William Bennett interview (full transcript of interview by Carl Holmes of Vice Magazine - 14 October 2006)
The last album was called Asceticists 2006. Is that how you see yourselves?
In a way. In an artistic rather than a literal sense. My definition is based around the original notion I had of minimalism where by not doing something you're actually making more of a statement. It's by negating things that you can already do. I noticed that with punk and early electronic music a lot of bands were making that kind of music not because they had a choice but because it was their gateway to... rock and roll stardom. It's their only way in because basically they don't know how to play an instrument. There's nothing wrong with that per se but the notion of asceticism, in the artistic context, is the fact that you actually can make conventional music but you choose not to. It's the idea of having the ability to do things but choosing not to use those skills.
A self-imposed minimalism?
Yeah, there's a conscious choice rather than being forced to do that because you have a lack of choices. Does that make sense?
Like a religious method of withdrawal to get to a more intense place?
Exactly. It's a good parallel. Neither of us live in caves or anything but the principle's the same.
A voluntary impoverishment?
Yeah. In an artistic context in this particular case. But of course you can apply that as a metaphor to any aspect of your life. Sex, food or drink or anything.
You think restraints, self-imposed or otherwise, lead to a greater freedom of expression?
If it's applied in that way it can. My observation is that that isn't the way most art is. You have to question people's motives for why they're doing what they're doing, in any field. My feeling is that, especially in music, people are making music for all sorts of ulterior motives. It's later on when they start learning, when they get a bit of experience and learn to play instruments, to sing a bit and get budgets for bigger and better productions when things go horribly wrong. Because then you see what's really inside that person.
Your music seems to be just one part of a rich, complex, very refined package.
That's right. It's the refinements that you can enjoy as a listener that are a measure of you yourself rather than the music itself. It really says a lot more about the audience member or listener than it does about the music itself that they can see that. Some people are going to enjoy it on a completely visceral level. It's the same with all sorts of music, literature, film. Some people will just want to see explosions and hear people swearing, a bit of sex and whatever, and that's fine on a purely visceral, exoteric level. What interests me is when things can also function on several other levels. That's where you can get real gratification from music.
When I asked someone if they were interested going to see your show tonight. They said "I don't have any time for that fascist shit!" How do you respond to that?
By definition there's no way that I or Philip could be fascists. By definition because the music we make is about individuals. It's not about social groups, sociology or political agendas in the sense of trying to change things on a global society level. It's all about individual emotions, it's totally personal. So by definition it couldn't be that. But beyond that anybody who knows us knows that we're the wettest liberals you could find on this planet. And we're just incredibly libertarian in the strictest sense of the word. I'm not going to start having arguments with people too shallow to see that. With anything provocative you tend to get responses from people which reveal more about them, these people, than it does about the thing they're making an observation about. When somebody comes up with a glib comment like that, to me, it's a measure of how unbelievably ignorant they are, because they would say something like that without even considering it, without even weighing up what that means, without even understanding the definition. You know a lot of people use a word like that without even knowing what it means? If you asked them what does that word mean, they wouldn't even be able to give you a proper answer. It's a very quick and easy label which demonstrates all kinds of internal ignorance that they have. People do that all the time. There's all sorts of taboos that people have about all sorts of different things. I'm actually interested in the notion of so-called conventional wisdom. Of how often it's the opposite that's true. Conventional wisdom usually reflects people's acquired beliefs rather than things they've actually concluded themselves.
Conventional wisdom treats Hitler as taboo but something in a different time frame, Ghengis Khan say, is regarded as something of a cartoon?
There was a great example of that on TV recently where they had a programme about the animal rights guy that dug up somebody's granny. It was quite an interesting case and the guy ends up getting seven years for digging up somebody's granny. I mean she's fucking dead, it's not like she's even alive. Right? Seven years for that? And yet the programme that followed was that Christian archeologist, Tony Robinson?, and he's digging up people's graves from medieval times, the middle ages, in Britain. He's digging them up and saying "well this was a woman blah blah blah". Now tell me what is the difference between that apart from the fact that it's like 400 or 500 years difference?
I presume that the granny would have relatives still living that would be distressed by this?
So what? If an orphan died last week we can dig up her grave? You've got two different things there. It's the same act but in one instance the guy’s getting paid by Channel 4 and the other one's getting seven years.
You don't think the repercussions of the more recent one mean anything?
No, because it's the same act. It's the same thing. The taboo of digging up people isn't because you're offending relatives that are still alive. It's a taboo for all sort of other reasons than that because you don't dig up dead bodies basically, even if it was somebody from the nineteenth century, you wouldn't be allowed to do that. Within music, I remember in the early 80s, people wanting to use thigh bones for musical instruments and there was a guy in Yorkshire who got caught with his industrial pals digging up some graves in a church. They got arrested for it and they did time as well. Grave robbing is on the statute books as a crime but for some reason Tony Robinson can get away with it. Which just goes back to the previous point.
You mentioned your definition of libertarianism. What is that definition?
There's a gap between what you yourself can do or you allow yourself to do (not many people will own up to this) and what you think is right for society. There's a gap and people often confuse the two. They kind of mix up the two as if one thing applies to everybody. So referring to libertarianism is essentially not my belief of what everybody should be like, what they should be doing. It's the values to which I live my own life. I'm not going to apologise for doing that either because I'm very passionate about this. That to me is libertarianism. Peer pressure, society pressures are so great for most people that they end up doing things in order to please others, to be liked, to belong. You sacrifice your identity for the group you happen to belong to. This isn't me saying "oh you know, you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't join a gang." I don't want to be like that. It's not a comment I'm making about gangs or society in general but this is the way I live my life. Also I do admire people in all walks of life that can be like that because I think it requires quite a lot of courage.
The Extreme Music From... series. Africa, Russia and the forthcoming one from China. Do you think it's a truism that poverty creates a more intense and worthwhile art?
It's not what you're using to make music it's the result itself that's important. You read music magazines and you get letters pages full discussions about PCs or Macs, analogue or digital, vinyl or CD, steam or electricity. People arguing the toss over these nuances of music production. As far as I'm concerned you've got a country that's one of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti, and if you study the music they make there you see they can make music out of stones in their hands, bits of gravel, hammers and nails, saws, tree trunks and stuff. They can make the most intense, extreme as I call it... extreme doesn't mean anything in itself, like the word ‘very’ doesn't mean anything in itself, but extreme in terms of its intensity, emotional intensity. They can make the most mind blowing music that all of us with our computers, PA systems and laptops, digital technology, can't even get anywhere close to. There's a great lesson to be learned from that. Which again is one of the reasons for choosing this path of asceticism. It's the results that matter not how you make it. The question is "does it work or doesn't it?" I think that a lot of the time, technology, for want of a better word, is acting as a barrier because people are focusing so much of their energy on the PC versus Mac debate, Cubase versus Logic or whatever. So much energy is devoted to this kind of nonsense when it should be focused on how to express yourself through sound. Burma's another interesting country where they have this kind of trance music. I don't mean trance as in techno, I mean a literal type of trance music where people are going into deep trances through certain powerful types of rhythms and sounds, usually percussion but not necessarily. People are going into deep trance states through this incredibly powerful music. They're experiencing really heavy emotional feelings through sound. It doesn't matter whether you like it or not. I love it. But it works and that's what counts and they've got nothing. They're making this incredible music with nothing and if that lesson's true about music then it's true about almost anything. The topic of poverty is an interesting one because by depriving people of all the things we take for granted, that we're under the illusion we need, that we couldn't exist without, our mobile phones, our e-mail and so forth, you do wonder through having learnt this particular lesson of music, what life would be like without all this other crap.
What rewards are there for people who take the time and effort to understand what you're doing, what you're trying to do. What's in it for me?
I'm not trying to persuade people to do anything but just what I know from my own direct experience isthat it's life changing for the unwary. That's the interesting thing. It's for the people who least expect to. Suddenly, it's like that moment where you have like a car accident or you break your leg or something like that, where as it's happening, that nanosecond where it's actually happening, something slows down and you know at that particular moment things are never going to be the same. You know at the same time as your leg is breaking there's no going back to the way it was before. Now using that example makes it sound like a bad thing, however, often in life that's exactly what we need. I'll give you another more mundane example. One of the best things that ever happened to me was getting burgled, it happens to people all the time, it's a miserable fucking experience, you just want to kill the people. They took everything I had, absolutely everything, video equipment, records, the whole collection, stereo, the whole lot. That was the best thing that ever happened to me because suddenly I realised that - and I don't want to sound too spiritual or religious, it's nothing to do with that - I was no longer tied down by my possessions. I thought I can now do whatever I want. The month before, we'd done a concert in Barcelona and had such a great time. Fuck it. I'm going to move to Barcelona. OK, I've got no money, no possessions or anything, but I'm just going to get on the next plane and go to Barcelona. Which is exactly what I did. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
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