It was early 2003, I was 21, and I was working, in the loosest sense of the word, for a small online music magazine. We covered the more extreme and esoteric end of the electronic, industrial and metal scenes. You probably know what I mean, an unlistenable mix of Black Metal, Grindcore, Drone and a lot of other stuff that not many people actually listen to. I don’t really know how I ended up working there, I was drinking a lot at the time and going to lots of gigs, but I think I met the editor/owner at an improv night that turned into a warehouse party somewhere in Shoreditch in 2001. We spent the night sniffing shit speedy coke and shouting at each other about bands we claimed to enjoy. I think I made a good impression because when I woke up on the floor of his room in a pub squat in Hackney Wick he offered me a job at his new venture.
Of course I said yes, I was broke, sleeping on friends sofas and the chance to get paid to go to gigs and write about horrible music was too good to pass up. Looking back I have no idea how the magazine was funded, there were 4 of us in the “office”, which was a shared studio space just off the Kingsland Road. I assume the owner/editor had some kind of family money because he paid us all, not much, but enough for me to get a room in a shared flat on an estate in Dalston, and we all had laptops provided, we even put on some nights that more than 10 people came to.
Having somewhere to live and some disposable income was brilliant, but in many ways having some money was a terrible thing. I could afford to buy drugs, and drink more, and whilst at the time I was having fun, I can see I wasn’t happy at all. This might have something to do with the music I was getting further into. I was one of those tiresome people who said they listened to everything but I’d always liked the extreme ends of whatever genres I was into at the time. Death and black metal, gangsta rap, noise, free jazz, bubblegum pop, breakcore, you name it, if it was unlistenable or offensive I was into it. At the magazine I became the guy who wrote about Power Electronics.This was because, even at a magazine that prided itself on being far out on the fringes of music, nobody else could be bothered with it. We all liked a bit of Whitehouse, Consumer Electronics and other stuff from the early 80’s birth of the genre, but everyone else thought that was enough. Being a contrarian fuck I decided it was actually the future and spent ages writing to PO boxes to get sent tapes in the post. If you’re unfamiliar with P.E. as a genre let’s just say it’s usually someone pushing some kind of synth to make very uncomfortable frequencies, often with someone screaming over the top and what they are screaming is usually about rape, submission, murder or genocide with artwork to match. Sometimes extreme right wing politics are thrown into the mix, sometimes it’s just celebrating the work of serial killers. I was never into the politics, and didn’t want to kill anyone apart from myself, but the nihilism appealed to me. I also used to justify it by saying it was the art I was interested in and the not the people behind it, and although the ideas were repulsive, it didn’t take away from it’s impact as art, and in many ways it helped show the hypocrisy of the increasingly decadent liberal society we were a part of. Sex, murder, death, all capitalist commodities, right? And fuck you, you like Burzum so don’t be a hypocrite.
What can I say? I was drunk most of the time, high most of the time, and desperately unhappy when I wasn’t one of those things. This shit worked for me. The Countryside Liberation Front tape threw me. A jiffy bag was thrown onto my desk with a “probably another shit awful Nazi power rape tape for you here” from one of my esteemed colleagues. The office banter was brilliant. I opened it and out dropped a tape, black and white photocopied cover, collage and block printed. Standard P.E. stuff. It was like the 80’s never ended with these guys but when I looked a bit closer the name itself was enough for it to stand out.
The Countryside Alliance had just marched through London, they were opposed to what they saw as the anti-countryside urban political elite that were doing horrible things like attempting to ban fox hunting and other wholesome country activities. The march was huge, and was attended by Conservative politicians, landowners, farmers and other so-called custodians of this green and pleasant land. The tape was like a super militant version of this. The cover featured two balaclava clad men in full hunting gear holding shotguns and dead foxes, it folded out into an A4 collage, more images of hunting, hunt saboteurs in crosshairs, trespassers will be shot signs, images from the Countryside Alliance march, pro-hunting quotes from members of the Royal Family, and across the bottom of the page a large block printed phrase “Extreme Tory Noise”. It looked exactly like the pamphlets which the Animal Liberation Front used to publish detailing it’s actions liberating animals from testing labs and sabotaging hunts. It also shared the same aesthetic sensibilities of the pamphlets published by the far right and far left from the 60’s onwards, which were a huge influence on a lot of the artwork from other Power Electronics releases. I was intrigued. The titles of the tracks were:
1.This Is Our Land
3.Trespassers Will Be Shot
5.No Right Of Way
3.Commons And Commoners
5.Death Of A Sab
I had to wait to get home to listen to it. This was before the recent resurgence the cassette format for releasing music. P.E. seemed to be the only genre still actively releasing on tape and I was the only person I knew with a tape player. My walkman was out of commission after an incident with a platform and a train. I don’t think anyone in the office would have appreciated me playing most of the stuff I covered anyway. I left the office in the afternoon and went home via the off licence, £6 for 5 cans of Stella, I got 10. Sorted. For what it was, it was good stuff. It’s hard now for me to work out how I could tell the difference between most of the stuff I was listening to. This tape though, it was suitably crusty, analogue, the vocals were angry, layered in feedback, and you could distinctly hear the classic British upper class accent delivering venomous missives against what they saw as their enemies, which basically seemed to be anyone from the city, anyone who opposed hunting, ramblers, left wingers, even the rural working class. Hunt Ball and Blooding were both celebrations of post-hunt rituals but laden with a hatred of anyone who dared to oppose these rituals. I worked my way through the beers, in my room, in a flat, in pre-gentrification Dalston, listening to what sounded like public school boys attacking my very existence, and needless to say, I fucking loved every minute of. I listened to the tape through about ten times, it was only 30 minutes long, and it chimed with my own sense of self-loathing. I was also 100% sure this was some kind of genius situationist prank, and I was going to track whoever made this down and write a feature.
The Grenadier, in the borderland between Belgravia and Knightsbridge, wasn’t one of my regular pubs. I sometimes went to Hyde Park to walk around aimlessly smoking dope under the pretense of being a flaneur but missing the point entirely, and I trawled the Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill at least once a week, but other than that West London was uncharted territory. I was sitting here waiting for the person who had answered the message I’d left on the answerphone of the contact number printed on the inside cover of the cassette. I got a call back from a private number saying I could meet a member of the “organisation” at The Grenadier. I almost laughed out loud at the tone of the call, it was perfect, it was like I was going to meet a representative of the paramilitary wing of the Countryside Alliance, hilarious.Waiting in the pub I was feeling slightly apprehensive. It was busy, a midweek after work crowd, mixed but there was certainly more old money floating around than I was used to. A number of men were wearing penny loafers and red trousers non-ironically. In my mind I was more sartorially aware than most of the people I associated with but I was feeling a bit dressed down. West London can do this to a person. I was early, drinking nervously, which meant quickly. I was three pints in when my phone vibrated on the table, I’d been having a chat with a red faced man in a pink shirt about something, possibly football, he was getting me a drink, I had almost forgotten why I was there. I answered. Posh voice, commanding, loud:
Voice: Be a good chap, and come outside. We’ve got a vehicle waiting.
Me: What? One moment. (To pink shirt red face) A SHORT, WHISKY! (Phone)
Voice: It won’t hang around for long, make it a very short short.
Me: Jesus, ok, this is all very good stuff. A fucking car. What next?
The phone went dead. I downed the whisky and barged my way through the scrum. There were enough rugby shirts for me to imagine this is what an actual scrum would be like. I stumbled out of the door into the mews. I could see a green Land Rover Defender, bottom half mud caked, unusual in London, parked up, it’s lights flashed at me. I composed myself and walked over. The passenger window opened, I could make out a baseball cap pulled low, Barbour coat pulled up, voice from the phone call, telling me to jump in the back.Yes, I jumped in the back of the Land Rover. For someone who was very proud of his self-proclaimed cynicism about everything, I was pretty trusting. There was someone next to me, wearing a balaclava.
Me: This might be the best yet, this is why I love Power Electronics, which one of you is the guy? Do you all make the music?
Balaclava: Come on old boy, let’s get this on. (He had a canvas bag in his hand, he gestured towards me with it.)
Me: Oh fuck, (I was laughing), ok, ok, this is even better, I’m in, I’m in, secret location right? (I let Balaclava put the bag over my head.)
I don’t know when I passed out, but I think we must have driven for about an hour. I heard someone say something about Reading Services, then someone else telling them to shut up, then I don’t remember much. I had a banging headache, couldn’t get word out of anyone, so I just closed my eyes. I could have taken the hood off but didn’t want to ruin the mood, after all, this would make great copy for the 20 loyal readers I’d accrued. This was gonzo right? Foxhunter S. Thompson reporting for duty. I drifted off. I woke up in a wood panelled room. I was tied to a chair. There were three men standing over me, wearing shooting gear, Hackett, Barbour jackets, colourful chinos tucked into Hunter wellington boots, all holding double barrelled shotguns, broken in the middle. To top it off they all had balaclavas on. Strong look, I thought.
Me: Why the fuck am I tied to a chair?
One of them stepped forward and ruffled my hair.
Him: Oh, just a little security precaution, we don’t awfully like having the oiks visiting here, you never what they might steal.
Me: Yeah, this was funny when you picked me up, lets just do the interview, I’ll write the feature, we can all part ways, 20 people will read it, they will all buy the tape, send me the next one?
Him: (laughing gently) Get him a scotch, not the best stuff.
Me: That’s better.
Him: We thought you would enjoy our little tape. We saw how much you enjoyed all the others, all the terrible noises, horrible covers, shock tactics masquerading as political comment, that type of thing.
Him: We hoped you would contact us. We know you, we know about your trivial life, your sordid little dalliances. It amuses us greatly. Don’t misunderstand us, we found you because we all share a love of loud noises, you’ve seen us at gigs, maybe we fund your life. Our families are very important people but they indulge us.
Me: (Despite the calming effects of the large scotch I was getting a bit impatient) This is all very good, very, very good, you guys are brilliant, but come on, get to the fucking point, I’m supposed to be reviewing an action at a gallery in Stepney or something, I think. (I was a bit confused)
Him: Well if you make it back of course.
Me: What the fuck do you mean?
Him: We’ve wanted to try something, put our more extreme ideas into action, hunt something a bit more interesting than a fox. You’re going to be released soon enough, but you should run, very fast. (They all laughed, I’m still haunted by the sound of posh people laughing, I can’t even go to pubs in East London anymore).
I woke up in a ditch, grey light, dawn, to the sound of a horn, and horses galloping. I ran. I jumped over fences, I ran through streams. I found a road, I followed it. My jeans were stuck to my skin, I was covered in mud. In retrospect it was lucky that, at the time, I dressed like a rambler anyway. My Berghaus anorak had certainly not had a workout like this in London. I could still hear the hunt behind me. I thought so anyway. Now I’m not so sure, but I kept running. I made it back. I cut off the road across a field, I could see what looked like a motorway services on the other side. I threw myself over a fence and landed in a carpark. Leigh Delamere. I’d never been so happy to see people, normal people, a Costa coffee sign, a McDonalds logo. I checked my pockets. I had my wallet. I was muddy, but no one really noticed. I went into the toilets. I took care of myself. I sat in the services. I decided that the life I was living wasn’t really for me. Yes, transgressive art and politics can be interesting, but you should be careful about what you involve yourself in, what you advocate. You might end up on the wrong side. They might not like you.
Photograph by Verity-Jane Keefe
Artwork by Brian Gibson