Jul 2014 14

Two chapters into his series of Themes of Carnal Empowerment, but also (possibly) one step away from concluding his work as ESA, ReGen Magazine chats with Jamie Blacker about the possible futures within and outside of the conceptual continuity that made Electronic Substance Abuse one of the hottest rhythmic noise acts out there.
 
ESA by Melissa Griffith

 

An InterView with Jamie Blacker

By Damian Glowinkowski (DamienG)

The industrial scene has to be thankful for the sudden change of heart that had Jamie Blacker shift from the blackened depths of death metal mayhem to the nuanced, glitch-laden experiments with dark electronic textures. Ever since the release of his debut album Devotion Discipline and Denial under the ESA moniker, he continued to invigorate the rhythmic noise genre with uncanny determination and thoughtfulness. After signing with the Chicago based Tympanik, the home for ambient and noise musicians, ESA won over audiences worldwide with Lust and toured across the US alongside W.A.S.T.E. and iVardensphere, spreading the infectious and oppressive sounds further and further.
Now that Deceit, the follow up to Lust and the second part of Themes of Carnal Empowermenthas revealed yet another layer of Blacker’s musical ingenuity, ReGen Magazine finally manages to catch up with him and talk about the dark and enticing secrets behind ESA and his creative process.

 

With four albums, you are far into the life cycle of ESA, but before you joined Tympanik Audio, you’d spent some years as a death metal musician. Was there a particular moment or impulse that had you move in front of a computer and begin your experiments with noise and electronica?

Blacker: Well, I grew up around metal originally; my father was a huge Slayer and Black Sabbath fan. I have a pretty prominent memory of being about eight years old and trying to draw the infamous Eddie by copying some Iron Maiden vinyl sleeve artwork; I got pretty good at it too. Then when I hit my teens, I remember watching MTV and the video for FLA’s ‘Millennium’ came on… it was a revelation to me! It had the aggression that I had already grown to like as a kid, but combined itself with this huge catchy electronic groove. I was kind of hooked from that point and picked up a load of FLA, Skinny Puppy, and KMFDM albums over the coming years, not thinking I would ever actually get involved with this genre personally.
Phases came and went and I got progressively more into black and death metal whilst still keeping a toe very lightly dipped in the ‘industrial’ scene. I started a few bands, played in a gazillion pointless shows, and recorded some self released demos that ended up sounding quite industrial without even meaning to. Then one weekend, I was given a free ticket by an ex-girlfriend to the Infest Festival in Bradford. I felt kind of intimidated because everyone looked like robots, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt.
It was then that the exact moment occurred in which I decided that I wanted to concentrate on electronic music. I remember very specifically walking down the stairs and Suicide Commando was onstage doing what SC does. The crowd was huge, stinky, and lapping up every beat! Something snapped in me and I said to myself I would be up on that stage within four years. I made it in three, playing Infest 2008 as ESA.

You’ve mentioned on other occasions that you see a certain disproportion in craftsmanship required to create music using acoustic instruments and a computer. Is there a part of you that sees past ESA and is longing for a different form of musicianship, not as heavily reliant on binary and digital sonic constructs?

Blacker: Yeah, very much. When I first started with ESA, I used a computer literally only to burn off the terrible racket that I’d rendered on my sequencer. I hated the look of them onstage and coming from playing with a guitar on my back for six years, I just simply couldn’t relate. I needed to be able to do something manual and physical. I needed to utilize something contained that I could ‘pretend’ was an instrument. I went from cheap-ass second hand drum machines to sequencers and synths and everything in-between trying to get the functions that I needed.
After the first album, I realized, however, that if I was going to progress as an artist, I would in fact need to use a computer to mix down the separate tracks. Production wise, I’m still no genius, but I needed more control and functionality in order to get the best of the songs. As I realized the capabilities of using software over hardware, a downward spiral ensued and here I am now, using software for almost everything that I record (live is a different story, but I won’t go there right now).
So basically, YES is the answer. I crave the satisfaction you get from recording something ‘real,’ whether it be live drums, guitar, even just a physical synth. The connection with the music is much more intense and… palpable, maybe? I have a few projects on the go, experimenting with different genres, but nothing that I could say I was fully happy to have out in the world.

ESA albums are like seemingly impenetrable voids, gradually filling with meaning and concepts. What inspires you in your songwriting process?

Blacker: What doesn’t? I really like obscure films – not so much horror, but dark drama. I have always felt connected to the unstable characters in films and what they go through… even though I’d class myself as pretty grounded, ha! I guess also life experience, emotions. I think way too much, analyze and observe. I am interested in the human condition and what affects the balance.
I think imagery is very important in the writing process too and I like to have artwork around me that helps form the tone of the albums I work on. A lot of this tends to be very old stuff, religious pictures and still life. Man, I sound like a real dick hipster! [Laughs]

There is a strong sense of direction on each of your releases. Listening to the openings of Part 1 and Part 2 of your Themes… series immediately sets a totally different mood for the whole, and yet, all of it gels together thanks to the intensity of the music. Are the sounds shaped by some internal impulses or do you have your material mapped out and knowingly pursue a specific tone for each individual record?

Blacker: I have known exactly what I’ve wanted to do with regards to the tone of both the Themes… chapters some time before actually sitting down and working on them. In fact, I have even known what I wanted the lyrical content to be centered around and had also worked on an artwork theme before recording.
I see an album as a package… not just a selection of files… some of which a DJ will play and the rest forgotten. I’m a big fan of the ‘album’ and what you can portray with it; what an honor and an opportunity to be able to display up to 74 minutes of your personal ethos. Most projects waste that opportunity in my opinion.
Regarding the Themes… releases, I knew that I wanted the first album of the series Lust to be more accessible than anything else I’ve done. I wanted it to be dirty, energetic, and intense, whilst still displaying actual ‘hooks,’ which is something you just don’t often get in the power noise/rhythmic scene. I wanted to make big groove ridden songs that sounded sexy and dark as hell. I’m generally quite happy with how it came out.
This brings me to the second Themes… release. I felt as a follow up to Lust, I wanted Deceit to burrow deeper. I wanted the club tracks to be more brutal and the slow tracks to sound completely corrosive. I went for more dynamics and emotion with that release and it took a LONG time to put together. I really wanted a journey with Deceit, more so than Lust and that takes a LOT of thought. It seriously… nearly sent me mad.

You did say that the next ESA album might be the last. Where are you going next, musically? Should we brace ourselves for another very sudden change of direction, like the one that gave birth to Electronic Substance Abuse in the first place?

Blacker: The next album will be the closing chapter of the Themes… releases. I was initially going to leave it as a double release, but something still feels unresolved for me. I need to finish it and I know exactly how I want the finale to sound. I’m not sure that everyone will appreciate it but… we’ll see.
After that? I’m constantly working on new iVardensphere and Voster material with Scott and Yann. Anything besides that will be extremely different, yes.

Very rarely do musicians openly talk about their projects having a finite life span, but since you did point that out in the past and considering that ESA is so heavily centered around some key ideas, was there ever a particular goal that you wanted to achieve with this project? The one goal that would make you sleep well at night and appease all of the inner demons?

Blacker: Well, exactly that! It is a total vent for me. I turn to music at so many points in my life for one reason or another. ESA has become an outlet for me to pour out all my negative emotions, be it anger, jealousy, resentment, guilt, loneliness, fear, penis envy. It’s why ESA sounds as it does.
I do feel like the Themes… releases have been the most cathartic. It’s hard for me to deny that they are, for the majority, based on my own emotions and experiences that I have worked through.
The reason for my willingness to put on expiration date on ESA is due to the fact that I feel there’s only so far I can take this project. I mean, lets be straight… it’s a hard industrial act and that’s why people got into it – for its ability to be danceable but still really dark and noisy. I feel like each time I work in a progressive and more ambient piece, I’m basically alienating people who have shown the support in buying my stuff. The truth is, there are only so many heavy beat driven noise-club tracks I can write. I need to be able to spread my wings further than that. I guess the truth is I would much rather bow out on a high.

The EP you have released a few months ago, False in Tongue included a bonus video consisting of a montage of images. Is this particular form of any further interest to you as an extension of the subject matter explored through ESA? Or are there perhaps any other media you’d wish to incorporate into your means of expression?

Blacker: Yes, very much. That particular clip was assembled by Yann Faussurier of Iszoloscope and he did a great job. I’m really interested in using imagery alongside the music; I think it’s way of further expressing the point of the music. Unfortunately, there are so little funds in this particular niche scene that I rarely have the cash to throw at expanding this ambition. I think a lot of people are in the same boat.

Some of your songs feature a guest vocal or passages of spoken words. The voices are usually female and the effects shiver inducing. Did you ever think about expanding upon this more traditional model, where lyrics feature more prominently alongside the musical accompaniment?

Blacker: Yeah, I love using different female voices in some of the tracks. It helps to add dynamic and drama.
There are some songs that the use of vocals has been much more of a focal element such as ‘If I could hurt you all over again, I would’ from the Deceit album. My friend Mabh who recorded those passages is actually originally a folk music singer and she did a great job, giving the track just what it needed.
I think I just want to keep this for the songs that demand it and not overplay this trick. It’s also a case of finding the ‘right’ vocalist, which isn’t always easy.

You are consistently appearing in the capacity of a remix artist on the albums of many industrial acts from the UK. With the scene at large in mind, I would be very curious to know whether you feel any sense of camaraderie with bands like Ruinizer, Paresis, or XP8 that has found a home away from home in London. Do you feel like a part of a bigger artistic community in any way?

Blacker: For the most part, yes. The bands you have mentioned are actually all great friends who I love hanging out with and we have a good attitude toward each other. I think the UK is pumping out some really worthy material and I think it’s important to support each other in any capacity we can.
I would, however, mention that I think ESA is very different from the acts you have mentioned. ESA is kind of like the black sheep of the UK scene. It’s very un-mainstream and definitely an acquired taste. [Laughs]

While most of your remix work gravitates towards the bands with a similar noisy bent, you do not seem to be averse to the other, more EBM oriented forms like the mix you did recently for Alien Vampires. Your own material is certainly cerebral and charged with a heavy dose of emotions, but not devoid of the capacity to entertain on the dance floor. Do you ever think about ESA in this respect, as an act that can entertain club audience?

Blacker: Well, that’s always been my main aim with ESA. I want it to be groovy enough to move to whilst still retaining that oppressive and intense tone. You can still have energy at 100bpm; it just depends what kind of motivation you want to give to the listener.

Is there anything else you’d wish to reveal to our readers about the state of ESA in the months to come?

Blacker: The state? Usually half cut on whiskey. [Laughs] I look forward to seeing some of you at the shows over the next few months and thank you so much for your support over the years.

 

ESA Website http://www.electronicsubstanceabuse.com
ESA MySpace https://myspace.com/electronicasubstanceabuse
ESA Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ElectronicSubstanceAbuse
ESA SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/esa-1
Tympanik Audio Website http://tympanikaudio.com
Tympanik Audio MySpace http://myspace.com/tympanik
Tympanik Audio Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tympanikaudio
Tympanik Audio Twitter http://twitter.com/tympanik

 

Purchase ESA at Storming the Base.

 

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