Last month Raime, Lee Gamble and Pete Swanson played together in Amsterdam as part of the Sonic Acts Festival. The day after their performance, I spoke with them about the current wave of intense, physical music.
Juha van ‘t Zelfde: Do you guys play together a lot?
Pete Swanson: No, actually this was the first time we’ve shared a stage together. Both Lee and I are from the noise scene, but it’s funny we never crossed paths in those days. I’ve been familiar with his stuff, and have corresponded with Raime. It was cool to meet everyone here.
Juha van ‘t Zelfde: What about your musical kinship? Even though your music sounds very different it seems like there’s a unifying factor.
Pete Swanson: A lot of us are coming from different areas and different angles. It’s definitely a dark, destroyed electronic music, but everyone is coming at it from a really different angle, using really different gear.
Raime: And that reflects what music is doing at the moment, and how people are consuming music. You don’t necessarily have people aligning themselves to one particular scene, strictly listening to one kind of music.
Pete Swanson: When digital media started becoming the predominant means of distribution it really allowed people to tap into whatever music they wanted.
Raime: Everybody worries about the loss of authenticity. Everyone has a panic about the possibility that we are just consistently consuming media on a very superficial basis. But actually, for all of us to be here, as outsiders or niche musicians, and to play to that many people is incredibly positive.
Juha van ‘t Zelfde: [US sci-fi writer] Bruce Sterling recently commented on the effect of digital music on contemporary musicians: ‘They can make a lot of weirder noises, lots faster, but they don’t become virtuosos.’ Would you agree?
Lee Gamble: A virtuoso in the musical sense means that you’re good at one specific thing. Nowadays, there’s tons of software out there that makes making music easy. But you have to be able to curtail all of this. To make something that sounds like something no one else could have made is the virtuosity of music that still exists.
Raime: We’re talking virtuoso in a musical sense, but I don’t really class myself as a traditional musician. I feel like I have been able to join the community of musicians by having all of these available tools. People are still virtuosos by means of ideas. If you’re in control of your own ideas then you’re a virtuoso of art. For us it’s a rigorous process. We are incredibly obsessed by sound worlds. When we talk about our work we wonder what you feel when you are in that world. It is an obsessively worked-over sense of place and narrative.
Lee Gamble: And your music is cerebral, it’s not just functional body music.
Raime: That’s the hybrid that’s happening. Like your stuff, Pete: it’s fucking physical, but at the same time, it’s not the music we’re going to hear in a club a lot. In some respects this is why it appeals to a lot of people: because it works on these two levels.
Pete Swanson: Yes, I think of my music as being high-anxiety. I feel that the energy is very nervous. It’s definitely body music. And on some level it’s also political, but in a very abstract way. It’s very anti-structure. I think there’s a certain inherent politics in that, and it comes from my punk background, but it’s not explicitly political: it’s not explicitly anticapitalist, it doesn’t take a particular position at all, but I think it is really in opposition to established forms.
Lee Gamble: A lot of postwar electroacoustic composers were fucking hardcore because they grew up in a war. Stockhausen used to pick up pieces of dead bodies when he was a kid. My music isn’t a political statement, but you’re a product of where you are. I live in Tottenham, where the recent London riots started, and I was playing the next night, and I nearly pulled the show because I was so deeply frustrated ‒ not with the fact that people were rioting, but with the manifestation of this fucking hassle people have to deal with in poorer areas, that it has to come to this point. So yes, if you write records and something like that happens and it doesn’t get in there, you must live in a bubble.
Raime: I also like thinking about it on a micro-scale. I like to experience drama because perhaps some parts of my life aren’t as dramatic as I would like them to be. We all want something to happen in our lives, and we all want to feel. We want to experience. So on a day-to-day level, that’s another reason why I listen to really intense music. I listen to Pete’s stuff walking down the street to get some milk. There’s no part of my life that is intense or dramatic or dysfunctional in that scenario, but I still want to fucking feel something. And that’s for me on a very elemental level a political statement ‒ in the sense that I desire to experience, and I desire my existence to be real.