May 2013 15

Encompassing various dark forms of music, from gothic to classical to industrial, Attrition has been a unique entity in modern music. Martin Bowes speaks with ReGen on the project’s development culminating in the creation of The Unraveller of Angels.

An InterView with Martin Bowes of Attrition

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

For three decades, Martin Bowes has been an eminent figure in underground music, blurring the lines between various dark forms to encompass darkwave, gothic, industrial, and even classical modes with his longstanding project Attrition. Never content to stick to a single style or lineup, Bowes’ music evokes a wide range of moods and motifs, all driven by an experimental and atmospheric bedrock topped off by his distinctly grave and gravelly voice and joined on the journey by numerous collaborators over the years. Over the course of numerous albums, compilations, and live releases, Attrition has become a unique and seminal entity whose prestige includes the formation of Bowes’ own Two Gods record label and even opening up his personal studio, The Cage, to various artists of all genres, offering every service from production, mixing, mastering, and recording facilities. All of this marks Bowes as an important figure in modern music, with The Unraveller of Angels being his latest musical excursion, further delving into his own sonic personality. Ready to take the new album on tour, Bowes speaks to ReGen about his musical development culminating in the latest album, his process of collaboration in the studio and with Attrition, and adapting to life in the age of Bandcamp and digital distribution.


Apart from the score to the film Invocation and a couple of live albums, The Unraveller of Angels is the first Attrition album since 2008’s All Mine Enemys Whispers. As Attrition has been actively producing music for over three decades, what can you tell us about how your music-making process has evolved – not just over the years, but especially in the few years since the last album, and how that is reflected on The Unraveller of Angels?

Bowes: Technology! Ha, don’t you love it? You know, I’ve always been into the possibilities that technology has given me; even teaching people how to use it for music for years. It’s made a difference, a big difference. It’s my instrument – from my old TR808 drum machine in 1982 up to the latest software plug-in today. I don’t know anything about music, but I can and have made a lot of it with a little help from technology. Since the last album, things have moved on a bit; not that much, but I think the big advance was in the decade since 2000. So now it’s settled a bit and I’m happy with that too. The interesting thing is that as computers and electronics took over my studio and the internet kicked in, it all enabled me to collaborate more with traditional musicians around the world. So it’s not just synths and samplers; it is human beings, and I think you can hear that on The Unraveller… There are so many elements in the mix this time round.

Your music encompasses a wide range of dark electronic genres, often blurring the lines between gothic, darkwave, and industrial. What are your thoughts on the validity of such labels, especially with regards to Attrition’s music?

Bowes: Well, after more than 30 years, names change, don’t they? I don’t even know what we were called when we started out. It was in the post-punk/early industrial era. We just did music… and it sounded a bit dark, so we have been ‘adopted’ by a few of the ‘scenes’ over the years, never really quite fitting into any of them (and I blame a certain girl called harmony for the obvious gothic tag). They are valid in that they are pointers, aren’t they? In a world of information overload, they drag a few people our way, but they are nothing but tags in the end, and they can drag you down. At the end of the day, I don’t spend too much time worrying about them.

How did you come to work with Mona Mur on this album? As well, past collaborators like Tylean, Ian Arkley, and Erica Mulkey return. What determines who appears on an album for you? Does it have more to do with availability at a given time, or is it a much more spontaneous affair?

Bowes: Well, my music tends to develop organically. I rarely have a definite plan (maybe that’s just bad planning), so as I work, I talk to musicians I know. I may offer them a rough demo to see if they can come up with anything that takes it to a further place than it is. It doesn’t always work, and then sometimes it transforms a piece or sparks a new input from me in return. I don’t really have a regular band, so this works in a different way and I think it’s a much freer way to work. I can ask anyone I want to, so yes, it’s pretty spontaneous. Mona had asked me to remix a song she had done with En Esch, which I was pleased to do. I just asked if she fancied a guest vocal in return; she did a great job on ‘Karma Mechanic.’

In what ways do the vocal contributors have an effect on the lyrics? Or do they at all? How much of the lyrical subject matter is as personal for you as the music?

Bowes: In the past, Julia (Niblock) would add her own lyrics at times, but she did that less and less over the years as she phased out of music. These days, I write everything and they are intensely personal as they always have been for me. I get asked to write for other people occasionally, but with the exception of a few lines I wrote for the Pigface song I sang on, I have always said no. I can look back at every album I’ve made and hear it like an audio photo album. I enjoy that and I usually understand what I am talking about a lot better with the benefit of hindsight.

Attrition has had a very singular visual aesthetic throughout its activity, focusing on chiaroscuro and monochrome photography. On this album, you worked with German photographer Holger Karas – tell us how you came to associate with him and in what ways you feel his eye acts as a complement to the music, especially with regards to the lyrics and subject matter you explore?

Bowes: I first met Holger when we played at Leipzig, Wave Gothik Treffen in 2010, and he has worked with us for a little while now – firstly on the Demonstro rarities album and then the Invocation film score images. I really feel an affinity for his eye and his image manipulation, which echoes my own ideas in sound. we have become good friends over the last few years; in fact, we will be meeting him again in Greece this weekend as he is coming to the first show of the Unraveller tour in Athens. He will be bringing his camera.

What can you tell us about the documentary you’re working on to accompany the album? Will the documentary be specifically about the album, or does the album act simply as soundtrack?

Bowes: Well, the documentary is actually about me and Attrition and will extend to my hometown, Coventry, and the people and bands and labels I have worked with over the years. It’s going to take a year or more to complete and it’s only just begun. Of course, there will be Attrition music as a part of it, but it has a much wider remit. I’m as interested in the end result as I think anyone would be. I think its time to document this journey.

Some years ago, you opened up your recording studio in Coventry, The Cage, and began producing’mixing other artists. While you’re no stranger to collaboration, since opening The Cage up, what experiences, what other artists and bands have you worked with that you would say have had the most impact on how you approach your music, especially on the new album?

Bowes: Well, I originally set up the Cage 20 years ago; in fact, it’s due a birthday party very soon, but a couple of years ago, it became a fulltime thing for me. Of course, I’m working with other bands all the time now – a lot of mastering, but also a fair amount of mixing and production. There have been so many in the last two years – mastering for Psychic TV, Steven Severin, Edward Ka-Spel, Anni Hogan with Nick Cave and Marc Almond, Merzbow, etc., mixing and remixing recently for Mona Mur’En Esch, Black Tape for a Blue girl, The Arch, Hiram Key, My Silent Wake, Contaminated Intelligence, etc., and so many more over the years. It’s been good working in different styles and trying out so many different techniques on all their mixes. It’s definitely opened up production avenues for me that I hadn’t been down before. It’s also very good for contacts and has led to more shows being offered for Attrition. It’s busy as hell, but it’s so worth doing.

Attrition has run its own Two Gods labels for quite some time, often finding distribution with larger imprints, as well as digitally via Bandcamp and the like. As time progresses and more and more avenues for distribution are appearing, what are your thoughts on the future – both in regards to music and the industry?
How has running your own label and being on Bandcamp been of the most benefit to you?

Bowes: Yes, I started Two Gods in 2006 mostly to reissue our entire back catalog, adding in a few rarities and live albums along the way. It took so much time, but was worth it in the end. It was funded by the now defunct Voiceprint label. I still use the Two Gods name for my own releases and digital distribution, and yes, it has changed. After the shock of illegal downloads decimating the industry and CD sales dropping radically, which shook us all up, things are turning. Sites like Bandcamp that we use as our official channel for all our merchandise now are really helping and people are buying through them – I see Bandcamp as the virtual indie store as opposed to the big market chain stores of iTunes or Amazon. The Unraveller… is doing well so far and about 50/50 digital to physical so far. It’s a new era… and it’s a good one.

Prior to the album’s release, you released the Narcissist EP as a free download, with remixes by Vi Rez and Angst POP. What was the reason for offering the EP for free?

Bowes: It was free for the month preceding the album launch and as the first download only release I’d ever done, it was a bit of an experiment… and I think it worked. It got a lot of press and DJ plays and stirred up interest for the album, which was always the point of singles in the first place – and over 500 downloads so far and a lot of people donated through Bandcamp. It’s now available as a paid download almost everywhere through DIG music, as is all of our back catalog. I’ve been happy with this way of releasing a single. It feels as real as any physical format ever does.


Photography by Holger Karas, courtesy of Attrition.

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