Ken, there has
been quite a gap between Music For Adverts…
and this new project. Apart from working with Black
Sifichi, what have you been up to?
Ken: After Music For Adverts, I moved out of
London. Steve ("Hotdog") Ash joined the band.
We did a lot of remixes for a lot of bands and artists
we liked. Then Ross Knight ("Thek1d") joined
on guitar, and we did some more production work. Is
there a gap? There was no album during that period,
but we were all very busy.
The Black Dog is a highly regarded project
on the electronic scene, and you are often considered
as one of the most important figures of the British
electronica scene of the late eighties / early nineties
alongside Richard D. James, Autechre or Mike Paradinas
for example. How do you react to this?
Ken: Thank you. It couldn't have been
done without a solid crew behind me. How do you compete
with somebody who can spend 250,000 dollars on a video?
Or gets their corporate posters stuck up in every record
store? Many times it's seemed completely pointless,
but the Black Dog crew have picked me up, dusted me
off, and kept me going.
You have undoubtedly influenced a wide range
of electronic musicians over the years. Who were your
influences when you started, and do they still influence
Ken: Unlike most of my friends, I’ve
managed to keep hold of my vinyl collection. It covers
a wall, and is impossible to list here. The records
that sounded good to me years ago are still sounding
good today. How those artists lived their lives, the
passion they put into their art and their music, it's
all still inspirational. A good record doesn't stop
being a good record because the artist is no longer
fashionable, or worse, dead.
The Black Dog is still seen as a seminal Warp
act, although you haven’t worked with them for
10 years. How did you get to work with Warp in the early
days, and what made you decide to leave?
Ken: No comment.
Rich: Anyone fancy a pint?
There has been a lot of speculation on the
split with Andy and Ed over the years but you have always
kept pretty quiet about it. How do you react to fans
still reminiscing of The Black Dog of the early days,
and do you think it might have affected how your work
has been perceived since?
Martin: <sings> Over and over,
over and over....
Ken: Laughs. At every interview they
get trundled out. Don’t hold your breath for a
reunion. They left over a decade ago. Get over it.
Rich: At least me and Martin didn't
get called "Ed and Andy" again!
Martin: It’s kinda funny, people
slagged us off for putting all the names on the press
release and people still got it wrong.
You collaborated with Israeli singer Ofra Haza
before she died. How did this collaboration come up,
and do you think you would have worked with her again?
Ken: It's still painful to talk about.
I would have loved to work with her again. Or at least
have talked to her some more. But she died. Out of everything
I’ve ever done, I think the Babylon project
is the one thing that I’m most proud of.
How did you three meet, and what made you decide
to work together?
Martin: I've known Rich for years,
the same with Ken. I think working together just came
about, nothing was planned - shit just happened and
shit does happen in Black Dog world.
Ken: Oh...I’ve known Martin for
a number of years. His and Rich's direct speaking, northern
honesty, are completely refreshing.
Martin: I don’t think a clear-cut
decision was ever made really…
Ken, was it always in your mind to work with
other people on TBD again?
Ken: After Steve and Ross left the
band, I was resigned to working on my own for a while.
But after chatting to Martin about what we could realistically
achieve between the three of us, all is going well.
It’s nice to have other people to bounce ideas
around with. As a solo artist, sometimes you're denied
this simple but necessary thing because people are jumping
all over you with their "deadlines".
Martin: It seems to be going really
well and we know what we want to do next, so all is
well in the TBD camp.
What is your background? How did you come to
music in the first place, and to setting up a club and
a record label?
Martin: Punk and early Northern Soul
are really where I come from musically, The Cabs are
a big influence and that's where the idea of doing a
label came from - it just took 23 years to get around
Ken: Punk. Dub sound systems. Acid
house. The DIY ethic. It’s fun creating things.
Rich: Mainstream acts who used elements
of the early techno/electro sound (like New Order, Depeche
Mode, Pet Shop Boys, etc), coupled with the massive
explosion of club/rave culture into the mainstream -
it all just dragged me in and got me started in production.
And like Martin, running a label was always at the back
of my mind, it just took longer than expected to do.
Martin and Richard, was it daunting to join
an act with such credentials?
Martin: Never really thought about
it that much, I knew people would have a lot of expectations
but I'm not one for worrying about what other people
think or do.
Rich: Not daunting, simply because
it was such a natural progression from what we were
already doing. Although looking back 10 years and knowing
that I always liked The Black Dog's music, I wouldn't
have guessed that I'd end up working with Ken.
There is a mention on the album page on the
Dust Science website that says ‘While The Black
Dog has always been an important entity, it has not
always been well served by the industry to which it
has been leashed or indeed bitten.’ Is this destined
to anyone in particular?
Martin: Well, I'm looking after all
the legal shit and believe me it could be aimed directly
at a few people but I prefer the legal methods than
public slanging matches, I'll just sit and wait until
the time is right.
Ken: Clearly, many of the contracts
we have signed over the years aren't worth the paper
they were written on.
Rich: Next question...
The new album is rather darker and quite a
departure from the eclectic sound of previous releases.
How did you split the work for Silenced, and
did you have any particular mood in mind when you began
working on the project?
Martin: Darker? Mmmm I don't think
so but I guess that's something you can't control. The
work is split between all three of us, I don't think
there's one track on there that only one person has
worked on is there Rich?
Rich: True, there's a bit of each of
us in every track. I wouldn't have said it was particularly
dark though, but everyone's reference points are different
and it's not the first time I've heard that comment.
Just our natural output during this time period rather
than an intentional style.
Ken: I see it as more of a continuation
than a departure.
Martin: "Your Plane is now leaving
Ken, back in 2003, you released Unsavoury
Products with Scottish poet Black Sifichi. How
did the project come up?
Ken: Everybody was making the same
things, and putting them into the same bags. Something
to do with money. We’d sent tapes to William Burroughs,
and were waiting for him to deliver some spoken word
back to us, but he fell ill, and died. Mr Sifichi sent
us a pair of blue underpants he'd found in Paris, so
he was the natural person to help us finish off the
album. We got on very well, and had a lot of fun making
Martin: I liked that album more than
Spanners or Bytes, it had a real fifties
feel to it for me and it was very different, not the
This album was rather different from anything
you had done before, and it was said that you didn’t
consider it as the follow up to Music For Short
Films. Was that the reason?
Ken: I don't recall saying that? I
like everything about it. It’s funny, and direct
from the heart. Nobody told me how anything should sound,
and I was free to be as experimental as I wanted. No
Martin and Richard, is this something that
Martin: Not really, I like both of
the albums and Ken took a lot of shit for doing something
different, I salute him for that - but you could see
the lazy journalism coming when he split with Ed and
Andy a mile off. People say he's difficult to work with
and dictatorial, well I don't know who they are talking
about because Ken's a really chilled, easy going guy.
Rich: Martin's right, it doesn't affect
us in the slightest. In fact, it fits perfectly with
the way we work. Ken has never dictated what we produce
or how and of course, because we're also involved in
the label, there's no way that Ken's creativity will
be dictated to. Mutual respect for what we all do.
Ken, are you involved in the running of Dust
Science, or is this very much the project of Martin
Ken: I’d prefer not to discuss
the inner workings of the band or label.
Electronic music has become extremely accessible
these days. How do you think this has affected the quality
of the music in general? What do you think of the current
Ken: In some respects it's become toothpaste
product. You can hear it slipped under everything from
cookery programs, to the news. But there are also people
out there in their garages and bedrooms producing blinding
tunes that aren't getting heard. If it's allowed people
to express some creativity, and make at least one tune
of their own, that has to be a good thing. The industry
has decided that guitar bands are selling more units
these days, and shifted their focus away, declaring
electronic music dead. But I don't think so.
Martin: In a way though adverts have
become the only place electronic music can get airplay,
so I don’t think it’s that bad of a tool,
not sure if it’s down with the underground though…
Rich: And for every advert or TV program
that gives exposure to an obscure track, somewhere there
could be a kid in a bedroom excitedly saying "What
the fuck was that? I need more of it!". A little
mainstream exposure isn't always bad...
There is a Black Dog remix project announced
on the Dust Science website for October. Can you tell
Martin: We got a couple of our favourite
artists in to select which tracks they'd like to remix.
Rich: And it gave us chance to revisit
a track that deserved more.
Martin: That and a different viewpoint
The majority of the EPs that have been released
on Dust Science so far have been quite dance floor orientated,
which contrasts greatly with the mood of the album.
Do you have a different release philosophy for EPs and
Martin: Never thought about it, we
always try and give the DJ at least one track but nothing
is really that calculated at Dust or tBd Towers, if
we like something we put it out.
Ken: The Bite Thee Back EP
was a chance to revisit everything that made us feel
good about making our own records in the first place
(to get a vinyl test pressing in your hands, give it
a wobble, and go "YES!!"). A lot of the magic
disappeared with the mass production and distribution
of CD units. Cutting engineers can turn a tune you think
is middy and dull into something that’s punchy,
and really shines. I enjoy working with them, and appreciate
Are you planning to play live following the
release of Silenced, and if yes, what can people expect?
Martin: The Black Dog Punk Rock Sound
Ken: No pretence.
Rich: And we'll be enjoying it.
If you had to create your ideal playlist for
a long journey, what would be on it?
Martin: The sound of no fucker trying
to talk to me on the train sounds ideal.
Ken: A little bit of everything.
Rich: Whatever I pick, I'll have changed
my mind by the time I actually get on that train/plane/car...
What is next for The Black Dog, and how do
you see the project evolve in the next few years?
Ken: Black Dog Online? I’ve been
wanting to set up our own multiplayer space for ages.
I’ve been running a couple of standalone game
servers, but it's only been small scale so far (maximum
was 50 simultaneous people). It’s been a lot of
fun learning how to code my own stuff, create 3D models,
FX, soundtrack, etc.. And getting it to slot together.
You also get to communicate with people from around
the world, who you wouldn't normally meet. It's good
to talk across the globe.
Martin: A few gigs, more tracks, more
of what we like to do...
Rich: Back into the studio, not had
much creative time since completing the album. Just
more music, more DJing, more live stuff.
What is next in your diary?
Ken: MOT test for Vespa.
Martin: Shit, my car needs an MOT as
Rich: My car should have an MOT but
it'll probably fail. Time to endure a car salesman...
Email interview August 2005
Thank you to Martin Dust, Ken Downie and Richard Dust
BBC Collective: FOUR
TET Everything Ecstatic