In the late 80’s no one would have bet that an unlikely dreads couple of multiracial instrumentalists from East London, with two odd names as Alex Ayuli & Rudy Tambala, would have given birth to such a visionary and seminal sound that would have hugely influenced the generations to come and contributed to define a genre. At that time very few noticed two breathtaking sonic masterpiece as ‘69’ (1988) and ‘”i”’ (1989), but time, as is often the case, has done them justice. The passionate atmosphere of devotion and support grown around A.R. Kane legacy motivated Rudy Tambala to revive his moniker, despite Alex Ayuli’s refusal. Last summer performances around Europe as a trio (Rudy’s sister Maggie and the young Andy Taylor) were impressive and highly entranced old and young fans, while the recent collaboration with the Canadian/Ukrainian experimental dreampop duo Ummagma is the first persuasive seed of the new path, waiting for sudden bursts of intense and prolific creativity and ‘beautiful noise’.
More than a year has passed since you decided to get back in the game – could you please take stock and reflect about your new adventure? What surprised, amazed or eventually disappointed you most about all of this?
Rudy Tambala (RT): I can’t take stock at all. Too much happened, I have not had the time to assimilate it all, and by regurgitating now … well, that would mean it is no longer inside me, no longer being broken down, absorbed, and turned into me, into experience that is part of me. Memories from the last three decades keep invading my present time, my mind, influencing what I think I experienced … it’s quite weird … weird how an old self wants to be in charge. I am rarely amazed these days – all old and sullied and cynical and beyond feeling. One thought though…I had hoped to see bands that really stretched the limits of pop music – I had read so many reviews but, alas, it was no to be. I saw nothing that I would say was new or different or ground-breaking, from the perspective of when we created ‘69’ and ‘“I”’. Maybe 1988/89 was the furthest reach that pop could claim…sounds vain maybe, but you tell me, today? What is really out there man? Who is crafting the blueprints for the next couple decades? Probably some kid in his bedroom, on pirated software and a splintered smart phone, just dissolving the boundaries of technology, mind and experience … with sound, rhythm, melody and words, that are gonna make you cry like a helpless baby.
Last summer you toured as a three-piece around Europe, also playing various important festivals. What were the highlights and favourite memories for you? What was the response by the old and, above all, new fans?
RT: Important festivals? What does that even mean? Do you mean the big, commercial festivals? I think you do. Well, that’s a shame, because importance need not be measured in that excluding manner, and need not be mentioned at all. It’s funny that now it all seems like a weird dream. I wanted to experience this, and I did, and I enjoyed it very much. Playing live is one of the best experiences I have had in my life; it requires preparation and dedication and very hard, focused work. It is risky and frightening and invigorating, all at once. I met some fans from back in the day and it broke my heart and made me weep, they were so happy and complimentary, and honest, it was lovely. New fans, well they were nice, and it is quite odd to meet guys my children’s age, that like what we do. But very nice too. Crowds clapped, and whistled and cheered, and occasionally screamed. Maybe in pain. Freaky.
How did you meet your ‘‘tripping kindred spirits’’ from the Canadian/Ukrainian dreampop duo Ummagma and how did you begin to collaborate? How did you approach the de-construction and re-constructions of ‘Winter Tale’? Are you satisfied with the end product?
Last first; I have never been satisfied with any music I have produced – most people hate their creative output. I do however know when to stop, and know when I have done the best I could do, at that time. And time is gracious and generous, as it allows me to have some separation, to be kind and less judgmental. Over time I like things more. It takes decades to erode that immediate, critical impulse. I will love this song when I’m 96 years old. I was introduced to them by my friends The Veldt – we started chatting, exchanging tunes over the Web, and it went on from there; digital files, into digital music software, into new digital files, etc. –in a sense, these creations never leave the digital realm, except temporarily, as vibrations in the air, picked up by our sensory apparatus, and then again converted into electronic nerve impulses that we call hearing. So much is done remotely now, it seems superfluous to actually meet the non-virtual, pre-electronic Person Version 1.0. We are now, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, all content in this vast electronic medium. Magical. So, I only met Ummagma Virtual Persons V 1.2. And they were cool. In the actual production, I tried several attempts but found that melodically and rhythmically they simply detracted from the core of the song, that lovely acapella. Eventually I landed on sonic experimentations – an ‘‘abstract’ approach, reminiscent of how I worked around Alex’s scats on parts of ‘69‘– and this seemed to work. It is a little colder, distant, discordant than most so-called pop, and that’s a good thing. Dreams are not in obeisance to natural, waking-state laws, and rarely follow a predictable path.
You previewed some new tracks live during the summer. How go the recording sessions of your ‘‘…noisy. Mostly. And a bit quiet. In places’’ tracks? What kind of chemistry do you have with your young partner Andy Taylor? I’ve read about a lo-fi approach and the need for a producer. Could you tell us something about this?
I have stopped and started on the new tracks, recording-wise. I have not attempted a serious recording for twenty years, and I have had to remember, re-learn, re-imagine many things. I do want a certain type of co-producer that has a sound and an approach I can trust, so that I can have more focus of performance and composition, but prior to that I want to create some relatively lo-fi concepts, and share them with fans. I discovered that my old recording set-up was really not up-to-scratch, so I recently upgraded to new software and hardware. Now I need time to learn it all and get experimenting. The songs are there, fully formed, but the sonic pallet has yet to come into focus for me. And the artists I will work with … this is still not settled. Andy was my neighbour and my daughter’s best friends as they went through the teen years. His entire family are actively musical and so our family cultures are not dissimilar. So I’m kinda like a rock dad I guess. He has a more melodic approach to music then I do– he plays guitar and keyboard – and we complement each other well. It is a nice relationship, but not yet the kind of explosive chemistry that busts through boundaries. That may come in time.
What inspired the name A.R.Kane and what does it mean?
The name was created by the two original Kaner’s, Alex and me. Kane is a strong sound, we both heard it that way. A and R are Alex’s and my initials. Arcane means hidden and mysterious – we liked to be that, to be hidden, to create mystery, in a playful way. Alex loved the movie ‘‘Citizen Kane’’. I loved the concept of the ‘‘mark of Caine’’ in “Demian” (Herman Hesse novel). And ARK contains beasts in pairs; we were two, separate but indivisible. We are both quite bookish and have that British predisposition for intellectual wordplay. All these thoughts, during a single conversation at a party, led to the name A.R.Kane, and the very same evening we came up with the name, I told a guy at a party that I was in a band with Alex, called A.R.Kane – he was a music producer. The rest is His Story.
Where did you draw inspiration from during your early growth in East London – did it come from listening to such a wide range of sounds (free jazz, dub, funk, psychedelia, electronica, new wave) that beautifully informed your creativity? I notice that you’re a huge fan of Sun Ra. Was it his visionary take on jazz and funk that attracted you and influenced your musical sensibility?
RT: The musical influences you quote were all relevant, and also classical baroque, 70’s soul, disco and jazz-funk, reggae and ska, UK pop music, progressive rock, 60’s/70’s folk, punk, New Romantic, and specific artists, because of their music, style and attitude … Bowie, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, Lee Scratch Perry, Joni Mitchell, Sonic Youth, ECM and 4AD Records, John Peel’s ever-shifting roster, and on and on. In retrospect I can see that we sat at a major crossroads; musically, racially, culturally, technologically, politically, geographically … and we absorbed, fused, re-interpreted, and expressed all this confounding and confusing mess, in the best way we could. Through music. With cheap guitars and the cheap new tech of drum machines, sequencers, fx pedals and samplers.
Sun Ra is unique. We would put on his records, lie back, and be catapulted into his world. It was a catalyst, one that enabled the fusion reaction, allowed the disparate and contradictory elements and forces of our lives to harmonise. Sun Ra’s music did not exclude, it knew how to include everything. Like Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass” poetry. And although we were never jazz musicians, or even very accomplished in the technical sense, he showed us something beyond … something that just worked, and when you saw it, it was obvious and liberating, bringing a naïve confidence. The harmonising worked on us both, I believe, as people; it gave life a new meaning. That’s everything; life inclusive, life with meaning. Like love.
Let’s talk about the infamous seminal (seems to be a recurrent word when speaking of you!) acid house classic ‘Pump Up The Volume‘ – this cult single, a collaboration between Alex and you, Martin and Steven Young (unfortunately another victim of the ill-fated 2016) from Colourbox, the ‘‘sampledelica’’ era. Why did that end up being your one and only flirt with dance/club music? I notice on your Facebook page that you posted an old Hardfloor video, a sign you’ve always been interested in dance music…
RT: And Russel Smith – the ‘‘R’’, he was our bassist and to an extent, mentor and tour guide of the most extreme territories in psyche (Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Syd Barrett, Nick Cave, Swans, etc.). I grew up listening to dance music – I started clubbing age 14 and heavily just a few years later. I was on the soul/jazz-funk scene in and around London, and produced DJ tapes for parties. Alex was more on the reggae-dub sound system scene. Russel was a Northern Soul DJ. We crossed over from time to time. It was natural for us to want to add dance grooves to our music. Essential. We have many songs with dance grooves, have you not heard them? Anyway, the M|A|R|R|S record was not expected to be such a huge hit – no-one guessed it would be. ‘PUTV’ represents the second time we went into a studio to record. We had no thought to make a career out of music at that time, leave-alone a career out of a particular genre of music. It so happens that discovering guitar-based experimental music was a breath of fresh air for us, after years of club-based music. Also, from my perspective, although I liked a lot of electronic dance music, I did not like the way the dance scene was being flooded with idiots that were simply not cool – MDMA has a way of turning fools into fucking idiots, really quickly. I know, I did some too. Dance music at that time rapidly became formulaic (4 on the floor, the breakdown, drop-in, little rap, sampled classics…), which I guess was against our creed; experiment, push the boundaries, don’t stay still… or else you’ll get caught! Sounds elitist, and so it was.
I’d like also to focus on the b-side ‘Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)’, a proper A.R. Kane track with the rhythmic help of Steven Young, many see in it the start of your signature sound in advance of its time. Do you also consider it as a focal point of the A.R.Kane sound?
RT: We created the entire track on a 4-track eel-to-reel recorded, in Alex’s bedroom one evening. We simply took the mix to the studio and asked Martin (Steven was not present at the M|A|R|R|S recording sessions) to beef up the drums; we had just a Roland 606 biscuit tin of a drum machine, whereas he had some massive sounds and sampled drums, and that was great. We knew what we wanted from the outset with ‘AniTina’ (Anita and Tina our then current girlfriends, that we spotted dancing at a party in Islington…) – dub bass, dub voice echoes, big beats, cool beats, spacey guitars, noise guitars – I guess we just threw everything at it, which would explain why I have no kitchen sink.
In the past you’ve been superficially compared to The Jesus And Mary Chain by the music press. Surely feedback and distortions are part of the sound of both bands, but I guess your attention was more focused on the rhythmic side (the groove and the dub bass lines from your black music heritage). Am I wrong? When did you discover the unexplored beauty of “feedback” and how is your own personal aesthetic of it? Is there still room for improvement in regards to your own ‘‘beautiful noise’’?
RT: Our first single – ‘You Push A Knife Into My Womb (When You’re Sad)’ – did sound similar to a JAMC type arrangement/production. The flip side, ‘Haunting’, sounds nothing like JAMC or anyone else. In the several months between meeting One Little Indian, playing them our demo, and getting into the studio, we had been introduced to the ‘Psychocandy’ album, and it did influence our approach, on that one song. We like to place a song in the right aural space and with the appropriate attitude, and that was right for it – lyrically, sonically. That’s all really. You are right, the groove was an important component for us, and one not commonly used in the indie scene at the time, which was a key differentiator. I think our appreciation of feedback goes back to Hendrix, Velvet Underground and the free-form noise of Sun Ra, Miles, and other 60’s jazz musicians. Feedback was a large part of our early shows, and we liked the way it could empty a venue in seconds. It played a lesser role moving forward, or was mixed down. We had done it by ‘69’ and that was that. My Bloody Valentine took it further than us on ‘Loveless’, they made layered feedback and FX into a thing of extraordinary and intense beauty – like a Van Gogh. I am just revisiting feedback, noise and all those lovely things, with new ears and technology. We will see.
Since the early years, like a painter with his colours in the studio, your main focus has always been on experimenting and shaping your unique sound without looking around, with all its pros (originality and quality) and cons (lack of notoriety and slim fan-base). Was that full immersion in a free-floating tripping distorted noise a sort of escapism from all the struggles of harsh reality (i.e. Thatcherism in the 80s)? Now that it’s even worse, is it time to ‘‘drown in noise again’’?
RT: Yes, yes, yes! No, no and no! Firstly, we always looked around, we were like little sponges, soaking up everything on offer, but we used a filter … a stochastic process … a way to pick only those things that had real value … and they were few, hence we may have given the appearance you suggest. As I said implied earlier, this was not an ‘‘attempt to escape the fucked-up times of Thatcher, to escape the living moment’’ rather, it was a method for making sense of the times, for intensifying the living moment. In order to create, I believe it helps to be open to all the influences, small and large scale, that are in your life. Escapism precludes openness; it is a contraction of spirit, of senses, of mind and body. It is hard – impossible – to use our everyday faculties, our mundane mind, to make sense of this current world we are transitioning into, of the global scale, impersonal dark forces at play, and so we must create and find new means to do this. We create new frameworks that are capable of supporting a bigger view, that can take us up, out and over our previous, comfortable viewpoints, into a bigger mind, enabling a longer, extended thought and emotion. A pondering. And there we may find a new harmony in what now appear disparate, conflicting parts. If we are lucky, and if we maintain focus and are vigilant. Isn’t that the role of the arts, of philosophy, of history, of science, of radical movements? Are these not the frameworks we are already building, to bring new light and dispel the shadows? So, yes. And no. There is no escaping reality, so better we learn how to eat it whole, then spit out the bones.
In a 2012 interview you explained why you formed the band, saying “We were aware of the necessity of ‘flaws‘ in music – that was one of the meanings behind the name M|A|R|R|S”. You repeated the word ‘flaws’ and the verb ‘flawed’ about fifteen times throughout that conversation – could you better explain what you meant at that time?
RT: No, I don’t believe I can better explain. The concept in itself is not so hard; the uncreated world, that world before the dawn of creation, that exists in the hyparchic future (not some distant past of Old Testament and Adam and the Big Bang), a creation that is just about to become – right now, continuously remade … it has infinite potential. Something that is fully created has no more potential, it is complete, and it is perfect. It is flawless. It is, in a way, dead. There is no room for such a flawless thing to be completed within us, to enable us to perfect it by our own effort, our creative act. And so in our creations, we avoid flawless perfection, to enable you, the listener, to complete the process, in your own image. This is time-based and momentary in part and character, and also outside of time, as we generally experience it. I apologise for jumping off into esoteric-type cosmologies, but that’s the best I can do with words. It is not my milieu. Music does it better.
A.R. Kane are (is RT) considered the forefathers of “dream-pop”. Nowadays under this genre, there is a wide range of dreamy sounds like dreamy trap and witch house, mellow synth-pop, mellow female R&B, and dream-folk to name a few. What, in your opinion, is the true essence and real meaning of “dream-pop”?
RT: I have no definitive answer for you, and it depends on the mood you catch me in. There has always been a kind of dreampop – a pop music that has its source in dreams, and also mimics the feeling of a dream, the non-natural rules of the dream experience, the death-like paralysis and wonder of the dream state – be the dream deeply inspiring, simply pleasant, boring, or a horrific nightmare. Many older cultures explored and mapped the dream state, this is well-documented, and in the 19th /20th Century, the West returned to this with Jung and Freud, and subsequent artistic developments like surrealism. Alex and I shared a tendency to be deeply moved by dreams, it was something in our family cultures, maybe genetic heritage. We both experimented with our own dream states, and this informed our approach to music, and our perception of reality and attitudes towards more conservative forms and thinking. Dreams can be very psychedelic, the effect of a dream can be life altering, and similarly to the LSD induced trips that created a whole new pop culture in the mid-60’s, for us, dreams were very much our inspiration for our own, small contribution to pop culture. I do not know if the genres you mention have any relationship to A.R. Kane’s dream pop, apart from maybe some similar sonic extrapolations, used to create a hypnotic, dreamy feeling.
What’s your opinion about the contemporary musical scene? Apart from Ummagma and The Veldt, I noticed that you’re a fan of Sky Between Leaves too. Are there yet other bands/artists that have grabbed your attention? And what do you think about the new Slowdive song, released after a 22-year break?
RT: I have been enjoying Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ album; he has really pushed the sonic limits of R & B and hip hop, embracing the flaws found in digital technology, one might say. Nothing else comes to mind. I never knew Slowdive first time around, and started hearing them a couple years ago. I really like their sound and the whole vibe of the band. It feels honest to me, and has that quintessential Englishness; a bit shy, reserved, quirky around the edges, and embarrassed to be so good that they are loved by their fans. I like their new single, it is like a better version of what they used to do. Although it doesn’t really push at any new boundaries, musically, it does avoid self-parody, which in itself is a massive accomplishment. They have matured well, like a fine wine. When I hear the new album I will decide if they have gone beyond mature, and into the rarefied air of ‘‘born again’’.
Many thanks for being our welcome guest, just the usual final question: What do you hope for or are you planning for in the very near future?
RT: Thank you. I am on a steep technology learning curve, to be able to go from idea to composition and recording, with as little of the delay and mediation caused by only half-understood tools. I hope I have the patience and the mind-power to stick with it, and have new musical sketches available to share this spring. I have been looking into releasing on my own label, under the title A.R. Kane Projects, and have researched crowd-funding. I am also planning something special for the 30th anniversary of ‘69’, that will be on June 20th 2018. Thanks again Fabrizio for the great questions, it was a pleasure.