Interview: Black Light Mutants.
'Our sonic output experiments with mixing together things such as noise, space rock, anarcho punk, electronic music and spoken word. Combined with our psychedelic and apocalyptic visuals and glitched out videos we try get our strong dissident message across in a creative way.'
I was wondering how to write the Intro to this interview that was arranged after I saw Black Light Mutants at a small social centre in Nottingham and was blown away by their full spectrum presentation but when I checked out BLM’s webpage I realised that I didn’t need to do an Intro because I couldn’t write anything better than this superbly formed self description that borders on a manifesto. ‘Formed in 2011 Black Light Mutants are a group of DIY misfits creating dissident pop hits, putting together vibrant artwork, questioning the rigid ritualistic systems that people follow and trying to send out a positive message for our consumer.
“Our sonic output experiments with mixing together things such as noise, space rock, anarcho punk, electronic music and spoken word. Combined with our psychedelic and apocalyptic visuals and glitched out videos we try get our strong dissident message across in a creative way. We are anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anarchists amongst other things and are strong believers in, and lovers of, everything DIY. We love creativity and freedom of expression and are constantly striving to create brand new and thought provoking concepts for people to enjoy and for us to enjoy making.”
See, I told you it was a lovely bit of writing. Anyway here’s the interview. I wrote the questions. Joey wrote the excellent answers.
(((o))): How and when did Black Light Mutants form?
Black Light Mutants was originally formed in February 2011. Johnny and Sean two of the original members had been jamming doing a bit of an industrial project called “Earth Rod” with guitar / a 1980s Korg and an old drum machine. I was at a gig with Johnny at the local venue and we were talking about art and music and he mentioned the project they were doing and asked would I like to sing on a few tracks. Martyn my friend from school who I was living with then joined on bass and another guy called Joe joined on drums. After a couple of practices we came up with a bit of a heavier sound than our original experiments and the first version of Black Light Mutants was formed.
A couple of months before the band I’d been doing quite a bit of brightly coloured / psychedelic post-apocalyptic artwork so we decided that would become the bands original aesthetic. So John and I came up with the idea and theme for the band that we would make music what the mutants would listen to after the apocalypse and we were kind mixing a fantasy post-apocalyptic world together with a political message. After going through a few band names on the theme of mutants Sean came up with the idea of adding Black Light to the name. We always wanted the band to be visually interesting both with the art and on stage so we used lots of lasers, UV lighting, on stage props and wore UV tribal paint at our events.
(((o))): Did the band come out of a shared politics, shared musical interests?
Yes, all the band came out of a shared left-wing political stance, I think at the time the Tories had just got back into power so that became a little bit of a focus when we could see what they were starting to do. Music wise there was a large range of musical interests throughout the band, we were all into a bit of punk but loved lots of different other genres between us, with me and Johnny liking more anarcho and weird bands, Sean coming with the sound of free festivals and Martyn with his love of Hardcore. The original band took influences musically and lyrically from bands like Throbbing Gristle, Amebix, Hawkwind, Killing Joke, Psychic TV, Public Image Ltd, Manic Street Preachers, Black Sabbath, Syd Barrat, Atari Teenage Riot… we were listening to lots of things at the time and trying to mash bits of it together.
(((o))): There have been various personnel changes, has that had much effect on BLM’s musical evolution?
Yes, there have been various changes that have affected the sound, by our 2nd release Trash Town we got a young guy called Alistair on board who was a big metal fan and played the double bass drum, this gave us a much heavier sound for that period. We then went through another few changes of members playing that sound live. In 2014 the band split so I and Johnny decided to write our own new album Acid Burn Alice and The Master Control Program just with the two of us, we were unsure if to at first but decided to release it under the Black Light Mutants name. This was a bit of a change in sound, dropping having a live drummer and moving from using analogue synths to using digitally generated sounds via a laptop. Martyn re-joined for a live line-up for awhile with a guy called Chris on laptop and kaossilator duties. The band then split again and I got Aidan and Dan for awhile bringing in a sort of post-punk / goth sound. In the current line-up, we decided to remake all the songs and streamline things with just laptop/guitar and lots more visual art after seeing bands in the electronic scene just use laptops and bands like Sleaford Mods doing it. So it’s now just me and Rich who I originally met in 2012 and who has been a fan since very early on after we played quite a few gigs with his band PedAgree Skum.
(((o))): How would you describe your current sound? I thought I detected hints of Joy Division in there somewhere!
Yes with the new line-up we are trying to go for a bit of a cleaner sound maybe with more post-punk influence / electronic sounding more than the fast shouty punk, as well as trying out different sounds I’ve been trying out different vocal styles too in there. We describe the sound as “Crass for the Megadrive” generation, a kind of updated version of anarcho-punk for those that grew up playing megadrive and PlayStation at an afterparty after dancing all night to electronic music in a warehouse, the technology, the ads and marketing from the era, the chaotic late-night channel 4 television, hacker zines and BBS’s, the sounds of 90s computers and cyberpunk culture in the 1990s / 2000s and all that, adding to our older sound while taking bits in from post-punk, riot grrrl, grunge, 8bit / chiptunes / Amiga mod music, acid house, nerdcore rap etc.
(((o))): When I saw BLM live you combined aural and visual presentation really effectively. How do the ideas for the visuals come about? Are they a transposing of the lyrics or do they have a life of their own?
A bit of both really, some of the videos use clips from our actual music videos we have been trying to make recently mixed with lots of flashing images, symbols, clips from 90s cyber punk movies, video games and lyrics and things to make it really visually interesting, some of it is from abstract video art stuff I do too. With the visuals taken inspiration from acid house videos of the 90s, bands like Psychic TV’s visuals and visuals from things like the Demo scene on 8 / 16bit computers. We have also recently developed our 3D avatar/band member to announce songs and things, we are trying to keep a flow going so there is no sound / visual silence at any point during our set. We want our live sets not to be just about the sound but a full on assault to the ears, eyes and mind.
(((o))): Your set felt very ‘cyberpunk’ in the ATR digital punk sense of knowing how to use technology to good effect…
I’ve been using a computer since before I could walk in the 1980s so know my way around one a bit. I’ve also been a software developer and digital designer/artist for the last 12 years and now work doing clothing design/marketing for PUNX.UK and Sabcat Workers Co-Op so I’m used to creating visual art/branding / etc. With the new lineup we are trying to use as much tech and software as we can to make our sound and live set as interesting and engaging as possible, doing our own videos, visuals, sound, recording, artwork everything ourselves and trying to make that look nice and polished and professional as we can do DIY. I’m a big fan of ATR and bands like that so take a bit of inspiration from what they are doing.
(((o))): How does a BLM song/presentation come into being?
Our current songwriting process is probably more like making dance music, we usually get together and lay a kind of structure out for the songs in our software putting down the drums and maybe bass, we then add guitar parts over the top and then add in synth, bass and other effects in via a midi keyboard before recording the vocals on top. Then after this we come up with an idea for visuals, filming clips, creating artwork and gathering other bits from online.
(((o))): You’ve a new album The Product out soon(ish), what sort of subject matter do you engage with on the new album?
The new album should be out around November time. The main concept of the album is that its set in a future dystopian city/world that is the end result of gentrification, the rich destroyed the cities and built huge tall brutalist towers devoid of culture in their gated / walled communities, while the rest of the people live on the other side of the wall are not allowed in. The album explores themes of gentrification, the commodification of areas, communities and culture, the death of music venues and creative spaces, the worlds of consumerism, advertising and marketing and surviving as anarcho-creatives in the modern age.
(((o))): What is the new track ‘Another Martyr’ about?
With the track ‘Another Martyr’, I was trying to write kind of horror B-Movie inspired sound and lyrics about a blood-sucking vampire who is addicted to killing and torturing his victims but in the end, it all catches up with him. I kind of had the idea that it was about some kind of addiction that you can’t escape in modern society, drugs, TV, porn, consumerism etc.
(((o))): Your first release was a Demo in 2011, have the subjects you engage with changed over time?
Yes, I think we have become quite a lot more political over time since 2011 after seeing what the Conservatives have been doing and experiencing a lot of it first hand, we’ve written a lot about that. We have tried to keep the fantasy meets politics element in the though with some of the music and art. I’ve always tried to turn the things and times I’ve lived through into an imaginary story, maybe romanticising all the bleakness and horrible things that happen, maybe as some kind of coping method. With our first releases being all post-apocalyptic, it captured kind of an end of the world vibe that we kind of felt living under the new Tory government and all living in a town that was completely shutting down, everyone was unemployed, buildings boarded up, no hope left, feeling kind of like a dead wasteland. Then the concept on Acid Burn Alice was about an all-powerful AI controlling people in some glitched out world (Sort of ‘I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream’ meets ‘Alice In Wonderland’), using this idea as a metaphor I explored themes such as domestic violence, mental health and government control. Then on Earth Tribe Technocracy, the concept was about a tribe living around the globe surviving on the scraps on a technological wasteland, kind of capturing the feeling that “the tribe” are all online connected by the internet these days to share our ideas and creativity together.
(((o))): Who would you cite as influences on your art and politics?
I went to college to study art in the late 90s at the tail end of YBA thing where there were lots of modern conceptual artists, so that’s always a big influence on me, the idea that art can be anything you want it to be and also that the mainstream art world is shit. I’m also into Situationism, the cut and paste aesthetics/politics/symbolism and things like that. Then all the anarcho bands that used that kind of thing in the 80s like Crass, mixing that with their DIY approach to everything and their black and white photocopied art look. I’m also into a lot of pop art, in particular, the artists who came from advertising and marketing backgrounds who subverted that whole thing to get their message across. I also love all the old prog style album covers with surreal landscapes, I kinda do a bit in my work. Recently with the band art, I’ve been taking a bit of inspiration from old eastern European art, posters and marketing from the Soviet era that is quite minimalist looking while at the same time looking very modern. Politics-wise we are probably influenced a lot by the anarcho bands and also we just write about things that happen and what we see in modern life.
(((o))): What are your plans for the rest of 2017 and 2018?
We are planning on doing the album release of The Product around November time also incorporating the new tracks into the live set around then too. We’re also planning on doing a few more videos to promote the album release as we have just got our hands on some nice new equipment for that. Other than that we are hoping to travel around the country doing lots more gigs in 2018 after having a really great response to the new sound and live set so far.
Photo by Outer Site Pictures.