Hyponik

Spiritflesh: “The whole point is don’t make people fucking dance”

‘Any reaction is good, the one thing that’s bad is no reaction,’ Boris leans in to the laptop camera, ‘If I play this to you and you love it and you’re like, “Wow! This is fucking amazing!” Then great, awesome. If I play this to you and you’re like, “This is the shittest music I’ve ever
heard! This is so bad I’m gonna walk out!” That is, Wow! What a reaction! It might be a negative reaction but it’s a reaction. If I play this to you and you’re like, “That’s nice.” – Noo! Knife to the heart!’ he laughs, falling back onto the sofa.

Boris and Julian are Spiritflesh, a fresh cut from two Bristol based producers into the depths of Noise and Doom. Speaking with them individually over Facetime, I don’t think I’ve ever been so overwhelmed by tech-speak and general music knowledge.

Bounding between animated impersonations and roadrunner descriptions, Boris had an unwavering patience to teach me despite often being faced with my furrowed brow. Julian was more deliberate with each word but similarly thorough, comparing producing methods and rattling off influential artists from all walks of popular music.

Both independently found their way to jungle and became engrossed with the music that spawned from it. Boris shared a class on a Music Tech course with a friend of DJ Die whilst Julian, as a sixth former, was taken under the wing of Jakes, now one of his best mates and a world-renowned jungle MC. ‘Everyone gets really weirded out when I tell them he’s like my best mate,’ he laughs.

The ’90s was a glowing time for drum and bass with DIY labels taking off like Full Cycle Records, which featured the legendary Roni Size and DJ Die. They would put on their own nights and release their own music inspiring others to do the same, namely Julian’s friends. Starting a group called Timecode, Julian and his friends soon released their own music and put on their own nights.

Prior to Timecode, Julian had been accepted onto a Creative Music Technology course at Bath University. A course that he got onto thanks to stealing his dad’s four track tape machine with which he chopped and edited reels of tape. ‘It all started because of this film The Conversation by Francis Coppola with Gene Hackman in. He is a sound recordist and works reel to reels. A lot of the film includes jazz and Gene Hackman chopping and editing.’
Julian’s course was short lived however. Since he was meeting various big names in the underground music scene, like Pinch and James Ginzburg as they were beginning their own respective labels Tectonic and Multiverse, he figured his progress would go further with them than with the lecturers.

Enter Boris, happily bumbling along on his Music BTEC, toiling over how to make good drum & bass, when he fortunately stumbles across Julian. ‘I was in the shop, it was Spring [and] Boris came down the stairs,’ remembers Julian, ‘He just didn’t leave! He stayed there for five hours and that would usually really fuck me off, but we just got on really well even though he talks at five hundred miles an hour.’ Boris’ affable charm won over the assured veteran, working behind the counter at Breakbeat Culture, an iconic drum and bass store in Bristol during the ’90s.

‘I was at college kind of trying to learn to write drum and bass and [Julian] played me some tunes of his which blew me away. I just stood there like, “Err..”’ says Boris, reenacting his slackjaw of awe, ‘He was like, “What do you think?! And I was like, “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard! It’s amazing!’ I then asked if he could pinpoint what it was about Julian’s music that made it so striking. As I sat listening, grinning along while Boris impersonated Julian’s iconic ‘punchy’ kick and snare sounds, I could see how those five hours might have slipped by.

Taken under Julian’s wing, Boris began DJ’ing at the Timecode nights and was soon chopping and editing samples much like Julian had previously done. ‘I got into writing this stuff back in the days when the whole tune was basically constructed on one sampler. You had to chop it, divide it, effect it and then you can sequence it using the computer,’ Boris explains. He begins to make the whirring noise his Q-Base used to make as it started up on
his age-old Atari before I’m struck to ask about the benefits of analog made music over digital.

‘I like the argument hardware vs software,’ he corrects me, because, ‘ hardware can be digital, just because it’s in an external box doesn’t mean it’s analogue ’ Both software and hardware create digital sounds yet hardware ‘kind of adds a mojo to it,’ I’m told. Sounds can be moulded on hardware but with software plug-ins the sound is just there – take it or leave it. For all you know, the neighbour in the flat above, similarly slunked over their laptop, is creating dancefloor pounders with the same drum sound you’re using to make your wavy electro-pop.

‘When they made the 808 or 909 they were all made slightly different so everyone had a drum machine that was their own,’ says Julian continuing to prove the point, ‘They’d have to carve their own sound out of it and really do interesting things with it.’ A popular piece of software that is now bought en mass by producers is the Roland TR-808, which has lead to a numbing of the senses for producers who might see it as a quick way to a music career. ‘Now everything’s just there on a palette no one will really be able to know that to get that snare that way you cut the mids out or you push it short on an 808 and it doesn’t even sound like an 808 snare anymore you know?’ An iota of frustration begins to ring through as he speaks about the homogeneity of it all. Nor is it simply the pernickety attitude of one underground producer, this hand-crafted way defined some of the greatest Pop songs. ‘Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye is a perfect example of an 808 jam but it doesn’t really sound like it, and Prince would always use a LinnDrum LM1 going through a pedal board full of BOSS effects. That was the majority of his drum sounds especially pre Sign o’ the Times era. That’s what I really really like. I’m not opposed to any ways of making music, it’s all between the ears, some of the best music is made on a laptop, but for me personally, and with Boris as well, we’re a bit more unique and we’ll go a bit deeper with equipment.’

I had a similar discussion with Beneath, who puts ideas before hardware. From my layman’s point of view however, I can imagine the thrill that you would get from being able to craft a completely distinct sound – a chance to blend colours in the palette if you like. ‘From start to finish there were no rules, no tempo or sonic palette of sounds we had to abide by,’ affirms Julian.

Reflecting on his solo music as DJ October, which has garnered a sizeable following, Julian admits that, ‘They’re not really me. They’re more engineered to make people dance in my way, but Spiritflesh was a direct reflection of Boris and my emotions and what we were going through.’ The project came at a difficult time for Julian. He lost his father and, soon after, his brother also passed away. He went through a harsh break up with his partner and all of a sudden his band First and Last Men , who were nearly signed by XL Recordings, came to an end following a petty dispute. In the wake of all this, he struggled heavily with an opiate addiction. He therefore needed something which would be a healthy distraction and something which would be a true outlet for his feelings. Noise was what he craved and knew the one person he could rely on to join him.

‘He came over to mine and brought this idea, the crux of it,’ says Boris, ‘He had these samples and talking and crazy drums and loads of noise and it was like, “Oh ok maybe I can use this piece of equipment for this noise and this piece of equipment for this noise! So we had fun experimenting really.’ Seemingly on board in an instant and completely open to the ideas, Boris’ diligence and inexorable enthusiasm would make this project happen. ‘I was using the techniques that I’d learned in my quest for jungle perfection,’ he laughs, seeing the project as an opportunity to challenge himself. Welcoming him into his basement studio, Boris was eager to see where Julian’s bizarre snippets and sounds would lead them. ‘I guessed the main word we centred around when we did it was Doom.’

Turn on Julian’s NTS show and you’ll hear the film snippets and sudden thunder shocks of Doom interspersed throughout making it theatrical. ‘A bit more like opera [which] I hate to say,’ Julian admits. ‘It isn’t anything about rhythm it’s supposed to do something to you but make you dance. I went deep [house/techno] since ‘97, it was my job to make people dance. The whole point of Spiritflesh is don’t make people fucking dance.’ Through all its snippets and recordings, Spiritflesh has the facade of a narrative and because of this it achieves something opposed to what they had ever made before, making it a project for them as much as for their audience. A project that like Opera would not always be so easy to digest.

Striding into this new territory meant their attitude to certain aspects of making music could be exaggerated however they pleased. ‘There was a mantra that noise was our friend,’ says Boris, explaining how often the idea of background sound perforating the fore is sacrilege when producing. Working with a rough set up, where none of the equipment quite connected together properly, they embraced a rugged resourcefulness. They built compositions from their surroundings and physical objects – from cracked out homeless people preaching on the metros in New York, which Julian guiltily admits he shouldn’t have done, to instructions on programming your own answer machine.

Stumbling across the Cobalt Links ‘answer machine’ tape is a fond memory of the adventurous nature of Spiritflesh for both. The tape lurked, stranded in the depths of Boris’ teen jungle collection. A tape which for the life of me I can’t understand why he kept, but let’s remember I had only just met Boris. ‘There was this weird talking,’ he excitedly tells me, ‘It was made in the ’80s or ’90s and it was just Juno pads [and] analog.’ To no surprise to me now, his voice begins whirring into action like the machine itself, ‘It was like, “Woah! What is this?!”, and added to it was this awful texture! That was one moment where we were like, “Record! Record! Record!”’ Just one in a small pool of oddities that made up the album’s atmosphere, an atmosphere that to describe there are only whimsical adjectives with no definite noun to tie them down – is that a guitar? Proving that for all its tech speak and Roland series, electronic music can have a life of its own and that life can be just as electrically profuse as Hendrix plucking chords with his teeth.

‘We wanted to make as much noise and fucked up distortion via means of tape distortion so a lot of reel to reel armed with a lot of valve distortion,’ Julian’s words beginning to rile him up as he relives the process, ‘Phasing things through compressors and compressors, and really driving it so it’s so hot and there’s so much noise, but it’s all limited and all controlled. A lot of rumble that is technically supposed to shatter your ear drum, but we’ve crushed it so much that it’s still audible. That was very much the sort of approach to noise that we had – we both love Earth and Sunn O)) and Stephen O’Malley and bands like Mayhem.’ Julian concludes calmly.

Control, Doom? But since they refused to use guitars, or any instrument for that matter, control was paramount to making sure their otherworldly noise invoked the feeling of Doom.‘Having been in guitar bands before, I would attack my guitar quite a bit with screwdrivers and drumsticks and detune stuff and things like that,’ begins Julian, ‘[but] to get that intensity of the noise, we had to approach it in a different way that wasn’t so see-what-happens. With the guitar, a six string instrument, you never quite know what you’re going to get, it’s never going to be perfect.’ The number of an instruments’ strings like the markings on a prison cell wall, a blemish counting down its time to make something wholly unique.

Unique – not in the sense of Nat King Cole, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, that’s ‘too fucking good’ Julian explains. They wanted the Kurt Cobain ‘who technically couldn’t sing’, the Freddie Mercury ‘who always sang a bit flat’ because to them that’s perfect. ‘I remember watching a Nirvana video of Kurt doing a song and he would completely detune the guitar and played it and sang completely false. I think it was Come As You Are and it was perfect
to my ears. It was wrong in every way but I was like, “Wow!”’ These ears were making that sort of perfect. A not-quite-perfect of insidious beauty that no one else may really get – John Nash springs to mind for some reason.

Similar to Nash, despite having already hatched their genius makings they were given the RAND promotion, as it were, moving to a state of the art studio – Mat Sampson’s Bink Bonk Studios in Bristol. Mat had become a good friend of Julian’s after spotting him in a pub wearing a Jesus Lizzard tee. They shared similar life experiences and tastes in music, and before long they became close friends. Julian began helping out in Sampson’s studio,
producing for punk bands and electronic artists from all over the city. On hearing Julian’s latest project, Sampson was eager to help.

The studio is compared to being the El Dorado of studios. The hardware on offer is so rare even Google doesn’t know what to do with it, some of it even being used to produce music for the likes of Led Zeppelin. Upon arrival at Bink Bonk, wide eyed like ‘a kid in a bloody sweet shop,’ Boris jokes, they sought to build on what they already had to make the album even better. It was going to be the Noise-Doom album. With the richness of equipment on offer and these three wise men, it would be the album to lay bear all the grizzly innards that carefully crafted sounds can exhume, even if digital.

Proof was in the pudding, as Boris, with a wry smile, begins to tell me how the album was even too much for them to handle on their first celebratory listen back. ‘We completely negged ourselves out!’ he laughs, ‘We had to turn it off! It was too dark, it was really uncomfortable.’ Having catered to dancers all their careers, there was something excellent about producing something almost repulsive and so at polar opposites to the uniform pleasure found in one of their dance kick drums. ‘It was brilliant, like “Wow! If this negs me out… and I fucking wrote it?!!”’ he says with sheer glee.

Pleased and excited with what they have produced, the two will now take it live. Although they indulged me in the creative visions for their live act, I am reluctant to share for fear of destroying your imagination of it all. I will say they confessed to taking a leaf out of, ‘what Sisters of Mercy, Nitzer Ebb and what Throbbing Gristle would do,’ in their live acts, Julian told me. There is also hope for some unwitting audience participation by way of a police scanner and some phone tapping.

Built upon a mass of castaway cassettes and forgotten field recordings; ideas born from a mind on the brink of an abyss and nurtured amidst nostalgic spare parts makes it an overtly physical and personal album even despite its ‘Electronic’ alias. An album that, after hearing how it’s made, makes you realise that sounds, when dug out, dusted off and dragged through the combine have breathed a life of their own and can continue to.

‘I’m happy if I can just blow you away with the physicality of what is going on for the next forty-five minutes,’ Boris puts it simply, welcoming a reaction.

Words: Joseph Francis

Spiritflesh’s debut album is out now.

Head to the No Corner Bandcamp page for the digital.

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