It’s been quite some time since anyone has heard from the Black Dog and rather then try and explain the chaotic history, shadowy figures, and influence over the course of their career, perhaps it’s best if we just let them do the talking. The Black Dog’s new album “Unsavoury Products” is a collaboration with performance artist and poet, Black Sifichi and meant as a tribute to William S. Burroughs and inspired by The Black Dog’s collaboration with Burroughs before his death. As explained in the interview, they chose to wait to release the Burroughs work so they weren’t simply cashing in on his name, and decided to create a tribute to a man that has clearly made quite an impact and like Burroughs, offer their own views of contemporary existence through the new album and site

Could you give me a little refresher on how Plaid was involved with the Black Dog? Why did you decide to release a new album and why a spoken word collaboration rather then a 'traditional' album?

THE BLACK DOG: Actually, I've never worked with Plaid.... When Ken Downie founded The Black Dog in the early 80's members of Plaid joined the original band, but they left over eight years ago, and shortly after that I joined (I had been working with techno band 808 State at the time). We just evolved naturally into a the multimedia collective we have today, with other members including Martin (in charge of creative design and development), Steve (studio production) and Ross (guitar). We're essentially a collective in the Warhol "Factory" sense; we float in and out of the group depending on the projects we're working on, independently or together.

BLACK SIFICHI: The Black Dog heard my first album with Negative Stencil "Tick" and I made contact when I heard about their Burroughs project. I thought I could do a 'cameo' reading of one of Bill's texts somewhere on it. Anyway, The Black Dog loved my voice, how it was delivered. After Bill's death a demo of mine inspired them to produce a homage to Burroughs with me. Unsavoury Products has a message... the majority of traditional electronic albums do not. It is a way to use musical aesthetics and seamlessly merge them with words. In many ways the album is closer to art than most music media/products, which are constrained by commercial demands.

I know the Black Dog has been some what of a loose set-up, the core being Ken Downie. Who all was involved this time around?

THE BLACK DOG: We've all been involved in this project really. As a collective no single person is responsible, we just muck-in on a per project basis, but in this case it was down to real teamwork, everyone did something! Sifichi even sent us samples for the music, we basically co-wrote all of the material, a real fusion of ideas!

How did this collaboration with Black Sifichi come about? I know you had been working with Burroughs before he passed away and since "Unsavoury Products" is tribute to him, I'm curious about how the transition and why you wanted to create a tribute to him and work with Black Sifichi?

THE BLACK DOG: Originally myself and Martin were in contact with Bill dueto our interest in the Beat movement, and my friendship with film-maker Gus Van Sant. We started working on a project together, based on Bill's book "My Education, a Book of Dreams". Sadly, however, Bill passed away and we all felt uncomfortable about immediately completing the project, and "cashing in" on Bill's Ghost (too many people have done that!). Shortly after, Martin and myself started work on a photographic book project, spending several months in San Francisco. We hung out with fellow artists and beat authors (people like Joe Dallesandro and Hubert Selby Jr) and were discussing the idea of developing an album tribute to Bill, rather than using our unreleased collaborative work.

Martin pulled out a tape sent to him by underground performance artist Black Sifichi some months back, and we spent an afternoon sitting in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, listening to the material... I was totally blown away, and we started outlining ideas for "Unsavoury Products". The next day we began firing e-mails back and forth to Sifichi in Paris...Sifichi started working on lyrics, and The Black Dog crew got together to build a musical framework to the narrative... and, hey presto, an album emerged!

BLACK SIFICHI: I think it was good for the Black Dog to concentrate on a complete project which would take more time to finish, open doors to a different world where marketing and media pressure were banned. They had been concentrating on remixes and producing tracks for artists such as Beth Hirsch, Marilyn Manson, Elbow, The Creatures and A Guy Called Gerald etc... Unsavoury Products gave them the space to create a full length series of tracks with full control over the atmosphere, it is truly homogeneous.

What happened to the material with William Burroughs? Was there a lot of material done with him?

THE BLACK DOG: We recorded a huge amount of material, but we haven't released any of it, yet. It's definitely something we'll complete in the future, I feel a lot more comfortable about releasing it after this tribute album. In any case, the trustee of Bill's estate is a friend of mine and fully supports "Unsavoury Products" (in fact, he even allowed us to use Bill's paintings for the album artwork... a great honour, and it looks really kewl!).

Could you give a little background on Black Sifichi?

BLACK SIFICHI: I'm originally from New York, but I've lived over extended periods in London and now Paris. I'd been recording poetry secretly to tape and dictaphone for years but it was after writer/radio dj Bart Plantenga heard a few tracks that I began to publicly perform my work. He invited me to perform on Paris anarchist radio station Radio Libertaire on his program 'Wreck This Mess'. We soon joined literary forces and completed a series of wild spoken word readings throughout the city, to provoke audience reaction without violence, using a prankish sense of humour. My inspiration comes from Dadaists, Situationists; JG Ballard, the Beats and New York's Unbearable Poets collective (of which I'm a member). I released my first spoken album "Tick" with Fagus Sylvatica in 1999 and following positive reviews recorded tracks with Burnt Friedmann - 'Plays Love Songs', UHT, Norscq, BXT, Elliot Sharp, Interlope, Von Magnet and others. In between writing and recording I'm also a DJ. I've been with Radio Nova for more than six years with the program 'Sub Para Dub' and he have a regular spot on Paris Aligre Fm - 'Audiometric' on saturday evenings, where I play a lot of electronica, dub, electro-acoustic, abstract shit, hybrid music, and down-tempo stuff (including, of course, The Black Dog... so it's funny to finally be releasing an album with them!). I try to perform at outdoor festivals and clubs throughout France when I can, particularly at Paris' Batofar.

Did you work with him in person or was it more of a tape exchange?

THE BLACK DOG: We traded tapes during nefarious journeys to the Interzone... anonymous DAT's wrapped up in brown paper with parcel string... strange liquids, real audio files... I still have a scar that I'm having removed by laser surgery.

BLACK SIFICHI - And I'm allowed to use the computer in the de-tox centre now. It's much since they removed the straight jacket, although I'm only allowed to use Crayons (no pointy objects until my next medical review).

The web site is crazy. Can you tell us how you feel it ties into the overall concept of the album? Did you come up with those product ideas?

THE BLACK DOG: The album is an uncompromising work of art; anathema to an industry that insists artists reproduce the same thing, over and over again... to fill the same pockets with the more money. Incredibly, certain members of the press have even refused to review the album as they find it "genuinely disturbing", which says a lot about creative expression in the music industry today!

The only way you'll find this album in the high street will be via an independent record outlet, or a "megastore". The internet is wonderful in this respect, you can buy ART directly from ARTists and avoid the "control" of the corporate machine. Walk into a record shop today and they try and sell you a new mobile phone, travel insurance or a limited edition DVD box set. MUSIC seems to be a "sideline" now, and they'll never actively promote something different, let alone stock it. The shelf stocks Top 40. Can you imagine a bookshop that only stocked the Top 40 bestsellers??! How big is a CD compared to a book? It's not THAT much shelf space!

In this climate of bland, corporate indifference, we wanted to produce an album that broke free from expectations and reflected our genuine creative roots. I'd rather listen to a spoken word album by Burroughs or Kerouac than buy a Top 40 record now.... the whole industry has become a playground, with just a few bands swimming against the tide of mediocrity (and we've work with a lot of them, thank goodness, bands like Morphine, Radiohead and The Dandy Warhols).

People often mistake our dedication to breaking down creative boundaries or our expression of emotional depth as something "depressing" or "miserable" (Radiohead are shining beacon to many artists, but why do people assume Thom is permanently depressed?). The website is our combined way of showing people that the darker aspect of our psyche can't be attributed to drug-fuelled insanity; we can still have a laugh and there IS humour to be found in everything we do! In the same way that a lot of Bill's work was sarcastic and dry... but no less honest or direct because of it.

BLACK SIFICIHI - The website simply provides us a "shop-window" where we can reflect the insane frenzy and mediocrity of modern consumerism. We invented products which could be real but aren't (yet!). It is a post-situationist shot at the spectacle. It also has a lot of humour and is meant to make people reflect with a smile on their face. Check it out, anyway, at:

I know there is a remix album of sorts coming out, are we going to see a lot more Black Dog material coming in the future?

THE BLACK DOG: Yes, that's exciting! Rather than compromise on our original vision and risk diluting our original message, we've asked friends to re-work the material for promotion to a wider audience... so, people will still get to hear our sounds and Sifichi's voice in a club, thanks to mates including CJ Bolland, 808 State (Manchester's finest!), Jimmy Cauty (of The KLF) and drum'n'bass supremo A Guy Called Gerald, and more. The remixes are pretty diverse and in some cases quite bizarre. They're radically different from the original material and the results are essentially new tracks, but with that trademark "black dog" sound hidden beneath the surface. It's a unique, organic fusion of talents. No A&R suits involved, just artists working together to broadcast the same message!

Why did you decide to release the album through Hydrogen Dukebox?

THE BLACK DOG: We had the privilege of remixing The Creatures some time ago, and their music is released on a subsidiary label of Hydrogen Dukebox. We really enjoyed working with them and wanted this album to come out as a genuinely independent release, not a fake indie subsidiary of some major. Of course, the label name also comes from the poem "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, instantly confirming the genuine "beat" authenticity of all concerned:)

BLACK SIFICHI: "Electronica for Heroes" is Hydrogen Dukebox's moniker. I think that phrase applies to all of us. You have to be heroic to test the system and provide something new and intelligent. The Black Dog have always been heroes for me... just look back at 'Music for Adverts (and short films)".

What other projects are you working on?

THE BLACK DOG: Martin and myself are completing work on the photographic book we started in San Francisco, entitled "DIGITAL CHRIS". It's a study of masculine identity, post millennium, and follows on from the themes raised by books such as "Iron John" and "Fight Club". The book will be coming out later this year with an accompanying CD (you can see some images on the snapshotman website (<>). I'm also working with Inger Lorre, the former lead singer of seminal grunge band The Nymphs. Most recently we produced half of Beth Hirsh's new album and remixes for US artist David Garza and UK band Elbow. I'm also working with a number of other techno artists, including Jimmy Cauty and trance artist Peter Lazonby. The rest of the dogsquad are taking a well deserved break, before returning to work on the next Black Dog album for release early 2003... that will be more "digestible", but no less nutritious! I'm sure a few white labels will surface later this year :)

BLACK SIFICHI: I'm working on a couple of projects in Paris. Norscq and I are working on a track for Austria's Sabotage label and plan to put together a string of new tracks mixing voice and electronics. I'm presently working on a text for UHT and The Gnawa Musicians of Essaouira, and I'm working on writing an instrumental track for Sigmoon. I just finished writing my first 'solo' work called 'U Wonder' which is out on Shambala. Electronically, I'm learning more every day. Also The Black Dog and I have a secret project planned for later next year! The beat goes on.

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