I met Paddy for the first time when Gnod played a fantastic gig in Prague this year. We met a few times in Manchester since then. He and the rest of the Gnod crew lives in a wonderful old mill rebuilt into residency / club / gallery place in Salford called Islington Mill. This interview is sort of an extract from what we talked about during that time. Paddy doesn't often give an interview, but he made an exception this time, so this is sort of exclusive thing. We talked about some issues again via mail and here is the result.
You come from Ireland. When did you move to Manchester?
P : I arrived in the UK in 1997. First, I had a brief encounter with Birmingham, but then I headed straight to Manchester. For me it was the "BIG CITY". I came from a small town in Ireland. When I arrived to Manchester, I was eighteen, so needless to say I was overwhelmed and excited as hell. Manchester was where a lot of my musical heroes came from, so it seemed the perfect place for an eager kid to come find a band.
How do you feel about the city nowadays?
P : Manchester/Salford is my home now. I've been here sixteen years, so it's become more like a village or town. There are so many inspiring people and inspiring things happening in Manchester! I feel rather lucky to have ended up here to be honest. Obviously, it has changed massively. Old Hulme is pretty much gone, more overpriced apartments,more fast food crap, more shit that people don't need ... but it still remains solid as a hub for creative types, whether they are musicians, artists, entrepeneurs etc. It still feels like a place for outsiders to congregate.
Did you manage to experience old Hulme area full of rave-heads before it was destroyed? Do you have some sort of memory of that place?
P : I arrived at the time when "Old Hulme" was being knocked down and turned into what it is now. I went to a lot of free parties in the ruins of old Hulme and heard a lot of stories from amazing characters that were part of the "old Hulme". At that time, I was so young and partying so hard that I wasn't fully aware of how unique it was. It's easy to forget that Hulme was not only a place that attracted people from the rave/travelling culture of the time, it was also an old community with families and people living hard lives in pretty grim housing conditions. It's got a very romantic connection with the old free party/ rave scene and some very exciting things were happening there, because the conditions lent the place a certain lawlessness. It seems to me as the perfect microcosmos of what was happening in the whole of the UK at that time, but intensified, because Hulme is pretty much city center Manchester, so there was no avoiding what was happening there. It's easy to let nostalgia for the "Old Hulme" full of parties, etc. override the fact that basically it was a major housing experiment that fucked up a lot of poor people's lives. A strong multicultural community was built up there though. That's still evident today. There are still some amazing characters kicking about ... keeping the fires going.
You’re living in Manchester at Islington Mill, which is sort of a residency for artists, club and gallery all at once. How did it happen that an old mill suddenly becomes a residency and a space for art? What’s historical background of that building anyway?
P : The mill was built for the cotton industry in 1823. It was famous as the first fire proof mill in Europe. Ironically, in 1824, two floors collapsed due to poor casting and weight of the new machinery. Twenty people were killed, most of which were women and teenage girls. This tragedy sparked a near riot when half the city set upon the scene and has been linked with helping to strengthen the workers rights movement. Marx and Engels have been to Islington Mill during their time in Salford and Manchester ... taking in the poor working and living conditions. Since then it has had a variety of business' ... but mostly it just became a scruffy storage space. It was Bill Campbell, local artist, who took it over fifteen years ago and has had the vision to see it through to what it is now. The people that have passed through and contributed to the mill and the team of people working there are also a major factor in helping the mill thrive. It's interesting thinking about what the mill was originally built for compared to what it represents today. I think it's very positive that the mill functions the way it does. It's a real positive force in Salford and Manchester.
Inside Islington Mill from majestic disorder on Vimeo.
Is there any other place in Manchester, or somewhere else in UK, similar to Islington Mill?
P : Yes, I'm sure there are quite a few places in the UK that operate in a similar way to the mill. Places that I'm aware of and can remember off the top of my head are Kraak Gallery in Manchester, or Hope Mill ... I'm also aware of this great space in London for example. I'm sure there are plenty more in the UK, but I think Islington Mill is unique due to how long (15 years) it's been functioning as a creative space for so many different forms of art/artists, independent business', residential space and a venue/gallery space. It's been very DIY and has stuck to it's guns as a place where prejudice is left outside the building.
How do you feel about today's Britain? I'm asking you, because when I talk basicaly with anyone from Britain about their country, it always somehow ends up at descripton of Britain as “Orwell’s 1984 country”. Do you feel it in a same way?
P : I feel there's a lot of disillusioned, lost people in Britain today. Yes, it can be said that we are in an Orwellian vision of the future. The poor, sick and old are abandoned by a conservative government - dividing people and trying to make us hate each other. Most forms of media present to us a Doomsday Britain or Orwellian Britain, which I think undermines the diversity of the people and the diversity of attitudes in Britain. I don't think people here will just sit back and take what is being served up by it's political leaders for too much longer. I could go into all the negatives of the political system and paint England as the most fucked place on the planet, but it is not ... by a long way. It's political system is rotten, it's celeb culture is rotten, consumerism is rampant, people are brainwashed, but people should not be underestimated. I don't know the answers to what kind of change Britain needs, but I know that old attitudes of a "Great Britain" are dying fast and that's a good start. I feel it's time to be positive and look into how we can change our situations and attitudes as individuals - be less selfish, less hooked on material luxury ... the list is endless. I probably sound like a disillusioned idealist afraid to admit it's all crumbling around my feet ... maybe I am. I'm trying to focus on positive things on a day to day level like anyone else though.
Something has gotta give.
You co-organise so called "Gesamtkunstwerk" events in Islington Mill, where you present "new kind of electronic night" : "sonic exploaration and music from the experimental," as it stands on it's facebook page. When I visited it once, I was amazed with how you managed to present that space. Of course, it was mainly due to uniqueness of that particular place. On a top floor you had an art/visual exhibition, where artist waited for people to come and presented them their work. On a ground floor you have this nice place for a music shows. First thing that struck me was how you manage to change "ordinary club-like place", with bar and a stage, into something unusual by simply covering the center area of space with bunch of negative images from photography, making some sort of a walls that reflected presented VJ visuals all around that place. You had to spend a lot of time preparing this kind of event. How often you make Gesamtkunstwerk events? For how long exactly?
P : I don't personally organise Gesamtkunstwerk events. It's really the dreamplan of Chris H of Gnod and Burnt Offerings (Vulj & Hess). They had the vision of the sound being in collaboration with the visual aspect. They collaborate with artists to change the venue space, so it’s different for every event. My personal favourite show was that of the Vatican Shadow, where the entire space was caged in. There were CCTV cameras projecting feedback into the cage. Second best was the most recent Synth Cage 11-hour hardware jam. Hmmmm, seems I like being caged in, haha, strange...All of Gnod help out with the setting up of the events. Raikes Parade runs the rig and get it sounding great. KHOM is at hand to get the visual side down and Tesla Tapes has had a few of the artists there to play. We have been lucky to witness some fantastic sounds and shows since it began February 2013. The first birthday bash is coming up and it's going to be special.
It's not that long ago, when people coming to Gnod show would normally see dudes and a woman with guitars playing this sort of krautrock-drone gig. Nowadays, it’s more about experimental electronic music, even though you still sound pretty noisey, space-like, hypnotic and energetic. Why did you decide to change your instruments? Did you get bored with guitars?
P : That's pretty much it man. We got bored with what we were doing. When we started Gnod off, it wasn't just about guitars and riffs. We were making all sorts of strange sounds with strange instruments. Our first six or seven releases show that, but we got very comfortable and pretty good at jamming out in a kind of traditional spacerock/krautrock zone. We did some killer albums in that style. It gained us a reputation for that style, but we couldn't carry on doing it, because it felt stale and forced. We were listening to a lot of early, strange outsider music, mostly electronic, and that was feeding our minds. We got some of our old drum machines and toys out and got jamming. We were fortunate to work with our sound guy Raikes Parade, who has a background in Soundsystems. He put us onto some people, who built us the Gnod Soundsystem, so we could really get the most out of this weird electronic path we embarked on. The noise we were making became suddenly extremely exciting to us. It's been a massive learning curve, which is fantastic. Learning new shit is important to stay fresh. With analog synths and other such gadgets becoming affordable and abundant, its easy to get an interesting little set-up on the go. The Gnod Soundsystem has been a game changer. It allows us to put on interesting shows and working with promoters to use interesting spaces, giving us full control of how we want it to sound. Taking it on the road has been really exciting. We were putting the rig in some mad places ... There has certainly been a shift in what constitutes "Electronic Music" today. I think it's just about people wanting to make noise ... I mean noise in the broadest sense of the word. The lines are getting more and more blurred and tags and genres less defined. There are lots of artists and labels pushing this new kind of noise, which is fantastic.
When did you start Tesla Tapes? What was the purpose behind starting it anyway?
P : Tesla Tapes started in february 2013 after a conversation in the Gnod bus, when we were heading to a gig. We just wanted to put some of our other individual projects out on a nice format and see if people would dig it. I kept seeing and hearing things I liked, made by people I like, and so I began thinking it would be nice to put out other peoples' stuff too. Tesla has had some real nice tapes go out. I'm really pleased with how it's going. Some of the tapes have had vinyl reissues (Dwellings,Negra Branca) or led to the artist working with other labels. That's a real buzz, an unexpected one really. I've also been introduced to some amazing artists and music since it started.
Why do you prefer cassette fromat? Do you like the specific (lo-fi) sound of the tape or it’s rather some sort of fetish to you?
P : I don't really prefer tape as a format. In fact, I'm a vinyl man at heart! But I collect music in any format that I need to. Tape is great for small runs of releases, because it's affordable and sustainable once the ball gets rolling. I am nostalgic for tape, because I grew up surrounded by them. I used to tape the radio, make compilations for friends, all the things a music lover of my age did really ... but I've never stopped listening to tape. For example a visit to Morocco years ago ended with me bringing back over forty tapes ... since then I've been back twice to get more haha. They have never gone away. I do like the sound of tape and I love the fact that there are people out there like Stephen Bishop, who master specifically for tape releases and understand that sometimes dirge is necessary for a tape to sound good. It's all very exciting to me.
What’s your favourite Tesla Tapes release and why?
P : Hmmmm, my favourite Tesla.... That's a tough one! I love all the tapes I've put out. It's a real nice assortment of styles and sounds with no real indication of where it's going next. That's how I like it.