Feature by Steve Strode of Fret! and Meinkinder.
We invited Steve of Fret! and Meinkinder to build on his contribution to our Record Store Day 2012 features and tell us more about his experiences bending sounds with whatever he could find. The results are fascinating – enjoy.
It began in the early Eighties in Bristol (UK), when I was 13 or 14. ‘Mon Dark’ was the name of the duo I’d formed with my best friend. With heads full of The Cure, Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire, we pulled together unintentional minimalist pieces constructed using a Casio VL-Tone and an acoustic guitar. The VL-Tone was an amazing piece of kit, particularly because of its programmable ADSR function which would allow for some crunching tinny distorted synth sounds. It also had a simple sequencer for basic song programming. I didn’t know it then but this must have been the point when I started moving towards dissonance and discord and away from conventional sound. Mon Dark produced a 4 track tape demo, complete with a hand-drawn and coloured black / red cover, which we sent off to John Peel, Richard Kirk and Robert Smith with youthful hope in our hearts. All bar Peel replied to acknowledge receipt and that was that.
Skip two or three years and I’m in my fourth band (Festhouse). Fuelled by the mid-Eighties American explosion of bands like Swans, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, we were reacting against Bristol’s twee Sarah records scene by playing our immature late-teen take on No-Wave meets Hardcore. Where the Jesus & Mary Chain had earlier taught me that feedback could be used as an instrument, it was Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising that really pushed the envelope. Here was a record that sounded like a voodoo rite taking place in a disused railway yard. Train horns sounding in the distance, Bob Bert’s primal drums. Stripped down and de-tuned guitars. Single note drones. I played it constantly. Throw in a bit of Swans style industrialism and these were the sounds that would dominate my musical life onwards. Taking my cue from Thurston Moore, I now started deconstructing the guitar. Treating it like an alien object – trying to ‘unlearn’ it. I would deliberately place notes so that the chords were jarring. A major chord was an absolute no-no (and still is!). It was also around this time when I started taking apart microphones and using the contacts to create primitive amplification for metal, wood and found objects along with exploring unusual sounds and field recordings. Unsurprisingly, Einsturzende Neubauten was another favourite on the turntable.
It’s now 2005. I’ve moved to Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) and playing in Tears of Abraham. Although starting out as a fairly standard dark ambient duo in 2002, by now we have done away with all conventional instruments and are pushing our live shows using taped sound sources played out through a variety of amplifiers. With the amps used as the instruments, we’d shape the sound using the different tone controls. Guitar and bass amps were used to widen the depth. Volume, endurance and duration were the key principles being adhered to, with shows played in deliberately darkened venues to create a feeling of unease and disturbance. Sub-bass was explored massively, following Sunn 0)))’s pursuit of the ‘brown note’. A favourite sound source was a detuned extended tape of Jim Jones’ final sermon at Jonestown, building up the volume as the cyanide kicks in. More often than not, each show would end with a fraction of the original audience left and a bemused silence.
By 2006, the sound exploration had shifted from ToA to a solo venture, Meinkinder.
Whilst still exploring similar themes of duration and endurance, I had entered far darker territory with the religious obsession and conspiracy kicked up to the max. The first outing was a self-released ltd edition CDR, part one in a triple set concept, inspired by the 1993 Waco massacre and with each track named after a child killed. This was followed by a prolific rush of tracks that found daylight via a variety of DIY CDR, net and tape labels. I returned to my late-teen experimentation with non-instruments, recording everything live straight to tape. Sounds would be created by wiring contact mics to metal, then feeding them through effects units; using short-wave radio transmissions in an attempt to capture EVP. For one track, I captured the feedback produced by placing a camcorder close against a TV with the volume turned up. Apply to this a balanced aural diet of black metal and harsh noise and you’ve got a pretty heady brew. The tag line for each release was ‘for the optimum listening experience, play loud in a darkened room’. The aim being to create aural hallucinations, confusing the brain through a constant pummelling of sound, into thinking it is hearing sounds that aren’t really there. And scare the shit out of the listener at the same time.
Fast-forward five years to 2012 and we’re back to playing a more mature raw primal take on No-Wave, with Fret! Sure the use of tape noise is still there, along with the detuned guitars and long drone-y workouts but now the feel is a little lighter and more about exploring stripped down primitivism rather than shock-tactics and annihilation.
Meinkinder has been on hold since 2007 but a recent frenzy of uploads is spurring on the completion of the Waco series and more. Whatever may come you can guarantee it will be experimental, dark, nihilistic and bloody loud!
Fret! – http://iamfret.bandcamp.com
Meinkinder – http://meinkinder.bandcamp.com
Tags: ambient, casio, drone, Fret!, Gilbert Potts, Meinkinder, noise, Steve Strode