Archive – Eternity Interview 1996

[Eternity]: After deciphering a crazed message on my answering machine from Mr Mark EG I deduced that my mission was to interview a legend of the Techno underworld for Eternity.? Interviews are funny things, you never quite know what to expect and when the subject of your interrogation is Ken Downie, a.k.a. The Black Dog, you’re certainly ready for anything.?

The Black Dog is one of the most colourful characters you could hope to find within the murky depths of the underground scene.? His background and beliefs are as rich and unique as his mind-blowing brand of progressive ambience.? Ken Downie, the founder member and “genuine discordian pope” has gone from strawberry picker, to sailor, to computer hacker, to renowned music maker.? Although he is often regarded as a true cyberpunk artist, he describes himself as “just a scruffy sod, with a few modems and computers” and regards The Black Dog as a flexible creative vehicle “in a multimedian sort of way”.

You’ve described yourself as “weird”, do you really believe that you are or is this other peoples’ perception of you?

[The Black Dog]: “Well, sort of. ? I think the word stems from the Celtic root “wyrd”, which accepts the “out of the ordinary” as part of the scheme of things.? To me being weird means you are open to more possibilities than people consider accepted reality. ? Yeah, it’s a tough one, because you have to deal with lots of idiots who can only see “reality prime” or day-to-day existence.”

Give me a good example of how you might freak somebody out?

“Sadly, just by “looking” at them.? It’s not something I encourage, or pander to in my personality… some people just seem to run away when they find out that I really believe the things that I say.? I was talking to my mate James about it and he reckoned it was because I firmly believe myself to be a magician and they felt that I would enchant THEM.? To me that is as egotistical as meeting a homosexual and thinking that they automatically want to fuck you.”

When did you first realise your perception of the world was different to those around you?

“That’s a bit of a loaded question [grin].? Actually at about 5, I remember one of my teachers explaining to someone that I “wasn’t like the other children”.? I don’t perceive myself as being the only one, or living in a world of my own.? It just seems that I’m not motivated by money, or the things that western people seem to crave for their comfort and security. ? To me there is no comfort and security, life is one long exciting adventure, to be lived.? Which doesn’t mean settling in the same job for forty years, or having a house, mortgage, and children.? Any idiot can do that.”

Do you think you’re a genius, John Lennon knew he was and who would disagree?

“I would.? That’s the biggest tray the ego can fall into, thinking you are somehow more gifted than anyone else. ? In truth, we could all write classic songs if we applied ourselves to it. ? Liber AL says that “Every man and woman is a star”.? There is no limit to what the human brain can achieve, if tuned.? Also, I believe that the word “genius” is a label? only for other people to apply.? I’m only a genius if you say I am.”

How do your memories of the Navy manifest themselves in your life?

“[Sigh] I really miss the sea. ? It’s very reassuring to hear it slosh against the side of your ship, and lull you to sleep.? I got to travel extensively with the Navy… something that I’m very grateful to them for and I feel that my life is better for having been to the places I have.? I left because it was getting petty and I’d had enough of taking orders from people I felt were idiots.? It was a brilliant time for me, waking up in a new port every few days was exhilarating, but it was also tinged with sadness at the friends I lost (needlessly) because of the Falklands war.”

Was there a point in your life when you suddenly said “I want to make music” ?

“Yeah, sitting in Jimmy Cauty’s kitchen in 1986.? Up until then I had a love of rhythm and music, but never dreamed that I could make it myself.? I was looking at a career of sitting the other side of the mixing desk, being an engineer or something.? I still thought you had to play guitars and stuff at that point.? He was the person that showed me that wasn’t necessarily the case and I’m very grateful to him.”

How did “Black Dog Towers” come about?

“It’s a multilevel pun.? I was living underneath the BT Tower at the time and set up a bulletin board system on a tower PC, which housed all our song and picture data.? So, everything for “The Black Dog” lived in “Black Dog Towers”, or the dataspace.? A sort of virtual reality construct, hinted at in “Count Zero” by William Gibson.? It seemed natural, people liked it, so it stuck.”

Has your technological expertise affected your music?

“Without my technological expertise I wouldn’t have been able to make music in the first place.? I’m a fairly fluid percussionist, nothing marvellous, but can’t play the guitar, violin, or any other “proper” instrument to save my life.? Using a software sequencer is like a musical notebook, you can scribble your ideas down and go back to them later.”

How do you feel about artists who have jumped on the technology bandwagon??

“To be honest I’m not really concerned with what other artists are doing.? Technology makes things easier, but not necessarily more musical.? I’d just like them to actually like what they release, as opposed to being driven by financial concerns.”

Do you believe in fate or do you go for the things you want in a big way, making definite steps to direct the course of your life?

“Both really, I reckon that there is a destiny laid out for you and if you do nothing to change the circumstances of your life, it will happen, for better or worse.? What you can do on the other hand, is like you say… take positive steps to avoid, or change it.? My destiny, at one time, was to stay down in Devon and become a hopeless strawberry picker because there was no motivation to do otherwise.? I didn’t fit in and, beautiful though Devon is, I would have been bored rigid and probably ended up on drugs.? I moved and did certain things and now a whole new destiny has unfolded.”

Your influences range from Jules Verne to Debbie Harry, how does one qualify for inclusion in The Black Dog Hall of Heroes?

“You have to have “made a difference”, i.e. done something that people will remember you for centuries later. ? Become immortal through your words and deeds, or help humanity progress/recollect, which can be the same thing sometimes.? Debbie Harry, because she survived the excesses of everything the music business could throw at her and came back to rub their faces in it.?? Naturally they (the industry) snubbed the relaunch of any career plans that she may have had, but she made her point, beautifully.”

How did the influence of Timothy Leary and William Burroughs affect your musical development?

“William Burroughs taught me that I don’t have to take Heroin, I can just read his books and feel just as shitty (through the power of imagination), without wasting all my money and losing the few friends that I do have.? He must be one of the greatest magicians living.? Taken everything there is to take and is still here to drone on about it.? Bless him.? The track “Kheprit” (on the album) was written for him.? Timothy Leary, well, who hasn’t been influenced by him?? America should feel very embarrassed at his persecution.? And let’s not forget he was banned from even setting foot inside the UK.? What a lost opportunity.? Surely we should be educating, not censoring people?”

Many of your influences are adopted from religious scriptures or philosophies. ? Do you consider yourself to be a religious person, or does religion simply inspire you?

“No.? Religion appals me.? We have to separate “Faith” and “Religion”.? To me, it’s perfectly acceptable if someone wants to believe in a monotheistic deity (as long as they don’t lay it on anyone else) that’s “Faith” and we hall have to believe in something, or we go mad.? “Religion” however, to me, is stupidity.? Why accept just one dogma, when they all have something to say to you?? We’re adrift, fully conscious and spiralling into the next millennium and you expect a deity to save you, without you getting off your arse and doing anything yourself?? Get real.”

You are influenced by many ancient philosophies, such as Alchemy, how do you think these ideas can be translated for life in the next millennium?

“We should look at them again and try to discover what they were trying to say to us.? It’s my belief that we’ve swept a lot of useful stuff under the carpet.? The Christians are most to blame for this. ? And who knows what priceless wisdom was lost when the library of Alexandria was torched?? In some respects, the realm of science is just catching up with magic. ? We’re yawning at quantum mechanics, because we’ve been time travelling for millennia, knowing that anything is possible an death isn’t the end of it.”

Tell me about the Book Of Dogma.

“I should be keeping a magical diary, but I’m too lazy.? When I do have insights into things, I write them down in a note book, so at least I can remember the most salient points later on.? The “Book Of Dogma” is like the “Book Of Lies”, the title of the book is a direct contradiction to it’s contents.? It’s a joke which challenges you to start thinking before you even open the cover.”

Do you think you were born in the right century, or have you been Universally misplaced?

Right time, wrong planet.

When The Black Dog was formed, how frustrating did you find trying to get the message of your music across?

“Incredibly, because we had to deal with arseholes in record company A&R departments, who if the truth be told wouldn’t know which way their arse is pointing, let alone recognise a good tune when they hear it. ? The pressure eased when we found we could press it up and get it out to the shops ourselves, without having to deal with them.”

What is your chief motivation when trying to get The Black Dog off the ground?

“There was a hole in music. ? Acid House had been “squashed” by the police and rinky-dink Italian House music was getting played everywhere.? Emotion had left via the window.”

Do you think anyone else is making similar music to you?

“Probably not, unless they’ve had the ups and downs of my life, then their music is going to be their music.? I’ve heard all sorts of tracks “giving a nod to the dog” but none of them have really cut it.? There’s always something missing, y’know?? I’d much rather people did their own thing.? Try and shock me… if you can… The Creation, 1967.”

Are you taking your music to a new unexplored place, or is it taking you?

“Oh, it’s taking me, definitely. ? And there are lots of other places that I’ve yet to explore.? Provided I don’t die of stress in the meantime.”

Do you have a set plan when making tracks or do ides pop into your head at random times?

“Nah, having a plan is useless, it always evolves into something else completely different.? These days, I just put the DAT in and see what happens.? When you “get the vibe” you know it’s time to sit in front of the keyboards… it’s a complete waste of time until then.”

Do you PA and if so what kind of crowd would you like to play to?

“Yes, I PA, though nobody has ever steamed in with the (financial) support needed to take a multimedia extravaganza out on the road.? Such things are hideously expensive.? I prefer smaller, more intimate clubs, preferably out of London, where people can be themselves without maintaining a ‘cool’ facade which makes them look ridiculous.? An ‘up for it’ crowd would be best, like Manchester, or Edinburgh.? Kind, warm-hearted, people.”

Do you want people to just listen to and enjoy your music or are you consciously trying to get people to think on your wavelength?

“I feel the music is big enough for both.? Those people rummaging around in it will probably find something, there are a few catchy (whistlable, even) riffs, for the ‘easy’ listeners.”

The new Black Dog album “Music For Adverts (and short films)” is released next month.? Tell me about it.

It’s a collection of songs, innit?

I sensed a tribal feel to the tracks, would you agree?

“Err, well, I’d say it was more nomadic with a tribe; it seems you have all to all pull together and share common goals. ? The Bedouin go where they want and do what they want, when they want to. ? Which sounds like real freedom to me.”

The album seems to follow a progressional path, like a long, colourful journey?

“I see it as an open ended return ticket to wherever you want to go.”

How would you classify the style of the new album?

“E for Emotive?”

Do you feel that the new stuff is experimental or are you using your tried and tested ideas?

“Wot, playing it safe?? That’s a hideous accusation.”

How would you tempt Eternity readers to visit The Black Dog’s homepage?

“There are no cheesy pics of scantily clad female ravers and you never know, you might learn something that will help you out on the rich road of life.”

Will there be a time when you disappear to a desert island and discard the world of music?

“Funny you should mention it.? I’ve never met so many arseholes as I have on the periphery of the music business.? I than the Gods that I’m not in advertising.? Being a professional musician must be one of the most stressful jobs going.? People seem to think they’re really important, because they’re in a ‘leisure industry’.? They’re not.? There isn’t a day when I don’t think about packing it all in and going to live in Greece on a small olive farm. Probably most other people have the same sort of retirement fantasy too.? But, I still have to write the definitive Black Dog album, so that wont’ be for a while yet.”

What does the future hold for The Black Dog?

“I’m going to get older and bolder.”