Wire‘s latest, self-titled, album is their 13th studio recording – or 14th, depending on who you ask – since the post-punk outfit’s inception in 1976. Following 2013’s well-received comeback-of-sorts Change Becomes Us, it somehow manages to be heavy and pop, introspective and expansive, droney and melodic, atmospheric and rhythmic. It is the veritable poster boy for the concept of all things to all people. And it’s very, very good.
Featuring the colossal, hypnotic endpiece Harpooned, the new album shows off the sort of honed production skills they’ve become known for, as well as a plugged-in, deep-seated lyricism and an innate understanding that volume can be transcendental.
To celebrate the album’s launch, the four-piece take to the stage of London’s Lexington this month to headline five curated shows, these being the latest in their DRILL: FESTIVALs series, with handpicked support acts opening each night. Here, main man Colin Newman explains the albums – and single – that have influenced him most down the years for Wire’s This Music Made Me…
It has, for the last 15 years at least, been impossible to say anything at all about The Beatles, so ruined has their legacy been by the endless exploitation of their name by the dread hand of the “legacy” industry. But it would be impossible or someone who is precisely my age and who is still working in music to not include The Beatles.
I became conscious of having musical preferences at pretty much the same time the Beatles were having their first hits. The thing is that when you are talking about such early influences you can’t really talk about albums as such. It was all singles and stuff I heard on the radio (pre-Radio 1). Even at that early age I had very strong opinions. I thought that records by The Beatles, pretty much everything I heard on Motown and a few other artists couldn’t really be improved on, but definitely felt that a lot of pop music could do with a bit of help (I think I used to sing counter melodies!).
In spite of a fondness for The White Album I do think Revolver is their best “album”, although there were many non-album releases by them that were equally as good if not better.
I guess this is a topical choice, as it’s someone we’ve rather sadly just lost.
This album is a strange mixture of medieval tunes spiced up with little swing jazz.
It was for me the first exposure to early music (albeit reproduced on modern rather than early style instruments) the plain tonality and lack of harmony in any kind of expected mode in the “early” pieces had a strong influence on me at quite a young age (around 15).
Another topical choice, although like many I’m hoping it’s just false alarm.
What can you say about Joni Mitchell? It felt like she taught me everything about women I would never learn from my mum. I guess I would have first heard this around the same age as hearing The Lady And The Unicorn – 15. The prodigious musicality and the candid confessions aside, the thing that has really stuck has been the way she has never committed herself to one instrument for writing.
The opening track All I Want was obviously written on a dulcimer, just one string for making the changes and the rest are drones. I use that method a lot for writing sings on guitar, using just one string as a drone and the next one up to make the changes. It actually enables you to be more free with the voice than having to follow chord changes plus the pieces are always inherently rhythmic.
An obvious choice, I guess.
My favourite track is Land. What I liked about it was that, while the band was channeling the raw energy which was from the same well as punk rock was drinking from, Patti herself was riding over it with a kind of jive poetry that was as much art as street – probably much more art than street, but to my young ears anything from New York sounded somehow “street”. She definitely wasn’t playing it dumb.
It was as exciting as The Stooges but with none of the self-destructive nihilism. The music went fast and they kept it simple. A definite template.
In these days when every second record is self-recorded and nobody bats an eyelid that top albums were recorded in someone’s bedroom its easy to forget how important the “Midi revolution” of the ’80s and ’90s was, especially the way that it trickled down from expensive studio gear to “affordable” stuff.
What was great about early Aphex was that it sounded like someone fiddling about and having a lot of fun doing it. It felt like the field became open to people to make and release the kind of music that they might have passed over for something that more resembled “normal” music in former times. The fact that you were doing it in your own studio on your own time made it possible to be free of budget constraints and completely changed my whole attitude towards production.
Over the period ’86 to ’92 I gradually moved from using my own studio to make demos for “proper” records to starting to actually make productions. Aphex was’t so much a cause of that shift but a confirmation that things were moving in that direction.
When you talk about dance music, especially of the ’90s, it’s really impossible to talk about albums. It’s all about tracks and tunes that get played out. However, as the ’90s progressed, my partner Malka & I, with our swim ~ label, began to become more overtly involved in the London electronic underground. Not only were we releasing productions we were making in our own studio but also releasing music by others.
Then drum & bass hit. The thing about ’90s drum & bass was that it was the realisation of an impossible music. A music that could not have been made without affordable sampling and people with enough time on their hands to figure out that breaks could be used to make something other than hip hop records. D&B came in many different flavours but as it developed the skill became in how to cut and re-trigger your breaks, intricacies that could sound either noodly or super danceable.
For me, the simple technical exercise of making D&B tracks pushed my own production skills to another level. By 1998 I was starting to make records that sounded ok. Meanwhile LTJ Bukem provided the perfect soundtrack.
I make no apologies for including a record we not only released on swim ~ but I also actually mixed.
Silo were a post-rock three-piece from Copenhagen who mixed chopped up real drums (rarely in 4/4), big guitar textures, high bass and vocals. Bottom end would mainly come from synths. They saw themselves (with good reason) as a bastard child of Metallica and Tortoise, but what was interesting about Instar from my point of view is that it pre-dated my move to ProTools. So the record was made with sequencer and sampler.
However it was very important that it did not sound like a kind of dance music; it had to be distinctly rock in flavour. It was quite a technical challenge, but we got there in the end, and really it was the main reason why I was able to start making productions for Wire. The argument being that if I could make Silo sound good (not that they didn’t already) I should be able to do the same job for Wire.
It’s really hard to talk about “influence” beyond a certain point in musical evolution. It’s not that by some point I’d totally evolved and could take on no more “influence”; it’s more like everything you hear and like has some effect, but it’s hard to know precisely what (which is why quite a lot of these are influences on me as a record producer rather than as a musician).
However I’ve been involved in quite a lot of projects outside of Wire both as a musician and a producer, and this album has cast a long shadow over one particular strand of musical evolution which relates more to things I’ve done with Malka. The music of Berlin in the late ’90s, particularly from musicians who were from or had connections to former East Berlin, has a particular power and poignancy.
The way in which it retains a link to “classic” krautrock but exists in a world between rock and electronica was something very original. Malka and I later worked with To Rococo Rot’s drummer Ronald Lippok on her 2012 album Every Day Is Like The First Day and the subsequent Gliding EP.
This may seem a strange choice, but this is more about the production than the music.
I first started mixing Wire records around 2001/2. While I understood what we were trying to do conceptually, I still needed to figure out what kind of thing it should be sonically. I remember hearing Spread Your Love and thinking that’s exactly how it should sound, BIG!
I don’t think I achieved that on all of Send but certainly In The Art of Stopping was getting there…
There are records released every year which I love, and some of those artists end up being included in one of our DRILL: FESTIVALs. But it is stretching a point to cite someone who is just starting or on their second or third release as an “influence”. A friend maybe, co-conspirator even, but influence probably not. It’s a pity because there’s a lot I haven’t mentioned.
However this inclusion is simply because it’s this week’s ear worm. It’s not an album, just a single. Alexander Brettin is from LA and this is his debut. Where I think this fits in is that he’s using an instrument palette (harpsichords, flutes, organs etc.) which have also been present on the last two Wire albums well as Malka’s album.
There have been a lot of people going on about “psychedelic” over the last couple of years, but very little mention of “psychedelic pop”, which is where such instruments (alongside oboes, fence horns, mellotrons etc.) were first given free rein in a pop music context. So maybe not so much influence but a bit of “convergence”.
Wire’s album Wire is out now through Pink Flag.
They headline five nights at London’s Lexington from 14 April 2015, curating a support bill varied for each show. Further tour dates and information can be found here.
Wire’s DRILL: FESTIVALs have their own site here.