the duds interview
(May 2003)

Tracts from the Ontodungeon by The Duds on their own Eeriephone label was one of my records of last year. Lyrically weird, vocally weird, musically weird, you could say it was weird. But it was pop. Not lyrically, vocally or musically. But in spirit. There's never been a pop record rhyming "perineum" and "Liam" or containing the line "chowing down on a Bakewell Tart."


Until now. Eeriephone were immediately asked to be on the compilation CD with Robots.. #11. They immediately agreed. The Myriad Contortions of Yolonde Mahwengwe was immediately my favourite song of all time. I immediately asked to interview The Duds. Nothing else happened immediately after that. We tossed ideas back and forth about how we could make a suitably weird interview.

We eventually settled on Making Tracts, a documentary tour of the places that inspired the EP. They were supposed to go to locations of import, ask each other questions, record the results and send them to me. Instead, after a stack of "we're working on it.." emails, an orange floppy disk containing the following interview (in a weird file format) turned up in the post. It is immediately my favourite ever interview. The tracks on Tracts are (We Are) Horrid Little Men, The Likes of You, Theme From The Ontodungeon and Vermiform Convergence. The Duds, ladies and gentlemen. Get to know them immediately. (Jim)

In order to offer some insight into the people and their experiences that have combined to give humanity "the Duds - 'Tracts from the Ontodungeon'", I decide to conduct an interview in my car with Dan Cray and Ku Sun-Tzu (aka the Duds) which will take us to some odd, offensive and grim but ultimately beautiful sites in their home town of Exeter, Devon.

Our first stop will be St Michaels Church, just off St Davids Hill, where, whilst doing some voluntary work as a gardener on a rainy Wednesday in 2002, Dan spawned the most part of "We are Horrid Little Men". I ask who they might be. "Just really insecure blokes" Dan replies, "of which there seem to be many". "Last year sometime, on a Wednesday, it was just me, a trowel, pissing rain and a lot of repressed sexual rage.... and I processed a lot of emotion and imagery whilst kneeling in a puddle".


It transpires that much of Dan's disdain is born of his time in Bristol in recent years, St Pauls to be more precise, where he observed many young men lose their swagger when it turned out not to be such a cool place to live after all. " It may sound strange, but Bristol left me with a lot of issues to deal with, and I guess it could have been anywhere, but I think I dealt with a lot of them whilst ripping weeds out right here, although they've grown back a bit, as you can see.". So maybe "....Horrid Little Men" is the resting place for many of Dan's demons, and it all began here. Talk turns to perhaps improving the ambience of the garden for the benefit of the numerous intravenous drug users, drunks and horny couples that pass through here after dark. "Perhaps a dartboard for the syringes, and a nice overhanging rhododendron for the lovers."

And so to the inspiration behind "The Myriad Contortions of Yolonde Mahwengwe"; a song which appeared on the last Robots.... CD. Luckily it's just round the corner at the community centre on St Davids Hill. Life in this case imitates art, as Yolande Mahwengwe is a fictional character born out of some comical yoga sessions Dan had here, but who turned out to be a real person he met later up north somewhere. "I was at a party or something, and there she was. It was her! Initially she was just an imaginary archetypal yoga instructor, all arms and no grace, all misinformed and alternative, overpowering but ridiculous and fat." The real Ms Mahwengwe was slightly diluted, but it was her, for sure.". Dan asks me to point out that fat chicks really do it for him.

Later in 2002 Dan and Ku were out and about with a tape recorder looking for ambient sounds when they decided to stalk a netball team. In view of the fact that they were all wearing skirts and had powerful legs, and in sufficient numbers to not get worried about two odd looking fellows behind them, Dan and Ku saw fit to follow them across town to the Mud Dock, a club on Exeter's waterfront. They caught one of the larger ladies on tape, referring to the establishment as "... a fucking shitehole" with such venom and sexiness, that they both feel compelled to establish if it's true (This expression appears at the end of "The Likes Of You"). I point out that I can confirm it's status as a shitehole without having to go anywhere near it, esp. on a Fri night, but that's where we're headed.


We buy some inferior quality drinks for silly money. Paying more for piss does not make it taste any nicer, but we sit down and take in the ambience. Blank boys with spikey hair sit around looking... blank. Ché Guevera stencils adorn the walls. Ku wonders how many people in here know more about him than that he's "cool on t-shirts". He then concludes that this is nevertheless Duds country. If hair wasn't already standing up it sure would if Messrs Cray and Sun-Tzu unleashed their creation in here. As I peel my notepad off the table, we conclude that it doesn't really matter what you present to Exeter's youth in terms of style and culture, they will carry on fighting and vomiting regardless. There's Horrid Little Men in here and the venomous young lady in a netball skirt was right.

Ku directs us to the industrial estate of Marsh Barton to visit the municipal tip and experience the smell from the glue factory whilst we're parked under a buzzing pylon. "What we got here then? Pylons, barbed wire, weeds, wheely bins, seagulls, portacabins, dumpsters. People round here don't value books so you can buy great literary works for 10p." says Ku, "....we both bought Chambers 1901 dictionaries here." It's the barrenness of the place that pleases Dan. Last time he was here a fat bloke tried to sell Dan a bike. Dan doesn't ride bikes and you can tell that by looking at him or talking to him. He says he would feel safe here at night simply because it's "totally devoid of humanity."

It reminds them both of Robocop. The pylon becomes a focal point. "It's fucking beautiful" says Dan. "Just pause and take it in!" It reminds me of the Public Information Film in which poor Jimmy flies his kite into one and ends up in a dead smouldering heap in the grass. There is certainly something awesome about the sinister presence of these ugly power carriers. They're hugely representative of some of the ugly constants of modern life that 'Tracts from the Ontodungeon' identifies and portrays so well.



As light fades we opt for a trip back "up town" to chow down on Bakewell tart at Dan's home near the prison. We pass a three legged Spaniel. This wouldn't happen to me without Duds on board. Talk turns to the wormery at St Sidwells Centre, somewhere else in Exeter, that Dan monitors and draws solace and inspiration from (listen to "Vermiform Convergence"). "You can feel the heat from their underground activity," he says, "and they're really elastic. I cut a few in half once while I was planting some raspberries.". I ask what draws them out of the soil. "Formaldehyde," replies Ku. "According to an expert, neither half lives if you cut them in half. It's a myth." says Dan. We nearly crash on Exe Bridge Roundabout.

At 9.20pm we arrive at Dan's house. To get into his main room, loosely known as the Ontodungeon itself, I have to negotiate the most dangerous electric bar fire I've ever seen. I'm greeted by a sea of empty biscuit wrappers, cutlery with fluff attached, and swelling bin liners. Voivod comes out of the stereo. This is a band very close to Dan's heart for many years. We commence Bakewell tart intake. It's in Dan's other room that he wrote "Cold Extremities". As if it wasn't obvious, this is about the cooling effect of a chilled Bakewell tart binge on a summers day with the electric fire on full power. These brilliant tarts are fairly central to Dan's life, it seems. We opt out of a trip to the wormery as it's dark and their relevance to "Vermiform Convergence" is already established. They were intended to star in a video for the song. This idea was scrapped when it became clear that they put on a show for nobody and merely give off warmth through their secretive activities.


So, as Rocket from the Crypt plays us out, and Ku and Dan wrestle with a recently crashed computer on the floor, I drink my tea and finish another tart. Suffice to say this has been one strange but beautiful journey. It's refreshing that these Duds are in no way trying to be clever. Neither had a plan, it just came out this way and it is genius beyond their knowing. They just go about their odd, slightly defeatist but wholly endearing ways of life and fortunately express themselves in "stinking bitch-core electro-folk" ways. It's totally bullshit free, at times with tongue firmly in cheek, and it rocks as long as you don't want it to. (Interview: George Caveney, Pictures: Dick Vabsland, Ricardus Magnus Exon Imperator, Dr. Tegwyn Harris). PO Box 208, Exeter EX4 7WD


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