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Lustmørd Interview

Where are they now? In only a few short years the "industrial" music genre spawned dozens of bands, several labels, most of whom went on to become almost legendary amongst the fans. Evidence of obsessive behaviour or evidence of real musical innovation? Most of the most well-known names in the genre are now defunct or have moved onto to very different musical activities: Throbbing Gristle, S.P.K., Cabaret Voltaire, to name obvious examples.

Lustmørd's Brian Williams would probably hate to be called "legendary" almost as much as he'd hate to be called "industrial". Like many who came out of the scene, he's watched the music degenerate into the repetition of cliches and the word "industrial", never that useful to begin with, lose all validity through its misappropriation by ever more unlikely culprits until it's now somehow synonymous both with techo-without-a-groove and metal-without-the-solos. Lustmørd's music never had that much to do with conventional "industrialism" anyway, owing far more to the field of ritual and ritualistic music; and undoubtedly an inspiration for some of the more recent explorers of that field. An interest in the extreme, the intense, the beautiful and the power of ambience unites most of Lustmørd's recordings: an easy point of reference might be the world of the horror soundtrack, but the music is far too strong and purposeful to ever be merely subservient to the banality of most horror films.

Lustmørd's activities started at the beginning of the eighties when Brian Williams met prime movers in the "industrial" scene like Graeme Revell of S.P.K., and the members of Throbbing Gristle. Encouragement from S.P.K. and other soon led to the first album release (on Sterile, more recently reissued on CD by Dark Vinyl).

Brian: I got to know Graeme really well, and he was always telling me, you've got all these ideas, you should do this. I was going, oh no, I don't really want to do this. Graeme in particular kept saying, there's this piece of equipment we're using, why don't you get one of these. It's quite easy to do all this stuff. So I bought some basic equipment and started doing it myself. I was quite happy that this existed, and I was doing it, and that was all that mattered. I made a cassette tape of little experiments that I'd been doing, and played them to people like Graeme. He, without me knowing, told people like Nigel Ayers (of Sterile Records and Nocturnal Emissions), who then got in touch and told he wanted to hear it as well, so it was played to him. He said that this was actually worth releasing ... and it all went on from there really.

Like a lot of what was released at the time, the first Lustmørd album was more of a signpost on the way to a destination than the result of arriving there. Looking back, Brian agrees that it wasn't all it could have been.

"For years I totally disowned it, I really thought it wasn't up to scratch. And then, coming back to it again, I had the 2-track masters which could be cleaned up slightly for CD. It did sound much better than the record, but it didn't sound as good as it should have done. If you were actually there it was quite amazing. I didn't really know enough about the technology in those days in order to record it properly. It's nice to have the CD out. It is basically a document of that period, and it should be thought of as a record more in the sense of a reference than as a work of art. I thought it was quite amusing that it should exist on CD at all, so it didn't take Dark Vinyl very long to talk me into it."

Meanwhile, Brian worked with S.P.K., participating in many of their live performances, and eventually moving to London to work with them full time when they gained a proper record deal. This was to lead to Graeme Revell's Side Effects label being resurrected.

"We were sitting around drinking coffee, bemoaning the state of the indie record scene, how everything was so awful. Wasn't it a shame that there weren't any record labels releasing the kind of things we were hearing? We were getting tapes from the likes of Gerechtigkeits Liga, and thinking, this is great, they deserve to be released, and nobody would even listen to them, let alone release them. So a little light bulb went on, hey, Side Effects technically still exists, so why not start releasing things by other people? Somebody had to do it."

Side Effects first releases had been devoted to S.P.K., including albums like Information Overload Unit and Leichenschrei. The revitalised label released material by Laibach, Hunting Lodge, Gerechtigkeits Liga, Greater Than One, The Anti Group and Llwybr Llaethog, as well as Lustmørd and S.P.K., before eventually becoming dormant again in the late eighties.

"I just got really bored with it. I don't like anything. There's a few things I like, really big budget things I'd like to do, but you'd need a lot of money to publicise it. You also get sent these terrible, really bad industrial music demo tapes. Interesting for a year or two in the late seventies, but who wants to hear a seventh or eighth rehash of Throbbing Gristle? I also got really fed up of working through Rough Trade, who were a right pain in the arse. Apathy in general. No press - no radio play. I just got - not disillusioned - I just lost interest. And I don't actually like much music of that ilk. Side Effects ended up considered as some kind of industrial label. I just hate that whole idea. When I talk about industrial music I'm thinking of the Industrial Records label. I did really like what they were doing and trying to do. The genre that gets called industrial, I just hate it, we'd be much better off without it."

Lustmørd's second album, the classic Paradise Disowned, came out on Side Effects in 1986. It sees Lustmørd's trademark drones at their most effective, dark clouds of bass oscillation mixed with subterranean wailing, muffled voices, echoing bells, thunder and lightning crashing over low, resonant male voices. According to the sleeve notes:

"For us, nothing is sacred any more. A law by which we live, the only sound a broken bell. Entering your shrines, eating your gods, burning your cathedrals."

The ambition may seem arrogant but the music rose to match it. The opening tracks Beckoning and Utterance, for example, combine the intensity and grandeur of Christian liturgical chant with a much less holy attitude towards life. It's an awe-inspiring recording, a Satanic counterpoint to the co-option of musical passion by socially acceptable religions.

"The burning of cathedrals in particular goes back to my anti-Christian feelings. It's just my sense of humour really. A lot of the music I've always been influenced by is very intense ritual stuff, not this bloody awful Psychic TV kind of stuff, but Tibetan ritual music, I've always loved that. There's a lot of Christian music too - I like really focussed music. Generally speaking, where you have a good strong religion, it usually has a really interesting musical form, because there's so much concentration and focussing goes into it. The Christians have some really good music. On Paradise Disowned I was trying to adopt the same approach to the music, without all the Christian dogma attached. It'd be really nice to have Paradise Disowned played in a cathedral ..."

The album's sleeve notes also make explicit several locations where material was recorded, including the crypt of Chartres Cathedral, the site of Bedlam, and an abattoir. Although there's a lot of this kind of thing in the industrial scene, much of it posing, there's no doubt that it adds to the music's mystique.

"I really had gone to a lot of work to get all that done, so I did want people to know that I had done it. On Heresy, later, I wanted to be a lot more vague about it, but still to let people know about it, because it is relevant. Obviously, I do like to put some of that mystique in, it helps people listen to it in a different way. I'm trying to create an atmosphere, and to create a specific atmosphere it helps to give people a few pointers."

The next album, Heresy, appeared after a gap of four years on the American Soleilmoon label. Gone was some of the more confrontational music, the heavy drumbeats of Paradise Disowned's later tracks and the harsh, shrieking machine sounds that lent an abrasive edge, with what was left exploring the resonant drone-based side of Lustmørd in far more depth.

"Heresy was based around sounds, on creating an atmosphere, an environment with sound. It could have been much better, the sound quality really let it down. The source sounds are really important to me, I was inspired by getting these sounds, and the connotations they had were important. For example, the sound of a thighbone, which I'd had for years. I'd always liked that sound and been interested in Tibetan ritual music. I used to use it on recordings. It was fun to use it because of the connotations, but I find it a bit corny to put that on the sleeve. It's there, and I know it's there, and it doesn't really matter if other people are aware or not. I do like to use things that have some specific meaning, but it's to make it interesting for myself.

"The last track on Paradise Disowned was an attempt to do the confrontational thing once and for all, to do it as well as I could. I don't know how well it worked. I just didn't want to do it anymore at the time. There were a lot of other people doing this really negative stuff, and you didn't want to be associated with that any more, Whitehouse and so on. Well, at least Whitehouse were amusing, but all those Whitehouse-copyist bands, I've no respect or time for them whatsoever. I've still got ideas in that kind of territory, but I'm older and wiser. But there's a noisy bastard album coming out soon, with another project I'm doing, Isolrubin BK. There will hopefully be a whole series of albums, the first one based on car crashes, coming out on Soleilmoon. Then there will be an anti-Christian one. I just don't like Christians, it's time we started fighting back basically. I suppose it'll be confrontational to Christians ..."

The most recent album, The Monstrous Soul, released earlier this year, was Lustmørd's fullest collaboration yet. The first album had been almost entirely Brian's own work, with the addition of a few friends for additional shouting and noisemaking. Paradise Disowned contained the significant presence of John Murphy, while on Heresy, Andrew Lagowski assisted with engineering. The Monstrous Soul is a collaboration with Adi Newton (of the Anti Group and ClockDVA).

The Monstrous Soul opens with about five minutes where almost all that is heard is a single, repeated phrase: "It is the night of the demon" as winds begin to swirl around and ominous strings begin. A couple of bursts of loud noise later and we're into the 25-minute Primordial Atom, cycles of reverberating bass voice alongside enormous heavy thuds of sound, like a twenty-ton steel ball being dropped from a tall building. These are gradually smothered by the winds and foggy ambience until all that remains are low frequency oscillations and another ominously repeated phrase. Protoplasmic Reversion consists of a looped recording of a ritual chant mixed with more low frequencies and echoing noises, plus suitably subdues keyboards and more demon-inspired vocals. The Daathian Doorway bases its texture on the hum and clatter of industrial machines, while The Fourth and Final Key sets restrained ambience against more highly amplified thunderclaps, slow monastic chanting underpinning it all with a hint of spiritual menace, ending on a downbeat note with the re-entry of those beloved low-frequency drones again. It's a finely poised, and although occasionally a bit long-winded, very effective exercise in atmosphere.

"I think I'm going to be working more with Adi. So far, everyone I've worked with has gone along with my Lustmørd type of ideas, where I've planned what I'm going to do and got all the sounds together, and then got somebody else to help. I think in the future I'd like to collaborate more. You want someone who appreciates what you're doing, but will also take it a bit further. They'll take it in a different direction, and also have that important quality control factor. It also makes it much more interesting for me to listen to as well.

"We very much have the same sort of ideas. The Anti Group, which Adi does, is in very similar territory. Our interests in computers and different aspects of sound research make it very logical to get together and pool our resources. We plan to do an album exploring various concepts to do with electricity. I'm quite excited about that one - we should be starting on that whenever they've finished their tour this year.

"It's originally inspired by the work of Tesla, who I've been a big fan of for a number of years. I like the enigma of electricity. It's there, people not understanding it, it's almost magical and very dangerous, not just from the point of view of electric shock, but with things like extreme low frequencies in power lines being harmful. Your body also works using electricity, of course. I've been putting things together, collecting sounds of electricity for the last year or so, from transformers and Tesla coils, mundane things and less ordinary things. I'm going to use those as a basis for sounds. The pure electrical sounds are great by themselves, the frequencies, and also the sounds caused by electricity affecting other things. This is the interesting bit for me, doing the research and planning it all. I know what it's going to sound like in my head. The recording process might just be the boring laborious bit, the exciting stage is unlocking all these ideas."

A frequent gimmick on many so-called industrial recordings has been a reference to things like infra-sound, ultra-sound, or other frequency-related sonic extremes. Infra-sound, low frequency noise below the threshold of hearing, is believed to be capable of causing real physical harm, for example. Naturally, Brian is wary about attaching too much significance to his own use of low frequency sounds.

"I can't think of many people who actually knows what the hell they're talking about. People just think it's some kind of Holy Grail - you'll get this thing with the low frequencies, and you can kill people, and make all their hair fall out. Well, you can cause blisters, first degree burns with high frequencies. You can kill somebody, turn their insides to jelly. On paper you can. It is theoretically feasible to build the equipment, but not practical. A lot of the infrasound and low-frequency vibration has come from the military, and the American military in particular have produced all these myths and rumours. They have researched it, but people assume these things exist. As if, in some hangar there's this amazing equipment ready to be used on rioters ...! With very low frequencies, less than 10 Hz, you need massive concrete speakers driven by pistons, and massive amounts of volume, 130-180 decibels, like standing next to a rocket take off. The sheer shock wave of the sound would probably kill you anyway, let alone the frequencies.

"When you're recording music, there's not that much you can do, only the very simple, common sense things to do with psycho-acoustics, to do with spatial relationships, with depth, with trying to create a space. On the new album (The Monstrous Soul) we've tried it, but I don't think we've succeeded that much, because it's very difficult to do. It's the same with low frequencies. You can use frequencies like 20 Hz and sound bloody good, there's 20 Hz on The Monstrous Soul. But you have to keep it moving because if you have that on a CD, about 80% of your audience is going to miss out because their speakers won't go down to that level, they'll only go down to about 30 or 40 Hz. Some of the tones I contributed to the Anti Group's Teste Tones album use 40 Hz tones, because people will be able to hear them through their speakers, and they sound just as good as far as creating a "feel" goes. You can create very simple environments which will encourage a certain emotion though, using the well-known stress frequencies like that of babies or animals crying, or a woman shrieking. Leichenschrei, the SPK album, used those kinds of sound really well. You can set up your equipment to produce that kind of thing, and people listening to it find it really panicky, scary music. On that level it's quite simple."

Paradise Disowned had been divided into two sides: "latent" and "manifest", of which only the intense atmospheres of the "latent" side survived into later albums. The more physical aspect, fuelled by a heavy beat has survived in the form of Terror Against Terror, a joint project with Andrew Lagowski that fused Lustmørd-like noise and power with (now) electronic rhythms. Their album, Psychological Warfare Technology Systems, was completed in 1989, but not released until this year, following label problems (although one track appeared earlier on a Third Mind sampler album).

"It's really old stuff now. For years I'd been saying to people, look at all this noise stuff, someone will put a beat to it and it will go down a storm in the clubs. If you've got a really good rhythm you can put anything over it and all this grungy noise will work well in the clubs. I reckon I was right because that's what's happening at the moment. The album's too old now - two years ago it would have been interesting. It's not as valid as it was then but I still think it's good that it has come out. A lot of people have done similar things since then. The whole point of doing it in 1989 was to get it out and then move on. Now it sounds like I'm copying people from 1991.

"Originally the plan was to do three Terror Against Terror albums. I was disappointed by a lot of other club stuff, where people would become more and more commercial. I always wanted to do it the other way round. The second album was to be heavier than the first, and the last one would be incredibly heavy, probably no rhythms and just noise. I'm not so sure if I'll do it now ... there's so much of that stuff out there. There are a lot of labels now all looking for this heavy techno, rave kind of stuff, and I want to go heavier than that so I'm not sure people would really want to release it. It's the kind of thing I'd like to hear in a club, and I don't think the people who actually go out and buy club records could really dance to it ... I could bloody dance to it. I've always wanted to have really terrifying noises there in a club, rather than just these squeaky clean sampling sounds. You'd have these really big slabs of noise, aeroplanes, incredible explosions."

As well as helping The Grey Area with their reissue programme, compiling a Monte Cazazza compilation and working on SPK rereleases and live Throbbing Gristle material, Brian has plenty of other activities lined up for the future.

"There will be an album with Chris Carter. Somebody told me the other day that I'm doing an "Industrial New Age" album with Chris Carter, which I thought was very amusing. It certainly won't be that, but those two names are both so awful, I really hate them both, that it could be quite amusing to really call it that. There's another Lustmørd album that I'll be doing soon, there should be two actually, the electrical one and another one."

Future Side Effects releases are likely to include a live Monte Cazazza CD, in a limited edition release ("I know you really hate limited editions. I agree with you actually. The thing is, most of them aren't limited editions, they repress them like mad. They make more money that way", he tells me), as well as a new Monte Cazazza album, The Cynic. Also lined up are albums from In Slaughter Natives, The Anti Group (soundtracks to their film Burning Water) and Psychophysicist, a collaboration between Andrew MacKenzie (of the Hafler Trio) and Adi Newton (ClockDVA / Anti Group).

Interview January 1992 by Brian Duguid. Many thanks to Brian and Tracy Lustmørd.