Sutcliffe Jugend, duo formé de Kevin Tomkins et de Paul Taylor, est une formation historique du genre industriel bruitiste dit “power electronics”, qui a émergé des expérimentations aussi diverses et extrêmes que celles de Throbbing Gristle ou SPK. Formé en 1982, parallèlement à Whitehouse, autre groupe culte dans lequel a œuvré Kevin Tomkins, Sutcliffe Jugend partage le goût de la provocation radicale et des expériences musicales ultime. Après avoir produit deux albums au début des années 80, la formation a connu une phase de mise en sommeil jusqu’au milieu des années 90, produisant depuis lors près d’une vingtaine d’albums dans des genre extrêmement différents, du power electronics au spoken word. Pour une approche plus détaillée de leurs dernières productions, nous renvoyons les lecteurs d'Idiocratie vers la critique de leur avant-dernier album 'Shame', dont il est largement question dans cette interview, accordée à Idiocratie par Kevin Tomkins et Paul Taylor, à l'occasion du festival 'Hinoeuma, the malediction', en février 2017 à Londres.
La traduction française de l'interview est disponible dans le numéro zéro de la version papier d'Idiocratie sortie en octobre. Vous pouvez le commander ici au prix de 10 € frais de port compris.
La traduction française de l'interview est disponible dans le numéro zéro de la version papier d'Idiocratie sortie en octobre. Vous pouvez le commander ici au prix de 10 € frais de port compris.
Idiocratie: Why did you choose Peter Sutcliffe for the name of your band ?
Sutcliffe Jugend (Kevin Tomkins/Paul Taylor) : I started recording around 1979 at first with friends then alone. About 1981-82 the name I had settled on when I first sent tapes to Crass and Come Org. was Death Squad. It was Come Org. that showed an interest for obvious reasons. I sent two or three tapes, one of which was concerning The Yorkshire Ripper. His violence fitted perfectly the violence of the music, which in turn was influenced by Suicide, TG, SPK and Whitehouse. The label suggested the name 'Sutcliffe Jugend' after a track called Ripper Youth we had included on the demo, for the release of the 'Campaign' cassette. To be honest I had never heard the word 'Jugend' before, but it was perfect at the time. It's not really relevant anymore, as in all names it becomes abstracted from its meaning with time and it's use as a name, but I still like it for its divisive power, especially when I explain who Sutcliffe was and what Jugend means.
Idiocratie : Sutcliffe Jugend appeared in 1982, realized ten tapes and nothing none until 1994 and your first album, what happened to you in between ?
SJ : I was still very busy with music. It's well documented that I put SJ on hold when William Bennett asked me to join Whitehouse with Philip Best (and Peter Sotos for the two USA tours). I was with them for about two years. We all had the same philosophy and artistic ideas, I think that was more important than any particular musical ability at the time. The live shows were amazing. It was an important time for harsh electronic music. I left the band after wanting to quit London. I had become depressed and I wasn't enjoying being in the band anymore. If it wasn't for future commitments, I would have quit around the time of the German tour which would have cut my time in the band in half. After I quit I obtained an early sampler and recorded a considerable amount of loop pieces. One of which 'Fear and Anticipation' appeared much later on 'The Victim As Beauty' album. A few other tracks from the period appeared on the compilation box set 'Archive IV'.
I formed the band 'Bodychoke' with Paul Taylor in the early nineties, who is now one half of Sutcliffe Jugend of course. He was also involved with SJ before I joined Whitehouse. We've always been close friends, so it was only a matter of time before we worked together again. We went on to record three albums as Bodychoke and one further compilation of unreleased material. I guess the song 'The Red Sea' or the album 'Cold River Songs' capture the sound of the band best. Bodychoke were more of a rock or post-rock band than SJ, so we played quite a few gigs with the likes of Ramleh and Skullflower, who were the most similar bands to us in London at the time, both of whom are still making music of course.
Idiocratie : This year (2016) Sutcliffe Jugend had a tremendous activity : three albums in one year, a retrospective of 6CD package and a new realization which will be out in February. Were you particularly inspired by present events and present society or something completely different ?
SJ: Every album we do has a different concept and is well thought out before we proceed. On the 6CD box set S L A V E S each disc has a different title 'Theatre of Cruelty', 'Theatre of Tragedy' etc. the music reflecting the particular 'Theatre' in some way. The title of the album concerns how each of us are slaves to our environment, genes, passions and subconscious machinations, the 'Theatres' represent those things we think 'we' control or have some prized image of, but ultimately of course, we don't.
So much bullshit is spoken in music and art regards concepts and what the 'artist' is trying to say and what their 'message' is we've found it refreshing to go back to an almost scientific framework. Understanding who we are, not through some kind of hippy mystic alternative but through genetic science, sociology, psychology and scientific process. The difficulty then is processing our particular viewpoint, emotions and passions with that in mind and staying true to some kind of values.
Idiocratie : One of your last piece, Offal, is very striking and crashed into 2016 like a strange meteor. It’s an unsettling dive into nihilism and autodestruction. Your last piece, Shame, is also very impressive. Listening to it made me think of Max Scheler : “one who doesn't take revenge is weak, one who does is a criminal.” A philosophical dead end which echoes in our desolate and violent post-modern world. I thought also as if you've decided to transform in a world of sound the frightening description of Guy Debord at the beginning of In Girum Nocte. Well, all these suggestions, maybe right or not, left appart, the question remains : what is it about in Shame or Offal ? The dark side of every human being lurking in a dark corner ? Post-modern dereliction turned into all forms of hate, sexual and self-destruction ?
SJ : I'm not familiar with the Max Scheler quote, but the reference to Guy Debord is definitely something I can relate to. The sequence in 'Girum Nocte' is something I recommend anyone check out if they haven't already. It's a brutal analysis, and if I remember correctly it's something very much in line with the view I was trying express on 'Offal'. The futile absurdity of existence expressed as directly as possible. The absurdity of an artist believing they are saying something important, some great revelation, I also find disturbing. That is something that may come with time and analysis, but not as self proclamation.
With 'Offal' as with other albums I've used sex as a metaphor. I find it very powerful. I think some are under the miscomprehension we're trying to articulate some kind of violent sex fantasy and I suppose, that it can be read on many levels, but rarely are things quite as they seem. The violent sex scene at the end of 'Cleave' for example is actually a metaphor for everything that comes with being in Sutcliffe Jugend. The violence one is subjected to in art and culture, but more specifically the violence upon the emotions and body, through relationships, sex, life and time are subjects I find I am attracted to and am writing about as SJ evolve. So lyrics like those in 'Cleave' can still work on different levels for me.
The album Shame deals with shame in its different guises and my own lack of it. It is all the more relevant with the culture of shaming and politically correctness. Politics has never been part of our agenda, we think it is important for a band like us to be morally and politically neutral, as indeed I try to be. I've always been more interested in what affects me and those close to me than what's going on in some other part of the world. I don't have a very wide social conscience. Our intention is that our music deals solely with the personal and our obsessions, and in some way what it is to exist outside of the mainstream. To have an outsider philosophy. If I'm honest, our horror and anger at an absurd, vile and powerless human race. All these traits we of course see in ourselves. Hence our music often deals with those traits we find most abhorrent, yet through no choice find we are attraction to. I think what we do is very much at odds with the romantic lie at the heart of so much art. However to be honest and at the risk of sounding hypocritical I should state 'Shame' and 'The Muse' are a little different, because both were overshadowed by a series of seismic negative personal events, which is reflected in the tone and content of both albums. We hope we don't find ourselves making music of a similar nature any time soon. We found ourselves a little overwhelmed. Also I should also state, I have no problem with being a hypocrite, it's such a naive insult.
Idiocratie : “Shame; shamed; stripped naked for all to see”... Is it the dark lament of the constantly humiliated and frustrated clerk, living the panoptical age of global management, digital sex, social networks and social pornography ?
SJ : I am often attracted to the normal rather than the extraordinary, the nuances rather than the grand gestures. Something I would have done twenty or thirty years ago. The life of the everyday regular person or 'clerk' is not much different to any other perceived life, their struggle is ultimately the same as everyone else's. What we do on a day to day basis are merely distractions, cause and effect. When SJ first started I was under the illusion free will existed and once my understanding changed SJ had to change drastically also. It's the main reason I struggle with some 20th century SJ and pretty much all PE music and of course the resulting questions of responsibility and criminality.
Idiocratie : There is a million ways and reasons to be ashamed but the postmodern world seems to know no shame anymore. Is there a religious background behind the text of Sutcliffe Jugend ?
SJ : Shame has stifled free speech and debate, right? That's what it's all about, it's a stealth form of censorship. We hide the things that shame us all the time. Not because it's an internal force, but an external force that influences us. It's self protection. I like the prefixes endo and exo, as in exoskeleton and endoskeleton. The external and the internal. In exo-behaviour, or external behaviour we all show shame, concern, empathy etc. for social reasons. When in reality our true endo-thought or feelings are contrary to those we choose to make public. Or at least we are indifferent to things that, in a social situation where we are compelled to agree with the general consensus. Some of us are less inclined to do so. We all know someone, someone we consider a true friend or ally who we can speak freely with, without irrational or ignorant snap judgements. It's kind of what works with musicians and writers and their relationship with people who understand their work and people on the periphery who don't. I think we have that kind of relationship with the people who listen to our music, there's a trust and understanding that develops as a byproduct of the time invested. We can speak freely and honestly without judgement. Most people in the post industrial scene are intelligent, inquisitive and knowledgeable, so it's a good creative environment, not hindered or stifled by too much negativity or prejudice.
I know on a personal level shame is not an emotion I can relate to, so I'm a victim of that myself. I struggle with all terms for such things, pride, hate, envy and all the other terms for human emotions and feelings, they're so over simplified, closed definitions that are alien to me. Language although at times so brutal, beautiful and elegant, ultimately fails us with it's limitations and interpretations. Another favourite term of mine 'the exponential lie of perception' fits well here. The post-Christian shaming we see today in the media and online, I'm sure has links to religion and control. I would suspect the innate drive to believe and the need for hope are hard wired and part of the evolution of any highly intelligent life, so it's kind of inevitable. There is for sure, a hidden undercurrent of baiting and religious mockery in what we do. As so often is the case, it's for our own amusement and another futile kick against misplaced authority, nothing more than that. It feels like a cheap shot, so it's something we don't do often. We really have no agenda regards trying to change anything.
Idiocratie : Musically Shame or Offal have a very unique identity: brutal yet sometimes melodic, radical yet intimistic, power electronic but very rock'n roll. One can wonder which other kind of arts, painting, readings, or musical influence, inspired you ?
SJ : That's a difficult question to answer. A review suggested a similarity to Morrissey in the way a particular song from 'Shame' was written and delivered. It started me thinking about other lyricists and how I find more affinity with the likes of Morrissey, Lou Reed, Ian Curtis, Nick Cave, and Leonard Cohen than I do to any PE or post industrial lyric writer. It's a strange mix I've chosen and I'm not suggesting I'm even close to any of those guys quality wise, or even content wise. However, I can relate to something about each. Musically there's too much to mention, my tastes are just too varied, I like pretty much all forms of music, but I probably only like a handful of artists in each genre, whether that be classical, jazz, experimental, industrial or whatever. I have broad tastes in the arts, and in life, I have few prejudices. Swans live are a tour de force in their latest guise, so they've been an inspiration. If I had to pick one song that stood out though it would be 'Hello Voyager!' by Evangelista. It's the one song that never fails to blow me away. As with Morrissey, I don't have to agree with the sentiment or to share the same plight, although with this track I do connect. I'd like to say I'm into pure content, but I have aesthetic tastes also, and some kind of intellectual possession is still important to me. I guess I can like high or low art in equal measures. I've always been drawn to Francis Bacon of course, for me his paintings best capture the violence of the tormented soul. The book of interviews with David Sylvester is articulate as anything I've read on art, and I felt a strong connection to much of what he suggests regards his motives. I wonder with many people working in the arts how much truth we get from them regards motive, the need to sell by justifying their art in moral terms, is both inevitable, and a real shame. It ruins and softens the impact and leads to so much mediocrity.
Idiocratie : Do you favor collaboration with other sort of arts in your work ?
SJ : I will often paint or sketch images relating to our music,some of which ends up on the album covers. I have done some work for film and video, and that's something I think we are suited to and we are keen to explore further. It really depends on the individual project and it's merits. It's difficult, because one has to be careful not to dilute, taint or misrepresent what it is you or anyone else is doing.
Idiocratie : The same year, your album « The Muse » wanders in more peaceful territories than Offal or Shame. Will you continue to develop more this aspect of your work ? Does it signal another path ?
SJ : 'The Muse' was not our first spoken word album of course, and it won't be our last. The first was 'Blue Rabbit', and we really weren't sure how that album would be received, it was very introspective and virtually the polar opposite of everything else we'd released. 'The Muse' is a continuation of that. I'm just finishing work on a collection of spoken word tracks at the moment. Hopefully that will be released later this year. Spoken word is something I'm keen to explore more in future, the words dictate the way in which it's delivered.
Idiocratie : You played in London on february 3rd, 2017 for the festival “Hinoeuma, the malediction”. How did you appreciate this live ? What is the importance of live performance for Sutcliffe Jugend ?
SJ : It's now essential that we play live, although at first it was a difficult decision to make because it had to be right. Certain tracks we rehearse cry out to be played live. When we're in the studio and everything is turned up to ten and the music is intense and devours your consciousness, you know you have to try and recapture that live. The London show had moments like that, although it was difficult for us to enjoy it because we were battling with poor sound on stage. We've been mixing the more aggressive tracks with almost trance like sections. I've always used vocal loops and Paul has always used guitar loops, so when we both feel a track is starting to create some interesting patterns we naturally start to build things up into an ecstatic climax and try and hold the music in that trance like state for as long as possible. There really is nothing better.
Idiocratie : Do you feel that there is a new dynamic today in industrial scene ?
SJ : I'm not the best person to ask really, but I do keep a passing interest in what's going on. Naturally it's grown and diversified as all 'scenes' do. I think the diversification has been good, although a crowded scene inevitably causes dilution. The advent of the internet has changed how things work and really made it difficult for small labels with illegal downloading and streaming sites. However it's a great market place so there's good and bad aspects.
Idiocratie : What are your plans for the future and the projects or collaboration you're working on today ? (and when and where do you plan to play live next?
SJ : What one has to understand is the evolutionary process within a band, so we have certain projects planned and then who knows where after that. It is often a survival of the fittest when it comes to ideas,. A good idea will stick and survive the test of time. We have an album coming out called 'Nude And Full Of Wounds' recorded with an American poet called Matthew Soko, he reads his own poems and a couple of my own, to which Paul and I have added music. It was a refreshingly different way of working for us, so we're really pleased with the way it turned out. He creates interesting vignettes and had a great voice and delivery, so we hope we've somehow help enhance what he does.
I've just finished another spoken word album, potentially a double CD, although I may separate it into two parts. I guess it's kind of a follow up to 'Blue Rabbit' in so far as I've worked alone on the project. It deals with my usual subjects, but mortality, the effects of time and relationships are also explored. Paul and I have started working on new material, so depending how long it takes to reach fruition, we may have another album ready later in the year. We will have to see how things develop.
Sutcliffe Jugend sera prochainement en concert au MaschineFest à Oberhausen en Allemagne le 29 octobre 2017.
Dernières sorties :
 William Bennett, fondateur de White House (formation à géométrie variable qui a vu passer Philip Best, Peter Sotos, Kevin Tomkins, Glenn Michael Wallis, John Murphy ou Steven Stapleton) a choisi ce nom en référence à Constance Mary Whitehouse, figure de proue de l’activisme ultraconservateur de l’ère Thatcher. Mary Whitehouse se trouvait partager son patronyme avec le titre d’une revue pornographique de l’époque.