Triple Negative Q&A – DECISIVE, CROWDED, BATHYSPHERIC
Triple Negative are a relatively new live proposition, but have been playing together and making music for over 10 years. Like the first time we heard the similarly strange and wonderful UK-based acts Guttersnipe and Yeah You for the first time, Triple Negative came out of nowhere as a “what the fuck” bomb; an almost-tangible organised mess of song, rhythmic clatter and multi-genre goo frothing and spitting from the gutter to the surface. Twin Infinitive-era Royal Trux or Milk from Cheltenham are perhaps reference points, but this group warrants a lot better than lazy comparisons. Getting our head round them has been a task in itself, so we asked them some questions, which Matthew from the band has kindly answered below.
The three of you are based in London, but all of you are from different countries (Anja from Germany, Matthew, from New Zealand, Denis from Romania). Do you feel this informs what Triple Negative does, in some way?
Informs (or fills with formless real-time dread) the lived everyday life where the music is an incident. In ways so fraught & entangled that we can’t say more here. Pre-emptive “yes” to the part about “immigrant songs” below (but only Rohan is riding a Zeppelin). Down With The England.
When I hear your music I can’t help but think of “folk music” in some way. To make a very vague comparison, it reminds me of the way that This Heat – through all their complex layers of sound – have strong English folk elements underpinning their songs. Someone also mentioned to me what you write “immigrant songs”. Do you see what you do as some sort of folk music?
English folk tradition/s: can’t think of anything more nuanced than “no”. Exaggerated loathing of the pastoral/bucolic + aversion to narrative-centric songs in Clear Diction + western harmonic system as discreet “setting”. All those prejudices are only mine (m.) & probably wrong, but in a finite lifetime they stand uncorrected. Even Cameron Bain tried & failed.
But that wasn’t the question, was it? More like This Heat+English folk as (very flattering) example. In which case, yes &/or no depending on endlessly elastic definitions of folk. If (in common with This Heat, despite their anglofolk-positivity?) point is that “complex layers of sound” aren’t programmatic or didactic or clever, more like the disunderstood surface of some kind of shared nervous system necessity, then sure, yes. Or if it just means “as far as you can get from ‘spare’, shiny “minimalism”, even more so. “Folk” as in “collective” as in the noise/s of ourselves as social life as living dirt, yes. “Collective” as in kinship-communitarian or single-traditional, no. As in music that should be decisive (Rashad Becker’s excellent expression) & crowdedto the point of overflowing, yes. As in “non-urban”, definitely No. Rebetiko/a is most definitely urban music; if that’s still folk & so are Bloodclaat Orange, Fatna Bent Lhoucine, The Associates, Aby Ngana Diop, Royal Trux and Babyfather, then so are we.
The artwork for your 7″ on Penultimate Press is visceral and very intense – using sketched images of buildings on fire and an image of self-harm. I believe you did all the artwork, Matthew? I was wondering what you feel the correlation is between your artwork and the music of Triple Negative?
Definitely no “transgressive” shock effect intended, ugh. The arm & scissors come from Dr Fritz Kahn’s “The Secret of Life. The Human Machine and How it Works”, which is the greatest 20th century work of metaphysical allegory, a compendium of machine-age pre-Kantian joy published by a commercial graphic designer for unclear pedagogical purposes. That side of the 7-inch cover is a fragment of something David Mitchell (The Mean Streaks, Heliogabalus, 3Ds, Plagal Grind, Goblin Mix, etc) & I (m.) couldn’t get a label to use for a Heliogabalus record 15 years ago. I forget what Dr Kahn used that arm/scissors motif to illustrate, but it definitely wasn’t self-harm – as likely to be something to do with the neat rows of incisions or the angle of the fingers on the scissors. The drawings are even less programmatic than the music here, but I think this part was re-used because of something to do with the strangely delicate way marks on the skin are made, the way they almost resemble writing. If there’s anything to do with “self-harm” (which is something I’ve written about ((& yes, by some definitions, done)) occasionally), it’s definitely neither a romantic invocation NOR an invasive “get help” warning: more like insistence that there may be reasoning and gentleness going on where no onlooker would guess it. In other words, dear onlooker, please stop guessing/looking.
The flames were a small part of that old image, which was/is as much to do with einstuerzende Altbauten– collapsing (or forced-to-collapse, or set-on-fire) old buildings, & life less among the ruins than in the midst of the ruining. Our side of that Heliogabalus/Vaw (Cameron Bain solo) record was called “Kingsland Waste” – cleared by fire & sword starting before I was squatting on Whiston Rd (1999-2000), reopened last year as “Hackney Market(!) since 1885” (or 1848 or 1641 or something, I don’t care). And “Towers, Open, Fire” is only Burroughs by way of retranslation to reality: it’s “about” what you might suspect from a recording date of 2017 + the title & picture: a London tower block quite famously burned down just before we made this, causing obscene magnitudes of human suffering (enough to make all peddlers of “extreme”/”shock” motifs to shut up forever, please). And the reasons – allthe causes except the most narrowly proximate – were all to do with exactly the same class/ethnic purges afflicting Kingsland Waste c.2000-5 & everywhere I’ve ever lived in London since immigrating in 1995. Which are also the same reasons that caused TWO similar lethal fires in Southwark blocks within the few years to 2017. But (Those ones barely made the local press: only a couple of deaths each; South not West London.) Of course all this might not have been obvious to someone encountering the record with no context, so we filled up the last minute or so with a long stretch of Brigitte Fontaine & Areski in which they predict EXACTLY what happened in North Kensington, including the EXACT official/media excuses, but about 40 years early & presumably in the hope that it might NOT be going to happen. Towards the end, when the flames have more or less engulfed the whole of the building in the song, Brigitte, who has been a bit worried from the start, finally gets Areski to admit that yes, there IS a fire. But that’s just because the other flats are full of immigrants, proles, the unproductive/unemployed and similar flammable materials, makingl’incendieperfectly NORMAL.
Apart from that – actually much more so – the images (made which much less clue about how to make them, or forethought in general, than the music) are related to the music mostly in the forlorn hope that they might in some sense look a bit like it sounds. Entangled but unclogged, no earth tones but a lot of stinking seawater & barely perceptible sordid backdrop?
More important here to make clear is that the “You are not Impo(r)tant” ship on the reverse side is by Adam Vass, our friend to the bathyspheric depths and an artist so good that when you see any more of his work your small gasp will be audible.
I’ve seen Triple Negative a few times new and every performance has been different; using elements of pre-recorded and prepared material with improvisational/indeterminate elements. I remember seeing on Twitter, Matthew, that you were particularly attracted the performances of tap dancer Will Gaines and Áine O’Dwyer. I was wondering what your own approach to performance is, in general?
There’s no way at all to answer this other than to say that we only re/started trying to play in public at all by way of your personal generosity and patience, Fielding Hope. It should be logistically impossible; we decided with reason that it couldn’t be done except as a distressing, depleted caricature roughly 10 years earlier & upheld that except for 2 cases when Forbidding Mourning bacame urgently necessary and non-reproducible “bands” were specially convened. Then your invitation to play at Oto was so careful in its assurance that anything down to “no recognizable playing” would be fine (or eg. live-mismixing of 4-track tapes as I (m.) had occasionally done in the meantime) + lure of: Anja gets to play the grand piano & Denis & I get to hear that. Main part of the reason for thinking we couldn’t play live even if we did want to was refusal to repeat the dispiriting rite where an insufficiently modified ordinary kickdrum/gtr Band format somehow “represents” an infinitely more tangled recorded orchestration. Because the recorded tangle is not a “setting” of the song, it IS the song; the “stripped-down” (ugh!) version is the frivolous deformation. All the more so since – & this should really be hauled into the sky in giant flaming letters & left up there forever – the nervous system of our music since 2015 IS the furiously drummed decisions of Dr. Stephen Robinson (Aufgehoben), but we and he never play in the same room at the same time. He makes these vindicating things & sends them, then we ruin them later as best we can.
Perhaps all this could have been rectified with something like a 20-piece Rebetiko orchestra/multiple clones of electric eels, but apart from the obvious logistical impossibility, “orchestrating” as in semi-scoring/”teaching”(!) would infallibly have killed the downward-spiralling splay of the music. (Which could NOT be “reduced to essentials”, because the outlying entanglements ARE the “essentials).
But you (F.H.) somehow convinced us of a degree of good faith which I wasn’t sure had ever even existed anywhere near live (as opposed to “illegal rave”) venues here, and we convinced ourselves that it’s not karaoke if the singer-equivalent persons are frantically, haplessly instrumental, and if the absent orchestra/backing tape placeholder contained NO “songs” in their finished, recognizable form, but 1 new set-length “composition” every time, made out of their unhappily separated parts, relayered & reordered. Which is what we’ve done, but that still only adds up to three (3!) times. No idea whether it will continue to work.
I wish any of us had ever seen Áine perform, but we haven’t. I/we (I think) do love the sense of internal necessityimplicit in replacing the church organist that way, sometimes unannounced & with zero audience, sometimes carefully planned with the people who usually hear/care for the organ. All of which only matters because what/how she plays is what/how she plays, which is … no, I don’t have words for that. Those Will Gaines/Derek Bailey/Simon H. Fell/Mark Wastell shows at the Klinker were a fragile tour-de-force of internal necessity in the same way, with the difference that 19 years ago I actually saw one of them.
“Necessity” in the sense that this could not be otherwise– change one thing & it would fall apart, or at least be qualitatively unlike itself – & that it’s also unlike everything else: it adds something to the world rather than reiterating (or inadvertently defaming) it. That second sense is also often invoked by people who prize “spontaneity” above all else, often but not only in “non-idiomatic” improv, or far worse, in field-Authenticity mediated in Sound Art. A strangely depleted, dualistic sense of “unlike”, paired with the servile round of “rehearsal”/”live” theatrical repetition of record-mimickry that passes for “rock music” in the uk, where since 1995 I’ve hardly been able to believe the willingness of self-identified Bands to approach every performance as a job interview, the more so the more theatre of wildmanhood it involves.
“Necessity” in that if there’s a visible/audible/sentimental/political/sarcastic etc etc reason of somekind for those in the room to be there in that room witnessing this (as opposed to listening to a recording or doing something else entirely) AND some combination of similar reasons for those “playing” to be doing that (as opposed etc), then there maybe a reason for this to be happening. Necessary but NOT sufficient.
You have an upcoming LP on Penultimate Press, which I am very excited to hear! I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about this?
Yes! Once again, happy result of scarcely believable degree of 3rd party getting-of-the-point & willingness to act as logistical human shield, this time on the part of Mark Harwood of Penultimate Press. Same label as Aine O’Dwyer, Joe McPhee, Low Life! Scorn for question of whether something was ever “released” or is an object or not still applies in principle, but the proposed object and the way we were invited to make it in this case was too appealing not to say yes before Mark had finished the sentence.
Therefore: PP41, Triple Negative, Precious Waste In Our Wake (full title written nowhere: “The Fucking Terrible Receding Shapes, We Shed Precious Waste In Our Wake”, but I’ll have to tell you about that when I open up yr gate & tell you about Phaedra.
Significant features: Stephen Robinson, Rohan P. Thomas, “Destroyer” (1st song written by Cameron Bain for The Mean Streaks, 2000. Complete lyric sheet: Destroyer!); guest verses by urban foxes of Brixton AND Stamford Hill + Maria Callas; successful Dr Moreau-style fusion of Herman Melville & Peter Perrett. Bass sound of the miraculous Stylophone Beatbox. Casio MT 45. 3 pairs of strings, not 4, on the bouzouki.
Haphazard = understatement: audibly dyspraxic, but NEVER, NEVER “spontaneous”, always deliberate going on judgemental. We know what we don’t like.
A Malediction Fobidding Mourning, a real fallen-world psychick dancehall, a portfolio of old pathologies folded into a sleek new nervous wreck.