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A Quietus Interview

Beyond The Mirror: Mark Stewart Of The Pop Group Interviewed
John Doran , September 7th, 2010 08:10

Mark Stewart, dub revolutionary and motor mouth tells John Doran how The Pop Group reformation is going to clash together Om, Sleep, DJ Assault, Joker and Appleblim, smash the mirror and put them up on the big screen...

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Mark’s a giant of a man. He’s one of those guys who has to stoop to get in rooms. He looks - to borrow his favourite word - like a clash of a 50s matinee idol, Reg Presley of The Troggs and an Easter Island Statue come angrily to life. His head’s velocity is too fast for anyone currently trapped in his orbit. I see Jim Sclavunous (Bad Seeds/Grinderman/occasional Quietus writer) afterwards and say that ideally I’d like to interview Stewart again because even though I liked him, maybe I'd caught him on a particularly manic day. Spending two hours with him was a bit like spending 20 hours trapped on a passenger jet that's full of children and constantly threatening to fall out of the sky. Jim smiles indulgently and says that he's always out there: "I've known Mark for years and he's always been far out on some distant cosmic plain that makes him hard to reach sometimes."

During the interview in The Griffin on Leonard Street, I feel like his brain is skimming on far ahead like a stone across a pond surface. I ask one thing and he answers some other question that I’ve not even dreamed up yet. He's like a chess grandmaster who has malfunctioned and found himself suddenly only able to play the moves that are the furthest ahead - ten steps into the future. These moves may make sense to him but don't always to those round him. There is much bright and probably brilliant talk occluded into partial uselessness by this. He reacts to everything around him. His face darts about changing expression constantly. He isn’t pulling focus and he’s omni-intent on the interview, my beard, the barwoman, his friends Andy Fraser of Some Friendly and Paul Smith of Blast First sat at the bar, the cold wave compilation being played on the stereo, his notes that he has written onto a sheet of paper in front of him, something else that he can see over my shoulder. He sneers loudly at nearly everything I say in about an hour and a half which can, and does, get slightly grating. Even if I had turned up totally unprepared, which I haven't, I still would have hit the mark with at least a third of the questions. He’s a nice guy though and an energizing presence. It’s sad he comes into this naturally presuming I’m on the opposite side to him. Part of him still acts as if it’s 1980 and the guy from the NME is here to stitch him up. In fact he constantly refers to me as being from the weekly (which I do write for) but he doesn’t hear when I tell him that the piece is for a more humble institution.

He admits himself that he's frozen in time in some ways: "I haven't changed since I was 14."

The 14-year-old we're talking about isn't your run of the mill teen just embarking on adulthood though. We're talking about a self-motivated, French poetry reading, soccer violence escapee, radicalized by post modernism and motivated by punk. When he and friends formed The Pop Group in1978, they were so far ahead of the game it feels like we still haven't really got to grips with them properly yet. They combined intense agit-prop with free jazz, the lurch of the Magic Band, booming dub reggae bass lines and stone to the bone funk rhythms. On their album Y they helped set the ground work for what is commonly called 'The Bristol Sound' - a punky, DIY take on Jamaican bass culture. The group, a miasma of arrogance, intense introspection and uncompromising radicalism, didn't last long and split in 1981 after releasing just two albums.

Given the nature of the group (and Stewart's well regarded solo back catalogue) it never seemed likely that they would reform. And yet... here we are.

How are you doing?

Mark Stewart: I’m all over the place mate. Completely all over the place. Literally just got off the plane from Germany.

I’ve got a bunch of questions here for a band called Cephalic Carnage, we could use those instead?

MS: Do it! Are they a bit like Anal Cunt?

I’d give them more musical kudos than that. But they are a very fast grindcore band. They’re more like Beefheart than Anal Cunt.

MS: “Musical kudos”!? Napalm Death are doing art shows now aren’t they?

Yeah, they’re playing Supersonic which is a great festival in Birmingham.

MS: So metal’s coming on a bit? I tell you what I really like: Om. But it sounds like Sleep have just reformed.

Sleep reformed a few years ago to do Holy Mountain at All Tomorrow’s Parties Minehead. It was magnificent.

MS: Well, it was the rhythm section who made Om and I love the rhythm section. I’m into old funk and reggae but the way they locked... the way they locked right... I was watching it with [Alexander] Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten and it was incredible. It was like a rhythm section that was going off into madness, like Ornette Coleman.

Yeah, their old drummer - sleep’s drummer - Chris Hakius was a beast of a pounder, I’m not too sold on the new guy, Emil Amos, there’s something almost polite about his drumming. Yeah, Sleep were an amazing band but Om have gone off a bit...

MS: You call it Aum not Ohm? I thought it had something to do with electrical current...

No, they’re a very new age band. They smoke a lot of grass.

MS: [groans] Oh, is that what it is? I thought it was like voltage, how many ohms are there?

It’s very spiritual music and I guess I like it in spite of that. I don’t have any spiritual, new age leanings.

MS: [laughs] Well, I’d better cross out all these points I was going to talk about then!

Yeah, their latest album is called God Is Good and their best album is called Pilgrimage so it would be fair to say that they’re a religious group. Maybe that’s what split Sleep up. Matt Pike who went on to form High On Fire doesn’t strike me as being religious. In fact I’d guess his two main interests are smoking weed and playing blazing heavy metal. But interestingly I’d say that they represent the internal conflicts that power heavy metal. You’ve got Chris Hakius who is the brute power and bestial anger, you’ve got Al Cisneros who is the angst, the introspection and the dark spirituality and you have Matt Pike who is the peacock, the virtuoso and sexuality.

MS: [Makes face as if just eaten horrible food] Ok...

Well, this is all very well and good but we’re here to talk to you about The Pop Group.

MS: Don’t like them. Let’s talk about something interesting! HA HA HA! Old fogeys! Free jazz idiots! Spazz jazzers! Fuck them!

But talking about the tight rhythm section, wasn’t it the bass and drums in The Pop Group that allowed you to be avant garde, to be free...

MS: Again. I’m sorry to pop the cherry but whatever people... being in Berlin and hanging round on the peripheries of mad art and political scenes what people call avant garde to me is what prehistoric people would call avant garde. [snaps]Avant garde of what?

Ok. Alright. Well I’m using it to mean ahead of the curve. In front of the pack. So, I’m guessing that for young kids from a working class city in the UK from the time that punk was happening you were pretty much avant garde. I see it as a relative term. I’m not talking about music departments of universities in Cologne or New York. I’m talking about relative to you. Amongst your peers you were avant garde. Surely.

MS: My peers when I was young were Arto [Lindsay] and [Jean] Baudrillard. Who are you to say who my peers were? Again! I had this argument with some editor from the WIRE and it was 400 years out of date and there were better developments on disco labels in the 80s than the wank they were talking about. Who defines what is avant garde!? You know... I’m lost!

Ok. Stop. Let’s start again. This... this is fucking ridiculous. Let’s start again. I don’t want to... Right. When you started you were very untutored. Or am I right in thinking you were very untutored? Or was there a mix of musicians with experience and those without?

MS: Basically we had a kind of arrogance that we got from club culture. There was the arrogance of power but we had the power of arrogance... you see? Because we were from that punk generation if we wanted to do something we just did it. It was more a sense of we were like a football gang. If someone was standing there [points to me] then you’d tell them that they were going to be the drummer. Somebody was there [points at Paul Smith] and you’d tell him that he was going to be guitarist. It didn’t matter if he was a guitarist or not. You just decided to do it. I knew a kid [Simon Underwood] who worked on a lathe in a factory and he was my best mate so he played bass. It’s like a group of people stood at the bar in a pub saying, “What shall we do?” But instead of getting drunk we formed The Pop Group. And it started like that. Seeing the Subway Sect and going to the Roxy with this early punk band called the Cortinas gave us the arrogance. We were arrogant to begin with but this gave us even more arrogance. The arrogance not to go and fight on the Bristol Rovers terraces and to wait for Millwall at the train station. But the arrogance to say we’re going to do this and we’re going to represent. We’re going to say what we’re going to say and we’re going to do what we’re going to do and if we want to crash Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton with dub reggae we will. We were pulling things from all different cultures and all different classes. It was weird and it wasn’t a logical thing.

The sound clash has always been The Pop Group's signature.

MS: I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with crashing genres. I can hear with the new Pop Group stuff it being a crash between Sleep, Om, DJ Assault who I’ve just made friends with, I like his basslines and there’s this Bristol dubstep kid Joker who I’m trying to work with and Appleblim. So I’m talking about the guitar lines from Sleep over a booty bassline. But that’s what I do. So if I want to take a bassline from Jamaica and a rhythm from New York and I’ll crash them together. It’s like a radiowave in my head, pulling all these things together.

Do you see a through line going from the Jamaican dub you listened to when you were young, what the Pop Group were doing, through all the On-U/Mark Stewart and the Mafia stuff to the dubstep of today?

MS: It’s the same thing. The dubstep kids are all referencing me and Adrian Sherwood. Last year I got to work with Lee Perry, Kenneth Anger, Keith Levene and Massive Attack. And it’s all from the same source: a generation of influence from Jamaica. My grandad was in the cheap housing area... they’d come in from the countryside right? Because of the shortage of labour, Bristol Omnibus had a recruitment station in Jamaica! And when these people came over my grandad thought they were great because they had nice clothes and they kept their shoes polished. He was friends with them. The basslines that came over are the same as the basslines we’re referencing. It comes from King Tubby and that culture. Dubstep sounds like some experiments we were doing with On-U Sounds. With the Pop Group we wanted King Tubby to produce our first stuff because that’s what we were referencing. Then we wanted John Cale but that didn’t work. And then I heard one thing that Dennis Bovell did, which was really heavy with thunder and lightning on it and I just went for that straight away. I was living in New York in the early No Wave period and I found the Red Alert show and that’s how I found Keith LeBlanc and that lot... because I wanted those sources to experiment with.

You’ve always been there... not at periphery but, erm, ahead of the pack. It must be tiring coming up with these ideas, putting these strands of bass culture together and having someone else come along and then do a slightly more mainstream version of it to greater success?

MS: No. No. That’s the funny thing because over the years and I can only really talk for myself because there isn’t anyone else here today. Bruce [Smith, drums] is off on tour with Lydon and the others have stuff to do. But I’ve never really thought of myself as a musician, I’m just someone who draws on a lot of different sources and sees where he can take them BUT it seems to me, now from a distance, when I push these things together, a spark happens and Trent Reznor runs off and does his industrial and Grant from Massive Attack does trip hop and both have been influenced by my album The Veneer Of Democracy. People are drawing on things from The Pop Group and these new things I’m trying to do with The Bug and all of this post death step stuff but they’re not in that genre, they’re just those basslines being used in totally different way. In four or five years time somebody will be using these basslines again but they won’t be as dubstep. Deathstep, is kind of like really heavy, smoky, isolationist dubstep. But people shouldn’t even be talking about dubstep. It’s like when they used to talk about punk funk. Punk funk!? Anyway, when we play in September, it’s not going to be like it was... we’re going to go off wherever we go off! The whole point is destabilizing and questioning things. It’s sacrilege and heresy not orthodoxy!

What sparked it off?

MS: I was talking to Barry [Hogan] about doing a new commission because Matt Groening the guy who does The Simpsons wanted us to play ATP. The kid from Sonic Youth, Massive Attack, Nine Inch Nails... all these people were asking but I was like, “Sorry mate, I’ve got so much stuff of my own to do, I’m not reforming The Pop Group.” And I don’t really like the idea of bands reforming anyway. I think it’s rubbish! But over the intervening period I thought, “Well, if there are enough interesting things to do and we can treat it like a new commission...” When Barry first mentioned it, I said I’d do something new with Russell Haswell and Phil from Whitehouse. And then I said to him, “Why don’t you get Ornette Coleman, Yoko Ono, Keith Levene and make some new pieces so we can take it round?” So the thing is it’s OK as long as we can do new things. And the ideas we’ve been talking about on the phone with the same methodology and framework.

So what else are you going to do with the Pop Group? You’ve got four dates booked for this month - what else is there going to be? New material?

MS: Well, Paul [Smith] can say about that. What I’m interested about is the idea of getting back into creating new stuff. Art pranks. Attack ads. At the moment I’m in the middle of writing a musical with Kenneth Anger which will involve The Pop Group, The Last Poets and [muffled] and the post-pornographer Bruce LaBruce from Berlin. So there’s all kinds of weird things going on that The Pop Group might tap into.

Bruce LaBruce the film maker?

MS: He made the Raspberry Reich and does all sorts of films about gay zombies. It’s very early days, so it’s very exciting. The clash of characters between me and Bruce Smith and Gareth Sager and Dan Catsis... everyone is as arrogant as everyone else and everyone will pull it to pieces in so many different ways, that it’s going to be an interesting project. And I don’t need to do this but it will be interesting.

Is it coincidence that we happen to be in the first few weeks of a new Tory government?

Paul Smith: He arranged it.

[Paul Smith and Mark Stewart have light hearted quarrel about nation states versus corporations. Someone puts Oasis on the jukebox at full volume. The inteviewer begins to sweat, as interview starts dissolving into chaos.]

[shouting] Well, there’s a serious question here. No-one would expect The Pop Group to do things by the rules...

MS: Well, I’m not going to do things by the rules...

Yes. I get that. Has the reformation been influenced by you waiting for the resurgence of interest in post punk that happened a few years ago to pass? And, I can already tell by the look on your face that you don’t care.

MS: HA HA HA! I’m sorry I don’t know these things! I’m a bit lost with these things! I remember watching Throbbing Gristle live at the Scala with Ian Curtis - he seemed like he was a nice kid - and all the way through - I haven’t changed since I was 14 right? - and all the way through [I was thinking] you can’t really analyse what any of these waves or counter waves are. There are interesting things... I’m as much interested in... It's interesting to me to...

When you first put a single out on Radar in 1979, who were the groups that you were genuinely excited to be playing with or to be watching?

MS: ‘79? [pause] ‘74? [pause] Look, when you talk to Morrissey or to Lydon or to someone from our generation, in ‘74 - ‘75, they were getting into Jobriath, New York Dolls and I was getting into weirder stuff like Harry Partch... sorry to sound pretentious but I was reading French poetry at the age of 11 or 12. I don’t know why... I was getting into [Comte de] Lautréamont, Gérard de Nerval and all of Cocteau’s boyfriends. I just liked it. I had this weird friend at school who was autistic... he got taken off to a university hot house when he was 11 and he was reading all this Greek stuff... and it was that and reggae and funk. It was the Undisputed Truth. Classical as well. But to me our peers... ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ by Television was a very important song to us. And our friends The Cortinas played with Television in Bristol and Patti Smith came over early on, just after Piss Factory. And we took Patti Smith to the Roundhouse to see The Clash when I was 14 or 15. Stuff from Jamaica and stuff from America. James White and the Blacks. DNA. We were consuming all sorts of music.

An excerpt from upcoming documentary ON/OFF: Mark Stewart - From The Pop Group To The Maffia

I can hear a big bond between you and James Chance on Y.

MS: It was the same period, yes.

Now, I still think this is an upsetting, dislocating, disorientating album. These effects must have been amplified when it came out. Did a lot of people not really get it then? It had mixed reviews.

MS: Are you talking about journalists?!

No, I’m not just...

MS: From travelling round the world and meeting people in Argentina, Japan and Germany... again I don’t analyze my position as a musician...

But what were people saying to you!?

MS: People didn’t really tell me about it because I just used to have a laugh with my mates but now over time people who I meet who have got into the album are pretty cool people. Across the world, that album seems to have blown open the safe, unlocked a treasure trove to things that people didn’t think they were allowed to reference.

Who did Dennis Bovell work with first, The Slits or you?

MS: Us. We heard something of his [muffled] I feel like we’re making love on lightning listening to all these amazing sound clashes.

Did he drill you a lot? Was he a tough producer?

MS: No, there was a lot of tape modulation. It was the same with Adrian Sherwood, the band edited it, we took hours and hours of dubs - reconstruct/deconstruct. Deconstruct our characters, question the constructs we live under, then edit again and reprocess until we get somewhere that is beyond the point of nihilism and there is a blinding light.

[massive pause then all laugh]

Did you never think, “Fuck this, let’s just go to the studio, record ‘Funky Stuff’ and then go down the pub”?

MS: I’ve done that. I’ve done that on massive hip hop tracks under an alias. I’ve done that with the Maffia... No, there are pop gems in there as well. It’s like Brian Wilson. We’re not trying to be deliberately... you’re asking me to analyse.

No I’m not.

MS: You’re asking me to analyze...

No I’m fucking not! I’m not asking you to do anything...

MS: Well what I’m pleased about is that we’re all still quite naive. We’re all quite excited about the project...

I understand but I’m not asking you to break down what you do. I’m just looking for a way in. I find the Pop Group slightly impenetrable in some respects if I’m completely honest.

MS: Well, I’m like you underneath. I’m a fan. I can tell you like lots of different sorts of music but I just want to smash those cosmoses together. But you do it naturally, it’s not really art. And you can do it. No one is going to stop you. Not finances or anything. That’s not the point. It’s good to be able to allow yourself to do it. People stop themselves from trying things and I don’t know why.

What I would like to know is what influence the city of Bristol has had on you specifically. Someone I talked to recently was Richard Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, who talked at length about the influence black music had on him. Now he was probably listening to very similar music to you but the Bristol sound and the Sheffield sound are very different.

MS: It’s the same in Munich. If you listen to the way that they reinterpreted Motown. [pause] I was talking to Grant from Massive Attack, he is one of my best friends - he’s a big lad and we share clothes - and Keith Levene and I was helping out behind the scenes on the recording of Heligoland and it’s something to do with our gang. There was about 100 of us and we started wearing smart clothes and going to funk clubs and we moved into different clubs and got into hip hop... it’s like a pub. There’s a pub you all go to and you’re all into the same thing and I don’t know what it is. There’s the pirate radio thing in Bristol.

The actual 17th Century pirate Blackbeard was from Bristol and you ended up recording with...

MS: ...Dennis Bovell who recorded as Blackbeard. A weird coincidence. In Bristol it’s not controlled. Say if you took the label SOLAR - the Sound Of Los Angeles Records for example an amazing thing where they would slice up tape with a razor blade and do these amazing remixes and re-edits... it was incredible, the most experimental thing I’ve ever heard but because it’s black and it was happening and it was entertainment... it wasn’t considered avant garde but some kiddie playing a hosepipe going on about Dada was. But SOLAR was more experimental and more avant garde. No one had ever done it before. There are these weird definitions and distinctions being drawn. Sometimes you go and watch the avant garde concerts and people might as well be wearing little monocles. It’s like pinning a butterfly down. It’s weird the way that some things - which are meant to be shocking and provocative - are consumed. So with The Pop Group we are happy to engage with the... machine. We have this slogan, “We’re the explosion at the heart of the commodity’.

If you type ‘The Pop Group’ into Spotify, the description that comes up first is: “Warning, this band’s name is loaded with irony. There is little, if anything, ‘pop’ about them.” Is this fair?

MS: Do you know about Wiki-leaks?

Yes.

MS: That’s how all that stuff about the Afghan Special Forces came out. Er... irony is a very 80s word. What do you mean?

I think what this guy is saying is that if you’re expecting anything resembling a pop group in the music of The Pop Group, then you’re mistaken. But he’s wrong. Right?

MS: Of course he is! It sounds like ‘Good Vibrations’! And I don’t have anything against pop. If we are to battle the mirror...

The Mirror? The Daily Mirror?

MS: As far as I can see there has been a mirror placed across reality and all of its shiny reflections are hiding all the brutal stuff which is behind it. It’s a domed mirror that encloses reality. If we can compete with the mirror we can do something. It’s crucial for me because if Jobriath and the New York Dolls hadn’t played the Old Grey Whistle Test and I hadn’t read any Bowie interviews about Lou Reed and Jean Genet and gone off into that area, I’d be working in a factory. I think there’s too much vanity publishing these days. People are just too happy to be able to just make something and say, “Oh well, it’s for ourselves and if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus.” They’re not fighting! There is a political fight that needs to be engaged in! I’m not saying I’m right and they’re wrong but you have to fight. There must be an alternative. A different point of view. As Yoko Ono said, “A hole in the sky”. The Pop Group is different and “other”. But it can exist on a big mainstream stage. It’s good that we’re doing big events. Like when I saw Fred Frith play at the Conway Hall when I was 15... we’re happy to compete on a bigger stage. And now all kinds of new media and outlets are open to us as well.

Do you find it hard to relax?

MS: This week, yeah. I’ve had the maddest week of my life.

Well, you’re obviously really prolific musically and very active politically... what would happen if you were forced to take it easy for a year for health reasons?

MS: Is that a threat?!

I don’t threaten people who are bigger than me. I don’t even like meeting people who are bigger than me, to be honest.

MS: I’m very relaxed!

It wasn’t an accusation!

PS: Mark... you don't come across as relaxed.

MS: Not in an interview. I’m trying to squeeze a lot of stuff into the time so there’ll be an interesting feature!

PS: Mark, you never come across as relaxed!

[all laugh]

It’s kind of simultaneously irritating and interesting that Oasis are on at earsplitting volume while we’re doing this interview...

MS: I don’t think you’re going to be able to pick out anything off this tape.

Don’t worry, I’ll be able to hear what you’re saying.

PS: Ha ha ha! Did you hear that Mark?

MS: It’s really funny, that someone tries to define you when you’re 16 and now... what’s that Baudrillard thing about a picture of a picture of a picture of a picture... I’ve been asked about definitions that I’m supposed to have made and I didn’t even say those things.

I don’t care. Honestly. I think the least interesting thing about the discourse in music today is the fixation on genre tags. We needed genre tags for when music had to be described to people so they could make an informed judgement before deciding whether to buy it or not. Obsessiveness about these tags now just ignores the fact that they’re not necessary, really. Just listen to the fucking thing on the internet. We know what it sounds like... who cares what genre it is. It’s good cover for people who don’t really have anything to say about music.

MS: Yeah. I know The Pop Group name means a lot to people I meet from all over the world and I have to carry that badge like a debt of honour. I don’t really understand what it is but I understand that there are things that I like that mean a lot to me. I get it. I don’t want to destroy that. But hopefully it will be like it was in that once we’re going we can use that position and that platform and that brand to do all sorts of other weird things.

Are you as politically motivated now as you were when you were a teenager?

MS: I don’t separate the political from the personal.

It doesn’t matter if you do or don’t! Are you more political? Is it still very much part of the day to day fabric of your life?

MS: It’s like when you wake up in the morning and you see out of the window. Friends of mine are fighting in Burma. Friends of mine are fighting in South America. What is politically motivated? I was watching something on the suffragettes yesterday. Until recently women didn’t have the vote. There’s a mirror. It’s like a strange science fiction film. A domed mirror.

We live in less political times.

MS: Not where I live. We’re engaged. People understand that they’re being fed bullshit and want change.

Outside the door of this pub is sat a band. I got sent their CD recently. Alan McGee’s son is in them. He seems like a nice guy. Switched on. But their whole thing is that they’re like CRASS but without the politics.

MS: Cross?

CRASS

MS: Cress?

Stop messing about. CRASS without the politics. I mean what is the fucking point?

PS: Yeah, they’re called Flats. If you speak to them they’re insane about the music. They’re like ‘Fucking Discharge, yes!’ But also, “No politics. Who’s interested?’ It’s a generational thing.

MS: Then you two know different people to me. Ha ha ha!

Look, I’m not saying these people are my friends and I’m always going to aspire to having more friends like you Mark but that doesn’t change the fact that society in general...

MS: I’m not one to talk about society in general. It’s a platitude. All I know is about individual people doing individual things. It’s laziness. It’s indifferent and it’s resignation.

I know that! I’m not saying it’s a good thing! But there is less engagement. You are such an obstreperous man!

MS: In England maybe. But in Europe or in South America? How many people voted fascist in England in the election? Why don’t we know. This is the fault of the English media. The gate keepers...

Are you going to record new material?

MS: Yes.

When are we likely to hear it?

MS: The sooner the better. We’re going to record something at Xmas but the problem is that when we started taking this seriously at the end of last year just when we were about to announce, John Lydon called and he was already committed to Public Image Limited... I mean I’d be recording now but we have to wait. We’ve got these four gigs and then we’ll be ready to record. The album’s going to be called The Ultimate...

PS: [slaps head] Oh no! I thought you said The Alternate on the phone!

MS: No, The Ultimate. I’ve been trying to get Michael Rother involved. Keith Levene will probably be on it. Kevin Martin from The Bug, Richard Kirk from Cabaret Voltaire and some stuff with DJ Assault. But in a perfect world I’d love to have Rother, Sager and Levene going against each other in some kind of motorik booty bass smash. It’s like a clash between Diplo and Cobra Killer... I don’t know, I can hear the sounds in my head.

I’ve got to say that genuinely sounds amazing if you pull it off.

MS: But I have to see what everyone else wants to do as well! But I think we have the potential to do something mind-blowing on a global stage. But it has to be as bleeding edge (cliche!) as it was back in 1980 or there’s no point in doing it. It would ruin it! And ruin the credibility of my solo stuff and I don’t want to do that. I mean, integrity is what we’re selling.

What’s easier for you, to front The Pop Group or The Maffia?

MS: It’s not really fronting. It’s more like being an alchemist. You get all these people, throw them into the fire and watch them burn!

PS: Ha ha ha! It’s actually one of my favourite things to watch Mark working with The Maffia. They’ll do something and it’ll sound great and then Mark will go, “No, no, no! Not like that! Do it like this!” And they’ll go, “Oh for fuck’s sake.” Ha ha ha! Obviously he doesn’t know a single note of music but he knows what he wants. All he has is a sheet of paper and a pen and he manages to do something that’s really interesting. And that’s why people want to work with Mark.

MS: Imagine hanging out with Sun Ra for a second. [pause] Now imagine that there is somewhere else to go. There is an alternate place. Somewhere beyond the mirror and it is a nutritious place. I like it. It’s pure chaos.

Are you trying to smash the mirror?

MS: Well, I want to go behind the mirror myself and draw other peoples’ attention to it. But with The Pop Group I have to... become the mirror!

PS: [whispering] Become the mirror?!

MS: You understand what I’m saying. We have to go on one of those big screens. A big tour. There are idiots up on those big screens at the moment and I know that I’m an idiot but there has to be someone else saying something different! There has to be an antidote to this. It’s like my song ‘Citizen Zombie’... I mean, what the fuck! Wake up! Especially in England.

Me and my friend Mark were saying the other day, when are you going to sing normally on a record and not have your voice treated because you’ve got a very nice voice when you sing live.

PS: [cackling furiously] Did you hear that Mark?! You don’t like your voice much do you Mark?

I don’t like myself very much. My mum used to say that when I would sing along to my King Tubby records all the dogs down the street would start howling.

PS: John likes your voice. And his friend Mark.

MS: [howls like a dog] Owwww! Owwwww! Owwww! Actually my mum was in NME when we played Trafalgar Square. They had her photo in there but she wasn’t on the cover like me.

Wasn’t that the last gig you played?

MS: Yes. I’d been working in the CND office and Bruce Kent said that it would be good to have some music on and I said that I knew some musicians like Mikey Dread, The Specials, Killing Joke, Linton Kwesi Johnson. And he asked me what I did and when I told him he said The Pop Group should play. I said that I didn’t want to because I had too much to do there, helping him set up all these demonstrations. It was a mad time then. There was loads of shit going on in England. Anyway, it seemed like a good thing to do, to raise awareness of what was going on... even if that turned out to be a false enemy. The beloved enemy syndrome. The Cold War was a myth. Part of the fight now is between me and my younger self. They create constructs for you to fight against.

Will you be playing tracks off Y?

MS: Yes.

What do you think of it now?

MS: I’d have to listen to it first. The rest of the band are going to kill me for saying this but I don’t really get what people see in it! Ha ha ha! It sounds like a bunch of donkeys! [starts hooting laughing] But it’s like getting on a crazy horse and trying to ride it again. And I think that it can be an art provocation and I firmly believe that this is what needs to be done and we’re the people to do it. And I know people believe in it.

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Catch The Pop Group live soon

THURSDAY, SEP 09 LOCOMOTIV CLUB 9, BOLOGNA. ITALY
FRIDAY, SEP 10 SPAZIO 211, TURIN , ITALY
SATURDAY, SEP 11 THE GARAGE, LONDON
SUNDAY, SEP 12 THE GARAGE, LONDON

Johnny Nothing
Sep 7, 2010 8:58pm

Amphetamines? Cocaine? Bit of a knob? It often strikes me that I'd rather read about people [whose music I like] at one stage removed, as it were.

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John Doran
Sep 7, 2010 9:39pm

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

Well, you are... that's the whole point...

I hope it doesn't look like I'm suggesting he was on drugs... because that was not my intention.

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SS
Sep 7, 2010 10:35pm

Total post-punk hospice.

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uncle d
Sep 8, 2010 1:34pm

Joh Doran seems way more stressed out than Mark Stewart, calm down love, he's a little different thats all...

does any one know if the on off doc ever got released?

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Sep 8, 2010 3:35pm

john doran, sounds like you're in over your head mate. we need more mavericks like the great mark stewart !

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Johnny Nothing
Sep 8, 2010 7:10pm

In reply to John Doran:

Okay then, two stages removed. And no sir, the intention was mine. Actually more of a suggestion.

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Steve Barker
Sep 9, 2010 4:48am

Mark is a rampant self-mythologist and now very much a self-parody, best not to take him too seriously

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John Doran
Sep 9, 2010 7:35am

At the end of the interview Mark gave me a big hug and told me I had exactly what I needed. And he was right. I didn't really feel like I was in over my head. If I was, I would have capitulated and just let him rattle on for two hours but that's not my job. I didn't leave in every example of me asking him a sensible question and him coming back with some kind of pre-written statement on some other matter, that would have been pointless. But despite him having to see me as some Jack Baron/NME hatchet man figure from 1982. He told me everything I wanted to know and more... just not after I asked him the questions.
And his plans for The Pop Group make it clear he's still got a vision and that's all I'm interested in. If I were interested in making myself look good I would have edited it to achieve that effect. It's not like I didn't have enough raw material.
The age of the cult of the all-important, conquering music journalist is over. If I want to go down in history I'll blow myself up in Netto's or kidnap Wayne Rooney.

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AP Childs
Sep 9, 2010 9:57am

In reply to John Doran:

you got what you/we needed. good interview. he was big arm wrestler back in the day, dontcha know.

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Clark Gwent
Sep 25, 2010 4:52pm

I saw the Pop Group once. At a Morning Star bash in Alexandra Palace. They weren't all that. Humphrey Lyttleton blew them off.

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Irk The Purists
Oct 21, 2010 3:40pm

"My peers when I was young were Arto [Lindsay] and [Jean] Baudrillard...". Surely he meant [Antonin] Artaud rather than Arto [Lindsay]? Even though he'd been dead for 30 years, it makes more sense to bracket *him* with Baudrillard, rather than Arto Lindsay, whom I've never heard Mark mention and who had only just formed DNA in 1978...

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peterpockets
Oct 21, 2010 5:30pm

In reply to Clark Gwent :

I saw the op group at Ali Pali on the same bill as the Slits a and Johnny Clarke.. great gig and great funcky [bass] beginning with all sorts of stuff thrown on top. I'd travelled from Liverpool and was about 14 or so.
Funny little story.. afterwards, I got hold of a contact number for the Pop group off me uncle and rang them and left a message asking if they would do a CND gig. Got home from schoool one day and my mum said.. some fella rang up, must 'ave been on drugs or somethin cos I couln't get any sense out of him.. he said he was in a op group.. I aske dhim which one, he's writtn to loads and he he said the pop group.. I told him to call back.... Well i think its funny

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John Doran
Oct 21, 2010 7:55pm

In reply to Irk The Purists:

That's a very good point actually.

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Irk The Purists
Oct 22, 2010 3:15pm

In reply to John Doran:

No worries. Good interview anyway, very engaging: kudos!

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