Very Friendly’s Jack M: Hi NAKED. Let’s start by talking about Industrial music.
Alex: I’d say we were more interested in Noise music, generally. Industrial actually sounds pretty tame to me. I think what we like about Noise or Industrial music are its distorted parts.
Agnes: I think the word itself is good, but the connotations of the word “Industrial” are not what we do or what we fully like. If you were to write a description of Industrial music or what it was like historically, there are certain elements that we find inspiring, definitely. Like the metallic sound and the harshness of it. But at the time it was a political statement – it was about more active and about the performance.
VF: It was a working class thing — the musicians didn’t even have to have instruments, let alone musical knowledge. Taking the punk idea to the Nth degree… to the absolute extreme.
Agnes: Exactly, using whatever you had. Any found object. But now I feel like so many people work digitally. Our stuff is about digital distortion – we don’t use a lot of gear.
Alex: And all those distortions are stolon from the Internet.
VF: Yeah, Jack [Greenhalgh] said he recognised a piece of Whitehouse feedback in one of your songs. He’s basically a walking Shazam.
Alex: Oh my god! I was wondered who was going to pick up on that.
Agnes: We can’t afford to buy 1k plug-ins. It goes back to what Industrial music stood for then: your background, your politics, your stand-point. I don’t want to support taking things for free from the Internet, but at the same time you have no choice.
VF: Well it’s an updated form of crate-digging culture, essentially.
Agnes: I love Cosey Fanni Tutti of course, she’s still so important. Incredible. Everything Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten did was so appealing.
VF: …and completely Noise music. There’s a famous clip of Einstürzende playing while people weld metal next to them onstage.
Alex: We never call ourselves Industrial, because it’s got too much history attached to it. As soon as you say the word “Industrial” it’s like saying the word “skinhead”, so many bad connotations.
Agnes: Sonically, we are more inspired by Noise. Maybe the reason why people are making more Noise music these days — maybe what you would call modern Industrial music, you know metallic, harsh sounds — were for the same reasons people made them back in the late 70s and early 80s. It was a response to everything that’s happening around you. That’s something that we want to bring to our music. The process of making it reflects the way we feel, and think that other people do as well.
Alex: I feel like we approach it thinking: if I feel this, maybe other people will too. But I never consciously think this, it’s never intentional. It’s a gut feeling: see how we feel, and try it out.
Agnes: I think we like playing around with the idea of breakage, too. This was the reason why we wanted to use a lot of digital distortion. That was to us representative of distorting certain things; bigger narratives and ideas. Breakage to me was linked to the idea of fear. I’m always hesitant to mention his name, but it’s like Paul Verilio’s idea of fear, that fear has replaced a lot of big ideas, like religion and family, this idea of commitment, fear of ageing has almost replaced faith in that sense. No one believes in politics anymore, no one believes in social unions, or church, all these big traditions. All the values have become distorted, essentially.
VF: It’s a present day cliche, but this idea that youth culture has been sanitised by people who aren’t directly involved in it. The idea when we started Very Friendly was that we simply wanted to hear outrageous music in a club. Not so long ago, you could go to a club-night for the music alone, to listen to a curated set. It’s that we no longer wanted to hear loud music in the middle range; like it should be so high it is almost unbearable to hear, or it is low in the frequencies, dub-y, really, really heavy. Just because we wanted to feel something in a club again, and we know people want to feel again, too. When Throbbing Gristle first laid out their manifesto, they were talking about the desire to make people feel something.
Agnes: We’re like extremists. We’ve changed our sound a few times, maybe in the past couple of years especially. But this direction, the one we are on now, is very in tune with who we are. The idea of sonic extremes is something we speak about quite a lot. Like when the vocals are really high and the instrumentals are really low and distorted. There’s always an element of juxtaposing the two.
VF: I read an older interview with you, and you were talking about how there’s a lot of sexual exploration in your work in an attempt to provoke people in the same kind of way. A lot of the music people play in clubs today is incredibly neutered. There’s no red blood in it! There’s no sex in any of it. Not really.
Alex: I think that especially comes out when Aggy goes out into the audience.
Agnes: That’s becoming a social interaction project for me. At the start I didn’t do much interacting with the crowd, but then I started to become more interested in playing with it. The idea of the female form, human sexuality, the body, what it means in society. We’ve been programmed to view the body in certain ways. And it’s not changed, it’s bullshit when people say we’ve become more liberated. I’m a complete victim of this, and that’s why I’m fascinated by it. If I had tonnes of money I would definitely inject young blood into me – you know the trend celebrities are following now, injecting young blood into their faces? I think the owner of Google had it done recently.
It’s good to pay attention to the crowd. It’s usually men at the front of the audience, and women are more responsive if you come up to them, because it’s more acceptable. If I come up closer to a guy in his late 40s, they’ll be scared and not know what to do.
Alex: Some of them are a bit like [makes a cheeky side-eye impression]. Some of them are sniffing at you. I look into the crowd… it’s strange, strange.
Agnes: It’s not fun if you’re wearing latex and already smell of condoms! [laughs].
VF: It’s interesting that you’re provoking people to express themselves publicly.
Agnes: Yeah, the idea of private and public space…
Alex: I think you act differently when you know tonnes of people are going to be watching. These men are obviously a bit nervous, because they don’t want everyone looking at them. They become part of the show.
VF: Is that why you have the lights down at your shows, because you want people to express themselves?
Alex: When we use lots of smoke, we like the idea of everyone being in their own kind of space. All together, but alone too.
Agnes: And you break it. You create a very safe zone, then all of a sudden you’re in their face, putting them on the spot. It would be great to suddenly turn all the lights on one show…
Alex: We wanted to have songs where every single light in the room is on.
Agnes: We also wanted to try out a few high production, next-level things. We wanted to try temperature changes. The room would drop depending on certain moments or sounds in a song.
VF: We want to do that too, to explore the concept within the boundaries of a club-space… We definitely want to push it quite far, to see how far it can possibly go.
Agnes: It’s good that you guys are doing that. Everyone’s so stagnant just now. Something needs to happen in the club scene.
VF: We’re trying to keep it vague enough that people are intrigued, but don’t really know what to expect.
Tell me about the acts that first got you interested in Noise music.
Agnes: The song by Pan Sonic, “Lahetys”. We always bring it up because that was one of the first Noise tunes to make us think, “fuck”.
Alex: We first heard it when we were driving at 100MPH down the motorway from some shit-hole in Scotland in the middle of nowhere.
VF: So you were on a bit of a thrill ride, and someone put it on?
Agnes: It’s kind of the perfect balance between elements of Noise and Techno. Also, I guess it was when we saw Mika Vainio at Unsound festival in Poland. He was playing and there was a group of deaf, autistic kids in the crowd. His sets are particularly interesting in that he brings the beat for a certain amount of time. And how the audience reacts to it is incredible. The kids were going mental, they could only feel the sound. They were dancing and it was one of the most moving things I’ve seen.
Alex: It was 2013 and it was the first time we saw Mykki Blanco live as well, at that Unsound. Then we ended up doing a track with him the following year [2014’s “Moshin’ In The Front”].
VF: How did the collaboration come about?
Agnes: Just on Twitter. Alex noticed a tweet he’d sent asking for beats because he was in London. It was good timing because when we did it, he was saying how he wanted to make a female-only music label, and for the music to be extreme. It obviously changed, but I think that was an early example of what he was talking about [with the label Dogfood Music Group he subsequently started].
VF: You played with Merzbow and [Sonic Youth frontman] Thurston Moore at a church in Hackney recently. You met Merzbow afterwards and he pretended he couldn’t speak any English, right?
Agnes: He can speak fluent English. He was a closed book. He only perked up when I asked him about an effects pedal — he turned into a little boy when I said that. He only talks to you about effects pedals and animal rights. Those are his areas, everything else is out of bounds.
VF: Did you speak to Thurston?
Agnes: Yeah, I said: “Thurston, do you like pop music?”. He said: “Yeah.” I said: “I bet I know which pop musician you like the most. It’s Lana Del Rey.” He said: “How did you know that?” It’s what’s on my iPod now: Noise, and Lana Del Rey.
VF: To me, she’s at the droniest end of pop. She seems drugged out, and there’s something cinematic about it in that sense.
Agnes: Yeah, her vocals are sludgy and sexy.
Alex: We try to make universal music in a way, there’s a universality to it. It reaches the most amount of people it possibly can.
The SORT Issue II launch party takes place tonight from 7-9pm at Ditto Press, 4 Benyon Road, N1.
The after-party, Very Friendly presents: NAKED, starts at 10pm at Vogue Fabrics, 66 Stoke Newington Road, N16.