I Must Not Gaze At My Shoes

10 Minute Read
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Art & Culture
Written by Henry McDougall
 

“There is the theory of the Moebius, a twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop. When we reach that point whatever happened in the past will happen again.”

Loop is observably again at peak velocity of its searing arc, and there’s no trace of moss on this asteroid.

Forming in Croydon during 1986 and recording through ’til 1991, the band fronted by Robert Hampson spilled out churning torrents of neo-psychedelic-trance-drone-space-rock with nods to early psych, kosmiche, garage rock and post-punk. To the casual listener there were hints of parallels with Spacemen 3. Absent however was any sentimentality or romanticism, perhaps with he exception of ‘Brittle Head Girl’ on 1988’s ‘The World In Your Eyes’.

Loop were a force that dealt in shifting walls of light illuminating dark phantasmagoric manifestations, waves of cosmic distortion, ceremonial drone, meteoric guitars and cascading sonic sprawls. 

 

From the beginning Loop set the scene, and what followed were obliterating shockwaves of singles, EPs, albums, Peel Sessions and compilations including their cover of Suicide’s ‘Rocket USA’, released through record labels including Head, Chapter 22 and Situation Two. Laying foundations for many other bands is testament to doing things your own way, and giving it everything. The honesty, integrity and raw energy was, and is, palpable.

1990 saw ‘A Gilded Eternity’ LP gifted to the world, a document of the times setting minds and souls ablaze. ‘Sonancy’ is the first studio album in 32 years, landing in March 2022, and the fire is still white hot. Before we dive in, take a few minutes to witness the quantum entangled fuzz and dirge of lead single ‘Fermion’, which contains “language” and strobscopic lights – viewer discretion is advised.

 

“Feeling the drift, sensing the gift.”

 

New arrangements were in place with the band formation for tours and festivals across 2013-14, and co-curating ATP Camber Sands 2013. Plus performances at ATP Iceland 2015, and being hand selected for Robert Smith’s Meltdown 2018, bringing with them an obsidian avalanche of sound with sonic lightning strikes. This year, from the star filled sky the bright vapour trail emerged again. Straddling the past, present and future ‘Sonancy’ erupts with the familiar potency of reality distorting pedals and effects that accelerated the band back in the day.

 
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Whilst on a recent sabbatical in Bath from East London, wandering around looking for somewhere to imbibe more caffeine I was presented with a record shop filled with plants, serving coffee, with the name Chapter 22 adorning the facade. At the till label boss and shop curator Craig Jennings warmly welcomed me into his world and spoke of the golden era of the label, we ranted about music scenes and anti authoritarian youth culture. After sipping a coffee I began to dig in the racks. “Are my eyes deceiving me?!” There it was, Loop’s new LP in shrinkwrap. I had no idea. It was this strange and beautiful synchronicity spurring a chat later that afternoon with Ransom Note’s ‘man about town’ Wil Troup, hatching the idea of penning an irregular column with a gaze for the aforementioned genres of neo-psychedelic-trance-drone-space-rock. There was no doubt the first feature belonged to Loop, the universe had dropped it in my lap and guided me on my way. Another gentle twist in the flow brought in a mutual contact who facilitated the following interview with the unstoppable Robert Hampson, “coffee in hand, ready to put the world to rights”.

 

Hi Robert, thanks for taking time for this chat. How’s it going?

“It’s okay. It’s been quite a challenging time obviously with Covid and being in the music industry, it’s kind of fallen on its arse. It’s good to have the album out, which came out earlier this year, but that was a long complicated affair with the vinyl shortages. It’s got good points and bad points at the moment. I look at it as a whole with the live scene, and again it’s something that’s fallen flat on its arse. You do seem to get younger bands whose audiences don’t give a shit about Covid going to the gigs, but the older audiences who we’d attract these days are a little bit more reserved. The halcyon days of the music industry are long past now, it’s been coming a long time with the advent of reality TV and manufactured pop bands. I’m just going to sound like a grumpy old man now but I don’t think it’ll ever return to anything of substance, if I’m brutally honest a lot of it is music-by-rote. I’m getting really fed up with Brit School bands that just seem to rape the past to get ahead. I don’t think there’s anything unique that will come, I might be wrong. I don’t think we’ll ever get another punk, or jungle, or drum and bass. Like everything it gets so distilled and liquified into a commercial blob. You still hear tracks now that have drum and bass drums, that junglist sound, but it’s just commercial pap, and it’s become mainstream pop. The same has gone for hip hop and RnB, but obviously to deny there’s no roots or scenes going on in different parts of the world is stupid, and I’d never do that, but at the same time in the greater scheme of things I think it’s just dead on it’s arse. I’ve been doing it for over forty years now so I’ve got to plough on really, and just hope.

The album seems to have been very well received, but that doesn’t always equate in sales. The download culture and the self-entitlement of “everything must be free” has punched the music industry in the face. I don’t understand why people seem to think that if you’re making art that you shouldn’t be paid for it, I find that quite compelling in the sense that… it’s like “what the fuck are you thinking?!”. We have family, we have to put food on the table, why shouldn’t we be paid to make our music? I’m not Lars Ulrich from Metallica, I don’t want to sue everybody that downloads for free. The worst thing now is a lot of people just pay a monthly subscription to Spotify and are being given fucking everything they want, and I really disagree with that. It might possibly upset my record company by saying this but I don’t see the money from it, for writing the songs you get maybe two pence or whatever. I don’t agree with that. You’ve got the owner of Spotify rubbing our noses in it by announcing how much he is worth, and I find that absolutely insulting. If I was in a stronger position I’d pull all of the Loop music from Spotify, I know that would upset the people I work with in the record companies but I don’t agree with it and I have an absolute pathological hatred for it. I have to play the game as much as anyone else does but there’s not a lot of positives in it. I’ll get people asking me “well, why do you do it?”. I do it because I had a calling to do it many many years ago, and I still have that calling. It’s just that I used to get paid and now I don’t, I find that quite distressing.”

Is there a particular Loop release you’re most proud of, and is there a Loop gig that’s a personal favourite?

“I don’t really have favourites, I’m proud of all the Loop records however good or bad they are and see them very much as a moment in time. Like a lot of bands from the eighties that had that post-punk DIY attitude there wasn’t a lot of money to go into studios, so you just had to make do, record them as best as you could with the little money you could reap. I wouldn’t change a thing, I really wouldn’t, it’s not like I regret anything. From an artisitic point of view you’re never going to be happy, and I don’t think I’ve ever been one hundred percent happy because ten minutes later you’ve got a change of mind and think “I should’ve done that differently”. You just have to deal with that once you’ve committed. As a general whole I’m the happiest I’ve been with ‘Sonancy’ than I have been in any other records. It was sporadically made so I had a lot of time to think about things, whereas the older albums were made in a one or two week slot in a studio, you mix them, the job was done and you couldn’t really change them. With ‘Sonancy’ because of Covid and having problems travelling to the studio and working there were lots of cancellations in the making of it, so I had a lot of time to sit and think about things. Any changes that occurred to me I could make, so as a final product leaving the studio I think it’s probably the collection of songs I’m most happy with. I have niggles now but that’s because by the time we’d finished it and then because of Covid and the vinyl crisis it had been sitting on the shelf for a year, there’s a lot of time in between to think “that could’ve changed” or “we shouldn’t of put that track on, and put another track on instead”. But in general it’s the happiest I’ve been in the completion.

I like them all and they all have their value. I don’t know, Loop fans would have to tell you, but once it’s finished I like to distance myself as much as possible from it, it’s for critics and Loop fans to discuss rather than myself. I like pushing on and if I had my way, and we weren’t facing a lot of the problems we have at the moment the next album would be ready by now, but it just doesn’t work like that anymore. Unfortunately the music industry now has these massive lead-in times, over six months. That’s another thing that confuses me as you’re told it’s for the aid of promotion. But now you have more facilities at hand, so use that! Why has it become a more complicated process? I am King Cnut staring at the sea?

As for gigs, no, not really. It’s so sporadic now when we play. I really enjoyed Meltdown, obviously it was a real honour to be asked by Robert Smith to play. That was quite an emotional night for everybody, for the band and for the audience, I don’t know why but it felt very special. In recent times that’s one that I can really put my seal of approval on. I have memories of the old days, obviously Reading was a milestone but I was absolutely petrified at the time with stage fright. Do we go down the festival route? I don’t like them, and I don’t like the way Glastonbury has gone, it’s just this middle class box ticking affair nowadays. It’s lost the essence of what it was actually about. People might disagree with me but everything has had its edges rounded off, and it’s like the whole music industry has become bevelled. It’s hard to put your finger on but I get told about new music that’s meant to be quite challenging and I find it quite tame really, it’s been over polished right across the board. Even if something starts quite raw it gets rounded off very quickly. Obviously that’s due to the movers and shakers of the music industry now. People will read this and question why I’m even involved in it anymore because I seem to be so incredibly unhappy about it, but it’s more of the case that I think it needs a really good shake up. We need to get back to a much more independent music scene that is not owned by or sucked up by conglomerates and multi millionaires that could really be selling biscuits as far as they’re concerned. Most of them don’t give a fuck about music, they don’t have the passion for it.”

 
 

The production on ‘Sonancy’ is open and occupied in all the right places on the soundstage. Was there an intention to lift the mix and allow components of songs to shine through more?

“No more than normal, but what I will say is it was very much in my mind to have a much more minimalist approach, more minimal than normal. No lead guitar lines, no solos, no wah wah. I deliberately stripped away, I had that in mind and I just wanted to make a much more rhythmically tense, tight structure. It doesn’t have the normal Loop tendency to wander and go off the mark, this one had to be very taught and concise with much shorter songs and it was all very deliberate. We had to make something different, we didn’t want to make ‘A Gilded Eternity’ part two. I hope people will hear very distinct differences between all the albums from ‘Heaven’s End’ to ‘A Gilded Eternity’, then obviously there’s a big gap before ‘Sonancy’. I didn’t see any point in just coming back and going over old ground. With that stripped down and stripped back energy to it, and the production values being a lot better these days you don’t have to spend a fortune as you used to do. Technology has played a part, definitely. It’s hard to describe because sometimes I have a very distinct picture in my head, you have an idea and that just flourishes with mulling it over. A lot of the pre-production work was done at home, so that helped to hone the picture right down, and I said to the label and the band “everything will short and concise”. In a way it regressed to, and I hate using labels but it makes it easier, dare I say to a more post-punk energy. I really wanted that and it’s always been there in Loop, but for this one it had to have that immediacy.”

Is there a go-to piece of kit in your home studio that kickstarts the creative process?

“Not at alI, I just have my pedal board and a guitar, then just start. I’m a terrible tinkrerer, I like tinkering a lot! It’s quite slow for me, I don’t do anything too quickly. With the abilities of technology everybody could have a small studio in their home, and I’m not talking about just a Portastudio tape system from back in the day; with a laptop, a couple of speakers and some plugins you’ve got a studio now. That helps a great deal in bringing certain ideas to fruition, and what held us back from doing things before was just not having the facilities to make another album. We had things lined up with ATP, the All Tomorrow’s Parties label, and we’d started recording a new process with the ‘Array 1’ EP which was genuinely going to start a three EP series, but ATP went bust and everything fell apart. Loop has a bit of a black dog following it around, we call it ‘Loop Law’; just as we have something really good happen it’ll all fall apart. It’s not quite Spinal Tap, but it could be at times. It gets frustrating, it can be two steps forward and one step back type affair. I would’ve financed making an album. Reactor is the Loop label and we’ve licensed through Cooking Vinyl. I run the Reactor label and if we’d had the finances I’d have paid for it completely, and released it. But on that side of things we would never of had the more positives of being with another label, you know, you get a promotion department and you get good people working with you. We’ve got some really nice people at Cooking Vinyl that I really get on famously with. I’d already known Rob Collins from back in the day because he used to work for the management of Loop many years ago, so it was a nice return to working with people I’d worked with over thirty years ago. I don’t really have any complaints in that respect, I got everything I wanted. I wanted to record at a certain studio, and wanted to work with certain people, and fortunately there was the budget. It was still a very small budget, but we didn’t need a massive budget so it worked out all for the good. I hope they’ll be interested in doing another album sooner or later.”    

 
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“It’s difficult as I don’t view music as some sort of competition, and I’ve always pretty much plodded along in my own little world.”

 

Are there any artists and bands you’d cite as fellow contemporaries during the early days of Loop? Were there others you feel were mining similar sonic seams?

“Yes and no, this is something I’ve said before, it’s that I think around the eighties and late seventies period of post-punk music was far more eclectic, and certainly independent music was far more eclectic. I’d fully expect that people who liked bands such as Dinosaur Jr would like Loop. Or Butthole Surfers, or Sonic Youth, or Swans. There was a crossover audience with the much louder noisier bands. So, yes and no. We’d already split up when, and I hate this word with a passion, the shoegaze thing kind of came about. For me to try and explain something by using a label helps, so that more shoegaze stuff had shades of Loop in it. I’d always looked at Loop as ploughing their own field and perhaps a little bit more so than other bands. Obviously, Sonic Youth did as well. But, I don’t know, it’s difficult as I don’t view music as some sort of competition, and I’ve always pretty much plodded along in my own little world and don’t really pay a lot of attention to what else is going on. Certainly not anymore. I used to be out four or five times a week at shows when I was a lot younger, now I’m lucky if I do four gigs a year.”

Whose music is blowing your doors off at the moment?

“No one, and I’ll leave it at that or it’ll just sound like I’m slagging other bands off and I don’t do that. A lot of the time I hear things and I just can’t help myself, because I’m of a certain age I just think to myself “I’ve heard this all before”. That whole Brit School culture of music now, they’re just tapping into elements of the past and I’ve got to be honest I don’t think they’re doing anything new with it. If they did something new with it I’d be a bit more gracious. It leaves me cold a lot of it. Other people may find it entertaining, absolutely fine, go ahead and knock your socks off. I have my little things, I still love bands like White Fence, there’s bands I still like and I still go out and buy their new records but I don’t have that thrill and excitement anymore that I used to have; but is that a sign of getting older? I like to think I could still have my mind blown by something or other. The last thing I was genuinely excited about was when drum and bass started getting quite experimental, and you had much more abstract stuff going on like Photek, and then some of the dubstep stuff like Burial, that was great and I really enjoyed a lot of it. But I’m not getting those kind of feelings at the moment.”

 
 

It’s no secret that you have a deep disdain for authoritarian figures. Theres a whole gang of these villains trampling liberty and freedom around the globe; being aware and vigilant of these dark mechanics can be all consuming. Would you share one thing that lifts you, and one thing that really ticks you off with the current state of geopolitics.

“Everything fucking pisses me off with geopolitics. But, there’s one thing, there’s a ray of light for the UK at least. There’s a new… I’m going to say protest group, called ‘Enough Is Enough’. You have Mick Lynch, Zarah Sultana, Jeremy Corbyn and other big names putting themselves behind it. Labour is doing fucking nothing, As a working class man and always having socialist tendencies I just don’t see Labour putting up a fight so it’s about time someone else did. You’re not going to get that from the Liberal Democrats. It’s been said, and I have to reluctantly agree with it, people like Starmer could be Tory stooges for all we know. I had a lot of respect for him but he’s decimated the Labour party, and he may be good with words in Prime Minister’s Questions but I could stand there and take the piss out of Boris Johnson, it’s not fucking hard as the guy is an idiot. Just wind him up and let him go. The point now that we’re about to have our third unelected Prime Minister, not by the people but only by the Tory party, is absolutely abhorrent. We now need a pressure group, and I hope that the ‘Enough Is Enough’ collective will gain some ground. Apparently people are signing up in great numbers, there’ll be demos, protests and marches, with localised activity which I will literally be on my starting blocks for and ready to get involved in. I’ve never known anything like it with what we have now. The rise of fascism, and extreme right wing Christian fascists. You can’t be a fascist and put the name Jesus in front of it, or god, it’s anathema. So what the fuck is going on there?

You’ve got people like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green in the US who are just fucking moronic puppets doing the bidding of someone else. What they are saying is absolutely poisonous and disgusting, along with the whole anti-abortion movement. In Leeds only last week, there’s a growing anti-trans faction in all of this, there was a children’s performance with trans people involved and there were fucking protests outside. Now, it’s bad enough Boris copying Trump hook, line and sinker with what we’ve had in the last few years, but now to have these supposed moral guardians who’ve been given a voice by social media, and don’t get me started on social media as I find that abhorrent as well and this has given everybody a voice. Everybody should have a voice but it shouldn’t give rise to these cis men, these disgusting pieces of shit, to be keyboard warriors spreading lies and disrespect to other human beings. I’ve had enough. Johnson didn’t give a shit what he was doing, he just did it from the Trump playbook. They’ve been given carte blanche to pretty much do whatever they want by the people who support them. With the whole Tory party, take a look at the last cabinet, not the lot right now but they’re also a bunch of fucking idiots too, but you’ve got people being given jobs that have absolutely no experience in. Nadine Dorries as Arts Minister? I mean, come on! She’s a fucking nurse, well at least she trained as a nurse.

Johnson deliberately put idiots in jobs to make himself look better because he’s a narcissistic sociopath. It’s exactly the same as what Trump did. You hear rumblings of this sort of behaviour the world over, what is going on?! They’re trying so hard to absolutely destroy civil liberty and democracy. Your average plumber from Essex thinks Boris was a bit of a laugh and would have a pint with him. They’re still voting for these motherfuckers. They’ll take your shoebox off you as well, sooner or later. It’s inevitable that we’re seeing climate change in real time. If we can’t see the wood for the trees on any of this then we have to blame our parents, and the parents of younger generations. The education system, everything is being destroyed. Everybody is saying our NHS is dying. It’s not dying, it’s dead but being kept alive by artificial means on a life support system, just. Why are we not in the streets? Enough is enough. People need to toughen up and say “we can’t put up with this anymore”.

You’re giving these people a privilege to run this country for us, not us just doing exactly what they want us to do all the time. You only have to look at Jacob Rees-Mogg, born with a silver spoon in his mouth and wouldn’t know a hard day’s work, come on!  I’m very angry and it’s time. I’ve always been political but I’ve always kept it to myself, but now I’m not afraid to say what I need to say, and if someone reading this is influenced by what I say, maybe they’ll think “yeah, I need to stand up for my rights too” then that’s my job. We need to wake up, now. It’s so up front it’s literally dangling it’s testicles in our faces. They rioted over the poll tax, why aren’t we rioting now? It’s always the same but it’s got a different flavour this time because of social media, it’s given the encouragement and entitlement to complete and utter morons to spill their drivel all over the internet. If you can’t see through the veneer of lies and indoctrination then it’s a shame, and who is actually doing anything about it? It’s still liberally happening on places like Facebook, because they’re not really clamping down on it. Twitter seems to be the only platform standing up to it. I’m not on any of these platforms, we have a band page that someone else runs for me. If I was allowed anywhere near it there’d be a rant every single day, I’d be doing this every day, and I can’t do that to my heart rate. I hope you understand that I have my tongue in cheek and don’t take myself that seriously but I am angry, I’ve not been politically this angry since Thatcher. It’s a cliché to say but what’s going on now makes Thatcher seem like a pussy cat, but that cabinet actually had experienced people so if it was a finance man he actually had experience in finance, in the medical wing you actually had people experienced in medical fields and matters. Now we just have these Etonians that seem to think they can do fucking anything, they get bits of paper to tell everyone else how intelligent they are but they’ve just been given a gilded lily and pushed through on a conveyor belt with mummy and daddy’s money.”

You’re given a platform to broadcast a message to the world; what do you say?

“I’d say get your heads out of your arses and wise up. Look at the bigger picture and stop just thinking about what’s going on at the end of your garden fence. Think about climate, think about humanity, think about people other than yourself. This rule of self-entitlement has got to stop. You’re not Greta Thunberg just because you sign a petition to once in a while stop seal culling, get off your arse and do something if you really care. We need to fight back now.”

What can we expect from the October 14th gig at Electric Ballroom in Camden?

“A small audience! It’s a Loop show, it does exactly what it says on the tin. There’ll be some oldies, the classics, and some material from ‘Sonancy’. We’ve not managed to play anything live from the album yet, so even though it’ll be considerably older by the time we tread the boards I don’t believe you have to tour albums anymore. We do our best, we love playing live shows and wish we could do more. The album was out too late to get in on the low key festivals, but next year we’ll do some more touring, though we may as well give up on Europe with Brexit. Do you want a rant about Brexit?! What an absolute shit show! I had people telling me “Oh it won’t be so bad” and I’d say “You’re not in a band are you?!”. Touring was difficult anyway but it’s just got into a world of pain. Loop is old enough to have been touring before the borders opened, and anyone reading this who toured back then will know how awful it was. Now we’re going back to that but with additional paperwork and checks for parts of Europe, and of course it’s all astronomically priced. Do we tour and lose our shirts, or do we stay at home and try to pay the electricity bill? You’ve got to laugh but it’s grim out there and there’s worse to come, wait ’til winter. It’s going to be Truss and she couldn’t organise a raffle, so what do you think is going to happen there?

The discontent needs to be people putting their shoes on and getting out there in the streets and protesting. It worked for the poll tax and I don’t think we even needed to riot, but good, maybe we need some civil unrest. I’m not into violent conflict but I’m into some civil disobedience. The way I’m talking you’d think I’m in Crass but I’m not an anarchist by any stretch of the imagination, I do want people to get out of their comfortable lifestyles because it will come for you, eventually it’ll tap you on the shoulder too. This is where they want us, they want us in this mogadon-induced sleep, they want us dulled. The only truthful thing Trump ever said it that he loves the badly educated, the only sentence of truth to ever come out of that man’s mouth. We had our version here with Boris, Mr Cosplay, dress up in some hi vis for the cameras then back to Chequers for twelve o’ clock to empty the wine cellar. Anyway, are we done sir? Have I ranted enough?!”