The Black Dog, Interview With Skrufff

the_black_dog_2008_tbd-hide“I think they want to turn us all into numbers, and know what we are up to 24 hours a day. If you spend something, they want to know about it. If you read a book, they want to know about it. If you send an email, they want to read it.”

Chatting about the parallels between George Orwell’s 1984 and the Britain of today, Black Dog founder member Ken Downie admits he’s alarmed.

“Oh, and they have your individual fingerprints and DNA data in their files, too,” he points out. “Nobody voted for the surveillance society, as I recall. But step by step it has crept into our lives.”

Black Dog’s new album ‘Further Vexations’ is underlined by ‘a dark cynicism of the Orwellian practices being carried out by the Government’, the accompanying press release explains, though fellow TBD man Martin Dust is anything but resigned.

“This surveillance society is pretty frightening and the other thing is, it won’t stop “terrorism”. They’ve learnt nothing and they treat people as if they’re stupid though as far as I can see most people are doing nothing about it,” he observes.

“We need to bring back a sense of community to the working classes and rise up and fuck these upper class twits off – they are fucking everything up, they’ve been riding our backs for too long and I for one have had enough of the cunts,” he storms.

Both producers are in expansive moods, as happy to debate Winston Smith as their new album, ‘Further Vexations’, which comes out shortly on Soma Records.

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): The Black Dog weren’t exactly prolific during the first period of your career: why the sudden change? How much has it required letting go of perfectionist tendencies?

Black Dog [Martin]: “You’d have to ask Ken how much things have changed but for me they haven’t really changed at all. I wake up thinking about music and fall asleep listening to it and if anything the perfectionist tendencies have got worse, it’s just that we know how to manage it better these days and the fact that we all really get on well helps. We are all very comfortable with each other so we are not worried about hurting each others ego’s where creative work is concerned.”

Black Dog [Ken]: “The first period of my career?

Black Dog [Martin]: “Ha Ha.”

Black Dog [Ken]: “When we formed, we released the material we could, with the time and resources at our disposal. In the second line-up phase (with Steve and Ross) we took the deliberate decision NOT to release an album a year like everybody else was doing, and concentrated on remixing instead. Working with Martin and Richard, is the third phase of the collective. It’s true that we’ve stepped up the pace since ‘Silenced’ was released, but we’re working at a speed we’re all comfortable with.”

Black Dog [Martin]:“I really can’t manage other people’s expectations of us, we do what we do and that is that, and it’s how it really is. Publish and be damned, I say.”

Skrufff: Ken, the last time we chatted you said, ‘I’m too fucking livid’: what is it with anger than interests you so much, ie enough to call the album ‘Further Vexations’; why, Is anger really an energy?

Black Dog [Ken]: “Anger can be a positive force with the ability to affect change. I’m still ‘fucking livid’, but I’ve decided to do something about it, rather than ruminate on the more depressing negative aspects of life in Britain.”

Black Dog [Martin]: “Vexations also has more than one meaning, my anger is pretty directed and has been for a long time, I often wait for years before I bite back and I still use curses, so if you’ve fucked with me, I will get you back *lol*.”

Skrufff: When was the last time you experienced leaping joy, elation, or inner laughter?

Black Dog [Ken]: “Oh, daily. My face is wrinkled from where I’ve laughed too much. I have a Labrador called Sumo who keeps the depression demons away, and the ever changing sea reminds me that nothing is permanent, or set in stone forever. There are many ridiculous things in the world to laugh about. I do recall I didn’t laugh as much when I was living up in the greyness of London, but that was an entirely different set of circumstances, and a long time ago. Being happy is almost an act of rebellion now.”

Black Dog [Martin]: “I even find it funny that people seem to think we are a bunch of miserable bastards who sit in the dark, wanking and crying.”

Skrufff: Martin: how easy is it to work with Ken: does his anger pose any problems?

Black Dog [Martin]:“I’ve never had a problem working with Ken ever, although it seems to be ‘techno mythology’ that he’s difficult to work with which is wrong; very wrong. He doesn’t get angry in the same sense that people do when they are drunk or at football, it’s a controlled anger, a passion, which having worked in factories and down the mines I can tell you it wouldn’t worry sheep. I guess we’re not Metallica *LOL*”.

Black Dog [Ken]:“I think most of this comes from the fact that I have manic depression. (I don’t like the term bipolar disorder). Working in studios to deadlines can be tremendously stressful, and it would manifest the manic tip. My behaviour would become ‘short’ (though never overtly rude or threatening). I guess some people felt uncomfortable with that. Also, when you say, “no, thank you” or “no, I don’t believe we should be doing that”, the difficult label often gets applied to you by record labels and industry people. Nuff (enough) said.”

Skrufff: What’s been the biggest row you’ve had?

Black Dog [Martin]: “I don’t think we’ve had one yet, have we? Perhaps a few hissy fits from me over music but nothing that really sticks out over the last 6 years.”

Black Dog [Ken]: “Remarkably, there’s been no tears or arguments. Working with Martin and Richard is stress free. I guess we’ve all been around the block a few times, and there’s no place (time or need) for tantrums, posturing, and argumentative behaviour. Disagreements are quick and easy to talk through and sort out.”

Black Dog [Martin]:“I can get very mardy (moody) over some things though.”

Skrufff: We talked about the dangers of today’s creeping surveillance society, where does it all end if no-body protests?

Black Dog [Ken]: “We will all have a person under the stairs, reminding us that we owe the government money.”

Black Dog [Martin]: It ends with people moaning on YouTube comments pages probably, unfortunately that’s a close as some people get to forming an opinion. It’s sad times when (talent show) X Factor get more votes and more people are worried about what Jonathan Ross said. How base have we become?”

Skrufff: In George Orwell’s classic 1984, his chief protagonist Winston Smith (wrongly) put his hope in the proles: why do you think the masses can be roused? How?

Black Dog [Ken]: “The masses are being roused, by the far right, people always look for some sort of ‘saviour’ when the shit hits the fan. Witness the historical rise of fascism, and the media’s current fawning obsession with America’s new president. All those hopes and fears pinned on one person is a bad thing. Winston Smith (and Julia) made the mistake of trusting other people to act, rather than using their own ability to get the fuck out of there, and escape into the countryside of Airstrip One.”

Black Dog [Martin]: “True, you can’t sit waiting for someone else to do something for you, Winston Smith had a chance to re-write the future, he failed.”

Skrufff:Why do you believe people have become so apathetic in recent years?

Black Dog [Ken]: “People are spoon fed brainwashing pap (rubbish) through their TV, 24 hours a day, and a lot of them believe it.”

Black Dog [Martin]: “The internet hasn’t really helped either, the written word is even more of a lie now, people just Google for an opinion these days, 59 million people asked Google “Who should I vote for” – I mean, FFS. (for fuck’s sake)”.

Skrufff: Your biog starts with the line ‘The Black Dog are without a doubt one of the hardest working acts in electronic music’: what makes you draw that conclusion (how many days off a month do you take? when was your last holiday?)

Black Dog [Martin]: “We do work very hard at our art, someone else wrote that line about us and I asked why and he said it’s because we are always working in the studio, on or thinking about tracks, running our two online communities and record labels. When we are not doing that we are either playing live or asleep.”

Black Dog [Ken]: “I haven’t had a holiday in over 11 years. Being packaged into a pressurised tube like a human parcel doesn’t really do it for me, so I’ve not felt the need to travel anywhere. I can walk by the sea everyday, smoke, and enjoy the freedoms which the government can’t tax. That’s enough for personal happiness.”

Skrufff: How much do you perceive hard work (in itself) to be a ‘good thing’?

Black Dog [Martin]: “For me, I have the ‘Northern’ work ethic where you get up every day and toil at your art, it’s the way I am really. It drives other people mad because I’m spinning a couple of plates all the time (multi-tasking).”

Black Dog [Ken]: “To get anything done, you have to put the hours in. I read recently that to become truly proficient at an instrument, you have to put in at least 10,000 hours practice. In that sense, I think hard work is essential. Though unlike Martin, I have to be inspired to work. Sitting at the desk, just for the sake of it, isn’t productive for me.”

Skrufff: A few general questions; what is it all for?

Black Dog [Martin]: “To leave a little mark, to say to my history teacher who said I’d never amount to nothing, well Mr McDermott, I was the fella; who pipped his car horn at you every morning for 4 years and gave you the rods (flipped the finger) while you waited in the rain for the bus. I told you that I hold a grudge for a long time.”

Black Dog [Ken]: “Staving off boredom. expressing the ineffable. channelling the anger into something constructive. Seeking the philosopher’s stone.”

Skrufff: What’s been Black Dog’s greatest success? And greatest mistake?

Black Dog [Ken]: “The greatest success has to be that we are all still working, and putting out albums 20 years after Bytes. Even the Beatles only managed 8 years before it went tits up. My biggest regret is the decision not to work with Bjork more. I admired her song writing abilities, and her pagan humanity but I got the feeling of being ‘funnelled’ by her record company’s hype machine, and felt it was time to withdraw. I felt uncomfortable producing songs in a room full of people. Probably not the wisest career decision I’ve ever made, but you have to be true to yourself, don’t you?”

Skrufff:What’s the secret of longevity?

Black Dog [Ken]: “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

Black Dog [Martin]: “I get all my creams from Karl O’Conner (Regis)”

Skrufff: Have you ever seen a ghost?

Black Dog [Ken]: “No, I’ve never seen a ghost, though I’d very much like to.”

Black Dog [Martin]: “I’ve seen a few things I wish I hadn’t while working with Ray Sherwin and the O.T.O.”

Black Dog’s new album ‘Further Vexations’ is out shortly on Soma Records.