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The Truth in Dark Corners In the second part of our interview, Alan Rider digs a bit deeper into the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Attrition

The Truth in Dark Corners

In the second part of our interview, Alan Rider digs a bit deeper into the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Attrition

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: March, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

"We may not always get a lot of people coming to our gigs in every country, but at least we can play all over the world. We have played in five continents over the years and that's been fantastic." - Martin Bowes

Attrition Week LogoIn the second part of our in-depth interview with inventor and orchestrator of Coventry’s darkwave pioneers Attrition, Martin Bowes, as they release ‘The Black Maria’, their 17th studio album, we dive into the thinking behind the band and their experiences.  We heard that a book might be in the offing though, which would be good, so we wanted to ask Martin about that first.

attrition on stageOUTSIDELEFT: You have been going for 44 years now, so there is a lot to tell. You mentioned to me that you were planning to produce a book about Attrition to capture some of that?
MARTIN BOWES:
It might be two books actually, as I may do a separate book about my 1980 fanzine Alternative Sounds. That should happen this year. In one chapter in that book, I want to write a little bit about Attrition, the early days sort of thing. I do also want to do a book about Attrition, but not just Attrition, it will really be more about me as it will talk about the studio and all the other projects I’ve done.  I’m still planning it and I thought I’d wait until I hit retirement age, which won’t be long now, then I won’t have to worry about having to do all the mastering to keep money coming in. On the other hand, it’s a balancing act as I’m more interested in doing new stuff than writing about old stuff, so I will have to find the time to do both.

OL: Yes, writing a book is a longer process, it’s not as instant as recording music.
MB:
Well, not with my albums!  If I do it, I do want to make it more interesting by interviewing all the people we have worked with and different bands we’ve appeared with. I thought I might do those as podcasts first, then distil them down for the book. So that could be quite an interesting thing, set within the context of Attrition and talking about the wider scene. I want to include my thoughts about things and maybe even recording tips and how to survive by doing music. As I used to write a fanzine back at the start, I think writing a book would be a good thing to do.

OL: You can use my book as a template if you like.  You know, follow in the footsteps of the master!
MB:
Have you done a book? You must have forgotten to mention that! Seriously, it is a good thing to do isn’t it, otherwise things are lost.  That’s why I digitised and put out all those live recordings as downloads.  I’ve got quite a few demos from different albums too, which I might put out as Bandcamp downloads. Otherwise, when I’m dead my kids will be looking through all my stuff and be going “what’s this shit?” and bin it. It’s the same with the books. Its releasing what was there, which is important. So there are lots of things to do. My girlfriend is a writer and has written memoirs, which is perfect as she will take no nonsense from me and help kick it into shape and make it interesting. I don’t just want it to be a list of things I’ve done, like some books are.

OL: You must have lots of funny and weird things that have happened over the years though.  Like that railway arch gig we were talking about earlier.
MB:
The funny thing is, whenever people ask me that, which they often do in interviews “what was the weirdest thing that has ever happened?”, I always go blank. I can’t think of anything, probably because there are so many.  It’s just getting my brain to go there. You will have to wait for the book.

OL: Right from the start you’ve always kept that DIY ethos and been very self sufficient, even when you were on bigger labels and working with promoters.  You are still doing a lot of it yourself now; running the studio, putting out releases, creating merchandise and videos, designing sleeves and posters, organising gigs and tours, and keeping in control of Attrition and how you want to come across.
MB:
I’ve always had that, going back to punk.  Starting out with the fanzine and putting out little cassettes before we were ever on a label. The first record label we went with, Third Mind, was a very small label really, but a great one.  We gradually moved up to bigger labels, but often I didn’t like that we had a press person allocated who did all of their bands and they just put out generic press releases. That never got us the kind of interest we had when we were talking directly to people and gathering contacts and exchanging ideas and chatting to them.  I will say that Project Records in America were great though. Our biggest sales were in America, which is still where more people know us. When I gave a release to the label I did think oh, great, they're going to do all the promotion now, or if it was a booking agent, they are going to book us a tour, as it did free up my time because you can only do so much. So I thought that was worth a try. Ultimately though, using a booking agent often meant we lost contact with the people that really wanted to book us, because the agent would only want the people that were paying a lot of money. I didn't really enjoy that kind of bigger level if you like. Even though it meant for the Jeopardy Maze album in the late ‘90s we were selling eight or nine thousand albums just in the States. I mean, that's crazy. After that everything collapsed in the music industry and everyone was a bit depressed because of all the illegal downloads, Napster and what have you. Then things like vinyl started to appear again and Bandcamp came along.  That has been amazing. It's like the best indie store in the world, and it’s done really well for me. I’ve been able to do stuff again on an independent level. It's like going back to where we started.  You can sell T Shirts, tickets, anything through it. I like that more actually.  A record label is all about contacts and skill in PR, it’s all those things. Releasing is just a part of it. A lot of bands don’t realise that and don’t do the work to promote themselves. 

OL: It is hard for people to make headway though when there is so much coming out all the time.  You are fortunate in that you have that history, which gives you an advantage.
MB:
Yes, we have got a fan base, but it is still a cult fan base. We may not always get a lot of people coming to our gigs in every country, but at least we can play all over the world.  We have played in five continents over the years and that’s been fantastic. That’s built up over the decades. A new band hasn’t got that behind them, so they just have to pull their socks up and do the work!  I remember when we were all on the dole together in the house we shared, I’d always think I have to send out two demos a week to fanzines, to Melody Maker, or to get gigs, or nothing is going to happen. I forced myself to do it and now I promote almost every day.  A lot of people don’t, so they are not going to get known. We don’t have a filter now though, whether it be John Peel, fanzines, music press, you could always find someone that you respected and see what they liked and look at that.  You had to pay for recording too so that was probably the biggest filter. You couldn’t just go and record an album and release it as that cost a lot of money then. When indie labels came along it was great that you could have interesting music and it didn’t need to be on EMI, but as a result there are now millions of them and we are swamped.  I do like promoting Attrition myself though and I have quite a good mailing list so I can get things out there.

OL: They say a prophet is never recognised in their own land and you have always been much bigger in the US, Holland and other countries than in the UK.
MB:
There is always that.  When our first album came out it sold well over there and the industrial scene was much more appreciated then in Europe than in the UK. It’s got a bit bigger here since then though.  I remember how difficult it was to find places to play back in the ‘80s, whereas now there are more dedicated clubs and venues.  I think that because there was so much going on here at that time with other forms of music which were very popular, what we were doing wasn’t given much of a look in. I don’t think we were ever written about in the NME for example. Often things that are new aren’t given a chance, as it doesn’t help the people that are in control of the market.

OL: Because of all that, there was a real interest in anything from the UK at the time.  Concert posters always used to say ‘from England’ and people came along because of that.
MB:
It was the same in the US. Maybe it’s based on The Beatles.

LogoOL: Right from the start you’ve always been involved with doing soundtracks, especially for horror.  We talked about Death House, which was based on the film Dawn of The Dead, but there are others.
MB:
That was almost the first thing we released actually, on your label. It’s funny, because people sometimes go “oh I like the early days” and I go what do you mean? Do you mean when we were a scrappy little anarchist band with no synths? Or do you mean Death House which was a completely synth soundtrack? Or do you mean the Monkey In A Bin single, which is a mix of punk and electronic? People don't know.  We’ve done so many different things, but we have always done soundtrack stuff in amongst the other things. We did one, Invocation, for a film called G.H.O.S.T, actually, but not the famous one. We released that as a CD as well and performed it live and that was great to do. I was just asked to do it. Then I started to get people asking me to do them for bigger films but then they began going, oh, I don't want this, I don't want that. I'm not a graphic designer, so I don't really want to do that.  I've had other things where I've done shorts, and that's been good. And then some TV, where Death House was used in Germany on a documentary. I only found out about that when I suddenly got loads of publishing money from the PRS! I did a soundtrack that got used in a documentary about Mary Anne Cotton, the serial killer. They just used the music. They didn't send me the DVD but I found it in a shop. I've just done an ambient piece for a compilation, so yes, I've always liked doing soundtracks. I was asked by an agency to do something for TV and they went can you make something that sounds like Massive Attack? I said to them, you know what? You should just ask Massive Attack to do it. I didn’t really want to do it and I’m not doing music for that reason.  I know a lot of people do want to do soundtracks though and its quite hard to get into.

OL: Let’s round off by going back to the new album.  I’m curious as to why it is called The Black Maria?  Isn’t that a police van?
MB:
Yes, it is the old name for a police van in the UK, but most people won’t know that.  I thought it was very relevant to when Kerrie and I got arrested once as they were very brutal, bursting into the house without ID and they totally lied in court. I didn’t realise they were so bad. I was even going to raise an official complaint. So I have had some experience of police corruption and that’s why I called the album The Black Maria. I was going to go on about that incident, but now Kerrie has passed away I thought I’d let it lie, though there are some references to it in the song actually. I also thought that title sounds so Goth, but people won’t realise what it is, which is funny. Plus, there is a woman in a red dress on the cover, not black.  I always like to be contrary and I just love that picture.

OL: So do I. Let’s finish here and many thanks for a fascinating interview.

Still to come this week is a track-by-track breakdown of the album.  Read the review here

Don’t forget, for the next fortnight you can also download for free a copy of the 30 track album ‘In Dark Dreams 1980-2015’ collecting together 30 tracks from the first 35 years of Attrition’s career along with an accompanying PDF booklet.   Just click on the link below https://attritionuk.bandcamp.com/album/in-dark-dreams-1980-2015


Essentials
1. Attrition Week is Coming to Outsideleft→
2. It's Attrition Week in Outsideleft: Riding the Black Maria→
3. Attrition Week: Alan Rider reviews The Black Maria LP→
4. Attrition Week: Part 1 of Martin Bowes conversation with Alan Rider→
5. Attrition Week: Part 2 of Martin Bowes conversation with Alan Rider→
6. Attrition Week: Martin Bowes provides The Black Maria Track by Track→

Order ‘The Black Maria’ in all formats from Bandcamp 
here→ 

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.


about Alan Rider »»

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