Nomex: A Life in Full Frequency

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Cloaked in the desert

When selecting an alias for his artistic persona, Paul Kidd chose the name of the flame resistant material, Nomex. A protective shield suggesting indestructability, it appeared an apt moniker for someone who liked to “keep it cryptic” and push the limits of both his art and in his own life with an intense fervour. For those of us who knew the man behind the name, that this great force has been extinguished is hard to comprehend. However, his music endures and what I write here is a personal attempt to connect the life of Paul – my great friend, collaborator and partner for over a decade – with the compelling body of work he leaves behind.

I first met Paul back in 1994 in the London experimental/ techno scene through the music events with which we were both involved. He was working full time as a medical filmmaker. But when he wasn’t documenting operations, he was making his own films, as well as dividing his time between various music projects, tracking down obscure records and renovating a vintage VW Combi, sleeping just a few hours a night to fit this all in. He was then, as he was always, a man of many “missions” with a seemingly irrepressible energy.

Nomex taking field recordings in Morocco

A graduate of film school and a big fan and collector of B-Movies, underground and experimental film, it was film that formed a major focus of his creative work during the mid-1990s. As the Nomex Realist Film Unit, he made films every month for the Dead by Dawn parties he helped run in Brixton. Shots from his day job bled over to become some of the extreme strobing images that were the visual accompaniments to the hard, fast music of these all night gatherings. In brutal contrast to the insipid fractals and morphing dolphins seen in the rave visuals of that time, the Nomex films were visual weapons that targeted the passive viewing of the “idiot’s lantern” and forced an active response.  

This was a vibrant period in London, which saw the coming together of industrial, experimental and avant-garde music, culture and theory at regular events such as Dead By Dawn, VFM and Bar Sate. Convinced of its importance, Paul was dedicated to documenting it, amassing several hundred hours of footage. The crazed proclamations of one partygoer captured on video was featured on The Fire is the Centre track made with Christoph Fringeli, with versions released on the Dead by Dawn album under his pseudonym of Shitness and then later on the Praxis 33 EP. However, it was his intention to use the footage for a film on the history of Dead by Dawn, an ongoing project for many years and one that he had almost finished at the time of his death.

DJ Shitness in action

Shitness was also the (anti) DJ name Paul adopted when lured out to play records from his extensive collection. His deep engagement with music across many genres and determination to seek out what intrigued him, resulted in a library that ran from the electronic avant-garde of Tod Dockstader to the reggae of Dr Alimantado, the spoken word of Rod McKuen to the extreme noise of Merzbow. Get chatting to Paul about an esoteric gem you’d always wanted to hear, and he’d not only know it, he’d probably own it! Like many, I was introduced by him to artists and music – such as the cybernetic music of Roland Kayn – that went on to became seminal for me. He was generous in sharing his knowledge and possessed an infectious enthusiasm, which he used not only to enlighten but fan the musical flames of those around him.

Always sparking with ideas – from the practical to the metaphysical and the fantastical – there was a playfulness about Paul that nurtured both his creativity and his friendships.  Driven by a desire to make both himself and those around him question things, turn conventional ideas on their head and find new meanings, conversations with him could take off on surreal and sublime trajectories. These were often sidesplitting as well, given Paul’s mischievous sense of humour: I’m certainly not alone in naming Paul as one of the people with whom I have laughed the most. 

As the creative vision for his own music crystallised, his love of vinyl, combined with a determination to retain complete control over his output, made starting a record label an obvious step. He launched Adverse in 1996 with the release of the Misanthropy 7” (Adverse 1), a conceptual record that set the tone for much of his subsequent musical output. Creating an ironic loop of self-reference, both sides consist of the familiar sound of a record player’s needle hitting the label at the end of the vinyl. The A Side, A Moment in Eternity was cut without a run-off groove, violently ending the track’s hypnotic repetition by throwing the needle across the physical record’s label, while the B Side, Language of Dissatisfaction echoes the sonic theme and negates a conclusion by finishing on a never ending lock-groove. 

Paul was also keen to explore the limits of vinyl itself, as evidenced in Adverse 12, Are You Anything More Than Just A Product Of Your Influence?, likely the first only record to be made with such an ambitious cut. Both sides were cut with twin parallel grooves: the first track on each at 16rpm and the second, at 78rpm, both playing from the inside out.

Alongside releases on Adverse, as well as on other labels with which he felt an affinity, Paul developed his Nomex performances into the stuff of noise legend. One set of live actions etched into my cochlear was his “Hidden Agenda” tour of 1995, that I also took part in, which left a trail of ruptured ear drums and speaker cones across London. Over six dates – two of which were purely conceptual – Paul engaged the kind of classic full frequency, high volume, body shaking live actions that earned him the title of sonic terrorist. 

Flyer for the Hidden Agenda tour

On the evening at the Crypt of St Giles Church in Camberwell, which was part of the Camberwell Arts Festival, the combination of Nomex, a 1.2K PA and a stone low ceilinged space was intense. The old gent on the door swiftly abandoned his post, while those who could handle the noise were bathed in blistering layers of distortion oscillating between pleasure and pain courtesy of Nomex’s trusty home built pedal, The Emencifier. Prior to this he’d almost literally set the speakers on fire at the Red Rose Club date in Finsbury Park, while the tour culminated at an event in Oval where he blew up the amplifier.

This physical damage was unintended, he assured me, when I became disgruntled at having to forgo some of my own slots that followed his due to wrecked equipment. And it was true. He would go into his own “zone” during performances and while seeking to challenge his audience he was very focused on challenging himself. While his performances were often thrillingly visceral, they were far more than simple noise assaults in regularly being informed by social, cultural, intellectual or personal concerns. Themes were often suggested through the choice of the material used as the raw sound source in a Nomex performance, such as the real estate brochures in his 2009 Guilt of Ownership performance in Melbourne. These were regularly also the things destroyed as part of its process. 

Vinyl and turntables – which he also increasingly came to collect – played a central part in a lot of his live work. Given his background in art and film, many performances had a strong visual element, probably no more so than the now iconic turntable he created from a drill, a performance that went on to become the third Adverse release, the Anogogic Arm 7”. Revolving a record using vari-speed drill, he’d coax hidden meanings from it using a custom-made tone arm before the vinyl’s final sacrifice.  

Given how particular Paul was about the handling of his own personal record collection, his regular vinyl abuse could seem somewhat contradictory. However, as noted by Paul in his detailed interview with John Eden in Datacide 13, its roots can be traced back to the broken record player he was left with as a child. Creating new functional playing devices and being the one with the agency to destroy was a ritual for him that I always regarded as both cathartic and empowering. While some catalysts may have originated in painful past experience, the destructive element of Paul’s work was always a positive gesture. I very much considered him akin to Walter Benjamin’s “Destructive Character”, who “knows only one watchword: make room. And only one activity: clearing away. His need for fresh air and open space is stronger than any hatred”.

A quest for greater space, both physical and artistic, resulted in our move to New Zealand in 2004. Feeling somewhat burnt out by the preceding years in Britain, Paul took a hiatus of several years while he took stock of where he was creatively. Much of this time was spent exploring the mountainous terrain of his new country, increasingly by motorbike, a fast form of transport he’d found liberating from an early age. After we went our separate ways he moved even deeper into the countryside, only to emerge into another rich era of performances in Australasia and Europe, while working towards a full album release on Praxis.

Paul lived to pursue his freedom through endeavours that took him into new and potentially dangerous territory. He was excited by the risks. However, this was to cut his life short, when he was killed in 2014 aged 46 riding full speed through the epic landscapes of New Zealand’s Central Otago. The flame that burned twice as bright burnt half as long.

We farewelled Paul Kidd, the legendary Nomex, at a funeral in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was attended by people who valued him from many different parts of his life, with messages sent from friends and collaborators all over the world. It was to A Moment in Eternity that we said our final goodbyes, then played out to the sound of the needle in an everlasting lock-groove, homage to a man whose great spirit and music lives on.

A star is falling

Everyone’s star is falling

Clouds make patterns on the ocean

And somewhere in a far off Galaxy

A star goes out forever.

(Rod McKuen channelled through Nomex)

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