lie. Even if it gets you sacked (which it did); even if you get death threats (which I did); even if you lose friends, or have to resign rather than face saying yet again how much it sucks. There’s a bias, sure: after eight bad albums, you’ll pan the ninth because you’re so worn down. If the tenth is great, you’ll gush because of the contrast – but don’t say it’s good if it’s not, or your opinion is nothing. His opinion is worthy because he’s honest, even when he’s wrong. More people could learn from him …




Everett True is the Acting Editor of Melody Maker. His career began as a fanzine writer in 1982. He ran the fanzine with Alan McGee, but acrimoniously split with McGee when the Creation boss wanted him to edit an issue featuring True’s most hated – The Smiths. True started his own fanzine, and then talked the NME into hiring him as a journalist. He worked there until the end of the 1980s, when he was sacked by former fanzine colleague James Brown for what Everett describes as his own journalistic incompetence. He got better, and went on to become a staff writer at Melody Maker. Pretty soon, he was the most famous music journalist in Britain, and entered what he describes as the highlight of his life:

ET: I always used to write in my fanzine that I felt that music journalists don’t give a s*** about music. It was the most disappointing day of my life when I got to the NME and found out it was true. Sure, they cared, but not as much as I did. Mind you, I was pretty fanatical at the time.

Then I got to Melody Maker, and I can’t ever imagine having a better job: going to America, hanging out with really famous and really cool people, going to see any show I wanted – f***ing brilliant shows – and I had a beautiful teenage girlfriend. I can’t imagine how life could have been any better. I suppose I could have had money, but who cares about money when you’re having a good time?

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Pop Psychology: Part 2 (Cardiacs)

<< Part One: The Publicists (Revolution PR)


Tim Smith has been a Cardiac for 20 years. That’s 20 years of incalculably influential experimental jazz-tinged punk pop. Almost every band in Britain can be linked back to Cardiacs through around three degrees of separation. The band – Tim, Jim, Bob and John – all have various side-projects, including other bands, production credits and advertising jingles. The Cardiacs fan base is a legion of dedicated nutcases who will follow the band around the country. Their reward is the fact that Tim manages to make time to maintain good friendships with every single one of them – and we are talking a very large number of people here …



Tim: I personally have never had any expectations about anything ever … so … um. I saw that comet that’s been hanging about for the first time yesterday – Hale Bopp or whatever – I was thrilled, it actually looked like a real comet. Cardiac-wise, I personally have passed any ambition or expectations inasmuch as we still record and play any old stuff which we think is OK. We like to think that no rules surround music so … if we think a noise sounds good to us, then so be it. Music is a really great big thing, which should not be boxed in by people, whatever the f***ness, who think it is just a trinket to decorate a style or way of life, etc.

Music is wonderful and should be rejoiced as being such. But going back to your question about expections … the answer is … it has and it hasn’t. It has, inasmuch as we still do it (and some other bands do something similar inasmuch as the being-out-thereness is concerned). And it hasn’t, as far as, the people that dig this kind of s*** are still few and far between purely for the reason that it is an ignored art form, blah blah.

Did you choose the style you play or did it just happen?

Tim: It just happened and still does for some reason.

How has being in a band affected you in terms of how you treat people and are treated?

Tim: Doing what we do – I do – I forget to keep answering personally – OK – what I think – my mind is stupidly open to anything now. I will look at a door knob and see the art/design/thought and heartache that has gone into that work. Continue reading