This interview was firstly taken by Pleasure Fields magazine and we repost it here. Nocturnal Emmission is project that has played a major role in the european experimental/industrial scene that has emerged during the 80s in England. Nigel Ayers a foundamental member of the band answers some of our questions:
1.Hello Nigel, I have to admit that your project has one of the best names of the musical bands i ever came across, why did you choose it?
Thanks. Because one of the central ideas of the project is to do with creating a dream world, which in turn is a way of processing and assimilating the concerns of the waking state. So, it seemed apt to choose an erotic and medical sounding name to do with the dream state.
2.You started at 1979 in London (as far as i know in a squat). Mostly from the political/squat/diy scene people are into anarchopunk and not experimental music. How was it to be an experimental/industrial musician at this kind of scene?
Yes, I lived and had my studio in squatted properties for 10 years , squatting was a solution to our housing need and studio space requirements and we played our first couple of gigs in a squatted railway arch in the middle of Brixton. I don’t think that that it was the case that most people who were squatting were into anarcho punk. punk In 1979 for the most part, for many thousands of people, squatting was a legal, practical solution to the problem of housing need in London, political in itself, but not always activism-orientated. And they were into all sorts of music- only a minority could be called anarcho punk. In London, Many properties were empty and in a poor state of repair. When squatters moved in, it meant that they weren’t burned down and housing needs were taken care of for minimal expense and were generally tolerated by the authorities. This situation changed when squatting was criminalised a few years back, thus exacerbating the housing shortage in the country. I played in a few squats in London in the 80s,(and then a load more in Europe in the late 90s), and it was fine, I think people understood us! Bands such a Test Dept played numerous squat gigs, Bourbonese Qualk ran a squatted venue The Ambulance Station which had lots of dodgy industrial bands play there. As far as performance was concerned, we’d play any place that would have us – we played the ICA twice, and that is on the same street as Buckingham Palace! , I don’t know whether Some of my work gets tagged as “industrial music”, but it isn’t. Also, strictly speaking, it isn’t “experimental music” either. It’s new music produced by a living artist. I was an experimental musician while I was learning my craft, Now, I don’t think I can call my music experimental, though that category may suit others. A better description might be “avant-garde”, because it’s a military term implying an anti-militaristic challenge to the militarism of the dominant culture. The point of the music is: there are other possibilities, you do not have to accept the dominant culture’s model for producing and consuming music – or for that matter any other cultural experience. Because our experience of sound is so subtle and complex, when you transform or represent a recorded sound, you are dealing with a lot of information to do with place, time and context, on top of any sort of musical information.
I think in experimental industrial or noise music “anything is possible”, whereas in anarcho punk it’s “formula: & 3 chords & guitars, drums & angry vocals “, so if anything there should be a closer affinity between “anything is possible” music with anarchism, or libertarian socialism.
You are messing with the fabric of reality. I don’t think this is something that is often taken into consideration when discussing popular music, but it may be something “sound designers” or modern composers may be aware of. The manipulation of emotional states, arousal and (whatever) using the psychology of sound. Perception of space, open or closed spaces, perception of time, in a clock-bound culture. I never called what we did industrial music, although we used elements that might come under that genre. If pushed, I would call it post-industrial, as I was aware that we no longer lived in an industrial age. It’s a post-industrial time, an information age where industry was in decline and we had the reality of mass unemployment. Industrial music, to me, referred to electric blues, the music of earlier times. The whole tag of industrial music was a misnomer, I think Monte Cazzazza was credited in coming up with that term, and Industrial records came up with the slogan, “we make music like Ford make cars”. But this is one of the many problems within “Industrial Music”. Berry Gordy had already run Motown records in Detroit, with an identical slogan for his “hit factory” in 1959 – almost 20 years before. In London, Many properties were empty and in a poor state of repair. When squatters moved in, it meant that they weren’t burned down and housing needs were taken care of for minimal expense Successive uk governments have acted in the interests of the wealthy, destroyed a sense of community solidarity, workers organisations, etc, and put a price on everything. This situation may have changed over the years as people, squat for different reasons, with squatting now for the most part illegal, it may have become associated more as a thing that goes with the gesture politics of anarcho-punk. , I always had this ideal of radical and challenging music being the proper soundtrack to positive social change. It’s to do with engaging the brain on things that might challenge it, or move it along new ways of thinking, that may be a solution to many of the problems of the world. But I’ve learned over the years that what goes on in my head isn’t necessarily a reliable reflection of what actually happens in the world. I think in experimental industrial or noise music “anything is possible”, whereas in anarcho punk it’s “formula: & 3 chords & guitars, drums & angry vocals “, so if anything there should be a closer affinity between “anything is possible” music with anarchism, or libertarian socialism. I must say, apart from that, I did feel certain affinities with anarchopunks, though more to do with politics than music. And then, in 1998/99 I got invited to play a load of gigs with one or two anarchopunk bands round squats in Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands and for the most part, I found it enjoyable. I felt a lot more comfortable in their company than I did with many of the more orthodox industrial bands I’ve played with, though the places I had to stay were a bit horrible sometimes –at least their politics were OK and there was always good vegan food.
3.Why did you start composing music? Can you describe your music?
I can describe my approach to music better. I am fascinated with how sound can change people. Also, the packaging of recorded sound, seemed a useful vector for what I wanted to put out into the world, it didn’t have to be music, – I used to say that music wasn’t the central concern of the project(or something) I trained as a visual artist, and what I did mostly was light & sound work, using a variety of media. I’d call this multimedia, except nowadays “multimedia” means computer games. I like to make things that involve all of the senses. So I naturally drifted into using film and video and fast became aware of how a choice of soundtrack radically effects a film experience, not just setting a mood, but in creating opportunities for different interpretations and opening up the potential for meanings. There doesn’t have to be affixed meaning. So although my art is sometimes didactic (is that the word) in an agitation and propaganda sense, more often it is open to multiple interpretation. I’ll define my music as organised sound, I’m looking for potentials of what can be done with sound, so my music will include a version of existing styles of music, as well as more disorienting elements, my musical palette is, and has always been inclusive of elements which could be described as non-musical or noise. Although I have a modicum of traditional skills, as a player, these aren’t intrinsic to what I’m trying to achieve. If anything, I’m an inventor, trying to make a contribution to the pool of what is out there, of something that is relevant to my own experience of life. I had a very strong interest in what could be achieved in sound, if you apply a little imagination. For one thing, I was interested in applying ideas I had about collage into the realm of sound. M interest was in contemporary art, in particular the potential for a more democratic and meaningful kind of art, which lies hidden a lot of the time, in the late 70s/ early 80s recorded music seemed a suitable vector for what I wanted to do.
4.What were your influences back then? (not only music)
I trained as an artist, back in the days when ordinary people could get a grant to do so. But once I finished at art school, I found myself doinga series of mindless jobs, just to get by. I see my creative work very much following on from what was achieved in Dada and Surrealism before they became money spinners. Let’s call it the radical part of Surrealism, not the part that fed into advertising. Some people call it the utopian tradition, which is to do with transforming life, rather than accumulating money. So my influences came from the more engaged sectors of conceptual art and performance art and some of the weird counter cultural shit that was going on in the 1970s when nobody had any idea of making money out of art. But I think I wanted to make my own sound, my own vision and it was one that didn’t at that time exist.
5. Your sound was harsher and darker at the beginning but it went more close to an ambient aesthetic. what guided you to that?
I think I just got better at what I was doing, and acquired more skills, and wanted to take a more subtle and friendlier, rather than confrontational approach. It’s partly an ethical choice. A desire for my work to be honest intelligent, and integrated into my understanding of life and the sort of person I am. It’s not all about “the dark side”, so there was a change of emphasis, as I realised that I was in danger of being trapped in industrial clichés, and churning out genre material isn’t really my style. Sound has profound psychoactive properties. What drew me into the harsher noise was at the time I found it immersive , challenging, inspiring and relevant to the material I was dealing with. But there lies the problem with material that is produced for certain reasons, you can’t guarantee how it is consumed or how it is understood. Especially when genres emerge, the artistic reasons for us choosing to do things in specific ways got lost. Noisy noises are not what I want to hear all the time. But I am still interested in working with an extended palette of non-musical sound. I had a few ideas about music being used as a kind of de-programming, that is, commercial music is used as a form of social control, to sell you stuff you don’t want and to discourage thought and action that might challenge the position of corporations. But also, I could see there were things of beauty I could create. I work primarily with recorded sound, so my aesthetic is primarily driven by the quality of the sound, and you could say, deep listening, rather than performance, genre, etc, though I do understand if is consumed within that context. As I have worked in sound, I’ve done a lot of listening and attempted to get my recordings more precisely like what I want them. So, my tendency is very much hands- on rather than collaborative these days. I like to retain that direct involvement in shaping the sound as I want it, the craft. I have worked with people who were very good musicians, but maybe not so good at listening.
6. I know that you are into politics. how do you connect them with music?
Well, politics is very much your value system. I tend to keep myself to myself, but every now and then things happen that are really annoying, unfair, cruel, and blatantly wrong, so from time to time I find myself getting caught up in some campaign or other. You’d think music wasn’t political, but in the UK, repetitive beat music was expressly prohibited in legislation which was directed primarily at the organizers of free parties and raves. So the idea is that type of music can be more safely contained and exploited within the capitalist leisure industry. I very much value my personal freedom and exercise this in how I go about my music (including how often I perform and how often or what I release) so ethical concerns come into it, such as who I do business with and on what terms. Too much of life is commercially or status – driven, I want to step outside of that. As a human being, I see sexism and racism as directly threatening and take it personally. I am opposed to war, militarism damage to the environment and exploitation of animals and have done my best to speak up and resist as much as I can. And I tend to side with underdogs!
7. There are some bands in industrial genre that in order to provoke use racist and sexist elements (like whitehouse for example or many of the power electronics scene). Some of them say that are not racist and just want to be aggressive and disturbing by any means and some of them are openly fascist and admit it. What is your stance about it? Where do you think it all began?
Like any sensible person, I object to displays of racism and sexism and idiots looking for a fight. This is a problem within industrial music. I think within that scene are either too naïve or too heavily invested, or too selfish, narcissistic and /or stupid to speak out against it. My stance is to take an intelligent approach. I’m not aware of any artistic value within that kind of material, so it’s not as if this creates any kind of dilemma for me! I lost all interest in the industrial genre around 1983. I remained interested in sound collage, and I found what was happening in (early) hip hop and later in house and ambient music to be far more attractive and closer to what I wanted to create, Curiously, by this stage what I was doing proved to be very influential within the industrial scene, and I kept coming across many of my own ideas being recycled within that scene. And whatever I did got tagged as “industrial” – something or other! So I got stuck with that label, whether I liked it or not.
8. Back in the 80s you have released with sterile a compilation for solidarity with the miners strike (including lustmord, bourbonese qualk,hafler trio.annie anxiety,band of holy joy). Can you tell me your experience with the miners movement then?
Well, I was fundraising by doing street collections with some miners supporters in Brixton, we were meeting up with miners’ union activists based at the local town hall and we were going on demos with the miners. It seemed like I was in a good position to do a fund raising album, and it was an interesting experience, especially in encountering the lack of interest from certain bands in contributing. At that time grass roots industrial workers organisations were being attacked as part of a wider neoliberal campaign to neutralise and negate anything that might oppose or in some way challenge a neo liberal world view. This included an escalation in the cold war/ arms race, and the privatisation of publicly owned infrastructure, assets and services and attacks on alternative life styles such as the Free Festival movement. The strike brought together people who wouldn’t normally be brought together, including lesbian & gay activists – who recognised they had been treated similarly. The problem at the time was the selfish individualism promoted by Thatcher. Many of us recognised within the miners strike a last defense of public ownership of an industry, at a time when there were wide scale attacks on any alternatives to the neo liberal dream. The militarisation of the police, and attacks on the Free festivals (battle of the beanfield) was also going on and of course continued with this erosion of public space and free space, and criminalisation of everything that stands in the way of economic exploitation of the many by the few. It’s just worse since then.
9. Talking about politics, what do you think of the current situation in europe considering the rise of far right and the refugee solidarity movement?
I find it scary. I hate this climate of fear that there is at the moment. People should be kind to one another, as world citizens – spread the love and resist the hate.
10.What kind of music are your listening to now? Can you spot us some artists that you consider interesting?
Probably nothing particularly obscure or weird, or new As ever, I listen to a lot of reggae from between the 60s and 80s, especially dub. And, I’m doing some rediscovery of my earlier influences Ivor Cutler, Nico, Lou Reed, the Beatles, Faust, Neu!, Cluster, Johnny Cash, Brian Eno, Wreckless Eric, Terry Riley, Faust, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, The Beatles – make of it what you will, that’s what I’ve been listening to. And there is a local band I really like to see live called Zapoppin.