Before I begin I want to say that I sent a notice to Mark ‘Eris’ Firman of Wasp Factory Records to announce that I had posted the review for “Escape Ferocity” by The Chaos Engine and I said, “you’re not gonna like it but your CD review is posted”. His unexpected reply was simply, “Nah, I liked it. Thing is, you can actually write, the only thing that annoys me about bad reviews is when they reveal the reviewers lack of literacy and say little about the product and more about the reviewers life! I can’t possibly get upset with anything you write anyway, as you are also the man who has bigged up another of our artists, Tarantella Serpentine in the US (just to confuse you more, Lee, the main force behind Chaos Engine produced said album!).” That being said we agreed to do this interview to let the band have their say and set the record straight and give their own perspective and even take a stab at me if they like.
Chain D.L.K.: Wasp Factory Recordings was formed by one of The Chaos Engine’s members. What can you tell us, first, about the label you guys are on? How did it come to be and what’s it’s image? (for those who are unfamiliar)
Chaos Engine: Wasp Factory and Chaos Engine are joined at the hip; When Chaos Engine left the flaming ruins of our major label, on which we’d released our debut album, ‘Difficult’, we decided to go it alone and establish our own label, hopefully learning by our previous label’s failings. We released our second album, ‘Obstinate’ on Wasp Factory in 1999 and were pleased with the way it was received and also with the way the label had been accepted in its own right. Rather than keeping the gates closed to new talent, we then decided to pursue the label as a separate entity, working with artists who we thought deserved a wider audience, but with – of all things – a moral code and a very artist-friendly and non-restrictive contract. Wasp Factory has a simple ‘if we like it, it’s signed’ ethos, but hearkens back to the days where being on a label MEANT something, the halcyon days of labels like 4AD, Mute, and pre-Oasis Creation, back before the whole industry was big business masquerading as independence… We currently work with 12 artists, all of which, hand on heart, I think are fucking amazing and endeavour to raise the bar with each release.
Chain D.L.K.: In my associations with Wasp Factory and Mark ‘Eris’ Firman I made a wise crack about the O. J. trials and he didn’t seem to pleased. Let’s set the records straight here (even though the spelling is obviously different).
Chaos Engine: As long as you don’t mention the Wookie Defense I think you’ll be okay. He’s very sensitive about that.
Chain D.L.K.: Before we go into more detail about the band I have to admit my CD Reviews of your band have not been too favorable and amazingly Mark had a very positive response to me on this, even complimenting my writing in the process. What’s the secret to maintaining such a great attitude in the face of adversity?
Chaos Engine: A delicate blend of being able to stand by our work because of the honesty and integrity we have when writing and recording, and a tenacious old-skool punk fuck-you attitude; Chaos Engine, and to a greater extent, Wasp Factory has been about gathering together those who think alike, those who get the joke, as it were, assembling an army of like-minded individuals; if you can face your peers and say, ‘this is the best thing we’ve ever done’ and for them to come back and agree, then the opinions of those who don’t get what we do matter appreciably less. Chaos Engine are one of the least pretentious bands you’ll meet. I’m not afraid to let people look behind the curtain and see the working process, indeed, being able to share that with people is one of the reasons I keep going, helping with other projects by producing and remixing. I never forget I’m privileged to be making a living from music alone; many of the so-called and self-proclaimed ‘stars’ of this scene are secretly holding down day-jobs whilst I’m making a living being neck-deep in this shit…
Chain D.L.K.: Okay, let’s approach the main issue why I have difficulty with the band and hopefully you can clarify for your/our audience as well. How can you be both ‘underground’ and ‘pop’ at the same time? Isn’t this a direct contradiction? And why would you want to do that?
Chaos Engine: Underground pop… is that such a contradiction? In the way the label remembers the halcyon years of the indie period of 1986-92 in the UK, when I think of underground pop I think of bands like Soft Cell. There they were, with one of the finest debuts ever, and then they just went as sleazy as they possibly could, but were still undeniably pop; you don’t need reminding off Sex Dwarf’s dirty funk-pop, surely? There are dozens of bands who I could call to my defence; look at the way The Cure have written great pop songs and drifted in and out of the charts throughout their career whilst still remaining resolutely underground. And surely this whole Nu-Metal movement is about the popularisation of the alternative? As for why would I want to do this, well, it’s like finding the porn mag in amongst the leather-bound copies of Shakespeare’s plays, isn’t it? The dirty little secret, the seed of perversion in an otherwise pristine CD-collection, the songs you know are dirty and wrong but find yourself singing to your beloved before blushing and trying to explain yourself…
Chain D.L.K.: In Mark’s words you hate pop music and even the music industry. You hate trite lyrics, bump and grind videos, & yet consider ‘fucked up’ break beats pop too. Can you sort this out? I mean, you are in the music industry after all and sometimes refer to aspects of your music as ‘pop’.
Chaos Engine: To be honest, there’s precious little about the music industry I like at all. The whole thing is rotten and decaying and needs serving its last rites; CD technology gave the corpse of the music industry a breath of life it didn’t deserve, and bitching about MP3’s is merely covering for the fact that the industry saw new technologies and buried its head in the sand whilst working for new packaging for another fucking release of the Rolling fucking Stones back catalogue. That’s why I set up the label; to do things right. Hope that’s cleared that one up. Pop, according to my definition, is anything that’s catchy and ultimately disposable; I’d consider Linkin Park to be pop (they might like to think they rock, I have other ideas…) and I’d consider that a compliment. Chaos Engine are by and large sticking to pop formulas, songs with verses and choruses and songs that weigh in at 4 minutes and songs you can sing but we’re stretching that formula to breaking point, just to see what happens. Imagine a lab where cute, fluffy pop songs have electrodes attached to their heads, are shaved, and forced to smoke 40 Marlboro an hour whilst pulling 4 G’s. That’s a Chaos Engine album.
Chain D.L.K.: Is The Chaos Engine only as pop as – say Marilyn Manson doing cover songs by the Eurythmics or Soft Cell?
Chaos Engine: We’re less pop, but only coz we’ve not sold as many albums yet. Marilyn Manson is Product. And he’s good at making product that people want to buy to scare their parents. That’s pop. It’s a shame he’s taken so many drugs that he wants to be an arrr-TISTE instead of just being a dirty little pop star.
Chain D.L.K.: The Chaos Engine has an extreme distaste for pop culture commercialism like Britney Spears selling Pepsi but yet you seem to inadvertently portray the same attitude toward your own music from time to time. Is this meant to be parody and how do you draw the line between what you do and what the others do? How do you keep from becoming the enemy?
Chaos Engine: Okay, confession time. I like Britney. She’s a hopeless trailer-trash cock-teasing pawn in the music game who probably gets about 2 cents for every CD sold, but make no mistake, she’s working with some of the finest songwriters and producers money can buy. Her music kicks more ass than 95% of the so-called ‘real alternative’, and manages to be subversive at the same time – you KNOW I’m right about this, that debut single was OUT THERE – a song so obviously about sado-masochism with a porno schoolgirl video? It was a ‘Sex Dwarf’ for the 00’s. Thing is, whilst Britney’s sucking corporate cock with a winning smile, she’s getting signed up to all these big corporate deals. Her contract forbids her from opposing her being linked to all these big multinationals, and she’s probably on so much coke & steroids she doesn’t know which end to pee from without a personal assistant. What’d RULE is if she went onstage with a gun and just told it like it is, took out all the Pepsi neon logos with a 12-gauge and just rocked out. She’s still got it in her, you can see it in her eyes. You can only repress your sexuality for so long before your hormones short-circuit and she’s on the brink, man, you can tell. She’s Courtney Love with an audience, y’know… Man, I wish I was Britney Spears. There’s your quote right there. I want to BE the enemy, then I want to turn to camera, wink in slo-mo, pull out the sawn-off and mutter the immortal lines, ‘…and now a word from our sponsors…’.
Chain D.L.K.: In my review of your recent “Escape Ferocity” CD I said, “With statements like “the only thing for sure is that each and every song will have more pop hooks than Britney Spears entire recorded output and yet still pack enough finely honed rage to give your parents nightmares for months” are such contradictions that one can only look at them as being as pretentious as Sigue Sigue Sputnik. ”. How do you explain this?
Chaos Engine: I explain it by saying you read the press release before listening to the CD. And then you’re left with CD in one hand (coz I know you’re one of those old-skool reviewers who LISTENS to the CD) and the press-release in the other and you’re doing a ‘compare & contrast’ review. In this day and age, that behaviour is rare; I’m right in this business, remember, and I KNOW how many of our press releases get cut & pasted word-for-word by way of hasty journalism so reviewers can get to the next press junket / laminate / shiny Rolling Stones Tour Jacket more quickly. So we write what we wanna see in print. And for those, like yourself, who are left with a few blanks to fill in, well, we get bile or questions (or in your case, both) and I’m happy to step into the fray and say, ‘ah-HA! What we meant was THIS! …’ and take whatever’s launched at us as a result. If Sigue Sigue Sputnik had written THREE great pop songs instead of just one, people would be heralding them as a pop phenomena instead of a pretentious one-hit wonder: discuss.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s up with the “Barbie Girl” cover? Why’d you do it?
Chaos Engine: We did it as a dare. It just got played on Radio 1 in the UK, the biggest radio station in the country. I’m still laughing…
Chain D.L.K.: Where do you see The Chaos Engine going from here?
Chaos Engine: We’re splitting up. No, really. You’re right, TG, it’s all been a horrible mistake. Sorry to have troubled you.
Chain D.L.K.: Who are bigger megalomaniacs, The Chaos Engine or KMFDM?
Chaos Engine: We’ve never wanted to rule the world. I’ve always known that when you do, you just become an administrator or a public servant, y’know, ‘please Mr Chaos, can you put an end to suffering in the kitten-farms? ? ! ‘ and so on… how dull. Give the world to KMFDM, and let Chaos Engine lead the Rebel Alliance…
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the strangest or most dangerous thing you’ve ever done live on stage?
Chaos Engine: I have plugged myself into the mains twice and been electrocuted onstage. Once with such force it knocked me into the drumkit behind and blew all the lights in the venue. However I cannot be harmed by conventional weapons…
Chain D.L.K.: In light of this interview do you think The Chaos Engine will make any changes to come or will it only get worse? (insert grin here)
Chaos Engine: Nope, we’ve split up now. Honestly. It’s all boxed sets and digitally remastered DVDs with spangly boxes and it’s all your fault. And then the tribute band. PH34R the Chaos Engine tribute band!
Chain D.L.K.: Are there any side projects or upcoming events we should know about?
Chaos Engine: There’s Exitboy (www.exitboy.com) but you really shouldn’t know about that. It’s dirty and wrong and I need to start distancing myself from it before the lawyers start bare-knuckle fighting over the boxes of stock at the pressing-plant. I only helped out as a favour, and it’s just got out of hand…
Chain D.L.K.: What can we expect from the next release?
Chaos Engine: Oh, TG, if you insist we reform… deadly serious, the next album will be completed in total secrecy. One of the reasons the last album, ‘Escape Ferocity’ took so long was that I took too much advice, and was too influenced by too many bands; I started off wanting it to sound like Rob Zombie covering Erasure, then we decided Covenant Vs Rammstein was the blueprint, then we remembered how good Pop will Eat Itself were, then we discovered Mindless Self-Indulgence and Nasenbluten. For the next album I’ll be working in a small hermetically sealed bubble at the bottom of the ocean with only a monkey called Hans and my Playstation 2 for company…
Chain D.L.K.: Anything else you’d like to add or would like to take that stab at me now?
Chaos Engine: No, then it would become a legally binding contract. I’d rather sneak up on you when your guard is down, make you see the error of your ways and then get you drunk enough to sign a contract that sees you writing the problem page for Bunion Sufferers Bi-weekly for the rest of your days…
Visit Chaos Engine on the web at:
[interviewed by TG Mondalf]