Thanks to Archive Industrial Rock & Metal.
The story of Sonic Violence originates in the punk scene because some members played in the punk band The Synix. What brings you to this field? How homogeneous was the punk movement at the timeand whose views did you share?
Dave: In the early days of punk, it had a real feeling of revolution to it – very enticing for a teenager looking for something more than the dull, mediocre society of the time. It was antisocial, political and populated by other people looking for something better, something more. At the beginning of 1979 I went to see Crass with a couple of mates and we were hooked on the intensity of their performance and anarchist stance. The Sinyx was formed out of this enthusiasm, as it seemed like a natural progression to form a band ourselves and it seemed like nearly everyone was either in a band or producing a fanzine. We had no idea how to play but procured instruments and started to write songs. We gave our first demo tape to Crass and they chose one track to feature on the first Bullshit Detector compilation album, which gained us national attention (BS was number 1 in the Independent Album Chart for a number of weeks. Shortly after this someone suggested that we might sound better if we were in tune and actually showed us how to achieve it…
By 1979, punk in the UK was dividing into 2 halves – the anarcho-punk movement and ‘Oi’, with some bands sitting in the middle. The Oi side thought that the anarchists were boringly political and the anarchists considered the Oi lot to just be about drinking and having a laugh. We were firmly in the anarchist camp.
How did your musical tastes evolve and where did you get information about the events in the music world and what publications / fanzines you read?
Dave: There was a lot more experimentation in the anarcho-punk movement than the Oi side, which was much more regimented in its belief of how music should sound. We were also interested in music outside of punk and I was listening to Throbbing Gristle, Chrome, Motorhead, The Cramps – a whole range of different stuff. Early on, we found out about events through the weekly music papers (Sounds and the New Musical Express) but later on mainly through flyers at gigs and by word of mouth. Favourite fanzines at the time were FACK and Toxic Graffity.
The story of Sonic Violence begins in 1986 with the idea of creating music in the spirit of Killing Joke, but more cruel. The first two years there was almost no news from you. What have you been doing all this time? What processes occurred in the group?
Dave: The Sinyx had gradually become much heavier and more philosophical by late 1985, as my interest in a more extreme direction developed. At this time I felt that The Sinyx wasn’t the right vehicle to pursue this and that I needed to make a leap into a more focused band. I didn’t really want to make music in the spirit of Killing Joke – they were the most obvious step in the direction that I wanted to go in but I didn’t want to sound like Killing Joke. The thing that I wanted to take from them was the thing that I thought they were missing and that is how other bands influence me in general. I consider what I would add to their sound and that is what I want to take away from it.
The first line up practiced for about a year but there was an endless struggle to find a suitable and reliable drummer. I even tried a drum machine but very quickly decided that it didn’t deliver what I wanted. Finally, the bassist left and that was the final straw. I then decided to put SV on hold while I found a solid line-up and spent the time writing more material. The departure of the bassist (Matt) sparked the idea of using 2 basses, as his sound had lots of bass with a distinct treble edge present and I wanted to expand on that. When I finally assembled a complete line-up and we got to practice for the first time, one of the bassists (not someone I knew but a friend of the drummer) didn’t show up, so I decided to approach Andy (the final Sinyx bassist) to see if he was interested. He was quite sceptical about what I was doing to begin with, so I had to use my charm! Also at the first practice it became very obvious that the vocalist, Spencer (ex Kronstadt Uprising), was completely unsuited to SV. This came as a bit of a shock, as I’d been plotting the rebuild of SV with him for the previous year, but he recognised that his voice didn’t fit and dropped out. At this point Murray and I took over vocal duties and the band suddenly clicked. The sound was just there and even Andy was suddenly excited about what we had. From that moment SV was reborn in the form that first appeared in public, although not for several more months until I was satisfied that we were ready. I wanted SV to be right from the very first appearance and going on stage with a half formed idea was not an option.
Sonic Violence often turned to military themes: design of LPs and posters, image, march rhythm section, etc. What inspired you to use such techniques for the band? Was the collective influenced by the non-musical character - books, films, people, events, etc.?
Dave: For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in military imagery and hardware. Perhaps it is because I have always been drawn to extremes, although it is something of a paradox, as I see warfare as an appalling waste of human potential. I would have liked the drumming in SV to have had a more militaristic style to it but there are always compromises when you have to rely on others to do the work for you. Elmer (drums) and Andy (treble bass) were also drawn to the same imagery and had an interest in military vehicles, etc, so Murray (deep bass) just ended up being immersed in it! The militaristic imagery is, in my opinion, very well matched to the style of music – or perhaps it should be the other way round, as I couldn’t say for certain which influenced the other. I can say that this will continue, as I will be recording a new SV album next year – more on that later.
Your first demo and EP "Sacrifice to Strength" were released by the band independently. How difficult was to promote such music at that time and what kind of reviews did you mostly receive about this material? Here also the question of terminology - have you ever read about yourself that you played grunge (while the same Godflesh called industrial grunge) or sludge? And what at the turn of the 80's and 90's were called similar terms, if you were interested in such moments?
Dave: We found it very difficult to get any attention initially, probably not helped by the fact that The Sinyx had been dead for a number of years by the time Sonic Violence emerged. Just getting venues to take us was an uphill struggle and we recorded 2 demos in order to try and promote ourselves. I think there was a lot of resistance to us because people were not ready to accept what was a new and more extreme style of music. Eventually, we decided to release Sacrifice to Strength, which featured 2 tracks from each demo, as having a record out in distribution would be much more seriously considered than just another band dishing out cassette tapes (this was pre CD era!). What was frustrating for us was the immediate attention that Godflesh got, largely due to being formed out of Head of David and already having the record company/promoters to hand. We were starting from nothing and it took much longer for us to get established.
I have heard of us being labelled as grunge but hadn’t heard of sludge – that’s a new one on me and I don’t think it fits with the Sonic Violence style, as it doesn’t express the heavy rhythmic nature of my music. Back in the day, there was a lot of discussion about what style of music we played and we were usually described as industrial or grind but I remember Sounds describing us as extreme punk/grunge/metal. I always said we were a heavied up punk band but I don’t think we really quite fitted into any one box. Once we actually started getting some attention, the reviews were generally good. Some of the more metal magazines didn’t understand where we had come from and found our song structures basic, thereby missing the whole point that it was supposed to be stripped down to the basics. You can’t pound people into the floor with a guitar solo. The review of Jagd in the NME was very entertaining and said that there was no indication as to whether the record should be played at 45 or 33 rpm but that it was ‘truly terrifying at either speed’. I enjoyed that one. Kerrang published a review of us playing in London and said that we played ‘Perhaps the most vicious music yet conceived’ – which was perfect, as that is exactly what I was trying to achieve.
How did the participants of Sonic Violence correlate themselves with industrial music and industrial ideology? Still, between groups like Throbbing Gristle and Sonic Violence there is a huge chasm.
Dave: Throbbing Gristle and early industrial stuff were never an influence on me musically. As I wrote all the pre-Transfixion material apart from Symptom (Murray) and the words to Tortured (Elmer), I can definitely say that there was no musical influence but perhaps more of an attitude influence. Musically, I was trying to create something new and develope my own direction. The essence of Sonic Violence was a heavy riff and a pounding rhythm worked to the most extreme form we could manage at the time. I would still view TG as kindred spirits, as they were doing the same thing but in a different direction musically, although I do not think that Sonic Violence fits with my own definition of industrial music.
Paul: What was being labeled as ‘industrial’ in the 90s was not what I would consider Industrial music. By this time, any band that was heavy & difficult to categorize was classed as industrial, and if they had a sampler, then they had to be industrial. However most of these bands (SV included) never carried out those radical experiments with electronics and tape that those early pioneers of the art did – and for me, it is this experimentation with sound that is the root of industrial.
So I’ve never considered either incarnation of SV as industrial either in sound or idealology. The fact that members of both versions of the band listened to TG, Coil, Laibach, Test Dept etc does not make the band industrial by default. Industrial was just one of the many genres we listened to, and our tastes were pretty diverse. Influenced by industrial music, sure that’s fair enough. But making industrial music? Nah. It was heavy & experimental (at times) but never Industrial.
You signed a contract for the release of the debut album with Peaceville, a label that, like Sonic Violence, had its roots in British punk rock, which produced various punk, hardcore and crust. Have you had any contacts until the moment when you were connected by business relations? At the time of signing your agreements, Peaceville has already changed their interests to the publication of death and doom metal releases, how did you manage to get into their roster? What can you say about their work during the release of "JAGD" and the accompanying EP "Casket Case"?
Dave: We hadn’t had any previous dealings with Peaceville or anyone connected with them. Punk in the UK was quite regional in its connections and we were based in the south east, while they were based further north, so our paths hadn’t crossed. I knew a bloke who was mates with Axe Grinder (already signed to Peaceville) and they passed on the contact details. I think that Peaceville were trying to broaden their portfolio at the time, although I do remember Hammy (the Peaceville Boss) wondering during the Jagd recording session why he was signing an American lunatic (don’t remember who that was) and a bunch of fascists. ‘Who are the fascists?’ we asked. ‘You are’ was the reply! Of course, shaving your head does not actually make you a fascist…
I don’t think that Peaceville did a great job for us and I certainly never got any money for record sales from them. The best thing they did for us was put us in touch with some good gig promoters in Europe. Although the record sleeve notes credit Hammy with production, he actually had minimal input to the process. The main thing he produced was his cheque book to pay for the session! He also messed up (in my opinion) the dub track of Ritual, which appeared on Casket Case. The two dub tracks were produced in a bit of spare time at the end of recording Jagd and Hammy was in charge of the Mozart track on the mixing desk. He neglected his duties and there should have been a lot more of Mozart’s Requiem in the mix.
Based on some bootlegs, there were several songs in 1990-1991 which are not available on the released studio work. How much material was left unrecorded during this period? Are there any unused studio sessions with unrealized material or alternative versions of tracks?
Dave: There are indeed a number of songs which never got recorded properly or at all in the studio. There are 3 songs which date after "Jagd" and one song, which I think was on our first demo tape but never officially released and I will be recording these for my new Sonic Violence album ‘Invincible’, which I will start recording in January. I am also going to include Manic, Acid, Glory and possibly Force – all of which I feel were not properly represented in the early demo recordings but were among the most important songs for the band. In addition to these, I will be recording some new material that I am currently working on and I am really looking forward to getting the title track recorded, as it will contain some elements that I wanted to incorporate into the follow on to "Jagd" (which never happened) in 1991. I might also look at doing something with the original demo recordings, as I think they sound better on the original tapes than the final mix that was released. There are also some live recordings. I haven’t decided how I will release the new album yet but, as I am not currently signed to a label, I can make my own arrangements.
After the release of "JAGD" and later tour there were some changes in Sonic Violence. In the team appeared Bill, who began to work with the sampler, and later in the group there were disagreements, as a result of which Auntie (Dave Godbald) and Murray left the band. What caused these changes, about what you could not agree?
Dave: The split was a bit of a mess! It started with Elmer gaining more power in the band, mainly due to the fact that I don't like doing the organisational stuff and prefer to focus on the creative side. I let him do the practical stuff, which he was quite good at, but it ended up with him doing the communication with Peaceville, etc. Also, just before the split I had recruited a bloke called Bill to provide some sampler input and Paul started to hang around, eventually becoming a roadie and then later a bassist. I can't remember exactly how Paul came to be playing bass, as I think Murray was still there. Paul was a good mate of Elmer but was in a totally toxic state of mind at the time and was turning everyone against each other - especially everyone against me. Differences in musical direction were also starting to open up, as I wanted to continue refining SV in the direction that I had created it for and Paul/Elmer/Bill were wanting to do more sampler/dance based stuff, which is why Transfixion is so different from my work. It culminated with them calling a band meeting at which they announced that they didn't want to carry on and were giving up the band. What they actually meant was that they wanted to continue in their new direction without me but didn't have the courage to say it to my face! There was a brief reconciliation and we practiced together once or twice but the trust was broken and the differences remained. I decided that I didn't want to work with them any more and departed. They asked me if they could use the name and I gave them permission to use it until I wanted to use it again. I didn't think it would be so long! At the time, I thought it might suit my purpose to have the name kept alive until I could reform it but, in hindsight, I think I should have made them think of their own name. For me, the whole thing stank of betrayal and dishonesty. Andy and Murray weren't really to blame, as they weren't so involved in the politics and just wanted to keep playing. This is why we attempted to reform the band some time ago but without Elmer.
Sonic Violence has remained unfinished business for me, which is why I am now taking back control of my project. It is something that I need to do for my own satisfaction.
Paul: I guess so, but I was never witness to the previous ways of working, so I can’t say for sure. The fact that we’d lost a guitar & gained a sampler would have pretty much ensured we would work differently. But working practices would only have had a small impact on the resulting noise. This was a band with three new members, different instrumentation and different influences, so it was never going to produce ‘Jagd II’.
Quite honestly we didn’t have any time to think about ‘how’ we were doing it, we just had to do it as Peaceville wanted an album and they wanted it quick…
Based on the information from previous interviews, the label gave you only about six months to create and record "Transfixion". Did you manage to fully realized the ideas at that time?
Paul: Of course not! We didn’t have a clue what we were doing and the engineer had even less of a clue of what we were about. No guitars, too many basses, sheets of metal with contact mics… it wasn’t a ‘normal’ session for him.
Asking a band that’s been together a few years to write and record an album of all new material in that time is laughable. Asking a band with a new line-up & no material to do that is plain ridiculous!
Given more time, maybe certain tracks would have been replaced and other tracks would have been worked through more. It was most definitely too rushed. But then I’m a real slow worker these days, so my perspective may be skewed!
The release of "Transfixion" took place on Dreamtime, a sublabel of Peaceville, created for the release of non-core for the main label teams, but your cooperation did not last long. What caused the relationship to break up? Was there a difference between Peaceville and Dreamtime, or are they the same people working under different names?
Paul: Dreamtime was just an imprint of Peaceville. Created to separate out the more experimental stuff (ie Kong, GGFH, SV) from Peaceville’s more death-metal offerings. The same people ran both labels, from the same office in Dewsbury.
Not sure why the relationship broke down. I think they may have been struggling financially and so had very little to offer us. And may be they didn’t know what to do with us. We had changed from a guitar/lead vocal type band to a more percussive, electronic ‘thing’ with no obvious front person. So we were pretty far away from their core market, and we weren’t about to break into the mainstream.
After finishing the work with Dreamtime, you independently released the EP "The Blastecyst Mixes" and a split 7’EP with Headbutt, the material of which was either remixes or tracks, based on the work with the sampler. Was the release of such records a forced measure due to lack of funding, or does it fully reflect how you wanted to sound at that time?
Paul: A bit of both I guess. We were getting more interested in the scope of electronic music against the restrictions of guitar music, but lack of funding did play a part. We had always been self-funding, bar the releases on Peaceville / Dreamtime, so it wasn’t that unusual for us. As with most bands, you invest the earnings of your day job back into your creativity in the hope that may be one day, the day job will go.
We were in a position (impending tour & general silence from us) where we had to release some material, but we could not afford studio time. It’s even possible that we didn’t have any new material written by then, I can’t recall. So like many bands at the time, going for sample-based remixes was a way out of the problem.
The (unreleased) material we wrote after that still had drums, percussion and bass. So it’s not as if we deserted all our original instruments and replaced ourselves with computers.
In one of the interviews, you mentioned that you had enough unrealized material for the third album. Are there any sketches? Is it possible to hear them? What did they represent?
Paul: There’s a live, straight from the desk, recording in glorious mono of some of the tracks. By then we were a four-piece (Sampler, Bass, Drums/vox, Metal Percussion). Hmm, I’m not sure that they are fit for public consumption in their current state! Actually, the recording is in a pretty good state, but as with all desk recordings some tracks fare better than others. May be two tracks could be salvaged, but whether I ever will is another matter (file under highly unlikely – I’ve got new stuff to work on!).
The tracks are certainly more loud/quiet and a lot more aggressive than what appeared on Transfixion. It sounds like a band that had found it’s direction (albeit too late!), rather than a band scrabbling around trying to work out what or why it is!
Dave: Murray is still playing in bands, mainly doing punk covers I think. He has also been quite ill for a couple of years but is recovering now.
I made an attempt to reform Sonic Violence in 2006 but we had the original problem of not having a reliable drummer and then Andy decided that he wasn’t enjoying it anymore and quit. One of the things that really interests me with the new album is that I will do the entire thing myself and not have to rely on other people! I always felt that I needed to clone myself to make SV perfect…
I have messed around with a couple of minor musical projects, including a neo rockabilly band that never gigged – just to have a go at something different (I do like to see a good double-bass player). Mostly, I have just been working (I’m a Test Engineer), bringing up my children and building motorcycles.
Andy was working in IT but has now retired and just plays music at home to amuse himself. He was busy building an electric bicycle when I saw him a few months ago.
No idea what Elmer has been doing and I don’t really care.
Paul: After the group… avoided anything to do with writing music for years and got on with life!
Then Logic became affordable and my interest was piqued again. Put out an album and a couple of digital EPs under the name Gusto Extermination Fluid. Then a collaborative project with Chewing Magnetic Tape produced the Chewing With Gusto album.
Still writing stuff, all electronic both in and out of ‘the box’ but mainly in Ableton Live, with no rush to put anything out there. Many sound experiments on the go, and all taking an age to complete. See if there’s no deadline…
There are very few video recordings of Sonic Violence performances on the Internet. How often did you perform? It would be interesting to know how your music was related to the punk scene, how the styles intersected with each other and what kind of audience came to your performances? With which teams did you mostly perform on gigs? With the experimental, from the metal get-togethers or was it always different? After leaving Auntie from the band, did you perform any of the previous recordings and if so, how did the issue of guitar parts solve?
Dave: I’m only aware of the Gibus Club, Paris recording that surfaced a while back and the clips that accompany the dreadful interview. There was a pre-Jagd recording of a gig at venue in Harlow, Essex, UK but I’m not sure if I still have it. It may still survive packed away in a box somewhere.
Sonic Violence didn’t really settle back into the punk scene, probably (as I have said earlier) due to the gap of years between The Sinyx and SV. Having said that, our local following in South East Essex was mainly punks because we still had the local links. Other than that, we didn’t have a particular audience and it would depend on who else was playing on the night. We did some gigs with Paradise Lost, organised by Peaceville and played to the doom audience on those nights but the last time I appeared with SV was with Godflesh and Treponem Pal – probably one of the few times that we appeared in front of the audience we expected. When touring in Europe, the audiences were more mixed and less prone to separation by sub-cultures than in the UK. We did get some skinheads along in Germany but they were SHARP members (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) and not the extreme right wing variety. The SHARP guys were really strong supporters of the band.
I don’t know what happened about performing early stuff after my departure, although they didn’t have my permission to use my material and I only gave them permission to use the Sonic Violence name until I wanted to use it again. That was a mistake on my part, as I don’t believe that the subsequent material was really in the spirit of Sonic Violence. If they wanted to do something different, I should have made them do it under a different name.
In the later years, we mainly did short (2-5 week) tours of Europe. We rarely played in the UK, just the odd gig in London – there wasn’t much demand for the noise we made
Audiences, thankfully, were always very mixed – we never had a following of a particular sub-culture, which is a good thing.
Quite often we were put on with death-metal bands, because, presumably, all heavy music is metal… We toured with Pitchshifter & Dogpile and did gigs with Terminal Cheesecake & the X and a myriad of other bands whose names evade me.
We didn’t play the early stuff for that very reason. I vaguely recall us attempting Tortured at one point. But it was doomed never to be a good as the original.
At concerts you used two bass guitars, tuning the sound of one of them as low as possible, the second, on the contrary, as high as possible. Why this scheme was not properly implemented in the studio records?
Dave: The two basses were there on the studio recordings but we never really managed to capture the live force of Andy’s treble bass (using light strings and with the treble turned right up). With a good live mix, it could be really offensive. I suspect that some of the reason it was lacking in studio recordings was the use of direct injection rather than using a microphone to record it. The end result was too sanitised and blended in too much with the guitar/drums. I will be trying very hard to improve on that with ‘Invincible’.
Paul: That’s how the tuning was on Transfixion, whether the recording captured that is another matter! My bass was always tuned down to B, with extra fat strings so they didn’t flap about. Andy’s was in standard E tuning, but it just so happened that the bass he used produced this amazing clanking noise that cut through everything.
Later on, the bass signal was split through different effects and amps, so we could get a greater variety of noise from the one instrument.
Is there any interest in doing some kind of reissue of Sonic Violence materials?
Paul: Is there a market for it?
Dave: The albums are owned by Peaceville (or whoever owns Peaceville now) so I don’t see them being released. Sacrifice to Strength was released on our own label, so might be a candidate, along with a live recording or the original demos.
Rather than see a reissue of the original recordings, however, I am more interested in issuing better ones, which sound the way I wanted them to originally.