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Godflesh: ‘Like Rats’ (1989)

Justin K. Broadrick
first found renown with Birmingham grindcore godfathers Napalm Death, while also featuring in 1980s cult heroes Head Of David and The Fall Of Because.

However, it was with GC Green that he created Godflesh, who blew the doors off heavy music in 1989 with Streetcleaner, and spent the ’90s refining and developing their sound into dub and drum’n’bass. Throughout that decade, he collaborated in myriad projects, such as God and Techno Animal (with Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin, and a host of respected MCs), Painkiller (with John Zorn, Mick ‘Scorn’ Harris and Bill Laswell), Curse of the Golden Vampire (with Martin and Alec Empire) and Ice.

The last decade has seen his sound evolve yet further into pop and indie sounds, while maintaining the sonic density his work has become known for. Quickly established as one of the post-metal elite with his current main Jesu project, he has kept busy with the ambient Final, more industrial Council Estate Electronics and remix work. Having recently released the first record from his electronica Pale Sketcher identity, his past is raising its head as the legendary Godflesh prepare to co-headline Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival with similarly reborn New York icons Swans.

In this in-depth interview, Broadrick discussed Jesu, Pale Sketcher and the return of Godflesh, as well as the status of Techno Animal and his other projects.

“I think the established audience, particularly the old school, wish that I was doing something aggressive with electronic music.”

How’s it going?

“Not bad. I just got back from playing a festival with Jesu. I was just in Prague, playing a full-on metal festival where we were the odd ones out, which was quite entertaining!”

Cool, what was the audience reaction like?

“Actually really, really positive. I mean, we had a stock set of fans, but it seemed like it somehow reached some new people as well, which was quite a surprise for a really overtly heavy metal crowd. The headliner for our day was Meshuggah, who I really love anyway; I think they are amazing. But we were the odd ones out. We were the only band who used, like, anything to do with electronics and laptops and stuff! [laughs] We thought we might be singled out quite badly, but to be honest I think we converted a few people. We did play quite an appropriate set. It was a set tailored towards the heavier end of the Jesu sound. All things considered it worked out quite well… I mean the festival was called Brutal Assault, so you can get the idea.”

That reminds me of the press release for this Pale Sketcher record, because it was talking about how controversial you moving way from rock instrumentation might be perceived as. Which may have been an issue back when Cubanate was supporting Carcass in 1994, but I’m always surprised at old Godflesh fans being upset that Jesu don’t sound like Godflesh. Since Jesu have been releasing music since 2004, do you find people are more accepting of more modern approaches to your music?

“I think the comment about it being controversial was purely in the context of how my sound has been established, I think. Me using electronics in my music is barely a surprise to anyone, really. But I think it’s just the context of Pale Sketcher. Because it’s emotional without being emo, because it’s basically sad boy electronica… I think most people would consider that if I’m doing anything electronic, that it would be fairly brutal. Like the stuff I did with Techno Animal and suchlike. And I think the established audience, particularly the old school audience, would wish that I would be doing something aggressive with electronic music.

“So I think the people used to the more brutal side of my music would certainly shy away from Pale Sketcher, and to be honest I’ve already seen it on the internet, so some extent. I think the album has already leaked, and I’ve unfortunately had a glance at a few forums that are more dedicated to the heavier side of my music, and I’ve seen a lot of derision towards this record. Like, people saying I should be embarrassed for making a record like this. To be honest, though, it’s absolutely something I was resigned to. My wish with Pale Sketcher is that it will traverse something of a new audience; people who might share that side of my tastes. Because I do quite frequently find that my somewhat established audience is… a lot of the pop music I listen to, or even some of the electronic stuff that’s poppy as well, a lot of these people generally shy away from. The fact that I use such blatantly auto-tuned vocals, which is totally intentional…”

I love that.

“People hate it, you know.”

Well there’s this concept of ‘real music’, and obviously auto tune isn’t considered real music because it’s messing with the natural sound of the voice, but for me if you’re recording something in the studio, then it’s about how you manipulate sound.

“Exactly, and it’s all sound. Absolutely, you said it really. For me it’s all texture and stuff. It’s not like, just because I use an auto tuned vocal means that the only reference point is some Cher single, do you know what I mean? I don’t get that: to me it’s just another instrument and a set of sounds that’s been synthesised. Jesu has already been daring enough to step outside the expectations that my audience seems to have of my music. But I think there’s a hard core that exist that run around on internet forums and quite blatantly kicking anything I do that’s outside of screaming and shouting and low-tuned guitars.

“In an ideal world, I’d release Pale Sketcher without any idea of my history whatsoever, so it could be an anonymous object. But we all know that it’s impossible to do that; we need to have some reference, so it’s quite hard to just come out of nowhere and do this stuff I guess. To some extent it helps things get around, but I really do expect to get the reactions that I’ve already started to receive, even from a leaked album. On the flip side of the coin, I’m hoping there’ll be a lot of people into the other side of my sound, people who may not even know my sound, who might come to the Pale Sketcher record and not care for any of the heavier music I make.

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Jesu: ‘Silver’ (2006)

“I find it refreshing to read people saying they heard Jesu and were really into it, and they went to see what Godflesh was about, but it didn’t interest them.”

Like the increased audience you got when Jesu came about. You lost some of the Godflesh people who were upset that it may not have been Pure or Streetcleaner again, but then lots more people heard it and thought ‘this is really nice’.

“Absolutely, and that for me was really refreshing. And it still happens now, that Jesu has gone to a new audience. I almost find it refreshing to read people saying they heard Jesu and were really into it, and they went to see what Godflesh was about, but it didn’t interest them. That, for me, is much more thrilling, the fact that you can move on, as opposed to playing to the same established audience. Quite clearly, I don’t just operate in one singular, narrow, sound. I guess it’s wishful thinking; you hope that your audience may be as eclectically minded. I’m displaying every side of my personality through music, and it’s not going to be agreeable to [everyone]. People like certain facets of what I do, and that’s it, I think.”

From a personal point of view: I read an interview in PopMatters from a few years ago, and the interviewer had heard of you from Jesu, and not heard Godflesh, and worked backwards, whereas Godflesh were in the very first rock magazine I got, when I was 11, in 1992. There was a picture of you playing live, and messing with pedals. When I was 11, I was like ‘wow, what’s this?’ First of all, you had a shaved head, which was completely freaky…

“Wow, that was probably Kerrang! Magazine, or Raw or something.”

It was actually Raw, with Slash on the cover.

“I probably still have that, in my garage! I kept all the magazines from around the Godflesh time, because the music press was obviously pretty huge. And Godflesh, as you recognised yourself, as a young boy, was somewhat unusual next to all the hair metal bands and the established machismo within metal.”

That was an eye-opening issue in general, because it had a feature on the heaviest albums ever. So seeing stuff like Slowly We Rot and Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious is different from seeing Poison, Thunder and Bon Jovi, which is what I was listening to at the time.

“As you know, when Godflesh started being featured in worldwide rock magazines, metal was still at the poodle stage. We were seen as total outsiders, but managed to get a lot of attention because of it, I think. We were one of those bands that stepped outside the comfortable sense of normality that metal had. Like you say, you’d rarely see a band in a magazine like that with a guy with shaved head, sitting on the floor and messing with a delay pedal. We were seen as a freakish thing I guess, but there was a comfort in that.”

“Seeing derision in a way is almost… I do take some sort of comfort from it”

It stayed with me anyway, and from a personal point of view the reason why I’m
not surprised about stuff like Jesu or Techno Animal or Pale Sketcher  is because I’d heard Godflesh itself evolving as time went on from this kind of brutal electro-Swans kind of thing at the start into Songs of Love and Hate, and then Us and Them and Hymns being more subtle and textured. So when I heard Jesu it was like a natural progression.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of other like-minded people that travelled from an early age some of the music I was making… it was very natural for people to take the direction I went in you know, I obviously felt it was as well for me after the demise of Godflesh and some of the shit I went through in my life. To me that was the sole new way of expressing myself, you know. I’d got over the bile and the anger, so it felt very natural for me to express another side of something I’d loved for years, which was basically pop music; to come out with something that was a bastardisation of an existing form.”

With Jesu there was definitely a sense of the early ’90s Creation indie stuff, like My Bloody Valentine. And when I was listening to the Pale Sketcher record, even though it was reworkings of Jesu stuff I was getting a completely different feel from it. So I approached it like it as just its own piece of work.

“Good, yeah, that’s good.”

And then it was just like lots of completely different reference points: Boards of Canada and Manual and legit really awesome electronic stuff and it was only really track four that was the first song that actually made me think ‘oh yeah this was based on Jesu stuff’.

“Yeah. Yeah it was quite recognisably that mood. For me, Pale Sketcher is a new project, but a lot of the electronica elements of Jesu that I’d started to bring in I really wanted to develop, without the context of it being so fusiony in terms of heavy guitars and electronica. I really just wanted to take it into just electronica, just to try and – that sound is important. I just like a lot of electronic music which touches on that same mood like some of the people you just mentioned like you know Boards of Canada and stuff. But the reference points are still really wide, and for me even hark back to when I loved Kraftwerk when I was a kid and Human League, even. This Pale Sketcher  project, for my established audience,  is even more daring because I’m stepping into areas that I loved in the ’80s, which I could barely talk to anyone about who liked the similar stuff. Again people would accuse me of being too daring with my established audience and I should play it safe and all the rest of it but it’s just not fun and it doesn’t feel entirely satisfying.”

I always loved it when bands like Pitchshifter would completely change their sound with every album, and say ‘the fans aren’t gonna like it’. That’s way better than when bands like Metallica or Pantera on their later stuff would be like ‘we’re doing this for the fans’. Why are you doing stuff for the fans? They’ve got albums that already exist.

“Exactly, yeah, that sense of repetition and just existing in a safe… I know a lot of bands who operate like that, they just keep churning out the same record essentially because its security. It’s artistic security and financial stability. And as for me its just it’s not satisfying to… even with Godflesh, we could quite easily have churned out Streetcleaner time and time again, and people – probably the majority of, say, the metal audience, would have been quite satisfied to hear the same record churned out. But I would have been so absolutely dissatisfied with just doing what’s safe, and to me it’s just not true expression at all. I mean, I admire bands that feel satisfied with that but I’d be questioning whether they are entirely satisfied or whether it’s just security.

“I took a lot of these risks, and even reading some of the immediate responses from the crowd I had which were more into the heavier side of things and seeing such derision in a way is almost… I do take some sort of comfort from it because I know I must be doing something challenging. If it was just noise people going ‘yeah yeah it’s what I expected and it’s fantastic’; it’s so predictable and safe’. Not that I make any record just to be challenging for the sake of it which couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t do anything unless I love doing it.”

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Pale Sketcher: ‘Can I Go Now’ (Gone Version) (2010)

“…I do it because I love making music and its quite as simple as that. I can’t just rest on my laurels and I can’t just do things just because it’s the safe option. I mean Godflesh, again, it lost an audience record after record almost because it kept challenging what we did previously and fans wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. You constantly see the same sort of stuff like ‘yeah the first album was great but they lost their way’ and ‘I don’t understand this hip hop shit’ or ‘I don’t understand this electronic shit’, you know what I mean?

“And you’d be like oh my god isn’t this just a world of music as opposed to just a world of single avenues people exist in: I find that really frustrating. The amount of music I listen to myself, I can literally listen to the most obscure black metal record and then listen to a Jay-Z record and then listen to a Teenage Fanclub record. It’s just music I love and enjoy and I find it all inspirational and I’d love to communicate the same range of emotions. And even if it’s in singular ways, I like to do it in many singular ways, if that makes any sense.

Besides, for the people who were after more bludgeoning stuff, the Greymachine [Broadrick’s project with members of Isis, Jesu and Head of David] album came out not so long ago, and that’s noisy.

“Exactly! It’s all there. I get constantly knocked for being a prolific musician, as any prolific musician I guess does. You’re always gonna be accused by people of either milking it or ‘oh they should take a break’. But I do this for a living. I don’t have a day job to go to so I can spend all my time creating, which I’m absolutely fortunate to be able to do and it’s an absolute pleasure, but for me if there are infinite ways to express oneself I’d rather use all these different languages than just stick with one. It just seems so boring; it’s not fun. [laughs] You’ve got a wealth of ways of communicating musically – why choose one?”

“Let’s see how we feel. And if we feel like a couple of idiotic, self-conscious, 40 year olds, then we’ll forget it.”

While I was reading this interview that you did with PopMatters, I noticed a particular line. You said ‘it’s two different things, my past and where I am now’, which is obviously a very solid point. But then you’ve recently brought Godflesh back to the live circuit. I was wondering about your motivations behind that.

“To be honest, very many promoters have been attempting to get Godflesh back into the live arena for many years, particularly in the last three years, because we’re living in an era of reunions and I was completely anti the whole concept. And also the other half of Godflesh, Ben Green, has moved on quite dramatically since he was in music, even though he’s still a huge fan of music and still makes music in his own private time, I’d almost assumed, and he’d assumed with me, that we’d never revisit it. Irrespective of how many offers we were getting, and very rewarding offers as well, it was still ‘no, this would not feel right’.

“It was only really the last year and a half where we actually agreed – we did that one performance at Hellfest in France; it was a really big metal event, where we actually discussed in all seriousness that we could do it. And we actually became, at first quite sentimental about the old Godflesh and quite nostalgic, which is obvious I guess. It doesn’t mean it should be the premise of a reunion. But I was quite surprised when I put it to Ben Green and said what If we did do this? Could we get anything out of it? He was quite immediate about wanting to do it. And wanting to be what we were originally. The most important thing was that we got back to the roots of being the two guys and a drum machine, which we felt was arguably where we were at our purest. And we actually felt excited About the idea of just presenting that, being so much older,  and just seeing if we got any thrill out of it. We didn’t really say yes until we played together again, you know.

“And when we played together again it felt like hand in glove. It felt really exciting, like ‘let’s do this. Let’s see how we feel. And if we feel like a couple of idiotic, self-conscious, 40 year olds, then we’ll forget it’. And we partly felt like that with the reunion – unfortunately we had a lot of technical problems with the first reunion show. But we’re now doing another one in Birmingham, at the Supersonic Festival. I don’t know whether you’re aware of that…”

I am, and I want to go. Swans are playing as well, which is just childhood awesomeness. I try not to get too nostalgic, but when I see something like that then I can’t resist it.

“Exactly, and it’s nice to hear that as well. People are saying it’s Swans one night and Godflesh the following, and for some people it’s a dream. That was also what excited us: not only people would wish to see us again who were there originally, but there has also become quite an established audience for this music who never saw us. And when we did the Hellfest performance, even though largely it was failed, mostly just because of a lot of technical bullshit like power generators blowing up and all the rest of it, when it actually reached some of the peaks, it felt more exciting than when we played originally. Because we got jaded quite quickly when we used to tour that material for six, seven months a year, like any rock and, they go through the motions eventually., and we used to hate the concept of going through the motions.”

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Techno Animal: ‘Burn’ (1998)

“It’s constant reinvention, but there is a whole to everything I do”

While I do like the very melodic electronic stuff you’re doing now, I also really like the more brutal stuff. Is there any chance of any more Techno Animal ever?

“Not Techno Animal. But oddly enough… when I came up with the concept of the Pale Sketcher thing, and it being a very pretty, blissful side of me doing electronic music, and something that I’ve wanted to do for years, I also formed a new project to display the other side of the electronic stuff I was doing, and had been doing, called JKFLESH.  Which is the pseudonym I always used in Techno Animal and a lot of the projects Kevin (Martin, one half of Techno Animal, and now The Bug) and I did, like Curse of the Golden Vampire, the Sidewinder, and Techno Animal. So I decided to start doing solo JKFLESH stuff. Now that is utterly, utterly brutal. That’s really absolutely heavy beats-based, really quite disgusting sounding stuff. I wanted to go back to that, so it’s interesting you asked.

“I’ve been working on an album for a few months now, which is coming out on a label called 3×3, which is run by this group called Cloaks. Basically, they’re seen as the most fucked up and brutal side of UK dubstep, and they are like taking a Shackleton record and putting it through…something fucking evil basically! [laughs] I’ve been doing everything I can to get people to check them out because they’re really amazing. Some elements of dubstep I really enjoy anyway, but this is the most natural and extreme version of it. But it’s not just pure noise. It really is highly structured beats and bass, but it’s just really utterly terrifying. But they contacted me about the Greymachine record, you see. And they were interested to see if I did anything that put beats with that sort of sound, and I was like ‘oddly enough…’. And they were into the old Techno Animal sound and I had been working on stuff like that at the same time as working on the Pale Sketcher project. Anyway, I’ve just done a remix for them under the JKFLESH name, and that’s coming out in a few months on a remix album with a lot of artists who sound equally as fucked up actually. JKLFLESH is an absolute flipside of the Pale Sketcher project.

Literally on the first line of my interview notes is the question ‘will there be another Techno Animal or Curse of the Golden Vampire album?’. So that news is pretty exciting.

“That’s awesome; that’s really nice to hear. Because Kevin and I did agree, and I knew we’d stick to it, that we’d never revisit that stuff. Even though with Godflesh we agreed that as well! [laughs] But Kevin is a real stickler for not revisiting things. He always says just move forward. And he has done, with The Bug and King Midas Sound, he’s just making awesome records without going backwards. And  he’s a big fan of the Pale Sketcher record, so we’re quite tied in at the moment, but only tied in terms of… like I put some guitar on the Bug record, and he’s done a King Midas remix of Pale Sketcher, but we still haven’t come up with something we’re gonna do collaboratively. But he’s expressed an interest in guesting on the new Grey Machine record which is interesting. So there’s still gonna be a bit of cross-pollination. Just in the last year, we’ve been in each other’s pockets again, so there’s a lot happening there. But I don’t think there would ever be any more Techno Animal *laughs* But yeah, check out the Cloaks stuff.”

Now, Council Estate Electronics, is that going to be an on-going thing, or was it just a one-off?

“It is absolutely intended as an on-going thing. We actually recorded another album which has been gathering a bit of dust, because I’ve had so many other projects on the go. And we were just about to start recording another album. I’ve been trying to get the new Jesu album together for about the last six months as well. So there’s been a lot of balancing acts going on, and I think in terms of priorities, I have to prioritise the things that will gather the most attention. So we were about to start recording a new Council Estate Electronics album, which we were really excited about. It’s separated into much shorter songs, and it is more Cabaret Voltaire than anything, so quite excited about that.

“We did that first album as a digital download-only album, basically. It harks back to early Tangerine Dream, early or mid-period Throbbing Gristle as well. Maybe Krautrocky, but pure electronics, with a slight dub influence as well: a bit of King Tubby, a bit of Basic Channel… it’s pretty wide, but it’s still a pretty newly-formed project, so that’s why we did it download only, because it’s – not sketches – but something in development.”

Before we sorted out this interview, FACT asked Ghostly if it was okay for us to talk about some of the older stuff, and have a bit of a career overview. But it’s like everything is current. It’s like Slaughterhouse 5: we’re stuck in time and everything is happening at the same time, and there’s not really an old thing or a new thing because it seems like pretty much everything is current.

“Almost entirely, it’s constant reinvention, but there is a whole to everything I do, basically. There is something that unifies it all, but I’m not entirely sure what it is, and I think that when you’re the creator, sometimes you’re not entirely sure how it’s unified. If you read the internet too much about yourself, which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an artist, you see people saying ‘why did you do this? Why’s this disparate? Why’s this not that?’ and you think oh my god, maybe it isn’t unified, maybe  people think I had a different motivation. But for me, it feels like there is a number of unifying factors, but it’s hard for me to put a finger on how it’s still current… but I try not to overanalyse what I do. I only really analyse these things after the event. When the record comes out, that’s when I start picking it to shit.”

Robin Jahdi

Page 2 photo credit: Damon Allen Davison

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