Radioactive Man Talks – Take 2
We're going to come out and say it straight away, Tiny Reminders is still one of my favourite albums pretty much of all time. R$N has always had more than a passing interest in what you have to term these days 'real Electro' but when Tiny Reminders came out, it crossed the divide between that really dark, industrial and 'manly' electro and the more playful Warp sounds at the time. It sat perfectly on said Sheffield label too fitting in amongst the likes of Authechre and the like yet standing out from the pack. A difficult thing to do on a label of that stature too managing to wring a real and raw bass heavy machine funk out in the wash.
Keith Tenniswood aka Radioactive Man was one half of that formative album and one half of Two Lone Swordsmen. Andrew Weatherall was as you probably know the other half.
Tenniswood and Weatherall met when a Mr Jagz Kooner, then of the Sabres of Paradise invited Mr Tenniswood along to work (skin up and make tea) in their studio. It was here as the Sabres were disbanding and The Aloof (Kooner and Gary Burns) were out on tour that TLS began to take shape… but there'll be a whole history of that to come when you stop reading this… so onwards.
After Tiny Reminders TLS veered off into territories new and (in the eyes of many) unchartered, picking up new fans along the way and probably losing others at the same time. It was a joy and intrigue to see their evolution.
Keith's solo project as Radioactive Man's solo evolution began with the self titled debut, released on Weatherall’s Rotters Golf Club label in 2001 containing the incredible ‘Uranium’, quickly followed by mixing one of the first and hallowed fabric album series. Now mainly focused on his solo work as Radioactive Man and his production partnership with Billy Nasty as RadioNasty and after a 4 year hiatus, Tenniswood dropped his new Radioactive Man album 'Waits & Measures' this year exploring the finer and more intricate sides to his sound with the odd banger through in for good measure. R$N caught up with one of the original UK machine funk specialists for quite a lengthy chat… then we lost the recording… so we went back a few months later to do it all again… which tied in rather nicely with his Waits & Measures just about to be made available on vinyl for the first time and his live show at Fire this weekend with the lovely WANG and Simian Mobile Disco.
Keith: Rewind selector… haha… (a reference to R$N losing the bloody file!)
R$N: Haha! Let's talk about your musical upbringing… again!
K: My musical upbringing…? Both my dad and mum were really into music. I remember getting out a bag of 7 inches from under my bed that I'd found in the loft and I remember being quite fascinated with them.
There was a cover of one of the Beatles where they're all dressed up as bunny rabbits. It was a really weird EP…
My dad, his dad was pissed off that he'd brought a guitar home one day and gave him an ultimatum of either the guitar goes or you've got to move out.
At the time, he lived in the area where it was all going on with the Stones, Clapton and Page all being from round those parts. If he'd stuck at it I think he'd have probably made something of it… so at an early age, about 9 my dad bought me a guitar… which I wasn't really into at the time. But a few years later I started to really get into it and I started to play y'know like old rhythm and blues… and that was it for me really from there on in I was just obsessed with music.
I used to sit in school with my walkman taped down my arm just listening to music.
Then the electro and breakdance thing happened which was a ridiculous time… this whole scene was so colourful and so exciting to what had gone before it.
I used to go to this roller disco and they used to play things like Shannon – Let The Music Play. And then I went and bought the Electro records off the back of that and that was it really.
Lino out in the front room! (Laughs)…
And then after that I was into more rock n' roll during the 80's… I was always hanging out with older people… I grew up in Weighbridge Upon Thames which was fairly fkkin boring.
At 13 / 14 I was being fairly naughty doing lots of Acid and speed
Cheap and cheerful!
Cheap and generally cheerful – and would end up going up to these squat parties.
I remember going up to these crazy parties with Gay Bikers on Acid and Screech Rock and it was all designed to freak you out with neon paintings and the like… and when you're 13 years old and doing acid it was quite a headfuck. It was also being introduced to that whole staying up all night.
So i was kind of introduced to going out at quite an early age.
I was playing in bands throughout the 80s and then this thing called Acid House happened… which I wasn't really into at the start. Tho I do remember going to Mud Club with a Bandana on… (laughs) and sort of getting involved somehow. But then I guess it wasn't until 91 when the Hardcore thing and Free Parties happened. There was quite a big scene where I was in the woods… it was exciting times. The spread-up breaks…
Which was what connected a lot more people to what was going on.
Yeah and I think because I was that little bit younger I didn't quite connect with Acid House… but Hardcore just seemed like it was this insane, crazy music especially mixed with taking ecstasy for the first time.
It was a pretty anarchic music…
It was, it was the punk rock of it's time.
And then '92, going to Spiral Tribe all over the country… it wasn't just them, it was other systems as well. But every weekend I'd just go… fill up a van with a load of mates and just go. I remember trying to find one in Newtown and little did we know there was two Newtowns. So, we went to the wrong one first. I remember driving around for about 8 hours trying to find it and this was before mobile phones. First of all we went to the south coast and then realised there was one near Wales. And it got to the stage where my mate said 'Stop the van' and he got out and went to the phone booth. Goes in for a bit and comes back and goes "Right I know where the party is." And we were like how did you find that out? And I said "Uhhh my 14 year old daughter has gone to a rave and I'm really worried about her and i need to know where it is. So the police were like, 'oh hold on a minute sir…' And then off we went. So if you need to know where a party is, just call the police!
Yeah, it was a great time, pretty chaotic but an amazing time.
And seeing it mould and morph from there into Drum N' Bass was just sheer excitement really.
And that's why I think Hardcore still sounds so great now… it just never really had time to be explored properly. Which is why now, it's still quite a popular music.
But yeah, going to all these parties including Castle Morton changed my whole perception on things and made me want to put the guitar down and get a home set up on the go…
And then after the Criminal Justice Bill came in, it did change things quite drastically… which was when I started going to clubs like the Drum Club, Sabresonic and Full Circle on a Sunday, which would happen where i was out West, which was when I got into more 4/4, techy stuff… and that led to us releasing our first track as 7hz.
Not the Output 7hz?
No, we had that name before… we were the original 7hz… (smiles).
And then I met Jagz Kooner from Sabres (of Paradise) and to cut a long story short got involved with them… and he asked me to come and help out at the studio… which basically involved skinning up and making endless cups of tea. And then on the weekends, they'd all be off doing whatever and I'd get a chance to go in the studio. Which was majorly exciting for me because their studio was an amazing set up…
Where was that?
Down in Hounslow, very glamorous! Above a chip shop on a council estate. But it was amazing, that was how I learnt a lot of studio stuff through that. They'd all go off and play on the weekends and I'd spend the whole weekend in studio working out what everything did. And did that for a couple of years… and Jagz and Gary were doing this band called the Aloof and while they were out touring me and Andy (Weatherall) would get on and just fuck about in the studio. There was no plan just… he's not technically minded anyway and I wasn't very good at what I was doing y'know. I was still learning and he was very patient with it but it was good because we were coming up with the really basic, weird ideas which became the first Two Lone Swordsmen records… which listening back still sound pretty good. There was a lot doodles.
And your influences were a little tougher to Andrew's dare I say it, more 'Balearic' productions…
Yeah definitely, because I'd been going to those parties and listening to those sounds but y'know he was and still is very open minded with things. Before i'd been in the studio I was listening to his mixes on Kiss and he was playing very early… well, what would go on to be called breakbeat like early Depth Charge and other things like that. It was called 'backroom' music… and Andrew was always the back room DJ and a lot of that came through I think. It was all quite dub wise as both Andrew and I are I think.
So yeah, both us were learning in the studio and were both open to these ideas… and smoking loads of weed!
But then as it progressed it became a lot more 'electro' or machine funk like
Well Andrew was into the whole history of electro, Kraftwek, Sugarhill Gang but it wasn't a conscious decision to be making electro
It just evolves…
Yeah, which is why we called it machine funk in a way because it cover what we were doing. It didn't need to be this formula'd Electro.
Which I find a bit dull at times… obv in the right context it's great, just not on an album.
Yeah and I get a little turned off by a lot of it because it can be very dark with strings etc. which is why I've always tried to inject something different into it.
And you say you went on tour with Sabres?
Yeah that was amazing, I learnt a lot on those tours.. Just before the Sabres split up I went on a 10 day tour with Primal Scream doing Sabres sound which was incredible. Primal Scream's sound guy was a really sound guy and taught me a lot.
So what happened after the Sabres split up?
So yeah basically the Sabres split up and I think we were in my bedroom for a bit and then we moved to Scrutton St, where I think Andrew still is now and yeah it was exciting times. Fuel records were in the basement down there too…
Yeah Dave was down there too, it was exciting times.
And Old St was still an interesting place…
Yeah, there was nothing there at the time, the 333 was there, the Bricklayers and the Foundry. Gimpo who owned the Foundry was a mental guy… but amazing and perfect for the afters vibes that we ended up getting involved int. It was our local for about 5 years. And it was interesting around those times to see the whole of Old St grow up like it did.
The Griffin too…
Yeah that was a bit later but that then became our little club house afterwards.
But yeah it was great times and I also got to work on my own stuff which became Radioactive Man, the first of which came out on Fuel Records.
And what were you trying to do that was different to what you were doing with Andrew?
I was trying to find a sound which was a slowed down jungle sound. It was a bit before that sound which became known as breakbeat and I was really interested in that, as well as still the electro sounds.
It was kind of breakbeat but with an electro rhythm… which I think set it apart from a lot of the generic breaks being made at that time too.
Yeah and I was still really into drum n' bass and jungle which I think comes through in that too.
And Two Lone Swordsmen played in the same tent as Kraftwerk at Tribal Gathering didn't they?
Yeah apparently they'd been listening to our stuff and had asked that we play with them.
And that was live?
Yeah, we had some boxes and things…
Because I'm really interested in the way electronic music was played live before the computer. It's a completely different thing. It is actually live… in my eyes anyway. When I went to see John Talabot a few weeks back I was so impressed by the way he played properly live with all these mad boxes… it's so much more exciting than seeing someone sitting behind a laptop dare I use the cliche 'checking their emails'!
It is but I think it kind of works against me these days. Cos I've got like 30 kilos of stuff to lug around. Especially with the rise of the whole budget airlines…
I'm kind of looking into scaling down my live set… I've got a massive old MPC in a ridiculous flight case!
Personally tho it's much more fun with pads to hit, knobs to twiddle.
As Andrew said it's more human if things actually go out of time…
Yeah I used to get pissed off if things went out of time or I fucked something up but now I realise that's what actual makes a live gig.
Like if a drummer fucks up or whatever…
But yeah I'm looking into scaling things down a little and moving into the 21st century (laughs)… it's about time!
So Control Tower…
So yeah Haywire started in Fortress Studios… and we were kind of making music to be playing out at the weekends. And I was getting more gigs and I decided to start the Control Tower label with Simon (Brown) who was part of the whole free party scene who did these parties in abandoned buildings across London before the whole nasty ketamine vibes took over.
Geared towards doing 150bpm electro… the more mental stuff. Because no one else was doing it at the time.
And at the same time the whole Two Lone Swordsmen sound started to change.
Well yeah we had a whole kit in the studio and I had my guitars etc. It wasn't that we were bored of electronics it just felt like a natural progression from Double Gone Chapel where guitars were creeping in. It didn't seem like an alien thing to do.
I loved it and it made sense to me but I imagine your purists didn't really like it…
I imagine they didn't but Andrew's attitude with that has always rubbed off on me where he's like "Who gives a fuck, just get on and do it." If you just carry on making the same music, what's the point? You just carry on going round in circles.
So where do Wang come into all this, you played your first Radioactive Man gig there didn't you?
Yeah Nathan who runs Wang with Lou… I grew up in the same area as him and he and Lou started Wang in the Premises which were just these amazing parties.
The bloc lads cite Wang as being a real influence on them.
Yeah there was a lot of Norfolk lot that used to come down. I remember seeing George and Alex there a lot…
And yeah so Wang just got bigger and bigger through just doing it for the love of it!
You're playing live at their party at Fire this month aren't you?
Yeah looking forward to that.
And you've obviously released your album through them. Why such a long time since releases
Well yeah Control Tower was initially going through fabric. They were funding that at the time… and yeah then the whole internet music thing happened where no one was buying records and so I thought I'm going to take a back seat for a while and just see how this pans out. Hence the extended gap between releases. And then it got to the stage where I was like fuck it I'm just going to put something out digitally which was where Lou and Nathan stepped in and said they'd be up for putting out some vinyl of the Eps out. And I think now that just adds so much more to a release. It gives it a legitimacy but it also really does sound that much better.
And I think it's important that people want to still own vinyl.
Yeah and it's good to see that people are still putting it out, most of the time pretty much making a loss on it. The whole putting a record has changed so much. It's gone back to actually doing things for the love of it because you're never going to make any money out of it. I
I'm just looking into doing some vinyl for the album and we worked out on a double pack we'd make 14p on it!
And you've done a whole dub album too?
Yeah well I made this album about 7 years ago… and it's kind of an electronic based dub album. Which people would probably say now it was dub step but it's more a sort of steppers vibe. My mate who's a real dub head wants to start a label (laughs) god knows why… and I think we'll put that out.
That's going to to have be vinyl surely?
Yup, I think it's going to have to be vinyl for me every time now.
Some random ramblings ensue about the price of booze in pubs and the breakdown of the social fabric that they used to engender, it then moves onto pipe dreams on both sides of putting on raves in warehouses selling cans of beer at a quid before it's drawn back towards more interesting musical meandearings much more of interest to said reader… or maybe not? Maybe beer is more important? Anyway…
So Waits and Measures…
Yeah so I'd moved out of London about 4 years ago and I'd moved to Reading. I was working with Christopher D. Ashley. He'd released this really interesting record on Sunday Best. And I was playing guitar in his band. We did Sonar, Glastonbury, Glade… and I moved to Reading to make music out there. Which was also the product of what makes up Waits & Measures.
But yeah I couldn't wait to move back to London… there's something about this place which is just amazing. You drive through the place and you can hear house, garage whatever… this city is literally just buzzing with music.
You get fucked off with the place… but you always come back to it.
Yeah. For me that is why London is such an important place. It's so inspiring musically…
Even with £4 pints.
So you still do WANG, fabric… and Scan.
Yup still do them once in a while. Still do Scan which is the only electro night in London which is still going from strength to strength which is good to see.
Yeah Killer Kill at Suicide Circus… and yeah wherever they'll have me. But Berlin as you know is an incredible city
I'll go back to the price of booze again!
Yeah, you go somewhere like that and you realise how we're all getting fleeced here and how London should be in terms of the price of going out…
I haven't seen a single fight there…
Yeah you're more likely to see people shagging!
Anything else been floating your boat of late?
Yeah Bangface for me has been a really big kick up the arse for the club scene. You go to a club and just hear this 4/4 ploddy plod and it just drives me fucking mental… but Bangface has really injected a real sense of life into the whole thing.
It degenerates into slagging off the dull 4/4 and price of booze again, mainly from R$N's side… until we end up at D-Bridge…
I recently met D-Bridge… and we're going into the studio together. He embraces a lot of interesting areas of music which for me is a lot more interesting than the same old, same old. People that embrace different vibes, that's my bag and what floats my boat.
I think the output of that'll be amazing…
Yeah, excited about that. I went to see him play a 5 hour set at fabric the other week and he was incredible. Just played all over the place, switching it up playing drum and bass next to techno. These perceived rules of how you should do something if you're playing in a certain scene. It's really refreshing to see people just fuck this thing off and do what they want.
And that's what I thinks about to happen again now…
I couldn't agree more… I'm doing this podcast at the moment and I'm debating to myself about 'should I just go down the electro route or should I be throwing Krautrock in there'.
But that's why you listen to podcast, to be surprised and excited and be exposed to things you've never heard before.
Yeah but I think people get stuck in that thing and they know they're going to get booked if they play a certain way. They can't have their audience going 'what is he doing?'. That's why people like Jerome Hill and people make things more inspiring, not listening to one thing all night.
That's why you'd go out and listen to Weatherall or whoever, you want to be thrown off kilter and have your senses blown.
At the same time tho, you want to have some sort of thread to what you're doing.
Full respect to John Peel but if it was just like crazy rock n' roll next to trance… there has to be a certain thread.
But then I think that thread that runs through all of what you and Andrew and whoever do… is probably… dub.
And that's why London outputs this sound which is predominantly dubwise because there's this historical thread running through it which is what keeps London such an incredible place…
And there we leave it with a resolve to go to the pub and set the world to rights again over a hopefully not over priced pint.
Radioactive Man plays WANG this weekend alongside Simian Mobile Disco, Rebuild (live) Acid Jam with A Guy Called Gerald & Graham Massey, Alexander Robotnik, BNJMN, Mark E, Lone and many more.
Tickets available here
His album Waits & Measures finally sees the light of vinyl on 21st November. Go seek buy and give him 14p for his efforts!