(7th February 2001)
Newman needs no introduction, so I'll be brief. He was, and is,
in Wire, he runs the Swim
record label which, despite being tagged as a 'dance' label, hasn't
released a dance record in four years and he has plenty to say.
is the full transcript of Colin's interview for the Where
Did It All Go Wrong? feature.)
strike me as the kind of bloke who'll have plenty to say about the
do, really. I think the huge difference between now and 25 years
ago is that 25 years ago, the rock'n'roll industry was still a bit
fringe, a bit cowboy. That was for good and for bad. I mean, you'd
have some rank, out-and-out capitalist exploiter types, and also
some idealistic hippie types, and various people doing record labels
in the early indie days because they wanted to get music out, they
wanted to have their mate's band out.
had a certain kind of innocence about it. There were hang-overs
from Tin Pan Alley about it but it didn't have that huge corporate
thing and, as far as mainstream culture was concerned, it didn't
matter how mainstream the music was it was still outside the mainstream
culture. You didn't have, until about 1977, even the starting of
the biggest pop stars being in national papers. If you wanted previous
to that to read about John Lennon or Rod Stewart or whoever, you
had to get a music paper. And there were people who existed only
in those pages and that was what drew so many people to those publications.
first one I ever saw was Melody Maker in '64. It had The Yardbirds
on the cover and I didn't know who they were. I was just a kid,
I'd never heard of The Yardbirds, y'know? They weren't on Top Of
The Pops and they weren't famous because you didn't hear them and
it was like that was another world. That was quite exciting. I remember
cancelling my weekly delivery of TV21 and taking the NME instead,
aged 7. I was absolutely mad on music.
but no-one, would do that now. What you could say is that now the
whole industry, the mainstream and the media is in a symbiotic control
mechanism so therefore what you get in the magazines is just bought
copy. It's all the result of promotion, it's all part of marketing.
There is very little outside of that, so it's no wonder nobody wants
to buy it any more.
are your first musical memories?
parents weren't remotely musical but, in pre-Radio 1 days, there
was pirate radio and there were one or two shows on the Light Service
- Stuart Henry and Kenny Everett and there was Radio Luxembourg
and I was just glued to it. Radio was for me the escape. Front room:
television, parent's world. Dining room: homework, radio, my world.
And that was a real distinction and I was absolutely mad on music.
My becoming aware of music happened more or less at the same time
as The Beatles came up. There were two things I knew before that.
One was Telstar because I heard somewhere that it was supposed to
be the music of the future and I liked that idea. Also, the Everly
Brothers' Sealed With A Kiss which I remember from a holiday with
my Aunty and Uncle and I must have been about five or something.
Music always had a very strong emotional impact on me. It was a
very strong influence in my life.
you listening to any particular type of music? Music probably wasn't
classified so tightly at the time..
was fantastic about growing up in the sixties was that music was
not put into categories. Millie Small was exactly the same
as The Small Faces was exactly the same as Diana Ross. It was all
the same music. You knew that what was different was Engelbert Humperdink
and Tom Jones, that was your parents' music, but as far as the kids'
music went, it was all the same. The whole notion that a band could
change its style in three minutes was perfectly acceptable. I grew
up with that idea, I was a complete and utter fashion victim - whatever
was new, I was into. That was just obvious, you didn't even discuss
was so much simpler, there weren't so many choices. We have so many
more choices now and there are so many things trying to
influence our taste and you can see, like, how does Robbie Williams
get away with it? As an entertainer he's quite funny but in terms
of the music, it's total shite and of really only marginal interest.
But somehow, not only does he make it as a.. girls are supposed
to like him and boys are supposed to identify with him, but he's
also supposed to be cool. Well, excuse me! I mean, just what is
that? There's nothing remotely cool about what he does, it's just
entertainment. I don't think you would have had a phenomena like
that those years ago. That's obviously the result of someone having
invested a lot of money in making that sell. Of course, anyone who's
even vaguely smart can see straight through it but you now also
have a market of people who buy CDs who wouldn't have owned any
music had they been that age 20 years ago. Now everyone has a stereo
and everyone should have some things to play on it. Those people
who really don't have any taste or any interest in music just have
to get stuff like that because that's what everyone else has got.
there a tribal NME/MM thing between you and your mates?
wasn't really aware of that. My Uncle was the first person to show
me a Melody Maker. He worked in the music shop in Salisbury where
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch used to come and buy their
drum sticks. He gave it to me saying "this is what the musicians
had no notion of what that meant. I was incredibly lucky. One uncle
gave me a record player for, I think, my fifth birthday. A record
player and a round tin of records. I didn't like one single one
of them but it didn't really matter. That record player stuck with
me until I owned my first stereo and that was much later in life.
As a kid, to have your own record player and be playing your singles
that you bought down the town..
wasn't really aware of that NME/Melody Maker thing. You had to order
the NME from the shop. You couldn't just go in the shop and buy
it, they maybe had just one copy and if you didn't go in on the
day it came in then you wouldn't get it. So the idea that everyone
was down the town buying it wasn't so true. It wasn't as underground
as my subscription to Oz that my mom didn't know about. When I think
about it now, the notion of the NME being even slightly underground
now is completely absurd but it wasn't then. You had to be a really
special person. My mom was like "there's a whole newspaper all about
music? What have they got to write about?" I'd read every single
word and do the crossword.
you remember particular writers or pieces?
was only later on I started to become aware of writers. Charles
Shaar-Murray was probably the first one. The others are writers
from around the punk time, and they worked for all of the papers.
Most of the ones that I knew and were most responsible for bigging-up
Wire in the early days worked for Sounds. John Savage, Jane Jackman
(Jane Suck) and Dave Fudger. Those were the initial three people
who came to absolutely everything and just wrote about it. NME were
behind at that time. Melody Maker was a muso's paper. The NME was
always seen as, when I got old enough to make those kind of distinctions,
as a bit of a comic. Reading someone getting a good slagging in
the NME was entertaining. They would go for the obvious targets.
I remember something on David Cassidy; "he's got SPOTS!" My sister
had David Cassidy posters plastered all over her walls.
did you become disillusioned with what the music media was offering
read the NME and all of them solidly through the 80s on and off.
In the 90s I'd started to become bored with them. To be honest,
I'd only buy the NME now if there's a review of something that I'm
involved with. Strange to say, Wire get extraordinarily good NME
right now. They're actually the paper who are being the most supportive
out of all of them, of Wire, not Swim. Swim gets, I would say, although
we haven't put out a dance record for four years, our main support
from the dance magazines. Jockey Slut always give us good reviews.
I've lost count of the number of reviews we've had in DJ, whereas
we struggle with The Wire.They've totally ignored releases that've
got great reviews in lots of other places. I have a rather jaundiced
eye in regard to The Wire.
know how stuff gets into papers, I know what levers get pulled.
It's not absolutely true that every single piece of information
in there gets bought, but if it's not to do with money then it's
to do with influence. I notice that with Wire the NME have gone,
in 12 months, from being "what the fuck are they doing?" to "these
guys are, for old people, pretty fucking cool" because I think they've
realised that if they don't appear to be on the case and supporting
it, they might not be seen as they would like. But they can just
ignore Swim, it's not important enough for them to take notice of.
Nobody's going to write in and ask why they didn't review the new
Silo album, although we live in hope..
do you think people have moved on from the weeklies over the last
just think its to do with the whole thing that.. I don't want to
sound like a neo-Marxist here, but the thing is that large corporations
have got the idea that you can make large amounts of money selling
music/sex combinations of various kinds. It's not rocket science;
you get someone who looks nice, put the right kind of production
on it, market it the right way, you spend a certain amount of money
and there'll be a certain number of people to buy it. That is in
direct antithesis to the idea that some boys or some girls get together
in a room, make a bit of a noise, think it's good and get out there
and do it. That latter way seems almost foolish and innocent in
comparison. Take the Spice Girls. There's that American way of thinking
through economies of scale, so that this is appearing in every single
place that it can appear. They just go for every single media and
get something in. It's not in Angling Time because none of them
fishes, but you know they'd be in there if they could. That's someone
who's paid enough money to push on every door. Someone who's doing
it for the music just doesn't have that chance. I was talking to
a friend of mine who's running a label in America and he was saying
that if you go to the chains with an album and tell them it's great
music, nobody's gonna be interested in it. They're not in it for
the music, they're just interested in what's around it, the packaging
and the marketing.
is highly disillusioning for people who are interested in having
interesting art in their lives. They don't particularly want over-packaged..
they might think "oh yeah, I really like Radiohead" but how many
Radioheads are there? What's the ratio of Radiohead to Britney?
On the mainstream you're getting very, very little. The underground
is perpetually in the state of being watched like a hawk in case
something comes up that can be grabbed, manipulated into a package
and then be sold. I mean, look at drum'n'bass going in two years
from being a vibrant scene that totally defined a city to being
"buy this Goldie record." Your average person who's not that interested
in music just wants one thing. "What? I've got to buy a record player
to listen to this music? Fuck off. Just gimme the one thing." Then
they'll say it's not very good. Well, of course it isn't because
you don't get anything out if you don't put any effort in. But everyone
wants everything pre-digested. It's not as bad here as it is in
America, at least we have a percentage of people who are prepared
to make a bit of effort and search out what's interesting.
people exist - look at All Tomorrow's Parties. ATP was the best
thing that I went to last year. Look at something like Sonar where
I also DJ-ed last year. Who says that there is no market, no interest
in alternative music? There fucking well is, there's a lot of people
interested in it, but there's no place for them to go. There's no
centre any more because the centre is filled by the mainstream.
The only way that anything outside the centre can exist is by heavily
nichifying itself, so you get these little niches that are cut off
from each other by the mainstream. So you get the people who are
just into pure noise. It's a very obvious reaction to Britney -
just make a horrible fucking noise. Those people are going to think
that anything that's got a bit of a tune in it is rubbish but there's
a lot of difference between something that is kind of musical but
not mainstream. Divide and rule really suits the mainstream.
no real central thread, there's no one magazine. There isn't a publication
where you could hear about all the cool stuff it would be a rallying
point. But publishers wouldn't be interested in doing that. It's
something that I think about a lot and I also think that now we're
in the age of cross-media, we're not just talking about music. It
used to be that listening to records was all I could do as a kid
to recreate myself as something different to my parents and to be
somehow out of the reality of the small town. Now there are so many
ways to escape and the generation gap is not so great. The gap between
me and my son is not so great as between me and my parents. It's
quite sad, one of Ben's mates came round and said "I've got this
stuff on my walkman. You wouldn't like it." He said it was hardcore
or something. It turned out to be Green Day. Now, his dad is desperate
to show how cool he is, so he likes Green Day. I'm not allowed to
like Green Day. I can't be seen doing with stuff like that.
seems to me that the weeklies pay lip-service only to non-guitar
was the big thing that NME especially didn't do. They had their
two pages or whatever of dance music but in '94 or '95 you shouldn't
have been able to read about anything other than drum'n'bass because
that was what was happening. The whole problem was that they got
trapped by indie. There was a very clever thing done with indie.
In the 1970s, the idea of 'indie' was tightly defined. It meant
independent labels with independent distribution. It wasn't a style
of music, it was a total movement because people wanted to get stuff
out that you couldn't get in normal shops. This was fun at the beginning
and then stars started to come out of it. Labels like Mute and Beggars
Banquet were having big groups and records in the top five. The
majors started to shit themselves: "What's happening? What if these
labels start to take over? Our groups are looking a bit naff. We
need to get some indie. But indie's a sound isn't it? That's
it. If we say it's a sound then we can have our own indie bands."
remember the point at which it happened. It was 1986 and someone
came to me and asked what kind of movement I was into. I just talked
about various things and they said "Don't you like Indie?" and I
said that indie was just a form of distribution and they
said "no, it's a sound, man." So I was like, what the fuck's that
about? but as soon as it became a sound it could be marketed by
major record companies. It's not for nothing that in '95 you saw
an absolute top of Brit Pop. Brit Pop was indie become mainstream.
That was the stuff that the NME had always championed so in a way
it was perfectly natural for them, but the thing is that as an intelligent
music listener you have to periodically get yourself into new stuff
even if you're resistant to it because it sounds a bit different.
You have to expose yourself to it and see what happens. I've done
that on numerous occasions and suddenly the old stuff doesn't sound
quite as good. The new stuff sounds better.
think it was inevitable that the NME blew it. The thing is: what
are they going to grab now? It doesn't make any sense for the NME
to have pages on dance music. They have to find something. It's
terribly important for them to survive and they know it. They can't
do, y'know, sorted Ibiza stuff because so many other magazines do
that now and they'll be struggling to keep going as dance music
has now become so mainstream that it's mainly selling to people
who wouldn't buy magazines about it.
the irony isn't it? The NME spent all it's time trying to invent
the next big thing, and then ignored it when it really arrived.
It was a huge tactical error on their part. They could've kept their
Brit Pop connection but also covered dance music. The thing is that
also there's the whole thing about promotion. It's a very difficult
area because small labels can't really afford to do any promotion.
In the early days of dance music people would press up a few hundred
white labels and take them round to the shops by hand. They didn't
do any promotion, they were just giving copies to their mates who
happened to be DJs. So the stuff wasn't coming in through the normal
channels, so they weren't servicing records to the NME. I think
that was the point at which they'd become lazy because the NME doesn't
buy its records. It's like, if you want to get a feature in the
NME you have to take the journalist somewhere, pay for his flights
and so on. That's as an independent label. As a major label, you
also have to supply the coke. Or whatever else is required. So,
they have suffered from colossal arrogance. When Swim used to get
NME in the early 90s it just came to a point where we couldn't afford
to do it. We got one feature because we flew a journalist to Vienna.
That came out of my pocket. Wire don't have to do stuff like that.
The last thing we had was that they reviewed a gig in Edinburgh.
They got everything wrong, but it was a fantastic review. It proves
one thing, that they had no promo person giving them all the information,
they just had a stringer who went along. We didn't put anyone on
the guest list.
constantly changed throughout the band's lifetime, but now it seems
that you've come back to the starting point again by releasing the
Twelve Times You 7".
Flag sounds very old to me now, but we've started re-exploring that
material and we do it harder, faster and more reduced and it sounds
like now. It's like making it into new bits of music and
out of that is coming a whole new idea. The big thing for us last
year was All Tomorrow's Parties which is all Post Rock groups -
very slow. Then there's Wire who go slow and then they go FUCKING
fast. It was like all these kids suddenly got a red-hot poker up
their bum and they really got excited. They'd never seen a group
go fast, and we're old as well. Fucking Hell, where do we get the
stamina from? For now, that's new, that's original.
a different idea to sampling ourselves. Like all Wire things, it's
very simple. We're very creative about difficult problems. We were
asked in May '98 or was it '99 to do Daniel Miller's Meltdown. Bruce
called me up and said we'd do Pink Flag and that sounded like a
good laugh. But that didn't happen because Rob didn't understand
the point and then we got an offer through from the Royal Festival
Hall. The same thing, but with a big pile of money. Robert's not
particularly greedy but it makes you think there's some point to
the 80s we started with the Year Zero concept - ignore the past,
so we had to have a new concept for this time. So, we just started
playing the very oldest material and see what we can play and what
we can convince with. I had two ideas for how to make Pink Flag
new. First, if it's got two chords in it, that's one too many. Second,
perhaps we could have a bit where everything drops down and comes
back in again, just like a dance music dynamic. And that was the
seed. In the rehearsals we went through everything we've ever done
and some other stuff including a lot of laughing about how crap
some of it was. We came up with 20 pieces that we could more or
less play, played that and then did All Tomorrow's Parties, then
went to America. As we were going, we started adding new things
and taking the older things further and further and now we're at
the point where there's still some older things left. I'm specifically
writing new fast pieces because we've discovered that fast is cool.
Nobody else is doing fast. Fast will happen this year. Fast rock
is NOW. Good slow, is always good, but there's been a lot of slow,
the only thing that's been fast has been drum'n'bass but there's
not been anything fast in the rock arena for ages. Even the idea
of doing rock music, by virtue of the fact that indie became mainstream
and then dance music became mainstream doing rock music five years
ago would have made no sense. Now it makes perfect sense because
it's interesting because that's not what other people are doing.
enjoyed Twelve Times You.
very classic of how the work will go. It is completely sequenced.
In the 80s I worked with sequencers and samplers but the thing about
them is that with a MIDI sequencer, you don't get a view of what
you're doing, you're just programming the tune down a cable. The
big difference between that and hard disc recording is that you
see the waveform, you see the representation of the sounds: that's
where it starts, that's where it finishes. That makes a very big
difference to how you can make things work. In breakbeat music,
the great artefact of the music is the jerkiness. The jerkiness
comes from the little gaps between the samples, from the samples
being not quite right and from the chopping up of samples. That's
what made the music sound interesting and different because it's
not like natural playing. With hard disc recording, you can see
if there's a gap and choose to stretch the audio to fill the gaps,
sounding fluent. What that does with Wire is make it sound more
machine-like. What I did with Twelve Times You was find an interesting
sample of Bruce's guitar and then built the track around it. It
sounds like machines to me. It came out of the Garage recordings
and I did it to entertain the band. Then it was like "shall we do
the surface it sounds the same. If you listen to Twelves Times You
and then listen to 12XU on Pink Flag, the old one sounds so fucking
slow. It's like old men. I heard it at a party over Christmas and
I had to ask them to take it off, I couldn't stand it. Awful and
Wire play Pink Flag now it's like a fucking rocket. It's not as
fast as Twelve Times You because it's a different beat, but it's
such a big rock noise that it's overwhelming. It's really exciting.
It was for the chop but on the last night at the Garage we reversed
the set list and instead of opening with it, because we thought
it was funny to start the gig that way, we closed with it and of
course we had a lot more energy. So it was fucking unbelievable.
When we played in Edinburgh it blew their heads off. The guy who
put the gig on said that he has never had as much kudos for a gig
in his life. And he lost money because they didn't publicise it
is the change in the music press part of a wider cultural shift?
think there are so many publications. The DTP revolution meant that
anyone could put out a magazine as long as they could find someone
decent to write in it. If you are just about to buy a DVD player
you'll buy What DVD, there are so many other titles about that weren't
there before. The music press is competing with all that. There
always have been specialist titles but it was all so much more narrow
and there was so much less of it 20 or 30 years ago. But that doesn't
mean that something which is real and genuine can't touch people.
Certainly the focus of what I'm doing at the moment is moving away
from the music mainstream. It's all art now. Art is big business
and Wire and Swim will succeed hugely better in that arena than
trying to compete with Britney.
Wire and Swim up at www.pinkflag.com