Coldcut member Matt Black was interviewed by Space Age Bachelor magazine on October 17th, 1997. The article corresponding with this interview was published in issue 11 of Space Age Bachelor, and can be read here.
Read the interview transcript below or listen to the audio (if the audio embedded below fails to load, try the link here).
Matt – Speak up mate, cause you’re a little bit faint.
SAB – Well, it’s a really crap phone. I’ve been meaning to buy a new phone. It’s first thing in the morning here, so I apologize if I’m a little bit brain- dead.
Matt – Well, go on, blow my mind.
SAB – Let’s talk about “Atomic Moog 2000″ — I read in one review about how someone said it sounded like something from ’87. But it seems funny that people haven’t dealt with this Atomic issue for like ten years?
Matt – Well, these are two things — do you mean the style of music is from 87, or the whole style of the cut-up?
SAB – The whole cut-up.
Matt – Well, it’s just a style that we love going back to Steinski’s original records. Just using the spoken word. It has turned out to be one of our most danceable tracks, so obviously people do like it in the clubs. In a way, it is not our most incredibly state-of-the-art composed track, not like the Jello Biafra track, which were actually made using our own random funk generating software. It is put together in a fairly conventional way. You know those books Incredibly Strange Music on Re/Search? I bought those in Barcelona and I took them on holiday to Portugal, and Pete Lawrence of the Big Chill had a bunch of easy listening tapes, and there was a lot of that in the books, and I started thinking about it. And I thought of this term — it’s not rare groove, it’s ‘rare moog.’ People getting into the rare electronic records, especially the funky ones. When we got back I communicated this to John, and then he went off to Canada, and found an amazing shop where he bought loads and loads of the rare moog stuff. And we got loads of breakbeats which no one has else had used, and so we came back and worked that into “Atomic Moog.” So that’s the story of how it came into being. Obviously at the time the French nuclear testing was going down, and that seemed worth commenting on, really.
SAB – Yeah, I think it’s fairly fucked with these nuclear weapons. I’ve been studying up on it a lot lately, and it’s getting worse. There’s nuclear spills, nuclear leaks everywhere.
Matt – Oh yeah, the Russians have suddenly said, ‘Oh, by the way, loads of warheads are missing.’ I’m sure shit goes missing all the time. The boys who are buying that stuff plan to use it, I reckon, or are prepared to.
SAB – The best thing I’ve heard lately about these drug dealers buying Russian submarines to transport.
Matt – The world is set to become a much much more dangerous place in every way. So unless we can find a bit of piece and love, I’m not altogether sure that we’re going to make it, and that would be a bit sad, considering all the potential the human race has got.
SAB – Yeah exactly, it’s fairly mad. It seems like — well, I went to this exhibit at the Barbican Gallery in London last year — the JAM show, you know what I’m talking about right? I can hardly remember it because it was so long ago, last November. But there was all this stuff about machines being the Gods of the future, and stuff about being posthuman. Could you speak on that?
Matt – Yeah, we can talk about that. Actually, the post-human vibe is largely the work of Rob Pepperrell, who is in the Hex part of the collective, and he’s written the book, Post-Human Condition, which talks a lot about these ideas. We can talk about that, but you are going to have to speak up, cause I’m losing you?
SAB – So what exactly is meant by the term post-human, then?
Matt – It deals with the fact that the definition of what it means to be human is changing. It’s becoming more difficult to tell the difference between living things and artificial things, artificial life, and artificial intelligence research areas. To spell it out, in the future, it’s really going to be very difficult to tell what is human and what is artificial. There’s people getting into body modification. The interface between humans and technology is breaking down. Which means that we have to have a radical re-think of our definitions. I love Philip K. Dick, the writer. I think he addressed quite a few of these issues, quite presciently, in a lot of his writing. What is real? How can you tell you what is real? How can you tell what is human and what is not? And if a human acts in an inhumane fashion, then they’re not really human, they’re a machine. And if an artificial construct acts in a human way, then it is a human. That’s what it comes down to, in his opinion.
SAB – Now it seems like with the song “Cloned Again” on the album compared with the Barbican exhibit — it seems like the album track is much more pessimistic, whereas the exhibit was very optimistic?
Matt – Um, I’m pessimistic and optimistic in equal terms. I think that’s the only sane view to have really. It’s like technology. It’s either the greatest force that Big Brother has ever had to control us down to more tightly set wheels, cogs in the machine, where one could never have the freedom to vibrate loose without the big boys instantly being aware of it. Or it’s the answer to our problems, and it will connect people and empower people, allow people to communicate and educate and create. And that will result in a kind of huge renaissance of the spirit, and that will take us to the next step of evolution. Those are two equally valid views, and one can find as much evidence for the one as the other.
SAB – It seems to be going both ways right now doesn’t it?
Matt – I think it always does, and that’s probably what is meant by yin and yang. One never totally finds Heaven. Or the Nazis will never rule forever. They’ll always get overthrown as the cycle turns around. It is possible to have some personal freedom and happiness in times of great unrest and problems.
SAB – Yeah, I think that’s something really important to remember I’ve found in my studies. When you find so much really dark and mad stuff, you just have to realize this stuff is quite horrible, but it’s not going to do any good if you get horrible minded, too.
Matt – All the terrible things that have happenned in History are equally balanced by the incredibly magnificent march of evolution and the species. It is possible that we are the only intelligent lifeform in the universe – very unlikely, I’d say – and maybe it is our destiny to take it to the next stage and reach the stars, and cross the universe.
SAB – Well, I was thinking just yesterday about this book I came across by this Russian (Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita), and he wrote it just as he was dying, knowing it wouldn’t be published, and it didn’t come out till 30 years after he was dead. It just seems like artists used to really care about what happened after they were dead, but you don’t get that sense of things now. Everyone is out just to make money.
Matt – Yeah, the spiritual base of life is being devalued pretty badly. It could be pretty depressing. I don’t know but then again, that’s true on some levels, but on other levels. Like people complain about children not being able to read and not being very literate, and being ignorant, and getting all their information from the television. And although television programming is pretty terrible most of the time, it can be an incredible tool for communicating information, and actually a lot of kids these days do know a fuck lot about the world. They may have not experienced it directly, but their knowledge and the information that they’re dealing with is actually much greater than that of the generation before.
SAB – Yeah, TV does have some mad stuff on it sometimes.
Matt – Yeah, we just need to sort of remix television. That’s partly what we’re trying to do with our live shows. And we’re trying to show that a small, independent company can actually make entertaining products, and do what you want to do creatively at the same time, and make a living by that. And I think when that gets applied to television in terms of audio/visual construction in the way that it has been to DIY music ethic that will really be a step forward.
SAB – Yeah, it’s quite impressive. I don’t actually have the computer capability to check the CD-Rom, but it comes with 8 videos or something. It’s quite stunning that without spending — well, maybe you did spend incredible amounts of money …
Matt – No, we didn’t spend an incredible amount of money at all. The whole CD-Rom was done for about a twentieth of what it might have costed a normal company. In fact, there is no normal company that could have made it — only our collective could have produced it. I feel happy that we’re pushing things, by giving people more, and including the CD Rom for free with the album. We actually won a little argument with the people who do the charts over here. Because they initially wanted to exclude the album from the album charts, because it came with a free CD-Rom. So we negotiated with them, and put one audio track on the CD-Rom, and that satisfied them. And it’s actually defined now in a much clearer way the requirements for sort of mixed mode and multimedia products in terms of the music business charts, which are very important.
SAB – Yeah, it’s quite funny. It’s almost trying to escape the medium isn’t it? It’s like recorded music is no longer what it was.
Matt – Yeah, that’s right. I think people want something more. They don’t want stuff like Mini-Discs and DATs, because it’s just the same thing, just music, on yet another format. Especially when lots of people got the vibe now, and they’ve perceived correctly that actually CDs aren’t all they were cracked up to be, in terms of quality and there’s a bit of backlash against it. I think the only thing one can do, honestly, is to try and provide people with a lot more than they were getting before, some more dimensions stacked together to see if one can actually fulfill the hype of generating richer entertainment products.
SAB – Do you think there should be a line divided between music and entertainment, because there’s a big difference between a good piece of music and a bit of music with some visuals. Do you think there’s ever a time when they should be distinctly separated?
Matt – No, I’m not really concerned with that, because if you want to make just music, you can just make music. And if you want to make a silent film, you can do that. But if you want to mix them up into some kind of interactive blender, then you can do that as well. I think people today are conditioned with a taste for audio/visual stimulation, with a taste for excitement, and rapid input of stimulus. And that’s what we’re reaching for with the kind of cut-and-paste audio/visual experiments which we’re manifesting on the album.
SAB – With the cut-and-paste audio, it almost makes people rethink how much information you can get across in a four minute track?
Matt – Absolutely, yeah. We want to blip the people to the max. And (unclear audio) information overload, and night up the dance (unclear audio again).
SAB – Do you ever want to calm down with the information, cause there’s information overload everywhere you go these days?
Matt – Yeah, but perhaps, we’re sort of jacking it up to a kind of super, hyper level, and thus achieve an altered state of consciousness, which will help people see loads of information for exactly what it is, which is a product of consumer society just going round faster and faster, like a personal wanking machine.
SAB – Now with cut-and-paste – what do you think are the possibilities of a defining sound, if you know what I mean that — so that someone who plays the CD will know that such and such and group did it? Is this element still important?
Matt – I think if you look at the artists on our label Ninja Tune, or listen to what Coldcut have released over the last ten years, our stuff is identifiable in as much as a Rolling Stones’ tune is, once you hgetave to have the taste or the ear for dealing, or appreciating, or assaying, analysing, feeling what we are doing. It’s just about how much you listen to stuff. I’m sure I could get into the most obscure country & western music if I heard it for long enough in the right circumstances … I’m probably going to have to go quite quickly. I’m right in the middle of some stuff. Have you got quite a bit now? It’s actually been quite a good interview.
SAB – I could do with about three more minutes, if you can do that?
Matt – Yeah, okay, let’s do that.
SAB – I have two more questions. One, could you discuss what the major problem with the major labels was?
Matt – Our problems, Coldcut’s problems with the major labels are quite well documented. It’s not something I want to dwell on, except to say that after ten years, starting off and knowing what we were doing, and not really trusting an external company to understand that, we went through the machine, and came out pretty mashed up at the other end, but just enough in one piece to pull ourselves together and realize that the best thing is to be free and not be owned. I do think it’s quite funny when you get independent charts and awards and so on, and when you actually look at a lot of the companies, they’re not independent at all. They’re either owned, or partly owned subsidiaries of major companies. And I feel a large company must always put money first before the actual product. There seems to be a universal rule. That way lies ruin for the soul that is really feeling what they’re doing, and trying to find a way through expression, to keep going, and make a living. Which after all is most people are trying to do. If you ask, they’ll want to do such-and-such, and make a living from it.
SAB – So the best advice would be probably to start your own label?
Matt – Yeah, I would say so. You could probably do it better yourself. It’s tough when you start out, because you get an accountant to sort this out, a lawyer to sort this out, and good people in those types of fields are very difficult to find. Because the people who really understand you, and understand what you’re doing — most of those people would want to be doing it themselves, if they really understood it. The person who understands it, who’s happy to sit back and deal with the more mundane side is actually quite rare.
SAB – Yeah, that’s a good good point. It’s funny that you started the label in Montreal. Did you not want to go to America, or was it just because it’s cheap rent there?
Matt – It was just more down to Jeff and Phil, who run Ninja North US for us. They’ve live in Montreal, and there’s a good scene there. With the size of operations we are, you can operate pretty remotely I think. It’s indicative of the decentralization of business as well. If you’ve got a fax, and an e-mail, and a telephone, and an office, you’re as good as anyone really. But that was the case in point with regard to the majors. There was a possibility of going through a major in the States, or just continuing to export. We thought we could licence stuff, but we thought we might as well do it ourselves, if we can find people that are really into the music, and want to do it for the music, that’ll be more on our own wavelength. So in the long term, we’ll be building something for ourselves rather than someone else. So that’s why we went that way.
SAB – Yeah okay, do you think it makes any difference between analogue editing and digital editing? Or, which one do you prefer?
Matt – Yeah, analogue/digital — the mixture is typical of the yin and yang, and the thrill that one gets from mixing up the opposites. Digital editing is so fantastic in terms of arranging your head into a non-linear type place, but analogue editing can actually force you to think in a more structured way. Sometimes with digital, there’s too many possibilities. Sometimes with analogue, there’s just one, that’s the result of the errors. Sometimes with digital, it’s more clinical and pure sound without any artifacts at all. They’re all just tools, and they can bolt onto each other. The more tools you’ve got, then they can amplify the effects of the other tools. So if you’ve got some raw materials, you can work in so many different ways. So the thing is to step beyond saying, ‘I think CDs are crap and only vinyl is good quality,’ and just look at what you want to try and do, and see what will let you do that. And there will be, as long as you keep an open mind to the availability of stuff without closing off avenues.
SAB – Yeah, that’s cool. If I ever get this stuff typed up, I’ll send a copy along.
Matt – Yeah, that’s great. Have you got this on cassette tape? I’d very much appreciate a cassette copy, because I’m trying to build up an archive of some of the interviews I’ve been doing.
SAB – Yeah, I can get you one. The last thing I was going to say is that I just saw this English movie last week called Robinson In Space. You should check it out.
Matt – Yeah, can you write down the reference when you send me the tape.
SAB – Yeah sure.
Matt – Well, thanks very much.
SAB – Yeah, thanks.