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Dominick Fernow on Prurient’s Bermuda Drain and Vatican Shadow’s “atmosphere of degeneration”

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  • published
    1 Apr 2012
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This article was originally published in July 2011


“Noise is the freedom to pursue personal obsession, outside of genre and audience. The ideology of it is total selfishness and self-exploration.”

So declares Dominick Fernow over a suitably distorted phone line from Manhattan, where he operates the Hospital Productions record store and label of the same name, and creates a godawful racket – in a bewildering array of different guises and configurations, but first and foremost solo, as Prurient.

For his latest Prurient album, Bermuda Drain, Fernow has largely abandoned the treble-heavy, harsh noise attack which for many is synonymous with the project. Instead he’s channeled his formative obsession with industrial music, and taken further inspiration from techno – he claims Sandwell District, FUSE and Traversable Wormhole are among those who’ve had an impact – to create his own bruised vision of electronic music.

In terms of defying expectation, Bermuda Drain – out July 18 on Hydra Head Records – is his most extreme work to date. It’s also very honest, revealing: where his vocals in the past have usually been screamed and yowled and then processed to the point of abstraction, on Bermuda Drain they’re exposed, unadorned, crystal-clear. There’s still the odd bit of punitive barking, but for the most part Fernow favours a grave, unnervingly steady speaking voice.

Musically, there are certainly precedents and premonitions to be found in the Fernow catalogue for the direction taken on Bermuda Drain. His terrifically paranoid minimal synth side-project Vatican Shadow is especially pertinent, as is his now permanent membership of Wes Eisold’s tortured electro-pop outfit Cold Cave. Tempting though it is, it would be wrong to call Bermuda Drain Prurient’s pop album – it’s too toxic, too aggressive for that – but it’s certainly his most dynamic and accessible full-length to date.

FACT’s Kiran Sande caught up with Fernow to discuss the labour-intensive genesis of Bermuda Drain, and to talk in depth about the Wisconsin native’s relationship to techno and electronic music.

What prompted you to discover – or re-discover – techno, and to work it into the fabric of Bermuda Drain? Did you consciously set out to make an album of “electronic music”?

“Well,  I was doing some extensive touring with Cold Cave in Europe…I hadn’t played a show as Prurient in two years and so I was thinking about electronic music in general and how it changed my perception of noise music. I was never really a fan of a lot of the Japanese [noise] bands that were so famous in the 90s, because to me their work always sounded too clean and too identifiable, I guess because it sounded so electronic. The noise that I was into was, I suppose, the most bastardised side of the genre – harsh noise, you might call it. It [harsh noise] had become so abstracted and distorted and so lo-fi, that really it had lost all identifiablity in terms of the sounds that you were hearing, and of course the irony of it is that although it was entirely electronic for the most part, it sounded very warm and organic and rich to me.

“My involvement and interest in noise is entirely anti-musical; it’s all concept.”

“It wasn’t really until I got into playing keyboards and synthesizers more directly with Cold Cave that I started to think about a lot of the Japanese stuff not as noise but as electronic music. And then at the same time, I’d just been listening to so much techno – on the road, on headphones, always driving, perpetually moving – so I decided that there was some sort of relationship going on here. And I started to look at things more as electronic music – or at least as industrial music that’s defined by its use of electronic music. I was listening to the classic stuff you’d expect like Plastikman and FUSE and Aphex Twin, but also more recently the Sandwell District label, Demdike Stare, Traversable Wormhole, things like that…and I decided OK, I’ve always loved this stuff…

“I’ve get frustrated because people have always assumed that Prurient is influenced by black metal, and it’s really not – it’s actually quite the opposite. I’ve never tried at all to make it sonically of that realm; when I do black metal, I do it with my black metal band [Ash Pool], not Prurient. For me it’s industrial music, it’s electronic music. So I wanted to make an electronic record just because I’d run out of things to listen to; and I think that by spending so much time in Europe, where the form has such a long history, I just started getting really stimulated. I was stimulated by the idea of travelling, by the idea of movement, and I suppose became more aware of the possibilities that electronic music can provide you with.

“However, I found there to be a lack of  – let’s call it content, or story, in a lot of the [techno] music I was listening to. It seemed very much focussed on sound, which is really the opposite to my work – my involvement and interest in noise is actually entirely anti-musical; it’s all concept. And I consider Prurient to be a multimedia project, I don’t consider it to be a band or even music – though it may be musical – the motivation is not to create music, it’s to give a platform to the ideas and the content that I like.

“So the first idea was that if I was to make this record [Bermuda Drain], it had to be done using entirely new equipment; nothing we used could have been used on any Prurient record before, not at all. That was the really basic foundation – my wanting to do something new. Not new in the larger sense, but new for Prurient.”

“Noise is the freedom to pursue personal obsession, outside of genre and audience. The ideology of it is total selfishness and self-exploration.”

The decision to overhaul your set-up and record in a new way must have been liberating, but surely fraught with difficulties too?

“It was absolutely awful [laughs]. It took us eight months of studio work to get to the point where we had an record, partially just because we were learning this equipment.”


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