Magic Feet interview Sep 95
Mark Van Hoen is not made of flesh and bone, but some kind of highly absorbent material. Andrex challenge him and you'll lose. He breathes in his surroundings like Neptune blows out in Jason and the Argonauts. After spending 13 years in the studio honing his skills, getting pissed off with it and then loving it again, he's found a home with R+S. Following the release of his brilliant second album as Locust, 'Truth Is Born Of Arguments', we gave it big legs to chat to the fellow.
How would you describe Locust?
"It's defined as whatever I do on my own, without collaborating with anybody else, that's what I call Locust. I then select from that and that becomes the R+S/Apollo material. Locust is the only thing that's stable. I have a six album deal with Apollo and I've got four more to go so that will definitely happen. All the other projects could carry on or just stop- whatever.
How did you get started?
"I started in about 1982 when I bought my first synth and was listening to stuff like Cabaret Voltaire,all the German stuff, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, that
sort of stuff. I did it as a hobby in the 80's and got a bit pissed off with it all and sold everything. Then I was really inspired by going to clubs and just got back into it that way. There's a limited 12" called 'In Times Of Remembrance Past' and also 'Natural Composite' which make up the tracks from the '80's.
How and why did you hook up with R+S?
"I respected what they were doing when I first got into club music which was about 1991 they were putting out all the good stuff. I felt they had a really innovative approach, more so than Warp although I respect them. Warp seemed to me to go for things that had already been succesful in a minor way, say on white labels or in clubs, and then make it bigger. R+S will hear a tape and go for an album straight away. "
You've spent a lot of time learning the studio and equipment. Have the advances freed you up or can you end up killing the feel of a track by trying out all the options?
"That's part of the art really, it's the equivialent of learning how to play a musical instrument-it's your skill as a musician to control all the elements in a studio- you can become a virtuoso at that in the same way you can become a brilliant guitar player or whatever. It takes time the same way as anything else. It's not even a particularly new idea, in popular music it goes right back to King Tubby in the '60's and before that to people like Stockhausen and Edgard Varese who used the studio as a musical instrument. "
Yeah, classical musicians right through to people like John Coltrane have been admired because they've managed to squeeze sounds out of the instruments they've got that no-one else has been able to do, but this side isn't acknowledged in the same way. The unprecedented control over sound shaping with modern music technology makes you think that no-one's tried to do that sort of thing before. The experimentation with sound in electronic music is a continuation of all that.
"Yeah, definitely, I mean a cello is a form of technology, it's a machine, it's a man built thing. It's up to you to get expression into it, whatever you play."
Do you see yourself as a bit of a renaissance man then?
"Yeah, in a way, yeah. I like a lot of the concepts behind post-modernism but I don't actually believe that everything thing's been done and all you can do now is mix and match and take from other sources. I do still believe there are a lot of genuinely new things that can be done. I do believe things are going to change quite radically in the next 2-3 years."
So you're optimistic then?
"No, I'm not actually. I'm not an end of the world doom merchant but the vibe you get from just being around is so negative most of the time. I get depressed because I do get caught up in it and end up doing all the things that are wrong but it's human nature, greed, you know. "
Getting back to the music, what were you trying to express with 'Weathered Well' (the first Locust album)
"I was trying to get some feel into it but I don't think it succeeded. Everyone was using the same
sounds, the 303 and 909, and I avoided all that. There was a lot of ambient around at the time which
was a bit flufffy and nice. I wanted to do something a bit darker and intense, something that people
would come back to. I was pleased with it at the time but it wasn't what I wanted it to be. I've learnt
so much since then and I can devote in entire time to it, so I feel that with any first album you can't
do exactly what you want because you learn so much after that. Plus when I make a track now I know
it's going to be released so I think about it in a different way. That sounds impure doesn't it?...really
should be you do stuff because you want to do it, but knowing it'll be released makes me think differently."
So are you a lot harder on yourself because of that?
"Yeah, definifely. "
' Truth..' is very different to 'Weathered Well', can you tell us a bit about the contrast?
"The main thing is that I knew it would be released and because of that I found it very difficult to write tracks to order. I got to the point where I felt the only way I can write tracks is if I do it on a day I'm feeling particularly strong about something. Id relate it to that and so the tracks flowed very naturally. That's where the titles come from, they all relate to specific things I was thinking about. "
Titles like 'l Feel Cold Inside Because Of The Things You Say' and 'I Believe In A Love I May Never Know' make a change from the pseudo-scientific/ future-speak cliches
"It's not purposeful. Another reason it sounds so different is because I was listening to different music, different influences, plus all the new equipment I had."
'Truth...' is a much more diverse album, there's elements of jazz, Eastern music, hip-hop, jungle. Is there anything in particular that's influenced this change?
"I've been listening to a lot more jazz and some Indian, Arabian and Egyptian classical music as well, so I'm diversifying a lot more. Probably for about 15 years I'd been listening to Eno, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and all that. "
What attracts you to the Indian and Arabic stuff?
"It's related to Jazz and what I would like electronic music to be. It's quite different to Western music which has huge changes, especially rock. With the Eastern stuff it's the minute changes that matter, which you miss if you don't listen intensively. It's related to real life, like fast change and immediacy in rock compared to the subtle changes of those (Eastern) forms of music. It's related to the older religions from India, the Sanskrits, meditation and primal science. With Jazz and drone music you can get more spiritually from it."
A lot of what your ears can stand musically is bound in culture. Classical Chinese music sounds pretty weird to me but it doesn't to someone brought up with that. Did you find you had try to train your ears?
"Yes, Indian music uses different tunings which we're not used to and there is all the cultural baggage that comes with it. You have to unlearn what you've learnt."
Considering you listen so intently, what do you think about the tag of ambient as background music- does it annoy you?
"No, because everything has its place. If I put music on then I want to really listen to it because I need to get something from it."
There are some elements of jungle, the way you manipulate the drum sounds and speeds...
"I've listened to a lot of jungle, but it doesn't sound like jungle, Just similar techniques. One thing that jungle was about for me is that it really introduced some dynamics and change into dance music and I wanted to incorporate some of that into what I was doing."
So you try and capture the essence of a style?
"Not really. I hear the way they program ... but it's always the same way."
Do you plan to do any straight up jungle in the future?
"No. For me there are two fields of doing dance music or experimental electronic music or whatever. One is that you follow a genre, like you do a jungle track which has good points because the whole movement can push things forward and there's a crossing of ideas to create something new, but it always gets stuck after a while. Or you can go off on your own individual routes and use influences from wherever and not become part of a genre, which makes it more difficult to get your music across. This album doesn't really fit into any of those categories which makes it more difficult to sell. I feel you can become secondary to a movement which to me as an individual artist is not satisfying or what I'm about."
Ain't that the truth, Ruth.
On Truth Is Born Of Arguments you credited a lot of other musicians- how do you work with them?
"I hired a studio and a lot of people lent me musical instruments which I played myself, sampled, and then made tracks out of them. A couple of people came down and I just set a tempo and they played. I then incorporated that into pieces I was writing. The next record will be done almost completely with live musicians which I'll record and later manipulate."
What about collaborations outside Locust?
"I did an album last year called 'Aurobindo:Involution' with Darren Seymour of Seefeel (who Mark used to engineer
for) for Ash International and we're working on another. We're very good friends and we share a lot of interests musically. Then there's there is the 'Autocreation' stuff I did with Tara Patterson and Kevin Hector. There's also some tracks I've done with Annie Williams [guest vocalist
on 'Truth' whose contribution gets the mutated Locust treatment] are due for release soon, which is
more straight songs."
Your first live performance was in 1982 how have things changed since then?
"Playing live is difficult. I did a lot of dates last year (solo, and on tour with Orbital, throughout
Europe) and was frustrated by them. I didn't feel I was doing anything worthwhile. I just stood there
with a mixing desk, mixing my music In a club. This year I'm involved in a multi-media project with
video and music integrated The music makes no sense without the video and vice-versa. It's not like
Music with some computer graphics. I do everything but it costs a lot though."
Where are you going to be doing this?
"I'm going to be supporting LFO on their next tour."
More and more music is going to be released on CD-ROM and multimedia formats. Do you see more people getting into visual synthesis to the same extent as people got into sound synthesis in music?
"Yeah, but most people see that as superior therefore it's something they must get into because it's the future, but it's just something else you can get into if you want. Music, Just music, to me is the most important art form and it will never disappear, but new and very creative things can be done with multimedia. "
Do you DJ?
"Occasionally. I will if people ask me to ... well sometimes, normally if it's abroad and I can't play live then I'll DJ, but it's more for promotion. I've done a couple of radio shows that I enjoyed more than DJing. I used to work in radio and I enjoy it- I like the feel of It."
Do you have any favourite venues?
"For DJing? I enjoyed Quirky [Now defunct London friday night club] it was a really brilliant, brave venture. The whole idea was getting something new each week and it really worked I DJ'd 3 or 4 times with people I really respected, "
What do you think of all the adulation and money some DJs get?
"It is overrated, but to be a very good DJ takes a unique skill. Expecting DJs to be able to write
music is a bit of a mistake sometimes. Just because you can select good music from other people and
mix it together well and get a crowd going doesn't mean you can write music - it's a whole different
What do you like/dislike about the music scene at the moment?
"It's no different to how it's always been ... all the bad elements are still there. There are always people doing a particular type of music because it's the In thing to do and so you get all this garbage, epecially with genre music. All the good stuff disappears beneath the sheer weight of all the garbage which is a real shame. "
What about the business side that creeps In?
"It's a shame that you need to get involved in the money and all that but I think it's a lot more corporate than it used to be. Obviously I'm not speaking from experience because I've only been doing it for two years but I hear people say you do need to get involved in all that side if you want to he succesful, but I think that it's part of being a professional musician."
I'd imagine R+S give you a lot artistic freedom?
"Yeah, almost completely."
Does that extend to the artwork?
"Yeah, I do everything. On the first album I did the photography and pretty much designed the sleeve myself. On 'Truth' though I was very dissapointed with the end result. It taught me a valuable lesson about not getting carried away when there is a decent budget. I got too many people invovled, and spent a lot, and in the end I felt pressured to use the result."
Why do you think there are few women making techno records?
"Because it's associated with a geeky computer thing with no soul or spirituality, but there can be in electronic music. It's because of the imagery and philosophy associated with it that puts most people off"
What do you think about the music press?
"Again it has it's bad points but it's just trying to survive. Most journalists and writers are serving their own purposes and writing about their friends and just playing the game really- it's just the way it works. It's something I haven't done well out of because I don't play the game or write music for clubs and I don't copy something thats really popular in the press, so I don't do very well out of it.
It's a shame because the press should try and present new people and not keep perpetuating the bigger acts, but at the end of the day they have to sell magazines so that's why they do it - you can't really blame them."
Hang on ... we at Magic Feet have no friends to write about anyway ... and we try to present new people ... so maybe that means ... Wuhoo!!!
Does the term 'underground' mean anything to you?
"Erm, yeah, and normally it means when people want to be snobby about music and they say 'Oh, well, this is really underground you can't have it' There are good elements to things being underground because of the fact that they can't be affected by corporate bodies, and things that aren't involved with money can be quite special. It's been corrupted into meaning it's something we've got and you can't have. if you do something with the intention of it being underground then you're fooling yourself. If you do something because you believe in it, and it ends up being underground as a coincidence because its so new and leftfield that people/corporate bodies can't get involved because they don't understand it, then that's great."
Is it important to you not to get too involved in all the corporate tomfoolery?
"Well, I need money to do all the things I want to do in the future and I would rather strike a balance between doing what I want and selling enough records to impress people sufficiently to give me money. That's what I'm trying to do. I see myself as sort of on the border."