Interview by John Eden
Nomex should need no introduction to Datacide readers, but here goes anyway. One of the organisers of the seminal “Dead by Dawn” parties held in the mid nineties at Brixton’s 121 Centre, Nomex contributed visuals, abstract/harsh performances and much more besides. His releases on his own Adverse label have included everything from vinyl abuse to the sounds of bones in the Paris catacombs. The Nomex discography also includes output on Praxis, Cavage, and Reverse amongst others. Despite performing across the globe (from Teknivals to art galleries) he is still a purposely-obscure figure to most. What follows is the only print interview I am aware of.
Were you involved with any music/sound projects before Nomex?
“That’s not music”
Yes – many!
As a child I grew up with records and a broken record player, I used to spin the records by finger to hear them. So as soon as I could, I bought a knackered twin-turntable seventies ‘disco’ coffin affair from a dodgy shop in Brixton, and started doing mix tapes for mates. In 1983 I was mixing Industrial, Electro, No Wave and Psychobilly as that was what was current. I saw one of the first Cramps shows in London, upstairs at the Clarendon Ballroom with Screaming Lord Sutch and The Meteors supporting (still got the flyer and the 10”).
The Cramps ripped my brain open sonically and I became obsessed with Fuzz pedals and sixties garage Punk instantly… so I would trawl the second hand shops of South London looking for weird and handmade equipment (still do). One day I came across a Coloursound Fuzz. This was a defining moment; it was obnoxiously loud and just destroyed anything you put through it. I became obsessed with collecting them and as nobody wanted them (in the early eighties everyone was into the new Boss pedals) I could find them for next to nothing. I would use them as noise generators, feed five into each other and put anything I could through them. I had a mate who was a member of T.O.P.Y. and he educated me on all the traditional Industrial stuff. Cabaret Voltaire, early SPK, TG. I was hooked, especially on tracks like “IBM” by Throbbing Gristle, so I stated playing ZX81 computer tapes and shortwave radio into the mixer.
Apart from doing my own solo stuff I played with various local post-industrial bands within the south London squat scene, as I was the one of the few with a 4-track recorder and the essential Charles Manson samples (!). I went to Art College and to support myself I used to deal in the notorious video nasties and would always record the best samples onto the 4-track. Around this time I discovered the global underground tape swap network. I gave a friend a copy of some of my solo work and he mailed it to this network and I got ten tapes the next week. So then, before you know it, I’m trading with the whole world of experimental noise makers. The Haters and Merzbow in particular showed me that anything was possible without exception.
Can you tell me about some early Nomex live stuff? (I was reading an old copy of Idwal Fisher fanzine which said you did one involving an x-ray machine? WTF?)
“‘Works executed by those immune to artistic culture in which imitation has no role; in which their creators take all (subjects, materials, transposition, rhythm, style etc.) from their own individuality and not from the base of classical art or stylish trends’. One can understand from this definition that practitioners of ‘Art Brut’ are mentally or socially marginal: prisoners, patients of psychiatric hospitals or other institutions, originals, solitary beings, condemned, all individuals who have a social status removed from the constraints of cultural conditioning.” – Jean Dubuffet
We grew up in Thatcher’s Britain, a country on a downward slide. Squats were the only viable option for us both economically and politically, nobody had any money so all the bands and parties happened in them. In our area there were five psychiatric institutions, three of which were empty and they became our playground. The psychogeographical effect on me was overwhelming. I originally started making films in the big empty hospitals we used to hang out in. I would do location recordings in these buildings and set up installations / do performances using whatever gear was available.
Things like MRI scanners are hard to shift, so the shows would have been in the operating theatre itself (we weren’t trying to be industrial cliché’s by the way!) I would utilize whatever technology was there, work on the (psycho) sonic parameters and then do an installation resulting in a performance. That performance in particular was some kind of comment on social documentation, as ID cards in the workplace had just appeared and the dole office wanted pictures etc. So with the X-Ray machine I tried to make it look like a photo booth. I got it to loop and it had some output that made a huge bang in the amp. I recorded some conversations with the dole office workers and played them slowed down on some portable tape players.
People were pretty freaked out about the x-rays as it was mushroom season and they wanted to chill… for years after people hated me! With the hospital stuff it was only a question of time before somebody else would come along and trash the machines or we’d lose power forever. So I was the last person to use much of that gear, lots of re-wiring stuff up incorrectly and blowing it up by mistake went on, it still does! True auto destructive art, ha ha! At that time I was pretty into Art Brut, the Viennese Aktionists, Otto Muehl, Valie Export, Futurism, Rothko, etc… I still consider my work to have Bruitist elements.
The first official Nomex gig was in 1995 at a psychiatric home that my brother and friends worked at. I was curious to see how the patients would react, as they would be free of the normal limitations of social conditioning. The patients loved it, but the staff turned off the PA pretty early but I carried on playing. At the end of the night one of the patients gave me a Coloursound Fuzz pedal (I’m serious) as he saw I had one in my case. Strangely it’s one of the earliest I have and also the noisiest… be pure and fate works.
What were your influences at the beginning? (and were you anything more than a product of them?)
SPEED AND POWER
Ha ha! I think there are many influences have had a major effect on shaping my approach to life and my art. There are a lot of external influences / references in my work, obviously, but with time they have become more internalised representations.
As a child I was brought up on TV like “UFO” and “Joe 90” (the reason why I limit myself to only use the gear I can fit into a briefcase, no more), “Catweazle” and Glam Rock. There was lots of occult and paranormal stuff in the media and pubic consciousness, “Dr Who”, psychics and witches, Hammer Horror and “Tomorrow’s World”, biker gangs and old school terrorism, The Unexplained and Look and Learn magazines…Speed and POWER!
My Grandfather was from the Tyne shipbuilding heritage (pictured on the front of the Misanthrophy CD) and owned a small engineering company. Many a school holiday I would be there listening to some seriously off the scale shearing and pummelling harsh sounds, I liked the volume level and the danger element. The metal presses were like monsters and the power was fascinating, I used to climb up on the roof of one and lie there being shaken about for hours. This was a serious impact template on me, no safety or noise regulations, just machines that shook the ground.
Also visually, socially and musically early Punk rock, seeing people with green hair and swearing on records was great for us as little kids. I also remember seeing remains of a Teddy Boys suburban house that had been completely destroyed by some punks on a Monday morning on my way to school, this was the era of Noah’s Castle. We were little kids, but friends’ older bothers had the records and we would follow them to punk gigs on pushbikes around Croydon. (The Damned / Banshees / Cure etc were all local bands.) I still remember standing outside a Banshees gig in Croydon (St Georges arcade) listening to “Join Hands” type stuff. Adam and the Antz’ “Kings of the Wild Frontier” was our primary school fave.
When I was 14 I was banished from the family house to live in a caravan, which I loved as it meant I could stay up late and listen to John Peel. Peel played many seminal works and his sessions changed my world more than once over the years – the first Jesus and Mary Chain / Ragga Twins / Joy Division / PIL sessions etc are all classics and I would religiously tape them and then take the tapes to school for my mates to hear. Peel would play tracks from other parts of the world I’d never heard of and I would lie there trying to imagine what it must be like in these out of the way places. He played my records and talked about them but unfortunately I never got to hear those broadcasts.
Around this time I joined the Air Training Corp to (get a pair of commando boots and) do an aerobatics course. I lied and said I had done one before so they put me on the advanced course, barrel rolls / loops etc. I left after two weeks as it would never get any better than that, it was the most dramatic physical impact which I have been trying to transfer into my art ever since.
I also saw Killing Joke at the Brixton Ace in 1983 with The Cocteau Twins as support, again a pivotal moment. Liz was screaming in an incoherent language and Robin was using reel to reel tapes – this was real punk, not the usual pub rock stuff. I was transfixed. Then Joke came on, Jaz Coleman was playing monotone drones on an Oberheim and they pummelled my senses. After the gig I smashed my father’s wedding ring which I had recently been given, first of many transitional rituals. I stepped into the irrational domain.
Without listing too many more personal areas, there were the usual Re/Search books, the global tape and zine scenes, indie anarcho bookshops, art that reflected alienation and caused an awareness of structure and social conditioning, underground VHS swapping, seeing Suicide supporting the Banshees, The Young Gods’ first London show, roadying for Killing Joke around 89/90, The Hard Club, Scala all-nighters, Zippo Records in Wandsworth (they had some great traditional experimental and classical avant-garde stuff and I picked up many a new lead to new experimental music there), These Records / Recommended Records / Staalplaat / Bookie Wookie all did mail order catalogues and helped me broaden my musical knowledge.
It’s always seemed to me that your releases have a ton of ideas put into them, but you’re never explicit about what they are?
“It’s the Difference between art and entertainment”
Yes, my work is reference heavy, both sonically and visually. I like ambiguity, to give people the option to define things for themselves; I don’t want to dictate anything. The symbolism and visual leads and ideas are there for people to reinterpret / misinterpret. Signifiers and subtle hints at other avenues make interesting works in general. I think many underestimate the importance of the visual element. Every detail is important to me, that is why I am very selective about releases and performances. When performing all the preparation is part of the ritual and is about personal progression for me. Playing live is one of the purest forms of expression and when I am in the zone I am on a mission where status and consequence is no longer important. I am doing it for myself predominately and the audience is a witness to the act.
You seem particularly focused on messing with people’s pre-conceived ideas about what a record should do…
Some would argue that it is the message that is important rather than the medium. With my works I regard both to be as valid. I trained as a visual artist, hence the importance placed on aesthetics. My work is self produced, purposely difficult and intentionally non-commercial. I have had a fascination with vinyl since I was a child, and have spent my life collecting audio oddities such as lock grooves, flexidiscs and auto-recording booth records, self produced records, hypnosis and test tones especially excite me. I first became aware of lock grooves and especially twin parallel grooves through the ‘Mystery Track’ on Johnny Moped’s “Cycledelic” album as a child, which led me onto adapting records using sticky tape or a compass to scratch and make lock grooves.
In a DJ capacity I have played many sets using only lock groove records and adapted / destroyed vinyl. In the pre CD / MP3 / Download era vinyl was everything, I spent many years travelling to obscure record shops to track down audio oddities especially self-produced releases.
In the early nineties I set up the label Adverse Records to release works I considered to be an alternative option, both in context and approach. My first release was Adverse 1, the source was the recording of a record needle playing the label, (it is also one of the few records I know of where the sound is represented visually in the sleeve and label artwork). A side is cut at 45rpm (I had the run out groove cut to make the needle jump onto the label to continue the process – thus “the listener becomes the operator” – Flint Michigan). The 33rpm B side ends in a lock groove so the track is continual – many babies have been conceived to this sound, many have drifted off to sleep to it, etc…
Adverse 3 was the made from live performance recordings, I made a turntable which utilized a drill. I found the standard 33/45 rpm set ups to be too limiting – with the drill turntable I could play 12000rpm forward or backwards! For that tour I also made multiple hand-held tone arms so I could play which ever part of the record I wanted to within a split second.
Adverse 12 (“Are You Anything More Than Just A Product Of Your Influence?”) is apparently the world’s first and only twin parallel reverse cut 16/78 rpm record. Mine was the first record in the world to be pressed like that according the mastering engineer and the Guinness Book Of Records! Like most of my releases I like to put some hidden extras in there for those who seek more than the standard… I have also made many hand made lock grooves and etched records which are usually limited to a maximum of 20. I am also proudly part of the tradition of messages in the run out groove / messages in the middle of records (Praxis 33) – vinyl’s hidden agendas.
I am not now nor have never been interested in commercial success, I consider my work to be art and that is how I wish it to be viewed. I do not adhere to the restraints of the industry (record mastering engineers are very reluctant to do anything other than standard cuts, by the way). I like to make my records a challenge physically and well as sonically. I like to work within genres that would not usually accept ‘noise / art’ like the techno / breakcore / no-step genres. This is usually a challenge for label owners as they end up with a product that will be panned by the critics upon release (which limits immediate sales) and then celebrated by them years later (this is reflected on sites like Ebay, Discogs etc).
In the nineties, CDs were ‘the new gods’ and there were people throwing out turntables all over London and Europe (they are doing the same with books now, $1 online etc…). I hated this, having been deprived as a child. So I purposely cut the 78/16 record, subconsciously it was a cry from me to people to not ditch the four speed record player – many a shit track is improved by playing it at 16 or 78 rpm. In the mid nineties I collected every record player I found and ended up with over 150, so I did some installations in London and France with multiple turntables, along with my friend On Off K.
I think your early work particularly stood out as you operated as part of the Praxis/Teknivals/Dead by Dawn scene rather than the “noise scene” particularly. Why was that important to you?
It was hugely important to me as after playing squats for years this was a new audience with new potential possibilities, there no boundaries for the scene at that time and having the option to help shape it slightly was a great opportunity and I seized it. The scene was new, exciting and limitless, being associated with Dead By Dawn and having made some successful (in an underground appreciation sense) records and having a reputation allowed me to slip under the radar and get to play a lot of places otherwise off limits, raves, Teknivals and underground parties in the UK and all over europe…I don’t think anyone else was doing full on noise sets or DJ-ing charity shop / noise records at underground hardcore parties at the start.
Travelling and meeting like minded people was great as the industrial noise scene / new noise scenes were very conservative and stylized, their boundaries were too restrictive, they hated breaks and speedcore. 94 – 99 were golden years! The same goes for my video programming at Dead By Dawn, I would search for the most challenging visuals and using a digital vision mixer strobe them at specific rates. I hated the standard rave visuals, computer fractals etc and with the Nomex Realist Film Unit I went out of my way to push things in another direction, I was researching sonic/frequency weapons and incorporated that into the work.
I am guessing this might have caused you some problems with less open minded party-goers? Were there any memorable examples of that?
“I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU”
Indeed many! What I do tends to trigger / question the psychological (un)balance in people… I’ve had stab threats, people try and attack me, bottles and chairs thrown at me, people strip off and roll around on the floor, a support band trashed their gear and threw it at me, crowd fights, people attack the PA, people screaming at me, screaming promoters… quite often people on ecstasy get really upset – I get accused of ‘killing the vibe’ or making people deaf often, which in a way is the point. I want to make an impact, not just through sound level or noise amount but psychologically. Unfortunately, what I do does tend to attract psychos, both for and against me, all part of the joy!
When I perform live I am usually in my own alchemic place, trying to be as pure as possible and intentionally blocking out these obstacles around me, otherwise everything suffers, an inverse psychedelic. All I ask for is the option to do my thing and not be interfered with… On a positive note a lot people do find a sort of release or lasting quality in my live sets, when I toured Europe recently the Infekt guys said how a set I had played 10 years ago still had a great impression on them. That is the ultimate accolade and a major motivation for playing live, hopefully I can continue to inspire others and push the social norms.
My DJ sets usually get people in my ear immediately, and everybody has an opinion as to what is acceptable as ‘music’. It’s not my job nor is it possible to educate them musically in the time it takes to line up the next record…I did a set with Deepkiss 720 and within 30 seconds the barmaid was at the decks with a mop in my face telling me to turn it off. I did a breakcore set in Christchurch and was thrown off the decks and into the street by the promoter on my third record. I sent him a bottle of Champagne and a business card!
Do you set out to be confrontational?
ALL IS LOST IN COMPROMISE
No, far from it. It’s usually when I get booked for events where the sound engineer / venue owner / promoters don’t understand what I do or have any comprehension of the frequencies I use etc. Half the battle of playing live is being able to operate at an acceptable level (for me) or getting my footage shown or having the lighting the way I want it, which are all important aspects. Actually playing live is usually the least hassle free part, getting there can be an ideological struggle / debate. Once I’m there I do try and explain everything, but I do not compromise on sound level or my intent, I would rather leave than compromise. Indeed, I have found myself alone in a foreign city at night without anywhere to stay a few times. Also it costs me a lot to travel and build my equipment and I am often not paid at the end of the night because I didn’t do a set like the Aphex Twin or some other bullshit. I win the race to the bottom (or the top) for I’m not playing the same game.
Tell me about the Nomex “battle bus”?
MELT THE PLACE
Autonomy and true Sonic Subversion! After the whole free party scene broke down in the UK I built a stealth mobile sound system, a matt black slammed split VW Panel van, the Adverse Tactical Noise System. If I wanted to go and play a live set or melt a space I could do so and it could be at a time and date that suited me, I wouldn’t have to be part of a collective, DJ line up or need to deal with a promoters / venue owners lack of understanding. Sometimes being subtle is more effective than being obvious and I’ve always liked to be cryptic… I would sometimes leave it in a shopping centre car park playing disturbia soundscapes… spoken word hypnosis / Ritual magic / fake news broadcasts / disinformation / birdsong / bringing the rural into the central city and visa versa… If I can provoke someone to question their attitude / behaviour then that’s always good…
How has your approach to sound / performance changed since you began?
EMENCIFIED SHRILL OUT
I don’t think I have compromised my philosophy / ideology which is personally really important.
I think each time I perform live I refine my set up and approach. Being confident within myself and knowing my equipment’s potential allows me to concentrate on the concept of a performance. I’m still using the Emencifier which I built in 1994, and I like boutique hand made stuff. The development of new equipment is a really interesting area, and there is some amazing soft/hardware out there now compared to the stuff available a few years back, but I still think people should focus on the concept of a piece and try to work towards that rather than churning out some generic stuff or being fascinated with the latest equipment which can be a consumerist cul-de-sac. Working within the limitations of an item is a good thing in my opinion. We had to think really hard when we were using Amiga 500’s and Mac 2ci with 4MB ram etc, and I still prefer a lot of the records made with primitive equipment personally, especially Amigacore. I like the way that music is being made on unconventional devices too, all the early grime that was made on X-boxes and breaknoise on phones etc rather than expensive PC’s and studios full of gear.
I had a vivid dream many years ago of an incredibly complicated full frequency sound which emanated from within a mountain, it was so ridiculous powerful that you couldn’t get close enough to see what was making it, visually it burnt your retinas and made you deaf. I awoke and painted it immediately, then tried to replicate the sound without success, it haunted me, I’ve worked hard over the years to build the studio I’ve always wanted and I am now in a position to keep challenging / engaging myself further in my quest to realise that dream. I believe that is my purpose, to be successful on a personal level not a public one.
Why the move to New Zealand?
“People realized they could do whatever they wanted, so they started to.” – Black Mirror.
“Allowing each and every individual to hold the entire responsibility for their own existence” Aeon of Horus – Aleister Crowley
I have a very dystopian vision of the future in general. I wanted to be in a silent place where I could make as much noise as possible and be away from the dangerous majority rule of common man, particularly the conditioning of cities, the potential for things to go wrong there bothers me greatly, I have always felt pretty alienated by them. I am now self-sufficient, in control of my own power, food and water supplies. Away from what I consider to be the limitations of an over populated situation. I live alone 100km up a dead end road in the middle of absolute remote nowhere, real isolation. This solitude is balanced with global travel for shows and regular communication with friends, one can live anywhere and be in touch.
Your “Turntable Abuse” 7″ with Sudden Infant appeared in an exhibition of Schimpfluch Group material last year. I saw Harsh Noise Wall top dog Vomir bigging you up on a forum recently too. Do you get any sense that your work is gaining greater recognition as time passes, or is it still obscure as hell?
I have an extremely light / dysfunctional digital footprint and I don’t frequent discussion boards so I can’t really gauge my web presence or comment on it. I am not a network methodist (unlike others who seem to concentrate more on that than their music), and I am concerned about profiling in general. I get booked for shows on recommendation, the same goes for releases and collaborations, word of mouth/personal invite. I have a different (hidden) agenda, which I think people pick up on, again my focus is success on personal terms rather than those of the crowd.
I’m more concerned with the creative and productive aspects of a record rather than selling it, for me it’s all about production but all my records sell out regardless of the quantities pressed or cost, especially the hand produced items. I have some fairly fanatical fans who send me all sorts of stuff or bring me strange things to gigs which is always interesting, if what I do has an impact or resonance (positive or negative) with others then that is a bonus. I don’t plan to be obscure, I’m in the Encyclopaedia of Industrial Music for example – you can find anything if you really want to, it might not be on the first 10 pages of a Google search!
Any plans for the future you can tell me about?
I am currently working on some site-specific performances, utilising bandstands which have great natural acoustics in their domed roofs which reflect metallic shimmers well (they are also public spaces) early in the mornings, dawn raid style. I have just completed some video performances inspired by executioner’s masks, the Black Panthers and duality.
I will be back touring in Europe again next year and I am looking for a Flamenco dancer to work with as the sound source. I like the passion and the fact that they stamp the shit out of the floor, again for me that primitive pure noise element is paramount here. (Any leads or potential gigs invited).
I’ve been polishing another release for Praxis for a while now, but my self imposed production levels for that are extremely high as I respect the label highly.
I’ve also been struggling to complete my Dead By Dawn video for a while. I shot 4140 minutes of footage at 23 parties. Editing it down has been both labour and machine intensive, but progress is being made. Then there is the 20th year exhibition and book etc…