Interview by Antic
I a run up to the release of Nervasystems new album Brainradio Mark was kind to answer some questions about his musical background, creative process and views on scene & music. Here it is!
Q: When & how you first heard of psychedelic goa trance and how you got involved in it?
It all started around the early 90s. There were many factors involved. The cultural landscape for a young person in their early 20s was fast changing. The rave scene in the UK was starting to explode. Ecstasy and raving was taking off in a big way. Id discovered the drugs and the rave culture, but the music was still a bit random, there were all these different tunes being played at raves from happy hardcore to acid, to jungle, techno and everything in between.
But then I went to a party in Bristol where I live called Elektrik Orgasm and it changed everything. Elektrik Orgasm was set up by two guys: James Menteth and Adam Clarkson. They had come back from Goa, this is the early, early 90s. James was mates with some of the Flying Rhino guys and knew various people from the crews that set up the London labels (FR, TIP etc). Theyd all been in Goa together in the past few years, partying to the early sounds, this is before the labels, just before. Everybody came back to their own countries and started setting up labels, parties etc. For Bristol, it was Elektrik Orgasm. Those parties were epic, hard to describe in rational terms today. You really had to have been there. The music was new, different from every other thing going on then, edgy, trippy and people got pretty high This is where I heard a different kind of music, a bit like the acid stuff, there was the 303 sound, but a little different, more trancing, a story in there, and more psychedelic. The music was still on DAT tapes. Then I heard the first TIP record and the first Simon Posford productions and I knew something was up. Id been making electronic music for a short while with my friend Darren Beale, techno stuff, ambient stuff, but the weather was changing and we started making the early Nervasystem stuff together. We started to make some tunes, sent them off to a few labels and they started to be released.
Q: What were the early influences. What are your current favorite artists, sub-genres?
Well, there were so many influences. A friend of mine, Darren Beale, was making some hardcore stuff, and wed heard the early Eat Static stuff because they came out of the Ozrics who Id seen live many times (in fact, one Ozrics gig at the Treeworgy Tree Faire in late 80s blew my head off and was a big influence on me). I also loved some of the German techno stuff especially Hardfloor, Drax, and some Harthouse things, there was some really amazing ambient music being made, Aphex Twin, Autechre, FSOL that appealed, the early electronic music scene was exploding here. Hardfloor I loved, the 303 and acid thing was a big part of it. Simon Posford was incredible in those early times, his productions were inspiring for sure. Graham Woods writing in The Infinity Project I admired. I liked various things in the early days of the whole psychedelic trance thing. I always liked Doof, Process was something else, different, techy Sean has a very English sensibility in the music he made then, he has an original and unique touch in what he does and I rate him very highly as an electronic musician, I wish he still put out records.
I don't really listen to much contemporary trance music I must admit. If I had to say anything I listened to recently I would say I like Electrypnoses last album. The sound design was great. I liked some of Dick Trevors last album, his stuff is always entertaining and so chunky and meticulous, but I listen to so little trance its unfair for me to comment really. I just hear it when im at parties really, I always try to catch a few sets before and after I play to hear what people are doing. Sometimes I dig it and sometimes it bores me stupid. I tend not to keep up with things. I like to look elsewhere for inspiration, I think theres something good about that because too much of this music is so similar, so homogenized. I listened to a trance compilation the other day, a big comp with a lot of big artists from the scene, and to be honest, every tune was like it was by the same artist, same kick drum, same bassline and sound. That to me is nonsense, it sucks, its so boring. If anything, I think one reason why people seem to be returning to the original 90s goa stuff and sounds is because there was a diversity of flavours in the music then which is lost to some extent now, so I feel quite strongly on this, inspiration should be pandemic rather than limited to a small niche of defined formulae.
Q: Do you have any formal musical training / background or were you self-taught?
Self taught. I had some guitar lessons in my teens. The studio side of it started with making tape recordings on cassette and messing with things to get sounds. Recording was always a thing for me, and ive always loved messing around with electronic music devices, but its all been self taught and by watching people first, then getting my hands dirty. I seem to have a knack for it too which is lucky, it always seems quite intuitive to just take whats available and make something interesting with it.
Q: After a string of successful releases on V/A-s with Phantasm, Matsuri, Psychic Deli you went on releasing a co-op album with Aether, then a solo 13 Amp Fusion and vanished from the surface of the earth.
Aether was Alexis Cousins. Alexis was around at the earliest times of Elektrik Orgasm in Bristol. We lived in the same house in the 90s and decided to work together on music. At the same time we set up the Elektrik Orgasm Record label with James Menteth whod been doing the parties for a few years previously. That was it really. We wrote the first 5 Elektrik Orgasm Records or so and did the Mama Matrix Most Mysterious album. I worked well with Lex, he was very good, has a really ear and a feel for the aesthetic and groovology of things, can be abrasive, but always funky. We worked together until 2000, then i split changing times, life changes, I split, went to Australia for a year and when I came back everything had changed. Alexis went on to form Jnr Hacksaw a kind of weird electro / psychedelic / breaks mutant musica, while I released a 13 Amp Fusion published around year 2000 on Process Productions, Sean Williams label, consisting of my solo material and some leftover collaborations with Lex.
I had a long time out of the scene from 2000 up until about 2012 really where trance didnt interest me and I was so far away from it in my life and general modus operandi. I lived in Devon over that period, and just had a bit of a sabbatical to see my children grow, and to chill out. I got asked by Yoni Dagan from Psilosiva in Israel around 2011 or 2012 i forget to come and play a party, and it was such a surprise as I hadnt thought about doing it for so long. I went to play the party, and it was interesting to see the whole thing again and to play the music again. It inspired me to write some new things. Id kept my hand in with regards to the music technology, and so I put together a little system and started writing. Gigs started to happen again around this time and I met Tal Hazan from Anjuna Records who expressed interest in releasing unreleased 90s material. I had a collection of things that for one reason or another never came out, and we decided to put them out on an album, that was Time Travel which was very early material i wrote with Darren Beale. I wrote the 4 album around this time, and most of the 3 album (some of which was gathered from earlier music experiments from a few years before) and decided to put them out on my own label Voodoo Voltage which i made to release those things essentially. I may release some more things on it in the future, who knows...
Q: Do you have any musical side projects in other genres of electronic music or otherwise?
Well, not in electronic music currently. I use Nervasystem for what Im writing right now, including any weird kind of stuff. The Nervasystem 3 album was pretty out there, a kind of montage, ambient electronic psychedelia without formal structure or generic consistency, but I really liked it, it was hard to define it I suppose. I wish more people would listen to that album, I think its really good, all the music is real on that, all the playing, its not all samples, its myself and a bunch of guys playing, plus all the electronic music, its a trip for sure. Most people listen to the trance music I guess, but Ive always done the weird, ambient psychedelic stuff.
I also do a lot of recording in Bristol in a studio I have run for the last few years called The Tape Rooms. I use analogue equipment to make records, tape machines, old things with tubes and transformers. I have recorded and produced albums with many artists over the last few years here in Bristol. Two artists I work with very closely are Cloudshoes and Dubi Dolczek whose records I record and produce. The indigenous music scene is very vibrant here right now, I love doing the analogue recordings with musicians, working with the vintage equipment, processes and techniques its a world away from the trance scene, but I love it!
Q: How would you describe your creative process? Are you starting with a clear vision and idea for a tune, or just toying around until something interesting surfaces?
Its always different to some extent or another. Usually I just feel like doing something. Ill sit down and start getting noises. I find the initial stages of getting a groove together and a bit of a mood or feel is quite easy. I dont plan it out. I just go at it. Its experimental most of the time, I use trial and error, it comes down to taste, and extracting things usually rather than adding, or maybe not. adding first, then extracting. Sometimes whole sections, whole swathes of crap have to be taken out, you may have gone with something, tweaked, tweaked, got somewhere, tweaked some more, only to find that, damn! you tweaked too much and lost it. In those cases the best thing to do is fuck it off. Brutal but honest. This is my approach. Im quite strict in my approach, its the German side of my brain, structured, as opposed to the English side, eccentric. In general the more I do it, the better I get, you get into training with it, on the technical side anyway, but again, I find I have to shake up the processes every now and again too, to stop myself getting too comfortable, I try different ways of doing things, different tools etc. Im always trying to change something or push it in someway, things need to evolve.
The very nature of the constraints of the technical side of writing trance or whatever means you already have a form to some extent to go with, much easier than creating a non-generic, non specific piece of music. So beginning, is usually easy to some extent, its the continuing and finishing that can be difficult. I tend to work intensely sometimes, for days on end, and at other times I dip in and out constantly. Sometimes you just need to get away from it all for a bit (I did this for 10 years once!!!). Sometimes it can drive you crazy...
Also, its very much different now as opposed to the 90s. Then it was all synths, analogue gear and samplers, mixing desk etc. Now theres so much that happens inside the computer and the software is so sophisticated, and the awesome power of the technology is staggering really, we take it for granted and of course things can always get faster and more streamlined, but its pretty awesome what's happened with music software. Of course there are still folks who want to use an all analogue thing, and some of the vintage things, but really, for me with electronic music, its always had an alchemical allegiance to its time and place, and theres something about utilizing the technology of the era you find yourself in which feeds directly into the music of the time defining it culturally somehow. This is why I use the computer instead of going all old school on it. I know folks who go this way, and YES, the sound of analogue is awesome, theres a magic there, but thats not to say the digital sound is worse or anything, its not but it is different, and that took me a while to get used to when I came back to writing again, but its interesting again. I love the environment, or lack of one, in the DAW and using software. I thought about going modular at one point, and still have a hankering after it, but I think it would only be really useful for me if I was to get some kind of live thing going on, and at this point Im just happy to write and explore the options available Maybe I will go modular at some point, Ive certainly enjoyed using other peoples and I sometimes miss analogue synths, but theres so much scope to do all that they used to and more now, and the sound of the new generation of software is extremely good now.
Q: What does the psychedelic mean for you in music?
Lots of things I guess. Too complex I guess something to do with music that takes you somewhere in your mind, if you like. I always thought a nice definition for psychedelic music was, something for you mind as well as for your feet. I always liked that Country Joe and the Fish album title: Electric Music For The Mind And Body... thats close to it, I suppose, if one needed a classification.
Q: Your recent album is full of collaborations with old-school artists and friends - do you prefer to work alone or with others?
I like both. You always learn new things when you work with people, you have to compromise sometimes, which I find it incredibly difficult to do, and sometimes I dig in and refuse to where as other times I will stand corrected and know that the compromise was worth it as it took things in another direction. Its push and pull writing with someone else, sometimes its good to exercise ones will and other times its good to just let go of the reigns, Working with Sean Williams as I have consistently over the years on many different projects, has been wonderful, we always get something of interest that I feel we would not have found had we tried to achieve it solo. Working with Tsuyoshi back then was interesting too. He had a slightly different approach to everyone Id worked with up to then, I dig the Japanese approach to artistry, its different mindset in certain, distinctive ways to the western approach. Of course all these differences are breaking down in post, post-modern society but they were still in place in the 90s....
Hopefully collaborating will enable you to go someplace you never went before, or to somehow add to things Its a very rewarding thing potentially, and a source of many happy memories. I love to collaborate, its somehow difficult on occasion, sometimes it can a challenge to express ideas correctly to your collaborator, especially if language is a barrier, but ultimately these reasons, amongst other make it an enriching and rewarding experience in the long run. Sometimes its good to have a sense of cameraderie.
But I like to work solo, too. Theres room for both.
Q: Can you live off of making music alone? Or are you a chartered accountant by day?
Music is my life. I make my living from music. Gigs, releases, and recording and producing, occasionally I have done live sound, but not so much recently. I always need more gigs. I always want more gigs. Promoters - call me, Im up for it! It can be tough, but this is what I am, this is what I do.
Q: You already commented on digital revolution aspect of writing music, but whats your take on social networks, declining sales of CDs / Vinyls in favour of digital downloads?
I see it as generally good. Its great having the ability to put things out there and to talk with and network with people with such ease. There are also downsides. Oversaturation. Devaluation. Goldfish bowl memory. Everything changes, sometimes quick, sometimes almost too quick. I see it as generally good what's happening with digital technology. Some aspects i dont enjoy. I take what I like, and discard the other things. I still prefer to talk with people in real life, its so much more complete. I do miss vinyl records and labels and the industry, but its just nostalgia, those days are gone and we are ever changing, things move on.
Q: How do you feel about the psychedelic goa trance scene changing over the years? Whats better, whats worse?
Im no expert, and I really dont keep that up to date with all the latest and greatest to be honest. I like a few select tracks from the early days and a few things from more recently. There are so many different sub-divisions in the psy genres now. I think the general quality of music has watered down, things are too generic, too similar, theres not too much which really stands out from the crowd. I miss diversity in the music. There are always exceptions of course, like i said before, I quite like some Zenon stuff, i liked some of the Procs album, it was different and weird. Zeitgeist - Tasteless, Pointless, Significant I liked the skill in making it, again its strange for the genre, underground for sure, but I like to sniff out different stuff that pushes the envelope a bit. But in general the genre is all a bit samey. I do miss the epicness of some of the old parties, the vibe too was different somehow in some older parties. Perhaps it has something to do with the world, how weve all changed since then, I dunno. Again, there are always exceptions, good parties still happen, perhaps just not so many of them. Ones view on all this tends to change over time. A good tune is still a good tune and a good time is still a good time.
Q: If you were tasked to write a promotional blurb for your newest album Brainradio, what would it say?
I actually wrote one:
Here it is! The brand spanking new Nervasystem album.
It's good. You should buy it. Twice!
It's not retro. It's not generic or boring. It's psychedelic as fuck. It's music to wobble your jelly and slap you round a bit before blissing you out on a cruise through the zone and across the universe to far shores and trails of stardust.
This is the new music.
Get hip, speed up, run backwards, love each other.
Love and lashings of Frequency
PS....It's even better than that as it's got some of the finest artists ever gathered in one place both from the golden age and into the future.........
It's all there and more...........pushing forward to the further place, in the zone eternal.................waves of energy, pulsing and throbbing forever from the other to your binaural receivers..........
Yin Yang Yes No Stop Go.
Peace. (for everyone)
The original blurb contained a good deal more swearing and bad language and it was thought best to tone it down by the powers that be in order to not cause offence to the elderly and those with sensitive dispositions
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