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This Is Our Time: An Interview with Unrest Productions

Shift

Shift | Credit: Kim Sølve

.:.THIS IS OUR TIME.:.

An Interview with Unrest Productions

by David Tonkin

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There’s an argument to be made that industrial music has aged badly. I’m convinced we’re living in a golden age of the genre (however you define it), and I’m excited by the sheer weight of talent. Nevertheless, it’s quickly matured to a point where we’re now plotting points on the timeline and casually speak of ‘waves’ and ‘generations’. Documentaries are being filmed and books are being written. Artists are achieving respectability and acceptance in broad circles. This is healthy and encouraging, and in many ways completely necessary. But while it’s a long way off yet, we don’t want it to become yet another museum piece or art gallery installation, do we?

Enter labels like Britain’s Unrest Productions. While acknowledging the efforts of our progenitors, Unrest Productions reminds us that our community’s existence relies directly on its current and future incarnations, not on its past. Steadfastly helmed by the man behind Shift, Winston Smith was good enough to share his thoughts.

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Heathen Harvest: Tell us a bit about the history of the label. How and why did you start it up? I’ve not heard a lot of the earlier releases and discovered the label just a few years ago, but now I’ll pick up everything I can.

Winston Smith: Unrest Productions started in 2006. There was another person involved, but he soon moved on. Unrest as it is today didn’t come into force until 2009. Prior to that, the label lacked focus and was too involved in so-called UK noise as it was back then and the financial side of it was also a mess. Things were usually paid for straight out of my own pocket which somehow meant I, as well as the label, were always skint. I took a firm grip on the money and focused my attention on the purely industrial acts who had appeared, like Soft Option Killing (M.I.A. since 2010), Pestdemon, Iron Fist of the Sun, and of course Shift. The upgrade in quality was instant—both musically and personally.

Iron Fist of the Sun | Credit: Marcin Klimek

Iron Fist of the Sun | Credit: Marcin Klimek

One very important idea behind Unrest is the reluctance to have any of the usual nomadic artists on the label. The ones who are just looking for a release on another ‘cool’ label to add to their CV before moving on. I want to work with people long-term so the label and the artists can evolve together. I was raised on labels like Mute, Factory, Some Bizarre, and of course Cold Meat Industry and Tesco. Strong labels with strong identities thanks to the strong names on their roster. I know exclusivity like that doesn’t exist today, and I’m not standing in anyone’s way to release elsewhere, but I do expect a continuous relationship with the bands who approach Unrest. That may not suit everyone and that’s okay, but it also means Unrest is not the label for them.

Because the intention is long-term, I am therefore very particular about who I work with. There is no tolerance for cunts under any circumstances whatsoever. Others think personality doesn’t matter as long as the music is great, but I disagree. Over the years, the odd deceitful person has managed to sneak in, but as soon as they are found out the door shuts very quickly. I would rather work with someone of good character who makes lesser music than the other way round. And while someone’s music will often improve, poor character most often won’t. I require loyalty here:  warriors, not cowards and backstabbers.

HH: Let’s talk content. During some recent correspondence with Hal Hutchinson, he expressed (respectful) disappointment with my reluctance to review his Nigger Torture Chamber release on Filth + Violence. He referred to ‘doing the dirty work’—a sentiment I seem to recall you may have expressed as well. At the time, I interpreted the comment as a need for people to get their hands dirty if we’re to truly enjoy free speech and freedom of expression; not despite, but because they’re presenting unpopular material. Would you agree with that?

WS: If you want a career out of music, and oddly enough a lot of people do even in this day and age, you cannot afford to be offensive. Releasing something called Nigger Torture Chamber naturally excludes you from any club with career aspirations. The industrial genre is by default excluded from that. I’m not talking about the imposters who dabble a little to add a bit of industrial naughty to their scene CV; those cretins will move on soon enough. I refer to those of us who live and breathe this and have no other desire than to keep industrial alive. To be part of a genre which, in its forty-plus years of existence, is still the most hated, despised, and ridiculed by those on the outside and even by some on the inside as well for that matter.

As pathetic as it may be, I get up in the morning and one of the first things on my mind is what my contribution will be this day. I love many different things, and most of them inspire me in different ways, but industrial is where I express myself. That’s what everything funnels into in the end. There will be nothing else for me:  no other band, no other label, no other genre. This is what I do. It’s my outlet. I live here, and I will die here.

Rather than dirty work, I’d refer to it as real work. This label puts out real industrial as it was and is:  no excuses, no apologies and no compromises in order to reach outside or any such nonsense. I see the ones who do that, some of them successfully in terms of popularity, and then the many who fail to achieve the popularity they crave and eventually self-implode or shape shift. I have nothing in common with either of them

You think you’re going to have some career off the back of playing a few dives and releasing limited cassettes on your vanity label? You think it’s going to make you some Paul Morley character who sits on television and writes boring columns about culture whilst raking in the cash? If that’s your motivation, then fuck you!

Am Not | Credit: Karolina Urbaniak

Am Not | Credit: Karolina Urbaniak

HH: Broadly speaking, these days it seems people fall over themselves trying to work out whether the message is ‘real’ or not. Projects that use irony and provocation as a means to an end tend to be considered okay, while those whose offensive lyrics, artwork, or implied message are presented in a literal fashion are loudly denounced. How important for you is the intention behind the message, if at all?

WS: You mean people fall over themselves on the internet? Some people do. I try to stay away from it not least because the constant dissecting of everything is boring. We are dealing with the so-called underground, where your status is much-defined by your opinion, so opinions are rife and the internet has amplified people who wouldn’t be heard otherwise. Boring people spouting their boring opinions. Some feel it, others don’t. Some detest it, others love it. What does it matter what people like at the end of it, all and who really gives a fuck about some self-proclaimed expert arguing about it on a forum? Like I said: boring people with their boring opinions.

I think what is genuine and what is not is eventually unearthed without any digging taking place. Sometimes, it’s not even about being exposed as such. It’s rather a case of just being forgotten about.

HH: I’ve always enjoyed Bizarre Uproar’s ‘Fat White Male Pig’ persona. I assume it’s a self-parody response to political correctness, and not dissimilar to how some people co-opt terms and images originally designed to offend them. Having said that, I’m not one of those people who feels compelled to ‘fight’ conservative or narrow-minded thought wherever I see it, as in Zyklon SS’s ‘war against moral remediation’. In a Shift interview, you yourself asserted ‘music is war’. Can that include music as a weapon of war against what you referred to as the ‘intolerant tolerants’?

WS: Music as a weapon sounds awfully retro, doesn’t it? A throwback to the eighties like that film where FM Einheit creates ‘anti muzak’ and evokes the wrath of the powers that be. I don’t think anyone believes in that anymore. There are no mass movements left to join or pervert; everyone is an individual and not enough people care to the extent where they will get involved in anything too menacing.

The refusal to accept, for example, the current leftist dogma that dominates the cultural sphere is less about overthrowing it than it is about forging your own path in life. A revolutionary act albeit on a small scale but noticeable when the odd latte-sipping cultural type stumbles upon, for example, Xenophobic Ejaculation in between listening to Sonic Youth on YouTube and reacts as if finding a fly in his soup. Outraged as he comes into contact with something untamed he’ll cry about fascism and any other -ism currently unhip with the hip. Those moments confirm one’s detachment from the current brainwash, which is a reward in itself.

Sure, music is war. As a small-scale guerilla warfare and a vehicle for one’s own creative freedom, it’s rather effective. It’s not about overthrowing the government, changing the world for the better or any such nonsense. For me it’s about rejecting the current cultural order. The power lies in not wanting what they have to offer. When you don’t want it they have no hold on you and you will be free. Like Colonel Kurtz splitting from the whole fucking program but in a musical/cultural sense. It’s not looked upon kindly.

HH: Which is sort of where it all started in the eighties, isn’t it? Do you think it’s even possible to do that these days? I think there are plenty of people who would like to think they’re rejecting the current cultural order, but at the end of the day they’re just pushing peoples’ buttons. It’s easy to do. But maybe that’s the point: It’s too easy to do, so it should be done.

WS: The common argument is that ‘this is just for shock value’ and ‘this has been done so many times… Throbbing Gristle…’ Okay, then why are you so offended? And why do I give a shit about Throbbing Gristle? What relevance do they hold today? None, unless it’s about ‘they were the pioneers and you must get on your knees and…’, and I give not one solitary fuck about that. In their day, yes. In his day my grandad was as strong as an ox and fed a family of seven. Then he got old and now he’s in the ground. Loved and cherished by all for who he was and what he did but he doesn’t dictate what the family does anymore. Nor should Throbbing Gristle or any other old-timer dictate what industrial does in 2016. They had their time and now they are in the ground. Enough of these ghosts speaking through other people about what goes today. Fuck them. This is our time. We are the custodians and creators of the genre today. Not them.

The fact is it’s easier to offend—or ‘shock’ if that’s what you prefer to call it—now than it was in the seventies and eighties. There are so many taboos today, so for anyone seeking to transgress, it’s way easier than it was back in the so-called good old days. The current generation of anxious lefties has seen to that. Like the Mary Whitehouses of today, there they are policing words, opinions, and thoughts. Anyone seeking to rile them up or ridicule them directly has the easiest job in the world. But even for those of us who aren’t out to provoke them, you’re bound to get them on your case at some point. All you need to do is just be free in your creativity. Sometimes, as I discovered on a few occasions, you only need to turn up. Their opinion of you is already fully formed, and then it’s everything from reluctance to open hostility. Totalitarians don’t tolerate dissent and industrial is, of course, inherently so. That’s also why this music is war.

HH: You’ve released a fairly diverse range of projects over the years, but if there’s one thing I think ties a lot of recent releases together is a fairly austere, militant (thuggish?) aesthetic, both in sound and visual presentation. Kevlar seems to typify that, I think, and you’ve done several Kevlar releases in fairly quick succession. Is there anything that ties them all together for you? What role do you tend to play in the presentation of each release?

Kevlar

Kevlar

WS: My role depends on how self-sufficient the artist is. Some come with nothing and require me to do the artwork from scratch, some have an image or suggestions and we create something together while others, like for example Kevlar and Am Not, have their own presentation worked out to the minutest degree. I tend to not stick my oar in too much unless technical or aesthetic reasons demand it. I recently had a release where it wasn’t just ‘no’, but ‘fuck no’. Those occasions are more or less unheard of though.

The Unrest aesthetic operates in a classic industrial vein, which is exactly what I want. I know no other label in the United Kingdom that does that. If you ponder again the idea of the label as Kurtz splitting from the program and setting up camp in the wilderness, the military aesthetic fits. It may look thuggish to some and I don’t mind that.

Not wanting to speak on Kevlar’s behalf, but they deal with classic themes about state control, indoctrination, and various forms of conflict, so the military imagery follows naturally—as it does for many of the others. War is everywhere. Sometimes it’s in your own head. The imagery may be symbolic or it may be actual, but it’s relevant to what we do.

HH: You’ve organised two United Forces of Industrial events now, with the third scheduled for the end of April this year. The first two included compilations featuring the artists on the bill, both of which were excellent tapes. It all sounds like a huge amount of work. Have you found it rewarding?

Unrest Productions

Unrest Productions

WS: The compilations are a way to fund United Forces of Industrial. Bringing ten-plus bands made up of fifteen to twenty people from various countries takes money, and the compilations add to the funding. The problem occurs afterwards when what would have been the profits from the entire run have been given to the bands and having to let remaining stock go at wholesale prices to distributors who don’t understand that the festival is losing money because of that. The first year, the compilation sold out very quickly, so to give more people a chance I made a bigger run the second year, but it ended up losing the label money. It would be easier if people just ordered them straight from me, but I’ve accepted that that is not a realistic scenario and decided to just let it go and let distributors have it for trades, etc. The label loses money and the festival is now short of a funding resource, but rather that than repeatedly banging heads with people over ‘why can’t I have any copies for my mailorder?’

That aside, it has been rewarding of course. Assembling the tracks from the artists and also receiving sounds towards the Black Insignia tracks is interesting. This year, the sounds for Black Insignia were provided by Stab ElectronicsKe/Hil, and Instinct Primal.

Is United Forces of Industrial rewarding? It was necessary when it started. There wasn’t much else going on and too many events depending on old timers left a void to be filled. I wanted to bring together the giants of now and not depend on the usual so-called ‘big names’ to guarantee a turnout. The first event went so well that a followup seemed like an obvious thing to do.

We have now done United Forces of Industrial III, and it becomes more stressful and time-consuming by the year. Shift, for example, hasn’t had a new release out in over tow years, and while I feel the urge to work on new material, I rarely ever have time. Festivals have popped up since which begs the question whether there’s a need to continue much longer. It’s great to provide an annual festival in London which promotes the here-and-now as opposed to the usual old suspects, but nothing lasts forever, nor should it. It has been rewarding in some ways, yes, but also stressful and increasingly time-consuming. United Forces of Industrial IV is confirmed, but we’ll see what happens after that.

HH: I read an interview once with Mark Groves (Dead Boomers, Absoluten Calfeutrail, Von Einem, etc.) where he said he’s no longer writing many angry, hate-filled lyrics as he came to see them as impotent expressions of rage. That may be poorly paraphrased, but he was essentially suggesting there was no point in screaming abuse at someone in a piece of music if those words were better put to use in a real situation. While the tape served a very specific purpose (the United Forces of Industrial I event), is that perhaps what you were getting at in the title of the Hatred Is Nothing Without Action compilation?

WS: I don’t know who he is, but he’s entitled to his opinion. I’m sure his approach works for him, but others may want to do it differently. From my perspective, it’s angry and hateful music for and by angry and hateful people. Impotent or not, it’s a way of expression as worthy as any other, and I have little interest in debating the subject. Some people are so fucking clever that they just have to tell everyone about it. It’s boring.

The meaning behind the title is that United Forces of Industrial was and is an act borne of hatred. My hatred of the status quo of the genre is as it was when I decided to do United Forces of Industrial: Old cunts who are passed it but act as if they own the genre while giving not one shit about its future—an old-boys club handjobbing each other—respectable arts council-funded events, music media writing about their friends so they can perpetuate a lie that both parties depend on, pretentious cunts aspiring to be artistes, moralist finger-wagging types, Guardian readers, preachy left wingers, fakers, liars, backstabbers, bloodsuckers, users, cowards, and the list goes on, but all of it perpetuates weak music and a shit existence. In the midst of all that, I could sit on my arse and bemoan that nothing good ever happens or I could turn my hatred into action. So, hatred became action and it worked. It worked beyond our expectations. Hate is great!

HH: The 2012 compilation We Gave Them the Future and They Wanted the Past featured a number of projects that might be considered the vanguard of the current UK industrial ‘scene’. Do you think there’s too heavy a focus on the old guard and not enough cultivation of the new? You re-released Con-Dom and the Grey Wolves’ material on the War Against Society LP as ‘Waging War Against You’, but on the whole, there’s an explicit focus on the present. For me, that’s one of Unrest Productions’ strongest features: You’re working with projects that are actively forging new ground.

STAB Electronics

STAB Electronics

WS: I think there is too much leeway given to projects who are shit only because they were something twenty or thirty years ago. The We Gave Them the Future and They Wanted the Past compilation came at a time when the genre was at risk of becoming dominated by nostalgia and reunion acts. I couldn’t sit back and watch it happen, so I gathered what I knew from the then-current UK scene to make a statement that something better than that crap was available for anyone willing to listen. I knew I was stepping on a few rheumatic toes and that I’d fall out with the old boys’ network, but the urge to document something better was too great to care. It got a wider and better reception than expected, and a particular interview offered the added amusement of a very agitated arbiter of taste who dubbed our efforts ‘bottom of the barrel’. He soon ditched noise to become manager of the band of choice for middle-aged Guardian readers, so he knows about scraping the barrel.

Although more significant in 2012 than 2016, it’s still a strong compilation and a good document of what was really going on in the UK at that time. With today’s perspective, it lacks Kevlar, so the two United Forces of Industrial compilations, although not UK-centred, are better representations of the UK of today than We Gave Them the Future and They Wanted the Past.

I have an urge to find new bands and bring fresh blood to the industrial genre. We can’t rely on the old codgers forever—not even the ones who are still good—and there are some new strong projects around who deserve acknowledgement. I don’t understand the mindset behind going to see the same old guy sleepwalk his way through the same old material for the hundredth time when you could be blown away by Am Not or Kevlar. I understand the social aspect of meeting friends, getting drunk, and getting away from the everyday boredom of life, but you can do that at a Kevlar gig too with the added benefit of having your mind blown by the performance. Who needs to see Masami [Akita] asleep behind a laptop or Fatty Best sweating from sheer obesity when you can experience the sturm und drang of the testosterone and hatred projected from the stage at United Forces of Industrial? Wake up, people: There are better things around than those old cunts and it’s happening now!

Con-dom is a good example of an old-timer who still has it though. He’s someone who has a genuine interest in what’s going on, and I’ve never seen him jaded or acting superior. Maybe that’s why he still delivers. He is just awesome live, and the latest Con-dom album is masterful. He’s a true warrior of the genre who’s always supportive of others. Mike [Dando] has had a longstanding association and friendship with Unrest by now. DAP [David Padbury] from Grey Wolves is likewise a gentleman.

Releasing their material from War Against Society was of course an honour but also a responsibility. It took a lot of work to get it right (some will claim it was never right, but I challenge them to do a better job themselves), and it’s great to finally have this outstanding music available on an affordable CD.

Iron Fist of the Sun | Credit: Karolina Urbaniak

Iron Fist of the Sun | Credit: Karolina Urbaniak

HH: I’m still blown away by the level of confidence and skill displayed by Am Not on the Unpunished CD you released, considering it’s only his second full release as far as I know. You released his first, First Morbid Vibrations, in 2012. How did the two of you end up working with each other? Do you ordinarily know the artists personally before releasing their work?

WS: I’d known Tamon [Miyakita] for a while. He’s a longstanding gig organizer in London, and I’d played one of his nights with Shift. I think it was about two years later when I heard his music, and while I was encouraging but cautious at first, I soon asked to release it. It took time between the first tape and the CD, but he has momentum now and there’s a host of nearly completed material scheduled to be released. It’s important to mention that Tamon is involved in more ways than just releasing as Am Not. He is my right-hand man when organizing United Forces of Industrial and is close at hand regarding many label matters. He’s a trooper!

I don’t have to know artists to release them even if that’s usually the case. Abscheu is an example of someone I’ve never met. Being contacted by him on Facebook out of the blue, I was hesitant at first, but the material swayed me pretty quickly. He’s another one I’m proud to have under the Unrest banner.

HH: You’ve been very productive as of late, it seems. What else can we expect over the coming months?

WS: Unrest is far from as prolific as many others. I release what time, money, and quality control allows. In 2015, I was energised after the removal of a very dark presence from my life, and I ploughed all of it into the label. 2016 has been blighted by delays, computer issues, lack of time, and a succession of things going wrong. It’s been a heavy year. The label is supposed to be celebrating its tenth anniversary, and I was meaning to do it with a stream of new releases, but circumstances out of my control altered those plans. I aim for the remainder of the year to yield plenty of new releases and, if time allows, a label compilation LP to top it off.

There are new releases by Shift, Kontinent, Am Not, Cauldhame, Abscheu, and Kevlar on the horizon, and then I had the unexpected but added blessing of Uncodified offering me his next album.

My house has at times been a meeting place for various people on the label, and we’re expanding that with the construction of a studio. It’s for Shift and Unrest bands primarily, but I might open it to others as well. It’s meant to be a place to enter a state of uninterrupted creativity and escape the stress and pressure of the outside world for the duration. What I don’t want is to add further stress to an already busy schedule by booking the studio solid with every industrial project fancying a go. We’ll see once it’s up and running. After years of compromising due to neighbours and other realities, the possibilities offered by a studio unbound by volume and space constraints are very exciting.

Unrest Productions

Kevlar | Am Not