To celebrate The Jupiter Room turning four in August (oh, how the time has flown!), we are featuring experimental music legend Eric Random who has answered some questions for us and contributed five original tracks, written exclusively for the show.
Eric Ramsden aka Eric Random is synonymous with the experimental, electronic scene of the early ’80s and was one of the pioneers of the emerging northern industrial/noise scene. Hailing from Manchester, Random crossed the Pennines to Sheffield teaming up with Cabaret Voltaire‘s Stephen Mallinder and Richard H. Kirk to push the boundaries of what sound could achieve, dabbling in noise and avant-garde compositions, to much critical acclaim. A multi-instrumentalist, Random could turn his hand to any style and format, creating dense and layered tunes, brimming with invention and originality. In June 2019, he released his sixth solo album, Wire Me Up, a double album of minimalist electronic cohesion.
Released on the independent label Sleepers Records, Wire Me Up is a collection of stark, stripped-down electronica that evokes a chilly, dystopian feel, full of harsh beats and cold synths. Opening with the kosmische spaciness of “Nothing Is True”, we are greeted with melodic arpeggiating pulses that spin and tumble like orbiting moons. “Target” could have been cut straight from 1980 with its dark and brooding synth curls and robotic beats while “Stealth” features an alien, vocodered voice adding depth and texture. “Skid Row” is pure darkening techno-pop with its menacing bassline, stark beats and coiling synths.
“You Seem The Same” thrums with rhythm, pulse and shimmer, Random‘s voice softly distorted and suspended in the background. “The Louder You Scream” is one of the more accessible and upbeat tracks, it could almost be described as bouncy, featuring a buzzing and pulsating synth line over steady beats and sweetly melodic sequencers. Every track flows, full of sweetly coiling sequencers and robotic beats, however, there is a tangible quality, a tactile and organic feel to the tracks softening the minimal and sparse arrangements. Throughout the album, Random often submerges his vocals rather than bringing attention to them, using them as an embedded instrument rather than a lead, adding to the often otherworldly feel.
“Touch Sensitive” dabbles in techno while “Hypnophobia” appears to be gliding in coldwave territory. Closing out with “Systematic”; all Kraftwerk-esque vocoder and hard, angular synth pulses, and “The Outsider”, again branching into kosmische-tinged radiophonics, Wire Me Up is a wonderful collection of mysterious, haunting moods and melodic sonic waterfalls. Eric Random manages to extract so much from the mine of analogue synthesis at his disposal, casting shadows of spooky bass, cloaking rhythms and dramatic synth moods.
Emerging out of the late 70’s post-punk movement, Random had early associations with the Buzzcocks as a member of their road crew before going on to form The Tiller Boys with Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks frontman) and drummer Francis Cookson. As this trio, they produced avant rock with krautrock overtones, seemingly channelling Fripp and Eno. Support slots with the likes of Joy Division, Gang of Four and Cabaret Voltaire, established the trio on the Manchester scene, bringing them to the attention of the newly emerging Factory Records. Following the dissolution of The Tiller Boys, Random continued to collaborate with other experimental musicians but it was when he met Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire that his forays into experimental electronics started to emerge. The rise of experimental and industrial electronics was swift during the late 1970s with small pockets of artists throughout the UK creating a new form of Kraftwerk-inspired music and Random was part of this first wave of artists.
That’s What I Like About Me, his first solo album, was released in 1980 on the New Hormones imprint. Comprising of just four tracks, the Stephen Mallinder produced record featured harsh synthetic rhythms, Neu! inspired guitar and fluttering dub. Utilising tape machines, sampling and exploring sound collages, Random‘s debut sounded futuristic and exciting. It was during this period that the synthesizer transformed from post-punk experimentalism to the pop instrument of choice and Eric Random was at the forefront.
Random followed his debut long-player with the single “Dow Chemical Company” backed with “Skin Deep”, this furthered Random’s forays into the experimental realm. The “23 Skidoo” and “Subliminal” 7 inch followed in 1981 on Belgium’s Les Disques Du Crépuscule, the former track using cut-up sounds and industrial backwashes and, apparently, the contents of a cassette Random found on the street, while “Subliminal” once again featured dub basslines and punctuated echoing guitar. 2018’s release A Boy Alone neatly compiles many of these early releases.
Random also formed a new collaborative band, Eric Random And The Bedlamites around 1982, releasing Earthbound Ghost Needed, featuring contributions from Cabaret Voltaire‘s Mallinder and Richard H. Kirk. More accessible and further exploring dub and industrial textures this and the follow-up Time-Splice (released on Cabaret Voltaire‘s label Doublevision) perfectly encapsulated the outer reaches of musical experimentation at the time.
During the 1980s, Random toured with legendary art-rock singer/songwriter Nico as member of her backing group The Faction, an experience he describes “as more than educational.” Indeed, the band was effectively Nico and the Bedlamites, a relationship which continued until shortly before the singer’s untimely death in 1988. Following this, Random went on hiatus, returning to the live circuit with the band Free Agents, an acoustic/electronic dub collective incorporating African and Jamaican influences, this culminated in a 2008 album was a release of the same name. Since then, Random has been more prolific, releasing (prior to Wire Me Up) Man Dog, Words Made Flesh and Two Faced, all exploring dance, dub, industrial, minimalist techno and electro.
We were very fortunate that Eric could take time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us:
What is your earliest musical memory and what did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to the music that my older brothers and sisters were collecting around that time, mainly Motown and a few Ska records. Although one of the earliest musical memories I have is being very young and taken to the cinema to watch a movie called Zulu. John Barry’s music and the way the soundtrack was used to emphasise and punctuate the visual story had quite a powerful effect on my developing mind.
You started out in the post-punk scene and moved into industrial and experimental music, notably as part of the late 70’s early 80’s Sheffield scene (I’m thinking Cabaret Voltaire specifically), how did this come about? Was this a natural progression?
Yes, I started with my first group The Tiller Boys during what was the post-punk scene and then was perceived to move into what is now known as industrial. To be honest, I’ve never really related to being placed in musical genres, I think any changes in my work around that time was a natural progression. The changes came from going from a group to a solo situation and also new input from collaborations with the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, who I became great friends with after witnessing and meeting them at the London Lyceum gig they did with the Buzzcocks.
It was a very creative period back then with like-minded artists experimenting with similar ideas, was this an exciting and inspiring period to be writing and performing? Do you have fond memories of this time?
It was a very exciting and productive time especially around the Hulme area of Manchester with lots of artists and musicians living in close proximity, so there was lots of hanging out in each other’s places experimenting with all kinds of audiovisual arts. Some of the best times were when Richard Boone, Lindsay Reid and myself ran The Beach Club. A tiny place on two floors in a city centre back street, where we put movies and live bands on. One of the most memorable nights was when I got together with Stephan Mallinder, Richard H Kirk and Jez Kerr for an improvised set we did under the name A Certain Random Cabaret.
You worked with singer/songwriter Nico during the mid-’80s, what was this like?
Touring as part of Nico’s group The Faction for almost seven years was more than educational. Experiencing the extreme highs and just as extreme depths of sadness that travelling round the world with a troupe of people that seemed to naturally peak into situations of complete surrealism.
Do you think artists are as experimental and innovative today as they were in the 1970’s or has music become too homogenised and standardized now?
I think with such easy access and innovations in technology make it more difficult to stand out or to have any degree of originality. Some new stuff I find formless and somewhat soulless or either too clever and contrived. All that being said, I believe there are a number of people out there doing exceptional stuff.
Who, of the current crop of electronic musicians, would you like to work with?
Stephan Mallinder’s still producing quality work with the other guys from Wrangler, Phil (Winter) and, of course, Benge who has created a mecca for electronic music in his Devon studio. Other artists I have been lucky enough to have experienced over the last few years are the brilliant Gazelle Twin and more recently a number of solo artists such as Polypores.
Someone (Phil Oakey, I think) once said that “synths are more punk than guitars”, would you agree with this?
I believe he was right in saying this, analogue synths having the possibility to delve into constant evolving chaos and a kind of organic aggression.
Describe your music in three words.
Three words to describe my music I would say are repetitive, sinuous, emotion.
What’s your favourite sound?
My favourite sound, anything that oscillates.
How do you set your studio up? Do you use hardware, soft synths, DAW or a combination?
My studio mainly consists of a few analogue synths such as my Yamaha CS30, Roland SH09 and an Arp Odyssey some Moog desktop synths and an Elektron Analogue Four with Korg vocoders. I programme most of my drums on MFB drum machines and a Vermona drum synth. All this is controlled by arturia and korg sequencers plus logic.
Tell us about the session you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
The session I have just put together is made up of some completely new previously unheard tracks written these past few weeks, especially for Jupiter Room.
What’s next for you?
I’m in the process of finishing a number of tracks for a planned 12” on The Pop Group‘s label Freaks R Us. Very happy to say that included in this project are tracks with guest vocals from both Mark Stewart and Stephan Mallinder. As for live work, there are performances planned for Manchester and Leeds later this year, also a show in Vienna and working on plans for a trip to LA.
Thanks very much, Eric.
This show was first broadcast on Thursday 29th August 2019 on Fourculture Radio.