Its 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
its best if we just let them do the talking. The Black Dogs
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 Dogs collaboration
with Burroughs before his death. As explained in the interview,
they chose to wait to release the Burroughs work so they werent
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 http://www.unsavouryproducts.com
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'
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
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
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: www.unsavouryproducts.com
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 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
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 (<http://www.snapshotman.com>). 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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