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Neurotic Mass Movement interview

Some of the most interesting noises on the London gig circuit right now are being made by Neurotic Mass Movement. The band's ever-shifting sound combines drifting ambiences and plangent guitar with killer beats and abrasive distort-o-noise workouts. The result is music that runs all the way from lushly cinematic to angular post-punkery - sometimes in the space of one song.

Here, Yin Neurotic and David DeSantos - the two musical adventurers who are Neurotic Mass Movement, the joint nucleus around which the electrons and protons of the band revolve - tell the story so far...

We should probably start in the traditional manner, with a few introductions. So - who is Neurotic Mass Movement?

David:   Neurotic Mass Movement is Yin Neurotic and David Desantos. We work the ideas and write the songs. We drive the band.

I've seen a few different line-ups on stage - does that mean the band is basically a couple of core people, with other musicians being drafted in along the way, or is there a definitive line-up now?

David:   To be honest myself and Yin have always found it much more interesting to work with different musicians. It keeps the music alive, dynamic and unpredictable. It's not actually because we can’t get on with people, or that we don’t like musicians, or that we are a nightmare to work with, even though it could be suggested that all of the above is true, ha ha! The only other 'person' that has seen it all from day one is our drum machine and that’s only because we programme it.

At the moment we work with Hugo Santa Cruz on bass and Rebekka Wilkens on violin and viola, and we are happy with this situation.

Neurotic Mass Movement are rather elusive on video at present, but here's one minute and thirty-two seconds of the band amid the distressed post-industrialism of Electrowerkz. The music here shows the band getting a bit post-industrial, too...

How did everyone meet up and get together? Is Neurotic Mass Movement everyone's first band, or are there other bands lurking in the pre-history?

Yin:   We met three and a half years ago in Berlin. David was writing a book and hanging out in Berlin allegedly for research, hahaha...I had taken a break after experiencing the cut and thrust of the music business and felt quite disillusioned from it all. It was a bitter pill to swallow. I then convinced David to start writing songs and he convinced me that there is more to music than a record deal.

Rebekka Wilkens we met on a train from Hamburg to Berlin. She primarily plays in classical orchestras. Hugo Santa Cruz we’ve known for a while on the gigging circuit who performs with the band Motor amongst other projects.

Now I've asked the 'Who?' question, I should probably ask the 'What?' question... What is a neurotic mass movement? It sounds like it comes from from psychology. If you look at the way human beings behave, it's possible to see neurotic mass movements actually happening. The recent scare when everyone started panic-buying petrol because of a non-existent shortage - surely that was a classic example of a neurotic mass movement. No real reason to behave that way, but everyone did! Is there a concept behind the name?

David:   What can anyone possibly say to that - other than modern living is often tedious, fraught with disaster and alienation. Our insecurities and neurosis define the language of the music we make and aesthetics we relate to. The chaos, horror and terror of the world we live in often overshadows the grotesquely sublime beauty of just being alive. I guess you can say the idea of Neurotic Mass Movement is to embrace your own invidualism.

  Neurotic Mass Movement live at 93 Feet East, as filmed by Playground TV.

Did you arrive at your music, sound, and style? Was there a master plan to begin with - you knew from the start how the band would sound, how the band would look? Or did it develop more organically?

Yin:   We always knew what we wanted to do, nothing we’ve done has been by accident. We knew we never wanted to become media whores or one of the numerous hyped bands or sucking the tit of the mainstream. We write for ourselves first and if other people like it, great and if they don’t, then that’s ok, too.

We actually find bands that try to be everything to everyone horrifying, bands that never have an opinion pathetic and bands that fake it, disgusting.

David:   Our sound is constantly mutating and really documents what we’re feeling at any given point of our lives. Sometimes our music is loud and vicious and sometimes it’s quiet and lush but always intense.

How does the music come together? Is there a formal writing and rehearsing process, or is it more fuzzy than that?

Neurotic Mass MovementYin:   For our forthcoming EP Empire Of Tin we used the William Burroughs cut up method for some of the songs, and for other songs we used images as a catalyst to inspire the mood of the writing process.

But generally David writes music or I have lyrical ideas and we meet up and thrash it out.

The band's Facebook page is packed with images - but, unusually, not simply photos of the band. It's like a scattershot art gallery in there - funny, surreal, puzzling, disturbing...even a few rock 'n' roll heroes like Iggy Pop and David Bowie turn up, recontextualised amid the strangeness.

It's a strange thing to do on Facebook - most bands would simply show their own promo photos. Is this because Neurotic Mass Movement is instinctively, primarily, a visual band? Are you influenced by what you see more than what you hear? Is that how you'd answer someone who asked what the band was all about - "Just look at this!" ?

Yin:   We are influenced a lot by Art, DADA and Situationism amongst other things. So it was always natural for us to bring these ideas into everything we do. We resent the constant dumbing down of Rock 'n' Roll and we don’t feel the need to only represent our work. It’s actually more interesting to incorporate other types of creativity we are influenced by.

David:   We have been nurturing a community around Neurotic Mass Movement and actively encourage people to post content on our numerous virtual sites. Images cut through language barriers and have a universal appeal and is just as immediate as music. We are very concerned about censorship and most of our virtual sites are littered with images, art and music which stretches the reach of the growing censorship. We feel music and art, creativity in general should not be censored arbitrarily.

Would you - or could you - describe your music in words? Do you think there's a neat generic name for what you do, or do you prefer not to nail it down? When you're talking to gig promoters or other music biz operators, who always want a neat description that they can put on a poster, and they say, "What sort of music do you do?" - how do you reply to that one?

David:   We make Neurotic Mass Movement music. The music we make is not genre specific. If asked we say that our music is like a lacerated vein bleeding over mediocrity. It’s boring to be limited by genres.

Neurotic Mass MovementThe gig history of Neurotic Mass Movement takes in post-punker parties in east London, goth gigs in Camden, and even the surreal summer fete of the Supernormal Festival.

Do you feel equally at home on all of those stages - or equally out of place? Do you actually want to be at home...or out of place? Is there an advantage in being that weird band nobody can quite pin down?

David:   That’s a good point. We’ve never written music to a formula or for any scene, its always been about intensity of emotion and not repeating oneself.

So perhaps that’s why we’ve been able to play these different types of events and festivals. It’s fun to bring our circus everywhere.

We actually have never felt intimidated or out of place wherever we play.

We feel an affinity with Noblesse Oblige, Ulterior, Breton, Advert, HTRK and Sylvester - etc etc.

Just recently you've been recording in Berlin with Sebastian from Noblesse Oblige. Why Berlin - and not London, or any other city? Berlin is a very different city now than it was in the past. I don't know if that strange kind of bleak hedonism that David Bowie captured on the 'Heroes' album exists now - that sense that tonight we party, because tomorrow the tanks might roll in. But does Berlin have a different kind of edge now?

Yin:   We have recorded in London with Robert Harder and Benn McGregor of Ulterior and really enjoyed that experience. Robert Harder is an amazing producer and Benn we have much respect for. The main body of the record has been recorded in Berlin with Sebastian Lee Philipp of Noblesse Oblige. Sebastian was very instrumental in shaping the sound of our record and we have a very open and honest musical relationship with him.

Berlin has a different energy from London, obviously - and we have many friends in that city. It was good for us to work in Berlin and it helped us to approach the recording of the music without any preconceived ideas. There’s a certain level of freedom which we felt in Berlin at the time. We also work with the incredible producer Andre Winter from Hamburg who is part of the team in many ways. We feel fortunate to have the opportunities to work with these people.

Bowie's Low album and the whole mythology around it was never far from our minds.

And now the traditional closing question - where next? Is there a master plan for the future, or is it all in the hands of rock 'n' roll fate?

David:   Our single 'Tragic Machine' will be released in October this year. In the immortal words of Groucho, "I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought I'd rather dance with the cows until you come home." 

'Blue Skin' - a song that probably represents Neurotic Mass Movement at their most acsessible. The guitar here is reminicsient of 80s post-punk popsters, The Passions. But I don't think pop groups made videos like this in the 80s.  

Neurotic Mass Movement: Website | MySpace | Facebook | Soundcloud | YouTube

The Soundcloud link is particularly recommended for a wide selection of the band's music - especially the track 'Pain In The Arse', which wins title of the year.

Click these links to read live reviews of Neurotic Mass Movement at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, Supernormal Festival, Electrowerkz, and Electrowerkz (again).

Find photos from all the gigs here.

Back to the Interview index page here.

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