Like staring into the sun
Guttersnipe is the Leeds duo of Xylocopa Violacea and Bdallophytum Oxylepis and they rock. They rock hard. Xylocopa talks.
I saw Guttersnipe live in Brussels. Even two days after the gig, back at work, I felt like I could jump on my desk, put both of my fist in the air and scream: "GUTTERSNIPE!". I didn't actually do that of course. But to come to my question: does playing live give you the same energy boost?
Wow, thanks so much, we’re really pleased to elicit such a reaction! Yes, playing live really gets us feelin’ the wacky buzz! I am a very high energy person generally so it kind of comes naturally to me to get into a frenzied state, but it is also the aim of the music in a way and a necessary component for its performance.
Before I saw you live, I only knew one Guttersnipe record, which was the demo on bandcamp.
That is our only release as yet. We are hoping to put out a couple of new things this year, but progress has been slow as last year I was finishing a masters degree, then I had a major operation and a month ago I broke my arm so I can’t even play guitar again 'till May which fucking sucks. Hopefully by summertime we should have some new recordings on the go as we have made plans with a few different people in that regard.
When I heard that demo, I thought: this is heavy. But when I saw you live, I thought: it's heavy but not dark, it's actually big fun.
Absolutely. For a while I wondered whether this would come across as our music is very extreme and highly dissonant, but a few people have said similar things to what you say in this question when they talk to me after a gig, which is satisfying! No, we don’t make our music with the intention of being “dark” or creating an oppressive/depressive mood, it's more hysteria/mania that we’re channelling, which I guess can go either way, but broadly speaking I don’t see what we are doing as dark, if anything the intended effect is to be like staring into the sun! There’s the notion that if there is screaming vocals and harsh discordance in music then it must have a negative aesthetic, but bands like Tunnel Canary who were very sonically violent, were actually complete hippies who wanted to induce a really “spiritual” experience in the listener that would open people’s minds in the classic “psychedelic” tradition. And going even further back to 20th century classical guys, who deployed cacophonous dissonance to extents that are still, to my ears at least, shocking today, were not making “dark” music. I mean, we’re both mentally unstable people and our music is intentionally berserk, but it's not supposed to be like Whitehouse or early Swans or something, which is pretty mean-spirited and seems intent on harming the listener. With us it’s closer to that cartoon psychedelic lunacy where everything is really strange and in neon colours, all incredibly saturated and hyper-stimulated, which can certainly spill over into a fucked-up zone, but with regards to the audience and ourselves, it’s only violent in a very positive way, like, puncturing the murky veil of post-modern boredom and attempting to induce abstract rock CPR, haha. I think Robert once said something like “being punched in the face by a rainbow”. I do make what I’d call “dark” music in some of my other projects, but that is not where my inspiration comes from with Guttersnipe.
Knowing you're from the UK, I can't help but see Guttersnipe as a continuation of a British free noise rock tradition of acts like Sunroof and Astral Social Club.
We’re good friends with Neil from Astral Social Club and the others in Vibracathedral Orchestra as well as Mel and Phil from Ashtray Navigations, which came about through living in Leeds, but while we’re huge fans of what they do musically and of them as people, I don’t really feel like we have any right to say that we’re part of the “tradition” that those guys developed, plus our approaches and sound are very different.
I also hear Harry Pussy, must be screaming female vocals.
Harry Pussy are really excellent, though admittedly I haven’t given them enough attention.
Harry Pussy's Bill Orcutt said: "People always saw Harry Pussy as one big chaotic noisy mess, but it was actually all very structured and planned out. There was no improvisation involved in Harry Pussy live".
It’s much the same in Guttersnipe. There are improvised sections or elements but it is always at specific points and based around particular constraints. 90% of what we do is totally composed and we’re definitely playing songs that are basically the same each time we play them. I’ve used the term “fuzzy structures” before, which means that while everything is written out and rehearsed, the elements are kind of volatile and somewhat fluid, so for example a guitar part might have the same overall shape every time I play it but there are parts where I go off on a tangent. There is some uncertainty or elements where the execution is more according to a rule rather than being a totally fixed sequence of notes, etc… We’re big into free jazz and so we love playing blazing improv but I don’t think either of us have much interest in being an “improv band”, it’s more fun and challenging to have a strong compositional approach which makes room for intense pockets of improvisation, but even then, for both of us to be on the same page so we can snap back in sync when required. It always blows my mind when you hear a free jazz record and after 20 minutes of seemingly untethered blow-out, suddenly there’s a final 30 seconds of some precisely executed bebop figure, so you know that somehow they were all totally with it the whole time! Plus that focused discipline of having to play it right every time is really enjoyable for me, it makes me feel more unhinged, and more consistently, than just playing completely free and loose where that wild radiance tends to ebb and flow.
Is there a link to metal, specifically black metal?
Yes, I used to be a full time metalhead, black metal mainly, so it is definitely a part of my playing style in Guttersnipe, stuff like the guitar solos from Carcass’ “Reek of Putrefaction” and other death/thrash records, as well as of course, black metal like Belketre and many others… Plus I suppose the overall “thanatos” characteristic of extreme metal music, the obliterating intensity, particularly the stuff where the composition/performance becomes so wild that it kind of “breaks through” into insanely abstract, avant-garde territory. There’s this tape “The Dark Bleeding” by an obscure UK weirdo called Emit which is hugely inspiring to me as a guitarist… I’ve never been a “technically” competent player and always hated/avoided learning scales or any of that Steve Vai bullshit, but have always loved really deranged metal. Plus I love high frequencies and weird chords, which is probably where my black metal roots show through, though I think that also comes from my deep love of shoegaze/ethereal/dreampop. However, in Guttersnipe my influences besides metal are mainly AIDS Wolf, Orthrelm, Tunnel Canary, Fat Worm of Error, MARS, Sonny/Linda Sharrock, Chrome, U.S Maple, Sightings, Butthole Surfers, Diamanda Galas, Sun Ra, music from North Africa and Indonesia, Stockhausen, God is My Co-Pilot… all with a heavy dose of autistic, queer, cartoon energy.
Is what you are doing a celebration or a destruction of rock music?
It’s definitely a celebration of rock music! What we do isn’t “anti-rock” or “noise”, it’s an attempt to see how far we can abstract the “rock music” concept, taking cues from the avant-garde and so doing away with all the exhausted bullshit which still dominates most rock music like boring chords, 4/4 beats, symmetrical playing, etc… Preserving the formal structure in the most rudimentary sense, but replacing all of the content and expressive language with progressive and experimental ideas that are focused on abstraction of musical elements and gestures, so that rather than making straight up avant-garde music like say, Iannis Xenakis or Pauline Oliveros or the most “out” free jazz, which we are in no way talented enough to play/compose, which is totally alien and rejects all features of “popular music”. We’re trying to somehow project towards that otherworldly space using the “rock music” language of loud guitar/drums/vocals…. like, for the formula to still rely crucially on the axiom of “kick-ass heavy riffs and beats” but to totally embrace atonality, asymmetry, dissonance, conceptual composition, non-human sonic systems, etc. The “pure” avant-garde is super important and we love that stuff, but we feel that the obtuseness and air of academic sophistication that often surrounds it sort of relegates it to this concert hall-ghetto of decorum and intellectual poise that actually prevents it from having a “progressive” or powerful effect on most listeners. It's sort of the same with the “noise” avant-garde, where the gigs are like this room with 20 people in it all stood still carefully observing someone scrape a contact mic with a balloon hahaha! I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’re usually among that cadre of weirdos and we fully support and enjoy it, but I think rock music really needs to get back in touch with all that, because it is such an excitatory medium that has this intrinsically hysterical component which is such a powerful medium for all-out weirdness to be transmitted through. Why does avant-garde music have to be so well-behaved and classy? I know when the thirteen-bar freakout in Stockhausen’s “Gruppen” kicks in, I’m overcome with the same feeling of mad energy as when I’m listening to something like “Morbid Visions”! I guess it’s mostly to do with class, that European high-art stuff and its respective institutions are geared towards a “civilised” middle/upper class audience, which projects itself in a way that is really intimidating/alienating to anyone outside of that circle. We aren’t even working class and we still feel uncomfortable in those environments. I suppose rock music is (in the most complimentary sense) pretty low-brow, it aims for the pelvis rather than the brain haha… I often say that rock is stupid or idiotic but I don’t use those words in a derogatory way, rather in a totally affectionate way, as I am a total idiot and a lot of the riffs I write and sounds I hear in my head are completely stupid… I’ve always been very much about absurdity that is also very serious. I hate the idea of progressive music entirely being intellectual and high brow, I feel that it is incredibly important for that vulgarity, the primitive/sexual/destructive/hip-shakin’ area of human emotion and experience to be included in avant-garde music/art, that it is punk in some way. We want our music to be accessible to people from all backgrounds, we’re a pair of weirdo rock losers so we don’t want to make music that is only enjoyed by well dressed Guardian readers… But ultimately we are trying to bring more people over to the difficult, abstract realm.
How did both of you actually meet?
I met Bdallophytum when I moved to Leeds in 2013 as I was really into his old band who were kind of no wave. At that point I thought no wave had ended with the original late 70s NY bands, so I’d never even heard of any of the 90s Skingraft bands or anything like that. Naturally I was incredibly excited about the fact that people were still playing no wave music, so I went to all their gigs and we started to hang out a lot as we only lived about 10 mins from each other. He introduced me a lot of the 90s no wave revival bands and others that were still active at the moment.
What do you have in common?
We both have high enthusiasm for the more extreme and bizarre end of that spectrum, a position we were mostly alone in, especially when it came to actually wanting to play that kind of music. At the start of 2014 we became a couple and did a lot of intense improv jams which included my best friend who lived with me at the time. Eventually those jams morphed into what we do now... you get the picture.
What are the differences between you two?
I can’t exactly cover our entire personalities, but I suppose we’re sort of an odd couple, in some ways we are real opposites, like I’m a total goth and will be in our flat dramatically waltzing around to Clan of Xymox whereas he will walk in and laugh at me, then go listen to Ponytail. Also he’s really quiet whereas I’m a complete motormouth… I like it though, the way we are dissonant, I think it is a big part of why we sound the way we do.
Why is it just the two of you?
I guess it’s just the two of us because we’re a couple who live together, so I don’t think it would be practical to work with someone else as our way of working is fairly intimate. Besides, we don’t need anyone else.
Interview by Joeri Bruyninckx/2016
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