Adi Newton of Clock DVA – an interview
Great film about Sheffield music scene, ‘Beat Is The Law’
Adi Newton, of the Anti Group & Clock DVA in Leiden? Just for a laugh I tweeted this fact, and within minutes incendiary’s account got inundated with messages containing frantic and hyperbolic statements such as, “WHERE?”Â.. or, “A Clock DVA gig?? When??!!”Â As it happened, Adi was here to check out a venue in Leiden for a possible show at an unspecified date. A “look-see”Â, a sniff around the estate. Nothing more. Still, it did present Louder Than War! with a golden chance to sit down with the great man and put a few questions over.
LTW!: You’ve just done some shows in Leipzig”Â¦
AN: Yes, the first one in quite a number of years.
LTW!: I was about to say it’s been a long time; what, twenty years?
AN: No, less than that: the last shows in Europe were in ”Ë94 or ’95. Time flies, (laughs). As for Holland, I remember we did an anti-theatre piece called The Discussion at the Pandora’s Box festival, the big one, at De Doelen in Rotterdam in 1985. We had two huge Western Electric projectors brought in to do that. The heat emanating from them was tremendous. The screen was enormous; the image was one of the biggest we projected. But it was a really good event.
LTW!: Using images was always really important for you, wasn’t it?
AN: Oh, definitely. I always thought that visuals were a separate discipline altogether and not just something to be attached to the music “ad hoc”Â, you know? With us it was always the visuals first and then tying the music to it, looking to combine both equally. But obviously, (like a soundtrack), you can listen to the music without the visuals, and it still should work. With film you really do need sound to complement it, I think.
LTW!: A case of cause and effect?
AN: Oh yes, for sure, for us. That particular gig at the Doelen, it was an experiment in trying to break away from a narrative concept, but really, you could never really escape from that. The interesting thing was that we would find there would be natural correlations with the musical and visual things. Possibly because you choose each different thing and within those things they have some similarities and simulations between the two naturally happens.
LTW!: Is this idea of correlation something you wanted to push, and something you wanted the audience to push or be pushed into too?
AN: Well, yeah, it was like an experiment. With The Discussion: that was the goal. That was a lot of work, us using a lot of edited dialogues for the tape, physically cutting them into reels. I think there was ten, twenty minutes of material, whatever”Â¦ and there were six tapes and we had ”Ëem all playing round a table. I got the films of that performance, been watching them recently, it’s really like a discussion. It was the anti-theatre: so there was no-one involved, no people – but it had this human subject, this human idea ”â a conversation, but with the machines all relating different bits of related information together; all these tapes on different sequences. Anyway, none of it was ever played back until the night, so I never knew what would happen (laughs)”Â¦ So; I had the six tapes and put it through all the levels and did it on the night and it was incredible: at one point all the tapes came together and it all sounded like one voice. It was amazing; it freaked me out (laughs). The timing was amazing”Â¦ unexpected, you know? That’s the nature of experiment, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
LTW!: Talking of cutting things up, the Sheffield groups, (so it seemed to me) were always interested in mutation of some form or another, and redefining or reshaping ideas of theatre and performance. The Sheffield scene also seemed utterly remote from anything else around. Fair point?
AN: Well for me yeah, I suppose. I can’t speak for anybody else in Sheffield. Perhaps in the early days there were more artistic connections developed because the people involved hung out together more. Erm, I suppose that since those times there have people in Sheffield who use the ideas of mutation or brutalisation in a live context, whatever. I mean we always looked to use different, non-musical ideas from day one; using slides or 8mm films on a projector”Â¦ whatever we could get access to and something we could make or do ourselves…
…I was involved in the theatre from very early on; my background was more theatre or art-based. The music was by chance really. We’d put on plays or shows, messing around just to amuse ourselves. At a party at the University (where they had this rooms which you could hire), we did this dark kind of”Â¦ not satire really but a dark joke to shock people. Me, Martyn Ware, and Ian (Craig Marsh) from the Human League did this performance and we called it Dead Daughters, (laughs)”Â¦ and we had music! Ian used this homemade synthesiser, and afterwards we thought oh, well, there’s something in this”Â¦
LTW!: So a natural progression into music then? (laughs)
AN: But I don’t think it was surprising, because Cabaret Voltaire was kind of happening round then, and music was getting interesting, at the end of Punk, (which I felt was a movement that had kind of already been exploited). Punk became a fashion; the people around Punk had moved the movement towards a fashion thing. And we felt we could do something different. So that’s when we started The Future. I mean we were always listening to Kraftwerk: even when we did the theatre thing, all the German electronic music, Can, or sixties things, such as Cale or Nico and Kevin Ayers; it was all around anyway and we were all listening to it. And we were into Iggy Pop very early on so when that New Wave and Punk came in we kind of knew this was “our”Â time so to speak. I was in London around 1975 and I’d seen the Vibrators and the Stranglers at the Red Cow, a tiny little pub, on a tiny little stage, it was good and we knew it was time get rid of Elton John and all the seventies crap that had gone on for so long (laughs). The period 77-78 transformed things for us, after punk, all the new aesthetic, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle.
LTW!: Do you ever think that experimental, shocking music Throbbing Gristle made (because Throbbing Gristle did shock people) becoming an accepted “pillar of new classical music”Â back then? It’s part of the “Canon”Â now, so to speak? Did you see yourselves as part of that whole experimental thing?
AN: Oh they were subversive! And were we part of that?, (silence) well, we were there very early on, our first recording (White Souls in Black Suits) was done on Industrial. Certainly Throbbing Gristle were very encouraging, specifically to me and a few other people were kind of helped along. And I felt that that was a very good thing to help others, because they were running their own label and it was a prototype for things that came on afterwards, you know”Â¦ people doing their own label, people doing their own thing. We all thought, that’s a good way of organising yourself, getting things done. Still good friends with them, all through the years we’ve been sort of mates, also with Coil, with John and Peter”Â¦ we looked at each other’s work, had a mutual respect. We all kind of came together in that time. John did a couple of interviews with me in Stabmental which was his own magazine – which he did off his own back while he was at school, he was into everything”Â¦ trying to promote it. There was a lot of mutual help to get that scene to develop. And I’m sure there are people out there but I wonder if the same desire is there now, as it was in the early days to get things out and create things of your own back, and to help like-minded people.
LTW!: I think that’s true to an extent: nowadays it is very much like a cottage industry, and people are almost overwhelmed with what they are supposed to do in terms of being creative. There are also certain times that release a lot of energy, such as 77-79, or 88-89, which force people into action. Energy comes from the fact I think that lots of creative people don’t know what others are doing. And nowadays everyone wants to know or thinks they know exactly what others are doing and I think this saps the drive to create”Â¦
”Â¦.Which I suppose leads me to ask why you are starting up again now, after this length of time.
AN: Well it’s erm, I had a break from music to do all the other things in life; to have a rest from it. Quite good in a way, if only to assess why you’re doing it in the first place. The reason I gave up was because I had so many problems with record companies that I got fed up of it all. I had a deal with an Italian label which took me ages to organise and then they went bust and when that was gone I had to look to a new label and I sorted that out and then that went in the air”Â¦. and I thought oh no, not again, so I then thought of doing it all myself and I could have done it because I had all the rights; but I would have spent more time doing the business. So I thought I’d do other things, family things”Â¦ which was good, really. It was only four or five years ago that I thought of getting back into music.
LTW!: How do you position your music now?
AN: The music we’re doing now, oh it’s very varied, the TAG stuff we’re doing is based on a continuation of ideas we started back in 1985 to 1988, the Meontological series: a continuation of it, but it’s a more extended, more involved piece. There is a lot of involvement from various people; one is Michael Bertiaux head of the (O.T.O.A) Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua. He’s an interesting man: a philosopher ordained as a Catholic bishop, he writes, paints etcetera. He has a profound knowledge of the history of occultism and esoteric knowledge, Gnosticsim and so on, incredibly well read, brilliantly engaged in everything. One of our pieces is based on his paintings – which I was given direct access to with his sanction – and creating from that was brilliant experience.
I’m also working with Barry William Hale, an interesting graphic artist who is engaged in ritualised & magickal performance involving Audio and visuals. I worked with the black and white illustrations he did for a book called Legion 49 which is about observances and writings from ancient texts regarding Beelzebub. The piece we’ve done is like a moving version of the book, like a chorozonic symmetry. Another piece is based on very nice paintings ”â I think Italian – of monstrous forms, morphology, occult bestiary I suppose, things like Chimeras. Those two pieces tie together and seek to explain that particular kind of image. The virtual pieces are based on ideas of colours; a magical range of different colours; the work looks to explain atomic energy building in patterns -like a dance. It’s like the Whirling Dervishes to bring the universe down into a dance movement to bring energies down, or to elevate energies, but in a fourth dimensional aspect, outside a normal rational context. The whole piece kind of evokes that, and in fact all the pieces are there to provoke and evoke sensations for myself and hopefully for others too.