Sunday, 10 August 2008
The Wire's 17 year old intern, Imogen Decordova, recalls the first time she got drunk on the intoxicating rhythms of Jamaican dub.
Once in a primary school music lesson we were asked to bring in music from different cultures. As my Dad is of Jamaican descent, I asked him for his help in picking out something "genuinely Caribbean". "Ghost Town" by The Specials was one of the first ska-influenced records I can remember hearing; that, and seeing the group perform "Message To You Rudy" on Top Of The Pops 2, was my first introduction to this 'exotic' pop music from across the Atlantic.
No offence to my Dad's undeniably impeccable taste in music, but his recommendation of UB40 wasn't quite the response I had been hoping for, and it wasn't until much later that I'd finally get to explore and learn more about the sounds that came out of the studios and dancehalls of 1970s Kingston, a lesson that began in the somewhat unlikely setting of a scruffy Brighton hostel full of wide-eyed adolescents.
Like most teenagers, the urge to seek independence and have what is commonly known as 'thee best summa eva' was strong. For myself and two friends, this quest began with an aborted plan to stay in the teen holiday Mecca of Newquay in Cornwall. Then, a few months later, during the middle of the summer holidays, the three of us were hit by a wave of spontaneity and decided to book, right there and then, a three night stay in a small hostel in Brighton which we had found via some completely unreliable route.
Sure enough, the hostel conformed exactly to the stereotype of most youth accommodation: communal showers, a communal kitchen (the sink of which one of my friends was to later throw up in), a communal living and dining area complete with the requisite 'ethnic' ornaments. And of course, there was a 'communal' acoustic guitar, on which any lone traveller could strum the blues and sing tales of gap year woe. But what really struck me on entering the living room was the sounds of reggae reverberating through the house. My taste in music had always been fairly diverse and non-specific; I was already partial to the kind of drones and downtuned instrumental riffs issued by the Southern Lord and Hydra Head labels, and my CD collection at the time consisted of groups such as Pelican, The Melvins, Earth and Jesu (more like that of a white, middle American, teenage boy than a mixed race, teenage girl from the South East of England). But back in the hostel, the slow, pulsating rhythms really encapsulated a mood that the house seemed to exude and the sounds subliminally struck a heavy chord with me.
The next day I went music shopping along the Lanes, the warren of tiny streets behind the Brighton seafront that are full of shops selling all manner of kitsch accessories to the town's wandering population of teens, hippies and Goths. Stumbling into a deserted record store, I was confronted by aisles of music just waiting to be consumed by my greedy ears. I'd entered the shop with a vague idea of what I was after (some Roky Erickson, The Ronettes, a surf music compilation), but now I found myself lost among the browser racks, overwhelmed by the choices on display.
As I flicked blindly threw the endless CD sleeves, I became aware of the music that was playing in the background, an insistent, hypnotic pulse that seemed to go on and on. I was desperate to find out what it was, but was too scared to go up to the counter without buying anything. So I grabbed a pitch black box set from the World Music section with the legend 'Trojan' branded across it; I didn't recognise any of the names credited on the back (King Tubby, The Upsetters, Augustus Pablo and Niney The Observer, among others), so I was going purely on gut instinct. After buying the CD I asked the Neil Young lookalike behind the counter what he was playing. In my head I was already thinking it could be the psychedelic, trippy score to Jodorowsky's "Holy Mountain", which had been recommended to me by a crazy Dutch acquaintance, but it turned out to be "a German band called Can".
That Trojan box was to be one of the best buys of my life so far, a generous selection of pioneering dub tracks crammed onto three CDs complete with a brief history of dub printed on the back of each sleeve. I was amused by the names of the tracks, as I'd never before come across a genre that referred to itself so often in the song titles: "Dubbin' & Wailin'", "Long Time Dub", "Freedom Dub", "A Gigantic Dub", and my personal favourite, "Dub On My Pillow". I played the album that evening as a soundtrack to the binge drinking session that inevitably marked our last night at the hostel. Everyone else was more interested in the cheap Croatian alcopop that my friend had stashed in her suitcase, but I was intoxicated by the music, letting it wash over me, and I drowned in the muffled echoes of the hi-hat, imagining each crash of the cymbals was the cold English Channel, interrupting the warm drone of the bass and the thick, foggy atmosphere that enveloped the sweet melodies and harmonies of the voices. The music effectively transported me to another place, and I fell into a conscious hypnotic slumber which, with some help from the alcohol, no doubt, resulted in a form of temporary amnesia regarding the rest of the evening's events.
I recently played some of the tunes to another party of drunk and stoned teenagers, most of them too out of it to care what they were listening to. Being something of a tyrannical control freak when it comes to music, I hogged the music player, selecting tracks by Venetian Snares and Iron Monkey. But it was the Trojan tunes that got the best reception. The sight of a room of pasty-faced, acne-encrusted youths gyrating their hips and bobbing up and down to the alien sounds of The Ethiopians' "Train To Skaville" was something else, and I felt a triumphant grin spread across my face. As I cued up more vintage dub and ska from the Trojan vaults, one party animal came up to me and announced, "It all sounds pretty much the same, I can't differentiate between one track and the next, but that's how I like it."
So if I am ever again called upon to debut some 'genuine Caribbean music' to a classroom of infants, I'll know to drop some Trojan dub and leave my Dad's copy of "Red Red Wine" at home.
By Imogen Decordova
Rough Transcription of Pouncey interview
I wanted to start with your background and where you grew up you grew up in Yorkshire,
It didn’t at all, I kind of blocked
What was it about it you didn’t like?
It felt like a mistake that I was there, I kind of went into denial that I was from Leeds which sounds a bit strange, socially I didn’t really get on with anybody, didn’t really have very many friends.
Did you hide behind your art and see it as a sort of escapism?
It was to be reclusive yeah, to go into my own little world, somewhere where I’d feel comfortable.
You moved to Essex and then came down to study in
Did you find it easier to settle down there?
Oh yeah, as soon as I left
Your first foray into music was with Art Attacks…
That was a band that got formed during my stay at the Royal College of Art, it came out of being in a talent contest. At that time punk had just started, I was interested in it. I knew a guy in the furniture department who was a guitarist; he’d started to cast his own guitars out of aluminium and passing them off as sculptural objects. We did this punk rock gig and I wrote a couple of songs. It must have been the mood of the time but believe it or not a riot broke out and the next thing we knew there was this guy from
And it sort of just snowballed from there?
So you didn’t have any plan to go into that area before?
No, I’d always really wanted to do art. Because there’s no money really in being an artist you have to find a way to survive somehow so I found other ways and means of drifting in areas that I was interested in to make a living, writing being one of them and drawing cartoons and illustrations is another one.
How natural was your progression into these other areas?
Pretty natural because they were things that I was interested in the first place, so I would listen to records, read reviews and think I could do that. I like records a lot, mad record collector still am, so when I hear a record and im really excited about it I want to sort of express myself, my feelings about it etc. And luckily at the moment I’m in a position where I can do that.
It’s rare for people to find a job somewhere they’re passionate about, have you found it easy to remain doing what you love at any point thought you’d have to give up?
Not really no, I don’t think so, I worked for sounds magazine and freelance on lots of other things, once you’ve established yourself, you’re ok, you can get work. Unless you burn all your bridges.
Is it all just luck and chance meetings?
Yeah a lot of it is, but its not just luck, there has to be an element of professionalism about it, otherwise if your given a job and you don’t turn up with a copy or drawing on time, people are gonna think, what a waster, your reputation will be if you can keep coming up with he goods on time...
Who’ve and how have you been influenced by? Lovecraft for example?
Everybody was reading Tolkien, I’ve tried Tolkien but I didn’t really like it much, thought it was a load of hippy sewage. I got book three Tolkien and decided I don’t really wanna read any more of this nonsense and was drawn instead to the people who wrote for a magazine in the 30’s and 40’s called ‘weird tales’.
Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.
There were people there like Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard who wrote the Conan the barbarian stuff. I like Lovecraft best because all of his creatures were kind of suggested as oppose to anything else, I like horror stories and ghost stories, the ones I like the best are the ones that sort of just suggest it and let your imagination run riot. You’ve got a basic idea of what great Cthulhu looks like and all these other inhabitants of this sort of world that Lovecraft created, to put these gods in there, but he never really writes a complete description that you could actually sit down and draw it out, its to amorphous and I like that, I though that was really kind of spooky and psychedelic it really fired me up to think about those sorts of things.
How has that translated in your music/ musical endeavours?
Well, musically it’s improvised, spontaneous. I’m not really thinking about Lovecraft when I’m playing music as such, but it has that same kind of amorphous quality to it. I cant really say that anything is formed, there’s no sort of particular rhythm to it or pattern to it, it sort of forms, rises up and goes back again and sometimes it can be really huge and terrifying and sometimes its subdued and sometimes it doesn’t work at all and we just pack it in. the last few sessions have been really good.
Do you have a perfectionist attitude to your work?
Do you think all artists do?
I think good artists do yeah, perfection to the point of where it’s almost a mania for getting it right.
I’d personally describe your art as pretty, grotesque, warped and distorted, how would you respond to this?
Its meant as a complement, the way in which the figures are created, its not realistic at all, so I’d say it was warped in that sense...
To me that means product of a warped mind.
I’m not indicating that you are warped in anyway way. How would you personally describe your art?
What I’m doing now? Im quite interested in a lot of patterns, patterns within sort of shapes. Im more interested in seeing the creatures have more pattern and design going on there and seeing how many different ways in which I can draw an eye, and then have an eye inside an eye inside an eye.
Are there any mainstream artists that you’re influenced by?
There are people that I like, but I don’t know if I’m influenced by them. I like Cameron Jamie, I like mike Kelly and that crowd, Marnie Weber and people like that. I like a lot of old cartoonists.
What about classical art or more sort of traditional pieces?
Austin Osman Spare, ah you’ve put me on the spot...too many to mention.
You’ve done lots of artwork for bands, sleeves, posters etc. how do you end up creating those, do you listen to the music and then get inspired by that or do they give you a brief of what they want?
Sometimes it’s easier if they give me a brief of what they want and I work with that for those types of jobs.
What’s the most free rein you’ve been given?
Well your given a free rein on any of those jobs, ‘cos they haven’t really got an idea either so you have to come up with something but some are more specific and give an idea of what they want and that’s kind of good really, you really do know what to draw, all you are really is an instrument in making that a reality. It’s really hard work thinking of ideas, scary ‘cos if you haven’t got an idea and they’re expecting you to come up with something wonderful then the pressure mounts.
What are you most proud of?
I don’t really know...the next thing. As soon as I finish something that’s it, I get on with the next one and im proud of that. I’ll look at it and think ‘wow that’s good I wonder if somebody would like to buy it’. The thing I’m working on now is the thing that I like the best.
What are you working on at the moment?
Nothing specific but I will be doing something, drawings of animals.
What interested you in etching? What is it about that medium that you like?
Just because it suited my drawing style and it’s black and white and I like black and white. I don’t really like colour that much, I think colour mutes the power of the image somehow. I can use probably one colour but not a whole load of colours because like I say the image is sort of lessened by colour, the colour soon becomes more important than the line, I want the line to stand out. I want people to notice the line, the sort of textiles and jewellery in a way.
So that’s why im in interested in etching because it allows you to be a jeweller in a way, with the line you can really do some fine incredible things with it. The etching process itself, because it’s kind of dangerous it’s got like fire and smoke and acid all those sort of things, it’s kind of toxic and dangerous. It’s nice to do an addition, say a small addition then you just smash the plate up and that’s it. It looks really strong, like it’ll last forever but it doesn’t. I prefer it to run for about 20 copies and then just smash it up. And then that’s it, onto the next plate!
Gives you muscles too, because you’re pulling the metal plates through presses, winding this huge wheel, good exercise.
It’s more of a physical process.
Very physical, and it’s something you don’t really get through drawing on a table, you’ve got your music on and its not that difficult getting up and having a cup of tea, whereas etching is like being in a factory, you’re grinding this stuff out.
Would you like to progress into more physical art?
Yeah I am interested now in sculpture, my wife just helped me do this sculpture, she’s a really good moulder, so based on a series of drawings that I did we made these models together which I exhibited in Paris recently, that’s where I want to go next. I’m thinking the next thing I wanna do is a big bronze, which would be mad, I just want to show people that im not just an illustrator. I wouldn’t put down illustration but I haven’t really had the opportunity to do it really, because I don’t have the space, maybe I could try it now see what happens.
Do you associate yourself with a scene, in terms of musically and the artists that you’ve worked with?
I have worked with people in groups, but I wouldn’t really say I’m part of any scene. I don’t want to join a club, no thanks.
A lot of the work I’ve seen of yours there seems to be a lot of black metal influence, there was also a quote from one of your exhibitions that claimed there’d be ‘Black metal, Goat worship, Semen, Blood and Ink.’ Was that just novelty or do you take it seriously?
No that’s serious, all of those elements kind of went into that exhibition believe it or not, in different ways, well not physically but metaphorically, what I wrote for that exhibition was true. That exhibition came out through listening to black metal music non stop for about 6 months.
What sort of bands?
All really underground, One of the main ones that started me off was one called Abruptum.
Oh right yeah...
You know them?
Yeah they have a member called ‘It’.
Yeah ‘It’ and ‘All’, well when I first heard Abruptum I thought that, like I suppose many people do, black metal was just a load of people shouting with a stupid gargly voice and lot of that still goes on.
Abruptum was really different it seemed to go on forever and ever, they were more like just making sort of dungeon type noises, very odd, very atmospheric I was completely blown away by that. I thought if they were doing that, surely some people must have been influenced by Abruptum and there were quite a lot of people who had been influenced, had taken it to their own level and continue to do so.
So I’m always seeking out the more strange, things that the wire would cover, dark ambience stuff like that, no, that’s too polite for it. It’s got its own feel, I don’t know where it’s coming from, some weird, subconscious, terrifying place that I was really interested in going myself. I went down the same route that Abruptum went, only with my art. I really was exploring the limitations of death, Satanism and music, what fired that music. It wasn’t a joke it was a real homage to black metal.
Could it be said that a lot of Black metal artists have been influenced by similar things to you, like Alistair Crowley for example?
Yeah I suppose they are, I think Alistair Crowley always gets tarred with that ‘black magic’ brush too much when in fact there’s more to him than that. You know he’s a poet, a thinker and well really a black magician I suppose... but I don’t really think he’s as black as people like to paint him.
Have you ever considered donning corpse paint or sacrificing any farm animals?
No, I’m not really interested in hurting any farm animals or painting my face to look like a clown, but good luck to those people who want to do that. I don’t really like people hurting farm animals to be honest (chuckles) unless if they’re killing them for me to eat them.
Have you read ‘Lords of Chaos’? That’s what sort of introduced me to aspects of the black metal scene, would you recommend any books?
There’s yet to be written, I’m yet to find a really good book about black metal, I’ve searched for it and searched for it. The only really good thing I’ve ever really read about black metal is Stephen O’Malley’s (Sunn0))), Khanate, Thorrs hammer and Southern Lord) Descent magazine which unfortunately is really difficult to find, there were only about 5 issues. It was like a fanzine that he wrote and designed, it was very passionately written and I think that was why I like it. But my interest in that music is still very active and that is really affecting the art a lot. You asked me about a scene and I think I am in a way becoming more and more attached to that black metal scene. They know I exist and they want me to participate, which im happy to do.
Who’s asked you?
I’ll be talking at Supersonic festival in
What about your group Pestrepeller, what made you decide to go in that direction, had you had a break from music or had you always been active?
That’s bands been going for a while, I know the people in it, there’re all comic artists or writers or into computers or their musicians themselves and I guess its just an on going project more to do with music than art. And every so often something will come out.
You’re last album, ‘Isle of Dark Magic’ has been described as having ‘heathen and pagan qualities to it’ on a review site. How would you describe your music?
Well I suppose I should make something up, heathen music? Yeah well I suppose we are kind of heathen sort of a heathen psychedelic blues band with avant garde jazz tendencies or something like that. The new album has got quite a lot of metal in it but it’s not out yet.
When does that come out?
I’ve no idea, we’re still trying to find somebody mad enough to take it on board.
You play guitar and like to make more noise, drone, why is that?
Because I can’t play guitar.
So it’ just a disguise, nothing more?
I’m interested in what sounds come out of it in the same way that I’m interested in what lines come out of an ink pen, I’m sort of, some people would say, doodling with it, but im not really doodling with it im trying to control it and not control it. See how out of control it can go and find new ways of making this feedback that I’m interested in, change and alter and shift. I think eventually I’ll run out of ideas to do with feedback, in fact this last one is probably the last time I’ll do feedback, but I find it’s sort of relaxing, to stand there and just hear this stuff pour out on an amplifier.
Have you been influenced by bands such as Sunn0))) and Earth or any other artists before them?
Kind of before that, I’ve always been interested in the Velvet Underground type drone and La Monte Young the whole idea of drone is very attractive to me, the fact that it just goes on and on and on it’s quite primal, natural, like you said ‘heathen’.
Speaking of primal, you’re pseudonym, Savage Pencil, how did that come about?
When I was 16 I was doing my own underground comics, I wanted to make a little company like Marvel and DC and some underground comic had ones like ‘Last Gasp’ and ‘Print Mint’ and so I thought, well I’ll have a company as well and do lots of comics, so I decided it would become Savage Pencil and when I got a gig at Sounds to do a regular weekly comic strip called ‘rock n roll zoo’ I decided I’d take on the pseudonym Savage Pencil that’s my alter ego, the cartoonist is Savage Pencil as a writer im Edwin Pouncey.
Do you see them as two very different characters?
I don’t really no, because they’re both me.
How long have you been a critic for?
In terms of film, were you influenced a lot by gore films, hammer horror stuff, what do you think about this respective new wave of grind house films?
Use to kind of like that stuff, mainly for its stupid qualities, I liked the poster more than the films. You mean the Tarentino things?
Yeah sight and sound had a special edition on it, I wondered if you had any opinion on it?
Well we’ve been through the grind house, definitely been through there, it left it’s mark but that was early 80’s. I was doing little comic books as a reaction to the Thatcher governments ridiculous witch hunt on so called ‘video nasty’ films.
Would you say that politics has had a big effect on your work, or do you try to distance yourself on social commentary?
I suppose politics drifts into social commentary doesn’t it? I’m interested in politics though because I watch news night every night, I keep abreast of what’s happening and I vote. So I must be interested in politics.
And finally what bright talents are you currently championing or have you been infected with cynicism giving you little hope for more contemporary work?
Well, my favourite band at the moment are a black metal band from Finland called Dead Reptile Shrine, who else do I like, I don’t really know. I don’t know enough about who’s around. I don’t really pay much attention to the current scenes, what is going on, you tell me? You see I stopped reading comics so I wouldn’t know. I keep going back to established stuff and reassessing it. Hans Belmer I like, a German, he did a lot of etching, erotic and strange and rotting stuff...check him out. He did this doll, an articulated life size doll which he’d crop up and photograph in certain positions and it would always look abused and used and horrible and strange, but it’s a really great work of art.