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)
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?
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?
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?
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.