Analogue And Anonymity: Immersion Talk
I had spent several hours over the past few days, rinsing the internet, burning through multiple tabs (both browser and bine variety), and the same hours again revisiting music and enjoying new/ old sounds. When I first speak to Colin, he is waiting for his wife to join him. He laughs when we agree that either of us could be impostors on this anonymous call. “Did you find anything incriminating?” he asks, slightly nervously.
Early in the Nineties, Colin Newman and his wife Malka Spigel released a trio of experimental, ambient electronic albums as Immersion, as far removed from their previous musical output as could be. Colin’s sonic history had been propelled in his role as the frontman of Wire, who in the Seventies had moved out of the punk scene and into a fledgling post-punk movement. Their debut album ‘Pink Flag’ heralded a new sound in British rock and follow up albums that decade saw the band move further into art-rock territory. The ‘avant-pop’ sound of their later Eighties albums influenced a range of indie guitar bands a decade or so later, with Franz Ferdinand and others apeing their spiky agit sound. Israeli born Malka was one of the founder members of Minimal Compact, playing bass and contributing vocals in a band that pioneered a punk-funk sound as it traversed Europe in the Eighties. The pair met in 1985, when Colin produced Minimal’s album ‘Raging Souls’.
The pair have just come back from Tel Aviv, playing a low-key date “while visiting relatives and stuff”, with Ulrich Schnauss in support. Colin begins by telling me how the duo first started working as Immersion.
“When we started back in the 90s, what we found attractive about the whole kind of techno scene was the idea of ‘Faceless Techno Bollocks’. It didn’t really matter who it was, it wasn’t about personalities. We were still in a period where we still had weekly music press, but people didn’t have to live up to that.”
Malka joins us, and it becomes very apparent how entwined they are, both personally and musically. They try to do interviews together, Colin tells me, because the project isn’t about either of them as individuals. “It’s a couple, and the music is very deeply bound up in each other. It’s a collaboration at the deepest kind of level.”
The latest release, ‘Analogue Creatures Living On An Island’ sees a more urgent, rhythmic and driven sound to the Immersion catalogue. There are guitars, although surprisingly these are primarily provided by Malka, and not Colin, as she explains.
“It was actually my idea to bring guitars in this time. If you make the guitars not sound obvious, they can blend really well with the electronics. When you strum, you create a different sound, a different rhythm, more physical.”
Colin is keen to stress that neither party owns any of the parts or the instrumentation.
“Obviously there’s a strong conceptual element to it, but we didn’t didn’t sit down and conceive any of it. It is pretty organic, and the way we create music I actually have no idea where it is going. They don’t have song structures, both Malka and I are minimalists and we do like repetition. If you go back to ‘Low Impact’ in ’98, some of those pieces are really long, and you really have to be in a different space, sort of. I feel like the world has changed, and doing a fifteen minute abstract piece is not quite in our world anymore.”
“Peoples attention is taken up by so much stuff these days”, says Malka. “I feel that I don’t have patience any more.”
Is it Kosmiche, or Krautrock? All bloody labels it seems. It’s not where they are coming from at all. Both talk about how the MS10 is the ‘lead vocalist’, its “growling character”, and direct cerebral impact and resonance. The frequencies and “Voice!”, as Malka shouts.
“When we started it was just a techno project, but more on the abstract and ambient side because we didn’t know how to do dancefloor stuff. Using monosynths, they sound pretty austere but that was the sound at the time. If you think about something like Plastikman, it sounds incredibly austere compared to how electronic music in general sounds”, Colin adds.
Malka shares how obsurely she sees it. “In the loops of the MS10 I hear the Iraqi accent”, she laughs.
There is little drumming to speak of on the latest selection. Did they fall out with a drummer in their past? More laughs, and a stern respite from Malka.
“We love drummers! We played in this year with a drummer and it sounded great, it’s just how we developed this album. If we had ‘drum-drums’, it would take away from the actual shape of how it is, be too dominant”. They recently partnered up with Berliner Ronald Lippok, from To Rococo Rot and Tarwater for some time in the city.
“One of the elements of Immersion is the reduced drums, but there are tracks on there with a full kit that have been eroded, sort of sand-blasted to very little”, Colin explains. “How much do you need to give an actual rhythm? Playing with Ronald gave it a different element. He has a special ability to pick up on a rhythm where one barely even exists. It’s not like playing with Matt from Holy Fuck who will play on top of a sequence, he will play sort of around it, and somehow weaves in and out of it.”
This set up, just love and synths, is logistically better than Wire’s infamous personal 737 across America. Jokes. Colin and Malka can now do Ryanair.
“One of the benefits of Immersion is that just being the two of us is that. It’s tremendously portable. No amps, and all of the equipment fits in suitcases. We can just take an extra bag. You think with a Wire gig, you can’t even take your guitars on board with you, so it’s just all this luggage and effort and someone to provide a backline at the other end. We can just shove it all in a car and go and play a gig somewhere, and that’s really important to us. Just the two of us.”
‘Nanocluster’ is the pair’s new night, forthcoming in Brighton. There they seem happy with new landings, new avenues, escaped from London. Probably not on the same level as when Malka left Tel Aviv, but sometimes a move makes things stir, and give some creativity they both clearly yearn for. Minimal Compact were a name that has registered with me and others over the past year or so. Mugwump’s LP had Sami (DJ Morpheus) on vocals, and both Autarkic and Red Axes have cited them in interviews here. Malka isn’t phased by this credit, and also quite punk in her attitude.
“I’ve been in touch about doing something with Red Axes actually. I guess we were the first band to do something outside of Israel, and not give a toss about the local scene or what they think of us! It wasn’t catering for the local market, it wasn’t then and it still isn’t in some ways. They didn’t get it really, and it took years of us succeeding outside the country for people to be into Minimal and now it’s bigger than ever in a weird kind of way. We only play every two or three years”.
My Belgium thing had come first from being curious about the Factory Benelux thing, then later the New Beat scene. How had that influenced her band?
“We had our own thing going, we were aware of other people and other things but it just started as three, then four, then five just playing in a room. We were influenced by where we had come from. We lived in Amsterdam first, just going to gigs and seeing people playing. Being amazed by how free it seemed compared to where we came from, and it encouraged us to do our own thing. Then we moved to Brussels and we were part of the scene with Crammed Discs, and it was more people like Tuxedomoon that we had something in common with. Then Colin and I stayed in Brussels after the band split up, and we were more influenced by dance music and R&S and what was going on in Belgium.”
Oh. A techno revelation like we all had. They were both close to the source, Renaat and Sabine.
R & S.
“We were lucky because we knew the people, and they brought over the white label of Aphex Twin’s ‘Didgeridoo’ and said, ‘You’ve got to hear this’, and I’d never heard anything like it ever.” Colin’s story gets interrupted rapidly…
“It was at that point that guitar music started to feel tired, and not doing anything new”, Malka says. “Immediately we just gave up on guitars, we were always looking for new and exciting things and that was definitely it. And that’s why we moved to London, because we thought that’s where it was at, where it was happening.”
The Nineties then became “pretty interesting” for the pair. Starting their label Swim, and getting involved with lengths at Electronic Lounge, where they felt at home. And knew everyone, Malka tells me.
“There was a real openness. People would do remixes for each other and it wasn’t a big deal. Everyone just felt really excited and wanted to be part of it. And having no idea who was behind this music a lot of the time, or pretending to be somebody else!”
Pretending, anonymity, losing yourself. The original Immersion pretended to be German, Colin tells me. Malka joins in, “We had pictures taken with wigs on, because we liked the idea that it was just some bloke and some girl, because that’s what everybody seemed like.”
We all natter about scenes, and feeling included, and them nights. Periods in your life when you knew everyone, and were never uninvited and always excited. We meet on the day that Malcolm McLaren’s son Joe had just burnt £5m worth of punk artefacts, a symbol of pop’s consumerism? Malka had seen it too, but was as confused as I.
“It’s an incredibly empty gesture”, Colin agrees with me. “I don’t think anyone even believed in punk rock in 1976. The Sex Pistols were a generation defining group that’s for sure, you were either with them or you were against them. But there wasn’t much more than that, by the end of ’77 it was all over. Anyone who ever thinks that there were some kind of ‘punk ideals’, it’s just rubbish. Complete rubbish.”
The money that could’ve been raised from those sad Mohican wearers, all working in the City no doubt these days. It would get less attention we decide, and justing acting like some spoilt brat, bored of being someone’s son.
“I don’t personally feel much connection with that period. Next year is Wire’s 40th anniversary and Wire are going to celebrate it by not doing any looking back at all, that’s par for the course. This year’s been a weird one for me, I’ve re-released three of my old solo records which again I’m not particularly close too. But I’m happy to have made some other people happy with that.”
Q Magazine, Mojo, Oasis, The Stranglers in Tel Aviv, reunion tours, and marketing are all “very depressing”. We end up chatting about the world, and it’s ridiculous politic it enjoys these days. Colin and Malka are very Brighton about everything, but no less important for that. I see no flags being raised on the beach soon, but like most are distraught about this year, “and the people buying into this crap and paranoia”, says Malka. Colin adds further.
“For anyone even vaguely on the left it’s been a very depressing year. With both Brexit and Trump, at the beginning of the year you could not have believed either could have happened. The whole political climate has shifted to the right, and as I’ve said before Israel has been leading the way on that. Since Rabin got shot for trying to solve the situation with the Palestinians, Israel has moved more and more to the right. There are lots of parties on the left, but no unity, so your choice in an election is between the right and the extreme right.”
They feel lucky that they live in a city that didn’t vote Brexit, but won’t feel any benefit from that knowledge. “Farage, I wish someone would have shot him, you know… I mean I don’t feel like that, but I’ve got so angry this year”. Colin tempers his frustration. For a moment before we all resign.
“The policy of the Government seems to be set by Paul Dacre. A sociopath from what I hear from friends who have worked for him. You’ve got the Old Right, like The Telegraph, and you sort of expect that, but then we have the Daily Mail, which is just horrible. The people that read it must be consumed by hate.”
“We get tired of people lecturing us about how good he is. We want somebody to make a difference”, says Malka.
When we have to end by talking about Lego making a difference, and not Jeremy Corbyn we all know something is wrong.
“The album title came maybe the day before Brexit, and day after we were not just physically on an island. We felt isolated, then it became more so. More and more things are done on our behalf, and we feel just powerless”, and Malka leaves.
Immersion – Analogue Creatures On Living On An Island is out now on Swim. Follow them on Facebook.