Born from decades of experience in London’s music scene, Imaginary Forces is the noisy, drone-imbued alias of Anthoney Hart.
Hart is an enigmatic figure. Whether taking you through the hectic experiences of his drum and bass pirate radio days, or his enthusiasm for avant-garde film, his wisdom and conviction shines through.
Despite his music slotting not-so-neatly into the “noise” bracket, he isn’t your typical beard-scratching noise aficionado. Whilst his musical roots in the golden age of ’90s club music are channeled through his retrograde alias Basic Rhythm, Imaginary Forces is the springboard for his more abstract expressions.
In recent years, Hart has grounded the motifs behind his output, eschewing “making an hour-long noodling drone piece”, as he says. Instead, he prefers to conjure distorted collages of noise that make nods to his working class roots. “With a title like ‘Shiftwork’, it’s gruellingly repetitive, and harsh and hefty”, he says. It’s this concrete, blackened realism that drives Imaginary Forces’ current incarnation.
Having grown tired of the drum and bass scene’s waning avenues in the early ’00s, Hart was looking for something new. Through his work at a second-hand record shop in London’s Notting Hill, he began to discover fresh routes, music like “Merzbow, Yellow Swans or early Earth and Sunn O))), and also a lot of classical. I wanted to explore the extremes that I’d always wanted to hear but never seen before because I was so entrenched in dance music,” he says. “I thought it’d be a more liberating world than pirate radio and dance, I thought it would be a utopia of creativity. It was an interesting period for music”. It turned out not to be so simple.
“I started to try move into more experimental areas. I toyed around with a bit of noise and drone, and whatever else – just different things. I ended up playing these events that were more geared towards white middle-class guys with beards that would just stand around going, ‘hmm… interesting’. And that’s just fucking boring”.
Hart’s working class background is very important to him, although it’s something he feels has held him back, especially with regards to his passion for noise music. Whilst he still feels his background is a subset of his identity, he doesn’t want to be defined by it. “It felt like a necessary thing to put that at the front of Imaginary Forces’ music. I never hide who I am. Yeah, I’m working class, but I also watch avant-garde films and read books,” he says. “I walk a certain way and talk and look a certain way. I had someone say to me [when playing a noise gig], ‘Oh, I didn’t expect you to talk like this'”.
These types of encounters for Hart run deep. “There was a review when I put the first Basic Rhythm album out that was very nice, they got the music, but right at the end, they mentioned a certain other artist and referred to him as a ‘working class intellectual’ – which is an incredibly problematic and condescending phrase in the first place. Apparently I came across as if there was a certain vibe of danger – so he’s a working class intellectual and I’m just a chav?” This doesn’t always offend Anthoney, though. He seems mildly amused as he rails off an anecdote regarding Boomkat’s misinterpretation of one of his tracks: “There was a track off the release I was doing with Entr’acte, ‘In A Bedroom In Woodford Green’. I think Boomkat said it was quite a sinister track title, but it wasn’t – that was where I slept for ten years!”
Whilst his 2013 release Begotten – a 50 minute standalone piece, inspired by the avant-garde film of the same name – is an engrossing listen (if you can find the full release on cassette, that is), it was also a catalyst for the more tangible signifiers of Imaginary Forces’ more recent output. “Thematically, I used to draw on the books and films I was watching, but that kinda stopped with the Begotten release,” says Hart. “I decided there was something about making music that comments on an esoteric idea and is detached, it felt very self-indulgent and coming from a position of privilege, as if I’m gonna riff on this abstract idea”.
Hart’s fatigue with the pretensions of noise mirrored his departure from drum and bass in some ways. “I wanted to do something less abstract, which has led to working with these MCs – it’s gotten to a point where there’s more to convey than just track titles. If some kind of vocalist is involved, so then you can actually say something of substance, I felt it was necessary because I don’t see that many working class people being represented in these areas”.
In fact it’s through this outlook that Anthoney has come across the idea of working with grime MCs. “I’ve been doing stuff with MCs now so once that thing comes out, we’ll have done a few live shows in London that brings a whole different energy. It’s like grime MCs, but on my beats”. The proposition of a lyrical accompaniment to Imaginary Forces’ grinding noisescapes is intriguing, especially with the lyrical weight Anthoney has behind his upcoming release. Although, as he explains, it hasn’t been a process without its drawbacks. “A few of them have dropped out, it’s a really different kinda balancing act, especially working with younger guys. Some of them have dropped out because they’re a bit scared to take a risk, in case people are like ‘what’s that shit?!’ With some, it’s a clash of egos – me and them didn’t get on, so they ducked out, and then some of them just don’t really care about getting anything recorded, they just wanna do radio”.
Hart’s upcoming album – due for release in 2017 – promises to bring Imaginary Forces’ sound and message into more tangible avenues, with some heavy hitters behind his walls of distortion. “I’ve already got one track down by both Kwam and Darkos Strife. I’ve got one down from Lyrical Strally, Killa P’s supposed to be doing something”. He talks enthusiastically of the fusion that runs through the release. “All the time I’ve been trying to find out exactly what it is I want to do, trying to reconcile all these disparate influences; genuinely experimental electronic music, kind of noisy stuff, with the influence of drum n bass and grime, and my background in pirate radio. Trying to put that together, it’s been really impossible. I’ve reconciled these disparate influences into something coherent”. It’s through the inclusion of MCs on his upcoming album that Anthoney has been able to fully express himself through Imaginary Forces. “I wanted to say something on this, and people like Kwam and Darkos, they have real lyrical content to what they’re saying. They’re making a comment on something. Kwam, he’s quite political, so he often makes a comment not just on his own experiences, but on what he sees around him”.
Socio-political discourse is a cornerstone in our hour-long conversation, and in a country gripped by the fallout of Brexit and its impending effects, it’s refreshing to see an artist politically engaged on a deeper level. It’s the same discourse that drives Hart’s opinions on the blight currently facing London’s nightlife. On the subject, he has a different perspective, one deepened by years of clubbing. “The root cause for it goes back to the ’90s, and this will sound a bit tinfoil hat, but I think there’s always been this mode of operation from the powers that be, of divide and conquer – be it along class lines or race lines,” he says. “When rave culture reached its peak, especially coming up to ‘94, you had big jungle dances. You had black people, white people, Asian people, and whoever else, all coming together and dancing. This was something where people were actually starting to come together, to unify, albeit to dance away their troubles in a darkened room”.
“This [the suppression of London nightlife] has been an ongoing process since ‘94 and it’s only been exacerbated by the rise in land grabs so they can slap up some bodge job apartments and sell ‘em on for a lot of money. Gentrification plays into it, it’s definitely accelerated the process. I’ve stopped going out so much, because most things I go to, the audience is 99.9% white middle class. People have been priced out and pushed out, scenes have been co-opted, sanitised, and dismissed because they’re boring now, this is another part of the problem of what I see going on in London, that ties into this capitalism, gentrification”.
“I’m not saying, ‘oh yeah, let’s go back and play old music and dress in that way’. I want it to be current, but I feel it’s too dominated by a certain section of society, it’s a monoculture, and that’s fucking boring. The thing that always made London music exciting and interesting, especially underground electronic music, was that it wasn’t a monoculture – it drew influence from everywhere”.
“It’s gone from when you went into a club, there’d be an equal ratio of men and women, you’d have people of all different ethnicities, and people were there to have fun, and have a good time. I’m not gonna romanticise it, I used to go raves where you would hear a gunshot in the background. I wouldn’t want to go back to that kind of thing, but it’s almost a different culture these days.” It’s important to note, however, that it isn’t necessarily some malicious middle-class conspiracy, but more the result of “Blairite neoliberalism”, Hart says, “it just erodes everything, in this creative vacuum that’s just been filled by people who can still afford to go and do all these things”.
Despite all this, Hart is determined that, at least musically, the future is bright. Alongside his upcoming album, which at the time of writing is complete, with an optimistic release bracket of early 2017, he has a few things coming. “I got some interesting collaborations coming up on Halcyon Veil, there are a few things I can’t really talk about at the minute. One of them’s gonna be a big surprise”.
Words: Richard Lowe