Following the release of “White Glue” (coming out under MemeTune imprint), the second album by Wrangler, the collaborative project by Stephen Mallinder (formerly Cabaret Voltaire), Phil Winter (Tunng) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths), we had a second chat with Stephen. Let’s get deeper into it.
Chain D.L.K.: Howdy, Stephen! If you remember, we already had an interesting chat a couple of years ago. Welcome back to Chain D.L.K.!
Stephen Mallinder: Thank you; nice to be asked back!
Chain D.L.K.: Two years can be like a geological era for an artist…could you summarize what happened over them?
Stephen Mallinder: Mmm, that’s an interesting thought. I guess you’re right; subjectively speaking we, as Wrangler, and myself, have been involved in lots of things, but objectively at least in music everything seems to be in a holding pattern – lots of things go on, but plus ca change.
It was in simple terms only six years between Woodstock and the beginnings of punk, which is a considerable amount of change, but we’d be hard pressed to think of that much change in the digital era, and specifically the last two years.
But I have to say the world has changed massively, but music doesn’t seem to reflect that; it’s because we are all working in discreet ways, not the big movements that we had pre-digital.
But we have been busy.
Chain D.L.K.: Could you talk extensively about the key facts occurring over them?
Stephen Mallinder: Well, after LA Spark there was a hiatus because Benge moved the studio, relocating from London to Cornwall, which meant we were working in a slightly fragmented way. But we did manage to pull together the modular album Sparked, which was brilliant to have contributions from Abul Mogard, Chris Carter, Daniel Miller, Solvent, Dean Honer et al. We were really happy with that collaborative effort.
We did also make the initial recordings for the new album White Glue, tracks we’d been playing live. We’d played in Japan and across Europe and so had quite a bit of material, which we finished early this year when the studio was fully operational.
I’ve been working with LoneLady; I DJed on the UK and European tour and had been working on a short film from those dates. Wrangler and LL did a Barbican show together with a special 12-inch to mark the event.
We’re now working with John Grant, recording and playing entirely new material. We are playing a show to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Rough Trade.
Chain D.L.K.: Just by chance, one of our collaborators recently reviewed White Glue…”pop in comparison” to your past acts, according to Stuart’s words…do you agree?
Stephen Mallinder: Well that’s for Stuart to define ‘pop’ – the boundaries between popular culture and high culture collapsed decades ago, and the idea of ‘subculture’ has long since gone. Stockhausen, Eno, Francis Bacon, Deleuze are all part of pop culture; it is simply a matter of where on a spectrum you choose to place a particular work. We have had a piece at the Tate Modern and have done quite experimental, improv shows, plus a very interesting modular album, so we cover a wide range of creative projects. White Glue is another facet of what we do – it is intended to capture lots of music ideas that people can connect with – I don’t see things in those terms, ‘pop’ or ‘esoteric,’ merely good or bad music.
Chain D.L.K.: With no need of light – let’s say so – the vein I can feel more from your glorious experience in modern music is the one of John Foxx / The Maths maybe… would you say Foxx’s works had a strong influence on it?
Stephen Mallinder: Well, Benge has worked with John on The Maths, and we share the same manager, so there are tangible links. John and I emerged around the same time and were keen to explore electronic music, but with a consideration of a wider music culture.
He is someone I like and admire very much, but the actual music that emerges is quite different, so I would think it’s fair to say we admire and respect each other’s work, but we are influenced by similar things rather than directly by each other.
Chain D.L.K.: I’m pretty sure someone could label “White Glue” as a nostalgic act…I remember one of those public speeches I heard in some intellectual circle of a nice old guy claiming the right to be nostalgic nowadays…would you agree with such a claim? If yes, why?
Stephen Mallinder: Well, that is the world we inhabit, and Wrangler is no more nostalgic than any other group or artist. I challenge anyone to select a piece of newly released music and tell me that it isn’t heavily referencing the past.
All culture is in a process of historicizing. Everything builds on the past; nothing exists in a vacuum. The shift to digital meant cultural time stopped, and there has been nothing like a paradigm shift for twenty years.
Because we have made music for some time, it is just lazy journalism to call it nostalgic. Would they say that if it was the first record I had made? Has anyone said it about Factory Floor? (No disrespect, I love them.)
Nothing new is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed. That is the world we inhabit.
Chain D.L.K.: Like LA Sparks, you recorded “White Glue” at Benge’s studios..would you say such a collaboration strengthened mutual understanding?
Stephen Mallinder: We work together because we respect and understand each other, but the important thing is we are all different and can bring different things to that collaboration. I never quite understand when I see groups, particularly electronic ones, where it’s like a two, or multi-headed entity. It’s better that each of us brings something different, something the others can’t. Wrangler overlaps in many respects, but also we have individual interests and qualities.
Chain D.L.K.: What are the main differences between White Glue and the just mentioned LA Sparks, in your words?
Stephen Mallinder: Well, we played much of White Glue live before we recorded it, so we were able to work on, and refine, parts. LA Spark was more of a studio, live-mix situation, where we worked the tracks as live mixes to create structures and parts.
We had a more concentrated period to do White Glue, and the experience of being hidden away, compared to the mad disruptive London recording of LA Spark.
Other than that, I can’t say; we just develop tracks according to how we feel. We don’t set out to say this album should be like this or that. It’s simply the next record, things develop, things progress.
Chain D.L.K.: You replied to one of my past questions by stating that “music has to have some elements of unpredictability”? What are the most relevant ones in White Glue?
Stephen Mallinder: The whole album was recorded with an unknown destination, so for us it was always unpredictable. No one knew what the next element was going to come from.
I think I baffled the guys with some vocal elements – Real Life was a very complex process using reel-to-reel tape techniques, reversing, processing and pre-delaying the voice physically. It took more than half a day to do and frazzled Benge’s brain.
I think me suddenly singing falsetto on Stupid took everyone by surprise as well.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think there is something missing in the feedback by reviewers/bloggers/critics you received about your release? If yes, why?
Stephen Mallinder: No, not really; people write what they like and think. Perhaps my only comment is that referencing Cabaret Voltaire as some default review is lazy journalism. I mean, it’s pretty easy to say there are similarities ’cause obviously I’m in both groups, but it seems to come from people’s perceptions of what the Cabs were, than what we actually were.
The technology we use in Wrangler is nothing like what the Cabs had – Wrangler uses a vast range of technology, and it is all played. The Cabs didn’t have vast banks of analogue gear, and we used a lot of found sound, and later on samples, which is something completely absent in Wrangler.
I get it, but it is unfair to Benge and Phil. They weren’t in CV, but they are Wrangler; it’s their music and people should think about that and show respect.
Chain D.L.K.: You extensively talked about the story behind LA Spark’s cover artwork. Well, any words related to the one for White Glue?
Stephen Mallinder: It was done by Paul Burgess, a friend and much-respected illustrator who I work with.
It is simply an image he conjured up, and we loved it. We thought the time was right to reclaim that image – it’s not really a smiley face as such, and is quite a dystopian image, a post-club world where everything has imploded and deflated … sad but somehow hopeful. It seemed very Wrangler.
Chain D.L.K.: “Stop spending money you don’t have” and many other precious suggestions in “Stop”! A warning to contemporary man under market-driven pressures?
Stephen Mallinder: Well, people can take that as they wish. I think the sentiment is quite clear about how we have been pulled into hyper-consumption, debt, waste and the distraction from real issues through fast capitalism and media collusion. The whole album has a theme of wealth, entitlement and the abuse of power, so it was part of that narrative.
But the simpler answer was it was graffiti I saw on a wall of an underpass in Brighton, which was also the very spot where Ben Wheatley filmed a violent scene in his film Down Terrace and is next to where I live.
I love Ben Wheatley’s films, so it was a kind of a discreet acknowledgment of that.
Chain D.L.K.: How real is the real life you portrayed on the same named (brilliant!) song?
Stephen Mallinder: Again, it refers to the theme of privilege and excess – for some people ‘crashing cars, smashing bars,’ laying waste without consequence is real life – the words are about the lack of responsibility the plutocrats and minority wealthy have compared to the rest of society – a tale of caution I hope, ‘crashing right back to earth.’
Chain D.L.K.: The release of the album has been preceded by the release of “Stupid”…any reasons behind such a choice?
Stephen Mallinder: It felt like quite an immediate track, and lent itself to a video idea Chris Turner had. That was it, really. The idea of a single in an online world is quite bizarre, but it is really about using one track to draw people in.
Chain D.L.K.: Any tour on the horizon – I’m not in Italy anymore! -?
Stephen Mallinder: Well, we do play regularly, but it seems to be in a haphazard way, mainly because we play when people ask and we like the particular gig and offer.
We would love to come to Italy, but no one has asked us yet.
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