|Live in London thanks to DJ Cavey Nik|
Ten years ago this week, I made a fairly sudden decision to quit my job, move to Brighton and try to make some music.
I couldn't find the noises I wanted to hear. So I figured I'd better start making some for myself. But I wanted collaborators, and I wanted to do gigs.
I stayed with a friend (Andy B) who had introduced me to Post-Rock, Techno Animal and The Bug.
We met Nigel, a guitarist who was interested in improv and musical adventures. He had a guitar that made great industrial sounding drones when you hit the bridge with the palm of your hand, and a child’s sampling keyboard with a recorder gaffa-taped to its built-in microphone and made these fantastic, exotic sounding ambient squiggles with it and a basic Boss multi-effects unit. Nigel happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
On Friday nights we’d meet, drink a bottle of red wine each, and improvise around the beats I’d been working on during the week. I had a battered old Mac laptop, a cheap mic, and a cheaper bass. Andy would DJ location recordings and sound effects on a CD player and a cheap Boss sampler. I wanted to find a vocalist, maybe even a drummer. But instead of waiting, we just got on with it.
Looking back, and listening to some recordings from those early sessions (Stenopools is a live recording from one of those early sessions: http://themekanoset.bandcamp.com/track/the-stenopools), what's interesting is the way we accidentally worked like an ensemble: in free music and jazz, it’s totally acceptable for one or more musicians to not make a sound for a long period of time: it's music made by people who LISTEN to the overall sound, not just what that they feel obliged to play regardless of whether it fits or not. You don't really get that much in rock.
So you listen to what’s going on, and if it’s enough, you don’t play. Everyone gets their chance to ‘speak’, but everyone also shows respect, and doesn’t play anything unless it’s really necessary.
The Mekano Set grew out of these get-togethers. I don't try to force it in terms of direction but I guess it has a fairly distinctive sound. There's not many bands around doing what we do - and I guess that's why I still do it.
Now people can give you a hard time for making music that's unconventional. But look, we do what we do and it's honest. If you don't like it, good. If we piss you off, good.
Nowadays what I do with The Mekano Set is obviously a different thing to those early jams. But I think the sense of being on a journey in sound is still there, and we still leave a lot of space. Working on Behind The Sins recently has really opened things up and we can, if the mood takes us, explore those roaming, mysterious musical landscapes. We don't have to limit ourselves to the fairly conventional song-structures we usually find ourselves in.
No one seems to mind (or generally notice) that most of our songs don't conform to the conventional pop / rock song structures.
These early nights were made as much of location recordings, found sounds and good old NOISE as much as drums, bass and guitars. And with Sins, we've been able to explore those sounds and noises too.
Over time we would have other people along to join in the noise. Some great musicians. But all along, what mattered was attitude. I remember when we started gigging seriously we advertised for a ‘proper guitarist’. In the end, our friend Lee got the job, because we knew we could get on with him, and he would happily just hold down one strangled note or a wall of filthy white noise for an entire song, rather than try out his funk-bass skills or some long-winded Chilly Poopers style funk-metal wah-wah guitar solo.
It took me a while to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to get (and didn’t really need, or want) a conventional line-up. I soon gave up on the idea of finding specific musicians, but I didn't give up. I just got people I met and got on with to join in the fun. And that's kept things interesting and fresh and taken me to places I'd never have thought to try. Pretty much everyone I know has been asked to join. Even (and especially) the people who can’t play an instrument. It doesn't always work, but makes for interesting experiments.
In a way, I’ve never quite found my place, or instrument. My main instrument these days is a baritone guitar (the one between a bass and a lead guitar...). And ultimately, I'm still doing what I set out to do ten years ago: trying to make some noise, because there isn't enough of the noises I like to hear out there.
Our latest noise: http://skintoo.viinyl.com/
Our adventures in sounds and spaces: http://themekanoset.bandcamp.com/album/behind-the-sins-o-s-t
The Mekano Set