Right, then. Let's sketch in the background.
Back in the late 70s, when punk had kicked over musical conventions and all things suddenly seemed possible, one of the principal bands to grab the new zeitgeist and haul it off in unexpected directions was Killing Joke. Their taut, slamming sound - every tune a dancefloor apocalypse - nailed kick-to-the-head funky rhythms to a decidedly punk rock rampage, and flavoured the resulting brew with weird electronics and dub effects.
Today, of course, Killing Joke have more or less reinvented themselves industrial-metal warriors, or perhaps a twenty-first century version of Black Sabbath - to the point where many current fans may not even realise that in the early days there was a whole other Killing Joke. But for Youth, the band's original bassist, now best known as a DJ and producer (his credits include everyone from Bananarama and Client to The Verve and the Cult), there's territory here that still needs to be explored.
So, say hello to Vertical Smile - Youth's new project. A band that hits the dance floor with plenty of punk attitude, and a left-field but funky sound to match. For old Joke-heads Vertical Smile sounds like a return to the source. It's all about making a thumping great racket with a no-shit band. Energy, intensity, the creation and compression of a certain sturm und drang into a just-got-to-be-there moment. Move to the groove or be removed. The reference points to the past are there to be noted, but you know what? It sounds like the future, too.
It's time to find out more about Vertical Smile. Let's communicate with the man at the centre of it all.
Youth himself tells us more...
So, what prompted this new, punked-up and stripped-down project? After spending so much time on studio projects, what made you want to get out there and make some noise again?
Well, I had been DJing a lot on the psy trance and dub scene for over 10 years when last summer I really got the urge to do something dance orietated - but live instead of a DJ set. I suggested this to a few promoters who readily took up the challange and booked me as a band. The first gig was last August at the Sosho club in east London, and the band had had no rehearsal time at all! At the soundcheck I suggested 4 or 5 rhythm tracks and basslines to hang the set around, and we improvised strictly over 40 minutes.
It wasn't planned, but halfway through I spotted a vocal mic and started to sing as well as playing bass - the experience that before had been so terrifying to me now became natural and exciting...Vertical Smile was born on that stage that night.
A lot of inspiration has to be from new young indie bands doing live dance music - from The Gossip and Franz Ferdinand to LCD Soundsystem and Selfish Cunt. Obviously I saw they were referencing the late 70s, early 80s post punk scene, territory I know very well. So that became a source, as well as the late 80s German and Belgian new beat and industrial dance scenes, to the point where we have collaborated on one track with Robert Gorl from the legendary German band DAF. He performs guest vocals on 'Black Light'.
In my reviews, I've noted parallels between what Vertical Smile are doing now, and what Killing Joke did in the early days. Certain Vertical Smile imagery, for example, seems to take its cue from early Killing Joke artwork - both bands use a 'graffiti on a wall' image. Vertical Smile's music seems to carry on from where the first Killing Joke album left off - that stripped to the bone punk- funk groove. Spacious, minimal arrangements, but a huge, assertive sound. And, of course, 'Change' has cropped up in Vertical Smile live sets.
Yes, there is a deliberate reference to early Killing Joke in design and music.
I would say it's the pre-first album influences that we are referring to, maybe as they sound really current and fresh at the moment. And probably because I can play them fairly easily!
So, does Vertical Smile exist to explore that early-Joke punk-funk territory? Is that the starting point, the band's ground zero?
No, we dont exist just for that, although that is part of the remit. When I first left Killing Joke in the 80s I consciously avoided any Killing Joke references. For years I was typecast as 'former Killing Joke'. I even did early dance mixes under another name so I wouldn't be recognised for my previous work. When I rejoined Killing Joke in the 90s the remit was 'heavy and rock', so it's only recently that I've felt it possible to explore those early ideas again.
Initially I thought of a loose line-up with a few collaborations. This has now distilled into a more permanent line up with less collaborations, although Robert Gorl and Ben Watkins [latterly of trance outfit Juno Reactor, and Youth's former partner in mid-80s bands Brilliant and The Empty Quarter] have both contributed to tracks so far in the studio. We also work with Andrew Robertson on guitar who fills in for our regular guitarist, James Sedgewick, when he isn't available. Andrew is this souped-up manic on a Les Paul, and gives us a more punk element. James is the Jimmy Page of his generation and has a very cosmic ability to strech and bend tones to unimagiable proportions!
Given that the first Killing Joke album does rather stand alone - it's different in many ways to everything the band did afterwards - do you think there's territory here that still needs to be explored? Was there something about those early Killing Joke days that made you think, 'There's unfinished busioness here!' ?
Well, I felt that when I rejoined in the 90s and still do. We covered a lot of new territory that still hasn't been explored much since.
Is there any over-arching musical idea behind Vertical Smile? When the band first got together, was there a master plan all set out and ready to go - 'Right, then. We're going to do THIS!' How does the music happen? Do you have a musical direction planned out, or are you just going to let things happen?
We're really a dance band playing rock. Or a rock band that does dance music - our music should affect you like a hit of crystal meth! There was initially my vision, and then David Nock joined on drums, and James on guitar and Roy on electronics. David is from a band called Truck, James is from Naught and Roy is also known as Freelance Hellraiser - the legendary mash up pioneer DJ. It was Roy who offered me that first gig at Sosho and liked the band so much he joined!
With their combined vision it's becoming its own thing. This is why we have been gigging a lot but keeping a low profile, to give the band time to incubate.
Vertical Smile could probably pull in a few music biz connections and get to tour the enormodomes with some megastar outfit like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, if that was what the band wanted - and yet things obviously aren't being pushed in this direction. Is there some sort of 'up from the underground' approach at work here?
Definitely. We want to be able to deliver fully when are exposed, so we're honing and sharpening the blade as much as possible. Having said that, part of the philosophy is be spontaneous and not over-considered. Playing live for me is about reaching altered states, it can get intense....people have favouably commented on us being similar to the Doors meets Nirvana - which I take as a compliment!
We just payed a festival on a island in Greece.... the stage right next to the sea...fantastic!
Do you find that therere's a positive and healthy scene, down in the alternative-music cellars of London? Have you met any other bands who you reckon are kindred spirits?
Yes, there are healthy pockets of underground resistance in London. Yet I see what happened to New York in the 90s happening here now - it got cleaned up and corporatised and became a theme park for rich bankers, and as a result lost its edge creatively in art and music. And that's happening in London, too.
And finally...what's next for Vertical Smile? More gigs, more recording? What are you planning for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow....?
More gigs! We're working on an album and we've almost got a single ready. We're serious and commited, so watch this space!
Vertical Smile on MySpace (currently the only place to hear the band's music)
Youth on MySpace
Other projects of Vertical Smile members: