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Mike Dando has been performing now with Con-Dom since the time when power electronics was at its height. His music still remains provoking, harsh and relevant; and the most recent release, The Eighth Pillar, Con-Dom's debut on vinyl, is their most fully realised work.
Text, image and music all converge to produce Con-Dom's unique wall of noise. This is music best experienced, for fullest impact, in the live context.
Unfortunately, Con-Dom's music has been mostly ignored in this country, but hopefully this interview will generate some well-deserved interest in their challenging and confrontational sounds.
Can you tell me how you first got involved in music? Was there anything before Con-Dom? Where and when did it all begin?
Con-Dom was founded August 1st 1983, after involvement with the Walsall-based Spontaneous Human Combustion / Death Magazine 52 (SHC/D Mag 52), for 12 months up to June '83. No other previous "musical" experience. Con-Dom: Live Assault 1 was executed on September 13th 1983 in Wolverhampton.
What inspired or encouraged you to adopt your extreme form of electronic music? Did you follow or participate in the power electronics scene? Was anything happening locally at the time?
Time spent in SHC/D Mag 52 was instrumental. An introduction to "industrial culture". An education in extremes of sound, vision, approach, thought, action. An awakening of personal potentials. Family Patrol Group, Smear Campaign, Anal and others were also operating locally at this time.
Con-Dom stands for Control-Domination. Do you view our society as one in which individuals lack freedom, but are manipulated by outside forces, whether that be state power or organised religion or organised anything for that matter?
Con-Dom is Control-Domination is the theme. Control, domination, manipulation, organisation ... The forces of control hold sway - mass culture, mass media, mass mentalities. The individual clings to the deathbed. Self-salvation is the only hope. Freedom is attainable.
Is the principle purpose of your harsh sounding music to provoke people to think about important issues, especially religion and politics? Do you regard these two things as being central to the human condition? All your music seems to be issue generated. Is this fair to say?
Con-Dom is Control-Domination is the issue - it is all-pervasive. Religion and politics are but two facets of the issue; two contributory causes of the human sickness. The aim is not to provoke thought about religion and politics - they are in themselves unworthy of serious thought - but rather to stimulate self-analysis, in relation to these and other infections.
The nature of your music is one of extremity. Do you feel that this confrontational method can be successful in conveying a message or ideas. Or is this brutality too much for people to take, only leaving blankness?
Confrontation is the chosen method of education. Con-Dom generates brutality, pain, fear, hate (the instruments of control), so that the existence of the forces of control may be acutely felt, experienced and recognised. The aim is to provoke resentment / confusion / ambivalence, to upset and challenge conditioned expectation, to shatter preconceptions. If individual texts or ideas are lost in the process of bludgeoning, that is unfortunate - perseverence will serve to uncover them; there are other media; there will be other times.
The creation of blankness may be a necessary step towards enlightenment. A blank canvas has infinite possibilities; a slate wiped clean is ready to start afresh. A completed oil, full of cluttered detail, is ripe only for slashing.
You have performed a great deal of live assaults in a whole variety of unusual venues in the UK (eg. a church crypt and a council house). What motivated you to choose to perform in such unique surroundings?
Con-Dom is neither music nor art, film or theatre. It is all of these things. It is none of them. It does not sit easily in the galleries, concert halls, pubs, clubs, cinemas and playhouses (the controllers of these spaces make sure of that!)
Con-Dom is Control-Domination. It addresses the institutions and mechanisms which perpetrate their dual grip. It is never more at home than as an "uninvited" guest in their seats of power, whether it be the committee room, the home or the place of worship.
Can you distinguish between how your music has been received in the UK, as opposed to Europe and the USA, for example? What sort of response have you elicited from your audience?
The "openmindedness" of the States, Japan and mainland Europe has led to a warmer reception, in terms of greater opportunities, than in the UK. Here, neat categories and tunnel vision prevail - "music" = "instruments"; "performance" = "fine art degree" etc. If you don't fit into a stereotype you don't get opportunities. A symptom of mass culture ... Or you create and therefore control your own operational environment.
Actual audience response to Con-Dom is rarely apathetic (but perhaps more so in the UK). Con-Dom invariably provokes a positive (or positive negative) reaction. In both cases, misunderstanding or misinterpretation is often at the root. The rabidly Pavlovian response to the sight of a Nazi swastika is a yawningly cliched example. Swastika = "fascist", therefore Con-Dom is a fascist vehicle. The "fascists" applaud, the liberal / socialist / communist abuses. People have lost the ability to see beyond the obvious and to use all available information in forming opinions.
The live performance is an integral part of the Con-Dom experience. Most of your cassette releases are of live assaults. Why is this so? Do you then see Con-Dom as a live project essentially, given also that slide/film projections are a necessary part of the whole process? Are some things only possible in a live situation rather than in a studio?
Con-Dom is a multi-media operation. Visual and "performance" elements are key pieces of the overall Con-Dom jigsaw, alongside the sound component. The total experience is only possible in a live setting.
Education Through Confrontation! Only the live medium admits direct confrontation of an audience - sound, vision, personal physical presence - and that uneasy sense of the possible unexpected; the risk element.
Reliance on distribution of sound-based product through a comparatively closed, ghetto-like network will inevitably only reach a small and largely "converted" (to the sound) audience. The live medium reaches more people and a more varied cross-section of people.
The release of Con-Dom Live Assault recordings serves to provide an evolving document, although necessarily flawed, of the live crusade - a taste of the Con-Dom essence; a living archive. It represents too, an opportunity to feed in more information, more pieces of the overall puzzle, through written, graphical and other materials. All manifestations, using / mixing whatever media, contribute to the Con-Dom whole.
What led to the decrease in Con-Dom's activities in the latter part of the 80s? Surprisingly you only undertook two performances in the UK, one of these being a private one.
I have already referred to the general lack of UK performance opportunities. From late '88 on, I simply gave up on the situation - tired of philistine attitudes amongst "space" controllers; unwilling to put energy into creating (usually unappreciated) purpose-built environments - and turned instead to a more accomodating climate abroad.
The absence of new releases at this time reflected the painstaking development and preparation work being put into the subsequent All In Good Faith package.
You place great weight on the way in which your product is packaged. Why is this elaborate method adopted?
Con-Dom is a multi-media operation. Each and every element of its work has the potential to make a valuable statement; to contribute to a greater understanding of the Con-Dom message. Product packaging is no exception.
The housing of the All In Good Faith tape within the "Songs of Praise" hymn book signalled the beginning of a more conceptual, holistic approach to Con-Dom product. The former use of the hymn books in the chapel of a mental hospital; the desecration of the "good book"; the swathing of the tape itself in a "purifier"; and the books' title, all imbue the sound and message with new, complementary meanings. The "entropic" packaging of Enraptured Violence and the numerical symbolism of The Eighth Pillar "band artwork" are both faithful to this approach. The forthcoming Prince of Our Disorder will develop it further.
What value do you place in the area of collaboration? In the case of The Haters, it appears that you are an occasional member.
Con-Dom has little or no time for collaborative projects, ie those involving joint composition, by mail etc. Involvement has been limited to isolated projects, such as the recent Vital Sound Group 7" and live actions with The Grey Wolves. All available resources are devoted to Con-Dom.
The Haters is a special case. Participation as an occasional member involved commitment only to the performances in question. This was not a collaboration in the accepted sense.
Con-Dom is happy to "collaborate" with other compatible units, in joint or split releases, as considered appropriate.
Can you tell me about your relationship with the label Sound For Consciousness Rape? How did this liaison come about? Why do you regard this French label as being an appropriate outlet for your work?
The link with SFCR dates back to 1990, when the label was instrumental in organising Con-Dom's participation in the DMA2 Festival in Bordeaux. Strong personal and ideological affinities have seen this link develop into a co-operative partnership, through which the majority of new Con-Dom product is now financed and released. The label's sincere commitment, only to those works and artists it appreciates, is an important factor in the relationship.
You have released your first LP and 7" proper. Does it seem the right time now to put out Con-Dom vinyl (or CD)? Was the LP recorded in the studio and if so where?
Both the debut LP - The Eighth Pillar - and the debut 7" - Oh Ye Of Little Faith - are now available. The Eighth Pillar was always destined to be a vinyl release. The sophisticated nature of the work and, in particular, the wide and intensive utilisation of layered, found sound, demanded the use of multi-track studio facilities and a high quality reproduction. The timing is purely coincidental, although in many ways a natural development from earlier studio tape releases.
The invitation to work with the Tesco Organisation on a 7" release provided an ideal opportunity to experiment with new ideas, directions and techniques, in order to ruther extend Con-Dom's explorations of "faith". Again, the timing is incidental.
With live digital recordings available from last year's U.S. tour, the time is however now right for Con-Dom's first CD release.
The new LP, The Eighth Pillar, is concept based. Why did you choose to devote it to one man, T.E. Lawrence?
The Eighth Pillar is the logical culmination and extension of many years' exploration of the concept of religious faith. It is a journey into the realm of the intensely personal - one man's outer struggle and inner search for an individual "faith"; one man's very personal response to the human condition. Lawrence was a remarkable man - an enigmatic outsider who lived a tortured odyssey of physical and spiritual extremes in pursuit of a goal; a way. His life, writings and example are an inspiration to all who crave real freedom. The LP, its trappings and complementary special edition of Printed Matter, illuminate this quest.
Finally, Con-Dom has existed for about ten years. What keeps you going? Do you think that you will always be involved in the area of harsh electronics? Is this to you then, the most significant form of music?
The Con-Dom sound continues to excite, thrill and stimulate - on a personal level. The idea of "musical sound" taken to its ultimate extreme - pure noise; the idea of an extreme, pure vehicle for "extreme", pure ideas; both are as valid today as they were 10 years ago - more so in this age of compromise and adulteration. Con-Dom will always have violent sound at its core.
Con-Dom is an expression of self; a personal search. It will continue until there is no longer any need to look.
Interview conducted by and © Phil Taylor, by post between January and May 1992.