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The Black Dog

Like a collection of precious trinkets locked within a cabinet, The Black Dog‘s new album ‘Tranklements‘ is a collection of emotions and thoughts that founder members Ken Downie and brothers Richard and Martin Dust of Dust Science Recordings have had over the past 18 months.

We met with Martin Dust to discuss the new album and recent experiences of Sheffield. He also shares insight into the cities industrial, cultural and musical progression, fall and rise and the way that the scene is emerging again with the help of the younger generation.

You have both your album ‘Tranklements‘ and ‘Darkhouse Vol.02‘ EP out on Dust Science Recordings. Let’s talk about ‘Darkhouse’ first.

The “Dark House” series was for playing in nightclubs really and squarely ended dance floor. Simply because we write quite a broad spectrum of stuff and we kind of got this dark theme running through everything that we were writing, so we decided to write a series of 12” and then invite some of our friends to do a remix of one of the tracks, do something more upbeat and something for the party crowd.

Quite often on our albums, we don’t get the opportunity to do that, because albums for us work differently. They work as this “one thing” you’re able to listen to from start to finish rather than with 12”, you can select a track, something for DJs as well.

We’ve got a long history of electronic music in Sheffield you know, from Human League, Clock DVA, Vice Versa and lots of bands that nobody’s ever heard of. It’s kind of a weird analogy, you talk to guys in Detroit and Chicago and they loved Penthouse & Pavement. So we don’t see it as separate areas, it’s just one group of people, talking to another group of people, getting influenced. What’s not to like?

Talking about Sheffield, a city that has artists that influenced a big group of people around the world, you share on your twitter page that you were strolling around the city centre and you felt kind of sad, as there’s a lot of deserted buildings. Do you feel that Sheffield is similar to Detroit at the moment, in terms of this?

No, no. I think a lot of people think Detroit is all about abandoned buildings, Detroit is not like that. Anybody that’s been there will tell you that. OK, there’s a large portion that is like that but it’s the same in Sheffield as well, but what’s happened in Sheffield is we’ve got a large shopping centre in the edge of Sheffield, which has taken probably 90% of the business at the city centre. They’re not giving opportunities to new businesses and younger people.

There are hundreds of empty shops, which could be given to creative people to fill them, give them a chance. They don’t seem to do that and all the popular places to have a drink there are just down two streets now. It’s weird as in the 70’s; the whole city was populated over a wider spectrum and now it’s just restricted into small focuses.

Do you think that the city might be losing its cultural identity and that’s why a lot of music and arts professionals are no longer based there?

I think Sheffield, like Detroit or like Birmingham probably again in the 60s-70s, we used to invent things, we used to make things, we manufactured things and people’s careers were pretty much mapped out. You followed your father into a job.

Since the UK has become a service industry- it’s not a manufacturer-it changed the landscape in a matter of 4 years. Within those 4 years, it suddenly got 790,000 people unemployed. So the landscape’s changed, but the talent of artists and the music hasn’t, there are still people kicking in Sheffield again as you can live here pretty cheap, where you can’t really do that in London.

Anybody that’s lived in London knows you’ve got to fight for a living, to live in a decent building. Up here you can still buy a new 4-bedroom house for £220k, you couldn’t buy a garage in London for that. You can still see the old factories and works around the city; you definitely know you’re into some heavy industry.

I think the young talent that’s coming out and people we’ve been supporting have got some mad skills; it’s still a creative city, against all the odds.

What is your connection with Electronic Supper Club?

We started ESC because we’ve always been interested in the broadcasting medium. We got 12 weeks together and we’re actually just about to start again. We put an internet connection into a small building and just organised a series of parties, bringing big artists from Sheffield, mixed with really talented younger ones with some mad skills. It’s really lovely and really refreshing to see that and to see that there are as good as anybody else that we’ve ever played with, you know? They are only 18-19 years old and I think that’s great, it’s really refreshing.

So your faith in the younger generation has been restored, or was it never lost?

I don’t think we’ve ever lost it! We are fairly old not, sitting in the studio making music. We don’t go out from Thursday and come back Sunday morning anymore! It’s great just to know there are so many great talents out there. We can’t help not to be supportive. You can’t deny a good record and you can’t deny a good DJ.

Your new album “Tranklements” is released this month. I know you don’t want to analyse it track by track, but all tracks express different thoughts.

We kind of saw the album more as an artist would see a painting.  Tranklements…there’s these things we were talking about that started it. The older generation in Sheffield and probably in other places as well, they used to have little cabinets with things that they are connected, a collection of things that were really precious.

We were thinking as artists that this is what we’re doing. A painter would be painting an individual picture of some thoughts, a discussion, triggered of by an influence. That’s kind of what we wanted to do.

Its track has a story, some are written about certain things but because they have no vocals in, it allows people to reinterpret in any way that they wish.  Sometimes it’s kind of frustrating that you have to explain everything, people don’t take art’s value. It’s similar with contemporary art; a lot of people don’t put any value in it. It’s about creating a picture of art and it’s about expressing an idea, no matter how badly sometimes we manage to do that.

Are there any experiences you recently had, which made you feel extremely happy?

There are a lot of things! We’ve already talked about new artists in Sheffield that we’re really into and we started touring again and we played in Paris with a young band that’s Polar Inertia, they were just amazing! What’s also refreshing is that a lot of the promoters are youngsters as well and got so much enthusiasm. Carrying on the “history of electronic music”.

People are now more open-minded to different genres of music and different kinds. Whereas before you might get the guy with a beard, in an Underground Resistance t-shirt moaning that “this is not techno” and stuff like that. I think people are more open-minded.

That’s something that was great about punk. You could listen to X Ray Spex or you could listen to Discharge, vastly different styles of music but with the same ethics running through it. There’s a lot of great music out there today, you know as soon as you play, it will get everybody dancing. It’s all about having a good party.

Another thing is, a lot more artists are getting a lot more political now; they are speaking up against sexism, against fascism, against the government in UK. We didn’t really vote for this government, nobody did and we’ve still not dealt with it. What the fuck is happening? They just seem to punish the poor over and over again. It’s kind of like people are having some revelation again, just people had enough of it, because I think they had!

You’re releasing your music on CD and vinyl. In what kind of form do you think that music is going to be distributed in the next… 10 years let’s say?

I don’t know! We as an older generation, we have a different view on it. We like 12”, the vinyl pressings are really important, but I don’t think it matters. As long as people get to hear it in a decent quality format it doesn’t matter.

We’ve been in offices to meet people and they’re listening to music from YouTube playlists, and you kind of think, the quality of sound is so horrible! But there’s a generation gap where some people don’t care about the quality of it. That’s been brought by iTunes, just feeding you with 192kbps, and then there’s a generation that are kind of becoming the next music nerds, supporting vinyl and supporting releases.

I think that Facebook and Twitter and all the social media are giving an opportunity to talk to them fans. We’ve just done some t-shirts and we’ve explained to people that we can’t afford to get 50 done one of each style and sit on it stock, so what we did is take orders first and then give a little manufacturer in Sheffield the job to do it and it keeps somebody in work in Sheffield. People have been great about it and if you’re open and honest and ask people-which a lot people are not good at- that will give you support back.

Record labels are sharing streams of new albums, EPs before there are released and so people have the chance to listen before they buy them. There are of course a lot of people that are illegally downloading music. How do you feel about this?

Firstly the music industry is still working off the same model before digital. Because we still have printed press, people won’t think stream into their advance. Because of fast digital lines, it’s kind of like the spoilt kid in the playground who always has everything. There will always be somebody that wants to share it, give it to somebody else and get numbers for their blogs. Underneath all that, the difference of me giving you a copy, it’s vastly different from somebody who is industrially mining music

Part of what we did in our studio myself and Rich, we did quite a lot of programming and the amount of things that professional bloggers and not the casual music lovers share, it’s something like 760G a day of music. Perhaps one person manages to get a free download and then they ask for something like $3 for a membership, that’s how it works. The bloggers give them 60% of their money, that’s been really well documented.

There’s a different between music lovers, they might put on a track on but that’s kind of ok as they will spend time listen to tracks, then write about them. You look like Evil.com and they are doing 700 releases a day and they are doing that for a living and this will never stop. You’re giving the money to the wrong people. That’s what you’ve got to try and educate people.

I think music industry has to change from a 3 months promotion, to 6 weeks. Then if it does leak, you can still release it. It’s the whole industry that’s go it wrong really and we’re still in that industry and there’s nothing you can do. The argument that stands is they would never have bought it anyway. If some of them don’t have money that’s fine, but does it de-value it? I think it does!

We were talking to somebody about how great we thought Black Sabbath was and when we’ve seen him next they’ve downloaded the whole back catalogue. He got everything, rarities, b-sides, the whole thing. You don’t have everything in such way, you’re not exploring every album one by one and you’re missing on the artwork!

You’ll be touring quite a lot and one of the shows you’re doing is Freerotation Festival in July. How was the connection made?

We’ve wanted to play there for quite a long time! All our friends that have gone to Freerotation said, “it’s such a great party, you need to experience it”. And it’s a great crowd, they are all music lovers, they know what tracks you’re playing! And that’s definitely the experience you want to have.

Numbers have never been important to us, some of the best parties that we’ve done have been in small buildings, one of the best ones that we did was in an old concrete barn in Sheffield. There were just 300 people, all partying in a field, just everything went right that night for us. Everything! I think the day that feeling leaves us, is probably the day that we stop making music or playing live.

We’ve always tried to support small venues and we’re really strict with our agent, no matter what the offer is, we must see it. Because we think if there’s somebody that’s really trying in a city and perhaps only 200 people might turn up, they are really trying and they need to get supported. Sheffield is like that; for years there was nothing, people like Aphex Twin or Squarepusher used to play and nobody turned up, it was freezing and there was nobody there!

Now there is a big nostalgia about it and having so much warehouse space in the city, we are happy to start again, get some bigger names and the young generation together. It’s coming on and it’s great to see people enjoy it.