Taking a quick break from the pulsating pursuit of kaleidescopically refracted, synapse seducing, neuron bending sonic lunacy, The Orb aka Alex Paterson and his liquid, collaborative flux has teamed up with the notorious Youth to dive deep into their early history and open a fresh window onto the sound of the Acid House era that they did so much to define. WAU Mr Modo was the record label launched by the two subliminal nutters along with the KLF’s Jimmy Cauty who has swept in from his intergalactic observation deck to paint the cover of the new album a mischievous shade of bonkers. Releasing classic after classic during the cultural revolution that spanned the late 80’s and early 90’s, WAU Mr Modo sailed through the synthesis of innocence, love and the DIY harnessing of a fresh sound to sing the soundtrack of a shining moment. With Alex fresh from his adventures in molten, spherical psychedelia with David Gilmour and Youth staging a lightening escape from the labyrinth of his myriad projects, the two original label bosses have re-released this rolling musical narrative just in time to see granny off over the turkey and keep the fires burning bright as the snow filters through the imagination. It was our absolute pleasure to catch up with these two musical hadron colliders as they recovered from the frequency trip into a shared musical consciousness and sprinkle the eternal sound of soulful memory forth once more. Impossible Oddities……..
To what degree was acid house the natural successor to punk and to what extent was it its antithesis
Alex – Hate became love, speed became XTC, hooligans became friends, opposites attract, the world became colourful, pink was the new grey and electronic music became fashionable and marketable .
Youth – Well hip hop was really the first in succession, which included electro and post punk, disco and proto house. Acid house was a mixture of Balearic, anything from the indie Thrashing Doves to U2, even Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight and Chicago and Detroit house and techno. What made it a successor to punk was the passion and the DIY attitude of the artists, promoters and labels.
Was that era in the late 80’s a perfect storm of creativity with so many disparate elements coming together to trigger a mass movement and an evolutionary spasm of culture
Alex – Generations give different flows to the culture of the masses. It became more DIY and you could write music in your bedroom and film on camcorders well before your Twitters, Facebooks and the mobile phone!! Technology has alienated mankind in the 21st century – or should that read the new world order?
Youth – That’s precisely what acid house did do – it brought all the tribes together where suddenly it was hip to like lots of different kinds of music and the Glastonbury festival also had a major effect, if not an even bigger impact in a way that continues to this day.
How well has that matrix of renegade freedom, enlightenment on one level or electronics, frequency and life affirming chemicals weathered the years
Alex – It has its own form or freedom, ideas passed down from generation to generation.The thoughts of one man and a dream of one woman , becoming reality in the hands of their younger ever changing friends .
Youth – Well a lot of the love was a chemical illusion, very shallow and narcissistic that didn’t last long, as was the enlightenment. Nevertheless, communities and relationships were formed and bonding did occur and I’m still friends with many of the people I met back then. There were a few casualties from the drugs but not nearly as many as the late 60,s and nothing like today, with the alcohol and coke culture largeing It here for the last ten years. The quality of the drugs was much better then!
Did electronics democratise music
Alex – Electric guitars did
Youth – There are a lot of dichotomies and paradoxes within all music but it is a pure form. Sound is what created the universe and sound vibration generates the geometry of creation. There is hierarchy and there is also democracy – the dancefloor being the ultimate democracy because if no one is dancing it’s over for the DJ. Yet the DJ is still the sovereign king of the event and there is only room for one at the top of the pyramid! Electronic music is possibly harder to penetrate than rock – to program a computer or synth is much harder than knocking out a few chords on the guitar.
Tell us a little about Wau Mr Modo and it’s inception
Alex – There were three of us – Modo aka Mr Modo & WAU which was Youth and myself. We had lots of friends doing music and thought we could give our bands and projects a platform to rise up, grow in confidence and let our tough seeds take root. From reggae to house, ambient to techno we became the home of a new form of music, ‘ambient house’ and ‘ Goa Trance’ .
Youth – The technology became available to be bedroom producers and we took advantage of that.
How much cross fertilisation was there between The Orb and the KLF
Alex – Chill Out said it all! – Youth and Jimmy had been in Brilliant together previously, The Orb recorded ‘Loving You’ at KLF HQ, Transcentral, we all DJ’d at the White Room in Land of Oz in 89-90, Jimmy trying out his new KLF tunes ( 3am eternal ) and then The Orb doing a ambient house remix of it or Fluffy Clouds demos, and then there was the police car of Jim’s that took us to most places …… a huge ever growing pulsating brain the rules from the centre of the ultra-world .
Youth – There was a strong connection. As Alex says, Jimmy Cauty was in Brilliant, my post Killing Joke band in the mid 80’s and Bill Drummond was our A&R man at Warners. When the band split, Bill left Warners and he and Jimmy started The JAMs which became the KLF. Alex was my flatmate and we all hung out at Transcentral studios – the KLF base in Stockwell. We helped each other out on our various projects, Disco 2000 was Cressida’s (Jimmy’s partner and part of the KLF) acid project and Jimmy and all of us were involved with that and there was a strong community spirit around Brilliant which extended into these bands.
How have your personal connections oscillated over the last couple of decades
Alex – Fine thank you, after all these eons. We know not seek, we find but, it takes a long time to become young, eh Youth ?
Youth – Well it’s always interesting to reflect back on all the people and associates you have met that became friends and who remained dear over the years.Your closest friends now are something you could never predict at the time. It’s good to both have old friends and keep making new ones along the way. Working with your mates is always rewarding and challenging in equal measure – when there’s a lot of success there is usually a big fallout and being a gigging artist or a DJ forces you to become bi-polar and we all have to work out for ourselves what’s real, what’s valuable and what’s just plain bullshit….that can take a lifetime!
How much is all music ultimately about reinterpretation and is originality a relative concept
Alex – Are we to listen to our ears? Or what’s inside of them or behind them? Bad artists copy, good artists steal. Or is creation an act of destruction ?
Youth – To a degree that’s correct, yet there are idiosyncratic elements that can make a piece of work unique to one person. That doesn’t make it original, the word original originally comes from art in the 15th century and then it meant a piece of work that had specific origins, i.e. Constable was original to the Romantic school. Our egos became so inflated that that became twisted into what we use it for now. Post modernism clearly stated it was impossible to be original and today it’s much more about authenticity but then again it was the same for the Stones and Zep 40 years ago. Their criteria was to be authentic not original and ironically the more you try to be original the more of a cliche you become and the more authentic you are the more original it sounds!
Is a corporate music industry and a sublimely ridiculous trend culture that cuts through art and music there to stick two fingers up at or skilfully manipulate into doing things it didn’t intend
Alex – Over to you Youth! Youth – I always had an inclusive philosophy to this – however it’s important for the artist to exploit the industry as the industry is a machine and will crush you up if you don’t.
Is fame just about a conflicted self, bigger lines and thinner women or is it another handy tool in the box
Alex – It’s your music in life that becomes the ultimate attraction .
Youth – Punk taught us not to have Heros , respect and admire,yes but no pedestal as they will surely fall off. However when you’re standing next to Jimmy Page or Marshall Jefferson it’s hard not to go into full rabbit headlights gimp mode hero worship. The artist is the hero as an archetype and it’s very powerful and also not such a pleasant journey. I recommend ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell which explains the dynamic and path exactly and it’s the only book I’ve seen address the subject, which Is surprising as it’s such a big part of our culture.
Alex – It’s our history and it stands up to the test of time by its very existence here and now – the difference is that we answer our questions on a computer rather than face to face, like when we first started WAU. We are proud owners and think it worthy of another listen. Music is the greatest refreshment in life
Youth – I believe it does speak for itself but it is a journey and there is an emotional story and a narrative to it but that’s a whole other tale.
Where is the balance between sentimental nostalgia, and a conscious re-examination of our roots
Alex – You make a record whole, for a orange and people think just the opposite, that particular record is but a detail.
Youth – Well you tell me? It’s different for everyone. I can tell you the difference between sentimental and emotional. Sentimental is always a nice warm cosy feeling and generally shallow, where as emotional isn’t and can be very deep and dark. Whether it’s conscious or subliminal we are always referring to the past and it always informs every decision we take.
Gotta hear about Marshall Jefferson doing proto dubstep – Spill it!
Alex – Over to Youth …. Open our eyes
Youth – Marshall had been in hibernation when I started to work with him in the early 90’s and he was open to everything including dub and we worked with Tom Jones and Trevor Horn, a car ear high for me. You got to picture Marshall hunched over a Roland 909, Tom Jones with his shirt off sweating like a boxer chewing a cigar and Trevor Horn and myself surrounded by massive synths smoking big fat ones all in the same room, what a vibe! How much does opening your radar to the unexpected and the plain fucking mad open up new dimensions within music rather than reaching for something formally ‘musical’
Alex – Looking for any situation your music takes you to will give you more happiness listening to it, rather than recording it. Open the doors ( ears ).
Youth – Well there’s a balance to be had between the known and unknown. Music is a vocabulary with a wide spectrum but a narrow gauge – if you’re going to connect and be relevant you need a good balance between the two. You as a producer or composer draw the line.
How much does music have to be explicit, and how do you use the implied to make a stronger statement
Alex – Listen to the silence ……. turning colours into sounds , gently, gently, nicely, nicely .
Youth – I like these questions! Again it’s about proportion, context and spacial awareness. Each artist, even each piece or song should have its own criteria, although with bands there can be more of a solid direction and manifesto. Yet all rules are made to be broken so do whatever you want. The public will tell you whether the work works or not although it may take them 20 years to work it out ie Neu, Velvet Underground and Killing Joke to some degree.
Why this project – why now?
Alex – Because it’s getting near to Xmas, the poster looks smashing, the music is still fresh. Listen to Actress and then Uncle 22 ….. do you get me?
Youth – Well we had to get them out before 2012 – that’s when our DNA is going to mutate and we will enter the 5th dimension – music can subtly help our DNA to do that! These tracks have never been out on CD before, and that’s a good enough reason but also the good folks at Future Noise are passionate about the music and have encouraged us to do it.
Is London now gentrified beyond repair or does it still have the potential to be a gleamingly mischievous, psychedelic playground
Alex – London is made up of small villages and how can you not see Battersea Power Station as a psychedelic playground? Central London has always been a playground for tourists . At Home he Feels like a Tourist by Gang of Four…. explain that .
Youth – I have hope and there are always pockets of resistance but we are one of the most locked down and controlled cities in the world. Who would have thought that we, the great British lion would meekly roll over and become the most compliant people in Europe? The smoking ban doesn’t make me enjoy going to clubs. It’s very expensive too, so house parties are still where it’s at, but like NYC 20 yrs ago when the estate agents appropriated our culture and sold it back to us as a lifestyle choice, people have to work so hard to stand still it’s become a bit boring. Shoreditch was wild a few years ago and still is exciting but it’s all branded theme park rebellion….full of tossers. Still If I was 19 I’d be there! I still meet many kids who are fully engaged and committed to the music and their work is real, exciting and happening, but these days everyone is in 3 bands, they DJ out 3 times a month, produce, remix and run 3 labels, but no one is getting paid except for the alcohol corps and drug dealers.
How critical is a massive wink, a wry smile and a fat slice of playfulness in amongst all the experimentation
Alex – ; )
Youth – Well I like serous music too. I listen to a lot of soundtracks and some contemporary classical music – it’s up the artist , keeping a sense of humour while you work is essential though.
Is the real essence for you plugging into the live moment or the technological possibility of the studio
Alex – Both ways up
Youth – Combination of both, new technology is always inspiring but so is working out the riff of something 30 years old.
Is The Orb a band in the formal sense or a freewheeling creative flux
Alex – It’s a system of sound engineers and scientists locked inside studio complexes worldwide creating nano rhythms in a huge ever growing multi cycle of fractions & keys
Freewheeling is so 70’s! Where’s the cowbell Youth?
Youth – Untangling itself from some antimatter! The constant is Alex, who is The Orb really, but luckily he likes collaborators.
On the remix front – are you working off the elements within the track or the feeling it gave you when it burned itself into your memory
Alex – Burning memories? Normally we try to keep a main riff or a melody …. then mash it up into say a dubstep rhythm or factors of techno washes ….
Youth – It changes every day. Context usually defines content.
Are albums as a unified whole a bit of a lost concept these days
Alex – Lost in the ituneS era of self interest … Attention spam of the fish generation of the early 21st century, in that we live … flies around the beast . Cycles within cycles, this concept shit will be around forever … it’s only a matter of time before it’s hip again…. Listening to albums is sooo 20th century mann .
Youth – No, I still buy and listen to albums regularly and I’m sure it will last. I still see it as side one and side two! There are many new mediums though ,I just put album together for a book of erotic literature , The Nabob de Bombasta by Brian Barritt and that’s been nominated for best erotic book of the year! I’ve also done a volume of my own poetry Kommune available from bandcamp. <http://bandcamp.com/> , soundscapes for books are also emerging – exciting times.
Do your ears evolve to the point that new elements sparkle out of classic music
Alex – My ears sprout wings and fly off (listening to dubstep from LA la land right now)
Youth – You never hear the same track twice the same way ,context is always changing so yes!
What’s next for you – either together or as individuals
Alex – Opera . Space and The Screen . HFB shooter to music and a tour next year.
Youth – More Killing Joke, new productions including The View and Poly Styrene, my own dance album under the cult of youth tag and a new Dub Trees album, my own dub project. My post punk outfit which I front, Vertical Smile has a debut album out in January, there’s a new Zodiac Youth album of dirty blues also an album I recorded last week with John Sinclair of MC5 fame, including Keith Richards on piano!! It’s amazing and much more , I’m very grateful to be here at all but I feel I’m just getting into my stride!
The Orb and Youth present IMPOSSIBLE ODDITIES: from underground to overground – the story of WAU! Mr Modo is out now on Year Zero: