By Per Najbjerg Odderskov
You probably know them as an old school British industrial act who, together white Whitehouse, pioneered what is known today as power electronics. Some others may just know them as the act with that iconic name, which not only sounds evil when you say it, but also makes you remember. Finally, for the rest of you who think that Ministry and NIN are the only real industrial bands around, I say to you, "sharpen your ears, and get ready to bleed".
Sutcliffe Jügend (Kevin Tompkins and Paul Taylor) began in 1982 with the now notorious and highly sought after cassette, Campaign. They followed that with a 10x cassette boxset called, We Spit on Their Graves. The same year also came Seven Tortures. All three were released on the legendary pre-power electronics cult label, Come Organization.
After that, 14 years went by and we would not hear from the project. Finally, they were born again in 1996. releasing material on established imprints like Death Factory (CMI side-label), Old Europe Cafe, Cold Spring and Hospital Productions (to name a new). In total, 24 albums, which includes the 10x cassette box and a 6xCD album called S L A V E S.
To describe the sound of Sutcliffe Jügend in two words, I would say brutal avant-garde. A pure and skinless sound-entity of sheer abstract human aggression. The most vile and filthy themes of human nature are being thoroughly dissected and examined, and exposed to the curiosities of extreme music. If you think you know EVERYTHING about power electronics and have not yet gotten into this act, then you are in for a treat. They mix various styles into the mix, and are highly experimental in their sound. From musique concrete, glitch, noise and even minimal ambient.
Ahead of their first ever show in Los Angeles on February 9th, I asked them a few questions about their history, sound and what to expect next. (see below)
The Brvtalist (Per Najbjerg Odderskov): Sutcliffe Jügend ("SJ") began in 1982. Talk about the formation of the project and what kind of stuff (music, literature, movies) inspired you back then?
Kevin Tompkins: Initially it was pure music. At the time I was into post punk, Joy Division, Birthday Party, Suicide, ATV, The Pop Group, Slits, PIL, Dub Reggae also featured of course, stuff like that. It was a great era, informed by the likes of The Stooges, Can and the Velvet Underground, all bands I liked. Then I discovered Throbbing Gristle, Crass, Nurse With Wound and of course Whitehouse, which changed everything. I had already started doing something between TG and Whitehouse but then started experimenting with music that was more informed by what Whitehouse did. The sound soon evolved to be more visceral and more explosive than anything else at the time. To shock ones own senses for the most profound effect, that kind of thing. We fitted right in with what the Come Org. label was releasing. The Jügend in the name was alway Sutcliffe’s Children rather than Youth. It was very much of the time. I wasn’t a misogynist or anything like that, I don’t remember anyone being that way, our discussions were always quite the opposite, pro equal rights. Nor were there any political connotations. I know Joy Division, New Order and Sonic Youth have all had issues because of their names, it’s unfortunate, but ultimately it’s just a label or brand at the end of the day. I’ve never been into any extreme politics to be honest, certainly nothing right wing but on the contrary. I kind of like things as they are, somewhere down the middle. Boring but convenient. Although lately things have become a little too authoritarian in a 1984 kind of way for my taste. It’s fucking up free speech and discussion, not to say art. So called progress, eh.
Believe it or not, there’s always been an element of humour and irony in what we do, I think that was missed in the early days because it was so fucking dark. What you have to remember and it still surprises me to think back, initially SJ only existed for about six to eight months, so there’s not a lot to say about it, I stopped SJ to join Whitehouse of course. I remember about that time we did an SJ interview we constructed to be as extreme as possible. What answers would a complete psychopath give(?), that kind of thing. It was dark humour in a Derek and Clive kind of way. Nothing could be further from my own personality. Again it was pure art, as was the music.
TB: There was a long break up until about 1994. Why the hiatus and why the decision to start back up again?
KT: I’d left the scene for a normal life. I hated the whole thing. It just wasn’t me and still isn’t in some ways. That’s why we don’t tour and only do three or four shows a year. I love the creative process, and recording. I love doing live shows, but not touring.
After a fairly long period, Paul Taylor and I formed Bodychoke with Gary Kean. Paul and I knew each other from college and the punk scene and he plays on some early SJ material also of course. Bodychoke was a noise rock band I guess. Listening back, Swans, Joy Division and power noise guitar would best describe what we did. When Bodychoke split up in the nineties, Paul and I started doing more improvisation and some SJ material, more influenced by the Japanese noise scene, but still routed in the eighties. For the last fifteen years, musically we swing from extreme harsh expressive cathartic noise on one album to electro-acoustic experimentation on the next. Screaming vocals to spoken word. Lyrically we’ve covered a huge amount of ground as well - tracks about the shaming and the loss of shame in the modern world, the cheapening of art by politics, the horrors of abuse, the futility of revenge, personal loss, etc. It kind of amounts to the slow process of understanding our place in the world and the universe, I guess. On our next album we even deal with aging, although we’re not planning on going anywhere just yet, just a couple of close shaves and timely reminders.
TB: Why the decision to finally add the live element in 2005?
Paul Taylor: That is thanks to Gaya Donaldo of Hagshadow and Anti-Child League’s persistence in wanting us to play live. We always were concerned that the intensity of Sutcliffe Jügend could not be achieved live. Bodychoke always had an intensity at live shows. so we thought we’d try it. Over the years SJ has taken that intensity up many levels and then some. Dominic Fernow (Prurient) who was also performing at the gig, offered to put an SJ album out. That album was, This Is The Truth. We found a new voice with that, and we’ve been evolving ever since. I don’t consider us a power electronics band at all. It’s much more complex.
TB: Talk about playing L.A. for the first time and what can people expect at the Resident show?
PT: A relentless, full on performance. It will include some new tracks and some old. The show does not end until we have given absolubtly everything. Expect an intensity the audience would not have witnessed before. Our intensity and passion live has not mellowed with age, on the contrary.
KT: The shows become quite ecstatic and almost trance like, so I guess there will be some of that in there as well.
TB: Power electronics continues to see a lot of growth. Any new acts of today which you enjoy and can recommend?
PT: Personally, I am not a PE fan as such. That said, Puce Mary and Anti-Child League are producing some excellent material although I would not necessarily classify them as PE, or ourselves for that matter. It is great to see two strong women make such an impact in what is generally perceived to be a 'Misogynistic' scene. Most PE leaves me cold to be honest.
KT: I’d agree with that. I’m more into Classical, Jazz, Rock and Experimental music for sure. I like Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and William Basinski, which is kind of ambient noise at times. I think the likes of Scott Walker, Penderecki or John Coltrane can be more intense and difficult than any PE. I probably listen to our own recordings more than anything else though. Pretty uncool, eh?
PT: Me too, We do it for ourselves ultimately. It’s a bonus that anyone else takes any notice.
TB: What's next for Sutcliffe Jügend?
KT: We have a double album called, The Hunger, coming out soon on Death Continues Records out of Europe. It was a hard album to write and has lots of musical elements to it. It’s the most varied SJ album and certainly the most wordy. We’ve also just finished recording the most relentless sessions we’ve ever had. We’ve been going into the studio and recording pretty much an album a day. Going in with maybe one or two ideas, maybe one or two lyrics, and just improvising. The results have been amazing. It is what it is, warts and all. Really brutal electronics and vocals at times.
PT: We’ll be playing three tracks from the ‘Relentless Sessions' at the show. Keeping that feel while they’re fresh. Up and coming, we have several gigs in the planning stage across Europe and hopefully something on the East Coast of America sometime in the future.
The Brvtalist would like to thank Sutcliffe Jügend for taking the time to speak with us. If you're in Los Angeles, do not miss the duo's first ever L.A. show with support from Hive Mind and Clay Rendering Friday, February 9th at Resident. For more information visit here.