It’s that time of year again, when knobbly knees emerge from trousered legs and season-maddened bees start attacking unsuspecting flowerbeds. The sun is out and it’s officially summer, which also means it’s nearly time for the 2016 instalment of Baba Yaga’s Hut’s brain-meltingly excellent exploration of noise, Raw Power Festival.
The last two years of the Tufnell Park-based festival have been an absolute blast, with more highlights than a Camden Town hair salon, and this year’s line-up is looking to be just as good. So to celebrate its onrushing arrival we interviewed three bands, one from each of Raw Power’s three days, in order to get a flavour of what’s in store this year.
First up are Friday night highlights and returning Raw Power favourites – Teeth Of The Sea, an outfit of genuinely unclassifiable wonder. Formed in 2006, the band have constantly evolved and morphed with each album; from the controlled bombast of Your Mercury and Master to the elegant subtlety of the recently-released Highly Deadly Black Tarantula, Teeth Of The Sea have been working a very singular path to avant-noise heaven. Jimmy Martin from the band was kind enough to answer a few questions about the festival, their new album and performing at CERN…
You recently released your fourth album, Highly Deadly Black Tarantula, which is an exceptional album. Could you tell us a bit about the ideas and themes behind it?
We just wanted it to be a clean break from everything we’ve done up until now – The making of Master was very long, to the point of being slightly frustrating, and although we were really happy with the end result I think we wanted to react against that by doing something that was very direct and stripped back, with less of the interludes and longueurs we’ve become known for. It’s all about the fist in your face, (apart from ‘Love Theme For 1983’, which I think we’ll come to later).
Why the title Highly Deadly Black Tarantula?
That was one of those things that started as a joke but had the whole world crying. We were in Belgium and hanging around drinking after a show, listening to Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’ and shouting those four words in a slightly undignified fashion, and we made a pact at that moment to call the album that. The next day we woke up and the slightly hung-over consensus was ‘there’s absolutely no way we’re calling the album that’. A week later, we still hadn’t thought of anything better. I think we liked the fact that the slightly playful nature of it offered some levity to the uncompromising nature of the album itself, and also it worked with the sleeve we had lined up, also offsetting the artsy austerity of that.
Highly Deadly Black Tarantula has a more stripped back, minimal sound than the explosive Master, was this a deliberate decision?
Yeah, it was unconscious but we all felt there was no point in making ‘Master II-The Revenge’. We’re all very keen not to establish too much of a trademark sound and to keep moving. With all due respect to a band like say Mogwai – who are a band I like a lot of records by – you pretty much always know what you’re getting from a new album of theirs. That’s not the kind of band we want to be.
Responses to the new album have been highly positive. But did you feel any pressure after the critical acclaim of its predecessor?
No, no pressure at all really – we’re never going to release anything we’re not all completely into, and although we’re very grateful that anyone cares about any of our records, we never set out to specifically please anyone at all, be they journalists, fans or whoever. Master itself was a giant leap from Your Mercury, which was a giant leap from Orphaned By The Ocean and I guess the thing we’re most concerned with is that every album is as much of a step on from the last as we can make it, and hopefully people are prepared to come along for the ride.
Teeth Of The Sea clearly combine a multitude of different influences, musical and other. How do you go about synthesising all of your various influences and styles together to make a coherent and listenable album?
We don’t really think about it all too much – I think the key is just to be irreverent and to avoid cliché at all costs. We never wanted the band to be any kind of throwback to our influences, and that’s always going to be a blessing and a curse – on the one hand maybe we’re original, but on the other people struggle to get a handle on what we’re doing because we’re hard to classify. This band’s basically just an opportunity for four complete nerds to indulge all our wildest cultural fantasies. Beyond that it’d be remiss to suggest we even vaguely know what we’re doing.
The artwork for Highly Deadly Black Tarantula is starkly different when compared to previous releases, which all shared a similar motif. Was this a distinct move to separate from previous Teeth Of The Sea albums?
Yeah, I think it was. We love the first three sleeves and we were honoured to get John Ball to paint them, but I think we wanted a clean break from that, as well as something that reflected the music. We feel really fortunate that Johnny O, who designed the record, stumbled across something so striking and beautiful, and also that the photographer (Oli McAvoy) was cool with us using it.
There is a clear cinematic influence in your work – the works of Ennio Morricone and Goblin spring to mind – what movies would you say are an influence?
It’s certainly no secret that we’re extremely film obsessed as a band, and always have been. You’re quite right about Ennio Morricone and Goblin – we love both those artists, and we’ve definitely sounded like them at various points in a quest to reach something evocative. In terms of things we’ve specifically ripped off, I can probably list them, although it goes on and on: Everything Angelo Badalementi’s ever done (I very specifically nicked the guitar twang on ‘Love Theme For 1983’ from him); Popol Vuh’s Werner Herzog soundtracks (particularly when we did the ‘A Field In England Re-imagined’ record); Brian Gascoigne’s Phase IV one; Bobby Beausoleil’s work on Lucifer Rising; all the BBC Radiophonic workshop stuff on ’60s and early ’70s Doctor Who, but particularly ‘The Sea Devils’; the soundtracks to Jodorowsky’s El Topo and Holy Mountain; David Lynch’s Eraserhead score; Tangerine Dream’s work on Sorcerer and Thief. We could be here all day, clearly.
In 2014 you were commissioned by the Cineglobe Film Festival to perform a live soundtrack for the movie 1984 at CERN. How was that experience and how did this opportunity come about?
It was insane – we really couldn’t believe we were being given an opportunity like that, to go somewhere like CERN and to be a part of something so inspiring, that’s so far outside of our usual frame of reference. It was through the Cineglobe festival, which we had some contacts at through London Short Film Festival. We were on quite a short deadline to get it together as ever, but we loved the 1984 version of 1984 so it was a pleasure to put together. And obviously, the fact that we wrote ‘Love Theme For 1983’ for it means we have something specific to remember it by, which is nice. The whole thing was pretty emotional.
As you say, the beautiful ‘Love Theme for 1984’ was written prior to Highly Deadly Black Tarantula, how was it decided to include it on the album?
Although we liked everything we came up with for that piece, we didn’t think we could really make a standalone release out of it, but at the same time we all felt that track was too good not to record properly. There’s a certain emotional heft to it that makes it unlike anything else we’ve done, and it formed a nice counterpoint to the more full-on aggressive stuff, which makes up the rest of the record. It was written to soundtrack the love affair between Winston Smith and Julia in the film and there were moments when we were performing it in CERN that quite honestly had certain members of the band welling up, what with the combination of the music and the visuals. It’s one of my favourite tracks that we’ve ever recorded.
Teeth Of The Sea played the first ever Raw Power Festival three years ago, how do you think the festival has evolved over its brief life?
I think it’s become a completely essential date in any respecting head’s diary, in terms of collecting together people prepared to celebrate wild, heavy and demented underground sounds that transcend genre. I think that’s the future of festivals quite honestly – that kind of open-mindedness, whilst making sure the music is intense, uncompromising and pays no lip service to industry nonsense.
With bands like yourself and Hey Colossus streaming on The Guardian website, do you feel there is a wider mainstream acceptance of experimental or ‘underground’ Music?
We’re inhabiting an era in which there’s markedly less money in the music industry than there was 15-20 years ago – obviously that’s depressing in a sense, but you have to bear in mind that a lot of that money led to nowhere but ridiculous advances on records that never came out or nobody bought – owing to tedious major label politics, or being used to get wasted on expense accounts. The idea that a major label deal was a pathway to mainstream success was a complete mirage 95% of the time, and independent bands in general were more compromised owing to being more hungry for fame and fortune.
The interesting thing now is that the current climate has made little or no difference to the underground – maybe it was easier to make a living back then in a medium-sized band as you’d actually get some money for record sales, but the majority of great uncompromising bands have always been skint, and there was always amazing music being made on the underground, and there always will be. You just have to know where to look for the good stuff, and it’s at festivals like Raw Power and Supernormal, and in small venues mostly outside London, and it always needs your support because the best bands are going to be the kind of thing that the majority of audiences take five to ten years to cotton on to. Even what are now enormous festival-headlining cult bands like Electric Wizard were playing to audiences of 50 to 100 for the first five years of their life.
I think wider mainstream acceptance is a poisoned chalice in some regards, so I’m pretty ambivalent about it. Often the more money, the more compromise, and the more you become surrounded by people who aren’t into music for the right reasons. Our endgame was never about money or adulation, and it’s sometimes hard to get people to understand that. A lot of people are still repeating knucklehead self-determination mantras from 20 years ago that they’ve inherited from people like the Gallagher brothers, as if the only reason you’d form a band would be to be the biggest band in the world, otherwise why bother. Why bother? To make original music and rip people’s heads off, you idiots. Even if it’s only 50 people at a time.
How do you think independent promoters like Baba Yaga’s Hut have helped with this?
One of the things we discovered whilst touring the UK towards the end of last year was that there’s a great network of independent promoters who are very supportive of the music they love. You’re battling an uphill struggle trying to put on cult and underground shows in the UK, not just against audience apathy, but owing to a lack of money not helped by the fact that our government seems to consider arts funding some kind of anathema (this makes for a massive difference from playing shows in Europe). The more people prepared to work hard and stick their neck on the line for bands they believe in, the better, and Baba Yaga’s Hut are doing an amazing job of this with style to boot.
As Raw Power is named after an Iggy & The Stooges album, which Stooges song would you pick to represent Teeth Of The Sea?
Well it would have to be ‘LA Blues’ really, wouldn’t it? Iggy said once that at the time they were in the studio going ‘More! More!’ trying to get the track wilder and more insane and as brutal as possible, but now they look back on it and go ‘Jesus, what a racket’, that reminds me of us.
What are Teeth Of The Sea’s plans for the future?
There’ll be a new album next year, fingers crossed, as well as a collaborative project we’ve been planning for years now. Hopefully said new album will be even more confusing and alienating than anything we’ve dared dream of before. Batten down the hatches.
Raw Power Festival takes place over the weekend of 27/28/29 May at The Dome and the Boston Music Room. Single and weekend tickets can be bought here.
Teeth Of The Sea play the Dome on the Friday. They are also joined by the reunited experimental noise crew Test Dept: Redux, making the evening one not to be missed.