Mon 24th February 2014
Alex Macarte is a member of out-there space crew Gnod, bassist of Manatees and is know also known as AHRKH, under which name he performs solo loops, drones and soundscapes. We catch up with him before his appearance at MADE III on March 29th at the Audacious Art Space, Sheffield.
Ninehertz: Alex, you seem quite busy at the moment, with bass and vocals duties for Manatees, drums for Gnod, where do you find the time for AHRKH? Also, what do you sound like in solo mode?
AHRKH: Hey. First off, thanks for having me, its not often I play shows on my own so, really, thanks. Secondly, its been a while since I’ve done any interviews, so if I ramble... I apologise!
Well, I joined Gnod, initially as a drummer, at the end of 2012. Manatees had seem to become kind of 'stuck', well, for me anyway. Legal and financial problems had stopped us releasing our fifth record, which is now coming up five years since it was recorded and still remains unreleased. We'd been touring solid and playing the same music for a long time and as time moved on, I felt there were much more avenues that I wanted to explore creatively, sonically and just in the way I was living my life that just weren’t achievable where I was. Ten or so years later, I was no longer the 19 year old person I was when I started playing music with my manabros, you know? And I don’t think to be in that situation is good, for body or mind.
I'd been into Gnod and what they do since I first saw them play with Damo Suzuki of Can, in a forest (!) back in 2008/2009 or so.
Just this huge multi-limbed beast, which seemed alive in itself, they were like a proper gang of misfits or something, making this relentless groove that seemed to go on and on and on, forever and ever, not in a bad way, but in a kind of, sucking you into a vortex, into their gravitational pull, you know, the kind of roll your eyes into the back of your head and let go...the best way!
It Completely floored me. Years later, When the offer and opportunity came to be involved with what they do, I had to take it, so I moved down to Salford where they are based, and have been here since.
Music is pretty much all I do. Whether it be in Gnod, or our various other outlets. We all live in a great space, Islington Mill in Salford, a Victorian Cotton Mill which for the past ten years has been a sort of Arts Hub, with artist studios, a venue, gallery and an arts academy. Its full of all kinds of creative disciplines, designers, musicians, painters, film makers and a really great place to be creatively. I feel very privileged to be there. I actually played there a lot previously with Manatees. As far as solo stuff, I basically live in my studio here, so I just work on music and tinker with sounds for most of my time. I'm constantly working on it, with whatever I can use around me. I usually tend to keep it to myself, as I'm my worst critic, but I'm making a conscious effort this year to be more proactive with it. As for time... it's more like the other way round, I find it difficult to find time for anything else other than music, like eat or sleep or make money, ha! But it's what I love doing.
As far as what I sound like in solo mode? I dunno. It's mostly working with vocals, loops, effects pedals, noise, synths, anything that can make a sound. Some times big drones that oscillate in and out of each other making these weird ghosts of rhythms. Sometimes it's weird vocal loops, or guitars. I guess I'm trying to go for some form of meditation music at its root. A massage of sounds and tones. But that can change! Depends. Though very much centred on drone and repetition, there’s wide scope with that so it can differ to where I'm at and what’s available to me in that current time. So I guess ultimately, I just sound like me.
Ninehertz: You’ve been working with a visual artist called KHOM, what do they add to the overall feel of your music? Does your music work conceptually without it?
AHRKH: KHOM is my good friend Jamie Robinson. I've been friends with Jamie since we were teenagers back in Carlisle. We even played in a band together when we were kids, along with Greg Wynne (Manatees), called KETAMINE. We just used to be really snotty, obnoxious teenagers and play horrific noise out of time and out of tune. We thought we were amazing. It was like early Mogwai and Sonic Youth at their loudest and most discordant, but played reaaaaally loose! Haha.
Luckily I doubt any recordings survived! Haha. He moved over here to Manchester as a photographer some years ago and although not musically inclined enough to pick up an instrument, he's musical. Know what I mean? He's got the soul.
Last year he started applying that musicality in a way that works for him. Visually. He uses controllers and filters to manipulate the visuals live and has done visuals for Gnod a few times. He even got flown over to do his visuals in New York for a big event there! All that in the space of a few months, so as good friends it kind of made sense for us to get together. The very few solo shows I've done I always had some projections going on. Partly to distract from my usual nerves (playing solo is much different to having a band with you!) but mainly I think music and visuals go hand in hand, they compliment each other perfectly. As a musician or artist it's not just sound I’m after, but atmosphere too. You know, vibes. To evoke some kind of emotive response, why limit that to just sound? Besides, watching someone behind a table, twiddling buttons, isn’t always as riveting as that sounds.
Anything that's going to add to people getting into a certain headspace is welcomed by me. We recently performed a commissioned piece together for Manchester based events group Video Jam at Manchester Art Gallery as part of Turner Prize winning artist's Jeremy Deller's 'All That Is Solid Melts Into Air' exhibition.
There were a lot of people there and it got a good response, and we had a great time, so it's something we'd like to expand on. I think the music can work with out it, sure, but I think it really gives it another dimension that can only help people get into that receptive state of mind easier.
Ninehertz: What artists have influenced you to make this kind of music?
AHRKH: I've always listened to a fairly broad pallet of music and there's still so much more to discover! Even when we were playing heavy music in Manatees, me and Greg had always listened to loads of different things. From punk to prog, heavier stuff, noise rock psych, soundtracks, ambient, krautrock etc, you name it. I guess as far as artists go that influence the kind of stuff I'm doing now directly? Florian Fricke of Popol Vuh was a big influence on me. That kind of slow burning meditative music which can only come from some place deep inside. I started digging out his stuff quite a few years back and started noodling about in my room.
Also I'd say stuff like Coil, and avant garde long form music like William Basinski, Kevin Drumm and Elaine Radigue, especially her Triloge De Mort recordings. But I think mainly it's less music that influences me and more a need to shut off from the real world. We live in a mad world, and the older I get the more disconnected I feel from it. My mind seems fried most of the time with anxieties and worries from it, so I need to just lose myself, and I find I can with sound. Just tune out and let it take me inward. Its Something more spiritual to me. To kind of achieve altered states of consciousness with sound Head music.
And while I'm in no means there yet, I feel like a child scribbling on the wall in crayons, while the others around me do real stuff most of the time, I'm not sure its ever about 'getting there' to a particular sound or point...Surely the journey is more important than the destination. Also, to never say never, you know, Why confine yourself to a rigid criteria? I’m this, I’m that. Constantly defining oneself. Life is in constant flux and movement, and I feel creative output should reflect that. So yeah. A need to shut off and to explore sound is my biggest influence. And to not be scared to start again.
Ninehertz: Is it any kind of natural progression from your previous bands?
AHRKH: Mmm. Natural? I guess any progression is natural. The kind of music I'd been playing with Manatees and the kind of music circles we were playing with had really gotten a bit stale for me. Not to say it isn't good, don't get me wrong, but it just wasn't exciting me, or speaking to me on a deeper level any more.
I never felt happy with the 'metal' tag you know. I mean sure we were loud and aggressive but Manatees always had those weird bits and long drawn out repetitive sections, real hypnotic vibe and quite cinematic in scope, and it was that over the aggression that always appealed to me. And finding weird sounds. With the first Manatees album we did a lot of rhythmic and percussion parts with like junk that was lying around. I think I was listening to a lot of Einstürzende Neubauten around then!
I think the older, you know the more the aggression just naturally dissipated for me, which is very natural, but the need to lose myself in repetition and the weirdness only grew. So in that sense It does feel like a natural progression to me, though it might seem like quite a distinct change from the outside.
That isn’t to say what I do cant be heavy. I think that’s a false conception many bands I was around make. Mistaking aggression or volume for being Heavy. Holy shit, just look at some of the old blues music from America, one black guy, one guitar, maybe with three or four strings, with generations of oppression and hardship behind him, channelling something from deep within. THAT'S heavy. I've heard one note be played on a piano that can sound heavier than any “metal” band. No matter how many matamps you have!
Ninehertz: What kind of a response are you hoping for?
AHRKH: I don’t know. Its kind of hard to go into it with that mind frame for me, But I guess a positive one! To enter with an open mind. maybe shut off from your immediate head space, and if able, try to find something amongst it that they can take away from it.
Anything positive they can take, they should. Really I just hope to just play as well as I can, and hopefully give something that can be as uplifting as is to me in some form.
Ninehertz: You have an hour to fill (if you like) at MADE III, what can people expect?
AHRKH: Long slow-burning atmosphere (I hope!). Like I say, I'm still experimenting and things always change, but from the last few sets I've done on my own, they've been pretty loud and pretty immersing. At least to me anyway! I think, if done right, with the right sound system it can be like a head and body massage with sound, like be physical thing. I've been playing a lot through soundsystems and big PAs in that last year that really bring a physical dimension to sound. And like wise,in the right headspace, the repetition rather than drag can actually alter perception of time. So if I do play for an hour, hopefully it wont feel like one!
Ninehertz: Would you like to collaborate in time with other musicians? Would you consider leaping into other genres to perhaps combine sounds?
AHRKH: Yes, and I do. Collaboration is the key to progression in creativity for me. I've done a few collaborations in the past year or so with various people. I did some recordings of piano and guitar music with a close friend of mine called Lucy Johnson. She plays in a wealth of noise bands, like Smut, Nun, Rife, Space victim and runs a few black metal/punk/noise labels.
We released it under the name Aufklarung last year which came out on Tombed Visions label. That label is run by a guy called David McLean, who I've also collaborated with a couple times. We also did a tape under the Macarte/McLean Moniker, its a live recording from an improv set we did opening for Oneothrix Point Never. David's amazing actually. REALLY good at improvising. Serious inspiration. He plays anything from free jazz to industrial bludgeoning beats.
I'd love to do some more collaborations with him, but I fear he's getting a little TOO good now! Haha. I also did a few live collaborations, with fellow Gnod member Druss (Paddy Shine) and a great sound and visual artist down here, Callum Higgins, who goes by the name of Yes Blythe. Callum uses cassettes of field recordings that he loops till they're beyond recognition. Like a lock out groove of a record that he'll make sound like a building collapsing over and over.
I don’t really do things with genres in mind. They don’t really mean much to me, other than something of an aid to get a vibe across. I'd like to maybe do another collaboration with Eugene Robinson of Oxbow some time in the future if he was up for it, So yeah, Eugene, if you're reading?
Ninehertz: Do you see your drone/noise elements creeping into your other musical endeavours?
AHRKH: Yes, Of course. And each different endeavour will bring new elements to myself and each other. Like a big feedback loop. But I'd like to try my hand at more electronic stuff for sure. Like getting into modular synthesis and music programming, using things like Ableton perhaps or some way to manipulate sounds and bend them into different shapes and noises. I'd love to do music for film too, But who knows? Just keep doing what I'm doing, playing in and outside the bands, learning and pushing myself and see where that takes things.
Ninehertz:What’s happening with Manatees? ArcTanGent seemed to be your only appearance for a long time and things seem quiet at the moment.
AHRKH: ArcTanGent was fun. Was a bit mad, as I kind of thought people had maybe forgotten about us, as we'd been off the radar and not played together for almost a year. So was really good to see that many people there and into it. To play with those tunes, with those two guys again was really special. But as far as the future goes, We're not really sure to be honest. The fifth album, 'Helvellyn', was picked up by a label sometime last year. Shels* Music, who were making plans to release it this year. Which is great, and I really hope it happens so it can get out there and we can put some closure on that episode of our lives. I know a lot of people were waiting a long time for it. But as a band that functions, records and tours? I don’t think it's happening.
We all love each other and its nothing personal at all between one another, just, that whole episode for us as a band, the last four years or so, have been a massive strain on us all. Through some pretty poor decisions on our own part and on our then label's part, we were left with a huge debt, no label support and no means of releasing it or anything else on our own.
We should have probably took a break a lot earlier, but we ploughed on, constantly touring the UK and Europe, and while we had fun, it just left us in financial ruin while the record just stayed on a shelf collecting dust.
It does kind of feel as though its coming to an end. We're all working on different bands and projects so time is limited. Stylistically and musically, it's just not where I am any more. I mean its like putting on your favourite t-shirt you used to wear as a teenager. It represents a time and a place the three of us were at, at that time, but its just not representative of where we are now as artists and people, you know? I mean I'd love for the record to still come out, there's nothing more frustrating as an artist then leaving something unfinished, and its a good album, we worked hard on it, probably some of the best stuff we did, but it kind of became a ball and chain for us in a way, that album. We've learned so much from the last ten years of playing together, and I feel like we achieved a lot to be proud of, those musical bonds are special, we grew up playing music together, influenced each other in our playing, and lives to become who we are today. Brothers. But I'd rather we all use that to move forward to new avenues.
You know, not be sad that its ending, but be excited about what comes next. Greg is recording some demos at the moment, which I can't wait to hear, that guy's guitar playing is insane. His guitars on our second record, man... amazing.
To me he plays heavy music but with that weird 'je ne sais quoi', you know, Like Roland S Howard from the Birthday Party or something, or Dylan Carlson, these weird nuances, very much their own identity that you cant quite pin point, that no one else can imitate. Especially for me, his clean tone. I think he's got a lot he can expand on with that. And I know that guy has some real soul. Really interested to see where that goes.
There was talk of maybe one last tour, but it would depend on logistics and finances, we're all broke! So I wouldn’t hold your breath. But like I say, never say never you know. Stranger things have happened.
Ninehertz: How active are Gnod? Are you planning many appearances this year?
AHRKH: Gnod's always busy man, the world goes round and the Gnod machine keeps going! At the beginning of last year we ditched the guitars, bass and drums, put all the bands money into a huge Dub soundsystem and started making noise with hardware like analogue synths, drum machines, sequencers and all manner of gadgets and tools making this mad industrial psychedelic beat driven rhythmic droning miasma of noise.
Really using Soundsystems as an instrument almost. Raikes Parade (Andy Blundell), who does our sound, he's incredible. He's up there with us all at the trestle tables with his mixing desk, literally playing the desk and steering the ship. It's been a great year with Gnod actually.
We pretty much spent the year taking the Soundsystem with that set up on the road through the UK and Europe and often playing spaces rather than venues. It may seem like a complete swerve stylistically for Gnod, but again to me it just feels like a natural progression. I think it ruffled some feathers for some Gnod heads who've really dug the guitar driven stuff, but fuck it, its got to keep moving, if your heart stops beating you’re dead!
Whatever, to me personally it feels like the most interesting music I've been involved with for a long while and I find it very exciting to be a part of. We're constantly jamming and recording things and there's been a few Gnod releases here and there, a few compilation tracks, rereleases and a great tape for Blackest Ever Black.
There's also been a Gnod tape label, Tesla Tapes, releasing amazing new music from people we meet on our travels, a club night we started, Gesamtkunstwerk, putting on some real ground breaking artists in the electronic field in a our own warped take on a club night! We even went to Ibiza as part of Residency with Islington Mill. And of course all the Gnod heads have all been working on solo output respectively (Dwellings, Druss, Negra Branca, Raikes Parade, 2 Koi Karp).
We have a few dates on the horizon, loads of good shit coming up on the Tesla Tapes imprint, a few festival dates in Europe and the UK later in the year and some interesting proposals and I think this year we may be working towards another full Gnod album from the looks of it. Use all the knowledge and experimentation of the past year to really knuckle down and come out with something really special. If we do something that blows my own head off I'll be happy!
Ninehertz: Are there any bands/artists you think we should be looking out for this year?
AHRKH: Lightning Glove from the Czech Republic for one. They supported Gnod in Prague last year and blew our heads off. They're like this weird kind of ghost of rave music but visceral like punk. Ugly and beautiful at the same time. Paddy (Shine, Gnod) put out a tape for them on Tesla Tapes, and they've just dropped what will be their next release, a vinyl on Tesla Tapes/Ono, which just sounds unreal, like nothing I've ever really heard before!
Also looking forward to David McLean, who I mentioned earlier, releasing his new material as Punctum. Beat driven heavy vibes. I've known David a while, and been great seeing him evolve musically. Really inspiring.
As far as guitar music goes... I dunno, I think Drunk In Hell just destroyed any need for me to check out heavy guitar music.
Though, Bong's new record sounds like its going to be a belter, sort of pushing what they do to it's logical extreme. And maybe the reformed Terminal Cheesecake. Anything on the Blackest Ever Black label. That labels output is phenomenal. A full length by MOIN, from London, would be amazing. And hopefully I'll have some AHRKH material out there in a physical form this year! I'm currently working on releases for Tesla Tapes, and for a great noisy label in Bristol Called ZamZam. And I'll probably just get on and release stuff on my own too, you know CD-r's tapes, whatever. Make 2014 a year to be as productive as possible!
Black and white photography: Rebecca Cleal @ White Duck.