Twenty Years Ago – Soundproof & Pitchblack

To celebrate New Zealand Music Month, GARY STEEL dredges up a bunch of old stories and interviews. Today, his 1998 interview with the post-Unitone HiFi duo project of Stinky Jim and Angus McNaughton, Soundproof, as well as a chat with Pitchblack’s Mike Hodgson.

Organic Synthetic is going to be quite a night. Along with German project Nonplace Urban Field, it represents the Auckland debut of post-Unitone Hifi-ers Stinky Jim and Angus McNaughton aka Soundproof. And to top it off, there’s the always-impressive sound and visuals of Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free’s unit, Pitchblack. Gary Steel spoke to Stinky and Mike.

If anyone deserves a Doctorate for his devotion to the good groove, it’s Stinky Jim: a man who through his radio shows, dj-ing, reviewing and his own group Unitone HiFi has – with the help of a few fat spliffs – turned thousands of hitherto sonically deprived Kiwi individuals onto the delights of dance culture, both rootsy Jamaican-style and contemporary downbeat.

With his trusty sidekick, the influential, essential studio boffin Angus McNaughton, Stinky has broken away from the shackles of Unitone and formed Soundproof.

The first thing you notice about the new sound is its sense of exploration and FUN. One song, for instance, is made up entirely of the drum fills you hear at the start of reggae records. When Stinky’s dj-ing, it’s a feelgood drive through all the taste-driven doors of dance-hall, rub-a-dub and Viennese cool. Soundproof latches on to an inspired, tricky dub perspective:

Stinky Jim

“Angus is such a mad eccentric genius,” says Jim. “You can send a square into his court and it will come out as an octahedral spherical kafuffle. We like sticking things, juxtaposing things, that shouldn’t be in a track that has anything rootsy at all, or something quite at odds with the rootsy flavour, but keeping a firm eye on the rootsometer. We like to keep the reggae pulse, but see how far we can mutate it.

“The sound is wider but more defined that Unitone. Angus has got such wide taste, and I’ve got that reggae thing that’s never going to go away. That’s the reason Unitone couldn’t go on, because I’m not interested in making drum’n’bass or techno records. We like to see how far we can take that, and mutate it.

“We’re also very aware of that digital thing of stuff being over-sequenced. You can sometimes listen to music and sit there and see what they’ve had on the screen, and I don’t want people to be able to do that with us. I want there to be elements where people go ‘what the fuck are they doing? You can’t do that!’ Everybody wants that bit at the edges where it blurs… the most interesting point.”

Stinky finds the explosion of ‘star’ DJ’s a worry, and is on a mission to bring it back to the music, away from the TV-advertised nights where half the audience seems more interested in taking their shirts off and exposing their dank underarm hair than digging the music.

“It’s becoming a new rock for a lot of people, and I’ve got no interest in the DJ as rock star. It’s wrong, fundamentally what I’m against. All this hideous house… Unhappy House, I call it. Hopefully now that we’re getting some good guys like Derrick May and Juan Atkins, a whole lot of shoddy techno DJ’s will turn round and become plumbers or something.

“The biggest worry to me is that there’s not enough young guys coming up who have the same spirit of musical freedom that a lot of people of my generation have, because we came out of a melting pot of punk rock and reggae, and we went through house and techno being born and through its infancy. It worries me that there are young guys coming up who are not as open-minded as they should be.”

As there tends to be in a land as small as NZ, there is a connection between Soundproof and Pitchblack: Angus was in Mike Hodgson’s first group, an industrial aggregation formed in Christchurch in the mid-‘80s. The two friends packed up and drove to Auckland together, where their underground multimedia events were hugely successful without attracting any publicity or coverage from conventional quarters.

Hodgson has always been a highly motivated creative lynchpin on the local scene, and he now divides his time between organising massive video installations for sporting events, and his more freewheeling, unpaid purely creative activities.

The other participant in Pitchblack is former Mesh man Paddy Free. “Working with Paddy is just phenomenal,” says Hodgson. “He’s really interested in polyrhythms and dynamic performances. We’re not techno… there is a four-on-the-floor element going on, but it’s more groove movement, even though we’re holding a beat, it’s still coming from the dub aesthetic. Trance, reggae and dub: we sit in the middle. I’ve got one foot in all camps, but I’ve always been a fence sitter, and I don’t believe in black and white. “

Visually Pitchblack are ahead of the game. “We’ve developed our own software. The same controller information that controls all the music controls all the video. So if we stay in one sequence for ages, the video just stays in that sequence. Its live interactive technology.”

* Soundproof and Pitchblack perform at Organic Synthetic, Herzog, K’Rd.

 

 

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