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In Extremis

Never Fade Out: Loop's Robert Hampson Interviewed
jonny mugwump , November 19th, 2008 13:02

As Loop reissue their classic albums Fade Out and Heaven's End, Jonny Mugwump spoke to Robert Hampson about the band's career, demise, and his eventual abandoning of the guitar. Pictures by Tom Sheehan

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"It was a very strange time and with hindsight - which is a beautiful thing - I didn’t like the way Loop ended so quickly and suddenly. It was like finding that your favourite uncle had terminal cancer and only had a week to live."

It is 20 years later but a sense of melancholy is still palpable in Robert Hampson’s voice down the phone line from his new Parisian base. The founder of shamanic drone-rockers Loop and the disintegrating ambience of Main is now newly signed to the Touch label, and releasing music under his own name. We’re speaking on the eve of the reissues of the first half of Loop’s back catalogue which is reviewed here on the Quietus.

"Predominantly the reason behind Loop musically speaking, well, it was pretty grim at the time in England with a lot of this jingly jangly C86 kind of stuff. I did like some of it but it was like punk hadn’t happened and I wanted something a little more aggressive. Even metal had lost its bite."

It was in the late 80’s that Hampson and Loop mainlined into the darker pools of Detroit and then dragged it into strange and monolithic new shapes.

"I’ve never worn my influences on my sleeve but never shied away from them either, a little bit of Stooges or MC5 and also Krautrock and so on - it was hopefully quite original. People always said it was quite psychedelic but it’s not in any West Coast way. It’s more about inner space than outer space - more inwardly looking, whereas much of 60s psychedelia was more outward looking."

This propulsive intensity lasted for several years as Loop submitted to a punishing schedule of endless touring and recording. The band then imploded brutally and quickly in 1990 after the release of their masterpiece A Gilded Eternity.

About the break-up: "There’s reasons I don’t want to go into it. It was very difficult to move into Hydra Calm [Main’s first release], and what became the Main stuff. That’s where I wanted Loop to go and I was finding it very hard to think about that in a rock band format. It’s very hard to tell a drummer who is a very very good drummer not to drum. I was going back to doing much more experimental music, the circle had turned and I wanted to return back to what I was doing before.

"One of the reasons I can explain was that we were very very tired and we were constantly touring, and if we weren’t touring we were always in the studio. We had a lot of demands from record companies and the American thing was really taking off - I think we could have easily broken America 'cos when we went there it was just nuts. But it just got to us and with all relationships it affects the personal side of things. I mean, we weren’t arguing or had musical difficulties or any of that and when we finished we were still very friendly. If I’d gotten my shit together and said that I wanted four or five months off to just not think about Loop then we probably would have kept going. We were just mentally physically exhausted and there were other problems we were all having, and in the end I was the one that just turned round and said 'I’ve had enough'. And also I was having all the worries about where we would go after A Gilded Eternity which I think it was probably our best work, although everybody seemed to not really like it at the time. But I think a lot of people have gone back to that record and found that it’s really stood the test of time even if I do say so myself."

On the one hand it’s tantalising to imagine a fifth album, but on the other, Loop’s demise is hardly surprising. Hampson has always restlessly moved on and it transpires that Loop was his only real foray into rock music having spent years either playing bass or experimenting with portastudios. Also, he is hardly what you would call a willing performer.

"I’d always wanted to hide. There were no sleeve notes and during gigs we would hide behind smoke - I’ve never been about personality-driven music. I’m getting on a bit now, I don’t really go to concerts anymore - I go to a lot more sit-down events these days [laughs] and people still find it unusual that I don’t want to play on stage. I’m really sick of all those bloody awful abstract videos and these days I just want to play in pitch black. And I’m really not that much of an interesting guy. I was thinking the other day that when I was playing in an auditorium... all I need to see is the faders on the mixing desk otherwise you can tell people are looking at you and, you know, don’t look."

Don’t look. Loop could never have broken America - Hampson is a soundhead, a sonic compulsive. There are many parallels with Kevin Shields’ recently reformed My Bloody Valentine, who were also alchemising rock at the same time - creating a removal of personality and an absolutely obsessive preoccupation with the microscopics of sound. I ask him how it felt to go back to those recordings.

"I have a very unusual relationship with Loop and it was a very big chain around my neck. I didn’t even want to speak about it for nearly 20 years, and I had also stopped using the guitar years ago. When I was doing the re-mastering I was like 'Wow, this isn’t so bad' as I really didn’t know what to expect. To put it in context, everybody still listened to vinyl and, not to besmirch anyone, probably their sound systems weren’t so great. Even though CDs were around at that point the sound quality was just fucking terrible, really thin. Nobody knew how to master through compact disc as it was such a new form and you could listen to these beautiful pieces of classical music or Roxy Music and just think that this isn’t the record that I owned and they sounded awful. Now that there are more competitively priced hi-fis and now that I’m happy with mastering and I think all the nuances are finally being heard. People have told me that there are some really unusual things going on that they had never heard before."

Main and Hampson’s eventual abandonment of the guitar can be seen as giving credence to the idea that the late 80s was rock’s final hurrah. From then on, an onslaught of new forms would sound the death knell for the relevance of the genre.

"[Rock] was far more eclectic then. Well you know what killed it. Basically it was acid house and Seattle. Nobody was interested in any bands unless they came out of Seattle, the grunge thing, and that got very boring very quickly. There were so many bad quality bands - I mean there were a couple that were good but the majority were fucking dreadful."

So, initially with Loop bandmate Scott Dawson, Hampson began Main, an extraordinary project that lasted 16 years and produced a swathe of music and sound that was startlingly original and idiosyncratic. It initially utilised the guitar only to literally deconstruct it.

"For the first few years that’s exactly what Main was, a process of the destruction of the guitar. It was trying to find ways of abstract the nature of such an iconic form. I mean it wasn’t exactly original as you had people like Keith Rowe [from AMM] but yeah, it was about trying to extract these nuances. Not even using it in a musical context and purely as a sound generator to try and remove the instrumental nature."

I offer that this is in many ways more loyal to the history of the guitar. Hampson is happy to agree, citing Hendrix’s use of feedback as a further example.

"I’m hardly claiming to be the first person to do this but hopefully I can pull it in to a contemporary context. I’ve never bothered about what date something was recorded, I mean I can still listen to Forever Changes and enjoy it as a contemporary record. The guitar finally went around Firmament IV when Scott Dawson left and I really couldn’t think of anything else to do with it. I just wasn’t interested anymore. The more concrete and electro acoustic and field recording material had become much more prominent - it was a natural progression for me as I had just done everything I could. Slightly later Fennesz came around and his take on the guitar was purely digital and I was like yeah that’s good, something’s new come along and it felt like the right time to walk away from it."

Main continued as a solo project for many years after that with Hampson finally winding it down a couple of years ago.

"Well, I’d been doing Main for 16 years and I didn’t think that the musical forms I was using (they were becoming much more compositional and direct) just didn’t suit it any more. When Main finished I was bored of trying to think of good names and everybody knew who I was at that point so it seemed less necessary to hide."

And then the move to Paris:

"Well, there are personal reasons and I’ve predominantly worked over there for the last four years. Because of the history there they’re a lot more open to [multi-speaker surround] sound systems. In England they look like you’ve just landed from somewhere if you ask for anything like that and they don’t want to spend the extra money either."

It makes huge sense for Hampson to be in France, a country that has tirelessly innovated in the realm of electronic, electro-acoustic and musique concrete for nearly 70 years now.

"I hate being pigeon-holed and I detest and refuse to be dragged in to being part of a scene - why can’t people just accept things for what they are? One of my biggest regrets is agreeing to do the isolationism thing [a compilation of experimental ambient music put together by Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin a decade ago] cos I created a rod for my own back on that one. It’s no disrespect to Kevin or anything like that but again the minute that was coined and I was like 'Oh God…'"

Europe, and especially France, seem to provide the perfect atmosphere for Hampson to work and play live in, one where his ideas, methodologies and sounds are perfectly suited and graciously accepted. His current label Touch is also home to artists like Chris Watson and Philip Jeck and couldn’t be more suited to his experiments.

"It’s been a long time but hopefully the Touch CD is coming out this year - two GRM [legendary experimental music institution] commissions and a planetarium with a 7.1 piece - these are all originally diffusion pieces but these are just the carte blanche stereo mixes."

With this new material and the wonderfully remastered back catalogue of Loop finally hitting the streets, it’s time for a major reassessment of one our great lost bands, and a tireless and humble musical innovator.

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Tim Norman
Nov 22, 2008 8:18am

Couldn't bring yourself to ask why Loop were such an obvious and unimaginative rip-off of Spacemen 3, then.

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John Doran
Nov 22, 2008 9:08am

In reply to Tim Norman:

Loop were far superior. Spacemen 3 were positively unimaginative by comparison.

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Tim Norman
Nov 22, 2008 11:42am

...except that, at least as recounted in the Spacemen 3 book and reported by Lime Lizard back in 1989, Hampson was an admirer of S3 and, after encountering Sonic Boom and co in a studio, quickly nicked their ideas.

“Yeah, they really ripped us off!! Their first record sleeves, their sound, their live shows, just about everything. Their first few gigs were supporting us. The first time they had acid was when we gave it to them. Then they started calling themselves Loop. The first album was alright but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t done already.” - Sonic Boom, 1989

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jonny mugwump
Nov 22, 2008 8:33pm

I didn't ask him because its tedious and a load of crap (they don't sound the same) and was over 20 years ago for fucks sake.

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Tim Norman
Nov 22, 2008 10:29pm

Pfft. What's the fact that it was 20 years ago got to do with a relevant question, particularly in view of the recent S3 book's version of events? That's when the records were made ffs and I'm sorry, but they do sound broadly similar. Of course they didn't sound exactly the same. A charitable interpretation would be that they had very similar influences, although S3 clearly had a larger record collection.

Don't get me wrong. I bought Gilded Eternity back in the day and played it a lot, but it hasn't come out of its sleeve in years - unlike my S3 records which still sound transcendent where Loop were, to use your word, tedious.

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John Doran
Nov 23, 2008 12:18pm

Sonic Boom (last seen playing with dire Steppenwolf pastiche band Warlocks) is hardly a reliable witness. Pierce (last seen playing watered down Joe Cocker gospel pop) has shown his true colours over the last decade).

S3 were pretty good, I'll grant you but their palette was remarkably narrower. Loop used textures from genres that were then unfashionable such as Krautrock, post punk, heavy metal and space rock. S3 didn't because they were press darlings and to a certain degree (whisper it) a fashion, hipster band.

S3 were more accomplished musicians but again that means little to me as the very same logic that makes Eddie Van Halen a better guitarist than Bo Diddley.

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John Doran
Nov 23, 2008 12:19pm

Oh, and comments on musical transcendence are purely a matter of opinion, therefore unanswerable.

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Tim Norman
Nov 23, 2008 1:34pm

I agree that Sonic can in no way be thought of as a reliable witness, which is why I think the question was worth asking - and I emphatically agree that Jason Pierce has shown his true colours (if an endless expanse of dull, dull, dull grey can indeed be called a colour) with Spiritualized.

I'm not sure I can agree that Krautrock was off S3's radar, though - they certainly namechecked Neu! - and space rock definitely wasn't. C'mon - Revolution is a straight lift of a Hawkwind track. Furthermore I'm inclined to believe that Sonic's comments in 1989 were delivered in bitterness because, contrary to what you say, it was actually Loop who were the press darlings of the day, famously beating S3 to the cover of the Melody Maker, for example. Again, I wonder what Hampson would say.

I disagree that S3's palette was narrower than Loop's at the time. In general I'm inclined to agree with Simon Reynold's judgment that Hampson was clearly an acolyte/admirer of S3, but that S3 were in no position to complain given that they themselves came so encumbered with debts to precursors.

And to quote directly from Blissblog circa 2005: "Whether the Loop records stand up at all is one reason for my trepidation at the inevitable rediscovery of the late Eighties that awaits in the near-future."

Well, the future is here and if you ask me, Simon was right to be worried.

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Tim Norman
Nov 23, 2008 1:38pm

Oh, and I used the word transcendent mainly because it is alliterative to the word tedium. The two are so intimately related when it comes to a discussion of music of this nature.

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John Doran
Nov 23, 2008 4:01pm

Well, I'll grant you all that. I had no idea about the MM cover. I'm guessing it was more like they had one or two vocal supporters like Reynolds and Stubbs rather than publication wide support. If I'm in luck I'll bump into the redoubtable David Stubbs watching Kristen Hersh tonight and ask him.

One thing though: of course Pierce name checked Neu! He was very good at name checking things. The only people to name check more sources at the time were Primal Scream and then Jesus Jones and, well, you can see where I'm going with that. His 'blindfold jukebox' or whatever it's called in WIRE certainly suggests he's all mouth and no trousers however.

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Eric H.
Nov 23, 2008 8:04pm

In reply to Tim Norman:

Tim, I read where Robert completely disputed the version that S3 asserted was true in an alternative magazine from back in the day. I should still have it around here somewhere but couldn't begin to tell you the name of it without a massive search but suffice to say, Robert basically called Sonic an effing liar.

I, too, found S3 to be decent but there are only a select few songs that I actually say that I like, unlike Loop whose entire catalog consists of favorites.

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jonny mugwump
Nov 23, 2008 8:22pm

In reply to Tim Norman:

oh my god. Loop was a fragment of an artistic career that has lasted for over 20 years. Robert is not 'a personality' but a musician who just likes to talk about music as opposed to being a bitter smackhead. If you read the interview you will see that Loop is still a source of some sadness to him even after all this time. If you listen to any of his work post-Loop you will get the answer to your question. I didn't bring it up cos i think it would have been insulting and ignorant.
I detest gossip and its role in music journalism now seems to be deplorably prominant. Therefore i did not raise the argument. A spat from 2 long-defunct indie bands? Maybe i'm a freak for finding this topic utterly uninteresting. There's much more interesting things to talk about- the interview was prompted by the reissues but is about Hampson and not just Loop.

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Tim Norman
Nov 24, 2008 1:00am

Jonny, the moral high ground is all yours. Are you quite sure Sonic is still a bitter smackhead?

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jonny mugwump
Nov 24, 2008 11:43am

In reply to Tim Norman:

hahaha no, i guess he's not a bitter smackhead anymore. Actaully, he is to be truly praised for managing to drag Delia Derbyshire out of retirement even though she died before anything came of it. And some of E.A.R. has been amazing. Actually it's kind of interesting that both almost entirely withdrew from rock music afterwards. Much like my ears :)

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Spencer Chow
Nov 24, 2008 11:30pm

Great to finally hear Hampson discuss Loop again and really looking forward to the reissues (although I find the bonus disc track pairings a little odd).

I remember at the time reading about the Spacemen/Loop beef and not understanding it at all because they sounded very different and had very different approaches. I think many people at that time were obviously inspired or influenced by the success of The Jesus and Mary Chain and took that inspiration in very different directions. It was an amazing time for music, and all of the reams of flowery arse-quaking prose was the icing on the cake.

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Tim Norman
Nov 25, 2008 7:45pm

I agree... although surely it was the other way around? I mean, S3 were active from 1982, if Wikipedia doesn't lie - which of course it does all the time, but it's still probably more reliable than my memory. Anyway, to my mind at least, S3 were an influence on JAMC, although no doubt they were all influencing each other to some degree later on.

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jonny mugwump
Nov 27, 2008 12:54pm

If i recall S3 were around for years altho i can't see them reaching glasgow in time to inspire the mary chain. I always felt the mary chain were a total disapointment after psychocandy though- retreat into the usual beach boys, 3rd velvets territory- same old story altho now most bads can't even be bothered to do that now. MBV were the band to truly move with the psychocandy territory. the late 80's are everywhere now, its weird. these reissues, MBV reform, sonic youth finally recording a worthy follow-up to daydream nation... well, maybe not that. Nice to see the mary chain advertising baby food on the tv anyway- what the fuck is that about? It's good to hear all this stuff of course but it's all a bit too atp for my liking- like some hideous nostalgia trip, all these bands performing whole albums. Artaud wrote nearly 100 years ago- No More Classics and i have to agree- never backwards always forwards.

sorry for this ramble- great thread though :)

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John Doran
Nov 27, 2008 2:22pm

I think their best stuff was on Barbed Wire Kisses myself, out takes and rare material from PC and Darklands era.

But they had a handful of late career 'moments' including 'Snake Driver' which finally nailed the 'Beach Boys With Feedback' tag they'd picked up over at the NME.

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Beth Arzy
May 13, 2011 1:14pm

In reply to John Doran:

SOMEONE here is a big, fat, un-informed c-word and I don't really have to spell out WHO - do I!? Haha!

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Beth Arzy
May 13, 2011 1:19pm

In reply to Beth Arzy :

P.S. Not John - sorry! :)

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ben guiver
Jul 15, 2011 10:39pm

In reply to Beth Arzy:

for gods sake. what is it with the loop / S3 thing? i have most of their lp's, plus some others, like JAMC, n MBV. really cant get my head around this kind of thing. upsets me since i like/love all of them...just fucking leave it...and like simon reynolds (no disrespect - some of his work is amazing) is the fucking gospel? WTF!!!!!

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Loop7
Sep 5, 2011 3:54pm

Loop sounded NOTHING like Spacemen 3. The only thing they had in common were reference points. Doesn't mean they sounded similar. I happen to like both bands but Loop tear strips off Spacemen. Loop rock harder than any band I've seen or heard.
The author of this article isn't dull in finding the 'debate' uninteresting - in fact, why raise it at all? If you love Loop, great - if you don't, then er, fine...

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Wilder Gonzales Agreda
Oct 22, 2011 3:13am

Spacemen 3 and Loop had a lot in common, the sound, the aesthetical, etc
Sonic Boom claims in several interviews Robert Hampson stole his trippy drone-rock sound after seeing SP3 performing live or even on rehearsals since Hampson was an office pal in Glass Records

Anyhow, late Loop sound, "A Gilded Eternity", has nothing to do with SP3 and Main either!!!

In fact, I think Main made "Loveless" from MBV look old and vintage with their magnificient "Motion Pool" from 1994
and with discs like "Hz" and the Firmament series (!¡!¡) I really think it is stupid, silly and feminal arguing about who was the original Hampson or Kember

Robert Hampson is a real genius and so is Sonic Boom

Are we not lucky of knowing these artists?
Do you pals have anything to complain? I don't know why!!!

Fuck!

Start your own creations and stop this discussion, at least you can use your time and efforts in something more virile

Cheers from North Lima, PERÚ

Wil.
http://soundcloud.com/wildergonzalesagreda

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vincent Dwyer
Dec 16, 2011 3:48am

great interview thanks. loop is, in my opinion, one of the beautiful and powerful bands ive ever heard. i dont mind S3 but but for them to bitch and whine like they did about loop being better then them makes me think far less of them. there were heaps of bands that sounded similar in that time, sundial, galaxy 500 and telescopes to name a few. it was just a ridiculously amazing time for music and it shouldnt be spoiled by S3 or their blind fans. LOOP FOREVER!

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mark
Feb 7, 2012 3:57am

In reply to vincent Dwyer:

excellent interview. i have all the loop stuff on vinyl stil, including the gold autographed 'fade out'! and 99% of main. saw them twice back in the day, one time with godflesh at Leic Uni, what a loud gig that was. it's all fantastic stuff.
as for you tim norman, the S3 never got out of their velvets obsession enough to be original. loop came more from the european arthouse/krautrock side of things, S3 were the druggy velvets copyists.
am i also right in thinking the drummers sister was the bass player in Sun Carriage???

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Tim Norman
Jun 22, 2012 4:25pm

In reply to mark:

As far me, Mark? I'm entitled to my opinion that Loop were BORING. Boring and loud.

Gave 'em good reviews back in the day, of course.

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Larry H.
Oct 25, 2012 3:04am

I've met Pete aka Sonic, he is a drug addicted idiot. He admits now that he ripped Loop off.

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Jason
Nov 14, 2012 1:06pm

In reply to Larry H.:

Really good read cheers.
I have been a big fan of both Loop and Spacemen 3 since back in the day and was well aware of Hampson being a tea boy at Glass Records and "supposedly" stealing Kembers licks.
I never let that get in the way of the music though and my passion for both bands is still as big as it was all those years ago.

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Tim Norman
Nov 29, 2012 7:47pm

In reply to Larry H.:

I'm not sure what you think you're adding to the debate by telling us you think Sonic Boom is an idiot, Larry. It's the music that we judge these people by. That's the point isn't it? I recently saw Spectrum with Will Carruthers on bass and their aesthetic and sound remains intensely powerful, even if they weren't as intensely loud as they once were...

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pablo
Feb 2, 2013 3:30pm

In reply to Tim Norman:

thanks for this,good article
this whole sm3 loop debate is ridiculous
sm3 were ok
loop were a fucking powerhouse

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